Short and fairly uneventful Evvy/Peggy fluff!
Set during the summer between 'Changes' and 'Barbara'.
It's in the same universe as 'I turn you out of doors' and 'Streetlamps & Shadows', but it's not necessary to have read either of those to make sense of this, I don't think.
Ste Therese's House Characters:
St Briavel's, SwitzerlandSchool Name:
Domestic, Romance, Seasonal, Slash
Rhyll Everett/Peggy Burnett
11 Dec 2015 Updated:
11 Dec 2015
1. Chapter 1 by crm
2. Chapter 2 by crm
3. Chapter 3 by crm
4. Chapter 4 by crm
An inexplicable burst of energy flowed from the sudden shift in tempo: as if the change in pace unlocked something, lifted Peggy from the weary doldrums of those last days at the Big House and found her now perched lightly on Mrs Morgan's kitchen table, legs swinging, eyes sparkling in the morning sunlight as it streamed warmly through the open window.
Rhyll glanced at her from where she stood slicing bread, a small grin playing at the corner of her mouth. "She'd have fifty fits if she saw you on there, and you know it!"
Peggy shrugged, a row of even white teeth flashing in unconcerned amusement. "Nothing's going to happen, is it? Good, sturdy piece. Nice-looking, too - must've cost a fair bit."
"That's why she wouldn't want you sitting on it!" Rhyll retorted, crossing the kitchen swiftly to lay butter and jam on the table in question, pausing to brush her lips against Peggy's forehead as she did so.
The preceding weeks had been long ones: packing had, where possible, begun in earnest as soon as the move had been announced at the start of the summer term; but much - and the worst - of it had been left until the last girl had departed for the long holidays, and then the staff had turned to with a vigour. Decent help, hard enough to come by on the mainland, was a near impossibility on the island; and Michael Christy had proven himself as elusive as he always did on such occasions, Rhyll observed inwardly with more accuracy than tact. But ten days later the work was done, and with a collective sigh of relief the staff had all melted away from the shell of a school. Hilda Annersley had issued a firm instruction that all staff should have at least a full fortnight of rest from work and for once, no mistress had needed to be told twice.
"Do you think the Head is really resting?" Peggy asked now, almost as if she had read Rhyll's mind. "After all she said about the importance of it, I mean..."
"I don't imagine she's having much choice in the matter." Rhyll muttered, then snorted at Peggy's quizzical expression. "Nell!"
Peggy giggled as she slid gracefully from table to chair. "I suppose so! What are we doing today, Evvy? It's gorgeous out."
"It is." Rhyll agreed, carrying the plate of toast to the table and sitting opposite her to butter a slice. "We could go to the beach just past the far end of the village - do you know it?"
Peggy shook her head, almost embarrassed. "Do you know, in the best part of a year here I've never once ventured in that direction? It seems so silly - it's scarcely a big island, is it? You could probably walk across it in half a day without much bother."
Rhyll laughed. "Well, that's a definite plan, in that case. I'll make us up a picnic when we're done with breakfast. The tide'll be furthest out in the morning - and the beach at its emptiest, although I warn you now that it's never fully empty. Too pretty for that!"
Peggy sighed contentedly, then looked suddenly pensive. "I do wish we had longer than this week together. I can't even imagine -"
Rhyll had anticipated this, knowing the sentiment could not be far away, and she was quick to head it off. Such dismal thoughts had no part in the summer holiday she had planned for them. "Ssh. No practicalities," she admonished, a smile crinkling her eyes, "the subject is strictly verboten! If you must plan, you might attend to what we shall have for supper tonight, or otherwise to that weekend in Innsbruck in the autumn, but nothing in between, if you please."
Peggy narrowed her eyes, ready to challenge this ukase; but then a grin of comprehension and gratitude spread slowly across her face: "I don't really do cooking..."
Rhyll snorted. "I'd noticed. Some Guide you are!"
Peggy rolled her eyes and flicked a crumb of toast across the table at her. "I didn't say I can't. I just think there are better ways to spend my time."
"And there's always someone else willing to cook for you," Rhyll agreed dangerously. Peggy nodded happily, oblivious, and Rhyll raised an eyebrow. "And to clear up the crumbs you scatter so carelessly across the room..."
Peggy laughed, too comfortable for contrition. "Oh dear, ought I to be helping you? You just looked so... capable." - with which remark she permitted herself a prolonged moment of such undisguised appreciation that her girlfriend went rather red about the ears.
Rhyll glanced across at her with a quiet grin of acknowledgment, but Peggy wasn't finished.
"You can tell you work with your hands," she went on, waving her own descriptively as she spoke. "It's your dexterity, the way you move - strong and skilful and so fast, without ever seeming to rush."
"Even when I'm only making toast?" Rhyll was sceptical.
"Even when you're only making toast," Peggy confirmed. "I just really love watching you." She reached across the table to lay her hand on top of Rhyll's, and Rhyll guessed that she, too, had found that last admission rather more exposing than expected.
Touching - quite literally, she thought with a smile, and kept the moment's silence in acknowledgement of this shared intimacy. Once she could speak without fear of accidentally brushing the sudden vulnerability away - indeed, once she knew she had to speak lest the prolonged silence seem awkward - she raised her eyes to Peggy's: "Well, good. You just watch, then. That's exactly the sort of holiday I'd had planned for you."
"I suppose we should go home now," Peggy murmured forlornly, pulling the rug more tightly around her shoulders. The wispy hairs at the edges of her scalp had dried into salty little corkscrews, startlingly dark against skin which was suddenly paler now the sun had long since descended from view.
Rhyll ground out another cigarette into the sand beside them. "I suppose we should." She grinned wickedly across at Peggy. "Another quick dip in the sea first?"
"Matey'd go ravers," Peggy began, but one look at her face told Rhyll she would do it.
"Were you planning on telling her?" she inquired, already shrugging off the shirt which currently covered her bathing suit.
Peggy giggled and got to her feet, dropping the rug and standing patiently waiting. Rhyll stood up too, unbuckling her belt and giving Peggy a quizzical look. "Are you going in, Burnett? In your dress?"
Peggy rolled her eyes, glanced up and down the deserted beach before letting her gaze rest pointedly on her discarded bather where it lay, wet on the sand. "I'm waiting 'til you're ready, you goop."
Rhyll couldn't repress a shout of delighted laughter. She too cast an eye across the beach, as if to make sure, although they had been quite alone for what must be hours now. As she stepped free of her trousers, Peggy was as good as her word, slipping the flimsy yellow sundress over her head and racing through the night air to the sea. Rhyll marvelled for a moment before chasing after her, and the two grabbed hands as they stumbled into the sea, squealing as the cold water hit them.
As soon as they were waist-deep, Peggy flung herself under, swimming a lazy crawl beside Rhyll. "It's never too late for dignity," she gasped cheerfully.
"I'll take your word for it!"
It was a clear night, the bright moon - almost full - untroubled by a single cloud, reflecting off the darkness of the sea. As Peggy swam, a thousand fragments of reflected moonlight sparkled around her. Rhyll sank herself to her shoulders too, kicked alongside her.
"Isn't this magical?" Peggy wanted to know. "I wonder if it's a sacking offence?"
"Do you mean the skinny-dipping in particular, Burnett?" Rhyll teased. "Or merely the grave sin of being in cold water after eight o'clock in the morning? Hot milk and a week in bed for you, I should think..."
Peggy swam closer, reaching for Rhyll's hand underwater. Fingers linked together, slippery and dancing like fronds of seaweed. "Is that a promise, Evvy? I do hope it is."
Rhyll smiled. Peggy was near enough now that she could see the moonlight reflected in her eyes, too. Earlier the same day, she would have sworn that Peggy was never more beautiful than she was in the bright sunlight, but now she found she had changed her mind again. "You're quite right," she called gently, above the roar of the sea. "It is magical."
Peggy shoved their wet bathing suits and picnic detritus into the picnic basket, whilst Rhyll shook the sand from the rugs and raked over her little pile of cigarette butts with her heel. They each took a handle of the wicker basket, and sauntered contentedly back up to the gravel of the coast road.
"What time do you think it is?" Peggy wondered.
Rhyll glanced thoughtfully up at the sky. "Eleven, maybe? Aren't you supposed to know how to tell the time by the position of the moon, or something? Are you sure you were a Guide?"
"Hey!" Peggy retorted. "You know an awful lot about Guiding, today. You do sound jealous..."
Rhyll grinned. "Maybe I am. Wouldn't you be?"
"Poor deprived little Rhyll," Peggy agreed, with a cheerfulness which couldn’t possibly be mistaken for sympathy. "Although I've always had the impression that Swanley was much the same thing, really. All picking blackberries and milking cows..."
Rhyll chuckled. "This from someone who spent three years partaking in gymnastics displays."
"And country dancing," Peggy objected, affecting injury.
"And country dancing," Rhyll agreed. "I like that you're more anxious to have that included than any of your physiology."
Peggy laughed. "Guilty as charged. I think it's later than eleven, anyway."
"I'll defer to your greater expertise, then," Rhyll murmured, her voice dropping as they reached the island road even though there was still neither person nor building in sight. "Either way, I'm quite certain I've earned a lie in for the morning - consider this fair notice, my darling!"
Peggy's lips twitched. “Do you mean you’re not thankful for every waking moment you spend with me, sweetheart?”
“I love you even when I’m asleep,” Rhyll retorted. “And at certain hours of the morning, I love you especially when I’m asleep.”
And yet even as she said it, it was with gratitude that Rhyll noted Peggy’s refusal to commit to a lazy morning. For one short week, she would relish every waking sunlit minute they could share.
"What are you doing up before me?"
Rhyll didn't need to turn around and see Peggy's smile to recognise the good humour of her feigned petulance. "Making a picnic. Not breakfast yet I'm afraid - that was waiting 'til you stirred your stumps."
As she spoke, she cast an inadvertent glance at the oats soaking in the pan on the stove, and Peggy danced lightly across the kitchen, giving them an inspectorial prod with the wooden spoon before nodding approval and lighting the gas. This task accomplished, she returned inquiring eyes to Rhyll. "You have plans, don't you, darling one?"
"You needn't sound so suspicious," Rhyll complained with a twinkle as she wrapped the sandwiches in brown paper and set them to one side.
Peggy shrugged and filled the kettle. Setting it on the stove beside the pan of porridge, she glided across the stone floor to stand behind Rhyll. Small hands clasped Rhyll's waist as Peggy reached up to kiss the nape of her neck. "Tell me!"
Rhyll laughed, and wondered if life could ever be better than this, barefoot in the big kitchen with the sea and sunshine on one side and her lover on the other. "I thought we could take a boat out, row over to one of the other islands for the day. Would you like to? I've never been to any of them."
"I'd love to."
Rhyll had arranged the loan of the boat almost as soon as she had nonchalantly agreed to stay another month at her rooms in St Briavel's. The length of her stay had been raised by Mrs Morgan, who had gone to spend a week with her sister near Cardiff and suggested Rhyll see out the full length of July, rather than leaving midway through as she herself had initially proposed.
"I should feel happier going, knowing you're still about the place," she had acknowledged gruffly, and Rhyll had nodded, deadpan, not a muscle of her face betraying how she herself felt about this 'favour'. Instantly she had known the possibilities offered by a whole week alone; had turned over several months’ worth of holiday plans in her mind as the older woman spoke; had offered a slow and indifferent agreement even as her heart thumped with excitement.
The man she had wanted was Thomas, from the next street: “the younger Mr Thomas”, as Mrs Morgan always described him, but in all her time on the island Rhyll had never come across the older man whose existence was implied by the identifier. A father, a brother? Rhyll did not ask, but idly turned it over in her head as she took herself off to see him that same morning, skated as close to the truth of her own business as possible: she was unexpectedly holidaying in the village before leaving for good, and might she borrow the skiff for a day, to finally get around to exploring the surroundings she had so foolishly taken for granted all these years? She used fewer words than these, knowing such effusion would ring false, but the sentiment was there and she meant it. Flattery had scored her the deal: he had sized her up, evidently decided her rowing did not require questioning, and agreed the date. He would not accept the payment she offered and, careful not to offend, she did not attend to persuade him.
"Do you know anything about any of the islands?" Peggy asked, trailing her fingers in the glittering water as she spoke.
Rhyll shook her head. "Nothing at all. It'll be a voyage into undiscovered lands - unless you know anything you've neglected to mention?"
"Not a sausage!" Peggy threw back cheerfully. "Oh, Rhyll, this is nice, isn't it? Thank you."
Rhyll smiled, somewhat vacantly: she could find no words to shrug the thanks off as unnecessary, to say that the planning had been a joy in itself; that Peggy's undisguised pleasure was more than thanks enough.
Rhyll rowed and they talked, the conversation moving between the teasing humour that had always characterised their relationship and more serious matters: she listened as Peggy spoke about the two brothers Rhyll might never meet and her time at Bedford, and in turn she told Peggy about her own brothers, their families, the lives she had lived before joining the school. Talking with Peggy was always easy, no matter the subject: there was a steadfast something in the brown eyes which told her beyond any doubt that she was understood, and she was accepted; there was a comfort to their shared humour that felt safe – and more than safe, nurturing: a place where something delicate and precious could take root and thrive.
“Hi – we’re almost ashore!” Peggy exclaimed in delight, scrambling to her feet with a suddenness that caused the boat to tip precariously to one side. Sweeping her skirt up with one hand, she clambered lightly out into the sea. “Lovely sand!” she offered, standing thigh-deep with one hand on the boat and looking doubtfully at Rhyll’s trousers. “Do you want to go in a bit further before getting out? Height advantage notwithstanding, I’m not sure you’ll be able to roll those up sufficiently to keep them dry at this depth. I must say,” she added with a grin, “it’s rather refreshing to think of a dress as being the most liberating of outfits. I remember terribly envying my brothers at times, when I was small – but maybe they returned the favour from time to time?”
“They would have had shorts, surely,” Rhyll objected, making a decision and unclipping her braces. “But yes, I suppose you do combine elegance and practicality in an unexpected way, standing in the sea with your dress tucked into your knickers...”
“Cheek! I like that, from someone about to remove her trousers altogether.” Peggy’s indignance bubbled with laughter. “Not that there’s anyone here to see, anyway. And it is a beach, after all.”
Rhyll grinned. “You almost sound as if you didn’t know that I meant it, about elegance and practicality, but I did. You always are.”
Peggy raised her eyebrows. “And always unexpectedly?”
“Well. Often, at least.” Rhyll teased, climbing from the wooden boat with a little more caution than Peggy had. “Egads! It’s cold. I shall want to spend the next hour wrapped in a blanket, once we’ve got this thing ashore. You’re quite right about the sand, though, that’s a bonus – we’ll be done in no time.” She took the rope Peggy handed to her, and together they guided the small boat through the water.
The beach was a small one, bookended by cliffs at each end. This had the welcome effect of sheltering them from the winds and rather trapping the sun’s warmth. One might easily have been forgiven for thinking they were somewhere far nearer the equator than the Welsh coast, Rhyll mused, snorting at her desire for a blanket only minutes earlier. “Damned lucky find, this,” she remarked to Peggy as they tugged the boat up onto the golden sand.
Peggy followed her gaze to the jagged rock framing their cove. “Did you mean in terms of the absolute privacy, the highly temperate miniature climate, or our excellent combination of luck and skill in performing such a painless landing when there must be an awful lot of rock not fifty yards in either direction?” She asked, with a sparkling smile and scant regard for grammar. “Actually, it makes no difference. Of course we’re lucky, we always are. And of course we deserve it, we always do. Do you think we’ve brought her up high enough? I think that’ll more than do the job – and now, what’s this about a picnic?”
"We'd better get going, I suppose," Peggy commented, slipping her watch back into the pocket of her discarded jacket. "I don't know when you've got to get this boat back to your fisherman friend in the village, and quite apart from that I don't imagine it would be too much fun to land ourselves stuck out here for the night."
This last thought was accompanied by no small trace of wistfulness, and Rhyll chuckled and slipped a sympathetic arm around her shoulders. "Probably not as much fun as I'd picture it! You're right about the boat, though. I said I'd have it back there before eight tonight."
Peggy nodded, still slightly forlorn. "I wish we hadn't to go back," she choked out. "It's only one more day, and then the magic's over, isn't it? October seems so very far away, somehow."
Rhyll nodded, recognising both sentiments. The gap between this dream-like idyll, this first outside place where nobody could see them, and the reality of the next term, was stark. If only any of it could be as simple as just staying here forever. She drew Peggy closer to her, thankful afresh for their isolation.
"Don't talk about it," she counselled firmly. "Not today. This is our holiday."
With a finger in wet sand, she traced out both their names in huge capital letters, running the tail of Peggy’s Y straight down into the upright line of her own R. “Because there’s nothing we might take for a souvenir of the beach,” she explained, “I think we ought to leave the beach a souvenir of us.”
By way of an answer, Peggy dipped her own hand into her pocket, and with shyly brought forth a grey-brown shell, whole and delicately whorled, a few grains of sand still clinging to the rim of its pinkish underside. Rhyll inspected it, with great interest in it as an unfamiliar species and as something Peggy had acquired so privately.
“My souvenir,” she said softly. “For my room at the new school. I think it’s the same colour as your eyes.”
"Promise you'll come to Innsbruck at half term?" Peggy was demanding as she scrambled up past the narrowest point of the little staircase cut into the cliff face.
Rhyll followed, one hand trailing cautiously along the crumbling sun-warmed rock. "Of course I promise. I'll book a ticket as soon as I get to Carnbach, if it pleases you. I haven't been to Austria before - I'm looking forward to you showing me. Quite apart from looking forward to your excellent company, of course."
Peggy glanced over her shoulder to flash her a wistful smile. "I haven't been there in years - not since I was a tiny little thing - I hope you're not expecting an especially informative guided tour!"
Rhyll recalled her own childhood move barely across Devon, what a seismic shift it had seemed to her at the time; how distant one had felt from the other, to someone with legs too short and means too dependent to do anything more than be taken passively from one to the other. How much larger a gap, from England to Austria and then back again. She recalled the thundering of shellfire from France, gently intruding on the southern coast as she lay belly-down on the sand and watched crabs clatter carelessly across the empty beach; tried to picture the school leaving in haste, the spectre of Hitler looming behind them and hurrying them on their way. She realised, not for the first time, that she had heard so much about the escape of a small number on foot and yet almost nothing about the journey made by the rest of the school.
They were reaching the top now, weary legs glad for the expanse of broad uneven earth which required less attention from those who walked on it. Rhyll pulled Peggy to her, spoke her next words directly into dark curls which nestled softly against her lips and smelled of sun and sea. "I shall be so glad to see you by then, I don't know how much I'll even notice what else is around me."
Peggy laid her head on her shoulder, her face towards the calm evening sea. "Do you remember the first time we came up this way, Evvy?"
Her heart raced a little faster, and her arm tightened around Peggy's waist. "I do. You engineered it very nicely, I must say!"
Peggy twisted to look at her, eyes dancing. "I always did! Engineer it, I mean. To see you, to be with you..."
"I know. I knew." Rhyll remembered the thrill and the fear which Peggy's unambiguous attentions had inspired, and pressed a fierce kiss to her forehead.
"Well, someone had to," Peggy teased, resting her head against Rhyll's chest once more, fingers slipping into her hand. "And I'm very glad I did, all things considered."
"So am I," Rhyll murmured. There was nothing more to say, and they stood in contented silence for several minutes, absorbing every detail: the faint red sunburn of Peggy's shoulders, the sound of the crickets in the bushes behind them, and the wide expanse of glittering sea ahead of them, stretching out to eternity.
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.