Kevin helped dad unpack the car. His 20th birthday was only days away and although he had a vibrant life of his own, or so he said, he still loved this annual vacation with his family, away from the frantic hubbub of the city. Mother, familiar with the kitchen after 15 visits over 15 years, already had the kettle on and was fishing around for tea bags and milk while I vanished upstairs to lay claim to the larger of the two wardrobes in the room that Kevin and I would share. Kevin wrapped his hands around the steaming mug. It was almost April, but the bitter winter had not yet lost its bite and his knuckles ached from damp and cold. They say, in the Weardale they have 9 months winter followed by 3 of bad weather and on a morning such as this, none of us would have disputed this gem of local wisdom.
The cottage was small and old, but well maintained and the powerful radiators just edged the battle with the stinging chill from ill-fitting windows. Even so, father insisted that he set and light the log burner that dominated the sitting room. Within moments, the musty suggestion of damp gave way to the blasting aroma of roasting birch and the tepid air quickly warmed and dried the long journey from our weathered hides. We never bothered with TV or computers when we came to the valley; they somehow seemed to detract from the purpose of our visit.
We spent our first afternoon as a family, talking and catching up on recent events. I'd moved to Banbury with the latest in a string of boyfriends, living close to my parent’s home and Kevin was in final year at Durham University - a stone’s throw from where we were currently spending our vacation. Kevin and I had always been close. I was 3 years his senior and a big sister was a very useful tool to have when growing up. I may not have been much of a protector in my own right, but older sisters know older boys and Kevin had enjoyed a rather sweet ride through his more vulnerable years. We shared an unbreakable bond; Kevin would willingly confide in me rather than either of our parents and I, for my part, kept nothing from him. He lost his virginity on his 16th birthday to my best friend; a kind of birthday present from us both, and I had been his kissing tutor and advisor on all matters pertaining to girls all the way through school. In turn Kevin’s was the shoulder I cried on each time a relationship floundered.
After settling in, Dad and I embarked on our traditional hike into Middlehope burn, while Mam organised the pantry shelves and cupboards or hung up our clothes to let the creases drop out. Kevin strapped on his hiking boots and picked up his camera. He loved the view from the hills high above the village, especially when the sun was getting low and vibrant oranges and reds painted the sky as no artist ever could. Afterwards, he told us, he’d drop down into the village for a pint or two and quipped, 'perhaps he'd get lucky with a farmer’s daughter,’ and told us not to wait up.
In the remainder of the tale that follows, I was barely involved, but I will recount it as Kevin told it to me.
Kevin took his usual route into the hills. He followed the river to Daddry Shield and then cut up through Low Saugh Shield, following the overgrown track to the laughingly named High Wood Meadows. If you had ever visited the place, you'd understand the joke. High Wood Meadows is perhaps the most baron expanse of hillside that you could hope to lay eyes on. Vicious Pennine gales rape the land of all but the hardiest vegetation, and there's not a single tree to be seen. Almost all of the heavy stone built dwellings this high in the Pennines lie derelict or had been converted to summer residences for neurosurgeons and city barristers. Kevin continued to climb, further than he'd ever remembered walking before and crested Chapelfell Top so that he peer down into Swinhope Moor.
Another famous saying in the dale is 'if you don't like the weather - give it half an hour.' As Kevin stood catching his breath and waiting for the burning to leave his calf muscles, a dark menace covered the sun and the temperature plummeted. He shivered, took a couple of pictures as evidence of how far he had walked and turned to make his way back into the valley as the rain began to fall. Propelled by strong winds the pellets of freezing water stung his cheeks and rattled against his jacket and within moment's he'd discovered the difference between waterproof and water resistant as the elements cut through the lining of his coat. He'd passed an old abandoned farmhouse on his ascent and thought perhaps it might offer a little shelter until the storm passed over. The sky darkened and the path became less obvious as the rain turned to sleet and snow and quickly obscured any trace of a trail. ‘Keep heading down hill’, he thought ‘and you're bound to fall into the river’.
Straying just a degree or two led Kevin through marsh and swampland; the icy mud soaked the bottoms of his jeans and slurped into his boots where his thermal socks acted like a sponge, soaking as much of the black glutinous liquid as it could hold. The low cloud clung to the hill like thick mist, but Kevin resolutely continued downwards until through the murk he saw a light through the sleet. A moment later the weak yellow glow was framed by the huge black mass of a farmhouse looming out of the encroaching night.
Kevin peered through a window. It looked like a typical Catherine Cookson home; a dominating table and a blazing fire in the cast iron range. He pressed his nose to the glass like a child at a sweet shop window. A girl passed through his vision with an armful of carefully ironed sheets, which she laid on the table and turned her back to stoke the fire. Kevin knocked on the window and the girl dropped the poker and spun around, her hand clutching her heart. Confusion crossed her face, quickly supplanted with concern. She pointed to her left and hurried off in that direction. Kevin’s numb fingers traced the wall as his feet slithered in the mud and ice. He rounded a corner and a few heavy steps later found the open door.
He took a step, but the girl's confident authority stopped him in his tracks. "You can take those muddy boots off before you set foot in here."
Kevin obediently unlaced his boots and dropped the waterlogged socks onto the stone floor before shivering into a dark kitchen and following the girl into the room he'd seen through the window, where the fire blazed like a lover's embrace.
He stood uncomfortably close to the flames, slowly poaching in the layers of moisture.
"Get out of those wet things." she ordered. And, as an afterthought she returned to the kitchen and emerged a moment later with Kevin’s boots and socks, which she carefully arranged on a newspaper that she'd placed before the black leaded range.
She pulled a large towel from a welsh dresser as Kevin stripped down to his underwear. "Are they dry?" She asked, knowing the answer. "Then get them off. You needn't be embarrassed," she offered, "I've three brothers. You've nothing I've not seen before." Kevin dropped his boxer shorts and wrapped himself in the rough bath sheet while the girl draped his clothes over a brass pole that hung beneath the wooden mantle.
At last she turned and Kevin saw the beautiful woman disguised as a farm hand. She wore working clothes, dungarees and a thick plaid shirt, which was far too big and with the sleeves rolled up so that the tips of her delicate fingers protruded from them. He assumed the shirt belonged to one of her brothers, as it clearly hadn't been bought for her. The girl's elfin features were fine and striking and made his heart skip a beat. She had the most piercing blue eyes he had ever seen and when she smiled, two rows of perfect teeth shone brightly like piano keys. In her smile the gloom and cold and rain dissipated and the joy of a glorious summer’s day filled his heart.
Kevin thanked her and introduced himself.
"Sarah," she offered in exchange, and then seeming to decide that he was trustworthy, corrected herself. "Call me Sal."
"Good to meet you Sal." He stood shivering.
"Da's out lambing with the boys, but I've kept the broth on the boil in case they return. You're welcome to a bowl."
Kevin nodded eagerly and watched Sal plod out to the kitchen in boots three sizes too big. He noticed for the first time that the light in the room came from two candles on the table and the flickering open fire, and wondered when the electricity would be restored. It must often fail this far up on the hill tops, he concluded.
Sal returned within seconds with a bowl of steaming stew, thick with meat and potatoes. Kevin ate enthusiastically and felt its heat radiating outwards from his belly to meet the warmth of the fire. At last he felt almost human again, his sense of humour returning.
"Do you ever meet other boys, stuck right out here? He asked playfully.
"Occasionally." She replied with a straight face. "Sometimes dad lets me fuck them before we put them in the pot."
Kevin sat unable to answer. "He'd hoped for a response, but was expecting a blushing flower rather than a venus trap.
"I was just wondering," she added, "what Da and the lads would say if they came home to find a naked man in the house? Probably nail you to the barn door as an example to others."
The look on Kevin's face was a picture and Sal bust into uncontrollable laughter.
"Its Ok hun." She managed eventually. "I won't eat you."
Kevin reached for his small rucksack and pulled the expensive digital camera from it. It looked as though it had just about survived and instinctively he took her picture. Sal blinked, blinded from the flash and laughed. Kevin took her picture again and again and found himself laughing with her.
"Can I make a quick call?" he asked as she picked up his empty bowl.
"Do as you wish." She said. "But, no one will hear you out here."
She was right. As Kevin suspected he couldn't get a reception on his mobile phone and threw it onto the table, in disappointment rather than disgust.
Sal watched in silence for a moment and then reached out to stroke his hair. "It’s like a girls." She said simply, letting her hand follow the tumbling curls, usually golden, but today a weather beaten dark brown. "I wish I had hair like this." She shook her head and her mousey brown hair floated for a moment, before settling. "Bet all the girls tell you that."
"In truth - they all take the piss."
Kevin didn't flinch, letting his eyes capture her image in the dancing firelight.
"Do they indeed?"
He watched Sal's lips as she spoke, longing to taste them, to kiss her. Though she seemed not to be wearing makeup of any kind, her lips were stained crimson as though she'd been eating rare beef or drinking ruby wine and Kevin wondered if it was their natural hue.
"Though I can't be sure . . . " Sal didn't finish the sentence. Kevin leaned forward and pressed his mouth to hers and to his astonishment she didn't pull away. He edged back, releasing her, waiting for the slap that he so rightly deserved. ". . .What you really mean." She finished in a whisper.
He kissed her again, this time she responded, her lips moving against his. His tongue gently explored her mouth and Sal moaned softly, bringing her arms about his shoulders.
When did you say your father would be back" he asked between kisses.
"Any time." She purred as Kevin unbuttoned the dungarees and began to loosen her shirt.
"Then we shouldn't be caught like this." Kevin whispered
"No indeed.” She replied taking his hand.
She led him up the treacherous stairs, a candle illuminating their way. In her room she rested the light on the aging dressing table, its mirrored back filling the room with a ochre glow and he caught a glimpse of cleavage, a hint of breast and Kevin's nerves began to tingle.
Sal stepped effortlessly out of her boots and the dungarees slipped from her legs. She stood waiting before him, her eyes fixed on his. Kevin's trembling hands reached out and continued to unbutton her shirt. It fell to the floor with an audible thud and for a moment he simply started at her naked beauty. Her body was as taut and toned as any athletes; her breasts small and firm, her stomach flat with muscle rippling beneath her porcelain skin and the sinews of her slender legs cast shadows in her flesh in the flickering light.
In Kevin's short and frenzied sex life, he had always been the passive partner, older girls and women taking from him what they desired and yet giving so much in return. But here he was the master. Sal waited naked and radiant; waiting for him to be a man, to take her. It seemed a very old fashioned concept to him, but such a massive turn on. Sal was his. He let the towel fall from his waist and took a leaf out of Richard Gere's book in an officer and a gentleman. Kevin swept her up in his arms and carried her to the bed. He consumed her first with his eyes, letting them examine every inch of flesh while Sal lay patiently with her eyes closed and breast heaving. He laid a hand on her thigh, letting it wander over her skin to the music of her gentle sighs. A mist rose from her parted lips, reminding him that there was no heating in this room, but despite the cold, his swollen cock ached with the desire that flooded into it. He lowered his mouth to hers and finally they kissed. Electricity crackled through him and he eased his body onto her. Her skin was like satin, smooth and cool and despite everything I had taught him about foreplay and a woman's needs, Kevin felt her legs part and his hips slipped between her thighs. His cock was straining like some wild beast and he reached down to position himself, guiding the tip of his erection to its quivering sheath.
Sal was dry, but her gentle sobs as they kissed told Kevin to persist. His pre-cum was flowing and after a moment, lubricated her sufficiently to barge inside. The walls of her vagina were as toned as the rest of her and she gripped his shaft firmly as he entered. Kevin moaned, and wondered how long he would last in such a tight hold. Deeper and deeper she swallowed him, until finally their hips engaged and Kevin began to move, slowly and sensuously. Sal's eyes and mouth snapped open in astonishment, This was not the kind of fucking which the farm hand had showed her and her nails tore at Kevin’s back as she sobbed. Encouraged by her response He continued to torture her with his rhythmic desire, their mouths locked in feverish passion, exchanging muffled moans and sobs.
Kevin felt her vagina tighten like a fist about his shaft. She cried, louder this time and sunk her teeth into his shoulder and Kevin continued to fuck, astonished that he'd survived long enough to make her cum. His cock slurped as he moved with increasing urgency. Sal exhaling audibly with every thrust, each breath tipped with a silent whimper and her arms and legs fell away in unconditional surrender. A great pressure began to build in him and Kevin's body tensed, his cock stiffened and grew yet larger and with a wail, he filled her to the brim. Sal moaned contentedly as Kevin's cock twitched and bucked within her, and she held on tightly so that she could ride him until the bitter end.
At last the eruptions subsided and they lay panting together, their bodies moist despite the cold. After a moment Sal pulled the blankets over them and Kevin lay in her arms, his slowly withering erection sliding from her moist welcome. In that moment there was no one else in the world and the heavy clock over the unlit fireplace ticked and tocked him to sleep.
He awoke in darkness. The candle had burned out and a warm body turned in his arms, throwing a leg over his.
"What's wrong?" the Sal purred.
"It's late." He said unable to keep the disappointment from his voice. "I'll be missed."
"Then you should go." She said simply, but there was no conviction in her words.
With overwhelming reluctance Kevin stepped from the warmth of her arms into the chill night and Sal followed, lighting a fresh candle with the skill of a blind woman who has memorised the layout of her home. She pulled on her shirt, and led Kevin down stairs. His clothes were almost dry and he dressed quickly. As he stood on the doorstep, torn between his family and the love of this girl, he turned and kissed her. "I'll come back tomorrow." He promised.
"I'll be waiting." She replied with a smile.
Kevin cursed that he'd not brought his torch, but at least the rain had stopped and a full moon was poking through the broken cloud.
"Follow the track." Sal offered, "It’s well marked and will lead you to the river. You should be able to find your way from there."
Kevin nodded and kissed her again, this time with more urgency. "See you tomorrow."
"Tomorrow." She echoed.
Kevin found the way easy to follow as promised. Whenever the hard, stony ground turned to mud, he knew he'd stepped from the path, but the moon proved a welcome companion and his eyes quickly became accustomed to the dark. Behind him a bright flash and crack of thunder spurred him on and he quickened his pace, racing the storm. Even so, it took him an hour and a half to stumble down the fellside to the village.
Mam had waited up and I sat with her, though Dad had simply said that Kevin was man enough to know what he was doing. I guess mothers never see beyond their little boy and we'd expected him to crawl in in the early hours, drunk and barely able to walk in a straight line. At a few minutes after three the back door creaked open and we listened while Kevin tried to sneak in unheard.
"We're in here." I called and he poked his head around the door to apologise and tell us he was going straight to bed. I followed, while Mam pottered around in the kitchen, had another cup of tea and waiting for her nerves to calm down.
As we lay in our single beds, Kevin recounted his tale and I listened with growing admiration for my little brother. I made him tell me again and again in graphic detail and I questioned him on every nuance of the encounter. Finally he reached for his camera and showed me the pictures he'd taken. The view finder was small, but she was undoubtedly beautiful. I jumped out of bed and kissed him. Neither of us slept well that night.
The following morning Kevin and I were first up and cooked an anniversary breakfast for our parents. We hurried outside leaving Mam and Dad to finish eating and to do whatever else parents get up to in bed when the kids aren’t around. The sky was clear and the morning sun was beginning to melt the late frost from the ground. Kevin was keen to return to the farm and to Sal's arms, but we needed to buy a couple of things from the shop and had a good 30 minutes before the co-op opened. We wandered through the village, the air thick with smoke as residents lit their fires and we wandered down to the park, sitting on the swings while the ice melted and soaked through our jeans. Neither of us spoke. Kevin's mind was clearly on the events of the previous night and didn't want to break the spell his lover had cast.
At last we made our way back to the shop and as we approached, the door opened and a woman stepped out carrying shopping in each hand. I recognised her at once from Kevin's photos, though her hair appeared longer and darker, tied back in a ponytail. It was strange, her eyes were dark while Kevin had insisted they were blue, but unless she had a twin it was certainly the girl he’d met last night.
"Sal?" Kevin called as she hurried away and the woman turned smiling, but there was confusion in her expression. "Sal," Kevin Continued. "This is my sister Jenny." He blurted, I assumed in case she thought I was his girlfriend.
"Pleased to meet you Jenny." She offered her hand. I must admit, she was not what I’d expected. Kevin had described how she’d been dressed, but here she wore a very expensive looking ski jacket over black trousers and balanced precariously on the 4 inch heels of her pristine leather boots. "I'm sara." She offered in return.
"I know, Kevin has told me all about you."
"Has he indeed," she sounded more amused than concerned.
"I'm sorry, but Kevin and I share everything, so you can’t tell him anything you don't want me to know."
"I'll remember that." She said with a trace of humour.
"Sal." Kevin said taking her hand. "Can I see you tonight?"
"Perhaps." She answered.
"Maybe, you'd like me to meet your father and brothers. I don't want them to think I'm taking advantage of you."
Sara burst out laughing and threw her arms about us both. "Come with me," she said with a tremor in her voice. "There's someone you need to meet."
Sara swept us through the village at a terrific pace and I struggled to keep up. We stopped abruptly, climbed three steps and she pushed open the door of a cottage on Front Street.
"Gran!" She called. "Gran! We have visitors."
There was the sound of movement from upstairs, shuffling feet and a weak voice replied. "Just a second."
"You'll have to excuse Gran, she's gone 90 and is slowing down a little, but her mind is as sharp as a tack." She led us into the living room and we sat expectantly.
"Sal . . ." kevin began.
"Tea?" She interrupted.
We both nodded and waited while Sara hurried out to the kitchen. She returned with a tray of biscuits and poured two steaming cups from an old brown pot. "Ah Gran! This is Kevin and his sister Jenny."
As I looked up at the old woman I saw a tear trickle down her cheek.
"You've come back." She said. "Just as you promised."
"Sorry?" Kevin asked, in bewilderment. But I saw the piercing blue eyes he'd described the night before.
She took a seat by the fire and propped her walking stick against the wall while Sara, unbidden, pulled a large wooden box from a cupboard and rested it on the table next to her grandmother. The old woman began to rummage through the old papers and memories and at last she found what she was looking for. She pulled out the small package and carefully peeled back the tissue covering.
"My phone!" Kevin exclaimed. "I must have left it in the farm last night."
"You left it in the farm," the old woman corrected him, like a school teacher correcting his spelling, "on 16th April 1943."
Neither Kevin nor I could speak, but on examination, the phone's leather case was worn and showed traces of mould damage, despite being so carefully treasured.
Kevin was rooted to the spot and the old woman handed me a newspaper cutting. 'Girl escapes unharmed as her home is destroyed.' The headline read.
I read out loud. "Weardale Gazette - 17th April 1943. Last night Sarah Lockhart of High Hill Farm had a miraculous escape as her family home was raised to the ground by Nazi bombs. It was thought that a German Bomber had strayed from its squadron during an attack the East coast ports of Sunderland and Newcastle during last night’s full moon. Having overflown its target, the aircraft is thought to have released its payload before heading back to Germany. One of the incendiaries fell directly onto the farm in which Sarah had been left alone while her widowed father and three brothers tended their lambs in the inhospitable weather."
I paused for breath and looked up. The old woman smiled and nodded for me to continue.
"Sarah had left her home in the early hours to take a pan of broth to her hungry family. Moments later nothing remained of the farmhouse or out buildings."
"Actually," the woman said. "When the bomb fell, I was chasing a young man down the hillside to return something that he'd left behind. It looked very technical and expensive, and I knew he'd miss it. I only discovered what it was when Sara's Dad bought her a mobile phone on her 14th birthday. I knew you’d come back for it."
"It’s a story that I've grown up with." The young woman added, sitting on the arm of the chair putting her own arm around her gran's shoulders. "Imagine my excitement a couple of years ago, when Samsung brought out the Galaxy S3. It not only confirmed that Gran's story was true, but also told us that your arrival was not too far away."
The old woman was lost in her dreams. "I thought I'd made love to a movie star that night." She said at last and then turned to her Granddaughter, "Sara, I'd like you to meet your grandfather."
Sara's Jaw dropped.
It seemed that her gran had not told her everything . . .