Her message popped up on my phone that evening as I was sat on the edge of my bed trying to sort out a mess of charging cables. I took a breath, why was I so anxious about her response?
"That sounds amazing!" it read.
I breathed a sigh of relief and laid flat on my back on the bed. A large smile drew across my face as I started thinking of spending nearly a week together with Ana. We messaged back and forth bashing out the details leading up to the day of departure.
Day 1 -- Friday
I'd not been away for ages. I couldn't wait to get to the coast after the last 10 months. It was going to be good therapy whatever the weather brought. A pang of excitement ran over me. Edward would be here shortly and I could just throw my stuff in his car and get going. It was kind of him to have offered to drive, not that I would have minded doing it. It was a couple of hours to the coast where Robert, Aaron and Mike were meeting us at the cottage. I didn't know them that well, but I was willing to chance it. In the 6 years I'd known Ed he'd told me enough about them to not feel too apprehensive. I think he felt sorry for me when he thought to invite me but I hadn't realised how desperate I was for a change of scene until he told me their plans. They had a spare room at the place they were renting so Ed surprised me with the offer to accompany them, no pressure to join their plans but I was welcome anyway. I had literally bitten his hand off at the opportunity. I love spending time with Ed, it's effortless, which makes a change from the majority of day to day life. We'd spent a lot of time together as close friends and I kept feeling it could be more than that but I didn't know if I wanted to risk fucking up the relationship with my best friend.
The doorbell rang, my stomach fluttered, he's was here! "One sec, I'm just coming", I shouted as I put my trainers on.
Ana answered the door with a huge smile on her face and gave me a longing hug. I wrapped my arms around her and savoured the extended embrace as she tightened her arms further. As we parted I felt a little awkward. I didn't know why, I guess that hug just felt different somehow. She had a couple of bags down by her feet so I grabbed them and put them in the boot of my car, got in the driver's seat as Ana joined me on the passenger's side and we headed on our way.
The journey itself was pretty uneventful. Some heavy traffic in places but nothing that held us up for too long, it was mostly a long, monotonous motorway. The conversation with Ana made it feel like less of a chore. It started out pretty normal -- pleasantries, talking about what we'd been up to, struggles, annoyances, the usual 'putting-the-world-to-rights' stuff but then not far into the drive the topic turned to sex. Ana's always been adventurous with her topics of conversation but this was a new one! We talked about our views on sex in the media, our own experiences, preferences, wants and likes. We'd thrown the odd innuendo around in the past, maybe a bit of mild flirting but we really opened up to each other like never before and it felt so freeing. I'd always felt like I could talk to Ana about anything and this journey proved it more than ever.
The journey put me in a reflective mood. I knew most things about Edward and wasn't afraid to chat over a majority of subjects. Sex had been on my mind more and more over the last few weeks. The growing media coverage of women's rights and short falls in past relationships were floating through my brain as the landscape sped past the car window. "Can I ask you a random question?" I asked inquisitively.
"What?" he asked, suddenly confused before the realisation hit him, "Oh, I thought you said 'randy question' for a moment there."
He looked at me amused "Go on..."
How risqué could I go I wondered as I opened with, "Well...how do you feel about porn...?"
Hahaha, the look on his face was priceless as he registered what I had said. It was so freeing talking so frankly with him, I think it gave us both a rush.
A couple of hours later we arrived at our destination. We'd set off early so it was late morning when we got there. I was almost sad to arrive, it meant the conversation which, to be honest, had me buzzing, needed to end.
I pulled up outside the cottage. It was quite small and quaint with ivy growing up the front on one side. Its thatched roof looked quite new and it had double glazed windows signifying it had been kept well.
Ana and I got out of the car as Robert, AA and Mike emerged from the front door.
Robert leapt over to us like an excitable gazelle, "You made it!"
He was an expert at stating the obvious.
I smiled and nodded at AA and Mike and they returned the gesture, turned to Ana, said hi and wished her a nice time.
"We're off to the high caves after lunch," Robert told us, "You're more than welcome to join."
Ana looked at me then turned to Robert, "Sounds good!"
AA gestured towards the annex then walked over to unlock the front door. It was a single floor flat attached to the right of the cottage, looking more modern and a little out of place next to the traditional building it accompanied.
AA opened the brown front door and handed me the keys, "Settle in and give us a shout when you're ready to go."
The three of them headed back into the cottage as Ana and I grabbed our bags and entered the annex. What greeted us first was an open plan living room with a bright and fresh looking kitchen at the far end. To our right was a cosy looking sofa and sizable TV (thank goodness) with an Xbox underneath it (even better).
I looked to my left and saw a door next to the large glass fronted cabinet. We headed through into a small, brightly lit hallway thanks to the generously sized window on the left, with a couple of low book shelves beneath. On our right there were three more doors. The first lead to the small modern bathroom featuring a toilet, wash basin and not a lot else. The second took us into one of the bedrooms, this one had a sizable en-suite shower attached.
"Ooh, this is mine!" Ana shouted with childlike eagerness, stroked my arm and headed in. "I really like it!" she called from inside the room.
That left the third door as my room. I walked in and looked around. No en-suite for me. I guess we would have to take turns if I wanted a shower. The room wasn't too large but it did the job. A wardrobe on my left and a double bed at the back book ended by a couple of bedside cabinets. To the right a modern designer green velvet chair was positioned by the window looking out to the sea. I dropped my bags on the floor with the intention of unpacking later, slipped off my shoes and flumped onto the bed, closing my eyes for a moment.
A simple room, but furnished with thought met me as I bounded into it, laying claim to the view from the window at the rear of the room looking out to the surrounding coastal landscape. The earlier conversations with Ed crept back up on me, a coy smile emerging. I opened the window and took a deep breath, inhaling the cool autumnal salty air. I couldn't be happier in that moment, I concluded, turning back to the bed and unzipping my bag.
Ana and I met the other three for lunch in a small café in town and had a good catch up. AA was regaling us with his at-work achievements and Mike was complaining about his girlfriend not being pleased about him coming on this break without her. Robert was just happy to be there.
Afterwards we headed to the high caves which required a cable car to get to. We all piled into one leading to Ana nearly sitting on my lap. I didn't mind. Once we reached the top and Mike had recovered from his mild vertigo induced panic they revealed they had a plan of where they wanted to visit. Their ideas seemed a little regimented so Ana and I agreed to head off without them.
The small museum which lead into a gift shop before the caverns didn't take too much time explore before we decided to head to the first cave. There was a lengthy queue which we had to join. For the whole time I just wanted to wrap my arm around Ana and pull her in tight but told myself it wouldn't be appropriate. She did squeeze my arm and put her head against my shoulder when I made her laugh which was a nice gesture.
The queue gave us more time to chat which I relished. Ed was on top comical form, making me laugh with his knowingly terrible jokes. It was busy and I got the impression he was strategically positioning himself to avoid me being inadvertently shoved by a group of kids directly behind us.
The queue began shuffling forward and we headed to the mouth of the cave. The guide gave us some history on the area along with some rules to adhere to once we went inside. The caves were... dark. We were lead on a tour through the damp rock, having to crouch down for much of it. I should have done those stretches Ana had shown me beforehand.
I had a sudden deep feeling of instinctive fear in the pit of my stomach as we entered the caves. It became almost pitch black rapidly. Tours had been running through the ancient cave system since the Victorian era so the whole route was well practiced. My inquisitive side soon came out as my eyes adjusted and I began to look at the patterns in the rock as we walked deeper into the cave system, the echoes of the others joining us on the tour reverberating through the tunnels. Ed was behind me the whole time, which gave me a sense of security I hadn't appreciated until we were led into one of the huge, dimly lit caverns. For a moment the instinctive fear reappeared, my hands sought Ed's for security.
The tour ended with a steep climb up some metal steps, out of the caves and onto the highest point. The view was mesmerising, triggering us to take a selfie before stopping to sit on the grass and look out across the valley. I so wanted to put one arm around her shoulder but just resting up against each other was pleasant enough.
Time seemed to run away with us though, we were meant to visit a second cave but it was too late so we headed back to the cable cars. After having to queue for a little while, we made our way down and finally met the other three in the car park.
The two of us watched TV back at the annex and chatted the evening away until the need for sleep got the better of us. Outside our rooms we hugged tightly. I didn't want to let her go, it felt like she was reluctant for the night to end too...
Day 2 -- Saturday
Ana and I had joined Robert, AA and Mike in the cottage for breakfast. Their kitchen was very extravagant with exposed beams across the ceiling, a red tiled floor with an intricately patterned rug resting on top. The room was generously lit by light from the large window above the kitchen worktops. In the corner sat an Aga that no-one had dared use yet apart from boiling the kettle.
We all sat around the large oak table in the centre talking about the day's plans.
AA kept looking at his phone a little perturbed, "Why didn't they tell us this place had no WiFi?"
Mike shrugged, "You might get 4G on top of the hills when we go."
"Hope so," AA replied and then turned to me, "Will you two be joining us today or doing your own thing?"
Ana rested her hand next to mine, our little fingers linked, "We'll see what happens."
Edward's friends are alright, but I wouldn't want to be with them all day long. I craved to just walk and see the surrounding countryside. The day's plans of hill walking sounded perfect as long as I could be alone with Ed for a bit. I was happy to not have internet access, to escape the pace of so called 'modern life'.
Mid-morning we arrived at the Hills. It was a squeeze having us all packed into one car but the journey wasn't too long. It was cold up there, an occasional gust of wind nearly threw us off balance.
It was a large area with differing hills of historical significance surrounded by dense woodland. A few picnic benches scattered the place and between the trees in the distance sat a charming looking church. It was pretty quiet up there with a couple of dog walkers, a family of four and a runner doing circuits around the area.
The five of us walked together, climbing the hills which seemed to get tougher with each one before heading into the woods and following the path through the undergrowth.
I walked next to Ana, our hands occasionally brushed against each other's and I wanted to hold hers tightly but, as usual, resisted.
On the edge of the tree line, Ana glanced at the church, "Shall we have a look?"
I was happy to, the other three wanted to challenge themselves with the steepest hill so they headed off.
Ana and I walked around the churchyard, glancing at some of the names on the gravestones. The church looked a lot bigger close up as we peered towards the top of the steeple. Behind us was a wooden bench backed by a group of topiary yew trees. We sat down and I instinctively put my arm around Ana's shoulders. I don't know what suddenly made me so bold but Ana seemed to enjoy it as she leant into me and we snuggled together. We chatted about the past couple of days and our plans when we'd get home and then for a moment there was silence as I hesitated to say what had been playing on my mind.
"I've never felt this kind of connection with someone before," I paused, trying to collect my thoughts, "I've had plenty of relationships but what I have with you feels deeper, somehow."
Ana looked at me, her eyes widened. Surprise? Shock? Anger? Oh god, I hoped it wasn't anger.
"I know what you mean," she replied, placing her hand on my knee, "I've been thinking a lot about us, trying to make sense of it all."
We somehow snuggled in closer, this sudden openness was closing the gap between us.
"I'm confused," Ana continued, "I didn't think this sort of thing would happen and I'm not sure what to do with it."
"Perhaps we don't have to do anything with it," I offered, "just enjoy what we've got right now."
Ana smiled, she gently stroked my knee. That touch meant more than I could admit.
"I always have." She said, looking into my eyes.
The moment was suddenly broken up by the sight of two girls, dressed in black head to toe, photographing each other straddling the grave stones, they seemed completely oblivious to our presence as we sat and stared at them in mild confusion. It was probably time to leave.
We headed back through the wood and saw Robert emphatically waving at us from atop one of the hills in the distance so made our way over to join him and the others, the thoughts from our conversation leaping about my mind.
After our conversation in the churchyard we decided to have an evening alone, order pizza and watch a film. I was quietly pleased to be away from the others.
Sitting on the sofa I had placed myself back against some cushions on the far arm of the chair, legs curled underneath me, but soon stretching them out over Ed's lap. He had his geeky lounge pants and a baggy t-shirt on while I joined him in grey leggings and a long sleeved top with a low neckline. The day's walking had the effect of making me really tired, and I struggled to keep my eyes open. The shirt I was wearing had the unhelpful habit of sliding off one shoulder if I didn't sit completely upright.
As the film progressed our bodies gently drew closer, but with an element of restraint. Edward's hands were drawn to running over my knees up onto my thighs. I loved the feeling of his warm firm touch, the unexpected intimacy. A fleeting feeling of heat had washed over my body.
The credits started to roll and Edward slowly got up, "Stay there, I'll be back in a bit, I'm just going to sort out some snacks and wash up. Then fancy watching another film or something?"
"Sounds like a good plan to me, thanks Ed! I'll have a look at the choices." I curled onto my side along the length of the sofa, scrolling through the film options on the TV with the remote before I started to doze.
The drawn curtains held the cold draught at bay and a single lamp on the coffee table close by kept the lighting soft and low. Edward had left the living room and I could hear him putting the plates on the draining board as he finished the washing up.
I placed the dirty plates in the sink as the hot water splashed over them and stared out of the kitchen window. It was dark of course, so all I could see was my reflection staring back, its contemplative expression mirroring my own as my mind went over the night's events.
Since Ana and I had got back in touch we had been seeing each other more often, each meeting felt more intimate than the last.
A picnic in the shade of a tree, our backs rested against one another's. Simple contact but it felt so good to have that kind of touch with someone, and be ok with it. Another summer walk, sitting in the long grass of a field, I ran a strand of the grass up and down her bare legs which she enjoyed as our chats became more open. And then came the film nights. Previously we had watched films and sat in separate chairs or apart from one another on the sofa. The first time I noticed a change with this was at Ana's place. We found a fun animated film to while away a couple of hours with, and I sat on one of the sofas. I naturally thought Ana would choose the other sofa but she joined me; so close as our legs touched and she occasionally leaned into me when the film amused her.
Tonight was a continuation, perhaps culmination of that, with Ana's legs across my lap and my stroking of them and her thighs. She looked so hot too, just effortlessly so. Laid back, clearly relaxed in my presence, her voluminous hair falling down around her neck. Her top was a little loose so was falling off one shoulder revealing silky smooth skin, punctuated by a black bra strap. I felt my hands get a little more daring, just looking at her was turning me on so much, I wanted to stroke her inner thigh, take my hand to its ultimate destination but I remained composed as best I could, that was until Ana started sucking on her little finger. Such a small motion but more than enough to potentially throw me over the edge. I laughed and made a joke (which wasn't a joke at all) about how her finger sucking might be too much for me to handle, Ana smiled and apologised. Before I ruined our friendship by taking things too far, I got up to wash the plates left over from the meal. And that was where I now found myself. My reflection had disappeared behind the steam from the hot tap and I got to washing everything in the sink. It didn't take long and soon I was ready to return to Ana.
In the periphery, I sensed a weight join me on the sofa. A hand joining my hand as the other slid up my waist gently moving my shirt aside, a hot kiss suddenly touched my skin, then rapidly climbed up my torso, along my arm and onto my shoulder before reaching the base of my neck. A pause, warm hesitant breath caressed my neck. I couldn't help but give rise to a content murmur and smile before a firm kiss on my collarbone, sneaking higher. The kisses became stronger with more emphasis as they made their way upward. For a moment everything moved in slow motion, all I could feel were his lips, his increasing heart rate and sighs of wanting. I opened my eyes, and there he was, eyes half-closed, shaking a little. I turned my head so we were facing each other. He was so much bigger than me, yet at this moment he felt so vulnerable. I twisted around to lie on my back, staring into his eyes, longing to stay like this, aware of how turned on I was feeling by the second...