"Will I disturb you, Anne?" asked Aunt Fanny, as she settled into an armchair in the living room. She took up the item from the top of the pile in the basket of mending she'd brought with her and clicked her tongue at the large hole in the heel of Uncle Quentin's sock.
"No, Aunt Fanny," said Anne. A book lay open on her lap, but Aunt Fanny wasn't to know Anne hadn't read a single word for some time. She'd been staring out of the window, thinking hard. Anne was the only one of the five at Kirrin Cottage that afternoon.
Julian and Dick had gone into the village to examine a car for sale at Johnson's garage. At seventeen and sixteen respectively, cars occupied more of their thoughts than solving mysteries. Julian hoped to convince their father to buy it. They proposed to keep it at Kirrin Cottage for use in the school holidays, as the garage at their own home was only large enough for their father's car. As they also spent most of their holidays with Aunt Fanny and Uncle Quentin while their parents travelled it appeared to be the best solution.
George had disappeared on a mysterious errand of her own. She'd whistled for Timmy and hurried away directly after breakfast. Anne was hurt she hadn't been invited to go with them.
"Is there anything you'd like to talk about, Anne?" Aunt Fanny had noticed her niece hadn't turned a page in the time she'd darned three socks.It was most unlike Anne as she was a voracious reader.
"No. No, thank you."
Aunt Fanny took up a grey jersey belonging to Dick. The right elbow needed patching. She waited patiently for Anne to change her mind.
"I can ask you anything, Aunt Fanny, can't I?"
"Of course you can."
"You and Uncle Quentin...."
Aunt Fanny thought quickly. Anne was fifteen now. She could guess in which direction this conversation was heading. She folded Dick's jersey and laid it on her lap. Anne's questions would require her full concentration. "What would you like to know, dear?"
"Aunt Fanny, you love Uncle Quentin, don't you?"
"Yes, my dear. I've loved Quentin from the day we first met, over twenty years ago." She smiled, recalling the young man who'd been forced to spend several nights at Kirrin Farm when his car had broken down. The village inn had been full. Farmer Sanders, who'd been enjoying a drink, had offered Quentin a room at the farm until his car was fixed. The following morning, Fanny had gone over to the farm to collect some eggs as their own hens had been off the lay. There she'd met Quentin, who'd been sitting at the kitchen table tucking into eggs and bacon. As soon as she'd looked into his eyes, she'd known he was the one for her.
"But Uncle Quentin is...."
"Short tempered, forgetful, intolerant, secretive?"
Anne flushed. Uncle Quentin was all of those. "And you still love him?"
"Oh, yes. He loves me too."
"So how did you know you loved him?" burst out Anne.
"Have you met someone, Anne? A boy you think you might be in love with?" Aunt Fanny asked gently. Anne's lowering of her eyelids confirmed her suspicion.
"He came to the school sports day, and the end of term prize giving." Anne looked up at her aunt. What she saw in Aunt Fanny's expression reassured her and she smiled tremulously and somewhat breathlessly continued, "His name is Roger. Roger Casterton."
"Isn't Monica Casterton your Head Prefect?"
"Roger is her older brother. Oh, Aunt Fanny, whenever I look at him, my insides go all gooey and my face feels hot."
Aunt Fanny knew she would have to tread carefully; Anne most likely was experiencing her first crush, but there was a chance it was the quickening.
"You work on the school magazine with Monica, don't you? Did she introduce you to her brother?"
"No, I'm not important enough."
"So you haven't actually spoken to him?"
Anne shook her head.
"Has your mother ever told you about the quickening?" Aunt Fanny gave a silent groan when Anne's face lit up with excitement. She should have realised someone who read as much as Anne did would have come across it.
"Oh, Aunt Fanny! Do you think I've already met my soul mate? But I have three more years of school left! What will I do if he won't wait for me? Do you think Mummy and Daddy will let me leave early? Will I be allowed to wear my engagement ring at school? I could keep it on a chain around my neck. What will the others say?"
"Anne, Anne, Anne! Slow down. Take a deep breath. Let's get this sorted out together. To begin with, you should tell me what you know about the quickening."
"The quickening happens when you meet your soul mate. It's the person you were destined to be with. It gets its name from the way everything about you quickens. Your heart beats faster, you breathe faster, your eyes blink very quickly." Anne paused for a moment and showed her aunt how she could flutter her eyelids. "Um, you feel hot, and excited that something good is about to happen, and your tummy gets nervous."
Aunt Fanny hid a smile. Anne was in the throes of her first crush. "Let me tell you about the quickening. When you find your soul mate, it's like finding a part of yourself you probably didn't realise was missing. When I saw your Uncle Quentin for the very first time, it was as though we were long-lost friends who had suddenly been reunited. Twenty years ago, he would have told you the same thing. He would also have told you he fought against feelings and sensations that are not unlike what you are feeling now. As a scientist, he tried to attribute his symptoms, as he called them, to a disease he caught on the farm, most likely from the chickens."
Anne gave a snort of laughter and promptly flashed a guilty look at her aunt, who winked in return.
"Eventually, he admitted he felt his hear beat faster and the world seemed brighter every time he looked at me." Aunt Fanny carefully censored the part where Quentin told her of his manhood throbbing and hardening, and how her secret parts moistened and throbbed and the feeling of want overwhelmed them both. "I felt myself quicken all over every time I was with him, and eventually simply thing of him produced the same feelings.
"You do know not everyone experiences the quickening, don't you? Your parents didn't. In fact, most people don't. A soul bond is an uncommon and beautiful thing. At your age, what you are experiencing is most likely a crush. That's not to say the quickening can't happen to young people, but it's very rare. A crush feels like love, but it fades away over time."
"Is the quickening why you put up with Uncle Quentin forgetting to come to meals and being cross with George? Wouldn't it make him want to be happy with you?"
Anne was quick on the uptake, thought Aunt Fanny. "Yes, of course he wants to be happy with me, but nobody is perfect and the quickening doesn't change that," she tried to explain. "Your Uncle's ego gets in the way. His ego is a part of him that helps make him a brilliant scientist," she added, not wanting to get into a discussion about egos at this time. She also didn't want to inadvertently mention that when Quentin did look at her and take her hand to lead her to their bedroom, it was as though the past twenty years had never occurred; Anne was after all, only fifteen and her niece.
Anne sat quietly for a moment, trying to picture herself and Roger in twenty years time and failing dismally. She had a crush, that was all. She looked up at her aunt and grinned. "I understand, Aunt Fanny. I hope one day I find my soul mate." Just not one like Uncle Quentin, she added silently, although her aunt's twinkling eyes gave away the fact she'd heard Anne's unspoken words.
"Go to the kitchen, dear. I think a cup of tea and some of the gingerbread Joan made this morning is called for."
"Yes, Aunt Fanny." Anne slipped away to the kitchen, while Fanny picked up Dick's jersey. If Quentin didn't leave his study at a reasonable hour this evening, Fanny promised herself she'd go in and remind him in the best possible way that they were soul mates.