The Summer Seekers - Sarah Morgan
It was the cup of milk that saved her. That and the salty bacon she’d fried for her supper many hours earlier, which had left her mouth dry.
If she hadn’t been thirsty—if she’d still been upstairs, sleeping on the ridiculously expensive mattress that had been her eightieth birthday gift to herself—she wouldn’t have been alerted to danger.
As it was, she’d been standing in front of the fridge, the milk carton in one hand and the cup in the other, when she’d heard a loud thump. The noise was out of place here in the leafy darkness of the English countryside, where the only sounds should have been the hoot of an owl and the occasional bleat of a sheep.
She put the glass down and turned her head, trying to locate the sound. The back door. Had she forgotten to lock it again?
The moon sent a ghostly gleam across the kitchen and she was grateful she hadn’t felt the need to turn the light on. That gave her some advantage, surely?
She put the milk back and closed the fridge door quietly, sure now that she was not alone in the house.
Moments earlier she’d been asleep. Not deeply asleep—that rarely happened these days—but drifting along on a tide of dreams. If someone had told her younger self that she’d still be dreaming and enjoying her adventures when she was eighty she would have been less afraid of aging. And it was impossible to forget that she was aging.
People said she was wonderful for her age, but most of the time she didn’t feel wonderful. The answers to her beloved crosswords floated just out of range. Names and faces refused to align at the right moment. She struggled to remember what she’d done the day before, although if she took herself back twenty years or more her mind was clear. And then there were the physical changes—her eyesight and hearing were still good, thankfully, but her joints hurt and her bones ached. Bending to feed the cat was a challenge. Climbing the stairs required more effort than she would have liked and was always undertaken with one hand on the rail just in case.
She’d never been the sort to live in a just in case sort of way.
Her daughter, Liza, wanted her to wear an alarm. One of those medical alert systems, with a button you could press in an emergency, but Kathleen refused. In her youth she’d traveled the world, before it was remotely fashionable to do so. She’d sacrificed safety for adventure without a second thought. Most days now she felt like a different person.
Losing friends didn’t help. One by one they fell by the wayside, taking with them shared memories of the past. A small part of her vanished with each loss. It had taken decades for her to understand that loneliness wasn’t a lack of people in your life, but a lack of people who knew and understood you.
She fought fiercely to retain some version of her old self—which was why she’d resisted Liza’s pleas that she remove the rug from the living room floor, stop using a step ladder to retrieve books from the highest shelves and leave a light on at night. Each compromise was another layer shaved from her independence, and losing her independence was her biggest fear.
Kathleen had always been the rebel in the family, and she was still the rebel—although she wasn’t sure that rebels were supposed to have shaking hands and a pounding heart.
She heard the sound of heavy footsteps. Someone was searching the house. For what, exactly? What treasures did they hope to find? And why weren’t they trying to at least disguise their presence?
Having resolutely ignored all suggestions that she might be vulnerable, she was now forced to acknowledge the possibility. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been so stubborn. How long would it have taken from pressing the alert button to the cavalry arriving?
In reality, the cavalry was Finn Cool, who lived three fields away. Finn was a musician, and he’d bought the property precisely because there were no immediate neighbors. His antics caused mutterings in the village. He had rowdy parties late into the night, attended by glamorous people from London who terrorized the locals by driving their flashy sports cars too fast down the narrow lanes. Someone had started a petition in the post office to ban the parties. There had been talk of drugs, and half-naked women, and it had all sounded like so much fun that Kathleen had been