Jack found Lizzie waiting for him at the foot of the stairs which led from the dining room and up to the guest-rooms. She was sat, cross-legged, with a shyness and reserve on her face he hadn’t once seen the day before.
‘What’s up?’ he asked.
‘I got you into trouble yesterday, with your dad. I didn’t mean to…’
Jack sat on the step, his shoulder brushing hers, and told her not to worry about it. Besides, he was always getting into trouble – if he hadn’t spent the day with her, he’d more than likely have done something which got him in even more trouble. So really, she’d done him a favour. Or so he said.
‘Well I’m still sorry,’ she said, but it was clear that Jack’s reassurances had worked. The warmth returned to her face, and Jack had the strangest feeling on noticing – it was the feeling you get when you sleep in your bed for the first time after getting back from a trip away. He shrugged it off.
‘I’m allowed to stay here for the day, when my mum and dad go and get the car sorted. I can stay here and you can show me more stuff, like yesterday.’
He had barely finished speaking before she was on her feet and dragging him towards the hotel’s main doors, screeching something barely comprehensible about the lake as she went. Once outside she let go of his hand and he stopped, stood rooted to the spot, and watched as she sprinted to the lakeside. She kicked off her shoes and sat down at the water’s edge. Jack was stood still, staring at her. The early morning sun, reflecting off the lake, set her auburn hair ablaze. She beckoned him over, and so he scampered over, kicked off his shoes, too, and planted himself next to her.
The water was cold, but it was a refreshing and pleasant sort of cold. Lizzie and Jack both kicked gentle ripples and tracked their journey across the lake. Though neither one said it, they were both fascinated by how each ripple could grow and grow into something larger and larger, and carry on doing so until it was out of sight. They sat in silence – silence of the rare, comfortable kind – for almost half an hour before Lizzie splashed Jack and proceeded to question him about what life was like in the city, and what his school was like, and what his friends were like, and what his house was like, and what England was like, and if he had any pets, and so on and so on until she was satisfied.
‘I think I’d be quite scared in a city. I’ve always been here, really. For as long as I can remember, just been here at the hotel. Apart from when I go into the village to go to school, of course.’
‘It’s not scary. I’d be scared here, I think.’
She laughed at him. ‘What’s scary about here?’ she asked in an indignant tone.
Red rushed to his cheeks. ‘Well the lake could be dangerous. And the woods, over there, look like they might be quite scary. And if you went off into the fields that way, or up to the hills that way, and you got lost, it could be weeks before anyone even found you. At least in the city you’re always around people.’
Lizzie laughed at him, but she – somehow – did it in a way that lessened rather than exacerbated his embarrassment. ‘Well the lake isn’t scary. Are you scared now?’
‘Good. The woods aren’t scary either! When your mum and dad go to meet the mechanic, we can explore the woods if you like?’
Jack nodded his head, before laying back on the bank of the river and watching the clouds drift by overhead.