Twenty minutes or so later a noisy advertisement stirred him from a surprise slumber and reminded him of the laptop and his need to use it. At the same time Margaret called to him in a forced whisper from the open doorway.

“Come and look at the stars Mac. I can see Venus too.” He had not been aware of her moving from the comfort of the couch, so warm and enveloping that it held him as if it was a relaxing bath he was taking. “It’s a wonderful clear night, come on.” She was very excited, waving her arms to tell him of her excitement.

Outside the farmhouse the weather could not be more different from the previous nights offering. Still and unseasonal the air hung with a temperature characteristic of a much later spring evening. The advantage of the farmhouses position meant no urban light competed with the stargazers allowing them an unfettered view of the heavens. It reminded him of home, the lazy evenings laid on their patio with Sal by his side, watching galamother and her companions dance across the universe.

Margaret knew a lot about the sky at night. She pointed out a constellation she called ‘the plough’, part of what she explained was ‘Ursa Major’ which by its star cluster lead the eye to a bright star he knew as Naviga. Margaret called it the ‘North Star’. It performed the same function in both their worlds, but much more than that it somehow fantastically connected the same to the universe around them. He wondered if Sal was looking at this self same star.

“Over there is Venus, look Mac can ya see.” She came close to him and put her cheek next to his outstretching her arm to point to the west. His eyes followed her direction. “And over there those eight stars are Cygnus.”

Turning his head to follow her arm, Margaret’s did not. Their lips met. That was just the start of it. His knees almost buckled, the sweet taste of what he new was to develop the reason.

It was wrong. He knew it, would he be able to square it with his conscience afterwards? Was the whole scenario so far fetched anyway that continuation was the only obvious path, and one without any consequence.. Sal was a world away, literally, maybe he may never see her again, and what if he turned Margaret down? This kind of opportunity may never present itself again, and if he was stuck here forever, better to spend it with someone who was his wife in another world than some other complete stranger.

“I’ve been waiting for that since I first saw you,” she whispered as their mouths parted slightly.

“Me too.” He just managed to get the words out before she planted another caress.

Her lips were so soft, so full, they reminded him of Sal. Well they ought to he comforted himself, comforted, for he knew he really should not be involving himself with what was on offer. Should not, but did. He went along with the flow, and what a flow, Margaret was obviously used to taking control of these kind of situations, within the blink of an eye they were up in his bedroom and under the covers.

Walking around the farmyard he attempted to come to terms with what had happened. Granted it had been enjoyable, no fantastic to be truthful. Margaret certainly enjoyed her lovemaking and was skilled and passionate with all she gave. Mac needed little choice in the proceedings being led intimately from one position to the other, one embrace to the next all conducted under a lustful veil of passion, of naked bodies and sweet movement. All blissful enjoyment until the inevitable happened. Now he desperately wished it had not.

Now, he could not undo it, and that tore at him, ripping his peace apart, the sheer blissful climatic joy now rendered down to a reprehensible basely emotion risen from the dankest dungeon of his mind. What was he going to tell Sal when he returned?

“You’ve hardly been away a week and already betrayed her.” He whimpered under the tension taken control of his soul. “Hardly enough time to confirm you’re stranded,”

And what about his unborn, how could he have been persuaded so easily? What did it say about him? A bead of sweat gathering on his chest began journeying down his sternum. Slowly it made its way. A wrecking aura sent his head off kilter, it announced the arrival of the shiver on his back, a dry mouth scented with fearful chemistry, that sense of doubt, in himself, in his character, in his sensability. Was there an excuse which could justify what he had done?

He tried to justify his behaviour. Granted he was stranded. “Any one else would have done the same.” So why was he chastising himself over it? Would they though, have done the same? “Probably, in this world but not in mine.” This thought appeased his disappointment slightly. He was part of this world now so was that argument enough? ‘Yes, no, maybe.?” Sal would not want him to stagnate. That was no argument either. “She will not be home doing the same, pregnant or not.”

A ringing in his ears increased masking the sound of a slight breeze whispering through the trees. For midnight the sky seemed very bright, very bright indeed, the stars now illuminating the backdrop of the heavens so much that it must be due to his own sense, it was certainly not natural. He was about to enter panic again. Here it came, that ever so tender electric tingle at the back of his neck which introduced anxiety, a creeping of his scalp across his skull while inside his head, a stricken mind. What he had done was irreversible, there was no way back and things would never be the same again.

To try and stem the hormonal tide he began deep breathing, slowly in, then out, an attempt to dispel the fear and bring back normality. He licked his lips to wet his mouth from the dryness sticking his tongue to cold palate. Comfortingly the stars adopted a more usual glow and the wind returned to rattle the trees with a gentle touch. The tide was on the wain thank goodness.

He had left Margaret asleep and knew there would be non for him this night, he had to come to terms and close the circle. Deciding how best to do this he opted for a walk. The farm lanes were well known to him by now, even in such the short period of time. So he set off, the primary aim to walk away the guilt and return with a clear head. The acceptance had already begun, in the wandering bewilderment that was an excuse for himself he did feel that. The torture was subsiding and the next phase of conciliation was afoot. Pay off, one heartache for one sensibility, a rationale view. He continued the debate and walked.

He was only making the best of what he had he reminded himself. “What else was there to do?” Who else could judge him? “No one else could ever be in this position to do that.” He was a victim of circumstance, making the best of what he had, who else would not have done the same. That was it. There it was, the line.

On the contrary though, what else should he have done. “No, don’t go there, its sorted.” Should he have refused her advances. “No! Who’s going to get hurt from it?” Not Sal, he may never see her again. Not him, he must make the best of the situation, and Margaret, well it was obvious that this was the way her world operated, and one thing ought to be sure, he was not going to give her up now if he was forced to stay here, and for all intents and purposes, if the truth really be known Margaret was his wife, but in this world, a carbon copy of what he had lost, so maybe it was meant to be, all part of the great scheme of things carrying him along on its wave. “And if ever I leave, if it is at all possible, I”ll make sure she finds out where she stood in the scheme of things.” Yes he did feel more resolved.

Resolved but lost. Where was this lane he found himself in? The farmhouse was nowhere to be seen! Disoriented he turned one way then two others but no silhouette of the property showed itself. How stupid was that, how could he lose his way? Now he would be out all night, even if he had not intended it so. Nothing was familiar, gates, walls, tracks, nothing at all reminded him of past walks. One lane ended in a ploughed field, and on taking to another it led to a copse, no matter which direction he took there was no hint of the farm. So now he had even lost his new abode. He swore under his breath at the futility of the situation reminding himself that if he had not been so stupid in the first place as to venturing out then this would never have arisen. Where was the familiar lane which led him home?

Even so, though lost, with strength back in his legs and the cold shiver now expelled from his shoulders he rationalised that his future held so much more for him than dilemma and irrationality, and taking part in what had happened was just human nature, with all the frailties that brought. He had not actively sponsored the event, that fact brought him more ease and comfort, and although not declining it either and with all things reconsidered Margaret was a version of Sal, he was trapped here and may never get home and he did not want to loose Margaret’s affection for that would be betraying his feelings to both of them, Margaret and Sal. He was allowed to step over the line.

Confidence now spurred him on through the dark of night, a darkness occasionally so complete that he lost his footing and stumbled over hole then stone. He would find the farmhouse, eventually, of that he was sure but where had it gone.

Then, a voice at last, far off in the distance. Margaret’s voice. “Mac! Mac. Hello.” He could not see her anywhere, see anything ! “Mac it’s early mornin. Time for bed.”

There she was, still laid on the couch, next to him, both her legs still resting on his. The television was playing news items again. He had missed the film. Margaret moved and stood up. “It’s two thirty,” she explained, “I’m off to bed.”

Regaining some strength in his legs he stood up too, then headed off in the opposite direction as quick as he dare, not catching sight of Margaret in case she expected him to follow her. The absolute relief of finding himself in the farmhouse lounge, and having not taken Margaret to his room was overwhelming. It showed in his steps. As he made the stone stairs he bolted up them to his bed and safety.

Perhaps in misjudging Margarets intentions he had brought about the dream of lust and infidelity, perhaps she might only want a friend as he did, someone to rely on, to talk to and while away the hours between work and sleep. Granted she deserved a friendship with all she had been through and he made his mind up there and then it would be him. Besides, the dream apart, the evening had been a success.

Finding his own bed, alone in reality this time, he searched for sleep once again, mulling over the nocturnal liaison in his minds eye, remembering what he could before it faded to obscurity as is the destiny of all but the most vivid of imaginings. Perhaps he might hold on to some of the memory or even visit the same instance again. Within ten minutes of hitting the soft foam pillow he was back to sleep again.

Wednesday came around very quickly. What with fertilising the grazing fields and repairing the walls, helping Margaret with milking and building a new hen hutch Mac had hardly time to draw breath. It was not that Walt overworked him, if anything after the friendly Sunday afternoon banter he had mellowed somewhat in his outlook on his employee. Even Margaret commented on the change in him over dinner that evening, embarrassing Mac into the bargain when she let slip they had both been laid on the couch together and fell asleep.

Walt’s face adopted a fatherly expression on revelling in the news that some shenanigans, as he put it, were best kept to the bedroom. That comment brought a blush to his daughters cheeks as well, an emotion not wasted on Mac who jumping to both their defence made it clear to the elder of the farm that neither of them were that improper and they were simply good friends, the latter fact a truth which did seem to be emerging without trial or error.

The dream of Sunday night remained just that, and as much talking the two of them had done over the past few days Mac thought it better not to mention it. Of course the anniversary of his arrival had passed by without any success so rendering him up for the night out in town, and all things being equal it was an adventure he had prepared for.

Since Walt had been paying him he had been at pains to support his cover story of travelling light about the country. He had furnished himself with a rucksack and numerous items of clothing bought from several visits to a store in town with the unfamiliar title of a charity shop. The idea perplexed him as to its origin but his new found brief of beggars not being choosers and again the suspicious doubt that somehow he was being aided by virtue of the shop being there at all enticed him to spend quite an amount and gain very much. The idea of recycling was not alien to him but why anyone would discard such items as the denims, corduroy shirt, black leather coat and shoes was beyond understanding. They were all practically new, the shoes showing no sign of wear whatsoever. Under happier circumstances he would even have admitted he looked smart in his new outfit, but the truth was he felt bitterly disappointed with the mornings failed attempt and had not nearly come to terms with that yet, and so here he was sat at the dinner table having to be as enthusiastic has Margaret about their evening ahead. He would have preferred to have been at home by now.

On the other hand he must make the best of what he had, the upside to that being he may learn some more of this new society, so resigning himself to an enjoyable evening, he looked across the table to his companion. She was beautiful especially in the fashion jeans and tight black jumper she was wearing.

Each public house held a different surprise. The first, a noisy minimalistic blue washed room with eight television screens and not much more, a game of football on show whichever way you cared to look. The building took the site of what was the canal barge station and lodging house back home.

For what the enterprise offered, it was all but empty, just six young lads playing a game which resembled black ball over in one corner of the L shaped room. After shouting at one another over loud music for ten minutes, a topic of university life and loves, most imaginary on Macs part, they finished there first drink and ventured a hundred yards next door to a second establishment, this a more subtler outlet with soft piped music and comfy chesterfield couches.

Still fewer patrons were to be found in there and barely any atmosphere to add to the copper kettles and celebrity photographs adorning the magnolia walls. Margaret knew the bubbly landlady though so they sat to the bar and talked to her.

She introduced her new friend as “Mac from Whitby, an angel sent from heaven to help me and dad on the farm.” That accolade embarrassed him somewhat. This time he paid for the drinks, and received little change from a five pound note. A quick calculation of expense explained to him why no one was out patronising the inns.

He was glad to just sit on the high stool and mostly listen, fascinated by a slight lisp his new acquaintance Kirsty had. It seemed to be the result of some metal object attached to her tongue. What with that and the plunging neckline of her revealing purple blouse his seripticous gaze kept shifting from one to the other as he chipped in here and there wherever appropriate and when he would not make a fool of himself. Such topics as school reports and teachers and a strange concept of discipline, or the apparent lack of it at the school the two friends had attended. He had to make some outlandish story up about his own school within that discussion so as not to be found wanting.

“Remember Mrs Jagger?” Kirsty asked, then playing with her tongue attachment, drawing it across her lower incisors

“She could never control the lads at the back of class in Maths could she.” Margaret laughed as she remembered.

“She ended up on the sick in the end Mac!” Kirsty seemed to revel in that fact.

Mac grimaced accordingly, “we had a similar teacher,” he replied, “in science, he never came back.”

Margaret finished her drink and put the empty glass on the polished marble bar top. “Right, we’re off up town now Kirsty, what time you finished?” Mac followed suit and drank his beer in order to keep up with his feminine competition.

“Probably be late tonight so I’ll see you at the weekend.” The two girls exchanged a hug over the counter and said a farewell. Mac shook Kirsty’s hand, a gesture she seemed to find endearing, but in an odd kind of way by the look on her face.

They walked up the hill to the town centre, Margaret excited at the prospect of other, more special friends she hoped might be there. “I’d love you to meet them, they’re so nice. They’ll think we’re an item.” She giggled as she spoke and took hold of his hand. It was the first intimation of any such intent since the Sunday night spent on the couch.

Mac did not pull away, but squeezed her hand gently. “I am enjoying myself Margaret, thanks, for your friendship. It means a lot.”

“To me too, c’mon let’s go give em something to talk about, it’ll be a bit of fun.” There was that look again, the one he had seen before, the one that spelt revelry, mischief.

Mac did not want her feelings hurt. He emphasised caution again. “Don’t tease em too much, you don’t want wagging tongues.”

“Why not? It’s about time it was my turn to have a laugh. I’ve been down long enough.” Two pints of ale had certainly loosened her bridle. It seemed she was off.

The dream came back to haunt him, and the dread it evoked too. Should he come clean and tell all? He stopped himself. No, go along with her and have some enjoyment, after all he was stuck out on a limb, and deserved some frivolity of his own after the events of the passed week.

Margaret’s hand in his felt like Sal’s, and what is more she was beginning to sound like her too. At first her voice had a completely different character but the more he heard her talk the more he recognised his own wife’s voice in that of someone who should be a stranger.

He confirmed their ruse. “Well we are neither going to be sad tonight, let’s have a next drink to the future, and whatever it holds, but let’s not rush it eh! I’m a bit old fashioned in that respect.”

“You’re a good guy Mac. Just don’t leave without saying goodbye if you decide your moving on.” She suddenly had a pained tone as she spoke.

“Margaret I would never do that.” He needed her to know that was the truth.

Looking straight into his eyes she could see he meant every word. “And I believe you, so c’mon.”

The footpath led up a hill he had walked on his first day in this setting. It took them under an archway carrying the rail network. Not a week ago he had shouted down from on top of a similar placed structure to his mother on a similar pavement. He wondered if he would mysteriously be spirited back on reaching the middle but it was not to be. Perhaps as well, it would have freaked Margaret out if he had suddenly disappeared and that he really did not want as much as he needed to be home.

In the town centre was an old fashioned, more traditional interior of an inn, leaded windows and subtle green shaded lamps on every sill, low oak beams which on entering he had to avoid or hit his head. Thankfully there were no games machines on view, no music either, just tables, chairs and wall seats. It was situated on an avenue he had not been down, hidden behind an old council office building, one which once held a proper library by note of the buildings title. The route was off the beaten track and one that he was glad to have found. If the worst happened he planned on making it his favourite stopping off point.

Mac bought the beers while Margaret chatted and laughed with three more girlfriends and their partners. The reason for their giggling was obvious, him. Feeling a little awkward he brought their drinks across to the table.

“This is Mac,” Margaret started, introducing him to each in turn.

One of them stood up. “We’ve met already. Hi fella!” An outstretched arm came towards him. It was Billy Marsden, the man from the cemetery. “This is the man who saved our George from those idiots in the car the other day Jean.”

His partner, a short woman, with an even shorter, almost male hairstyle and pregnant with their next child, stood up also and on hugging him tightly whispered in his ear. “Thank you so much.”

Billy went on. “I have just been telling them all what happened Margaret, not ten minutes ago. Some young bastards in a mini, driving through the cemetery at breakneck speed, I’d took my eyes off George, but this fella, who must have a sixth sense turned back to run and gather him up. Them twats in the car had not even seen him.”

Margaret took hold of Macs hand. “You have a habit of being in the right place don’t you Mac.” Her face said it all, what she was thinking and what she felt for him. The look did not go unnoticed with her friends, or Mac for that matter.

Jean, Billy, Rich, Sue, Jane and Ben, six new friends made quickly, thanks to Margaret, all sat around two small tables pushed together to gather in more space for drinks to be placed as one couple after the other bought in the rounds. As the quarters went by all of them became ever so slightly more inebriated, and more talkative. It was just what the doctor would order, a tonic by any other name, conversation and ensuing friendship, enough to save any soul from despair. Mac revelled in it and drank in much more of the company than alcohol in his glass.

Jane, sat next to Mac and obviously Margaret’s best friend finally came up with the question. He had been waiting for it, because it had to come sometime.

She began. “So, where did you guys meet?” A wink from her piercing green eyes asked Margaret to spill the goods.

“He just turned up at the farm last week,” Margaret explained. “He’s helping us out, he was just passing through.” There was an emphasis on the was.

“Where from Mac?” Rich, the eldest looking of them asked. He was the eldest but only by a few years, it was his total lack of hair that put more years on him than was fair.

“Whitby, we have a farm there, so helping out is second nature to me.”

“Doesn’t he remind you of James?” Jane interrupted. She had not said much all evening, but had kept eyeing him up out the corner of her eyes when she thought he was not looking. “What do you say Ben?”

Ben smiled. “He does doesn’t he. Yes he has a look of James all right.”

“Whose James then?” Mac was more than interested. He looked about the table for an answer.

“James was Margaret’s first boyfriend at school,” Jane went on.

“First boyfriend,” Sue quipped in, “only boyfriend, they were practically joined at the hip.”

“In more way than one!” Bens joke brought laughter from them all, including Margaret, who, now looking more curiously at Mac had a strange acceptance in her smile. Ben pressed her “Don’t you think he does Margaret?”

“I thought he did, but the more you look the less it’s obvious, you’re not James are you Mac?” she questioned him squeezing his hand again,

“Not that I know.” Now it was Mac’s turn to joke. “Unless I’ve been reprogrammed!”

They all laughed again, this time uproariously .”He was a computer geek,” Rich explained.

Margaret had a far away look in her eyes, this James had obviously meant a lot to her, and the others knew that too, so the discussion moved away and on to farming, the economy and inflation. Mac was out of his depth now but listened and contributed whenever he thought it appropriate.

By eleven the group had put the world to rights, sorting out inflated bankers salaries, the national health service, wars abroad and an apparent world wide narcotics problem. He had learnt much and had a lot to report to his diary later, but thought it a shame that eight, well actually seven people in a bar had a lot of the answers to this new worlds problems. If they knew these answers why were the authorities oblivious to them.

With farewells behind them Mac and Margaret headed back, the night had turned cold so they made a good pace and reached the farmstead in half the usual time, a full moon lit their way. He had been wanting to ask all the way home, but in between talks about where to go out next time and taking things one step at a time the opportunity had not presented itself.

Closing the yard gate Mac took the plunge. “This James then, do you really think I look like him?”

Margaret looked at him in the light coming from the open door. “A bit I suppose,” She stroked his cheek. ” But I haven’t seen him in years if your worried.”

That was not his reason for enquiring. He pressed on. “Do you mind me asking what happened to him Margaret?”

“He went to Australia with his parents when we were seventeen. I suppose you do have a look of him,” she admitted. “He was handsome too, otherwise I wouldn’t have fallen for him.”

Mac blushed, that would do for one night, he had a massive amount of information to mull over and get into context and beside all of that he was tired. So was Margaret by the oval shape of her eyes.

He gave her a goodnight kiss on the cheek. “I’ve really had a good time, thanks,” he said then kissed her once again, this time on the other cheek The beer was talking now.

“Me too Mac. We will do it again.” She seemed pleased with an apparent situation ensuing, smiling from ear to eat like a cat whose had just finished off the cream.

“Definitely.” The dream of Sunday night flashed by his memory serving a warning on wayward thoughts. He pulled back from the doorway. “Night then, see you tomorrow.”

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