Chapter Twenty-Eight

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Anna nearly choked when I told her I was going to buy Clay's Cottage.

It was two weeks after our trip to the cottage, and we had just settled down in front of the television with more pizza than two people could possibly consume. Not as good as Hettie's, of course, but it would do.

I had actually made the big decision a few days after our trip, but was struggling to find the right time to tell her. With her at work, spending a lot of her free time with Bradley, and me just chickening out, it was proving difficult.

But after a secret trip to the bank to make sure it was all possible - which it was - I knew it was time to tell her about my big purchase.

So I informed her we were having a girls night in with pizza and a movie and nothing was going to get in our way.

As we were about to watch Titanic for the hundredth time since the movie had been released, I blurted out the news. I probably should've done it before she'd taken a big bite of pizza, though.

I never did tell her about my dream, time-travelling or whatever you would call it. She knew something was different about me since my visit to the cottage. She swears I saw a ghost. I guess you could say I did. The ghost of Nicholas Clay. But she knew not to push it. She knew I would talk to her when I was ready.

I couldn't, however, get Nicholas or the cottage out of my mind. I wanted it to be mine. I wanted to keep the memory of the Clay family alive. Not only that, living a more quiet and simple life appealed to me. Away from all the hustle and bustle of the city.

So four weeks later, I received the keys to my new home, and wasted no time driving up there to start the cleaning process.

I had decided I would live there part time to begin with; just visit on weekends to write. The lack of running water, electricity and internet made the cottage unliveable for now. But the serene surroundings and no distractions or interruptions would make it ideal conditions for writing.

Speaking of, I had been writing like crazy the last few weeks, my experience still fresh in my mind. Turned out the cottage was an inspiration after all.

I felt a sense of déjà vu as I pulled up in front of the cottage for the first time since that day. Anna and I had decided not to go the day after, only Bradley had gone to complete the building inspection. I had ordered him not to touch any items inside the house, and he was happy to oblige, not asking any further questions.

As I stepped out of the car, I was saddened to see the state of the gardens now; unkept and neglected for over a century. My mind went back to the day when Robbie took me to visit Nicholas and he was weeding the garden. The way his shirt clung to his chest and biceps, his glistening skin... Ahem. Settle down, Tilly, I thought to myself.

Getting the gardens back to their original state was definitely on my to-do list.

Bradley had also offered to pull down the barbed wire fence and install a cute picket fence instead. He seemed more excited about my purchase than Anna was. Bradley loved a good home reno.

Approaching the front door, I was giddy with excitement. I couldn't wait to get in there and start cleaning.

After unlocking the door and stepping inside, I glanced around, smiling to myself. It was all mine.

That odd sense of belonging I felt on my first visit to the cottage returned, and then it struck me why it had felt like I'd been here before. I had been here before. Not in my time, but Nicholas' time. But at that moment I hadn't had my dream yet, unless it wasn't... I shook my head. I had to stop torturing myself with those thoughts.

The first thing I did was pull across all the curtains to let in some much needed light. It helped a lot, but removing the thick grime on the windows would help even more.

I wandered around the living room, scanning every piece of furniture. It all felt so familiar to me. I stood in the middle of the room where Nicholas and I learnt to Waltz and smiled to myself. But then saddened when I realised we never did get our dance that night at the ball.

I moved over to the sofa, ignoring the dust, and sat in the same spot I was sitting when we had our first kiss. I closed my eyes, imagining he was there beside me, holding my hand, stroking my cheek, his soft lips on mine...

My eyes popped open and I ran my hand along the soft material where he once sat. The area was cold, and all I had done was collect a handful of dust.

"Eww," I said aloud, wiping the dust off on my jeans.

I glanced over at the dusty painting hanging above the fireplace. I was going to keep my distance from it for now. I wasn't entirely sure what would happen if I touched it again. Who knew how I was going to clean it, though.

It was then I realised the portraits of Nicholas' parents weren't sitting on the mantelpiece. I hoped they were safe in this house somewhere. Maybe in one of the other rooms.

I had a sudden thought, and promptly made my way into the spare bedroom where I had slept the first two nights at the cottage, back in 1869... in my dream. I was gobsmacked with what I saw. It was exactly the same. But how did I know what it looked like in my dream if I didn't go into it the day I first visited the cottage?

I spotted the chest where Nicholas kept his mother's clothes and walked over to it, hesitating before lifting the lid. Sure enough, it was full of clothes. Not only that, there was my journal, sitting neatly on top of the pile.

My journal. The one Nicholas had bought me in 1869. He had kept it safe for me.

I reached down and gingerly touched the leather cover and ran my finger over the brass leaf. After picking it up, I noticed a burgundy skirt, folded neatly on top. Nicholas' mother's skirt. The one he had let me wear.

My hands were trembling when I opened the cover of my journal. Inside was a neatly folded piece of paper with Nicholas' name written in my handwriting on the front.

Sitting on the bed, heart pounding, I opened the piece of paper and recognised what it was. It was the goodbye letter I had written to him on the night I left the Valentine house.

I flipped through the pages of my journal, and sure enough, there was my story I had started, written with quill and ink in my handwriting. I reached the last page I had written on, and noticed words on the page next to it in neat, old fashioned handwriting.

Dearest Matilda,
We may be hundreds of years apart,
But you will forever be in my heart.
We will be together again some day,
You are only a painting touch away.
All my love, Nicholas.

I dropped the journal like a hot potato. That one little poem was enough to convince me.

It hadn't been a dream.

To be continued...

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