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Location: Darlington Ranch, Somerset • Date: Autumn 2022

Leaning comfortably into his chair, feet on the coffee table Jude was sketching an extension to their already impressive stable. Pencil against his bottom lip as he considered what he had drawn, Jude tilted his head, something bothered him about the window he had just drawn.

He ran a hand through his hair, leaving it to rest haphazardly as he frustratingly used his wand to erase what he had drawn.

Jude was in the middle of drawing a wider window when in the corner of his eye he noticed his wife entering the room. Realizing he had already been caught with his feet on the coffee table he didn't even bother taking them off.
The Darlington garden, while grand was not a place Lidia ever visited. The blonde woman who was born from humble beginnings and bred to appreciate the small things, and the garden Jude played in as a child was neither humble nor small. So Lidia left it to the professionals and instead grew her own modest garden a few short meters to the left of the estate. It was a project she had started not three years into taking over the home and to an outsider, the garden probably looked like a chaotic mess with no rhythm or rhyme, but to Lidia it was a beautiful oasis that she would gladly spend all day in if she could.

Colors of every shade littered the small area, with every type of flower you could think of planted there just waiting to be ogled. Today Lidia had spent a good two hours out there and then after picking a small bouquet of white camellias, orange hyacinths and beige garden blossoms, she headed inside.

Toeing off her rubber boots, she tucked them neatly into the entry way closet and then continued on her way through the house. She was passing by the east wing living room when out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Jude tucked into one of the arm chairs with a sketch pad in his arms. He also had his feet up on the coffee table, the same coffee table she snapped at him for never using a coaster because while Lidia's garden might be a chaotic mess, her house was not.

Not even bothering to greet him verbally, she moved into the room and with her free arm, pushed his feet harshly off the table, "Are you a child?" She asked him with a glare.
"Mum! look at my drawing!" Proud of himself for his segway he grinned as he turned his sketch pad towards her. "According to Augi-us, the ground should be leveled by new year which means we could start construction by Spring." Jude turned the pad towards himself and smiled proudly as he contemplated his own work.

Constructing an extension had been a rather contentious conversation, but he hoped that by showing her what he had in mind she might be more open to his idea.
Screwing her nose up at the nickname that nearly slipped from her husbands mouth, Lidia eyed him humorlessly, holding back the retort that August was a perfectly fine name and that Jude's boyfriend did not need it shorten, but she stayed quiet and instead moved towards the vase that she had cleared earlier.

"Did August tell you how much this would all cost because he did tell us originally that it would be done before Christmas, and now with the delay..." She snipped the end of a flower off a little more furiously than needed, keeping her back to the handsome thestral handler. "This is costing us much more than we previously thought, Jude."
August had told him about the new rate and they had argued about it but in an attempt to smoothen the relationship between the two people with whom he shared his life Jude would try to remain diplomatic about the matter.

"He has, it is a bit over budget, but we can afford it." Wishing his talent for calming thestrals extended to humans, the handler smiled sheepishly. "You seem wound up, Dia. If you really think this is too much we can postpone."
Lidia sighed angrily but she didn't open her mouth to let out the words that she had said many times over the years because now Lidia had no ground to stand on because she was just as bad now. No matter how many discussions they had shared over the years, agreements made, Lidia had always resented Jude for involving himself with others, but now, now, for the first time in over twenty years, Lidia was also seeing someone. So Lidia was no longer allowed to express such things, not any more.

"It's fine," She said, placing the flowers into the vase and then she pulled her wand from her pocket and filled it half way with water. "August knows what he's doing and I trust you not to let him make us bankrupt."
"I am much more familiar with these waters than you are, Dia. I've never lost sight of our priorities." While his wife was only starting to explore the rules and boundaries they had set for themselves, Jude had been dallying with them for years and not once had he lost sight of his family's wellbeing. That Lidia felt the need to address the matter at all was insulting to him.

"Where is your other man?" Jude wondered aloud as he set down his notepad.
Lidia and Sasha. Those were Jude's main priorities and they always had been. Despite the many, many men that had come and gone from Jude's life, Jude had always put them first and Lidia had been very grateful. Jude had remained discreet and respectful at all times and Lidia had been able to turn a blind eye when needed but there had been times, small moment during their marriage that she hadn't been able to remain quite so civil about it. Today was apparently one of those days.

"Don't call him that," She snapped, finally turning around to set her husband a lit with a fiery glare. "Louis is not my man/ He is--he is...his own self. "
Puzzled by his wife's mood, Jude got up and reached for a bottle in the liquor cabinet. He filled a glass for himself and one for Lidia. If they were going to have that kind of evening he wouldn't suffer through it without the help of a little fire whiskey.

"He's great. You know I like him." He defended himself unsure why she was so feisty tonight. "I was just wondering what kind of plans young Master Louis might have on Friday evening that would be more important than being with you."
Taking the drink from her husband, she immediately took a swig and then regretted it when it burned her mouth and throat. She took another sip because Lidia Ostrivnyj was nothing if not a masochist.

"Well Jude, unlike August, Louis is not attached to my hip. He is a boy, his life doesn't revolve around me. He has friends who--who--" She trailed off and as her cheeks colored she gulped down the rest of her drink and winced. She needed another.

Making her way towards the bar cart that housed many different liquors and spirits. Lidia poured herself another glass of fire whiskey, only this time instead of a fingers worth, she tripled it. She took a sip, sputtered and then took another.

Oh God.

Louis was a boy. What was she even doing?
Lidia's diatribe amused him until he saw her go back to the cart and generously fill her glass. "Friends who what?" He asked starting to get a little worried. Perhaps her sour mood hadn't been aimed at him after all. "Did he do something?" He made his way around the cart so he could see her face. "Lid, has the little troll done something to upset you?" He was ready to go beat up the little bugger if it was the case.
Unable to help the self-deprecating laugh that escaped her at Jude's sudden distress, Lidia shook her head and leaned against the wooden cart with one hand.

"Louis hasn't done anything Jude. He hasn't done a single thing." They hadn't done a single thing and perhaps that was what was wrong. Louis obviously wanted it, and Lidia would be kidding herself if she said she didn't either. It had been nearly seventeen years since she had last slept with someone, and that someone had been her gay husband and they'd both been under the influence. Granted it had given them their son, but Lidia still remembered how awkward it had been and not just because they had been drunk. Before Jude there had been a slew of boys, but there hadn't been anything serious, not like this, not like Louis, and they hadn't even had sex yet.

She looked up at Jude and smiled, though it wobbled immensely, "He's just a boy, Jude. He has a whole life to live and, God, what am I doing with him? What even is the point. I can't even let him..." Shaking her head, she lifted her glass again and took a sip. "What am I doing Jude?"
Relieved to hear Louis hadn't hurt his wife Jude let out a short sigh. Though the boy did seem to be the cause of her chagrin, the situation did not call for the kind of intervention he had been anticipating.

"Okay," he took her hand. "Sit down, we will figure it out." He took the fire whiskey bottle and brought it with them. He sat and refilled their glasses. "Sounds like there are a few things on your mind, let's go through them one at a time." He took a sip. "He's young, but he's not a boy." Though at first Jude would have agreed considering Louis was almost their son's age, as he had gotten to know the young man he had come to realize he had a certain amount of maturity their boy lacked. "Think about his life experience, the challenges he has surpassed." Being raised by two mothers, abandoned by his father were among the two Jude could think of, but he was sure Lidia knew of others. "He has written the play you are working on, I'm sure that makes him wise beyond his years. And you know, Just the general way he is with you and with our arrangement, I think that's more than enough to prove he's a man. A young one, but a man nonetheless."
"Louis' maturity does not take away from the fact that he is twenty-two years old," Lidia whined, clenching her eyes closed, her face contorting. Louis' maturity had never been in question, not once, but Lidia still couldn't help but worry that she was holding him back. There were many girls out there his age who would happily take her place, ready and willing to discover all sort of things with the boy. But Lidia, Lidia was forty-seven years old and had already lived her life. She had no interest in partaking in whatever twenty-four year olds got up to these days, even if Louis had told her many times that he also had no interest in them.

She looked at Jude helplessly, her eyes suddenly blood shot, "I can't even find the courage's been seventeen years Jude, and even then I was so drunk I can't even tell you how it felt."
"It felt," he paused as he remembered. There had been a lot of alcohol yet the memory did not seem that foggy. "It felt safe." He finally said with a slight nod. It hadn't been a lavish affair, nor had it felt particularly right, but given the secret nature of his usual dalliances being with Lidia had felt safe for him.

Jude smiled sadly. "Do you not feel safe enough with him?" He wondered.