The day after I had been drenched in the rainstorm I was confined to my bed. I had caught a chill, one which I would have cheerfully ignored if left to my own devices, but my mother - perhaps worried about having a sickly daughter on her hands - insisted I remain indoors.
The next day found me in perfect health and, after a few misgivings, mother was willing to let me resume my usual chores, and my usual perambulations. I hurried through the tasks that had been set me, preoccupied with what Xanthia had said and the alarming circumstances of our sudden separation.
Finally, I returned to the hole in the wall beside the battered greenhouse. The sun had dried out all but a few of the most shaded puddles, and the garden looked green and fresh after the rain. The gap in the brickwork was still there but, after I squeezed through, what I found was quite different from how I remembered it: a tangle of brambles, a thicket of stinging nettles edging an overgrown coppice. There was no obvious path, no easy way forward, and I got both scratched and stung trying to force my way though. I hardly felt the pain; the anguish in my heart made my limbs numb.
Xanthia was nowhere to be found. There was no clearing in the woods, no lawn, no mossy boulders, no faerie grotto.
I didn't tell anyone about Xanthia. Not before she left me, and not afterwards, either. Nobody at school would have believed me and I would have been so ridiculed by my snotty brother that my life would not have been worth living.
I was a quiet and lonely child. My younger - much younger - brother got all the attention from my parents. He was a loud brash boy, full of himself, popular with the other lads and the teachers, and occasionally getting himself into the kinds of scrapes that, in later life, everybody would laugh about. Mind you, he wasn't deliberately cruel to me - I can see that clearly, in hindsight - just selfish and insensitive to the needs of others.
So my parents had their hands full dealing with the irrepressible youth, and I suppose it was a relief to them that their daughter did adequately at school, did not get into trouble, and was polite and well-mannered in company. It did not occur to any of them that I was growing up, on the cusp of becoming a woman, not just a girl-child. They hardly noticed the changes in the shape of my body, although, in truth, those changes were not particularly obvious: I have always been slender, and the swell of my breasts and the curve of my hips was slight enough to pass concealed under my girlish clothing.
The move to Zana House was a whirlwind of exhausting activity, blurred and confused in my memory even now. The house was a rambling old place in quite a poor state of repair, with several ramshackle outbuildings. I know now that the move to a rural location was a dream of my father, to escape from the drudgery of working in a factory and living in a crowded city. But at the time all I remember was that he was permanently tired and bad-tempered. He was laboring hard to repair and rejuvenate the house and grounds, painting and mending, working long hours while the weather lasted.
I soon fell into the habit of wandering in the garden and the nearby fields, keeping out of the way of my parents, returning to the house only when my feet got tired. I grew accustomed to staying out longer and longer as spring turned to summer, wandering the countryside until the sun sank towards the horizon, or until summoned for meals by the ringing of the old bell that hung by the kitchen door.
Part of the grounds at Zana House was an old walled garden, entered through an archway filled with a wooden gate which had collapsed from rot. The garden within had not been tended in many years and was now heavily overgrown. Weeds and brambles had taken root, submerging the original beds where fruit and vegetables would be grown. The walls themselves were of worn and fractured red bricks, with mossy and flaking mortar holding them together. Despite the lack of recent care, the old garden still retained a feeling of peace and tranquility, warm in the sunshine and quiet enough to hear the buzzing of bees.
I found it was possible to get inside, with a little care, the brambles not entirely obscuring the gravel paths that once cross-crossed the garden. I spent some time exploring, finally reaching the lean-to greenhouse that stood in the sunny spot furthest from the gate. The greenhouse was long abandoned, its glass so furred with green and broken in a few places that it was almost impossible to see inside.
Behind the greenhouse, I found a place where the wall had partially collapsed, the bricks piled up underneath a hole that was too small for a grown man to use, but was just big enough for a skinny girl to get through. Something drew me to the place, made me want to see what was on the other side. Maybe it was just curiosity. I scrambled up the pile of mossy bricks and squeezed myself sideways through the hole in the wall.
Brushing dust and dirt from my dress and my knees, I looked around. On this side, the wall bordered a wide and sunny clearing in the woods, nearly circular - as far as I could tell - and with the suggestion of paths leading into the cool forest in several places. In one direction, the wall disappeared into luxuriant undergrowth, a veritable mountain of glossy green leaves. In the other, I could see a cluster of rounded boulders, their shapes and sizes looking as if they had been artfully selected to be pleasing to the eye. Beyond the stones, the edge of the dark woods drew close.
And then it was that I first set my eyes on Xanthia. She was sitting on one of the boulders, under the shade of a tree. Her blonde hair was flowing free, ruffled by an occasional breeze. She was clad in that light summer dress whose color I could never quite describe or reproduce; I would realize only later that it was always the same dress that she wore whenever I saw her.
Xanthia seemed only slightly startled by my sudden appearance, bursting untidily and besmirched from the hole in the wall. I had caught her in the act of waving goodbye to two friends, girls similarly clad, but with different colors for their summer dresses, who were walking slowly across the clipped grass of the clearing. I stared at Xanthia for a long moment, unable to drag my eyes away from her beauty. When I remembered my modesty and looked away, the others had disappeared, as if they had simply flown away. On all my subsequent trips through the hole in the old garden wall, I never saw anyone other than Xanthia.
She stood, walk to me and took my hands in her own. At that moment, I seemed to fall into the depths of her eyes.
"Hello," she said simply.
We became close friends, and more, very quickly, Xanthia and I. As soon as I saw her, I longed to touch her. She was so beautiful, so alive and, I would soon discover, so very passionate. She was always the wise one, the forward one, and she seemed to have a preternatural ability to know what I wanted, what I needed.
We spoke little, that first day. We sat together on the dry grass, touching and being touched, enjoying kisses and caresses at first shy and gentle, then more confident and passionate. It seemed so natural when she ran her hand under my skirt. Her merest touch on that so-sensitive skin on my inner thigh was itself enough to make me cry out. My clothing, and my modesty, was suddenly a hindrance to the urgency I felt. Xanthia helped me to remove the former, while the latter dissipated as if it had never been. Her own dress simply slid from her body in a single smooth, sensuous movement.
Now both naked, and our passion redoubled, our hands and mouths exploring one another's bodies with yet more heightened urgency. And so it was I came at last, in her arms, her fingers on my nipple and on my clit. I was so inexperienced that I did not quite understand what was happening to me, to my body. The heat in my belly, the gush of my juices and the spasms of my muscles - all were a shock, a surprise to me. But even then I knew I wanted to feel that way again, and I wanted my dear Xanthia to feel the same way, too.
She gently guided my fingers over her own body, showing me how to touch, to caress, to separate her lips and explore her vagina with my fingers. I would like to think that my enthusiasm and my newly-awakened passion overcame my clumsy inexperience. In any case, with Xanthia's experienced guidance, it was not long before her back arched, her body shook, and the gasps of her orgasm filled my ears.
Even in that long hot summer, now such a long time ago, it seemed that the sun was somehow warmer, the breezes always more clement, on the other side of the wall. It truly was a world beyond our own, a haven of tranquility where I could relax, a place where I felt I belonged.
"I love you," I told Xanthia passionately, on many occasions, "Let me stay with you always."
She would always laugh, and hold me close, but she would never use those words herself. And she would alwyas insist that I answer the summons of the dinner bell or return home when the sun began to sink towards the horizon.
Once I asked Xanthia how old she was.
"Oh, I'm ever so much older than you are," she replied, a tinkle of laughter in her voice, "Can't you guess?"
She didn't look more than a year or two older than I was, although there was something in the way she spoke, the way she moved sometimes, which hinted at a greater maturity and wisdom. I never did guess her age; somehow I never seemed to get a simple answer to any question. But it didn't matter, not then - and not now either, really.
On another of the seemingly endless series of hot summer days, I found, for some reason, her usual caresses did not seem to satisfy. There was something more I needed. Sensing my frustration, the unreleased tension in my body, Xanthia rolled away and reached out - exactly where, I could not see. When she returned to her former position, she was holding something: a long cylinder, rounded at one end and as creamy-white as Xanthia's skin, a device I would later learn was called a dildo. But at the time, I was naive and completely confused.
"What is it?" I asked, unable to take my eyes from the device in her hand.
She showed me. She sat on the grass, her legs spread, and leaned back against her favorite boulder. She first moistened the toy in her mouth and then slipped it inside herself, a soundless "oh" of pleasure shaping her lips. I was astonished, fascinated - and desperate to get that thing inside me right now.
"Now you try," she said, withdrawing the phallus with the slightest hint of regret.
I copied her actions, taking the curved tip of the dildo in my mouth - experiencing the now-familiar taste of Xanthia's own most intimate moisture - and then into my own vagina. That movement alone immediately brought me to a shattering climax - I was really that close already. The toy was made of some wonderful material, somehow both hard and flexible at the same time. It was a remarkable experience and I would not discover its like for several years - in fact, until I experienced a man's hard cock inside me.
As the summer drew on, and my womanly curves became apparent to even the most unobservant members of my family, I started enlarging the hole in the brickwork, removing just one or two brick each day, each time I visited. Perhaps it was my own actions that somehow upset the equilibrium of the passage between the worlds, and required my dearest Xanthia to push me away. Or maybe I was growing up, truly approaching adulthood, and therefore excluding myself from the world beyond. Of course, I will never know.