Even the satnav doesn't want to direct her to the house. With hardly any signal here, it keeps glitching, refusing to refresh while she continues to drive. As a result, she only sees the burgundy sign for ENDGAME HOUSE HOTEL as she drives past. Her heart beats faster. This is the first time she'll have seen it as a hotel. When she lived at Endgame House, it was a conference centre, run by Uncle Edward, with help from Aunt Liliana and Mum. Edward had long had a dream of turning it into a fancy hotel, but his dream had only recently come to pass when he died. Moral of the story—don't have dreams, and never let them come true.
It's another five minutes before she finds a place to turn round, and every one of those minutes involves wondering whether she should go back to London. And now's the time to make the decision. She's at the gates to Endgame that bar the road into the estate. As the gates part, the family crest sculptured in bronze splits down the middle. You don't have to stay, she tells herself as she drives through. You can leave at any time. In the rear-view mirror, the gates clamp closed behind her.
The car groans and digs deep, as does she, as they start up the hill. She'd forgotten how steep it was, but then she'd never had to drive up it in a fifteen-year-old Mini whose suspension had got lower with every one of those years.
The forest that encircles the estate presses in, as if trying to stare through the car windows. She used to play among the trees with Tom and Ronnie, two of her cousins. Playful images of wading in the stream disappear as the muddy incline relents its gradient and is clothed in gravel. The forest stands back, as if afraid to go any further.
She drives onto the circular gravel driveway. Every sound of the stones moving under the tyres brings up a new memory—bringing a huge Christmas tree home on the roof of her mum's car; her cousins arriving for a summer of fun; the silent ambulance taking her mum's body away.
The car gives a throaty sigh of relief as she pulls up. Lily, though, holds her breath. Her shoulders lift as if they could hide behind her ears. Her hands form fists. She can't bring herself to look at the house, not yet, but she feels its presence all the same. Endgame House looms just out of her peripheral vision, as it has every day since she left all those years ago.
It takes every bit of strength she has not to turn the car round. Instead, Lily takes her aunt's letter from her pocket and reads through it again.
She then closes her eyes and conjures the last time she saw Liliana. It was a few weeks before she died. They were in the Orchard Tea Rooms, walking distance from the house Liliana had lived in ever since moving from Endgame when Lily's mum died. She had accepted a fellowship at her alma mater, Clare College, adopted Lily, and taken her, with Sara and Gray, Liliana's biological children, to live in Grantchester. They were having lunch to celebrate Aunt Liliana's retirement from her position as Chair of English at Cambridge. At least that's why Lily had thought they were there.
Liliana had piled a scone with so much butter, jam, cream and fruit that it was a patisserie Buckaroo, toppling before she got it to her mouth. She laughed so much she spilled cider on her tweed skirt. She brushed it off and said, loudly, 'That's why you should make corsets out of tweed, darling, it resists the most pernicious of stains.'
'There aren't many historical frocks made of tweed, Aunt Lil.'
'You should be moving on from all that, Lily,' her aunt said. 'Rehashing the work of others is hardly artistic. It's not like you're putting a new spin on things. Don't you think it's time you did something with your life?'
'I'm fine as I am,' Lily said. Her lips knitted together.
'No one says they're "fine" and means it. "Fine" means anything but.' Aunt Liliana then sighed and grabbed Lily's hand. Her face suddenly serious, she whispered, 'You will come this Christmas, won't you?'
'I can't,' Lily replied. 'You know that.'
Liliana fixed her eyes on Lily's and said, 'If not for me, then for your mother.'
She was invoking Mum, blackmailing Lily into attending. Anger unspooled in Lily. She whipped back her hand. She wanted to shout, say exactly what she thought. Instead, she gripped the table and looked down at the placemat. 'That's not fair, Liliana,' Lily said, quietly. 'It's only a game.'
'This isn't entertainment, Lily, it's life or death.'
'I thought it was about inheriting the house.'
'On the surface level, it is. But it's more than that.'