Here’s a teaser for my work in progress, book three in the ‘Someone’ series.
“I fucked up.”
“Hello to you, too,” said my sister, Sarah. She peered out from my iPad, her face slightly distorted, her nose looking bigger than it was in real life.
“Sorry. Hi,” I retorted tartly. The best thing about having your sister as your best friend is being able to skip niceties and get straight to the point. Didn’t she know that?
“So, how have you fucked up?” she asked. Suddenly the screen turned white.
“Sez, have you put me down?”
“Oh, yes, sorry.” Her face hovered over the screen. “I’m folding my washing.” That meant she’d put her iPad face up on the bed to give me a lovely view of her ceiling. “Sorry,” she added, her face moving out of frame again.
“It’s fine. Don’t worry.”
“So, you fucked up,” she prompted again.
“Oh, yeah. I slept with Alex.”
Her face appeared again as she righted the iPad and stared straight at me. “Sorry, what? Alex?”
“My flatmate,” I answered flatly.
“Oooooh, Alex. So, he does exist.” She grinned, obviously pleased with herself.
“Ha ha, very funny.” Sarah had stayed with me before and after her trip to Greece the year before. She’d met my flatmate, Jane, but for some reason, Alex was either away for work, or out of the flat the whole time Sarah was there. She’d questioned whether he was real or not. Believe me—and my vagina—he was real.
“So, what happened?” I could see her getting comfortable on her bed, clearly settling in for the duration.
I sighed heavily and moved some cushions about on my couch, so I could get comfy too. With Alex at a work do and Jane out with friends, I didn’t have to worry about being heard—which was precisely the reason I’d waited two days and fourteen hours since The Incident to call Sarah. Until then, I’d been lying low avoiding both of my flatmates in what I’d like to think was an impressive display of both restraint and stealth.
When I was comfortable enough, I replied to Sarah’s question. “Well, it’s nothing you haven’t heard before—usual stuff really. Jane went out. Alex and I stayed in and ordered Indian take-away and opened a bottle or three of wine, and we ended up having drunken sex on the couch.” I saw her make a face. “What?”
“The couch I slept on?” She looked like she’d just smelled someone else’s fart.
“Yes, Sarah. That couch. But longgggggggg after you slept on it, so can you focus please?” Her expression changed to contrition.
“Sorry.” I waved off the apology. “So, what now?” she asked. It was a good question. What I had wanted to happen was absolutely nothing. I’d wanted to wake up the next day, make our usual pleasantries over tea and coffee and get on with my life. What I didn’t want was Alex making goo-goo eyes over the kettle and then professing his long-held and undying love for me.
Yes, that really happened.
“Well, we each went back to our own rooms and I fell into a wine-induced coma and when I woke up he was waiting for me in the kitchen with a cup of tea and a weird look on his face. I took the tea and he launched into this whole diatribe about being in love with me, and how he’d always hoped something would happen between us and that he wanted me to meet his mum.”
Sarah’s eyes widened and her mouth hung open a little. It was exactly the same reaction I’d had in my kitchen two days before.
Her face contorted. “Fuuuuuck,” she said slowly. I hadn’t realised until that moment how much you could drag that word out.
“That’s what I thought—think. Yeah, I still think that.”
“So, I’m guessing you don’t feel the same?” she proffered.
I snorted in reply. I couldn’t help it—involuntary. “Alex???” I asked, as though his name alone was enough to convey how ridiculous her question was.
The left corner of her mouth dropped as if to say, ‘Okay. No need to be snarky.’
“Sorry.” She shrugged, all instantly forgiven—another good thing about having a sister as your bestie. “It’s just that, yeah, I mean he’s cute in that British sort-off podgy, floppy-haired, Andrew Garfield kind of way, but I don’t really fancy him. Plus, he’s nice enough, but he’s dull as dirt. He only ever talks about his work—boring as fuck—and his latest obsession—get this, virtual reality. He’s even kitted out his room with a whole set-up.”
“Oh, wow. That sounds cool.”
“Are you paying attention? It’s not. I tried it—it made me sick.”
“Anyway, I’ve been hiding from him.”
“So, how’s that going?”
“So far, so good. Although, I had a near-miss with him the other night when I got up to go to the loo.” I could see the smirk pulling at the corners of her mouth and watched as she succumbed to laughter. My giggles followed soon after.
“You’re a dork,” she said.
“I know,” I replied, another sigh escaping.
“So, what’s your long-term plan? You going to keep skulking about your flat, praying you don’t cross his path on the way to brush your teeth.” I could tell she was enjoying this.
“Actually, no. I’ve booked a trip.”
Her surprise was genuine.
“Yep. For half-term. I leave on Saturday. It’s a Contiki trip.”
I let my reveal hang in the air. Sarah had worked for Contiki about ten years before as a Tour Manager. She’d shared all the glorious—and gory—details, and I had a pretty good idea what I was in for. What I didn’t know was how she’d react.
Apparently, it would be blinking at me, her mouth opening and closing like a goldfish out of water.
“I’m sorry, what? You’re going on a Contiki?”
“Yes,” I replied, sticking to my guns. I’ve never really understood that expression, by the way.
Her brows furrowed. “But, I told you everything. And you said you’d never go on one of those tours. Ever. You were quite clear about the ever part.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“So? What happened?”
“I panicked,” I answered, half-resolute, half-defensive.
She was quiet for several moments, then, “Huh. Well, okay. So, you leave Saturday?”
“And which trip is it? I mean, how long?”
“Two weeks, fifteen countries, or something like that.” She nodded and I could see her mind at work.
“So, Paris, Nice, Florence, Rome, Venice, Lauterbrunnen, Koblenz, and Amsterdam. Right?” Damn, she was good. Ten years on and she still knew the itinerary of a two-week tour looping around Europe.
“Uh, yeah, I think so. That sounds right.” She nodded again.
“Cool. You’re gonna want to pack a few things that won’t be on your list.” Big sister Sarah kicked in and I retrieved a pen and paper to take notes as she dictated. Insider info is the best.
Two days later, at a ridiculous hour of the morning—7:00am—I was standing on the footpath outside a large inner London hotel amid a bustle of travellers and luggage. Peering at my phone, I re-read the confirmation email for the trip, which included the tour code. Then I looked along the long line of identical buses—I counted eight—and back at the tour code. How was I supposed to know which one was mine?
“Hi. Can I help?” said a friendly voice off to my left. I looked up to see a guy in his mid-twenties wearing a shirt with the Contiki logo embroidered on the pocket.
“Uh, yes please. I’m not sure which bus I’m on. Here’s my tour code.” I showed him the screen of my phone and he read it, his head at an awkward angle.
He lifted his eyes to meet mine. “You’re in luck. That’s my tour—I’m the driver and this is our coach.” He indicated the closest bus and I made a mental note to call it a coach. “Here, let me take that,” he said, indicating my suitcase. I passed over the handle and he expertly retracted it and slid the suitcase into the hold under the bus—sorry, coach. When he turned back around, he pointed to the leather messenger bag slung across my body. “That one stays with you.”
“Oh, great. Thanks.” The coach thing sorted, my mind leapt to caffeination—I am next door to useless without my morning tea and it was excruciatingly early for a Saturday. “Uh, do you know where I can get a cup of tea?” I also needed to pee, but I wasn’t about to tell him that.
“There’s a coffee shop in there that has decent tea.” He pointed towards the hotel lobby, then checked his watch. “You’ve got about twenty-five minutes.”
I had a sudden thought. “Oh, can I bring tea on the coach?” I felt prouder than I should have for having called it the right name.
“Of course! But if you spill, you’ll be on coach washing duties,” he deadpanned. I wasn’t sure if he was serious until the smile broke across his face again. “Kidding.”
Several other people were waiting for him to take their bags, so I skedaddled. I found the toilets, then got myself some tea and a giant gooey brownie. I am not usually a cake-for-breakfast type person, but my only other choices were a ham and tomato sandwich which had seen better days or a soggy croissant. I was going to be in Paris that afternoon. I could wait for a decent croissant.
Back outside, I could see that the coach was filling up and I climbed aboard, holding my tea steady. I walked down the aisle and a few faces looked up and smiled. I smiled back, then chose an empty pair of seats about a third of the way along and scooted in next to the window, tucking my bag under the seat in front of me.
I sipped my tea, then regarded the brownie. I didn’t want it, and I wished I’d said yes when Jane offered to make me some toast for the ride into the city. She’d been an absolute gem and had driven me. Granted, it was in my car and I was letting her drive it while I was away, but we’d still had to leave home just after six.
I wrapped up the brownie and put it in my bag just as a tall woman stopped in the aisle next to me. “Hi, is this seat taken?”
She had a pretty, open face that made me like her instantly. “No, go ahead.” She pushed a large floppy bag into the parcel shelf above us and sat down heavily with a sigh.
“God, I’m so glad I made it. I came straight from the airport.”
“Really? This morning?”
She nodded and ran a hand through her short blonde hair—the kind of naturally sun-kissed blonde that screams of good genes and makes you turn an ugly shade of green.
“Yep. Just arrived from Vancouver.” She’d flown internationally and was about to get straight on a bus tour—sorry, coach tour. I figured she wouldn’t want to hear about waking up at the disgusting hour of 5am.
“I’m Catherine—Cat,” I said instead.
“Louise—Lou,” she replied.
“Well, we’re clearly destined to be friends, Lou, because your name is my middle name.”
“No way,” she chuckled.
“Way. Catherine Louise Parsons.”
“Louise Eva Janssen.”
We shook hands as if to formalise our budding friendship, then sat in easy silence as we watched the coach load up with pairs and singles, and a four-pack of Kiwi boys who made their way noisily up the aisle to the back of the coach. We exchanged a look as they passed by us.
“I love the Kiwis,” Lou cooed. I wasn’t so sure; they seemed like trouble to me. But maybe that was because I was thirty-four and likely one of the oldest people on a tour for eighteen-to-thirty-five-year-olds. What the hell was I doing? I should have booked on a Trafalga tour where I’d be the youngest and get to spend two weeks travelling Europe with a group of people my grandparents’ age, being fawned over and called, ‘Love’.
I shook the ridiculous thought from my mind. This tour was going to be a blast and by the time I got back to London, Alex would have realised his feelings were nothing more than a silly crush and then we’d go back to being normal flatmates who barely saw each other and squabbled over whose turn it was to take out the recycling.
The large red numbers at the front of the coach showed 7:26am when an attractive woman stepped onto the coach, simultaneously dragging me from my thoughts and commanding the attention of the completely full coach.
“Good morning, everyone,” she called out above the hubbub of chatter. The group quietened down immediately, which I found impressive. I wondered if she’d ever been a teacher.
“I’m Georgina your Tour Manager and this is our driver, Tom.” Tom turned around in his seat and waved to us. We waved back like a bus full of school kids on our way to an excursion. “If you do not have an EU passport and haven’t checked in with me yet, pop up the front now so we can get away on time.”
I did have an EU passport—well, a British-and-soon-not-to-be-EU-passport (bloody Brexit)—so I stayed seated as two people moved into the aisle, passports in hand. Lou answered my unasked question with, “I saw her when I got here.”
“Cool. You know,” I said, changing tack, “I only booked this trip three days ago.” I figured if Lou was going to be my bus bestie, I might as well fill her in.
“Oh yeah? Me too! Well, it was on Monday—Monday West Coast time—so what’s that? Five days ago.”
“Oh wow. That’s so weird. I bet most of the people on here booked ages ago.”
“Hmm, probably. So, what make you book it?” She emphasised ‘you’.
“I slept with my flatmate and he’s decided he’s in love with me.”
“And you are not in love with him?”
“Correct. And you?”
“I left my husband. He’s an alcoholic.”
I had not expected that—especially after the Kiwi comment. Rendered verbally impotent, all I managed in response was, “Oh.” She clenched her jaw, drew her mouth into a tight line and nodded, blinking back tears. Instinctively, I laid a hand on her knee and she let me. Heavy stuff for first thing in the morning.
Georgina appeared in front of us again and this time lifted a microphone to her mouth just as the bus—sorry, coach—pulled away from the curb. Not having to project, she spoke quietly into the mike with a deep, throaty voice. “Good morning, everyone.”
Again, like school kids, we replied en masse with, “Good morning.”
“As you can see, we’re underway. Our drive to Dover will take about two hours, then we’ll catch the ferry to Calais—with the coach—then onto Paris. We should arrive around 5:00pm. We’ll get you situated at the campsite and then we get back on the coach for the Paris night tour, which I know you’ll just love.”
A panicked American voice from in the seat in front of me spoke in a not-so-subtle whisper to the woman next to her. “Campsite? She said campsite. Are we on a camping tour?” I peeked between the seats to see her frantically searching her phone—probably for the confirmation email. I tapped her on the shoulder and two chocolatey-brown eyes fixed on mine.
“Hi,” I whispered.
“Hi.” Her seatmate turned around and joined the between-the-seats huddle.
“It’s not a camping tour,” I said, hoping to reassure her with the confident tone of my whisper. She looked dubious, so I expounded. “We’re staying in cabins at a campsite. We’re not camping.” I saw her visibly relax, then turn around and rest her head against the seat.
Her seatmate introduced herself. “I’m Sophie.”
“Hi. Cat.” I pointed to, “Lou.”
She pointed at the woman next to her, “Jaelee.” Jaelee swung her head around and offered a relieved smile.
All of this happened very quietly, I’d like to add, but I quickly realised that the rest of the coach was silent and when I lifted my head, I saw Georgina staring at us with a look that could turn us to stone. Yep, definitely a school teacher in a former life.
Jaelee and Sophie turned back around and Lou and I threw each other a look, then ducked behind the seats, stifling giggles. Maybe we were going to the be the naughty ones, not the four Kiwi guys up the back.
Georgina continued her ‘first day spiel’. I knew all about this from Sarah, because I’d helped her perfect hers when she was touring. It took nearly the whole drive to Dover and was all about the logistics of life on the road with fifty-five people. I tuned out of a lot of it as I watched the London traffic and busy streets evolve into green hilly countryside, with pastoral scenes of sheep and cows lazily wandering around paddocks.
When I heard, “Let’s talk about the difference between tourists and travellers . . .” I tuned back in. This is a philosophy the Parsons girls subscribe to—although Sarah probably more than me, because she’s the most intrepid and I tend to consider travel as a means to good food and drink.
In a nutshell, a traveller embraces the differences of each new location and a tourist bitches and moans about them, often incessantly. I was very much an appreciator of different places, particularly the wine, the beer, the cheese, the bread—well, you get the drift. But unlike me and my fellow travellers, tourists should just stay home and watch Netflix.
My phone vibrated inside my bag and I retrieved it without thinking. Alex, for the third time that day. Ugh. I could read the text on the screen.
I’ll miss you.
Good grief. How had he not gotten the message? I was leaving the damned country to get away from him. I put my phone away without replying.
So, yes, I may have been a traveller, but first and foremost I was a fugitive, a runaway, a love escapee.
I was ridiculous.