Dean’s Ham­pers

It was the first thing we couldn’t agree on in six years to­gether. Was it the end?

My Weekly - - Contents - By Fran Tracey

De­li­cious fes­tive food

I wasn’t SO SURE, af­ter he’d said it ALOUD, but it had been MY IDEA

Six months ago, pre­cisely, Tom and I went our sep­a­rate ways. Quite lit­er­ally. He went east, I went west. The idea of trav­el­ling had been quite spur of the mo­ment. That was Tom, a spur of the mo­ment kind of guy. I’m more of a plan­ner, if truth be told.

“We should do it. We should travel, Lizzie,” he said one evening when the cred­its rolled on a na­ture doc­u­men­tary set in a far-flung land. “Be­fore we’re tied to four weeks’ hol­i­day a year and are sav­ing like mad to get mar­ried and putting a de­posit to­gether.”

That was the first time ei­ther of us had brought up the sub­ject of mar­riage. I won­dered if it was a pro­posal of sorts. Right then, I was more ex­cited by the prospect of travel. I had no doubt we’d get mar­ried at some time. But travel was a new thing we’d not dis­cussed.

We’d fin­ished uni a cou­ple of years be­fore, both got jobs, but not per­ma­nent ones. A trip to­gether be­fore set­tling into proper ca­reers sounded ex­cit­ing. It would be so much harder, later, to take time off and travel.

“I’m think­ing Amer­ica. A road trip. Route 66, maybe?” I said, be­ing bold, get­ting my sug­ges­tion out there.

“I’ve al­ways wanted to visit Thai­land,” he said.

My heart sank. We’d only just started talk­ing about des­ti­na­tions and al­ready we couldn’t agree.

Tom pulled out an at­las he’d had since he was at school and we flipped through the pages to­gether. So many places, so lit­tle time, I thought. A lot of the names of coun­tries had changed.

We’d been on camp­ing hol­i­days to­gether, that kind of thing, but noth­ing big to­gether. The de­ci­sion about where to go camp­ing hadn’t been too chal­leng­ing. This was dif­fer­ent.

I had al­ways fan­cied Route 66, even though I knew it wasn’t ex­actly the orig­i­nal route from way back when.

”I’m drawn to the Far East,” Tom said. “Just think, all those tem­ples.” “Not the Wild West, then?” I said. He’d made a face. I fan­cied dig­ging away to find my in­ner wild child, hair flow­ing freely in the breeze, the sun warm­ing my face. He fan­cied find­ing him­self spir­i­tu­ally awak­ened. For the first time in our six years to­gether, we weren’t read­ing from the same page.

Tom and I met at school. He’d joined our sixth form, and we’d got chat­ting on the school bus. We were soon in­sep­ara- ble. Friends first, then a cou­ple.

We were so much in love we ap­plied to the same uni­ver­si­ties and were lucky enough to get places at the same one. Dif­fer­ent cour­ses, though.

“You’re so young, love, I think you’re crazy. Uni is a time to be free, not to be tied down,” said my mum, who had met my dad when she was eigh­teen. They’d been en­gaged within weeks and hap­pily to­gether ever since. “That was dif­fer­p­waraaytes

ent,” she said when I chal­lenged her. “I didn’t go away to uni­ver­sity. I didn’t have your op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

It wasn’t that she and my dad didn’t like Tom. They thought the world of him.

We were in­sep­a­ra­ble at uni. We had loads of friends, we weren’t daft enough not to min­gle, but I never met any­one else I wanted to be with ro­man­ti­cally more than Tom, and he felt the same.

Dis­agree­ing over the des­ti­na­tion of our trip was our first ma­jor ar­gu­ment.

Tom re­ally didn’t want to go to Amer­ica, it tran­spired. “It’s full of cow­boys,” he said. “Which cen­tury are you liv­ing in, Tom?” I replied mock­ingly.

To be fair to him, I re­ally didn’t want to go to Thai­land and the Far East.

“It will be so busy, all that bus­tle in Bangkok. And the hu­mid­ity. Ugh.”

Be­fore that we’d bick­ered, ob­vi­ously. Doesn’t ev­ery­one? He’s happy with own-brand beans, I like branded ones. That kind of thing. But this was big­ger.

As we talked and talked and never agreed about it, I won­dered if my mum had been right. Had we been too young? Should we both live a bit be­fore set­tling down?

It had been my sug­ges­tion that we go our sep­a­rate ways. “How about you go your way, Tom and I go mine? It’s only six months, af­ter all. We’ve been to­gether long enough to weather that, surely?”

He’d taken the sug­ges­tion bet­ter than I thought he might.

“Might be the best so­lu­tion,” he’d said. “Do us good to be apart a bit. Give us a chance to find out that we re­ally are com­mit­ted. We’re still very young to set­tle down.”

I wasn’t quite so sure then, af­ter he said that aloud, but I had made the ini­tial sug­ges­tion, so I had to go along with it. We were still young – he was right. We’d still be the first of our friends to marry, if that’s what we did.

“I’ll miss you, though,” he’d added, hold­ing me close.

“I’ll miss you too,” I’d said. Like crazy, I’d thought, won­der­ing if this was the big­gest mis­take I’d ever made.

Our part­ing was very am­i­ca­ble. We gave no­tice on the flat, moved our stuff back into our par­ents’ lofts and packed for our trips. We kept ev­ery­thing bright and breezy. We weren’t split­ting up, af­ter all. Although it kind of felt like it.

“Ket­tle at your par­ents or mine?” I asked. Not that it re­ally mat­tered. One loft was pretty much the same as the other. But it felt sym­bolic of some­thing. The at­las def­i­nitely went with him.

My friend Mel joined me on my road trip, which was cool. She had fam­ily in Chicago. Her un­cle kindly lent us a car. Not the clas­sic Cadil­lac we’d dreamed of, more of an old banger, but it saved some money and suited us just fine.

It was a bril­liant ex­pe­ri­ence. We soaked up the at­mos­phere in the small Amer­i­can towns we passed through.

“We’re like Thelma and Louise,” Mel re­marked as we drove. “I hope it’s a hap­pier end­ing,” I replied. We got on re­ally well. Mel was my clos­est girl­friend at uni; we started out in the same halls of res­i­dence. On Route 66 we had loads of fun, laugh­ter, and the odd scrape or two.

Walk­ing into a bar where it all went silent and there was that you-aren’tfrom-around-here feel­ing ex­ud­ing from the group of Hell’s An­gels who had turned to face us – that was one.

I emailed Tom to tell him about it, once we’d quickly downed a soda

each and left un­scathed, find­ing our way back to our bud­get mo­tel.

We kept in touch by mes­sen­ger and email, Tom and I. Told each other about the sights we’d seen. I sent him pho­tos of the re­stored mo­tels, the pet­ri­fied for­est, the gas sta­tions. In re­turn he sent pic­tures of de­serted beaches, golden-roofed palaces and street food stalls.

He’d hooked up with a group of peo­ple on the way. My heart con­tracted when I saw the group, arms around one an­other, grin­ning broadly. His left hand rested on the shoul­der of a pretty, petite blonde woman. I won­dered if there was any more than friend­ship be­tween them. Mynew­mates, he cap­tioned the im­age. I re­gret­ted how we’d parted, bright and breezy, me wav­ing him off at the air­port. His flight was three days be­fore mine. I had to won­der if this was the end and we’d be­come just good friends.

I knew we’d never lose touch; we’d shared way too much for that. But would we have a re­la­tion­ship when we ar­rived home? I, for one, couldn’t say.

“Love you,” I’d called af­ter him, sobs chok­ing me. Had he heard me?

“Love you too, Lizzie.” He’d turned, waved, blown a kiss and gone on his way.

Mel had a fling with a cow­boy in Ari­zona. One of his friends chat­ted me up too, but I de­clined his of­fer to drive into the sun­set to­gether. I missed Tom so much that evening, and won­dered what he would do if the pretty blonde flirted with him. Six months apart is a long time.

We ar­rived home in the UK a week be­fore Tom did, tired and happy. Late Oc­to­ber in the UK felt cold, damp and dark. There was no com­par­i­son to au­tumn in Santa Mon­ica.

I won­dered how Tom was far­ing weather-wise in Bali, his fi­nal des­ti­na­tion on his Far East tour. Hot and hu­mid, I imag­ined.

It felt strange to be back dur­ing the hus­tle and bus­tle of au­tumn – Hal­lowe’en, Bon­fire Night, and then the run-up to Christ­mas. I was glad of dis­trac­tions, though. I had my new job to plan for – I was due to start as trainee man­ager in a big depart­ment store in a fort­night. I was sur­rounded by sea­sonal stuff – Hal­lowe’en cos­tumes and fire­works.

I love fire­works. One of our first dates had been a bon­fire party. I’d snug­gled against Tom as the dis­play lit up the sky. “Beau­ti­ful,” he’d whis­pered. “Aren’t they,” I said. Turned out he’d meant me. I emailed Tom with a sug­ges­tion. It was a spur of the mo­ment thing, which had al­ways suited Tom. I know I’d only just got back, but still. It was a date of sorts. A date of a life­time. I just hoped he’d say yes.

Iwas as jit­tery as any­thing at the sta­tion. I couldn’t sit still, so I de­cided to get some­thing to read while I waited. I was early, as I al­ways am.

Tom wasn’t there yet. I hoped he wasn’t go­ing to be a no-show. I couldn’t bear that thought.

“Can I help you?” The shop as­sis­tant nudged me gen­tly.

“Sorry. Day­dream­ing,” I said, pop­ping my mag­a­zines on the counter and dig­ging for my purse.

The over­head sign told me which plat­form to head for. I glanced down at my phone. No mes­sages, and it was al­most time. I grabbed the han­dle of my overnight bag and started walk­ing. “Lizzie – wait for me.” I turned and he was there, run­ning to­wards me. He looked dif­fer­ent. Longer hair, tanned face. Six months apart kind of dif­fer­ent. More grown-up.

“You look lovely, Lizzie, re­ally lovely. I’m so sorry I’m late.”

I bet I looked dif­fer­ent, too. Travel changes you, doesn’t it? Hope­fully for the bet­ter.

“Well, you’re here now,” I said, be­fore we could greet each other prop­erly, like boyfriend and girl­friend, if that’s what we still were. “Quick – we don’t want to miss our train.”

So, here we are, ly­ing on our backs, gaz­ing at the North­ern Lights. We’re at the north­ern­most point of Scot­land. Just for forty-eight hours. None of this East/West non­sense.

The show is spec­tac­u­lar. It’s as if the Aurora Bo­re­alis is per­form­ing, just for us. Shards of multi-coloured light dance across the sky.

I’m ly­ing on Tom’s chest; I can hear his heart beat. He kisses my head.

“Love you,” I say as the lights skip, red emerg­ing from be­low green.

“Love you too,” he replies. “I’m so glad we found each other again.”

I don’t ask if he dis­cov­ered him­self in the Far East and he doesn’t ask about cow­boys in the Wild West. That can wait un­til later. We’ve got the rest of our lives, af­ter all. We kiss, not for the first time to­day. “Makes you think, be­ing apart, doesn’t it?” I say.

“Of what you’re miss­ing,” he says. “Yes. I’ve had some great ex­pe­ri­ences dur­ing the last six months. But noth­ing like this. Be­ing here with you.

“That mar­riage thing. Still up for dis­cus­sion?” he asks. I don’t even pause. “Yes,” I re­ply. “Of course.” Right now, I’m so glad I sug­gested this trip, al­beit brief and on a tight bud­get. And I’m so glad Tom joined me.

I’m quite sure there will be fire­works later. Then, to­mor­row, we head south again. Back to our fu­ture to­gether.

I GLANCED DOWN at my phone. NO MES­SAGES, and it was AL­MOST TIME

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.