Springtime In Spain
I know other people would see this as a great trip, but I’m plain terrified!
THERE is nothing I don’t know about travelling, thanks to the internet. I’ve studied a map of the airport and know the place like the back of my hand. Or I should do, except that it looks so different in real life.
Maybe that’s why I feel so out of my depth, in spite of the deep breathing exercises recommended by Dr Collier.
I’ve never been to an airport before and I feel as if I’ve almost cricked my neck, swivelling my head around to read all the overhead signs.
When the queue moves forward, I almost forget how to walk and find myself doing a strange stagger. If I’m like this just checking my luggage in, what am I going to be like when it’s time to board the plane?
Dr Collier gave me a prescription for four tablets.
“I trust you won’t need them, Denise,” he said. “Just remember to breathe deeply. You know, you may even find you enjoy flying. In fact, I think you will.”
He’s been my GP since I was a baby and I love him dearly, but I didn’t feel he was taking my concerns seriously.
“I won’t. I’m terrified! Could you advise me not to go on medical grounds?” I asked, or rather, begged.
It was all quite undignified and embarrassing, really, like asking your mum for a note to get you out of PE.
“Certainly not. You’ll have a fabulous time. It’ll do you good. Now, where’s your passport application and photo so I can sign them for you?”
I wasn’t sure about it doing me good, but I trust Dr Collier more than anyone. He’s been with me through all life’s ups and downs. When I lost both my parents within eighteen months of each other, he was a rock.
I felt that my life had no purpose any more, but although he was very sympathetic, he said it was time for my life to begin now while I was still young enough to enjoy it. It was what my parents would have wanted, he said, and I knew he was right.
I’m going to take a tablet once I’m in Departures. Hopefully it’ll knock me out and I’ll sleep through the whole ordeal.
I knew, when Mrs Stone came into the office and said she’d chosen me to go to a conference, that I must be in line for promotion.
“Can I count on you, Denise?”
“Oh, yes,” I said. “Yes, definitely. Thank you.”
I glanced over at Garrick – he of the smouldering good looks, cobalt blue eyes and gleaming white teeth, otherwise known in the office as Mr Smooth – and then looked quickly away when he smiled encouragingly.
It would be lovely to spend a few days in London or Birmingham or Glasgow, or wherever the conference happened to be. I’d enjoy taking in the sights and meeting new people.
“That’s great, Denise. Dust off your passport, then, because you’re going to Barcelona.”
“Barcelona?” I gulped
dryly. “In Spain? That Barcelona?”
Mrs Stone laughed. “It’s the only one I know of.”
But we never went to conferences abroad. Never!
“Have you been to Barcelona before, Denise?”
I shook my head. I hadn’t been anywhere outside the UK, except on a ferry to France on a school trip when I was fourteen.
“You’ll love it. The restaurants, the culture . . . Oh, and do take the cable car up Montjuic. The views are incredible. You’ll need sun screen, of course. Even the spring sun can be remarkably strong.”
I escaped to the Ladies and hyperventilated in front of the mirror, my knuckles white as I gripped the edge of the sink. I couldn’t see beyond the flight and I was terrified.
My friend Rachel followed me in.
“Oh, my goodness,” she said. “Look how excited you are. You’re shaking! You’ll shake even more when I tell you what just happened.”
“It’s been called off?” I tried very hard not to sound hopeful.
“No, but apparently there are two places at the conference and Mrs Stone’s just announced the second delegate. It’s Garrick. You know what this means, Denise? It means you’re up against him for promotion. But you can do it, I know you can.”
The check-in line moves forward and I’m shaking more than ever. Maybe I should have taken one of Dr Collier’s magic pills before leaving home, but I was afraid it would knock me out.
“Hey.” I feel a tap on the shoulder and I swear I leap a foot off the ground.
I turn to be faced with a broad chest, and when I look up, there is Garrick’s gleaming smile beaming down at me from above.
“You’re so much smaller in real life,” he says, as if the version of me that goes to the office every day is in some way not real.
I’m wearing flat shoes for comfort and he’s wearing jeans and a white T-shirt. I’m used to seeing him in dark suits and always a tie, even on the hottest of days.
His hair is bouncier without the gel and whatnot that usually keeps it in place.
The queue moves forward.
Once we’re in Departures, Garrick buys me a coffee and I swallow one of Dr Collier’s pills.
Half an hour later I’m more petrified than ever.
Dr Collier said I could take a second tablet if I needed to, so I do.
“Perhaps I should just go home,” I say.
“Why would you want to do that?” Garrick says. “Mrs Stone is relying on us.”
Look at him. He’s so calm and capable. Against him, I don’t stand a chance of getting the promotion, so what am I even doing here?
“Well, you’re here because Mrs Stone wants you to be,” he says and I blink at him. Did I speak my thoughts out loud?
I am starting to feel calmer. Perhaps the pills are working.
The plane is much smaller than I thought it would be and the seats are very close together.
I fasten my seatbelt as soon as I’m sitting down. I have no intention of unfastening it until we land.
Garrick sits down next to me.
He smells nice, but doesn’t he always? Not sure where that thought came from.
“Thank you,” he says. “So do you.”
I’ve done it again, spoken my thoughts. It must be the tablets.
I feel something new when the plane starts to move, a strange squirming in my stomach that feels more like excitement than fear.
This is a little like being on a rollercoaster, the anticipation before the ride.
And then we’re off and I grope for Garrick’s hand as we leave the earth behind and head for the sky. It seems to last for ever, that going up and up and bouncing through clouds, before it all levels out.
But I’m not frightened any more. Not at all. I don’t know if it’s the tablets or the experience, but the fear has gone now we’re up in the air and I’m laughing. I can’t believe it. I’m flying! I release Garrick’s hand. “Sorry about that,” I say. “I’m not,” he replies. It’s the last thing I remember.
I’m bitterly disappointed when Garrick nudges me and says we’ve landed and it’s time to get off. I’ve missed the whole flight.
Garrick leads the way and we collect our bags together before heading to our hotel.
“Shall I call for you to go down for dinner?” Garrick asks as I swipe my key card.
“No, I don’t think so,” I say. “I’m very tired.”
In my room I hardly even look around. I just fall on to the bed and go to sleep.
It’s dark when I wake up. I’ve missed dinner and I’m starving, but will you look at that view! The city looks golden with the deep darkness of the sky beyond.
I could stand and gaze at it all night. It was worth all the worry to get here, and when I think about it, I’m not worried about going back. Not yet anyway. In fact, I’m looking forward to it. How mad is that?
Dr Collier was right again. I did enjoy it – what I remember of it, anyway.
Garrick knocks on my door in the morning just as I’m about to head down for breakfast.
“Are you feeling better today?”
“I’m feeling fine, thanks.” “I’m going down for breakfast. Would you like to join me?”
“That would be nice.” “Any plans for today?” he asks as we head for the lift.
We have the day free as the conference doesn’t start until tomorrow and it would be nice to spend it with Garrick, but I remind myself that we’re rivals for the new job and should keep a professional distance.
“I think I’ll sit by the pool and relax,” I say. “How about you?”
“Haven’t decided yet,” he says.
Later I find myself a quiet spot and stretch out in the sun. I see Garrick approaching and pull my hat down over my face, but too late.
“There you are,” he says. “I didn’t recognise you in your . . . in your . . . Can I get you a drink?”
Do we really call him Mr Smooth in the office? He seems very flustered. Maybe it’s the sight of me in my bikini. It would be enough to frighten anyone.
“I have a bottle of water, thanks.”
He slaps on some sun screen and stretches out nearby. I steal glances at him. I can see why all the women at work fancy him.
Not that I’m interested. I’m not sure why I’m not, except that all those years of looking after my parents didn’t leave any room for a love life and I suppose I’ve got out of the habit.
But if I were in the habit . . .
I dive in the pool to stop the unwelcome direction my thoughts are taking and have a quick swim.
I feel energised afterwards.
“I’m going to have a look round the city,” I tell him. “I’ve never been much good at sitting still.”
“Right. Would you like me to . . .?”
“No,” I say quickly. “I’ll be fine. I’ll see you at dinner.” “What about lunch?” “I’ll eat out.”
It really is a beautiful city. I walk until my feet are sore, finding places I want to visit during my
I can see why all the women at work fancy my colleague
stay here, making plans for my free time.
I’m in a tapas bar when my phone pings with a message from Garrick. It’s getting late, I’m hungry and my feet are killing me. Where are you?
I have no idea, but I’m having fun, I reply. He doesn’t reply to that so I send another text. See you tomorrow.
Back at the hotel I catch sight of myself in one of the lobby mirrors and see I’ve caught the sun despite the sun cream, but it’s given me a glow rather than a burn. It suits me, I think.
In the morning he knocks on my door just after seven. He’s Mr Smooth again in a crisp white shirt and cream linen trousers. He’s had a shave and his hair is gelled into place.
I’m wearing a white shirt, blue skirt and high heels. I’ve put my hair up as I would for work. My feet are agony but I walk through the burning pain of my soles.
He’s not as talkative as we eat breakfast, but then, neither am I. All I can think about is my sore feet.
When I get in our taxi, I groan. I hope Garrick didn’t hear. But he’s pulling a face, so perhaps he did.
I walk slowly into the conference and kick off my shoes once we’re seated, while Garrick keeps pulling faces and moaning softly. He’s not his usual talkative self, that’s for sure.
When we finish for the day just after lunch I have to put my poor, sore feet back into those torturous shoes.
I cancel my plans for the afternoon and sit by the pool with my feet dangling in the cool water. It’s so soothing. There’s no sign of Garrick and I feel ridiculously disappointed.
I don’t see him again until the early evening. He’s already in the restaurant sitting at a table for two. I gather my courage and approach him.
“Hi, Garrick,” I say, touching his shoulder lightly. “Is it OK if I join you?”
He lets out a yelp and his face is contorted in agony. “Did I hurt you?” “Sunburn,” he whispers. “Never had it before in my life. So painful. So embarrassing! Wearing clothes feels like having broken glass rubbed against my skin. I can barely move. I fell asleep in the sun yesterday while you were out walking.”
“Oh, Garrick! I’m so sorry. I’ve been burned in the past and I know how much it hurts.”
“Why no shoes?” he asks, glancing down at my bare feet. I’d hoped no-one would notice under my long skirt.
“I’ve blistered my heels and the soles of my feet. It was stupid to walk so far yesterday in sandals. The cool tiles are wonderfully soothing.”
“What a pair we are.” He laughs and even that seems to hurt him. “Please join me. We can be in pain together.”
I’m glad I brought some aloe vera gel just in case. I also have painkillers. He’s going to need them.
After dinner we go and sit by the pool and he strips off his shirt. His skin is like a furnace. I can feel the heat coming off him. Gently I dab the cooling, soothing gel on and his burned skin soaks it up like a fierce red sponge.
“I have some peppermint foot bath,” he says. “And I have blister plasters and some soothing foot balm.
“I’ve had problems with my feet in the past. It’s as if you lose touch with your body when you’re walking around seeing everything for the first time, and you don’t realise you hurt until it’s too late.”
“Thanks, Garrick. That sounds just what I need.”
He’s quiet for a minute, then glances at me.
“I know you all call me Mr Smooth.” He winces. “But I’m not smooth, Denise. Far from it.”
“I must admit, you don’t look very smooth, sitting there doing an impression of a gigantic tomato.”
He laughs and winces again.
We spend the rest of the week putting on brave faces, then coming back to the hotel and sitting by the pool after tending to his sunburn and my blisters. I don’t see any of the places I wanted to see and I certainly don’t make the cable car.
“Who’d have thought we’d end up nursing each other?” he says on the last day, and I laugh.
“But we managed, didn’t we?” I say.
We sit in the bar and he opens his laptop and Skypes Mrs Stone.
“How did it go?” she asks, eager for our news. “I see you’ve both caught the sun.” “Hmm,” Garrick says. “He did rather more than catch it,” I say with a teasing smile.
“At least I’m not walking around barefoot.” He grins. Her smile widens.
“You seem very relaxed together,” she says, and I look at Garrick and smile. She’s right. We are. “How has it been for you, working together this week? Denise?”
“Great,” I say truthfully. “We make a good team.”
And Garrick nods agreement.
“That’s just what I wanted to hear,” she says. “I thought by chucking you both in at the deep end, so to speak, it would throw up any possible problems. I’d like you both to set up the new department. You’ll be on an equal footing. How does that sound?”
I think we go a bit over the top with, “Fantastic! Great! That’s wonderful!”
Coming home, I don’t take a pill. I want to experience the flight properly, and when I hold Garrick’s hand on take-off, I don’t let go.
“Shall we come back one day?” he says. “Together, I mean. Back to Barcelona?” “I’d love to.”
I think Dr Collier would approve. After all, I have a fantastic new job, a new outlook on life and this lovely new passport which will last for ten years.
It would be such a shame not to use it.