Spring­time In Spain

I know other peo­ple would see this as a great trip, but I’m plain ter­ri­fied!

The People's Friend - - Contents - by Teresa Ashby

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.

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