Chapter 1 - A Different Happy
Thought I'd share Chapter 1 of my latest novel, A Different Happy... If you like it, its available on Amazon!
Joy leaned her head against the window, trying to concentrate on the passengers below, still waiting to board the plane. She watched a couple who looked to be in their seventies carrying matching holdalls holding hands as they approached the back steps; her petite, in a red wool coat and black beret, him, more rotund, in a beige corduroy jacket and tartan flat-cap. I always imagined that would be Daniel and me one day in the distant future – although maybe not the flat cap... in another life maybe. She closed her eyes. I have a new life here in France. I’m happy, a different happy to what I’d imagined. Still, I’m my own person now – going back is just a visit to help an old friend, that’s all, I’ll be back. The little mantra did nothing to still the anxious fluttering.
Joy knew Babs was right; she had to face things to fix them.
‘Look at you,’ Trish squealed, wrapping her arms around Joy’s tiny frame. ‘All tanned and gorgeous as ever. And look at your hair; it’s so long, and I love the highlights from the sun.’
It’s good to see you too,’ Joy said into Trish’s pale blue scarf. ‘But can you let me go before I end up eating your scarf?’
‘Sorry. I’ve missed you so much!’ Trish held her at arm’s length. ‘You really do look well. Are you happy? France must be suiting you.’
‘Yes, I think it is.’ She nodded towards the exit. ‘Shall we get going?’ They made their way through the family reunions and trolleys loaded with suitcases. ‘How is Ruth?’
‘Annoying, bossy, and excited to see you. When our Kathy texted you to see if you might be able to come and help out, we never expected you to say yes.’
‘How could I turn down my best friend in her hour of need?’ Joy said shivering as the chilly air whooshed through the automatic doors.
‘Let’s make a run for it.’ Trish pulled up the collar of her worn leather coat. ‘The car’s this way.’ She pointed to the sea of parked cars and dashed out into the downpour.
Joy followed, the cold rain splashing her face, her worn Burberry holdall bashing against her thigh with each step.
‘What happened to the Mini Cooper?’ She asked when they finally stopped beside a tired and battered-looking Defender.
‘Oh, this is Ruth’s. Looks a bit of a mess and it’s anything but a comfy ride. Still, it does the job.’ Trish opened the back door.
‘I thought it wasn’t quite your style.’ Joy smiled, tossing her bag into the jeep.
‘You’re not kidding about the comfy ride,’ Joy said as they picked up speed. ‘A wooden bench would be as comfortable.’
‘Here.’ Trish handed her a grubby cloth. ‘Can you wipe the condensation off the windscreen? I can’t see a thing, and the bloody heater isn’t working.’
They travelled in silence for a while, Trish concentrating on the road and the heavy traffic, Joy periodically wiping down the windscreen; grateful that the weather and traffic stopped Trish’s onslaught of questions. Her phone vibrated in her pocket.
A text message lit up the screen. ‘How’s bonny Scotland then?’
‘Wet and cold. Missing you guys already.’ Joy texted, catching Trish glance across at the phone.
The rain and the traffic eased off once they left Glasgow.
‘So, how are things with you?’ She asked, stopping Trish before she had a chance to speak. ‘How’s Rob? What’s Seb doing these days?’
‘Oh, you know, Rob’s still doing the same old same old out on the rigs. He’s been away the past two weeks that’s why I was able to be up here helping Ruth out.’
Joy didn’t miss the irritation; Trish rubbing at her forehead was always a tell-tale sign. They’d known each other a lifetime, since schooldays. She took a swift sideways glance; Trish hadn’t changed a bit in the past two years, still gorgeous with her tightly cropped blond hair. Her large tortoiseshell rimmed glasses that she’d put on before driving suited her fine-boned features, enhancing her sophisticated style. When Trish told her that she had been raped before she was married and that Rob wasn’t Seb’s father, she was shocked to the core. Joy wondered if they had told Seb about his biological father; that was the bone of contention between them at the time. Rob thought that Seb had a right to know the truth; Trish couldn’t bear to tell him, terrified of his reaction. I guess now’s not the time to ask.
‘Are you okay?’ Trish asked. ‘This thing is so noisy; it’s almost too much of an effort to talk above it.’
Don’t worry, we’ll have plenty of time to catch up,’ Joy said, relieved that she didn’t have to talk about herself just yet. Her phone lit up with a new message – ‘Poor you, having a drink on the terrace here x.’ She chuckled.
‘Something tickled your fancy there?’ Trish asked, raising an eyebrow.
‘I think the weather is better in France than it is here this evening.’
‘That wouldn’t take much,’ Trish grumbled, flicking on the windscreen wipers again. ‘At least it’s not too far now, just passing Loch Lomond, look.’ She pointed across to the loch, which looked dark and menacing in the dull evening light.
‘Seems like yesterday, trekking along that stony footpath with some equally stony silences too if I remember right.’
‘More like a lifetime ago to me,’ Joy said, her words swallowed up by the engine noise and the now drumming rain. It was raining the last day that I was here too; big fat droplets spreading their tentacles across the window I rested my head against, wondering what I was going to do. I think I must have been quite mad travelling to France without a word of French, terrified but determined. I’d never been out of the country without Daniel by my side, yet there I was with only a phrasebook I’d picked up in Stansted Airport and directions to get the train from Bordeaux to Biarritz and then on to Guethary.
The train to Biarritz was air-conditioned and pleasantly cool. Joy couldn’t tear her gaze from the window and the French scenery whizzing by. Her shoulders finally began to relax after the hustle and bustle of Bordeaux train station and trying out her phrase-book-French at the ticket office. They passed field upon field of Sunflowers, row upon row of vines and acre upon acre of pine forest. She was exhausted still from the walking holiday, fighting to stay awake and not miss a minute.
Finally on the last leg of her journey, the local train to Guethary, she looked out at a sea of endless blue where ocean meets sky; a far cry from the grey North Sea and its troubled cloudy skies. She itched to go for a swim.
Unable to quite make out the announcement but seeing Guethary come up on the screen she gathered up her belongings. She was the only passenger to get off the train. Seeing the solitary figure of a tall, slightly frail-looking man, who appeared to be in his mid-sixties, she walked towards him.
‘The very same, you must be Joy.’
She held out her hand, which he took before leaning in to kiss her on both cheeks.
‘Bonjour, Bienvenue. Come, let’s get out of this blasted heat, the car is over here.’ He picked up her holdall and marched off.
Joy trotted behind, her suitcase rattling beside her, the sun already burning the back of her neck.
The car turned out to be an open-sided beach buggy type which zipped along the main street for no more than five minutes before turning into a spacious gateway, pulling up outside a large double-fronted three-storey house.
‘Sorry about the primitive transport, Babs has taken the guests out to San Sebastian in the Mercedes.’
‘Your house is stunning.’ She stared up at the imposing building with its thick stone steps leading up to heavy double doors painted the same deep red as the shutters that covered each of the windows, shielding the interior from the hot afternoon rays. The yappy bark of a dog on the Juliet balcony above the front doors made her jump. It sounded like a grumpy Jack Russell, although she couldn’t see it.
‘Come inside, you’ll have plenty of time to look around once it has cooled down a little,’ Giles said picking up her bags and leading her around the side of the house to a row of small outbuildings. ‘Used to be a row of garages; we converted them into gîtes a few years back.’ He opened the door to the second one along, dropping her bags inside. ‘This is where you’ll be staying. Get settled in and come over to the kitchen in the main house at seven to meet the other guests.’ He tipped his straw hat and strode off to the house.
Joy took in the small open-plan living-kitchen area. Definitely compact. Oh, how sweet; fresh flowers and a bottle of wine. She peeked into the tiny bathroom, and then the modest bedroom where a double bed dominated the room with a small table on one side and a tall wardrobe on the other. Neatly folded white towels sat on pale lemon bedding, with a couple of patchwork cushions carefully placed by the pillows. Unable to resist she kicked off her shoes and flopped onto the bed inhaling the fragrant lavender-infused pillows, drifting into a blissful sleep.
There were six guests gathered on the patio by the kitchen, discussing their achievements and disasters of the day when Joy joined them that evening.
‘Ah, good evening.’ Giles stepped forward, kissing her on both cheeks. ‘Everyone, meet Joy, she is joining us for the rest of the holiday.’
Joy found she was the youngest by a good twenty years. Thankful that they all spoke to her in English, she relaxed a little, accepting a glass of chilled rosé from Giles.
As the first few days passed, she began to feel more rested and was enjoying the painting challenges. With her easel and canvas set up, she worked on a sketch of the house, bringing it to life with colour. It was late in the afternoon, and while she could hear the other artists chatting and laughing on the patio around the back of the house, enjoying an aperitif before dinner, she worked on, engrossed in her own task.
‘You have a great eye for colour.’ Babs rested a gentle hand on her shoulder. ‘You must be creative in your life back home.’
‘That’s a shame. You should keep this up when you go back.’
‘I don’t know that I will go back,’ Joy said. ‘I need some time away, time to fix myself.’ She looked up, teary-eyed.
‘Oh, my love, I know that feeling. That’s how I ended up here. Came on holiday ten years ago and never went back. Running away doesn’t fix things, Joy. Giles taught me that. You have to face up to things to fix them.’
‘I get that, but right now, I can’t go back. Do you know somewhere I might get work, a bar or cafe, perhaps? My French isn’t great, but maybe I could get lessons.’
‘Come on, the light is going, let’s pack your art stuff away. I’ll ask around about work for you. Now, I’d best go and feed the hungry rabble.’ Babs squeezed her arm and headed off around the side of the house.
She’s right, I know, but I need more time. Tomorrow I’ll write Daniel a letter; it seems more personal than an email or a text.
She joined the others for their final dinner of the holiday.
The following day Joy was up and about early hoping to catch Giles or Babs before breakfast. She found Giles watering the lawn at the front of the house.
‘Bonjour,’ he called out.
‘Morning, Giles. Can I ask you something?’ She kissed him on both cheeks. ‘I’m going to stay on in Guethary for a while. Is it possible to rent the gîte for another week until I get sorted?’
‘I’ll check with Babs although can’t see it being a problem. We are fully booked for the remainder of the season after that I’m afraid.’ He took off his straw hat and rubbed at his balding head. ‘I have a friend, Loic, he’s in Bidart. He may have a flat to rent; I’ll speak to him later.’
‘Thank you, Giles.’ She shook his hand, kissing him again, and went off to the kitchen.
After saying her goodbyes to the art group, Joy threw her swimming gear, notepad, pen and a bottle of water into her backpack and headed off along the coastal path towards Bidart. Plenty was going on even at such an early hour. Holidaying families were setting up their beach space with towels, umbrellas and cool-boxes, happy children raced towards the sparkling blue waters, surfers in their wetsuits gathered together cleaning their boards and pointing to the pounding waves.
Joy passed a couple of beach bars setting up tables in preparation for the lunchtime trade. Perhaps there are job opportunities here. A few metres further along the path with the hot sun on her back, she gave in to the temptation of the calling sparkling waters. Seeing a slipway just ahead she went down it onto the beach and soon found the perfect spot with a large smooth rock that was ideal for resting against. After a long glug of water, she stripped down to her swimsuit and ran across the hot sand and into the ocean, gasping as water splashed her arms and shoulders. It was colder than she expected, her breath caught in her throat, causing an involuntary shriek. There was only one thing for it – under she went, completely submerging herself before rising up, shaking her hair from her face.
After an exhilarating swim, she towelled herself dry and sat back against the rock, letting the sun warm up her skin. Pulling the notepad from her bag, she began to write.
Oh Dan, where to begin to sort out this mess of a marriage, I don’t know. All the hurt is still so raw. Thinking that you almost ended your own life because of me; the pressure I put you under, the armour I wrapped myself in to keep my secrets hidden, my selfishness, all to hold on to you even when it meant living a life that was a lie. How can you forgive me? How can I forgive myself? How did we get to this place Dan; keeping secrets from each other? When you told me your secret, it broke me. A one night stand produces your son, the one thing I could never give you, my biggest failure – can you imagine how I felt?
I know you love me, need me to be there to talk, pick up the pieces and perhaps rebuild the Joy and Daniel we were in the beginning, but we can’t go backwards. I can’t go back. Now that I’ve accepted that I’ll never be a mother, and that was something I wanted so much not just for you, for me too, I need to figure out what’s next.
Right now, I’ve run away.
Why, I can hear you asking, holding out your arms for me to find that spot against your chest where my head fits so perfectly. Telling me, I need the people who love me; that you and the girls can help me get through this. You might be right, Dan, nevertheless, for now, I’ve run away. I’m in South West France, staying with a lovely English couple who run artist retreat holidays. I’m going to rent a flat for a while, hopefully, get a job.
I know that running away isn’t the answer; that I need to face things to fix them. But for now, it’s what I want. So, don’t worry about me, get to know your son and be the good dad I know you will be. I don’t expect your forgiveness, just like I can’t find it in my heart to forgive – not yet, hopefully, I will, one day. Maybe then we can talk without tearing chunks from each other.
Dan, I’m not saying I want a divorce, I am still so very much in love with you, but I will understand if you do and will respect your decision. For now and however long it takes, I need to break the contact, learn to be myself, support myself, and most importantly love myself.
Take care of yourself, all my love
She wiped her tears. Am I really sure this is what I need? How easy would it be to go back? We can’t go back to the life we had; we wouldn’t want to, it really was superficial, false and damn lonely. Staying here is going to be hard, I know, but I will make it work, I know that too. This is it... new start, new life, real me.