For those of you who have read The Way of Life, I thought you might like to read one of the short stories I wrote in preparation for the novel itself. If you haven’t read the novel yet... you may well be tempted when you’ve read how the story began!
‘Mmm that chocolate cake looks wickedly inviting.’ Joy dropped her bag to the floor and plonked a pile of holiday brochures onto the table. ‘I think I’ll treat myself. Another coffee?’ she asked Trish.
‘Please,’ Trish mumbled through her mouth full of chocolate cake. ‘Are we planning another little holiday?’ She asked flicking through the top brochure. ‘Don’t you ever get fed up with all these package sun holidays?’
‘I know, they do get boring sometimes, but Daniel works so hard, he needs the break.’
‘Why don’t we go away together? Trish asked, gathering up the brochures and dropping them to the ground. ‘The four of us, let’s do something different.’
‘I don’t know, we’ll think of something.’
The two of them sat, coffee cups in hand, staring out of the window, each deep in thought, watching the world go by. They had been friends for years now, but it was the first time the subject of holidaying together had come up.
‘What about Rob?’ Joy broke their silence. ‘Do you think he’d go for it?’
‘I can’t see why not, he’s known Daniel for a long time now. They always get on fine when we have a night out.’
‘I’m sure Daniel will be up for it. He’s kind of eager to please me at the moment. I think he feels bad about working such long hours. Why don’t the four of us go out for lunch on Sunday? We can put the idea to the lads then.’
‘Great.’ Trish gathered up her shopping. ‘I need to head off now; I have a class at three.’
Joy picked up the brochures and dropped them into the bin before ordering another coffee and opening up the latest copy of Woman & Home. She wasn’t ready to go home to their empty house, not just yet. It was quiet in the cafe; the lunchtime trade had been and gone. Now was the calm, before the storm of noisy school kids who would flood through the doors just after three. The girl’s with their high pitched giggles; the raucous laughter and crude jokes of the boys.
She flicked through the pages idly, showing more interest in the hustle and bustle of the main street. People going about their business, their heads bent against the bitter sting of the wind blowing in off the North Sea, many with faces looking pinched and drawn. Do they have complicated lives like I do? Is that why they look so weary? Or is it just the weather? The winter had been long and cold, continuing well into spring. Even the daffodils were reluctant to display their vibrant yellow bonnets, announcing spring had arrived.
Joy spotted Ruth coming out of the chemist across the street, her long flowing skirt flapping and wrapping itself around her legs as the wind took control. Ruth battled the unrelenting wind as she wound her thick scarf around her neck and pulled it up over her short fair hair. She looked down at her magazine hoping that Ruth didn’t notice her. She really wasn’t in the mood to listen to the woes of Ruth today.
An article on Scotland and Loch Lomond caught her attention. The glistening blue waters of the loch nestled beneath towering mountains reached out to her from the glossy page. She read the article on walking and hiking holidays in the Highlands. This is the perfect holiday idea, much better than Turkey, Spain or the Caribbean. Been there, done that. She thought of all the holidays she had booked in the past few years; the days spent lazing by the pool side by side but not really together, eating in swish restaurants making small talk but not talking real talk. At least on a walking holiday there would be a purpose, a plan and having the company of Trish and Rob would help break up the long silences between herself and Daniel.
With her heart feeling lighter than it had in weeks, Joy wrapped up against the wind and left the cafe, heading up to WH Smiths in search of books and maps on The West Highland Way.
‘Trish, I’ve got the perfect holiday idea.’ Joy said, breathless in her excitement.
‘I’m all ears,’ Trish spoke into the phone while smiling hello to Kathy, her sister.
‘The West Highland Way.’
‘A walk in Scotland; its 96 miles long. I’ve bought the book. We can do it in a week.’
‘96 miles sounds like a pretty long walk.’ Trish grimaced at her sister standing silently beside her.
‘Look, don’t dismiss it Trish. I’ll bring all the info with me on Sunday. Just think about it.’
‘I will. See you Sunday.’
‘She sounds excited,’ Kathy said.
‘Holiday plans.’ Trish linked arms with Kathy. ‘Have you time for a coffee? I’ll fill you in.’
‘Sorry, can’t, I’m running late already and I have to get tea started before Tony gets home.’ Kathy checked her watch.
‘No problem,’ Trish said sensed her edginess. ‘I’ll give you a lift. We can chat on the way.’
‘It’s out of your way. I’ll be fine there’s a bus in five minutes.’
‘Oh come on Kath, Rob’s away and I’ve nothing else planned this evening.’ Trish steered her towards the car.
Kathy allowed herself to be led, hoping that Trish wouldn’t stay long. She didn’t like anyone to be there when Tony came home; she never knew what mood he would be in.
‘What is Joy so excited about?’ Kathy asked pulling on her seatbelt.
‘She has this mad idea for a holiday.’ Trish laughs as she deftly manoeuvres her Red Mini Cooper out of the tight parking space. ‘I suggested something different like doing something together with Daniel and Rob. She spotted an article on the Scottish Highlands and a 96 mile walk, the ‘West Highland Way’.’ She glanced across at Kathy. ‘Is she mad or what?’
They’re zipping along the seafront. The wind is buffeting the car, the white frothy waves crashing down on the deserted beach. Kathy turns her gaze away from the commanding strength of the water.
‘It sounds like the perfect holiday to me.’
‘It’s 96 miles Kath, walking every day, even if it’s raining.’ Trish stole a quick glance at Kathy, shocked to see how this ludicrous idea had lit up her sad brown eyes.
‘Some of the girls in the walking club have done it.’ Kathy told her. ‘I’ve seen their photos it’s the most beautiful place I’ve seen.’
Trish pulled up outside the small semi with its handkerchief front garden, a perfect neat square of lawn bordered by an army of daffodils stalks, their budded heads standing tall to attention, waiting on the command to bloom. The small wooden gate freshly coated in olive green paint.
‘Don’t dismiss it,’ Kathy said getting out of the car. ‘I’d jump at it given half the chance.’
Joy turned the key and pushed open the pristine white front door with her foot. She walked down the hall to the kitchen, for once not noticing the echo of her footsteps in the silence. After putting away her shopping she began reading the book on ‘The West Highland Way’. She was left enchanted by the photographs showing the hidden gems to be found along the way and captivated by the scenery described. She carried it around as she prepared dinner, propping it up behind the fruit bowl while chopping the onions, holding it in one hand as she stirred the pasta sauce. By the time Daniel arrived home she had fallen in love with the idea.
‘You just have to read it Dan,’ she said falling over her words in her enthusiasm, not pausing to notice the strain on Daniels face.
‘How much will it cost?’ Daniel asked.
‘Oh I don’t know. I haven’t got that far yet. It’s not the Caribbean or Turkey. It’s Scotland for God’s sake, it can’t be that expensive.’ She pushed her plate aside. ‘Why do you always have to put the damper on things? You’re becoming a bore Daniel Crathorne.’
Joy went into the sitting room and curled up in the corner of the rich chocolate, Italian leather couch. She pointed the remote at the TV, aimlessly flicking through the channels, suppressing her frustration.
Daniel placed his arms around her neck from behind and he kissed the top of her head. ‘I’m sorry. I’m just tired. It’s been a tough week.’
Her fingers entwined with his as she tipped her head back. ‘I know how tired you are, how hard you work. That’s why I’m looking at holidays.’
Daniel moved to sink into the couch beside her. ‘Why Scotland? It rains a lot there you know.’
‘It won’t rain in June. Will it?’ She hadn’t considered rain. All those photographs in the book; the sky always that cloudless perfect shade of blue.
‘We’ll have to take our chances.’ Daniel shrugged.
‘It’s 96 miles. Do you think you can walk that far?’
‘Can you?’ Daniel grinned.
Joy felt his body relaxing and smiled. Things had been far too tense between them for too long. ‘I bought a book on the walk today, I’ll show you.’ She uncurled herself from the couch.
‘Leave it for now; I have to work this evening.’ He was back on his feet.
‘No problem,’ she snapped as he disappeared into the hall. She listened to the soft thud of his feet climbing the stairs. The opening then resounding click of the study door as it closed. Alone again with only the flickering orange and amber glow of the gas fire and a mind-numbing reality TV show for company, she watched as the presenters moved around a cluttered, dirty house, they owners making feeble excuses. How can they do that? Let the house get into such a state and then show it off on national television, telling the whole country they had failed.
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