I can’t believe it is the last day of January and I have survived my first month of the 2013 challenge. I still have doubts about my ability to sustain it for a whole year but on 3rd January I’d have taken a month and been glad.
I have been making Valentines Day cards again today. It’s quite ironic considering my husband and I get the same card out of the cupboard every year with brownie points going to the person who remembers where the box is from the year before.
Actually, I’m about to go out to dinner – my bi-annual catch up with the girls I used to work with, who still work for a living. The rest of today’s post will be written in the morning. I just wanted to schedule something (even without the Claire’s bit) just in case I don’t manage to write any more tomorrow. Not because I’ll be hungover – I’m driving – but because I’m full of cold and going out to dinner might just finish me off!
P.S. I very much enjoyed my dinner with my old work colleagues, although I did feel like an Alien recently landed and trying to masquerade as a human being. From the moment I arrived the girls (all in their 30s and 40s) began discussing their latest fashion purchases, the films they had seen, books they had read, TV shows they follow and I didn’t understand a single world. They might have been talking Japanese. Usually there is some common ground when they talk about work or the kids but last night it was mostly films and books. I do read and I do watch movies but the books I read tend to be research (so Young Adult novels or contemporary woman’s fiction, not much literary stuff these days) and the TV I watch is all chosen by my husband. It tends to comprise Auction Hunters and Got To Dance with a bit of SG-1 or NCIS or Psych thrown in.
And we love it.
The characters are as familiar as friends, especially the judges on Got To Dance. It’s comfortable and fun, like going down the pub and listening to mates chat. I don’t have the emotional strength to watch harrowing movies or read heavy-going books. I’d rather do Disney Princesses and endless re-runs of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. And don’t get me started on the cooking! They discussed meals and menus I had no clue about. We have Cottage Pie and Spag Bol and curry (from a jar). So I sat silently, enjoyed the conversation, chipped in where I could, and longed to get home to my husband, kids and blogs. Sad. When I did get home hubbie had had a shocker of a night with the kids so I felt a bit guilty. They’re not used to Mummy going out and they missed me. All in all probably good that it’ll be six months before we meet again!
Claire tried to respond to the voice, her breath coming in sharp pants. The feeling was immense, overwhelming her. Her whole body quivered in anticipation. Just a bit more effort she thought between breaths.
“Wow! Ripper!” Josh’s voice was exuberant. Claire tried to share his joy but she felt depleted, her body soft and malleable, not to be trusted.
She pulled her bike alongside Josh’s and looked out over the view. She had to admit it was worth the exertion, although her breath still came in ragged gasps and a stitch tore at the left-hand side of her ribcage.
“You are unfit lady, look at you. When did you last do some true blue exercise?”
Claire bristled at the teasing tone. “I’ll have you know I go to the gym three times a week for spinning classes.”
“Pah, spinning. Stupid. Wasted sweat. Might as well go to a tart instead of taking time to seduce a beautiful lady.” His gaze rested marginally too long on Claire, bringing more redness to her already flushed cheeks. “I mean proper outdoors stuff, with real air in your lungs and a view worth the effort.”
“And real rain dripping down your neck, real blisters on your feet and a real two-hour bike ride back home?” Claire’s elated tone belied her negative words. She had to admit she felt amazing. She’d heard people talk about the feeling but had always thought that was just their way of conning you to join them in their misery, in the same way she liked to meet up with people on a Sunday morning over a Bloody Mary to share the agony of a hangover.
“Come on, when was the last time you were outdoors for more than the time it takes to walk to the car?”
“I walked the Pennine Way two days ago, thank you very much.”
Josh turned to face her, eyebrows raised. “Really, well I beg your pardon.” He mimicked her middle-England accent and Claire had to smile. “Alright, I was dragged out by some arse trying to score points with my boss.”
The eyebrows rose higher, almost vanishing in Josh’s sandy unkempt hair. His expression invited confidence so, while her breath slowly returned to normal and the pain in her side faded, Claire filled him in on the last few weeks of her life, omitting anything to do with Michael.
“He sounds like a proper dingbat that boss of yours. Why don’t you quit? It’s just a job and a shonky one at that. Get on a plane, go see the world before you get tied down with a husband and ankle-biters.”
Claire shuddered and bent quickly to massage her aching calf muscles. Josh’s eyes caught the movement and he chuckled. “Don’t fancy the whole wife-and-mother bit? I don’t blame you. Won’t catch me shackled for life. As long as the surf’s up somewhere and I can hitch a ride I’ll be there.”
It was Claire’s turn to be intrigued. “Does it ever get lonely?”
“Nah, why would it? There’s always blokes to chat to and chicks to keep you warm.” He winked.
“What do you do for money?” Claire realised it was a personal question and quickly added, “you don’t have to answer that. Sorry that was rude of me.”
“No worries, it’s fair enough. I work when I have to. Bar work mostly or fruit picking. Enough to get by. I only kip in hostels in the winter; mostly I pitch my tent somewhere for free. Or…” He stopped but something in his face gave the rest of the answer so Claire finished for him.
“Or find some warm sheila to give you a bed?” She flushed, thinking about their near-kiss the night before. Josh hadn’t tried anything since but then they’d been on this crazy bike ride since first light. When Claire had admitted, on the trip back to the hostel in the dark, that she’d not been on a bike since she was a teenager Josh had dared her to accompany him. Taking in the weak sun as it broke through the rain clouds to glint off the water, Claire was glad she had.
“At least the snow’s all gone.” Claire looked around, amazed at how quickly the snow had washed away in the overnight rain. “What’s your plan now?”
“Don’t have one.” Josh turned the bike ready to return to the hostel. “Don’t do plans.”
Claire tried to imagine a life without plans. It didn’t seem possible. Like trying to drive a road in the pitch black. Surely you have to see at least some of the way ahead?
“Well I do have a plan I’m afraid and I need to get going. The sooner I get round all two-hundred sodding hostels the sooner I can get my life back.”
“Is that all it is? Hard yakka? It’ll be a drag-arse year for you if that’s your view.”
“What other view is there? This is my job; it doesn’t have to be fun.”
“But it could be.” Josh pulled up alongside Claire and they mounted their bikes, freewheeling down the hill they had just climbed. Josh took his hands off the brakes and let the bike pick up speed.
His words floated over his shoulder as he sped off. “Just because you have to do something doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Let go and live a little!”
Claire watched his disappearing form and wondered if she could take her hands off the brakes too. What if she fell and hurt or humiliated herself? What if Josh laughed?
The traitorous part of her brain that often took over materialised with a sly smile. It prised her hands off the brakes one finger at a time. Until Claire, too, was flying.