My daughter came back from her first sleepover today having had a great time. She woke a couple of times, missed us at bed time, but that was it. No hysterics. No picking her up at 3 a.m. Obviously I’m thrilled – we must have done something right as parents – but there’s a tiny bit of me that recognises she is growing up and I’m having to let go.
Actually I’m surprised at how well I dealt with it. I thought I’d miss her terribly or worry excessively or not sleep. None of those things. She was with a very good friend of mine and I trust her and her husband implicitly to ensure no harm comes to my child. It’s the same when they’re at nursery. The trust is the thing. How I’ll cope when she goes off to university and no-one is watching over her I have no idea. I suspect that, by then, she’ll be such a sensible teenager I’ll trust her implicitly to look after herself.
My son is going to be entirely different. I don’t trust him not to hurt himself in my care, never mind anyone else’s. If he even makes it to his teenage years I’ll be impressed. Thankfully at present he copies his sister in everything so hopefully he’ll copy her level head and sensible nature. Hmmm. Look at the picture….
I’ve been trying to think of what to write next for Two-Hundred Steps Home. It’s time for something interesting to happen but I’m not sure what. I don’t want to play my cards too early with Michael – it’s only day 41 out of 365 after all (although I guess I can write two novels in the year, it doesn’t have to be all Claire.) I’m tempted to move Josh’s story along a bit, but I haven’t actually figured out what it is yet! I’m definitely a Pantser! 🙂
In the meantime I’m enjoying choosing the image for the next ebook instalment. I’m looking at Lake District ones as she should be there by the end of February. Best get a move on. She’s only on hostel 6 or 7 out of 200!
“What do you mean it’s closed?”
“I’m sorry,” the man on reception explained, “some of our hostels are only open at certain times of the year. University vacations, that kind of thing. Durham and Carlisle are both halls of residence, so they’re only available in the summer.”
“Bloody students. I want to go to a city. I want a Starbucks, I want to feel pavement beneath my feet instead of dirt.” Claire swallowed the lump in her throat and wondered if she was due.
The man smiled as he would to a toddler demanding chocolate. “Why don’t you try Cockermouth? The hostel is only ten minutes’ walk from town.”
“Do they have a Starbucks?” Claire could hear the petulance in her voice and hated herself for it.
“Excuse me?” Claire heard footsteps behind her. She turned to see a girl in a red anorak smiling at her from behind designer specs. “There are Starbucks at Penrith Center Parcs which is on the way to Cockermouth from here. Or you could go via Carlisle, it’s not that far out of your way. Spend the day in the city before heading out to the hostel later?”
Claire beamed at this girl who seemed to be speaking a language she could grasp. “Thank you so much. Do you work here?” She doesn’t sound like a local. I can understand what she’s saying for a start.
“No I’m one of the bloody students at Carlisle Uni, sleeping in the Hall of Residence that doubles as a hostel in the summer. Sorry.”
Her unapologetic grin brought a flush of blood to Claire’s cheeks. She opened her mouth to apologise but the girl was still talking.
“My mates and I came for the weekend to go hiking and we’re just heading back to the city now. We have lectures this afternoon.”
It seemed she might continue her monologue but a voice called out from deeper in the hostel.
“That’s my boyfriend. I have to go. I hope you find Starbucks. It’s in the pedestrian bit in the town centre if you do go to Carlisle. It’s not a big one, but a skinny latte is a skinny latte right?”
Claire watched the girl hurry out in response to a second, more urgent, summons. Funny how coffee can give a common cause to the most unlikely of meetings. She tried to remember if she had been that forward or sassy as a student. It seemed so long ago now, even though it was less than a decade. I was probably worse.
“So, do you want me to book you a dorm at Cockermouth Miss?”
The broad accent of the receptionist cut through Claire’s thoughts. “I just need to check whether Josh wants to come.”
Who knows what Josh wants? It’s as if he’s done one of those teenager-adult swaps, like in the movie with Tom Hanks.
Claire tracked Josh down in the garden where he looked like he was practising slow rave dancing. Claire guessed it was probably taekwondo or t’ai chi or one of those classes she’d seen girls doing at the gym when she went in for spinning. It made her numb with boredom just watching it, although as Josh had stripped to the waist, despite the freezing temperature outside, its appeal was increasing.
She stood waiting for him to finish, watching the muscles shifting under his smooth tanned skin. She became aware of an urge to walk over and run her hands across his back, to plant a kiss where his shoulder met his neck. When it looked like he wasn’t going to stop anytime soon, Claire gave a little cough.
Josh completed the move he was doing before bringing his hands to his sides and turning round.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb you. I’m about ready to move on.” Claire tried to keep her gaze on his face rather than following the line of hair that ran down his chest and into his trousers.
“Where to?” Josh responded without meeting Claire’s eyes.
“Um, Cockermouth I think. Carlisle is only open in the summer holidays and the rest round here are all bunkhouses.”
Josh smiled at that and his face lost some of the new sternness. “You’re going to have to face a bunkhouse eventually you know. They’re not much different to hostels, just a bit more remote.”
“In the summer maybe. I’m beginning to think they started me up here just to wind me up. Half the hostels are closed and the rest are in the arse-end of nowhere.”
“Well you said the entire point of the mission was to make you quit your job. What better way than to chuck you in it?” Josh leaned over and retrieved his jumper from the floor. His voice was muffled as he pulled it over his head. “Why don’t you head to London or somewhere, do some city hostels until the spring at least?”
Claire thought about getting lost in London. Could she cope with staying there and not frequenting her usual luxury hotels? At least there were shops and Starbucks. “That’s not a bad idea you know. The assignment said it was up to me what order I did the hostels in. I could be in London in a few hours.” She looked at her watch and was surprised to see it was mid-morning already. Her muscles were still sore from the abseil and what she wanted, more than anything else, was a skinny latte.
“No, sod it, let’s stick to the plan for today. I’m going to Cockermouth. Are you with me or staying here?”
“Will you go to London tomorrow do you think?”
Claire tried to read the expression on Josh’s face. “Is that why you suggested it? Do you need to be further south?”
“I need to work and it’ll be easier in suburbia.” Something in his tone suggested to Claire that she wasn’t getting the full story. Nothing new there then.
“Then, yes, I will be heading south. I might go to Bristol rather than London. Maybe even Liverpool.”
“Okay, count me in.”
Claire wondered whether her decision to try Liverpool rather than London had anything to do with choosing not to spend six hours in her tiny car next to the temptation of Josh’s smooth skin.