Wishing you a Contented Christmas: 2013 365 #359

Meeting the man

Meeting the man

This morning I  left the house to walk the dog just as the skies cleared, after days of stormy weather. It felt like a fresh start: like the feeling I get after I’ve been crying for hours feeling terrible and I stop, breathe, and give myself a break. When I look around and say it’s fine and, despite some puddles and other damage, the storm might never have been.

I spent last night having a long conversation with my hubbie and stepdad about parenting, depression, anxiety and life in general. It came after reading two interesting posts: The first was a viral one on WordPress about marriage not being for you but for others. It included these words:

[M]arriage isn’t for yourself,you’re marrying for a family. Not just for the in-laws and all of that nonsense, but for your future children. Who do you want to help you raise them? Who do you want to influence them? Marriage isn’t for you. It’s not about you. Marriage is about the person you married

The second post, which I discovered via Annie Cardi’s blog, discussed forgiving Past You for not being as good as Present You. Two quotes stood out in the article:

Past You may not be as awesome as Present You, but Past You worked really hard to get to Present You, too.

And

The world does enough beating us up, […] We don’t need to do the beating up ourselves. Inside your head should be a safe space to make mistakes, to grow and change and learn, to find acceptance, forgiveness, and kindness.

As often happens, all these sources of inspirational thought combined in my mind to give me the ghost of a feeling. The feeling that’s been echoing around my head is one of grace; of being kind to yourself and looking out rather than in.

Christmas all wrapped up

Christmas all wrapped up

I’ve spent much of this year, and longer, beating myself up for all the people I’m not, for all the things I haven’t achieved, for not becoming a better parent, a better person, despite wanting to be. But you know what? The excuses become a thing in themselves.

If I feel bad then that’s okay because I’m taking responsibility for my own actions. But what if there’s a better way? What if you can forgive Past You for the things that didn’t happen because, quite frankly, Past You was doing her best under difficult circumstances.

What if taking responsibility is over rated and we just have to stop thinking about it at all so much? What if the past were erased and we had to start fresh from today, with the saviour’s birth?

I listened to Mary J Blige on the radio, on Sunday, discussing how her Faith saved her, and I envied her. What do you do without Faith or Belief? Who do you turn to to tell you there’s a grand plan, and you’re doing fine and, besides, all is forgiven in the end?

My husband is my rock, he says all those things, but I don’t always believe. What if I decided to have faith in him, in us? What if I got up every day knowing I was going to do my best, even if my best on that day involved a lot of shouting and some tears? But instead of failing as a parent, as a human being, I was just being one in the best way I knew how? What if I could learn to celebrate the successes, not dwell on the failures?

I feel a new blogging theme coming on. I may take January off from the internet, to recover and recoup. But from February I might try to make this blog a place for positivity. Not glossing over the bad stuff, because too many people do that. But if my best positive note for a day is “no one died”, well then at least it might make people smile, and that’s good too.

So a very contented Festive Season to you all, whatever this time of year means to you. I hope you enjoy your family day, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself. It will be what it will be and then it will be Boxing Day (in the UK at least). Let’s acknowledge the moments and move on. Christmas is about children so let’s learn to live like them. In the now, with much laughter.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire looked around the table at the eclectic group of people and couldn’t help smiling. Their good humoured banter and jibing was infectious as they discussed their first aid course. While they chatted she tried to work out who was who.

Timothy sat opposite her, at the head of the table; every inch the lord of the manor or the patriarchal leader. To his left sat Gemma, the chef. She looked like a school matron, as if her mission was to make sure the world was well fed and received plenty of hugs.

Next to her sat Louise, the site manager. They’d met before dinner and Claire found she liked her, although she was more used to working for men. Louise had explained that she lived off-site with her husband and two small children. Claire wondered how she managed to juggle it all.

Next to Louisa sat the only other older gentleman there; he was the gardener apparently and had been working in the grounds all day, rather than attending the first aid course. She thought his name was Giles or Geoff, but as he hadn’t said two words during the meal, she wasn’t entirely sure.

On the other side of the table sat the younger members of the staff. They were the entertainment during the meal, and Claire was fascinated, trying to fathom the different relations between them. The three in charge of activities – Jess, Eddie and Ryan – seemed to have some sort of love triangle going on, while the youngest member of staff sat wide-eyed and silent. Fresh out of school, it was her responsibility to keep the house clean and do the laundry. Claire thought she possibly had the hardest job of all.

As she assessed the people around the table, who were all tucking into the delicious lasagne and homemade cake, Claire wondered why she was paying them so much attention. Was she trying to imagine herself as part of the group? Could she?

I’m not really a team player – Carl told me that often enough.

But for all their jibing and barbed jokes, these people were not Polly, Molly and Sally. There didn’t seem to be any face: what you saw was what you got. Claire found it both refreshing and intriguing.

A hush fell over the table and she realised everyone was looking at her expectantly. “I’m sorry, I was miles away!” She felt the blood rushing into her cheeks.

Timothy laughed. “Don’t worry, I’m sure we’re a lot to take in, the first time you meet us.” He turned to Louise, who it seemed had asked her a question.

“I only wondered if you could imagine joining us here? We open next week, so we’re keen to have the staff finalised.” She seemed to realise how much she was putting Claire on the spot, and gave an apologetic smile. “But of course you need time to decide.”

Claire felt wrong-footed. Was the job just hers for the asking? With no interview or credentials. “But you don’t know anything about me,” she blurted out, and winced as everyone laughed.

“Ah but we do.” Timothy’s voice cut through the laughter and he frowned slightly at Eddie, who was still sniggering. “Maggie sent us a link to your blog. We’ve all read about your exploits, both here in the UK and in New Zealand. We are most impressed. Climbing mountains, white water rafting, surfing and sailing: you are more than qualified.”

“But I don’t know how to do any of those things.” Claire’s voice was more of a wail and she fought the urge to cry. Now everyone watched her as if she were a bomb about to explode. The young girl to her left gave her a sympathetic smile and Claire felt foolish. If a mere child fresh out of school could come and get stuck in, then what was holding her back?

“Don’t worry, lass, none of the kids will know how to do it either, so they’ll just be impressed you know more than them.”

Claire looked towards Eddie as he spoke and envied the confidence of youth. He had an edge about him, though, that suggested he’d seen as much of the world as she had, and possibly more.

Dinner continued without further incident. Claire sipped at her beer and enjoyed the sense of good will. During it all, something nagged at the back of her mind. An ache, a twinge, that tugged at her and wouldn’t let go. Conor. She tried to picture him here, amongst the motley staff, and knew he would be instantly at home.

That’s assuming he ever speaks to me again.

*

Claire looked out the window at the setting sun. The room Timothy had shown her to perched high in the attic. It wasn’t very big, but the view was enormous, stretching across the parkland to the sea. He’d explained that the staff rooms were all in the attic, with tiny en-suites. It was only a step away from hostelling, but it felt good to close the door and know the space was all hers.

She lay back on the bed, and her view diminished to a blue rectangle of sky visible through the skylight window. She imagined lying in the dark looking up at the stars. There would be no light pollution out here.

Slowly, as she absorbed the details of the room, Claire realised she was already viewing it as hers. Despite avoiding any kind of definite answer at dinner, she had gone as far as to say that her contract finished in a fortnight. A proper answer would need to be given before that, but she didn’t feel ready. Saying yes to Timothy felt like saying goodbye to Conor.

Reaching for her phone, Claire sat staring at the black screen that still refused to produce a message from him. She inhaled deeply.

“Sod it.”

Swiping the screen, she tapped out a message and hit send before she could change her mind. She looked at the words and wondered if they would be enough.

I miss you

***

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Sleety, Stormy Christmas 2013 365 Challenge #358

Braving the rain on the barrel train

Braving the rain on the barrel train

I promised hubbie that I’d take the children to one of our regular Farm places today, so he could have some time to get things done and look at assembling their Christmas pressie (a trampoline: only it turns out some important bolts are missing. Eek).

Unfortunately a storm has hit the UK and the weather is just plain awful. We do try not to teach the children about good weather and bad weather (the proper line being ‘good clothing’ or ‘the wrong clothing’) so I duly dressed them in wellies and waterproofs and off we went.

But my god it was miserable. Freezing cold with sideways sleety rain and a wind that could easily blow Dorothy’s house out of Kansas. Thankfully there were lots of Christmas events on, most of which were under cover, so we survived. The nativity was my favourite: they selected children from the audience, dressed them in costumes, and fed them their lines, while the grown ups sang carols. It was charming.

Jumping in Car Park Puddles

Jumping in Car Park Puddles

Apparently they normally parade animals across the front too, but I guess it was too busy or wet today. We did get to see the 24-year-old highland cow, though, sheltering in the barn, nice and warm. Which was more than could be said for the ponies, out in the field drenched to the skin.

The children still wanted their pony rides, so we battled our way to their field and I stood getting drenched while they had their trips round. Mummy needs to buy some waterproof trousers!

We fitted in a quick trip to the play barn, a ride on the barrel train in the rain, and a visit to the coffee shop where the children refused to eat their ice cream because they didn’t have chocolate, only strawberry. Of course the highlight of the day was jumping in the puddles in the car park! I’m not sure they used up much energy, although Mummy was pretty exhausted, but at least they had plenty of fresh air!

It doesn’t feel very Christmassy with the awful stormy weather (not to mention what it’s doing to our Sky reception!) and I really feel for anyone having to cross the country to visit relatives. We are fortunate that ours are two miles down the road. Whatever you’re doing this holiday, whether you’re home or away, stay safe, and Happy Christmas Eve!

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire drove down the tree-lined road, following the SatNav, unable to see anything past the tunnel of green. A spark of excitement built in her chest and she tried to ignore it, afraid of what it might mean.

Eventually the woodland thinned and the computerised voice announced her arrival. To begin with she couldn’t see the entrance, but further down the road she spied a discreet sign at the head of a lane. She turned in and bumped down the pitted track towards the building. More trees concealed the view until she came out into a clearing and gasped.

Ahead was a sprawling mansion, all windows and chimneys, surrounded by exotic trees and endless rolling parkland. It looked more like a National Trust property than a children’s activity centre.

As she parked the car, Claire wondered if she’d come to the wrong place. With her heart in her throat, and half expecting to be accosted for trespassing, she climbed out and went in search of Timothy.

The place was eerily silent. Claire had imagined it would be bustling with people. If not children, then staff or even workmen finishing the renovations. Convinced now that she had come to the wrong building, she was about to retreat back to her car when she heard a voice.

“Halloo!”

Searching round for the source, she heard the cry again and looked up. She could just make out someone waving at her from a first story window. Shielding her eyes against the sun, she realised it was a middle-aged man and assumed it must be the elusive Timothy.

“Don’t run away. I’ll be right down!”

The head disappeared and she waited, looking around her in bemusement. Everywhere she looked was green. Ivy climbed the white walls of the house and wrapped around the chimneys. Held back by low stone borders, flowers and bushes provided a riot of life and colour. Behind the house she could see an immaculate lawn stretching down to the sea, which shone brilliant blue against the sky. It was heaven.

Before Claire could begin to imagine living and working in such an idyllic spot, the owner appeared before her, holding out his hand. He was a tall man, lithe, with hair that might once have been chestnut but was now sprinkled with grey. The lines at the corners of his eyes spoke of a life full of laughter.

“Hello, you must be Claire. How marvellous to meet you. Did you find us okay?”

Claire shook the offered hand and returned the smile. “Yes, no problem. The Sat Nav brought me right here. What a gorgeous place.” She looked around, not believing what her eyes showed her.

“Yes, isn’t it? I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.” He turned and led the way into the building. “You find us on a quiet day,” he called over his shoulder. “The other staff are at a first aid course, ready for when we open in September. My goodness, that’s next week.” He laughed as if he couldn’t quite believe it. “There are eight of us in total,” he continued, “but I expect that number to increase once we start getting bookings.”

Inside was equally magnificent. Dark wood panelling ran around the walls, leading to a wide staircase that invited you to explore upstairs. Deep pink carpets ran throughout, giving the place an air of an old hotel. Timothy led her through a large social room full of faded sofas and long benches, with patio doors that opened onto the garden, until they came to the kitchen.

“Tea?” he asked, heading to one of the cupboards.

“Yes, please.” Claire sat near the window and looked out at the view. After a few moments, Timothy walked over with a laden tray.

“Do help yourself to banana bread or biscuits. Gemma’s our chef; she’s been trying out new recipes. Part of our aim here will be to send the children home well fed as well as well entertained.” He stopped and seemed to realise he’d jumped into the middle of their conversation. “My apologies, I should ask, how much has Maggie informed you of what we hope to do here?”

“Only that you’re opening an activity centre for disadvantaged children.” Claire selected a piece of cake and nibbled at it.

“Yes, that’s it precisely. Somewhere inner city children can come and breathe the air, try their hand at some outdoor pursuits and, as I mentioned, get some healthy food into the bargain.”

“It sounds wonderful, although it’s a long way for the children to come?”

“Indeed it is, but I believe that’s an element of the experience. A trip overland by coach, seeing the sights of the country along the way – or the motorways at least –” he smiled ruefully, “–is part of the journey. A widening of their world, as it were.”

Claire felt slightly uncomfortable at his words. His motives were admirable, but she wondered if it was all a bit patronising. Inner city children were just children after all. It felt a bit like alms to the poor.

But what do I know? I have no experience of what it must be like growing up in a city and perhaps never seeing the countryside or the sea. Who wouldn’t want their child to be able to come here and experience this?

“And where do I come in?” She looked into Timothy’s eager expression and could understand why perhaps they needed some business help.

“Maggie tells me you used to work in marketing? We have a competent manager running the place –”

Claire quickly revised her misconception and continued to listen

“–but she’s the first to admit that sales and marketing are not her strengths. We want to start slow, build up our experience and our reputation, but we need someone to get in contact with schools, find us some children willing to be our guinea pigs.”

Some of Claire’s distaste for a sales role must have showed on her face, because Timothy’s expression dropped ludicrously.

“You’re not keen? Ah what a shame, but thank you for coming to see me at least. We don’t often get visitors.”

Claire found herself saying, “I just need to know more about it all. Maybe if I could meet the rest of the staff? I’m not a sales person, that’s all. There’s a big difference between marketing and sales.”

“Is there?” Timothy raised his eyebrows. “You see, I really do know nothing about it.”

“Maggie also mentioned I’d be employed as an instructor, rather than specifically for the marketing. I’m afraid I don’t have any skills in that area.”

“But you like children, yes? That is really all one needs to begin with. We can send you on the training courses for the rest.”

Words of denial were in her mouth, when Claire really thought about the question. Did she like spending time with children? She thought back over her trips with Sky, and Alex and Jack, and thought maybe it wasn’t so bad. And if it meant getting to live in such a beautiful location, with views over the sea and endless space, it was worth a try.

“I have a niece and two nephews,” she said by way of explanation. “They’ve been travelling with me on and off this summer. I wouldn’t say I was qualified, but I have enjoyed their company.”

“Splendid. Well, all that remains is for me to offer you a room for the night, and to say I hope you will join us for dinner so that you may meet the rest of the staff. We’re rather like a family here and it would be marvellous if you would consider becoming a member.”

He stood and indicated for Claire to follow him from the room. Her thoughts scurried around her head like mice as she tried to process the interview, if that was what it could be called. Her sensible brain told her to get out while she could, reminding her that she didn’t like her own family and wasn’t in search of a new one. But some instinct kept her following Timothy to the dorm rooms. Something told her this just could be her next big adventure.

***

Christmas Biscuits: 2013 365 Challenge #357

Christmas biscuits

Christmas biscuits

The next few days are surely about survival. How do you keep under fives from exploding with excitement in the run up to Christmas? Thank goodness term only ended on Friday, leaving a handful of days to get through endless repetitions of  “is it Christmas yet?” and “can we hang our stockings?”

Luckily Daddy took the little darlings shopping for Mummy’s Christmas Gift this morning (socks, socks and more socks, hurrah!) so I was able to finish my Father Christmas duties, clean the house, walk the dog and try to write some more adventures for Claire.

I lost an hour of precious time trying to find a building on Rightmove that fitted my mental image of what Timothy’s activity centre should look like. I love shopping for £3 million properties on the Cornish coast. In the end I had to use a blend of three different places. Fun though.

Unfortunately a shopping centre on the Sunday before Christmas is not the place to wear out small children (I suspect they could barely even move) so the kids were bouncing off the walls by 2 o’clock.

What they're meant to look like

What they’re meant to look like

Despite my hacking cough and permanent need to sleep I just about managed to dredge up enough energy to get the kids baking Christmas biscuits. It was a shame my cupboards were mostly bare and I only managed to scrape together enough ingredients for a handful of tiny morsels.

I’d really like to have a go at making the little stained glass biscuits I keep seeing around (and that happen to be in my cookery book) but I had no plain flour, boiled sweets or brown sugar. Slight problem.

But we did manage to locate eggs, icing sugar and vanilla essence, and voila! They’ll look better on the tree than they do hanging from the hands of Wenlock, but they weren’t bad for a first effort. Of course if I ask my children to mix colours, I inevitably end up with black, so they’re more suited to Hallowe’en than Christmas. The thing I like about these biscuits, though, is that you decorate them before you bake them, by adding food colouring to egg yolk. No need to wait for them to cook and cool down before icing them. Lord knows how you get intricate patterns like in the picture, though. Ours were mostly solid blocks of green! Still, it filled an hour.

Thankfully they’re finally in bed. Any tips for keeping the mania under control for the next forty-eight hours will be gratefully received! 🙂

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire stared at the green and white livery of the coffee shop sign and let the familiarity enfold her like a blanket. She sipped at her tepid latte and tried not to think. Her eyes ached, and her skin was tight from salt and lack of sleep.

Against her will, images of the night in Cobh, and the long the flight home, played on loop, until she felt she might go crazy. The tension had been unbearable. There hadn’t been space for words. Her pain at Conor’s deceit – not his marriage so much as his method of telling her – clashed against his sense of betrayal at her considering another job.

She had no more understood his shock than he had her sense of humiliation. Despite repeated efforts to talk it through, they had been unable to find common ground. It was as if, somewhere between Claire stalking from the Baptism and Conor coming to find her in the hotel bar, they had become strangers.

They’d said farewell at the airport without touching and Claire wondered if that was the end. All the while her heart asked the unanswerable question: was it really so important to strike out on her own, to start a new life in Cornwall, rather than putting down roots working for Conor?

She could probably forgive his stupidity, letting his little sister fill her in on his history. But would he ever accept a long distance romance, especially after his wife moved across the Atlantic with his unborn child?

For a moment the need to comfort his decade-old hurt overwhelmed her and she reached for her phone. Then his stubborn anger at her conversation with Maggie played loud in her ears and she stopped.

Damn him! I told him I wasn’t going back. He accepted it. Did he think he could change my mind? What, that love conquers all? I’ve known him three months; we’ve been dating for three weeks. Yes he’s charming, but…

She stopped as her errant brain added adjectives. Charming, gorgeous, generous, kind.

Stop it,” she muttered out loud and blushed as the woman at the next table gave her an odd look.

Why can’t life be simple for once?

She drained the last of her cold coffee with a grimace and pulled out her phone. Her heart was in her mouth as she waited for the call to connect.

“Maggie, it’s Claire. Next time you speak to your friend Timothy, tell him I’m in.”

*

Guilt swirled around inside Claire like whiskey in her stomach. Even driving across Cornwall to the activity centre to meet Maggie’s friend Timothy felt like a betrayal. No matter how many times she reminded herself that she had no obligation to Conor past the end of the three-month contract, she knew how hard he had fought to get the role for her. And how essential it had been to know she had a job to return to, after leaving the darkness of her New Zealand journey behind.

And is this how I repay his efforts? Running away at the first opportunity; abandoning him to the censure of his peers. Regardless of our relationship, if such a thing still exists, I owe him more than this.

She knew the words were true, but another, quieter, voice said, Working for others got you nowhere. You need to do something for yourself.

Still, she felt beyond selfish, and wasn’t surprised that Conor hadn’t tried to get in touch since their arrival back from Ireland two days before.

As she followed the directions of the SatNav, every junction caused her to hesitate. She could turn round, go someplace different. Stay in a hostel, work on the report. It wasn’t too late to choose Conor. Every cross roads felt like a waypoint in her life. Before long she felt exhausted.

***

Christmas Cheer: 2013 365 Challenge #354

Xmas Jammies

Xmas Jammies

Today’s post is for anyone struggling to find their Christmas cheer, at the end of what has been a very long year (around here at least).

We had some bad news regarding the car saga yesterday so, on top of germs and Christmas Chaos, we’re a bit low. Then I gave my daughter her Christmas Stocking this morning, that I lovingly sewed her name onto and she said, “Yes Mummy, I saw the picture on the iPad. It’s a bit big.”

Let me weep.

With children and parents alike exhausted and a teeny bit jaded from all the festivities, it’s not an easy time to find a sense if humour.

If Boxing Day can’t come soon enough and you’re already tired of mince pies and tinsel, or if – like me – you wonder why you’re doing it all for your oh so ungrateful children, this is the best of the holiday humour I’ve come across this week (and shared on my Facebook page!)

  • First up has to be the viral Xmas Jammies video. This is brilliant. A tongue in cheek (and wonderfully written/sung) Christmas card. I dare you not to be smiling by the end of it (unless you have to turn off Made In Chelsea because wife is playing it on her ipad. Sorry hubbie.)
  • Although my children are past this age, I had to giggle at The Ten-Month Old’s letter to Santa. Highlights include the laptop chord, house keys and dog food. Ah, at least those days are gone. There is something to be grateful for.
  • This Christmas Letter from Honest Toddler Mum gives a real version of what goes on at this time of year, rather than the sanitised social media / Pinterest one. For anyone who gets the cheery round-robin letter from a random friend they don’t otherwise hear from one year to the next, this one’s for you.
  • Miss Fanny Price shared this great letter to a head teacher from Rosie White, about how there won’t be any homework done this holiday season. Amen.
  • Also, I have to say I’m loving the new coke ad (much as I hate to add to their viral campaign!) For anyone with preschoolers in the house, this one is for you. How do we ever have more than one? 😉

And on a more sincere Christmas spirit note, there is the story of the bear called Roar reunited with his owner, after being left on a UK train, as a result of a Twitter and Facebook campaign. Heartwarming.

Let’s hope we can all find some Christmas cheer between now and 3.30pm when the schools break up for the holidays, otherwise it’s going to be a really long two weeks! Merry Christmas.

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:

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Claire stopped at the white door, reeling from the sound of screaming and thumping feet. She hesitated, wondering if this was a good idea. But Maggie was waiting for her, she couldn’t chicken out now. Besides, the children weren’t in her care. If they drove her crazy she could always leave and find a hotel.

Peering through the open doorway, shielded from the sun by overhanging ivy, Claire tried to locate reception. A sea of brown poured past, as what seemed like hundreds of girls in uniform headed outside. She held out a hand to stop the least frightening-looking children, walking hand in hand towards the door.

“Hello, is Maggie around anywhere?”

The girls looked suspiciously at her, shrugged and giggled, before running on to join their friends. Claire tried to think what Maggie’s surname was but couldn’t bring it to mind.

Damn

As the next group of girls came by she said, “Can you tell me where I can find Brown Owl?”

The girls conferred, then pointed inside. “Out the back,” one said, before they all scarpered like a herd of startled hill ponies.

The information didn’t help much but, feeling as if she had been given permission to enter the building, Claire headed in the general direction of the pointed finger.

As the last of the children streamed past, the place fell silent. Claire wondered where they were all going: they didn’t seem old enough to be unaccompanied. Eventually she found a conservatory at the back of the dining room, and saw Maggie with a group of adults, all leaning over a table consulting what looked to be a map.

She stood for a moment, unwilling to intrude. Maggie must have sensed her presence, because she looked round.

“Claire! How wonderful. Come and meet everyone. Sally, Bea, Helen, Jo, this is my friend Claire, who I told you about. She’s going to stay with us for a day or two.” Maggie beamed at them all. She turned back to the table, and said, “Can you finish up here? The girls will be fine for a few minutes. I’d like to show Claire to her room.”

Without waiting for a response, she took Claire’s arm to lead her out. “The children are doing a wide game that we set up before lunch. They’ll be out in the grounds for a while under the watchful eye of some parents, who will hopefully make sure no one falls in the river this year. Have you had a chance to look around? It’s a beautiful place.”

While she spoke, Maggie led Claire through the building and up the stairs. She took Claire into a small dorm and said, “I hope you don’t mind sharing with the staff? None of them snore, thankfully. I went hiking once with a leader who could have woken the rocks. It was a challenge to get to bed before she did, to have any hope of sleeping.”

Claire smiled at Maggie’s chatter. She seemed much happier than when they’d last met. Or maybe not happier, maybe just more together.

Perhaps being Brown Owl makes you put on a persona of calm.

Although, as she thought back to the last two times they had met, Maggie had always been calm. But there had been an air of melancholy that seemed absent now.

“How are you?” she asked, when Maggie drew breath. “You seem in good spirits.”

Maggie sat on a bunk and patted next. “Come sit with me. I was so glad to see that you were in this part of the world.”

Intrigued, Claire sat down and waited. Maggie leant forwards, resting her arms along her knees. The Brown Owl uniform made her look younger, although her hair was still steel-grey. When she looked up she was smiling, the dimples flashing in her cheeks.

“I haven’t been entirely honest about my reason for wanting to catch up. I have a proposition for you, but I wasn’t sure how to broach it. I was hoping to let you settle in for a while first, but I might lose my nerve.”

Claire found it hard to breathe. Her first thought was that one more person wanted something from her, and she didn’t want to know. Especially not from someone she had no ties to.

As if sensing her reluctance, the dimples vanished from Maggie’s cheeks and her eyes lost their sparkle. “I was right, I shouldn’t ask it of you. Forget I mentioned it.”

Chastened, Claire said immediately, “Don’t be silly. Tell me.”

“Well, it’s just a friend of mine is opening a new activity centre for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, based in Cornwall. They need help with the marketing and advertising side of things, but can’t afford to hire anyone. They’re also looking for activity staff, who will be paid, although not much. Reading on your blog about your surfing, and all the fun stuff you’ve done, and knowing you used to work at an advertising agency. Well, I wondered…” She trailed off and the room fell silent.

Claire’s mind reeled with the new information. Another job offer. They did come from the most unlikely places. Marketing and working with children? Two things she wasn’t sure she wanted in her future.

But how many options do I have? And it would mean being able to stay in Cornwall.

She found a glimmer of interest sparkling deep in her heart. She would have to know more about it, of course, and more about this friend of Maggie’s. There was something in the word friend that raised questions.

Claire sat up straight and looked at Maggie with a smile. “Why don’t we go make a cuppa and discuss it?”

Maggie’s look of relief made Claire giggle, and the two women walked arm in arm from the room.

***

Colds and Craft: 2013 365 Challenge #351

My wonky sewing

My wonky sewing

Today I wanted to be in North Devon surfing with Claire and Conor, instead of walking in the rain all bunged up and shivery with a virus. It’s hard to even remember the heat of the summer, when I would have given, if not my right arm, then a chunk of a finger to be cold. Not that it’s cold out here in the rain, at a balmy 14C. But it is miserable.

It’s quite hard remembering to keep Claire in a hot summer. It was much easier writing back when we were still in the same season. If I had been organised I would have noted down the weather every day!

Sometimes I read tripadvisor reviews that are in the right week which helps, but often it’s one more layer of research I don’t quite find time for. Today I’ll be lucky if I get even a basic installment written. Any energy I had was used on vacuum cleaning upstairs and putting the shopping away.

I’m currently walking the dog in the slippery mud like a frail old lady. It reminds me of when I used to do this walk whilst eight months pregnant. It was more of a waddle, as I gasped for breath with a seven pound baby pressing against my lungs! If only the reason for my invalidity was so lovely. This time it’s just an end-of-term we’re-all-exhausted cough and cold.

One down, one to go

One down, one to go

So today I decided to strike something off my Christmas to-do list while watching Homes Under the Hammer, instead of writing as I should have been doing (especially with only two more child-free days until New Year and another fifteen posts of Claire to write! Eeek).

I’ve missed daytime TV, particularly Homes Under the Hammer. I love the characters. I can’t write with the TV on, like I used to be able to paint, so it’s been absent for a long time. But today I decided to start a proper being ill activity, if only for an hour.

A while ago, I bought some felt bags to replace the Santa sacks the mice ate last year. When I got them home, they were a bit dull so I thought I’d personalise them. Silly girl! These crafty projects always look better in my head than in reality. I’m not much good at sewing and I haven’t done blanket stitch since school. I only got one bag done before I had to walk the dog and go collect the children, but better than nothing. It’s the crafty bits of Christmas that take the time, but they’re also the bits that are worth the effort.

I did at least post some Christmas cards this morning, so that counts for something, right? Am I the only one who takes on silly projects when they should be working (or resting in bed to shift the cold?)

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Kim glowed. Claire watched her from the other side of the room, as she flitted restlessly from bed to chair to bathroom, checking for belongings that would need to be invisible to have been missed on the previous three checks. Her skin seemed translucent in the afternoon sun spilling in between the curtains, and all the bitter lines had been erased by one simple conversation.

Good to his word, Jeff had called while Claire was still in her room pretending to work. When she’d returned to the lounge half an hour later, it was to find Kim alive with effervescent hope, chatting away to Conor about Jeff’s second job and the purpose of it. Claire had been greeted with joy, although not for the right reasons, and Kim had stumbled over her words in her haste to tell her friend the news. She was going home.

Jeff hadn’t only told her of the cause of his remoteness, he had pleaded with her to return to their apartment, so they could heal together. Kim would happily have jumped in the car there and then and driven straight to Cambridge without dropping Helena back first. It had taken the combined efforts of Claire, Conor and a quiet Helena to point out the late hour and the long journey.

“Time enough to drive Helena back to your Mum’s in the morning, then cut across country,” Claire had argued. Kim had reluctantly agreed and Claire wondered if she slept at all during the long night.

It was morning now, still early for a Sunday. Helena had gone for one last walk along the beach with Conor as gallant escort, allowing the friends to chat while Kim packed.

“I’m sorry I didn’t stay long,” Kim said, coming to sit by Claire on Helena’s bed. “At least you’ll have a few hours with Conor all to yourself.” She smiled; an unaffected genuine expression of joy that resonated in Claire’s heart.

“He’s a good man,” Kim continued, snuggling in next to Claire and resting her head on her shoulder. “He deserves you and you deserve a good man. I really hope it works out for you both. I want everyone to be as happily married as me and Jeff.”

Claire laughed. “Don’t marry me off yet: I’ve only been seeing him for a week. I’m not sure I’ll ever get married.”

“Of course you will!”

“I don’t know.” Claire felt heavy, but didn’t want to drag Kim down from her euphoric bubble. “Why would I choose to wash a man’s dirty socks and make sure he ate properly, when I could be footloose and fancy free, surfing the waves and writing about it?”

Kim pulled away from Claire and looked her in the eye. “Some men can do their own laundry, you know. Besides, it’s a small price to pay to share your life with someone. To know that even when you’re old and wrinkly, there’ll still be a person around who cares.”

Her expression became serious, and her brows pulled in together as she scrutinised Claire’s face. “Don’t fight it. If you’re falling for Conor, let it happen. I don’t know what took place between you and Michael, although I can guess. But they’re chalk and cheese. Michael wanted to control you: Conor just wants to love you. Why not let him?”

Claire shivered. It was far too soon to be talking of love and happily ever after. She was only just beginning to see the glimmer of a life of her own; she wasn’t sure if there was room in her dream for two.

*

She stood next to Conor as they waved off the sisters in Kim’s little car. Helena had said a subdued farewell; sinking into herself in proportion to Kim’s enthusiasm. Claire felt a pang for the woman, the spare wheel amidst two happy couples. Life was always hard for someone.

“So, what shall we do now?” Conor turned and slid his arms around Claire’s waist. “Indoors or outdoors?” He grinned, and Claire felt warm at the suggestion. It was a beautiful day, though, and she felt the need to walk along the cliff and let the wind blow through her mind.

As if sensing her hesitation, Conor said quietly, “Or I could go, if you want to be by yourself?”

The sincerity of the offer touched her, and she reached up to brush her lips across his. “No, don’t go. I just fancy a walk is all, and I know it’s not really your thing.”

“Then you’ll have to teach me. I didn’t do too bad on the surfing, now, did I?”

Claire laughed and fairness made her admit that it was true. He’d taken to the board like a duck to swimming.

“Okay, then, you’re on. Let’s go a bit further up the coast. There’s meant to be a beautiful walk, and I’m sure we can find a decent pub lunch along the way to send you back to Swanage in style.”

Conor looked for a moment as if he would happily forgo the lunch to find a reason to stay, but he remained silent. Thankful for his understanding, Claire led him by the hand back  into the hostel.

***

Plodding On: 2013 365 Challenge #349

Kids' Discos - not for the faint of heart

Kids’ Discos – not for the faint of heart

This festive season feels like an endurance trial, ticking off waypoints as we pass them. Today we struck off two that have been in the calendar for weeks and it felt great.

Even when there is nothing that needs to be done (aside from buying and wrapping gifts in this case), stuff on the calendar always takes up mental space. So, hair cuts for everyone (except Mummy, who has off-set the £30 saved by not getting her hair cut against excessive Christmas spending at least twice!) and then two birthday parties in the afternoon. Job done.

It was actually the perfect time to go to a party disco for five year olds (Hubbie got the shorter straw and went to the three-year-old’s village hall romp!) I got to catch up with mummy friends, watch my daughter dance, and sit quietly in the dark by myself (which is pretty much what I used to do at school discos when I was younger!) I adopted a young girl whose parents had dropped her off, who was standing alone, and was rewarded by seeing her join in a bit later on. And I only had a little stress about organising my own daughter’s do for after Christmas. (We’re doubling up with a school friend whose mummy is far more chilled than me, so could be an interesting experience for both of us. if she’s reading this, I’d like to apologise now for being a stressball worrywart!)

My glamorous dancing witch

My glamorous dancing witch

The afternoon was the hardest. Hubbie and I were both suffering from our 3am insomnia (if only the cricket was more worth listening to, I wouldn’t mind my newly discovered inability to sleep) and the children had to put up with a certain amount of grump.

I managed to make everyone dinner, do all the ironing and facilitate a play doh session, but crawled into bed at 8pm, unable to even stay awake for Strictly Come Dancing. I woke up at midnight, remembering I hadn’t written my post or even outlined my Claire installment. (And it seems I’m coming down with a cold which might explain a lot!) The knock-on of a spaced out Friday continues!

I have just read a very funny post on Elf on the Shelf for under achievers which made me chuckle, and also made me wonder why we opt for any extra stress at this manic time of year. My physio friend is happy though – she says the insomnia isn’t confined to hubbie and I, and she’s getting lots of extra work with people needing massages to relax. It’s an ill wind, and all that.

There’s certainly a strong, bitter, wind whistling round our house tonight. Brrr. I say, roll on Spring!

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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An arm snaked across the bed and pulled Claire into a warm embrace. She snuggled into Conor, finding the spot to lay her head on his chest that already felt like the most natural place in the world. They lay entwined in the dimly lit room, not speaking.

Slowly Claire opened her eyes, half expecting to see Conor’s apartment. The chill steel of the hostel furniture greeted her gaze and she was instantly awake. Events from the previous evening crashed into her like a runaway car.

As if sensing the tension in her body, Conor stroked her hair. “Are you okay?”

Claire gave a short laugh. “Depends. Was last night as awful as I remember?”

She felt Conor’s throaty laugh resonate through his body, and it sent sensations trickling across her skin. “I’ve had less hostile meals out. Restaurant was nice though; adequate food, amazing view, and–” he kissed her on the top of her head, “one rather gorgeous woman who agreed to come home with me. That counts as a result in my book.”

“I’m sorry about Kim, I don’t know what’s got into her.”

“You mean she doesn’t treat all of your…” he hesitated, searching for a word, “male friends to a sarcastic, caustic grilling? Don’t worry, I can handle it. I’ve had worse.”

Claire’s thoughts skittered between memories of Kim’s vicious attempts at humour at dinner, and Conor’s hesitation over the word boyfriend. Why did such definitions get harder as you got older? You happily called a boy you never spoke to your boyfriend at school, but somewhere along the line it became loaded with significance.

After a few moments’ silence, Conor shifted so he could look at her face. “What’s wrong? Are you really upset? Kim’s just jealous, that’s all. Not of us, of her sister. Didn’t you say she ended up in hospital because she lost her baby? Having a glamorous sister turn up with a bump is going to hurt. She’ll be fine once she’s caught up.”

“She can’t.”

“What?”

“If by catch up you mean get pregnant again, she can’t. Doctors told her she couldn’t have any more children.”

“Oh.”

Conor fell silent and they lay wrapped in their own thoughts, with the thrum of their hearts beating loudly in their ears. Eventually they heard the unmistakeable sounds of life in the room next door, where Kim and Helena had spent the night.

Claire sighed. “Time to get up and think of a way to survive the day.”

“I say we go to the beach. The girls can gripe together, and you can show me how you surf.”

“You’re on!”

*

“Wow, loving the outfit.”

Conor’s lascivious grin made Claire blush. She looked down at the short wetsuit and shrugged. “It doesn’t leave a lot to the imagination.”

Conor came over and ran his hands down it, making her shiver. “I know.” His eyes gleamed in appreciation.

“Down, boy!” Claire glanced over towards Kim. She thought of all the times Kim and Jeff had made her feel jealous, with their overt displays of affection. Even so, she felt self-conscious receiving Conor’s flattery in front of her and her sister.

The hostilities seemed to have abated since breakfast. Kim looked drawn and tired, and Claire had to remind herself how hard this all was on her friend. It occurred to her that they should have invited Jeff, and she wondered why he wasn’t looking after his wife more. The awful idea that he had found someone else to comfort him germinated in her brain. It was difficult to imagine, but then he had lost a child and his wife, to a certain extent. Not that that made it right.

She gave her head a shake, trying to dislodge the uncomfortable thoughts. Turning her attention to Helena, she said, “There are toilets up there, and I’ve hired you both deckchairs.”

Helena smiled and Claire wondered what she made of it all. She had remained mostly silent and aloof since her arrival and Claire found it difficult to read her flawless, expressionless, face.

With a quick glance at Conor, whose face seemed to say, let’s skedaddle, Claire waved farewell to Kim and Helena and strode up the beach to where the surf came rolling in towards the sand.

With two quick strides, Conor caught up and walked alongside her. “They’ll be fine. Even Kim isn’t going to murder her sister in front of hundreds of witnesses.”

Claire gave him a grateful smile, but said nothing. She was still thinking about Jeff. “Do you think Kim’s husband might be having an affair?” she said suddenly. “Don’t you think it’s strange that he hasn’t been down to visit her, the whole time she’s been at her mum’s? He keeps saying he’s busy, but…”

Conor looked as if he’d rather not pass comment. Claire was about to change the subject when he said quietly, “Who knows? It’s a difficult situation. From what you’ve said, Kim has changed a lot since the miscarriage. Do you know him well enough to give him a call?”

They had reached the surf school, where they had agreed to hire boards and have Claire teach Conor the rudiments. She had told him a proper lesson might be advisable, but he’d just grinned.

“I guess.” Claire shrugged. It felt like it wasn’t her business, but she hated to see Kim so altered. Poor Conor, this wasn’t exactly the romantic weekend he might have hoped for. Determined to put in some effort, she reached over and gave him a lingering kiss.

Just as he was getting overly amorous, she pulled away. “Last one in the water’s a rotten egg.” She pecked him on the cheek and ran towards the surf school to get her board.

***

Self-Sabotage: 2013 365 Challenge #348

Origami Trees became giant snowflakes

Origami Trees became giant snowflakes

Why are Humans prone to self-sabotage? Or is it just me (and my husband!)? You know what I mean: picking at that dry skin on the edge of your nail, even though it’s going to hurt like anything and you KNOW it’s going to hurt.

Or being unable to sleep the night before an important meeting or exam, and staring at the ceiling stressing. Or (as was me this morning) waking up at 3.45am with a head buzzing with stuff and just not being able to get back to sleep. Even though both kids slept past 6am for the first time in weeks.

It always happens when I get anxious or overwhelmed and my brain is running at a hundred miles an hour in ten different directions. Christmas, Claire and now my car (which appears to be suffering from a terminal illness) are all taking up headspace. Little things like decorating a Christmas jumper for my daughter, or writing Christmas cards before the last posting date, run round in my head like escaped guinea pigs: irritating and hard to catch and cage.

So, on a day when I really needed to be productive, to write tomorrow’s post (we have hair cuts and birthday parties to fill our Saturday) I was utterly spaced, having finally crept downstairs at half five (desperately trying not to wake my daughter because I’d never live that down!) I tried to clear other irritants – messy house, buying final gifts – and hope that there would be time in the morning to get back to Claire and Conor, Kim and Helena.

My origami tree

My origami tree

But, again this morning, I was awake at 3.30am. Husband too. He went down to sleep on the sofa (although he didn’t sleep) and I lay in bed, with my brain like a toddler in a toy shop, running this way and that. Instead of trying to think through my next Claire post, my brain did this:

“I’d like some different lights in the garden this year. But I don’t want coloured lights as they won’t really go with our current white lights. A polar bear on the lawn would be fantastic. But they’re so expensive and I’ve already blown the budget this year. Oh yes, my step-dad’s brother made one out of willow. I could make one. I wonder where I could get some willow from.”

And before you know it, instead of writing posts or wrapping presents, I’m trying to work out how to make a bloomin’ polar bear. It happened with the Elf on the Shelf (after scouring the shops for two hours, instead of writing, and not finding an elf I thankfully gave up on that idea.)

And again, with my daughter’s Christmas party this week. I had agreed to print out some colouring sheets to keep the kids occupied. So, being the master of overkill, I had the bright idea of taking a craft activity for the older ones as well. A quick search of Pinterest revealed origami trees and before you could say “self-sabotage queen” I found myself spending an hour making trees, while my son watched TV, instead of doing something useful like cleaning. When we got to the party the trees were too hard to do, and they all became giant green snowflakes.

Production line making twelve trees

Production line making twelve trees

I’m like this all the time, particularly with writing projects. Signing up for a Children’s Book writing course, starting yet another NaNoWriMo novel, illustrating a book for my son, wanting to enter the Mslexia Chidlren’s Novel competition.

The daily blog has thankfully made most of these other ideas unworkable, but I dread to think what I’ll be like next year without it. There are just so many creative things I want to do, and tedious boring humdrum life gets in the way. To compensate, my brain seems to list all the possibilities and tell me they’re all doable. Now.

But, just like the toddler in the toy shop, more toys doesn’t mean more fun. There’s exponentially more pleasure to be had with one favourite toy, loved and cherished, than a room full of tat. (Which also puts pressure on my beleaguered brain to make sure my children get the perfect toys at Christmas, but that’s a whole other level of self-sabotage!) Just as there is exponentially more satisfaction (and use) in one finished project rather than fifty half done.

I don’t know what the answer is. If I had a boss it would be simple: I’d make them prioritise my to-do list and try to be good. Being my own boss? It comes down to a discipline I don’t have. And wanting to make polar bears. Sigh. Is it time for bed, yet?

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Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 

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Claire chewed her thumbnail and tried to concentrate on the screen in front of her. Attempting to write was proving futile, and she shut the laptop with a snap. Outside, the sun beamed down on the terrace and she let it lure her from the lounge. She felt fidgety and restless and longed to go down to the beach for a run.

After a blissful few days alone, wandering around the north coast of Devon, the weekend had finally arrived, bringing with it the anticipated arrival of her guests. Conor had texted to say he’d be there early evening. She hadn’t heard from Kim and her sister, but assumed they were due around the same time.

This is going to be a train wreck. What was I thinking? I should have gone to Kim’s house; at least I could have chatted with her mother or hidden in the garden. As their guest, I could do what I liked. Now they’re coming to see me, I’ll have to entertain them.

She leaned on the railing and looked out over Kipling Tor, shimmering blue in the hazy distance. If she left now, she could be walking up there in twenty minutes, enjoying the view of Lundy Island and the Bristol Channel. She’d done it at least once a day during her stay, and her feet could probably get there without her guidance.

Conor might just forgive me for not being here when he arrives, but somehow I doubt Kim will. She doesn’t seem to be in a forgiving mood these days.

Wishing she had a cool glass of gin and tonic in her hand, Claire perched on a seat and thought about her friendship with Kim. It wasn’t something she’d dwelt on before. It was a given, like having Ruth and Robert for siblings, or working at AJC. In the past few months all those things had shifted. Ruth and Robert weren’t the people she thought they were: her relationship with Ruth was much closer than it had been in years, while she wasn’t sure she’d cross the road to give Robert the time of day.

Where did that leave Kim? What did it mean to be friends, anyway, when you had known someone so long? Were they friends out of habit or to keep alive memories of childhood that only they shared. Until this year, they hadn’t been that close: catching up when Claire was in town, swapping stories of men and jobs while drinking a few bevvies.

Then Kim had got pregnant and everything had changed. Claire wondered if it was the first time Kim realised she didn’t have any close friends: only Jeff, and her fellow thespians.

A bit like me, really, discovering my work colleagues were more enemies than mates, and that Michael wanted some romanticised version of me.

She thought about the people she’d met during her travels: Josh, Maggie, Bethan. People she had little in common with, except the urge to be on the move. In her heart they felt more like friends than Kim did. The realisation hit her like a cold wave, and she gasped for air.

Her mouth felt dry as she realised she didn’t really want to be friends with Kim anymore. It felt like all give and no get. Kim needed her, she understood that. She’d had the most awful year; the ruckus at the wedding that Claire had inadvertently caused, losing the baby, depression and attempted suicide. Claire couldn’t leave her now but she didn’t know how to be the kind of friend Kim needed.

And what about me? I can’t talk about Conor; Kim sees it as some office fling. Maybe it is, but what if it isn’t. We’re not eighteen anymore. Claire rested her head against the railing and closed her eyes.

She started awake as something brushed her face. With hammering heart she opened her eyes, and saw Conor crouched next to her chair.

“Hello, sleepy head.” The smile he gave her made her catch her breath. She grinned back.

“Sorry, I must have nodded off. Have you been there long?”

He looked guilty. “A few minutes. You look adorable asleep, snuffling like a kitten.”

Blood rushed to Claire’s face and she covered her cheeks with her hands. “I was snoring? Really? God, I’m so sorry.”

“That’s okay. I already know you snore.” He grinned and she took a playful swipe at his arm.

“I do not snore. Not like you do.”

They fell still, suddenly, and Conor leant forwards to kiss her. She let herself sink into the embrace and, for a moment, the hurried voices in her head fell mute.

“Aw, look at the lovers. Why don’t you guys get a room?” Kim’s voice cut through their embrace. Claire pulled away and Conor rose languidly to his feet.

“Hello, Kim, nice to see you again. You’re looking well.” Conor was at his urbane best, holding his hand out for Kim to shake. Claire was looking at Kim’s face and caught a flicker of a frown cross her features before she flashed her teeth and shook the outstretched hand.

“You’ve been busy since I met you last,” she said archly. Claire winced at the confrontational tone, wondering what Kim’s problem was. With a sick feeling in her stomach, she wondered if it was too late to run away.

“I don’t think you’ve met my sister, Helena,” Kim was saying. She turned and gestured for her sister to come forward.

Claire hadn’t seen Kim’s older sister in a long time, but she hadn’t changed. She was still tall and willowy, with long straight golden hair. The only difference was the round stomach stretching her designer top. With a demure smile and glowing skin, she looked like a model in a maternity magazine.

Poor Kim.

Claire’s irritation vanished as she realised how hard it must be for her friend. She’d always competed with her sister, who was the more financially successful and, some argued, the more attractive of the two. Now she was also the one who could carry a child, when Kim couldn’t.

While Conor chatted to Helena about Hong Kong and the journey down from her parents’ house, Claire sidled up to Kim and put her arm around her.

“How are you holding up?” she whispered.

“I haven’t murdered her in her sleep, if that’s what you mean.” Kim’s voice was somewhere between angry and rueful. Claire caught a glimmer of her old friend, the one she used to have fun with, before life became complicated.

“Look at it this way: she’ll have saggy boobs and stretch marks, and will look fifty by the time she’s thirty five.”

Kim giggled and put her arm around Claire, pulling her close. “Thanks, I needed that.”

***