Chasing Sunset

I wrote this for the Creative Ink Writing Prompt, but also for a special friend, my twin soul, who is forever chasing summer, and who turns 30 tomorrow. Happy Birthday, Twin xx

She had always loved sunset; the romanticism of one day coming to a close, with the promise of another soon to follow. Flying at sunset was the best, that feeling of cheating time. But it was all too fleeting. You could never cheat time, not really. And that was why she had to leave.

Liv’s phone vibrated in her pocket. She slipped her hand inside and pressed down on the power button until she was sure she had killed it. She couldn’t risk the onset of unwanted emotion. The only way out of this was cold stoicism. And when she got there, well, then she could deal with things once and for all. It would be over.

She didn’t know how long she had been asleep, but the red-rimmed sky had finally succumbed to the blackness of night. Liv rolled her neck from side to side, wincing as she cricked it back into place. The cabin was dark, save for occasional spotlights beaming down onto insomniac passengers like alien spacecraft.

Something brushed her hand, making her jump. It was the little girl sitting across the aisle. By Liv’s estimation she was four, maybe five. Tight black curls and fresh pink lips. Cherubic. Liv looked across at the girl’s mother. She too was beautiful, or at least she would have been were it not for the trail of dribble descending from her open mouth.

“Hi,” the girl whispered.

“Hi,” Liv whispered back, ignoring the tightness in her chest. Her heart.

“I’m Becky. What’s your name?”

“Liv.”

The girl regarded her with such a look of scrutiny that Liv felt unnerved. Of course she didn’t know her secret, she couldn’t know it. And yet.

“Can we be friends?”

Liv smiled. “Of course.”

Becky’s face shone from the inside out. Her lips parted to reveal a gap-toothed smile. Liv wondered if she was perhaps older than her original estimation. She watched as the girl reached into the pocket of her pinafore dress, screwing her face up in concentration as she tried to retrieve something. Eventually she pulled her hand out with a flourish, extended her arm and unfolded her fingers. In the centre of her palm was a turquoise stone. “Take it,” she said.

Liv picked up the stone and ran her finger along its surface. It was smooth and round, and though it was dark she could make out flecks of glitter in its swirling pattern. “It’s beautiful,” she said.

“It’s yours,” the girl replied.

“Oh no, I couldn’t possibly…” She offered the stone back to the girl, but she shook her head and refused to take it.

The girl’s mother stirred beside her, opened her eyes and looked down at her daughter. She followed her gaze to Liv, and when her eyes alighted on the stone in Liv’s hand her breath caught in her throat. “Becky, darling,” she said, her voice measured but tense. “Why did you give this lady your stone? Don’t you want it?”

The little girl looked up at her mother and shook her head. Her mother smiled as if this meant something momentous, but Liv had no idea what. “Thank you,” she said to the girl. “I will treasure it forever. Truly.” The girl’s mother smiled, and Liv noticed she had tears in her eyes. She blinked and looked away. Nothing more was said.

When they had touched down and were waiting to disembark the plane, Liv found the courage to turn on her phone. It buzzed immediately. She had known it would. Before she looked at the message she went through the motions of passport control and baggage reclaim. As she stood at belt six, there was a tap on her arm. It was the girl’s mother. The little girl was playing with a doll several feet away, lost in her fantasy. “I wanted to explain what happened on the plane,” the woman said. “It must have seemed strange.” Before Liv could reply, the woman spoke again. “You see, Becky lost her twin a year ago. In a car accident.”

Liv felt her lungs deflate. “I’m so sorry. How terrible for you both.”

Despite her brightly coloured and expertly applied makeup, the woman’s grief was obvious. But Liv sensed something else behind the sadness, maybe a spark of hope? “It’s been the hardest year of my life,” she said. “And for Becky, well, it’s hard to imagine how deeply this has affected her. She’s only five, and the two of them were thick as thieves.” She looked over at her daughter. “The thing is, that stone she gave you on the flight. It belonged to her sister.”

Liv pulled the stone out of her pocket. “Please, take it back. I would never have taken it if I’d known.”

The woman smiled. “But that’s the thing. She wanted you to have it. For a year she’s carried it around with her everywhere, desperate not to let it out of her sight. Her therapist said it was part of the grieving process, that she would let go of it when she had turned a corner. And now, well, now it seems she has. I just wanted you to know. Whatever you said or did on that plane, thank you.”

The woman called her daughter and they turned to leave. As they walked away Liv heard the woman ask why she had given the stone to the lady on the plane. The girl replied: “She needs it more than me Mummy. Turquoise is for strength, she has to be strong for her daughter.”

The arrivals hall began to spin. Liv steadied herself on her trolley. She put a hand to her tummy and stroked it. How had the girl known? She couldn’t have known. Remembering the message on her phone, Liv took it out and read it. It was from Mark, of course. Just seeing his name on the screen choked her up.

Seven words.

The best she had ever seen:

I KNOW. I LOVE YOU. COME HOME. X

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Drive

As he drove, his hands clenched tighter on the wheel, his feet pushing harder down onto the pedals. Sixty, seventy, eighty. His very own white knuckle ride. Ninety, a hundred, a hundred and ten. Sweat pooled at the base of his spine, seeping through his linen shorts. Could he really do this? Why not? Now he had nothing to lose. One hundred and twenty, thirty…STOP. Feet slamming on brakes, autopilot mode engaged. Swerving, nearly not quite hitting. Her. Standing in the middle of the road. Wearing just a cotton sundress. Carrying a rose. The car span around and around, almost not quite tipping. Silence spun a web around him. Finally, finally the car came to a halt, nosing the shrubbery at the side of the highway.

He coughed. Shifted in his seat. Lifted one hand, then the other. Patted himself down. No obvious sign of damage. Cuts and grazes at most. Surely a miracle. If he believed in them.

She was beside the car now. Porcelain skin, fair hair, eyes wide with shock. “Hey, are you okay?” Biting her lip. Standing girlish.

“Fine,” he said, as if this was quite normal. “You?”

“Fine,” she said, a tremor in her voice. “I’m sorry, that was my fault. I could have killed you.”

He smiled. “I could have killed myself.”

He climbed out of the car. They stood a while in sun-soaked silence as the tarmac baked beside them.

“Where you heading?” he asked.

She looked down at the rose cupped in her hand. “Anywhere,” she said. She raised her head; blinked away tears.”You?”

“Same.”

A current of knowing flowed between them. He broke it to observe the car. “It doesn’t look so bad. I think I can fix it.”

She sat down on the bare earth and watched him as he worked. From time to time he cast a sideways glance, noticing her bare feet. Slim wrists. The tattoo on her ankle.

When he was done, he closed the bonnet, slid into the driver’s seat and tested the engine. It sputtered into life. He looked at her. “Lift?” She smiled, torch-eyed. Climbed into the car beside him. As he pulled onto the road he paused. “Your rose,” he said, pointing to the dusty patch of earth on which it lay.

“I don’t need it,” she said with a shrug. “Not anymore.”

He put his foot down on the pedal. And drove.

Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink photo prompt 20th October 2016

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The Bridal Brassiere Debate

Weddings are expensive, I get it (trust me, after a year of planning my own, I really get it). And for the most part I also get why. If you’re fortunate enough (as we are – just) to not have to sell a kidney to pay for the event, it’s really jolly nice to have a ceremony, slap up dinner and after party with your nearest and dearest, in honour of your most auspicious and romantic union (which, all being well, will be a once in a lifetime occasion).

If you want to seal the deal in a hotel, assuming that hotel is on the nicer side of decent and you aren’t best mates with the owner, it’s going to cost a pretty penny. Fine. Everyone expects to spend a bit on the location, right? Same goes for the food, the booze, the dress – I could go on. But when it comes to what the bride wears underneath her dress, well, I’m afraid that’s where you lose me on the wedding sympathy scale.

Not that I’m keen to go into details of my smalls drawer in a public forum such as this, but for the sake of argument I’ll admit: I’m not big on underwear. Not in the sense I don’t wear it (what do you take me for? I’m not some sex starved, hormone-addled teenager), more that I don’t spend swathes of cash on expensive matching sets of it. Never have, never will. Don’t get me wrong, I like a nice bra and pants, and if M&S have got an offer on I’ll bite their hand off on a 3-for-2 deal (especially if the bra straps are detachable – instantly doubles the practicality rating). But whilst I like to look nice for my man in the bedroom as much as the next girl, I just can’t bring myself to waste money on something that so rarely sees the light of day.

So you can imagine my horror when, last weekend, I set out on a mission to find my bridal underwear at a cost that wasn’t eye watering, only to discover that EVERY set of bridal underwear in the whole of Brussels apparently IS. I started with two high end boutiques, knowing full well these would be the upper end of the scale. The sales staff were all smiles to begin with, but as soon as it became clear they weren’t making an immediate sale (200 Euros for a BRA? I don’t think so, love) turned sourer than off milk. One woman even replied to my comment about wanting to consider other underwear with ‘but we have everything here, why would you go somewhere else?’ So far so bad.

Next up, the ‘mid’ (ha!) range stores, slightly upwards of high street but still with a boutique feel. Here I found one bra that I really liked, with pretty lace detailing. But when the shop assistant told me the price – 160 Euros for the bra alone, and a further 60 for the scrappiest ‘thong’ I’d ever laid eyes on – I just couldn’t swallow it. I also failed to see the romantic element to the pair of ‘wedding night’ knickers she brazenly tried to flog me, with their less than alluring HOLE in the back (refer to previous point about not being sex starved teenager – am also not sex whore).

So, off I went to the Brussels equivalent of Debenhams, confident I would at least find something suitable and within my price range there. Within the price range, yes, suitable? No. Out of an entire department of lingerie there were just two possible options, neither of which looked particularly nice on. Feeling dejected, I began walking home, and, on a whim popped into Etam, which I remember fondly from (the irony) my teenage days. And guess what? There, in prime position, was a brand new range of satin underwear in a lovely selection of suitably bridal colours, with a set of underwear retailing at the princely sum of 50 Euros. AND it was buy one get one half price. Needless to say I snapped up two sets and a few extra pairs of pants to boot. Total price: 117 Euros.

Take THAT snooty top end boutique bitches.

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Idiots Abroad

It’s just  hit me (in the freight train sense) that in a little over fifteen weeks I’ll be a Mrs. Given that I’ve been engaged for almost a year now it’s impressive I haven’t grasped this fact before. I blame the inordinately large number of organisational things that have to be done in order to pull off a wedding abroad. Nobody ever said it would be easy. And that’s because, well, it isn’t. In fact it’s really bloody hard.

People ask why we chose Austria, and I enjoy telling the story about the weekend my fiance booked a romantic break in Bavaria, only for us to be turned away from the hotel because he had accidentally booked the wrong weekend. And, as it was a public holiday in Germany, neither the hotel nor any of its immediate neighbours had any rooms available. We ended up driving for forty minutes in silence, over the border into Austria to a hotel where my hapless other half had eventually managed to locate a room. I was so angry I couldn’t speak, and we had an uneasy (and not the least bit romantic) sleep that night. When we went down for breakfast the following morning, however, everything changed. The sun was beaming down and the views of the mountains were spectacular. As we drank our coffee and ate our toast our mood thawed like the snow outside, and we jokingly said we would return to Austria for our wedding.

Fast forward a year, and we are indeed having our wedding in Austria. Right now it feels a little more foolhardy than romantic, but we have to hope the gamble will pay off. Admittedly we didn’t get off to the best start, when our first choice of venue cancelled on us three months after we booked it. By this point several guests had booked their flights, which meant an Austrian wedding was happening whether we liked it or not. So we went back to our second (much nicer, but also much more expensive) choice venue, which – nothing short of miraculously – still had availability on that popular weekend in June. So we snapped it up, pushing our concerns about nearly doubling the budget in one fell swoop to one side.

It took a while to fully comprehend the myriad complications of getting married in a country that is not one’s country of origin. Our situation was further complicated by the fact we already live in a different country (Belgium) – indeed the UK government website has a special page for people (read: idiots) like us. Not only would we have to prove residence in the country we wanted to marry in for a minimum of three days, we would also have to visit the British embassy there to apply for documentation and post notice of our marriage. Before we could go to Vienna to do this, however, we had to first request copies of our birth certificates from the UK (our existing ones being invalid because they were more than six months old), then send them back to a different address in the UK to be legalised before we eventually had what we needed for our embassy appointment. Painful doesn’t begin to describe it.

Once the legal stuff was sorted we rejoiced, thinking that surely the worst was now over. How wrong we were. The legal stuff had nothing on the nightmare of coordinating a hundred people in booking flights. Salzburg being nearer, most people sensibly opted to fly there. Until, that is, British Airways decided to cancel the return flight on Sunday. As in, the only flight that day, which meant that all the guests who couldn’t book Monday off work having to cancel and re-book flights into Munich. On top of that it transpired we couldn’t have the legal and religious blessing on the same day, and since the Protestant church in Austria no longer recognises the Protestant church in the UK, the only way we could have a blessing at all would be to enlist the services of a ‘free'(lance) priest. Still following? I’m not at all sure I am.

Then there are the challenges of working with a wedding planner and suppliers who are not only not in the same country as you, but also don’t speak English as a first language. They are all pretty good, but a lot gets lost in translation, and, let’s face it, that’s not really what you want when it comes to your wedding. It’s also been a nightmare trying to coordinate dress buying for six bridesmaids when you can’t meet everyone face to face. My girls have rallied, God bless them, but I know it’s been a royal pain in the arse doing the endless cycle of purchasing and sending back (thank god for ASOS and its free returns policy).

Now we are at the three-months-to-go-stage, things are really cranking up a gear. I’ve never been much of a fashionista, nor very design-minded, which perhaps explains why I’ve found it so difficult to choose wedding apparel (less so the dress, which was the first I tried on – hell, something had to be easy) and decide on all the smaller details like flowers, cake etc. There is still SO much to do it makes my head spin. I’ve really no clue how it will all come together, but I guess I just have to trust that somehow it will. All I can say is that it’s just as well I only plan to do this once in my life. More than that would send me absolutely nuts!

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Let wedding season commence

Today is my good friend and ex-colleague’s wedding in Shropshire, and as I shall shortly be embarking on the three hour journey with no wiggle room on timing this post will be brief. 

Whether it’s the occasion, the dresses, the speeches or the food, weddings have something for everyone. Even the most unromantic of souls can derive pleasure from a disco and a free bar. Weddings are also a great excuse for an overnight getaway, and a chance to let our hair down with a different crowd – scoffing cheese and nattering to Great Auntie Gladys before hitting the dance floor with Uncle Bert; what’s not to love?

But for those of us with a little more heart, being invited to watch our nearest and dearest exchanging vows is both a privilege and an honour. I never fail to have a tear in my eye at that moment when the deal is sealed and the bride and groom look at one another, dewy eyed and ecstatic, knowing from this point on they’ll be taking on the world together – as a team. I for one can’t think of anything more romantic than that.

So I’ve packed my dancing shoes and the little cream number from the Calvin Klein sample sale in New York that I’ve been dying to wear, and I am ready to P-A-R-T-Y. Like it’s 25th May 2013 – which, of course, it is. I’ll get my coat.

I captured this moment whilst walking around Central Park in New York on my visit in April.