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‘Isn’t it exciting Mum, ‘shrilled Hannah as Ruth walked into the kitchen, her arms festooned with laundry and shopping bags.
‘Pizza’s just arrived,’ said Abigail. ‘I’ve put yours on a plate Mum; it’s in the microwave.’
‘Where’s your father?’
‘He’s in his office. I think he’s on the phone to Uncle Harry.’
‘That’s just great… Abigail, will you take these upstairs please. Put them on the bed in the spare room then come back down. I have some other things for you to do. In the mean time, I’m going to have a word with your father.’
Ruth left the kitchen and walked down the hallway to David’s office. The previous evening, while she was out shopping he’d primed the children with the promise of an adventure. A romantic vision of Christmas in Lapland topped off with a sleigh ride through the snow to see Santa Claus; all that before she’d had a chance to explain why it wouldn’t be possible to change their plans for the holidays.
David said he’d wanted it to be a big surprise, and it certainly had been. She stopped by the hall stand, looked at her reflection in the mirror, gritted her teeth and reached into the handbag she’d left on the shelf on her way in. Her hands shook as she took out a cough medicine bottle, took a swig of its contents then reburied it in the bottom of the bag.
She stood in the office doorway, illuminated by the glare from David’s computer screen.
‘…With a fluorescent yellow ball, it shows up in the snow… Yes I know the one about yellow snow, very funny… Harry, Ruth’s just walked in. She looks… she wants to talk to me. I’ll give you a call when we get back… Yes, I’ll text you a picture. …bye.’
‘Text a picture of what?’ said Ruth, holding on to the door knob, her knuckles turning white.
‘A yellow golf ball, we play golf with them in the snow. I was just telling Harry that I picked up a couple of boxes on the way home; got them twenty percent off, real bargain. Left work early; had to drive all the way round the M25 to Essex and back, you should have seen the traffic. ’
‘I’m glad you think you’ll have time to golf,’ she said tartly.
‘Sure I will, while you and the girls are off playing in the snow I’ll head out to one of the frozen lakes and try out my new drivers.’
‘You’ve bought another set of golf clubs?’ She let go of the door knob and advanced into the room.
He stood and reached out to hold her. She ignored the gesture.
‘No,’ he said defensively, noticing the tell tale muscle twitch of anger on the side of her mouth, ‘just a couple of new drivers, that’s all. Want to break them in before the new season starts, I mean to win the Chinechester Trophy this year.’
She knew a way to break in the clubs for him – under the tyres of her car.
‘David, do you have any idea how much I still have to do to get us ready to leave in the morning, or what this wild adventure idea of yours has cost? I still have the ironing to finish, and the packing to complete; Abigail will help, but that isn’t the point. Hannah and Rachael are bouncing off the walls with excitement and probably won’t want to go to bed and thought of the two of them moaning all the way to the airport in the morning is enough to make me want to stay home.’
‘That’s why I suggested pizza for dinner, no cooking or cleaning up,’ he said, grinning sheepishly. Then realising the pizza hadn’t done the trick, said, ‘tell me, what am I not understanding?’
‘What you do not understand is that you hadn’t bothered to ask me before you booked this holiday. Have you any idea how long I’ve been preparing for this, our first Christmas in our new house? My parents are coming to spend some of the holidays with us and on top of that I’ve managed to get tickets for The Lion King, do you have any idea how difficult that was?’
‘I had no idea. You did such a wonderful job of keeping it all so secret,’ he said, turning up his hands in a conciliatory gesture. ‘I thought you would love to have a holiday away, especially since moving in had been so stressful.’
‘And what am I supposed to do with all the presents and games I’ve bought? The garage freezer is full with the biggest turkey I could find and the butcher has sent over a huge ham. The larder is full of vegetables and Mrs Parker is booked to come over Christmas Eve to help prepare Christmas dinner.’
‘I’m so sorry. I’ll call the airline and hotel and cancel the reservation.’
‘What and disappoint the girls? That would be cruel.’
David sat back down and stared at his feet. ’I am sorry.’
‘What’s done is done,’ said Ruth, stroking his hair. ‘I’ll call my mum and tell her they can help themselves to the food.’
‘Thanks,’ he said. ‘I am truly sorry.’
‘But tell me, my fine husband, why do we need to leave at four thirty in the morning? The flight isn’t till half past seven.’
‘If you’ve ever tried to drive up the M3 past Bracknell to the M25 during early morning rush, you’d know why. Those few miles can take over an hour when the motorway is busy. Just look at the early start as part of our adventure. Here, I’ve printed off our boarding passes… it will save time when we check in tomorrow morning.’
She looked at the tickets and passes and groaned. London Heathrow to Helsinki, departing LHR 07:30, arriving HEL 12:25; a shiver ran up her spine.
She turned and headed back to the kitchen deciding that during the holiday, no matter what, she would carve out some time for herself. She’d have her own adventure.