Authors: Judy Astley
Do the friendships you make on holiday have anything to do with real life?
It might be sensible to hope that they don't.
For the last few years, Beth and Ned have gone to the same Caribbean island to the same luxury spa hotel. There they meet the same crowd, and take up where they left off last time. Real life, home life, family life, are all safely left behind.
Except this year. This year, home problems have somehow tagged along for the ride. Ned has been playing away â a bit of a drunken fling, that's all, nothing to worry about, Beth thinks. But although they have put it all behind them, what Beth doesn't know is that Ned's fling was with the female half of one of the couples they are holidaying with.
To make matters worse, Beth has insisted on bringing along their sixteen-year-old daughter Delilah, who's been ill and needs rest and sunshine. Not so ill, however, that she can't look around for some entertainmentÂ .Â .Â .
With love to the regular November/December La Source returners, especially Arnie, Vicki, Geoff, Diana, Rebecca, Gaffar, Susan, Dave, Jan, Morag, Karsten, David, Jennifer, Bob, Lynne, Vivian, Shirley, David, Diane, Nick (Jasper Carrot), Sue, Mel, Marion, Maryse, Tony, Jude, Boyd, Barbara, Robin (and in memory of Melanie), the hotel staff and management, especially Leon, Niron, CJ, Adrian, Gavin, Fabian, Jeremy, Petra, Cassie, Jennifer, Alicia, Ray, Miriam, Dean, Eric and the brilliant Denis Thomas.
You will be highly relieved to know that, incredibly inspiring as you all are, none of you are in this book.
21 ml brandy
1 sugar cube (white)
âCyn! Cynthia! Hi! I didn't recognize you with your clothes on!'
Oh Lordy that came out all wrong, Ned realized as the words tumbled out loud and witless. What kind of a conversation-opener was that? People were staring, as well they might, both at him and at the woman on the far side of the Harrods meat counter, weighing up an oven-ready pheasant in each hand. All the same, what he'd said was true enough: here in the bustling Food Hall Cyn was elegantly wrapped up against the February frost in a honey-gold suede coat, shimmery olive velvet scarf and spike-heeled pointy brown boots. Last time he'd seen her, on that hot-sun holiday back in November, she'd been poolside on a lounger in a pink and scarlet bikini with matching sarong and shell-trimmed flip-flops.
âNed! Good heavens, how
you? What are you doing in here?'
There was the dazzling flash of a fabulous smile that was just as sunburst-radiant even with the tan long faded. She had that high-maintenance high-gloss look, as if she began each day by having her skin gently buffed by handfuls of lightly oiled pearls.
Ned hesitated, stopping short of blurting out that he was in urgent pursuit of meat in case that too could be misinterpreted and result in a hasty summons to Security. He pushed his way through the lunchtime customers towards Cyn and kissed her on each cheek. He caught a hint of vanilla and coconut and was at once transported back to the beach bar on the island of St George, lining up the cocktails at sundown. Her choice was always a rum punch, he remembered, its surface thickly flecked with nutmeg and cinnamon. There would be a chunk of coconut on a cocktail stick and she'd dunk it in her drink and bite off little slivers of the flesh.
âI'm after a big slab of Beef Wellington,' he told her. âUnder orders from the domestic front to bring home something Beth can pass off to the new neighbours tonight as home-cooked. She's up to her eyes checking recipes for World Wide Wendy's new book and the last thing she feels like is cooking for us. I was just wondering if the lamb shanks wouldn't be a tastier option when I saw you. Almost didn't recognize you in winter plumage.'
âHmm . . . so you announced to half the store! That Wendy woman's never off the telly; last week I watched her doing, what was it? Smothered muskrat! Ugh! Poor Beth, fancy having to cook that one!' Cyn wrinkled her nose and giggled, shoving the pheasants back to their place in the display. She tucked her arm through his and led him away from the crush at the
counter. âAre you on a lunch break? Have you got time for a quick drink and a catch-up?
strange seeing you on home ground. It's as if those few Caribbean weeks are real life and this isn't!'
Next thing he knew, Ned was not, as he should have been, on his way back to the office clutching that evening's supper and preparing to sell a Kensington mansion to a balding rock legend. Instead he was perched beside Cynthia on a bar stool at the oyster counter, where they celebrated this coincidental meeting with champagne and a dozen best Whitstables. Followed by another dozen. The beef went completely out of Ned's mind and that evening as he grovelled an apology to a furious Beth, he somehow found himself putting the lapse down to simple forgetfulness, in preference to compounding the offence by admitting to the lavish lunch.
As he rummaged penitently through the freezer in search of enough boeuf bourguignon to feed six, he thought about the day and how Cyn hadn't talked about Bradley and he hadn't talked about Beth. He'd miss Cyn on next November's trip to St George. She'd been, during that same fortnight for the past three years, a lively annual fixture holding court from her lounger beneath the tamarind tree, halfway between the pool and the beachfront jacuzzi. She and Brad had been keen to go for a fourth time, but the dates clashed with a family wedding. A niece of Bradley's was to be married on a tropical beach way out east somewhere: a luxury spa and spiritual retreat where, Cyn had assured him, you got your chakras rebalanced every morning and a rub-down after lunch with smouldering bamboo scented with jojoba. Just about to die for, apparently.
âOf course, I'll miss the old faces,' Cyn had sighed.
âBut who knows? The year after we just might be back.'
Ned winced as Beth hurled the frozen block of fancy stew into the microwave and slammed the door shut. Her dark blonde curls flashed this way and that as she zapped between the sink and the cooker, chucking potato peelings inaccurately at the bin and stirring something that bubbled angrily.
âOne bloody thing I asked you to do for me today, just
one sodding thing
. I've had a completely hellish day over at Wendy's. Why she thinks anyone outside Saskatchewan is really gagging to serve up braised bear steaks I've no idea. She gets madder by the month.'
Wondering if she'd have thawed out by the time the supper had, Ned went to the fridge to see if he could help her mood along by handing her a glass of Chablis. As he poured it he pictured the way his unexpected lunch date had licked an escape of oyster juice from around her lips and he thought, yes, he might just give Cyn a call, as she'd suggested, just to be friendly, to keep in touch. Where was the harm in that?
3 slices orange
3 slices pineapple
56 ml gin
14 ml sweet vermouth
It was all going horribly wrong. Beth understood well enough that the risk of disappointment, hovering like a big hungry hawk, was always a factor with events you really, really looked forward to, but after such a crap few months she'd hoped the mischievous gods would allow things to go a bit more smoothly.
This November's holiday to St George had âdoomed' stamped all over it before the tickets had even arrived. First Delilah had been stricken with glandular fever and now this. Beth put the kitchen phone down and went back to the table. What was left of her interrupted chicken and its fragrant tarragon sauce no longer looked as appetizing as it had those few pre-phone-call minutes ago. This was a pity as she'd gone to a lot of trouble with it, making sure the sauce was just the right side of piquant and that the cream went in at
the proper time, rather than being sploshed in haphazardly while her attention was on the last blank squares of the
âHow was your mother? Looking forward to her annual punishment duty with the kids?' Ned was picking at bits of the salad from the bowl, licking a drip of the dressing off his thumb. Beth wanted to ask him not to do that, tell him that he'd spread germs around, but she managed to stop herself. Instinctive mumsiness was not attractive. She was careful about that sort of thing these days, since it had all come out about Ned's springtime fling. In spite of what he'd done, she was still pretty fond of him and wasn't going to be careless enough to give him any excuse to bugger off and do it again. Taking a Parisian, rising-above-it attitude towards a mistress might be acceptable, but only
âMum's fine . . . but she's not bloody coming,' she told him as she pushed the chicken around her plate with her fork. She really didn't fancy it at all now. Its rather overwhelming tarragon flavour reminded her of the casseroled emu recipe she'd been checking out a few weeks back for World Wide Wendy's next series. Instead she topped her glass up with the last of the Sauvignon. She was in urgent need of calming.
âShe's not coming,' Beth repeated after a good gulp of the wine, âbecause she's off playing bridge in Madeira or Malta or one of those other elderly winter refuges they all flock to to save on their heating bills.'
Not very fair, that. She felt guiltily disloyal but furious. Helena was entitled to a life, obviously, but not to break long-held arrangements quite so blithely. She'd been coming to take over at the house for that same fortnight for the past three Novembers while Ned and Beth went away on their annual low-season,
battery-charging break to St George. Helena,
loved, she'd always insisted, spending such a good long time catching up with her grandchildren, cooking up the sort of cold-weather comfort meals that she was sure their own mother ought to bother with more, and finding plenty in Beth's domestic chaos to tut about. Except this year. Suddenly, now it was October and with only five weeks to go, Helena had made other plans. It would have to be
year, oh thank you so much God, when Delilah would still need the kind of TLC only a close and devoted relative could guarantee, and enough rest to make sure she didn't relapse.
âWhat do you mean, not coming? I thought it was all fixed up.' Ned pushed the salad bowl away from between them as if he needed a clearer view of her. âSo what will you do now?'
do?' Beth was genuinely puzzled. How come the question of who would take care of Delilah and Nick was suddenly only
problem? Did he think you could book teenagers into boarding kennels like dogs? (Not such a bad idea, come to think of it, and not just for holiday times either.) Or did he imagine she would volunteer to stay home and insist he went alone? Perhaps he did, perhaps ticking somewhere in the back of his brain were certain tempting possibilities that might be on offer at a swanky spa to a solitary man. Ned was an attractive sort and always would be. He would age into that slightly dishevelled louche look that gladdened the eye of women of all ages. At Christmas when she watched
The Great Escape
, she could see that he had a hint of the Steve McQueen about him. Even Delilah had mentioned it. Every line and bit of grey just made him look craggy and interesting rather than droopy and drab. This only
happened to men, of course â one of life's major injustices. Plenty of carefree holidaying women at the Mango Experience (Sport 'n' Spa) would be eager to take him under their outstretched tricep-toned wings. There was always a good selection of single ones: lone, excitable aunts as part of a wedding party, hyper-energized by the Caribbean heat; defiant divorcÃ©es getting the hang of holidaying alone and busy professional women treating themselves to a week of intense pampering prior to the Christmas party season.