Kate wandered through the rows of knitwear and sparkly party items trying desperately to think of something she needed so that she wouldn’t feel too guilty when she bought it. Obviously she was going to buy something anyway, so it would be better if she could vaguely drum up something that was a necessity. Or, necessity adjacent if not totally necessary.
She already had warm boots that she liked. She’d only bought them a month ago, and there was no point bringing two pairs with her because they were only taking hand luggage and boots were big.
She had a coat; and it matched the boots. She’d ordered a cute pull along suitcase online… she was waiting for Polly to get into town for them to go to Waterstones together and choose some books just like old times. She felt such a chilly nostalgia at the thought of going on a holiday with her sister. Looking at books first but without Mum. After their parents had died the sisters had become undeniably close; but in a sort of low affection way. They were practical and intertwined but they weren’t soppy. They both felt, and then pushed the feeling away, that perhaps if they let their guards down too much there would be things to cope with that neither of them really wanted to deal with.
A lovely mustard yellow bobble hat with gold thread in stripes on it, and a huge feathery fluffy pom pom caught her eye. It looked ridiculous… but also, incredibly fun. She looked down at her matching chocolate brown boots and coat, would that hat go? Or would she look like hot dog? She pulled it off the mannequin and settled it over her head; looking about her for a mirror.
She stood and looked at her reflection. She looked great. The hat made her long, dirty blonde hair look stylised instead of shabby as it felt in loose twirls down to her shoulders. Kate stared at her reflection… that was the nice thing about buying new things and always having them around - it gave the impression that things were going much better for you than they actually were. It made people look at the new shiny things rather than you. You could hide behind them.
The woman in the mirror looked like she would fit in well walking by the canals of Amsterdam. She looked stylish and together in an understated way. Kate decided she needed the hat to pull off the outfit and attitude she wanted for this trip. She marched off to the till and then realised it was about time she scarpered to Waterstones to meet Polly. It would drive Polly nuts if she was late, and she sort of already was late.
They dawdled in the lovely muted conversation of the book shop; smelling the pages and the carpet and enjoying the deadening of the sound caused by that many books in one place. Kate felt awake and excited. There were so many stories trapped between all these covers; and in a way, there wasn’t - there was just ink on paper, but in a way there literally were worlds kept in place on a few inches. All it took was you to pull it out. She loved books and bookshops. If only books were easier to start.
The other two books she had bought when she bought Interview with the Vampire were still steadfastly un started on her shelf. But she had now read Ann Rice’s tome a further three times. It was so much easier to just delve back into a world you were already sure of instead of trying something new and risking being disappointed.
Sasha had text them to say that they would be reading The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. A compromise for Clara who wanted and Atwood, and Polly who had cried at the mere mention of The Handmaid’s Tale. Kate stared at the cover and tried to drum up some enthusiasm for it. There was nothing there, but she clutched it hard in her hand and told herself that before she’d met Le Stat she hadn’t known how much she would want to escape into that book either. Conveniently, this book was also in a 3 for 2 deal so Kate mooched about looking for some other books that might lend her a bit of light relief from reality.
As they left the shop, each with a new weight of worlds to read, Kate felt very serene and ready for this holiday. She hadn’t left the country in years.
“Ok,” said Polly, turning to her on the high street, “So what time do you need to be at the airport tomorrow morning?”
“The flight is at 9am” Kate nodded. Polly’s face fell.
“No, Kate, that’s not what I asked. The flight is at 9am but what time do you need to be at the airport?”
“Oh! Like, quarter to nine?” Kate grinned, but not before actual steam started to pour out of Polly’s ears and over the pavement, “I’m joking… I will meet you by the main door to departures at 7am sharp. Promise.”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to pick you up?” Polly hopped from foot to foot nervously.
“No, that would be stupid - you already live on the right side of town. Ewan is happy to drop me off.” Kate smiled in what she hoped was a reassuring way.
“He is nice, isn’t he? Is he single?” Polly asked, trying and failing to look casual.
“No, not at all.” Kate said emphatically. She hadn’t found the right moment to explain Ewan’s love life to Polly yet because so far Polly was very keen on him and Kate wanted to make sure she really liked him before she threw an unconventional spanner in the works.
“Shame. But, ok - as long as he’s happy to drive you. I’ll see you at the airport. Exciting!” Polly did look excited and Kate was so glad they were going.
She went to bed and set everything she could find with an alarm on it.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to book a taxi?” She checked with Ewan, for the fiftieth time.
“No, no - I am a taxi. I can’t have you funnelling money to the competition now can I? I’ll just do an earlier shift tomorrow and there’s always fares coming back from the airport now aren’t there?”
Kate nodded, “Ok then - thank you so much. See you in the morning.”
“Yep, yep! Just wake me up 15 minutes before you want to leave.” Ewan turned back to his Xbox and Kate closed the door to the living room and went up to bed. It felt like an odd Christmas Eve or something… she was excited.
She was so excited to get to sleep, in fact, that she was finding it virtually an impossible place to get. Her mind ticked over and over the little packed suitcase at the foot of her bed. She checked and double checked the four alarms that she had set on her phone for 5 minute intervals so there was no way she could snooze them and go back to sleep. Then she set her phone on the other side of the room so that she would have to get out of bed to switch it off. Perfect. Then she lay in the dark staring at the ceiling and repeatedly wondering if she were asleep and realising that she wasn’t. It was agony. She listened to podcast after podcast: barely taking in a word of them but also too terrified to switch them off and have space for more thoughts rattling around in her head.
Eventually she slipped off into unconsciousness, dimly aware that there were only hours left before her phone alarm would rouse her but reassured that any sleep was better than none.
She awoke to find Ewan’s face alarmingly close to hers.
“Woah! What’s going on?” She asked, sitting up quickly. Ewan retracted the arm he had shaken her awake with.
“Sorry - didn’t mean to startle you,” he said, “I just wondered… well, what time do you need to be at the airport?”
“Seven.” Said Kate, rubbing her gritty feeling eyes, “It’s ok - my alarm hasn’t even gone off yet. It’s not even 7 yet.”
“It’s nine thirty.” Said Ewan, looking worried.
“What?” Said Kate, barely understanding what he’d said.
“It’s nine thirty. What time is your flight?”
“It’s at 9.” Kate felt sick, “It was at 9. What the fuck?” She dashed over to her treacherous phone and found the screen dead - the battery drained. “Oh god damn it!” How did she always forget that this bastard thing needed plugging in. She crammed the charging jack into the hole at the bottom and stood waiting for it to come back to life. She didn’t really know if she wanted it to - it must be so full of furious messages from Polly.
“I’ll look up the next flight,” Ewan said helpfully, Kate began to scroll through the copious messages flooding her inbox from Polly.
“Polly got on the flight!” She said, reaching the part of the text message narrative where Polly announces she’s going anyway and this is the last straw.
“There’s another flight at 11. Shall I book it?” Ewan asked, glancing up from his phone.
“How much is it?” Kate chewed her thumb nail nervously.
“£137?” Kate gulped, wondering if any of her credit cards could do that. But what choice did she have? She couldn’t leave Polly in Amsterdam alone, it would be a waste of a hat.
“Yeah, better book it. Send me your details and I’ll pay you back. We’d better get in the car!”