Louise knew what she wanted and had her life all mapped out until a wild wind blew her off course.
‘Boarding pass denied.’Louise frowned at the message on the laptop screen and entered Tim’s passport number for the second time.
“What is wrong?” she grumbled. She had no problem checking herself in, but once again, there was the same dreaded response to her husband’s details.
She got up from the kitchen table, rummaged in her handbag for her mobile phone and rang the airline’s customer services. If it could be sorted out quickly, she would still get to work on time.
“Your call is important to us. Please hold.” The automated voice set her teeth on edge. She sat down, took a few deep, calming, yoga breaths, closed her eyes and let her thoughts wander.
It had taken bucket-loads of time and effort for Louise to organise their trip to Cape Cod. She had compared sites for the best deals on flights, obsessed over reviews on accommodation and devised what she hoped would be a thrilling itinerary. Kayaking, horse riding and whale watching were all booked, and she had allocated plenty of time for shopping.
Boy, did they need this holiday! Her job in human resources was hectic. She often worked late and was looking forward to a break from routine, but it was Tim who was in need of a rest the most. Under his soft grey eyes, puffy dark circles had recently appeared and he had started biting his nails again – a habit he had kicked, along with smoking, after they left university more than 10 years ago.
When he arrived home last night, he hadn’t pulled her towards him for their usual hug, nor had he mentioned the mouth-watering aroma of lamb shanks braising in the oven.
“Problems at work?” she asked, although she had guessed the answer. He had not replied, but took a drink from the fridge, slumped into a kitchen chair and stared at the bottle as he rolled it back and forth in his palms.
“They are insisting I cut corners and breach health and safety to increase profits, but I simply will not do it.”
Lou had tried to push thoughts of the expensive holiday and dreams of moving to one side. Tim was a site manager at a construction company and had always worked to the highest principles. She wouldn’t have it otherwise but could not ignore the fact that he was earning more than they imagined possible at this stage of his career.
With the huge bonus he had been promised on the completion of the apartments and their combined salaries, they would be able to move out of the maisonette and into a house sought after Mill Road. Of course, they would have to put off having children for a few more years, but still.
Tim’s voice halted her racing thoughts. “I called Steve up at the recruitment agency and he has fixed an interview for me, tomorrow at two o’clock.”
Lou had folded her arms and leaned against the kitchen counter, letting out a shaky breath. “How will you get away from work?”
Tim had shrugged. “I will say I have a doctor’s or dentist’s appointment.”
“What? Out of the blue just before we go on holiday? Won’t they be suspicious?” She opened the oven door and checked the lamb. Her appetite was diminishing as fast as the knot in her stomach was tightening.
“I do not want you to worry, Lou, this is my problem. Let us just look forward to the holiday. I am sorry I did not get time to help you sort it out.”
“It is fine, I enjoyed it.” She shut the oven door and scanned his face. “Are you sure nothing else is wrong?”
“Of course. I am just tired and hungry,” he replied, but his eyes avoided hers.
A cheerful voice brought Lou back to the present. “Good morning, Melanie speaking, how can I help?”
“At last,” Lou said, glancing at her watch and realising several minutes had passed. She explained the situation.
“Has your husband applied for a new passport since the last time you travelled to the States?” Lou bit her lip.
“We were in New York last year. It expired after we got back.”
“He needs to reapply for a new visa through the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTAs),” Melanie said. Lou tried to keep her cool.
“Tim and I had valid ESTAs for New York. I thought they lasted two years.”
“They do, but a new passport needs a new ESTA.” Louise silently berated herself. How could she have overlooked something so simple?
“But how long will that take? Our flight leaves in the morning.” Louise asked, trying to keep panic at bay.
“I can’t say definitely, but the website states anything up to 72 hours.” Louise swallowed hard, trying to dislodge what felt like a stone in her throat. “I should better get on with it, then,” she said, hoarsely.
She found the website and paid the fee. Already running late, she’d just have to hope she could print the pass later.
“How did the interview go?” Lou asked Tim. She was surprised to come home from work and find him changed and watching TV, “Didn’t you go back to the site afterwards?”
“No, I did not bother and actually, it went really well. The director seemed a nice guy.”
She sat on the arm of the sofa. Tim muted the TV and turned to look at her. He hesitated before he said.
“There is just one thing about the job which is that they do not pay as much, but what is most important is they are a more ethical company and seem to care about their employees.”
“Fine.” She had not meant to sound so abrupt, but the most pressing problem of the boarding pass had been playing on her mind all day.
“It probably happens a lot,” Tim said, after she explained. “Come on, we will try printing it now, then order a takeaway and finish packing. I can’t wait to get away.”
Louise had felt the tenseness in her shoulders ease, as the printer had clunked awake and the pass printed. It was a sign of a corner being turned she decided, although by the time they had endured a four-hour delay at the airport, a long queue through security and for car hire at Boston, plus a GPS which directed them up a wooded lane and onto private land, she was having second thoughts.
Luckily, the free map in the glove compartment put them on the right road, the keys were in a box outside the realtor’s office and by late afternoon Tim drove through open wooden gates to their rented cottage.
Louise peered through the windscreen and could not keep the disappointment from her voice. “It is not quite what I was expecting…”
In her head she was already composing a complaint to post on the website. Tim rubbed the back of his neck and let out a deep sigh.
“It is fine, Lou. We have not even seen inside yet.” It had looked lovely online. In reality, the cream weatherboarding needed a good scrub down, the driveway needed weeding and the deck could have done with a varnish. Tim unloaded the cases and stood behind Lou as she opened the door. She let out a surprised gasp. “Oh, Tim it is gorgeous!”
In the open plan living space, the afternoon sun sliced through half-open shutters at long windows, tinting a whitewashed table and chairs a magical gold. Cushions patterned with seabirds and anchors were scattered on a pebble coloured sofa and bright paintings of sailboats and lobster pots hung on pale apricot walls.
Tim mumbled in agreement and went through to the bedroom. Lou followed. The bed was covered with a multicoloured patchwork quilt, on which he placed the cases and began unpacking.
“Are you alright? You seem…” she tried to pinpoint his mood, “distracted.” Usually, as soon as they arrived at their destination, he liked to kick off his shoes, relax and leave the unpacking until later.
“I am fine. Why wouldn’t I be? I am married to a beautiful woman and we are about have a fabulous holiday. What more could I want?”
He smiled but it looked forced and she could not stop the words tumbling out.
“For the company to listen to you, make them pay attention. You deserve that position.” She almost added, and the salary, too.
The smile vanished and in its place a muscle pulsed in his jaw. Let us leave it, can we? Let us just have a good time.”
Easier said than done Lou thought, unzipping her case, but she would have to try.
Louise stirred in bed and squinted at the clock – 6am. To her surprise, when she rolled over, Tim’s side was empty. She put on her silky dressing gown and padded barefoot into the living area.
Tim was in his pyjama bottoms, sitting on the sofa, staring at his phone.
“What are you doing?” she said through a yawn as she sat beside him.
“I have just had an e-mail from Steve. I have been offered the job, Lou,” he replied with a grin.
“Great,” she said, wide awake at the news. However, when he told her the salary, she groaned.
“But Tim, that is way below what you are earning. What about sticking it out where you are, at least until you have looked round a bit more?”
He shook his head. “No, Lou. This company is building eco-friendly houses, something I am much more interested in than million pound flats. I thought you would be pleased. It is still a decent wage, but it seems all you are bothered about these days is the money.”
She saw bewilderment on his face and felt a twist of hurt in the pit of her stomach. How could he think it was money she mostly cared about? Then again, why wouldn’t he? She had been the one who pushed for expensive, jam-packed holidays and an executive style house. She had even been willing to put off having a family for a better postcode.
Tears stung her eyes. “That is not true. I love you and I am with you all the way, Tim. Please believe me.”
He blew out his cheeks. “That is a relief because they want me to start two days after we get back.”
“But won’t you need to give a month’s notice?” she asked, baffled.
He put his phone on the coffee table and looked sheepish when he said, “Not any more. The day before the interview, I walked out.”
“What?” She managed to splutter. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Because I didn’t want to worry you, or spoil the holiday. I had a big row with the director, cleared my desk and left. I was so angry. I walked around the streets for ages. I needed to sort it in my head.”
Lou shook her head, trying to absorb the news.
“And what if you had not got the job? Would you have pretended to go to work every day?” A while back she had watched a TV drama about a man who had been made redundant and did just that.
He shrugged. “Maybe,” he said.
“Oh, Tim. I don’t want you to protect me from the truth, even if you think it’s for the right reasons. Promise me you will never do something like that again.”
He hesitated before he tenderly replied. “Ok, I am sorry. I know we have always promised each other there would be no secrets.”
A warm glow of relief spread through her. She threaded her arm through his and leaned on his warm bare shoulder. From a basket of shells on the coffee table, a delightful scent reminiscent of sea spray drifted upwards.
“What are those eco-houses like?”
“Very nice and surprisingly affordable.
All solar panels, bamboo flooring and sustainable cladding,” he said. “They are not Mill Road though,” he added in a serious voice.
About to explain she did not care about Mill Road, she lifted her head and saw his wry face. It was then that she noticed a driftwood sign, hanging high up on the wall behind him.
‘We cannot direct the winds, but we can adjust our sails’,it said.
“They sound perfect,” she murmured and as they hugged, an image came into her mind of them decorating a nursery in their pretty cedar clad house.
Whatever the future had in store, she knew her passport to happiness was right here beside her.
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