The people collector

“But that’s not how I want to spend the bank holiday.”

“It’ll be all right.”

You looked at me with a slightly raised eyebrow.

“It will. I bet there’ll be lots of interesting people.”

“Interesting to who?”

There was an obvious answer. Him. Dave. My friend who had invited us to one of his garden parties in York. Since we now resided in Bristol that meant either both going or spending the weekend apart, which didn’t seem right considering we’d been living together less than six months.

I don’t know where your reluctance came from but you were never keen on meeting Dave. It must have been something I said. The way I talked about him. The way I found it so hard to explain who he was or why we were friends.

You’ve only met him once. It was a leaving meal. He couldn’t come to our farewell party so arranged to meet us in town. You liked Wendy, his wife, although you said afterwards that you couldn’t understand why she was with him.

You didn’t like Dave, and it showed. When we sat down Dave was his usual charming self and asked all about your work as a beauty technician. I found it fascinating how much he seemed to know and how germane his comments were. You felt manipulated. You said that he was showing off; that he was degrading your career, making light of it and basically saying that what you did was so simplistic that with no training he could still understand everything about it.

Eventually he gave up on you. Your answers became more and more monosyllabic. I was surprised as you usually love talking about your work. I tried to help by giving you prompts; trying to get you to tell one of your fascinating and hilarious stories about things that have gone wrong. It didn’t work. You told the tale with so little relish that it was hardly interesting at all.

“I don’t want to be in his collection.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t want to be one of the interesting people he collects.”

I’d never thought of it like that. I wondered if it was true? And if it was then what did that mean for me?

“Interesting like me, you mean?”

You didn’t answer. You didn’t want to give me the satisfaction of scoring a point. You’d either have to admit that you were wrong about him collecting interesting people, or you’d have to admit that I was an interesting person.

I smiled.

“What?”you said.

“I must be interesting. Otherwise why would you be with me?”

You smiled and our impending argument was evaded.

“What if we don’t stay with Dave? We could stay with one of your friends and then just go over for the garden party.”

It’s was compromise we could both agree to. I left you to make the arrangements while I emailed Dave to say yes to the garden party and no to his invitation to stay.

*

Things didn’t work out as planned. Sometimes life gathers momentum and once you start the ball rolling you can’t stop it. You might be able to nudge it onto a slightly different track but that’s about it.

All your friends had other plans. Not one of them was in York over the bank holiday and what surprised me was that none of them offered to let us stay in their empty homes. Dave would have if he was away. I’m sure he would.

Plan B involved a hotel. That would have worked but I let the plan slip out and Dave insisted that we stay with him. We’d run out of excuses. You suggested that we play the sick parent card but we had both inherited morals that prevented it.

We arrived exhausted by the bank holiday traffic delays. Dave was waiting with a glass of whisky for me and a multitude of choice for you. You plumped for gin and tonic and then had to choose from the six flavours on offer.

Dave was incredibly sensitive to our tiredness. He pointed out our bedroom and encouraged us to make ourselves at home. He said we should just rummage to find anything we needed. Then he left us alone to relax with our chosen tipples.

I lifted my whisky, you clinked glasses with me.

“See. It’s going to be all right,” I said.

*

It was all right. It was even better than all right, especially for you.

Dave and Wendy lived a comfortable middle aged, middle class life in a reasonably well proportioned house with a surprisingly large garden. Dave had a secure post as a university lecturer teaching creative writing. It was somewhat surprising that he hadn’t been made a professor already. It was sure to come.

You assumed that’s where I’d me him. Personally I’d admit to a huge overlap between politics and creative writing but the university keeps the two in their separate silos. I actually met Dave through whisky, but that’s another story.

Wendy was an accountant and quietly got on with earning more than Dave. She didn’t talk much about her work but Dave found it fascinating, treating it like a foreign country full of charming local culture. He was like an ambassador, making introductions and encouraging everyone to visit.

In the morning I helped Dave erect a cocktail bar in their garden while you and Wendy focussed on food.

As we carried more crates of bottles through the kitchen Dave interrupted you, “Mike tells me you want to set up your own beauty business.”

“Hair and beauty,” you replied. “With my friend Tash.”

“That’s brilliant. I remember last time we met. You told me about your work in that beauty shop in Askam. I think you were really frustrated that it wasn’t your own place. You had so many ideas. While you’re here make sure you pick Wendy’s brain. She’s a real wiz on the finances. I bet it costs a lot to get a new business going.”

You nodded and we continued into the garden. Money was your biggest concern. It was the only thing stopping you. It was the only thing you talked about. I almost laughed when I next passed by and heard you and Wendy deep in conversation about interest rates, limited companies and tax.

Guests started arriving at three. We’d both changed into our party gear. You looked great in your green dress. I’d gone for a polo shirt and jacket. It was a little too warm but I liked the way the two worked together.

You’re more garrulous than me. I like parties where you get to talk in depth with one or two people. My idea of a good night is finding a Tory voter I can influence, or a communist with a capitalist heart that I can expose. I’m always drawn to people I disagree with.

The first to arrive was a poet you’d heard of. You even remember the title and first line of one of his poems. I watched a massive smile bloom on his face, which never faded throughout the whole night. Dave looked across at me and nodded with an almost smug expression, as if he had done something clever.

Your comment about Dave collecting interesting people caused me to step back and observe. The guest did include a collection of conventionally interesting characters. Unsurprisingly there was a large smattering of writerly types, and a good number of scholars from an eclectic variety of subjects. There were also musicians, artists and other creatives such as architects, dancers and sculptors.

But there were also plenty of what I’d call ordinary people. For starters there were neighbours. Almost everyone in the street turned up and the few I managed to encounter had jobs more like Wendy’s than Dave’s.

Then there were the other friends. Like me. People Dave had picked up over the years. I’d met many of them before. There was Phil, a retired office clerk who Dave met when he lived in Leeds. Anna, a mother, whose disabled child who was currently littering the garden with raucous laughter as he moved from group to group. Simon, as usual was sat in the corner nursing a beer. I met him many times. He never said much but Dave gave him such respect that you felt there must be something more to him than met the eye. One day I hoped to find out what it was.

There were many people I’d met through Dave who had become friends. Others I had to call friends because there was no other word that fitted. They weren’t colleagues and acquaintance was too slight a word.

I realised that was Dave’s gift. Somehow he linked people up in a way that meant you almost became family. These were people I could rely on. People I could contact at no notice and get their help. I had on many occasions; to decorate rooms, for informal legal advice, to speak as my guest lecturer, for advice on holiday destinations, to fix my car.

I spotted you happily chatting to a musician who you really should have heard of. I listened to enough of your conversation to realise you’d be caught in Dave’s net. The musician’s next gig was in Bristol and you offered our spare room. That was reluctantly declined but a plan hatched for a late night meal at our favourite Thai restaurant and I heard your phone beep as it accepted free VIP tickets.

*

I was still wide awake. I thought you’d dropped off, but you turned towards and told me someone called Max was going to lend you money to start your new venture. I wanted to know more but you were slipping into sleep. You sensed my anxiety and stayed awake long enough to tell me not to worry. You’d worked it all out with Wendy who had written up an agreement. It wasn’t a legal contact but it spelled out how the loan would work and anyway Max was all right. Dave trusted him.

I thought about Dave’s panoply of guests. A whole garden flooded with interesting people; from the man who cleaned Dave’s carpet to the Bishop of Knaresborough. Some of them were interesting in their own right, others, indeed the majority were made interesting by Dave. By his interest in them. By his unerring ability to find their spark and combine it with other flames in a wonderful conflagration that destroyed barriers and ignited possibilities.

I gently slipped out of bed. There was a spare dressing gown on the back of the door. I quietly descended the stairs secure in the knowledge that my chance of finding a good whisky was a certainty rather than a mere possibility.

One boy and the sea

The bright sun reflected off the wet sand and dazzled him as he stood before the calm sea. He held his hand up, covering the sun, and allowing him to look across the beach. It surprised him that people were able to paddle so far out. He could see children even younger than himself standing in shallows that only reached their knees.

It was such a perfect day that Michael only had two worries. His first and biggest was that he’d get sunburnt again. Most people assumed that because of his dark skin he wouldn’t burn, but last summer in Spain painfully proved that wasn’t the case.

He second worry was the cold. The air temperature may match Spain, but the water temperature on the east coast of Britain wasn’t even close to that in the Mediterranean.

Michael decided to paddle. He stepped forward and the sea brushed against his toes. Another few steps and the water stroked his ankle. It wasn’t as cold as he had expected and he kept walking forward towards the people playing on the sand bank.

The coldest moment was when the water reached his waist. He hadn’t planned to go that deep but the sand dipped down in a channel between him and his goal. It was only a short distance and then he’d rise back up onto shallower ground.

Michael’s foot came down on nothing and he tumbled forward. The cold shock stung him but he was a competent swimmer so quickly righted himself and started swimming across the deep trough. He only had a short distance to go; less than half the length of his usual swimming pool.

His favourite swimming stroke was back stroke but his front crawl was perfectly adequate. His arms swung forward and his cupped hands pulled against the salty water. One stroke, two, ten, twenty. His arms were feeling the work he was putting into them but he still hadn’t reached the safety of the sand bank.

He paused and doggy paddled while he looked up. The distance hadn’t shrunk at all. If anything the sand bank looked further away. He realised that he wasn’t just floating in one spot; the current was dragging him along the channel of water that separated the beach from the sand bank.

Michael angled his strokes against the pull and made some progress. He soon tired and slowed. Immediately the water carried him back and the sand bank once more receded from his grasp.

He gave up and turned back towards the beach but the currents gripped him in a chill embrace and tugged him away.

As his tired arm lifted Michael turned his head to take a much needed breath. A small, gentle wave slapped his arm and water splashed back into his mouth. He breathed it in.

Water instead of air.

Water that choked.

His head was too low. More water entered his mouth and filled his lungs. He desperately kicked his legs and pulled with his aching arms to raise his head enough that he could cough out and breathe in pure air.

The beach was only a short distance away. He had swam further. Much, much, further. All he had to do was keep going. One big effort and then once his feet touched the sand he could rest.

He decided to do twenty strokes before looking again. He bravely put his head down remembering all he had been taught. He stretched and glided with his arms. He kicked with his legs. He took a breath on each upstoke, exaggerating his head lift to account for any waves.

One stroke, two, three… twenty.

He allowed his feet to sink. He pushed down with outstretched arms and lifted his head to see.

The beech had moved. The ice cream van was further to his right. The deck chair seller was directly ahead. The car park was creeping across in front of him even as he watched. And all of it was still out of reach. Still too many strokes away.

He ducked his head down and counted stokes once more.

One, two, three… forty.

He’d planned on doing fifty but didn’t have the energy. His legs had no power. His arms were flapping and dragging through the water with no real pull.

The current had pulled him sideways and out towards the open ocean.

He took another stroke.

And one more.

The last of his strength ebbed away.

He could see people. People building sand castles, eating ice-creams, sun bathing, playing cricket, kicking balls, hitting balls, throwing balls, chasing dogs, laughing happy people.

He tried to wave his arms. He tried to shout but couldn’t.

His head bobbed down and coldness covered him.

He rose again and snatched a breath.

A small, quiet wave enveloped him.

Another lifted him momentarily.

A screech caused him to look up. A gull slid passed silhouetted against the blue sky, stripped of all colour except for its yellow beak that seemed to glow intensely in the sunlight.

Michael forced his arm to stretch up. His noticed the water drops glistening against the dark background of his skin. He dropped his arm back down into the swell and tried to pull a handful of water towards him.

The gull landed on the top of a wave. He watched it rise and fall. Its serene eye turned toward him and then flicked up as another gull flew overhead.

With insolent ease the gull flapped and lifted out of the sea’s clutches and into the sky.

Michael couldn’t flap, couldn’t fly.

He stopped fighting. His feet floated down. His exhausted arms fell to his side.

He looked up at the birds as they rose and fell, playing with air currents he couldn’t see.

He tipped back, stretched out his arms, lifted his legs and floated.

His head was half submerged.

His ears filled with salty silence.

The sun warm on his face.

He closed his eyes.

And smiled.

The sea rocked him.

He remembered lying in a blanket while his mum and dad gently swung him from side to side.

The sea held him.

He remembered their loving arms around him.

The sea murmured in his ear.

He remembered their sweet goodnight kisses.

The sea carried him up and down, in and out, around and around.

He opened his eyes and looked up.

The gulls were gone.

The sun was behind him.

He paddled to turn.

Looked between his feet.

Saw his mum waving at him.

He wanted to wave back.

He let his feet drop down and prepared to make one last effort to lift his arm.

His feet struck gold.

Sand fumbled against his toes and held him firm.

His tired legs lifted him.

Water released his head, his hands, his heart.

He laughed.

He waved.

He walked.

Into his mother’s safe embrace.

Recipe for success

She swore at the prime minister who had just announced a covid lockdown.

Like many people she’d been obsessed with the covid data and knew that lockdown made sense, but why couldn’t he have waited for a week. She started her new job on Monday and she hadn’t even met her work colleagues. How was she expected to work from home when she had no idea what she was doing or how to do it remotely?

At least her boss was understanding. She basically told Pippa to take it easy; join the video conference meetings and read up on the company website. They’d send her the IT equipment she needed. Until that arrived she could take the time to get herself settled in her new home.

She’d been so excited to move to out of her parents’ home and take up her new job. It was her first time living outside of London, first time renting a flat and first time she had ever lived on her own. Lockdown hadn’t been part of the plan. She couldn’t really get to know her new city when nothing was open.

The office laptop arrived quickly as the company already had home based workers even before covid made it essential. Logging in was easy as everything had been tried and tested by others before her. The problem was that having logged in she didn’t know what she was supposed to do. She’d not only missed the office tour but also the induction and training. Once again her manager told her not to worry and to do what she could. They’d organise remote training and she’d soon be up to speed.

The training never happened. Instead Pippa was put on furlough. As the manager explained, it made sense for her to be furloughed as currently she was the least productive member of the team.

Pippa’s friends were jealous of her getting paid for doing nothing. It wasn’t as good as they imagined, not when she was in a strange city and only allowed out to exercise. She considered going home but she’d have to pay for the flat whether she lived in it or not, and it would feel like a failure going back to her parents.

She filled her time with computer games, scrolling through endless social media and obsessing over the covid data. When lockdown eased things should have improved. But that was the moment it really hit her. She went for a walk every day and managed to say good morning many times, but the only people she spoke to for more than ten seconds were ones delivering her shopping.

She was bored with computer games and couldn’t pester her friends with more video conference calls. That’s when the overripe bananas forced her to start baking. That first banana loaf came out really well. But Pippa didn’t post a picture – she’d seen too many on social media already and didn’t want to join the banana bread trend.

The shops started to reopen and in a charity shop she found a book on cake baking. It was slim with just twenty recipes. It took her less than a week to make every cake and apart from the pumpkin roll they tasted lovely.

She looked around her kitchen and wondered what to do. Monday’s cakes were stale, Tuesday’s were not great, but the rest of them were still good to eat. She couldn’t bring herself to bin them but she couldn’t eat more – she was sure she had put on several pounds already.

She picked up the lemon drizzle cake and took it to the door of her downstairs neighbour. An old woman answered and was so insistent that Pippa broke covid rules to share cake over a cup of tea.

The next neighbour she met was the woman from upstairs. She looked frazzled by home schooling and confined children. The chocolate brownie cake almost had her in tears. She quickly fed it to her twins and returned to the doorway to chat for almost five uninterrupted minutes.

Pippa still had too many cakes. She placed them in a large carrier bag and followed her phone’s directions to the local park where she fed stale cake to ducks and tried to give away fresh cake to strangers.

Finally she found someone willing to accept her gift. A woman called Maddy who was walking her dog accepted some coffee cake and that caused such an avalanche of interest that very quickly all the cakes were gone.

Pippa liked routines. Even when she worked flexible hours she always started and finished at the same time each day. With no externally imposed timetable she had to make her own, which meant she baked all morning and then took the cake for a walk to the park, where it would practically disappear before she was though the gate.

One of the regular cake eaters set up a social media account to post pictures of each cake. Pippa found herself watching the account all afternoon and evening to see what would be said. She started posting her own photo of each cake before it was cut up, and soon took over the social media account.

Her chocolate orange ombre cake earned over one thousand likes and resulted in her first cake sale. Maddy wanted one just like it for her husband’s birthday, and insisted on paying.

When Pippa’s six month tenancy was due to expire, her landlord asked if she wanted to renew it. Pippa didn’t hesitate to sign. Things were so much better than they had been at the start of the pandemic. She had a whole group of friends, a wonderful hobby and an active social media presence that she enjoyed managing.

The next morning everything changed. She received an email from her boss informing her that they were ending the furlough scheme and wanted Pippa to resume work the following week.

Pippa still made her banoffee gateau as planned and took it to the park. She sat on her usual bench. Maddy poured them both a cup of coffee from her flask.

“What’s wrong? You don’t look great.”

“Work are ending the furlough scheme. Back to boring office work on Monday.”

“What?” said Maddy. “I thought you were a baker.”

“Oh no, this is just a hobby.”

“Just!” said Maddy.

Back at home, Pippa sat in front of her computer reminding herself how to do her job. She was disturbed by the doorbell and welcomed the distraction of her neighbour’s children calling for the slices of cake she always saved for them. Once they’d gone she took a slice down to Gladys, the old lady who lived below her. Gladys made tea and told Pippa all the latest apartment block gossip. It didn’t take Gladys long to learn about Pippa’s imminent return to work.

“What should I do?” asked Pippa.

“You’re a cake maker. You should do that.”

“I can’t afford to do that.”

“How can you afford not to do what you love?”

Pippa returned to her flat and read through her social media. Without thinking she wrote about her dilemma and then turned the computer off, slipped into a hot bath and went to bed with no recipe planned for the morning. Maybe she should stop baking. She’d done a cake every day for six months, now she had to return to the real world.

Next day she booted up her computer and was overwhelmed by thousands of messages. Each one told her to ditch her job and set up as a baker. She stopped reading after the first hundred and turned to her work emails where there was yet another message from her boss.

She wanted Pippa to come to the office that day for a face-to-face meeting. Pippa couldn’t refuse; they were still paying her salary. She about to reply when she noticed a postscript asking if she could bring one of her cakes.

Pippa rushed into her kitchen looking for inspiration. She found it in a pineapple; an upside-down cake seemed very appropriate to her life at that moment.

It was late afternoon by the time Pippa returned from her meeting. She’d saved one slice of pineapple upside-down cake and took it to Gladys.

“My boss liked my cake so much that she made me redundant.”

“My dear, that makes no sense at all.”

Pippa laughed.

“She’d read my social media and only called me in to the office so that she could see if my cakes were as good as everyone said. She took one mouthful and then offered to make me redundant. She said I was wasted in insurance and she’d fixed things so that I would get a decent redundancy payment and could become a baker.”

“So you can pay your rent and do something you love.”

“For now, but it’s not going to be easy and I’ll need your help.”

“Me. What can I do?”

“You can be my taster and tell me if the cakes are good enough to sell.”

Gladys and Pippa clinked their cups together to seal their agreement.

Do you love me?

“Do you actually love me?”

He hesitated and she took that as an answer without waiting to hear what he had to say. It was raining, he was cold and he was following her up a mountain so that she could tick it off her list. If that wasn’t love he didn’t know what was.

He watched her walk on with aggressive steps until she was lost to his sight in the mist ahead. He shook his head wondering why he hadn’t just said yes. He did love her. He did. He only hesitated because he was trying to think of the right way to say it.

They’d been together one or two years. It was hard to know exactly. Should he start from the day they met, the day they first kissed, their first night together, the moment they admitted to friends that they were together, or maybe when they changed their status on social media to say that they were in a relationship – which Angie did three weeks before he did.

None of those and all of those could be seen as the start of their relationship but for Mark the moment that really mattered was when they met his mother.

It wasn’t planned. They were travelling to Bristol to visit friends and he decided to take a detour to show her Gloucester cathedral where he used to sing in the choir. Angie probably wouldn’t have been interested if the vaulted cloisters hadn’t been used in Harry Potter films.

They had seen the film locations and Mark was showing Angie his personal choir stall when he was startled to hear his mother’s voice.

“Mark. I didn’t know you were in Gloucester.”

“Mum. We’re just passing through. I wanted to show Angie where I used to sing.”

Mark’s mother turned to gaze at Angie.

“Have you heard him sing?”

“No. Not really.”

“You must. He was such a cute choir boy. And had such a wonderful voice.”

“Really?”

“I know. You would never guess would you? I’ll tell you what let’s get some drinks in the cafe and I’ll get them to play a recording.”

“Mum!” protested Mark.

Angie didn’t protest at all. She linked arms with his mother as if they’d know each other all their lives. He was left to walk alone in their wake, catching half sentences about embarrassing incidents from his childhood.

He was doing it again – following in Angie’s wake. He trudged up the path, which had become a small stream. He couldn’t hear her talking up ahead but that was hardly surprising as it was just the two of them. Everyone else had decided it was too wet to go mountain walking.

“Angie.”

He got no reply. She was probably still miffed with him. Why did she ask him that, half way up a mountain in the rain, in the middle of a cold February day? That question should have been saved for when they were alone and snuggled together in bed.

The path was getting steeper with small waterfalls cascading over wet rocks. Mark’s foot slipped and he fell forward onto the ground with his head almost in the stream. Water took the opportunity to insinuate its way behind his neck and slide its icy fingers down his back.

He pushed himself upright. His hands were cold. He clenched his fists and water drops poured from his soaking gloves.

He called out louder this time. Still no response. He looked up. The mist had cleared slightly and he could see further up the gully. It narrowed and steepened. Not far in front of him was a larger waterfall that looked like it might be as tall as he was. Angie wasn’t in sight. She must have passed the waterfall already but Mark wasn’t sure how she would have done it.

He assumed there must be a path up the side that he couldn’t see from where he stood, but when he reached the waterfall there was no obvious path. The only way ascend was to climb up through the waterfall.

He wasn’t doing that. Maybe he didn’t love Angie as much as he thought. He wasn’t going to follow her through a freezing shower of melt water just so that she could reach the top today rather than coming back in the summer.

“Mark. What the heck are you doing up there?”

He looked down to see Angie.

“I thought you were ahead of me.”

“Don’t be daft. Why would I go up there?”

Mark was pleased that they were talking again but felt that the conversation was somehow not really within his grasp.

“Shall I come down to you?”

“Duh. Unless you want to kill yourself.”

It felt much steeper going down. Mark took it slowly, testing each foot before committing his weight to it.

“What were you doing?”

“I was just following you.”

“If you wanted to follow me you should have stuck to the path.”

Angie pointed. Mark with his head down hadn’t noticed that the path and the stream had diverged.

“You could have really hurt yourself up there.”

Mark nodded and stepped onto the path. His foot landed on a loose rock and slipped causing his full weight to come down on his ankle just as it twisted sideways. He toppled over.

He looked up at Angie whose face was full of concern.

“Well you can’t say I haven’t fallen for you,” he said.

She smiled and held out her hand to help him up.

Pain made him flinch.

“Are you okay?”

“I think I’ve sprained my ankle.”

“It’s not broken is it?”

“No. Just a bit sore. It’ll be alright. I’ll walk it off.”

Mark took a few hobbling steps.

“Maybe we should head back,” said Angie.

“No. I’ll be fine.”

“Here. Take the walking sticks.”

“Okay. Go on. I’ll follow. But no running.”

Each step was agony, even with the sticks. He tried to keep the pain out of his face, and tried to walk normally whenever Angie looked back. He saved his hobbles for when she turned away.

“How far is it?”

“Maybe an hour.”

Mark leant against a large boulder.

“I’m sorry Angie. I don’t think I can do it. My foot’s pretty bad. Why don’t I wait here?”

“You can’t do that. You’d freeze. And I don’t want to go on my own in these conditions. Come on let’s have a look. We’ll need to take your boot off.”

Mark managed to only let out a whimper of pain. His ankle was clearly swollen but he could still move it so they assumed it wasn’t broken. Angie helped him limp over to a rock next to an icy pool. The cold water numbed the pain. He hoped it would also reduce the swelling and make it easier to get his boot back on.

“I’m sure it will be fine if I go slowly. And once we can see the top I’ll turn round and start heading back down. You’ll soon catch me.”

“It’s a shame Dave’s not here.”

“Yeah. Then you could up with him, while I head down.”

“I meant as a physio. He’d know what to do with your ankle. I’ll give him a ring and see what he says.”

“I don’t think there’s much he can do up here.”

“No signal. I’ll call him on the way down once we get one.”

Mark waited until the pain of the cold water had overcome the pain from the injury. Angie dried his foot on her fleece and then helped to ease it back into his boot. Angie was insistent that they needed to head straight down.

It wasn’t easy and without sticks he wasn’t sure he would have been able to do it at all. Angie managed to get through to Dave who gave reassurance that the ankle was very unlikely to be broken and walking on it wasn’t going to do more harm even if it did hurt. He also said that the whole gang would come up to help them.

Mark and Angie continued to descend. They reached the tarn and sat at the edge of the water. Mark looked at Angie and suddenly knew what he wanted to say to her. They weren’t his own words but they expressed how he felt. He rehearsed them in his head and nervousness started to dry out his mouth. He took a sip of chocolate and three slow breaths. He had decided not just what to say but also how to say it.

Angie jumped up onto the rock and shouted.

“Look. It’s Dave and the others.”

Mark cursed.

“Where’s the invalid?” said Dave. “Come on mate, let’s see what’s up.”

Dave inspected Mark’s foot and then pulled some strapping from his back-pack. “This’ll provide some support. It’ll still hurt like hell but there’s nothing broken.”

The rain had stopped and small breaks appeared in the cloud. Diane unloaded a feast. Tanya contemplated taking a dip in the lake but even she wasn’t brave enough once she had felt the water temperature.

“Come on,” said Dave. “We ought to get moving before Mark seizes up.”

Mark reached over and took Angie’s hand. “Wait a moment. I want to tell you something.”

Angie waited but Mark didn’t speak.

“Go on then,” said Angie.

Mark looked around at the others who were packing things up ready to leave.

Angie pulled her hand out from his.

“If you’re not going to say it now we may as well get on.”

“Please,” said Mark.

Angie settled back down. Mark took a few calming breaths and then started to sing.

He began nervously and quietly, too aware of everyone nearby and not wanting them to hear. But when he saw the smile forming on Angie’s face he forgot everything and everybody except for her and the borrowed words that told so well how much he loved her.