By Susan Healy

Jack came trundling down the stairs with a resigned look on his face. “Let’s get you to the airport then, your carriage awaits,” he announced somewhat glumly.
It was a beautiful morning and there was a lovely change in the weather. The sun was beaming down from a cloudless azure blue sky. Miriam was looking forward to seeing her friend, Zoe, in London.

“See you in a couple of days, Buster,” she chirped as she knelt down to give the terrier a goodbye kiss.  She would miss her canine friend.

Miriam walked out into the bright sunshine and the glare temporarily blinded her. She glanced up into the sky and she could make out a jet trail leaving milky streaks across the heavens. Soon that would be her, and she couldn’t wait. The excitement was fever pitch; she loved the thrill of flying.

Jack carefully placed her weekend bag into the boot. In the car she watched Jack’s expression but his eyes were fixed on the road ahead.

Good old reliable Jack, he was as steady as a rock she sighed to herself. A part of her wished he was more spontaneous at times. A partner of a friend was forever showering her with gifts and impulsive weekends away to romantic destinations. But maybe there was more to love than extravagant gestures.

She thought of her friend, Grace, who was going to a hotel in the west with her family. A wave of nausea swept over her. She remembered being there once and it was hideous. The corridors were over-run with screaming children and they were skidding around the place like Michael Flatley on ecstasy! Their voices reverberated throughout the hotel.
She remembered one couple in particular who seemed to have locked their children out of the hotel room.

She shuddered when she thought of what their hidden motives might be. She didn’t envy her.

Soon they were approaching the airport and the car veered sharply towards the left on the off-ramp from the motorway. She felt the excitement bubbling up inside her. She loved seeing the Departures and Arrivals sign in big lettering on the overhead gantry.
Jack parked the car in the Arrivals section, in the set-down area.

“Gosh, I will miss you,” Miriam threw her arms around Jack in a warm embrace. She kissed him affectionately.

“Right, I will have to dash now, see you Monday.”

She wheeled her suitcase into the main concourse and for one overwhelming moment, she felt lost.

Already, she missed Jack’s presence guiding her through the various checkpoints with all the requisite documents to hand.

She needed to keep switched on and not get distracted by the Aladdin’s cave that was the Duty Free Shop. Finally, she was checked in and she was on her way through Security. Suddenly, a sense of freedom overtook her. She felt exhilarated and it felt intoxicating like a glass of wine. Her head spun and excitement coursed through her veins.  

She would grab a quick coffee in Butlers and do one of her favourite activities – people watch. She flopped into a chair and felt the familiar vibration of her phone. She had sixth sense as far as that was concerned. She could almost divine when somebody texted her. It was a message from Zoe.

“Can’t wait to see you. Look out for me in Terminal Two.” She couldn’t wait to see her friend now.

In a lot of ways she envied her, she had great position in an American Bank and she was married to a drop-dead gorgeous guy. She could go off to any destination worldwide at the drop of a hat.  

She trotted off down towards the gate where they were calling all those travelling with small children. Miriam glanced down at her boarding ticket. Great, she had a window seat. She felt elated, like a child at Christmas.

She squeezed her eyes tight as the plane hurtled down the runway at full throttle. The engines whined loud and finally they were up, up and away. She looked down at the ground beneath her and the dinky patchwork of green fields below.

Miriam must have nodded off but she awoke with a jolt as the plane banked sharply to the left, as it flew over the city of London. She could make out the building known as ‘The Gherkin’ and a few other notable landmarks.

They were flying over the Thames now; she could see it glittering below her.  She took out a lozenge to suck to help her ears acclimatise to the change in pressure.

Before she knew it, the plane touched down in Heathrow.

She made her way out of the new Terminal 2 building and Zoe held a big sign, ‘Welcome to London, Miriam’. Miriam ran towards her friend and embraced her warmly.
“Gosh, it’s great to see you,” declared Miriam.
“C’mon, I’ll help you with the bags and we’ll jump on the Paddington Express and we will be in Central London in no time,” replied Zoe excitedly. The friends chatted animatedly catching up on gossip about shared friends and some ex-colleagues.
Miriam, with her newfound freedom, couldn’t help giggling like a schoolgirl.

They were going to drop their bags in Zoe’s flat in Hammersmith and then hit the shops in High Street Kensington. Later, they would have a meal at a restaurant in Covent Garden and Zoe had invited some of her friends from work to catch-up at a pub in the Strand called the ‘Coal Hole’.                                                  

Next morning, Miriam awoke early but she was still feeling groggy from the night before. Zoe stumbled into her room and sat down beside her friend on the bed.
In the cool light of day, Miriam noticed that her friend looked pale and drawn.
“Listen, Miriam I have something to tell you. Sam and myself are going through a trial separation. He has been having loads of affairs and whilst at first I turned a blind eye to it, I can’t continue to live like this.”
“Gosh, Zoe, I am so sorry. I thought you two were really happy,” said Miriam and she leant over and gave her friend a warm hug. Miriam could see the tears glistening in her friend’s eyes, threatening to spill down her cheeks at any minute.
“Today, why don’t we go to the National Gallery and grab some lunch afterwards” enthused Zoe.
“Yes that sounds like a plan,” agreed Miriam.

Just at that moment, she heard a ping from her phone, the telltale sign of an incoming text. It was from Jack. “Hope you are having a lovely time.  Missing you and looking forward to seeing you later XXX Jack.”

Miriam glowed from the inside. She always thought that Jack was ordinary but really he was quite special in his own inimitable way.

He might not be the flashiest husband but he was always there for her. She realised that she had been taking him for granted. She had been so envious of Zoe, great job, gorgeous husband and lovely lifestyle, but everything was not as it seemed.
What seemed like an idyllic existence from a distance was rapidly unraveling for Zoe. Miriam felt sorry for her friend.

She was sure this ‘trial separation’ was very painful for her. However, in the circumstances it was the best option for Zoe. “I have really missed you these last few days and I can’t wait to see you later XXX M,” Miriam replied to the earlier text from Jack.  It had been a wonderful weekend but she couldn’t wait to get home now and see Jack.

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