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Fiction Friendship

“That’ll be fine,” said Naomi, when the smartly dressed young woman with the intimidatingly sincere smile on the Reception Desk at the Sea Breeze holiday village told her of the new arrangements. But she was barely out of the reception area with its tamed cacti and unnaturally glossy yucca plants when she thought. No. No it isn’t fine at all. Why did I say it?

She knew why she had said it, and there was not one reason, but two, and they were intertwined and contradictory. Naomi had known what manuals written for counsellors call Challenging Times. She knew what it was to sleep rough, and to eke benefit payments out. But now, though she supposed she would probably never be rich, she was not poor any longer either. She knew she was at best only partly responsible for it, though she had picked up her writing again when she had no real urge, and started having some short stories accepted, though she had to admit that probably did more for her pride than her bank balance, and had voluntarily taken on extra “graveyard shifts” at the taxi office where the friend of a friend had found her a job. But the lottery win had played a pretty large role, and she didn’t intend discounting it. Oh, it wasn’t life-changing money, but her weekly scratchcard had furnished her with what people tended to call a “nice little win” – enough to put some by, and allow herself the occasional treat, like this long weekend at the Sea Breeze holiday village. So she was not wont to complain about minor inconveniences and setbacks as she knew what the real thing was like and had no wish to experience it again. But she also recognised in her more introspective moments (and she couldn’t always chase them away or distract herself) that there were less admirable reasons too. It was, in a way, no more significant than a correct use of commas by a reasonably literate person. And she knew that while some people thought her amenable and obliging, and liked those traits, others found her rather bland and too easily pleased.

Still, all habits are hard to break, especially when you don’t really want to, and the words had slipped out almost before the smartly dressed young woman had finished her sentence.

She had seen the advertisements for the Sea Breeze holiday village, and it appealed to her at once. It was, indeed, near the sea, but also set in a wood that really did look as if it had been there for longer than 15 years, and there was something about that combination of understatement and comfort that appealed to her.

Reluctantly, she had realised that especially as she was a solo traveller (which was something she much preferred) she couldn’t justify booking one of the little bungalows, but the regular rooms were still – well, fine, and, as she told herself, from her balcony she would be able to see further across the wood and the sea than the bungalow-dwellers would from their terraces. So it had its advantages. But all the same, at first she had felt her heart leap when the receptionist said, “Ms Forester, I’m afraid you can’t stay in the room you booked, as there has been an issue with the plumbing – we feel very bad about this. But we are happy to offer you one of the bungalows instead, and at no extra cost – indeed, we’re going to offer you a discount for any inconvenience. But – the thing is – the fault has affected Room 14, too, the one next to yours, and you would have to share the bungalow. They are made for at least 4 people, though.”

And that was when the default, “That’ll be fine,” slipped out. When it was not, in fact, fine at all. Naomi was not (she told herself) an anti-social person. No indeed, people always said she had a pleasant manner and was easy to talk to. But she had her boundaries. One reason why the job in the cab office had appealed to her so much (apart from being glad of any job!) was that she was frequently left to her own devices. She didn’t mind that in the least. She had never shared a room in her life. She was on the point of thinking that she would prefer to be back sleeping on the open-ended shelter on the station platform than sharing a room with someone, but hurriedly checked the thought. There was such a thing as tempting fate.

But she was still on the point of making her way back to the reception desk and saying that she appreciated such things happened, but on reflection she wasn’t really satisfied with the alternative arrangements and would cancel her holiday. Though she wasn’t one of those people who automatically “knew their rights” about such things, she was pretty sure that at the very least they would have to offer her a full refund of her deposit. It would be a disappointment, but she wasn’t a child, and there would be plenty of other chances for such a little treat, and there were plenty of alternatives to the Sea Breeze holiday village.

“Oh – oh excuse me, are you Naomi?” Naomi felt herself going into what she termed full Maiden Aunt mode. She had never been one to stand on ceremony, and in the cab business surnames often didn’t seem to exist, but something about this stranger addressing her that way without a by your leave irritated her. She all but said, “I am Ms Forester, yes,” but settled for the half way house of “I am Naomi Forester.” As she did, she turned to face the woman who had spoken, and realised that she almost seemed to be an identikit picture of all the little things that annoyed her and she knew it was unfair and small-spirited, but she couldn’t help it. She seemed to think that wearing everything, whether it was her spiky-heeled shocking pink shoes or her see-through silvery top (though Naomi had to concede, at least she was wearing a bra, even if a dark coloured one wasn’t really a good idea) just a little bit too small made her look slimmer, though of course it had the opposite effect. Naomi had no problem at all with women who were plump – she knew she ought to lose a few pounds herself, but diets always started tomorrow – but wished they wouldn’t fall for this fallacy. Nor did she have any especial issues with women who coloured their hair – she had tried a Hint of a Tint shade of chestnut herself, though it had only succeeded in giving her ginger dandruff, and she wasn’t even normally prone to dandruff. But no hair was ever meant to be that shade of metallic pinkish blonde, and anyway it clashed horribly with the clunky, clinky red stone necklace round her neck.

But worst of all was that voice. When a lot of your work was on the phone, you got used to most kinds of voices, but that didn’t mean you got inured to them. Still, when each individual voice was only heard for a few minutes asking for a taxi at 3 at the hospital or at 8 at the leisure centre, it wasn’t too bad. She would (for she had realised that this woman was sharing the bungalow with her, it hardly took skills of intuition of the Miss Marple grade) be forced into company with this woman. And oh, that voice! It wasn’t that it was exactly squawky, or exactly screechy, and it wasn’t pretentious or pseudo posh. Indeed, in a four year old girl excited about her birthday party it might even have been endearing. Well, for about five minutes.

“I’m Krystal,” she said, and Naomi didn’t need to see it written down to know that she spelt it with a “K”. She shook hands with Naomi, though she was wearing so many rings it was hard to find any actual hand to shake. “Well, this is a thing, isn’t it?”

That wasn’t quite the expression Naomi would have used, though she supposed that gastric flu and electricity bills were also “things” and that didn’t mean you had to take any pleasure in them.

“You got here first, so you have first dibs on bedrooms!” Krystal said.

“Thank you,” said Naomi stiffly. She tried to think quickly. There were three bedrooms in the bungalow. Normally she would have gone for the one nearest the sea, but she chose an alternative, reasoning that the one next door to it was the smallest one, and she couldn’t see Krystal going for that. To her relief, at least on that point, she was proven right. She couldn’t help looking longingly and bitterly at the lounge. It was every bit as lovely as it looked on the website and in the ads, but she doubted she would be spending much time in there.

Krystal sat down on the comfortable wickerwork sofa, and patted the seat beside her. Does she expect me to woof and snuggle up, Naomi wondered. “I know we have our unpacking to do, but let’s just enjoy this for a few minutes, eh? Oh, would you see the size of that telly!”

Now Naomi was not one of those people who are termed TV snobs. There were a great many programmes she liked, and they were by no means all educational. But she had a feeling (for there were no televisions in the bedrooms in the bungalow, rather to her surprise) that if she sought entertainment, then it would be on her phone. She’d had some qualms about splashing out on a smartphone, but now decided it was money decidedly well spent.

An inconvenient little voice in her mind chided her for being antisocial, but another voice replied that she had a right to be. It was quite ridiculous that some folk seemed to think (or felt compelled to say) that not being delighted about having unexpected company was up there with mass murder, arson in a naval dockyard, and the taking of candy from babies. She made unwilling small talk for a while, then – after all, Krystal had acknowledged this was necessary! – said, “Well, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get my unpacking done.” They retired to their relative bedrooms and did their unpacking, though in Naomi’s case it was fairly minimal. She didn’t feel as if she were on holiday. And when Krystal, who had changed into an off the shoulder orange dress proposed a “girls’ night out” at the clubhouse, she made the oldest and least convincing excuse in the book and pleaded a headache. “Oh, poor you!” she exclaimed. “Yes, you have a lie down. Here, I always come prepared!” she took out a packet of aspirins and fetched a glass of water. Naomi meekly took the unnecessary medication , though thinking it was a wonder she didn’t have a real life headache.

She stayed in the lounge for a while, but felt uneasy, and though she was inclined to think once Krystal was in the clubhouse she was there for the duration, she couldn’t be 100% sure. She retreated to her bedroom and discovered that no matter how good your phone was and what the ads said watching a David Attenborough documentary on your phone just wasn’t the same. She heard Krystal come in, and wished there were locks on the bedroom doors (there really ought to be! All in all the holiday village was letting her down somewhat!) but to her immense relief, she heard her visit the bathroom and then make her way to her own bedroom without knocking on Naomi’s bedroom door. She fell into an uneasy but rather too deep sleep, and when she woke up, just as the sun was rising, she discovered she really did have a headache, though of the niggling rather than throbbing kind. I suppose it serves me right , she thought. Some fresh air will probably shift it.

The sunrise over the sea was glorious, but the North Sea coasts can be very capricious when it comes to the weather, and as soon as the sun had painted the morning it disappeared behind gathering stormclouds and it started to pour it down. Now THAT is what I really needed, thought Naomi. Reluctantly, she made her way back to the bungalow – it would be two hours before the clubhouse opened. To her surprise, especially after her late night, it seemed that Krystal was an early riser, too, and to her dismay she was already in the kitchen, though she was still wearing a fluffy pink dressing gown. “Would you like a coffee?” she asked. Well, thought Naomi, credit where it’s due, to judge by the smell she at least knows how to make decent coffee. “Who’d have thought it would start peeing it down?” Naomi winced at the phrase “peeing it down” – and yet she had used it herself before now.

“I expect it will clear later,” she said. Make polite conversation!

“Listen, Naomi,” she said, as they sat down – Naomi made sure she claimed an armchair! Oh no, not what I suppose she’d call girly talk! “I – know you don’t like this and I’m sorry ….”

“Well, it’s hardly your fault,” she conceded – and realised that the other woman’s voice was trembling a little.

“I always was more of a sociable person myself, but then – Geoff – he was my husband – got ill…..” Naomi suddenly noticed what she hadn’t the previous day, in among Krystal’s panoply of rings, there was just one – a simple gold band – on her wedding ring finger, “He had premature dementia – he was only in his forties ……”

“Oh God, how awful,” muttered Naomi, and for the first time this was not polite small talk. Her own grandfather had suffered from Alzheimer’s, but at least he hadn’t been afflicted until he was in his eighties.

“I hardly saw anyone but him and the doctor for nearly three years – and I didn’t mind ….” She broke off. “That’s crap. Of course I minded. Why the hell shouldn’t I have minded seeing a man who was full of energy and life and made me laugh the way nobody else ever could being reduced to that? Anyway – six months ago he had a heart attack – he died, and – my feelings were all over the place. I’m sorry, Naomi, I shouldn’t be offloading this on you. And I will respect your space, I promise you. I’ll just – just irritate them at the clubhouse.”

“Why don’t we go there for breakfast together when it opens?”

“You’re just saying that out of sympathy ….”

“No I’m not. Well – as you put it, that’s crap. Of course I feel sorry for you after what you’ve been through, and any half way decent person would. But I genuinely would like to have breakfast with you.”

Well, Naomi and Krystal didn’t become absolute bosom buddies over that weekend. It was too short a time and they were, after all, very different people. But they came to enjoy each others’ company (and Naomi found herself confiding in Krystal about her own misfortunes) – in Naomi’s case to realise that company wasn’t always a bad thing, and in Krystal’s, to realise that if someone sometimes preferred their own company, that was something you respected. They promised to keep in touch, and they have.

Sometimes, just occasionally, things can turn out well after all! Even when they start with the plumbing going wrong!

March 04, 2021 09:00

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2 comments

Molly Quinnell
21:46 Mar 10, 2021

wow, this is really cool! i love how Naomi's own ideas and assumptions were challenged, and i thought it was great how fleshed out you made Naomi's character in such a short amount of time. just one thing though, maybe watch the description in some sections, especially the beginning. for example, in "But she was barely out of the reception area with its tamed cacti and unnaturally glossy yucca plants when she thought..." the description of the reception doesn't really add anything to the story, and more takes away from the flow of the beginn...

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Deborah Mercer
06:49 Mar 11, 2021

Thank you for your comments, much appreciated. I think maybe I do over-describe, though this was based on a real place.

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