Dancing to a New Beat 71

CHAPTER 71
Afterwards, as so often in my life, I was able to talk with my lover. I couldn’t imagine how I would ever be able to cope without him there to take the load at least partly from my shoulders, but I was certain he felt the same way about the support I offered him.

“Blake?”

“Yeah?”

“Might need some help A few cracks showing”

“Cracks, love? Who with?”

“Candice, of all people. She told a couple of porkies, and she is worried all to hell”

“Bag in Volvo stuff?”

“Yeah. Think Sammy has it covered, but she collared me twice about it. Repeating herself, isn’t it?”

I gathered my arguments, but I needn’t have bothered; Blake was always in tune with my thinking. He squeezed me in reassurance, then set out his stall.

“I think Sammy needs to have a word upstairs, love. Team has been through some real nasties, in quick order. Not easy stuff to step away from. Remember that chat we had about Lainey, on the way back from the sprogging?”

“Bloody hell, aye! You thinking similar stuff with Candice?”

He squirmed around in the bed until he could look me in the eyes.

“Not just her, love. Lexie hasn’t had the easiest of times, nor Jon, and that Scottish twat dropped Rhys into it big style”

He muttered something rude, then grinned.

“Got some thoughts, love. Back me up with Sammy?”

“Stupid bloody question! What are you thinking?”

He told me, and I snorted.

“THIS time of year? In a tent?”

“Nope. Got a better idea, haven’t I? I could show you, but that would mean getting out of bed, and away from a warm wife”

“And a snoring cat”

“Yeah, well…”

Blake was true to his word when we were next in the office.

“Sammy?”

Our boss looked up, and I could see the strain on him as clearly as on Candice.

“Yeah?”

“Could we have a word, wifie and me? In private?”

He muttered something that sounded very like “What now?” and waved us down the corridor to a little meeting room. I made sure I closed the door properly behind us, and then took my seat next to Blake, who was straight to the point.

“Di said it the other night, Sammy. Cracks, isn’t it? People cracking?”

Sammy slumped in his chair, the first time I had ever seen him look so drained.

“Candice?”

I nodded, tag-teaming my husband.

“Yes. She came up to me the other night, Sammy. In confidence, aye? Yeah?”

“Of course, mate”

“She came up to me twice, Sammy. Same shit, just more alcohol inside it. What it is, well, what it is, it’s more than just her. We have had no let-up at all. A month here, a fortnight there, but the real jobs have all been nasty. We nearly lost Jonny Boy, and then there was Lexie, and now Candice”

Blake touched my arm.

“Can I be honest, Sammy?”

Of course you can. I wouldn’t expect anything else from you”

“You, Sammy. How much do you have left?”

Sammy’s head dropped.

“I was expecting something like this, just not from you two. I can give you a bloody good write-up. Where are you looking?”

Blake looked surprised, then started to laugh.

“Bugger it, Sammy! You can be so thick sometimes! Sorry, but has to be said”

The head came up, and the smile was Tired and Drawn.

“What ARE you saying, then?”

Blake gave my knee a quick squeeze, and I patted his hand in permission.

“I had an idea the other night, and my darling here put some meat on its bones. I had a word with Elwyn the Fed rep, and he says we have a case”

“What for, mate?”

“Team building exercise”

“Eh? Playing silly games in some crap hotel?”

“Nope. Di had a better idea”

Tired and Drawn left the room, as curiosity gave them a kick.

“Do tell…”

I made the phone call to Fishguard half an hour later.

Two weeks later, and we had run out of sheep jokes. Sammy had spoken to somebody he knew Upstairs, who I suspected might be called Williams, and they had given the nod. I had mentioned our plan to Lainey, and she had made her own call, and one Monday morning, on the dot of eight o’clock, her cousin Hywel had appeared outside the James Street nick in a species of giant minibus. Candice had cast a critical eye over it, almost back to her snarky self.

“Bit better than a fifteen-seat Transit, then!”

Hywel rumbled a reply, almost but not quite as deep as his father’s voice would have been.

“Bloody well hope not, aye? One of them all the way up there, no ta. Like my comfort, I do. All aboard the Skylark, aye?”

Sod Welsh mountain roads. He took us the quick way, one Dad had always resented, through England. It is something so many of us hate, but there is really no practical alternative. I like the drive up the coast, and the bit through the middle is pleasant, but it takes so much time, and with a chunky vehicle it would be hard work for a driver. So, out to the Severn, over to the Motorway, and then up towards Shrewsbury. Hywel surprised me, though, finding a route that, while reasonably wide and well-surfaced didn’t involve going almost all the way to Birmingham. After about three hours, he pulled over at a place I actually recognised. We all piled out, Blake and Rhys stretching theatrically as Candice trotted off to the ladies’. Hywel called after her.

“Starbucks over the road if you want an expensive drink, love. I’ll be in the Little Chef, aye?”

He turned to me.

“You one of those wants more froth than coffee, girl? They do a proper cafetière in the Little Thief. Wake me up better than that American rubbish. Always tastes burnt to me”

He had just as many depths as his father, it seemed, so I grinned, nodded, and we voted as a team to take over the LC. Candice was back remarkably quickly, and I suspect she had found the bogs not quite the best in her experience. Once we had the drinks ordered, consumed, and the residue filtered, Sammy led us back to the bus, standing up in the doorway holding up his hands for silence.

“Right, mates! Time for the reveal! Blame Mr and Mrs Sutton for this trip, but I will talk sense for a few minutes, if you don’t mind, and I heard that, Jonny Boy”

“Heard what?”

“Heard you thinking ‘That’ll make a change’, son! Anyway. We are going to the hills. Team-building exercise, it is called, and before you start complaining, think about those words. “It is called’. That is how it was sold to the Brass, and that is what we have arranged, but that isn’t what we will be doing unless you individually want to”

He looked round the team, and for an instant, I saw Tired and Drawn lurking.

“It has been a phenomenally hard year, mates. Two years, really. You have all made me proud, you have all stepped up when needed. I heard B and B talking about it a few days ago, and what they said was true. Running towards the problem, never away. Proud. That is what I am, but I am also supposed to be a bloody manager. We had the Evans shit, and while I came in at the end of that, I still picked up the fallout. Then we had Cooper, the moped hit, the bloody biker fiasco, and then, on top of all of that, Merthyr. I am not naming names, except for one, but we are starting to crumble, and I can’t allow that. Bev Williams agreed, and so we have an official trip as cover, and a reality that you can choose for yourself. We are going to an outdoor activity centre”

Ellen called out “Please tell us it’s not tents!”

Sammy grinned, and this time Cheeky was back in full.

“Only if you want to! This place has proper beds, decent food, and a bar. If you want to sit around and get fat, you can do so, but there is a dry ski-slope there and the option of hillwalking, canoeing, rock-climbing, or just getting on a bus and going to somewhere like Caernarvon. We have six days. Breathe, recover, think about what you want to do, and find yourselves again. Six days with no pressure unless you want it, OK?”

“Sammy?”

“Yes, Lexie?”

“That one name you were going to mention?”

Cheeky faltered slightly.

“My own, Lexie. I’m just as beaten down as the rest of you. This is my recovery week as well”

Hywel reached over from the driver’s seat to touch Sammy’s arm.

“Just to let you all know, aye? Elaine Powell is my cousin, for those who didn’t know, and Dad and me had a word before I drove over. You will find some cases of beer and wine in with your bags. I don’t want them in the bus after you get out, aye? I need the room for a couple of bikes I will be picking up”

There was a tap on the door of the bus, and he grinned. There was no sincerity at all in his voice as he laughed, then mock-scowled.

“Oh! Looks like the bikes are here! You will just have to get all of that booze out of the hold now, and bring it into the bus! Oh dear, how sad, never mind, aye?”

What the hell? Sammy opened the door, and I peered out of the window to see the Woodruffs. Hywel was out of the bus in a shot, wrapping the redheaded woman in a hug even as he shook her husband’s hand. I followed the rest of the team down the stairs, catching a grin from Stephanie, who was standing next to a heavily-loaded bicycle and carrying some sort of instrument on her back, rucksack-style.

“Diane, yeah? Lainey let us know, so we’re borrowing their camping stuff. Got the rack and that on the bikes, but we only had to ride from Gobowen, and it’s just about flat”

I dithered for a second, and she grinned.

“Me and my man are climbers. Elaine told us what you are doing, so we thought we’d come along. There’s a music night on in a local pub at the weekend, and we have provisionally booked a couple of big taxis to get us all down there”

“Um, yeah, but minibus, isn’t it? Got our own!”

She grinned, and I saw Annie in her for just a second.

“And you would keep Hywel away from a pint?”

I took her point. In the end, we had enough room underneath for one of the bikes, the other fitting into the aisle, and there was indeed beer and wine, and a ride that got more and more scenic, Hywel singing as he drove. Nobody went stupid with the booze, Steph and her husband fitted almost seamlessly into our crew, and my memories were surprising me with their sharpness.

That was the place Dad had stopped that time for an al fresco pee, only to be caught mid-flow by the truck’s lights as it overtook us in the dark.

There was the spot we had left the main road and driven for what felt like hours, stop-start through villages when the A5 was closed due to a smash.

Here was the long, undulating straight to the bend in the road where we always got our first glimpse of the Really Big Mountains (too cloudy this time).

The Silver Fountain, the Waterloo Bridge, Swallow Falls, Ugly House; my childhood memories were so clear, and I realised I was feeling happier than I had in months. It was cleansing, to be honest. These were memories of an earlier life, a time before I had ever met a man called Evans, before my parents’ brief run for cover in Milton Keynes. Blake was cuddling me, Candice was being sarcastic about nail care, Steph was naming every bend in the road, every rock, probably every individual sheep (no doubt by both first and family names), and I, to my astonishment, was coming home.



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