The following is an extract from The Runaways, one of the twelve short stories in Shy Feet: Short Stories Inspired by Travel.
Moments later I had a bag packed. I’d found earrings that used to belong to my grandmother and a lace shawl that Mum had given me for Christmas one year. As I folded it, I felt a little sad about them not being there to see me get married.
A tender tap on my door and there he was, wearing a grey three-piece suit complete with a too-tight tie knot. I’d never seen him dressed like this before and it reminded me that he was a man full of surprises. I loved how he saw life as one big party after another and how he had an outfit for each one. Of course, I also liked how good-looking he was, with those kind blue eyes and his broad, giving grin. He made me feel lucky; lucky that he’d chosen me over all the other girls he could have had. I knew Debbie liked him and just the other week I found Lucy playing with her hair as they chatted in the kitchen. I loved him for choosing me.
There was an old brown suitcase by his feet. Nobody carried suitcases like that these days. I loved him for being different.
I kissed him firmly on the lips. It felt like the start of something.
“Let’s go,” I whispered.
* * * * *
He paid for First Class tickets and we settled into wide, upright chairs. Across from us a middle-aged man with a briefcase gave us an uneasy look before opening up a laptop and typing with few interruptions. I slipped my hand under my future husband’s and fell asleep.
* * * * *
Bath was more beautiful than I remembered. The buildings were taller, the hills steeper and the streets longer. I used to think things got smaller as I grew older. For once, it was nice to be proved wrong.
Our hotel was far grander than I liked to think about. I had almost no money to contribute to our adventure. Nonetheless, I smiled foolishly as I stroked the plump white towels folded in our bathroom and I squealed when he leapt onto the giant bed and bounced into me. How would we ever go back to sharing my single bed again?
I didn’t ask how long we were going to stay but as he pulled me to him, his tie loosened already, I hoped for forever.
* * * * *
We gave notice for our marriage that afternoon. I clutched the confirmation so tightly it creased around my fingertips.
It was a mixed happiness as two numbers abruptly slowed the pace of our plans.
Seven was the number of days we had to live in the city before they would marry us. And fifteen was the number of days the notice needed to be displayed in the Registry Office before we could legally wed. They were bureaucratic necessities that reminded me of the real world and they made me question it all again. I asked Johnny if it was worth it. What about the hotel bill? What about those who would miss us and worry? Would they try and find us? What would we say afterwards? How would we tell them? What happens next?
He soothed my fears and made arrangements for us to stay and wait – new clothes, a backgammon board and a pack of cards. I made a series of lying phone calls home and to Debbie, saying I’d gone on an unplanned creative writing retreat and that’s why I couldn’t be reached on the phone in my room. They knew about my books and my secret ambition to be a writer; they showed no sign of surprise and certainly no concern. Johnny was right, I needn’t worry…
In those fifteen days I learned that Johnny liked to sing Frank Sinatra in the shower, that he flossed every day and that he drank half an inch of whiskey in bed before turning the light off. We were slow to wake up in the mornings but quick to never miss breakfast. Some days we took the train further west and I watched England’s endless green blur into cities I’d never visited before; Bristol, Taunton and Weston-super-Mare. Most afternoons we took to strolling around Bath hand-in-hand, often ending up in the tearoom I remembered from my first visit. We made friends with the owner, a stout woman called Rosemary who wore mismatched floral prints and turquoise eye shadow. We shared our secret with her and she called us the “young lovers”, forcing free cake on us during each visit. I feared my dress wasn’t going to fit.
But it did. When the day arrived, it did.
"This collection of stories is like a blanket woven from 100% wanderlust under which you can hide as Frances M. Thompson tucks you in with her words and keeps you warm with her descriptions of characters you'll love and places you can tell she knows by heart." Gesa Neitzel, www.bedouinwriter.com
Shy Feet: Short Stories Inspired by Travel is a collection of twelve quirky, charismatic and touching tales of travel.
The inquisitive Ruth tells the story of The Lost Children of Gatwick Airport and in Max's Holiday we learn what a seven-year-old boy considers a "proper holiday" to be. In The Flowers Sleep Tonight, we meet Thomas and Carly, two solo travellers whose paths keep crossing... because that's exactly what Thomas wants. A spontaneous plan to elope is revealed in The Runaways and Homes from Homes is about the lessons Patricia learns from the hotel bellboy she has a fling with.
Oh, Henry is the story of how a dream holiday can mean two different things to two lovers and Katie's Maps is an offbeat love letter to a vast collection of maps. Extracts from a travel journal tell one woman's life story in All the Beaches are Made of Pebbles and find out what Australia and underpants have to do with Claudia wanting to leave her husband of forty years in The Road is Long.
From the unforgiving Australian Outback to the jagged beauty of the Amalfi Coast, along the pebbled beaches of Brighton & Hove and down the busy streets of late night Barcelona, this collection of short stories highlights how travel intersects and enriches all of our lives, often without us realising it...
"Shy Feet: Short Stories Inspired by Travel transports you to exotic locales without leaving your armchair and leaves you wanting more... Frances M. Thompson has a novel in her and I can't wait to read it." Nathalie Harris, www.acooknotmad.com
Genre – Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction
Rating – PG13
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