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Just A Friend

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Bank holiday crowds, on the whole, are hell.

And this one is rapidly turning into an even deeper level of purgatory. The hottest May for years in Scotland and I’m stuck at Glasgow airport with a dozen women, collectively known as ‘Geillis’s Hen Party Posse’, each displaying varying degrees of inebriation, hangover or general sleep deprivation, and all aiming for the luggage carousel showing the flight from Barcelona. Which apparently is where several hundred other disembarked passengers are also heading.

Eventually, I manage to get a view of the bags and cases slowly making their way around the belt. They’re pretty picked over by this time, apart from the couple of boxes covered in gaffer tape that always seem to be first off a plane—any plane—and last to be collected. They’re always there, on every flight. Why is that?

I pause from my musings to wave frantically at Geillis, who now has a trolley and is clearing a path straight towards me.

“I got us a trolley.” she informs me, stating the obvious. “I thought it’d be easier. Have ye seen ours yet, Claire? I canna see the others. They must have already gone through.”

“No,” I answer, keeping my eyes firmly on the little hatch, willing our bags to appear. All I want is to go home, put my sleep mask on and try and get some sleep. Three days in Barcelona celebrating Geillis’s forthcoming nuptials have worn me out, and, I glance at my watch, I am due in theatre in approximately seventeen hours time.

"It's there, it's there," Geillis points excitedly at the neon pink and green leopard print bag making its way towards us.

She makes a grab for it as I continue to look for my bag. Predictably, it’s one of the last ones on the carousel. I recognise it immediately from the piece of red gift ribbon tied to the handle of the plain black Samsonite. I load it onto the trolley and Geillis and I head through customs to join the rest of the posse.

We say our goodbyes loudly, with much hugging and kisses. A stranger viewing this scene might imagine we won’t be seeing each other again for weeks or even months. In truth, I’ll be seeing most of them in the next week or so at the hospital as our schedules coincide.

“Shall we two get a taxi, then?” Geillis asks me.

I start to answer as my mobile pings — a text from Frank...very nice, very caring, very predictable.

Darling, it’s been a long three days without you. I am ready to collect you from the airport if you would like. If not, might I see you later this evening? xxx

And that is very clearly Frank. Correct grammar and punctuation, even on his texts. I shake my head as if to drive away my inner bitch and pretend I haven’t read it. I will respond, of course, just later when I’m back at home.

So, I smile at Geillis and agree. “Of course, we can go halves.”

As I walk into my flat, the peace and quiet and sheer bloody calm wraps itself around me like a swaddling cloth. It’s blissfully cool too, with all the shutters closed.

It’s not that I didn’t have a good time in Barcelona. It was actually great. But being in the company of others twenty four hours a day is wearing, much as I love them. And we all had to do everything together. No sneaking off for a solitary walk, or escaping to bed for a little siesta.

I deposit my suitcase by the bedroom door, slip off my converse, pour myself a glass of orange juice, settle down on the sofa and figure out how best to tell Frank not tonight without offending him.

Frank, Sorry but tonight isn’t —

I delete and try again.

Thanks for the offer to pick me up. I was already in the taxi when I got it. Can we give tonight a miss? Theatre in the morning and I’m knackered totally exhausted. You know what Geillis is like. Speak tomorrow, I promise. C

Frank knows what Geillis is like. Frank thinks Geillis is a bad influence on me, with her larger than life personality and wild ideas. I think Frank doesn’t really know me at all if he believes I can be influenced like that. I hang out with Geillis and my friends because they’re fun and we laugh… a lot.

Without realising, I feel my shoulder muscles relax as soon as I’ve sent the message. These are not good signs for my relationship with Frank. He’s investing far more into ‘us’ than I am willing to do. But as long as I’m honest with him…

There are advantages to being with Frank, of course. He’s punctual, very organised and a proficient and considerate lover. He always makes sure I come, even if I… exaggerate my reactions to hurry things along. So much for honesty, then.

I finish my orange juice and plan my evening. Four things to do - unpack, grab some food, shower and sleep. Not even going to wash my hair. That would really be too much effort, struggling with my untameable mane, and it’s going to be stuck under a surgical cap for most of tomorrow anyway.

It takes a bit of effort to actually move from the sofa. I could quite happily fall asleep there. But then I’d wake up in the middle of the night—starving hungry and still smelling of sweaty airports. Reluctantly, I haul myself into a vertical position and head for my bedroom picking up my suitcase en route.

Opening the suitcase, I am not greeted with the expected haphazard mass of sun dresses, t shirts and shorts—all with the evocative aroma of Hawaiian Tropic—but a layer of white dress shirts, immaculately folded and the faint scent of a musky cologne.

Shit, shit, shit!! Some else has walked off with my black samsonite with the red ribbon on the handle. My evening plans are rapidly going awry. I delve into my handbag praying that I kept my boarding pass with the sticky bar code luggage receipt. The relief when I find it lurking in the bottom of my bag is immense. Quickly I google the airline lost baggage number and dial.

After a few bars of some god awful plinky plinky hold music, I hear a recorded message. “Your call is important to us, please hold. Your call is important to us, please hold.”

Good to know, then back to the plinky plinky before another message. “The office you are trying to reach is now closed. Please try again during office hours nine am to five thirty. Thank you.”

“If my call is so important to you, why is no one there at six o’clock?” I yell down the phone, but the plinky plinky ignores me and continues its irritating melody.

I sigh. I don’t want to have to wait until tomorrow morning to sort this out. Besides, by nine am tomorrow morning, I will be somewhat unavailable - reshaping the hip bone of a seven year old boy. So, I have no alternative. I will have to have a bit of a dig around this stranger’s suitcase, looking for any clue or contact details.

As I start to have a feel around, it occurs to me that some stranger might, at this very moment, be doing exactly the same thing — having a poke around my suitcase in the hope of finding my details. No doubt judging me based on my choice of holiday attire. And, I suddenly realise, his judgement may well be coloured by the discovery of some items of a more adult nature.

I say ‘he’, based on the XL white shirts, the pair of battered jeans and faded Scotland rugby shirt, but I could be wrong. I don’t have to dig any further into the case as I spy, in a mesh pocket, a neat rectangle of card with a name — James Fraser — a mobile number and an email address.

Relief sweeps over me. Perhaps we can get this all sorted tonight. Unless this James Fraser lives miles away and was just passing through Glasgow on his way to, say, the Outer Hebrides. That could be a whole other level of problem.

I quickly reach for my phone. Another message from Frank awaits.

Are you sure, darling? I’m looking forward to seeing you. Would tomorrow evening work for you?

I ignore it for the moment. Let me sort my luggage issue out first.

I dial the number on the card and begin to pace around my bedroom as it rings and rings. I am just about to give up when, thankfully, it’s answered.

“Hello?” A female voice asks warily.

I clear my throat and put on my most pleasant phone voice. “Is there a James Fraser there please?”

“Ye’ve the wrong number.”

“Oh, sorry, I must have mis—“ I begin, but find myself apologising to dead air.

I try again, carefully comparing each digit to those written, very neatly, on the card.

“Hello?” The same female voice answers, more than a hint of annoyance in her voice.

“I’m sorry, but this is the number I have for James Fra—“

“And I already told ye, ye’ve the wrong number. Dinna bother again.”

In the days before mobiles, I’m sure this would have been accompanied by a deafening crash as the receiver hit the cradle. Pressing a soft key doesn’t have the same dramatic effect. But I get the message anyway.

So, new plan needed. All I can do is email this James Fraser and hope he actually has written down the correct email address. If not, I’ll have to sort it out with the airline tomorrow afternoon.

My stomach rumbles and I suddenly realise that I’ve not eaten since breakfast, unless you count the slices of fruit in my jug of sangria. I wander into the kitchen and peruse the contents of my cupboards and fridge. I’m not the most gifted cook, but I’m not too bad and can usually rustle up something edible and fairly tasty. The bread feels a bit on the dry side but will be fine toasted, and I know I have eggs.

I put a knob of butter in a pan and text Frank while I’m waiting for it to sizzle.

Think tomoz will be ok. Talk 2morrow. C

I don’t normally use text speak at all, but something about Frank’s perfectly formed text messages always makes me want to rebel. I can imagine him wincing right now. He’s a professor at the university and is forever complaining about the standard of literacy amongst his undergraduates. If he thinks he has problems, he should try dealing with junior doctors.

With my scrambled egg on toast all eaten, I focus my attention on the email to James Fraser. I write it quickly, brief and to the point: I have your suitcase and therefore presume you have mine, can we meet to swap them over and here’s my phone number.

The longing for a shower and then bed is now overwhelming. I strip off and bundle all my clothes into the laundry basket, tie my hair up with a scrunchie and step into my shower. This is undoubtedly one of my favourite places on earth and possibly the reason that I bought this flat. Large enough for two, I suppose. Although none have yet been invited to partake in this heavenly experience. Maybe I’m saving that for someone extra special. It has a huge overhead rainfall shower head and a handheld shower head too.

My indulgences are all in here — a selection of expensive shower gels, scrubs and lotions and an assortment of huge fluffy bath towels. I choose a lavender scented gel and scrub all traces of the day from my skin.

Wrapping myself in one of my pristine white towels, I slather shea butter lotion on my slightly sun-burnt skin, noticing the uneven red patches where the sun cream hadn’t quite reached but at least it’s not sore.

A quick check of my emails shows there’s no word from James Fraser as yet, so I decide to just settle down to sleep and leave luggage worries until the morning. Fortunately, I had changed the sheets before my weekend away, so I simply unwrap my towel, leaving it in a heap on the floor and slide into bed. The feeling of the cool, crisp bedding against my skin is wonderful. I assume a sort of diagonal starfish position, not having to worry about any other occupants. It crosses my mind whether to reach for the tiny vibrator in my bedside drawer, but I’m too comfortable and drowsy for that, so instead I check my alarm and settle down for sleep.