Two weeks after Daniel had gone on holiday, at one ‘o' clock Saturday morning, the usual school car that Ralph drove drew up outside Mary's home. Ralph did not own a car of his own but for some reason the school had said that it would be fine for him to use it during his holiday, even though it would spend a week in an Airport car park. Ralph had not expected that, but when he worked out the costs he found that it would be a lot cheaper than hiring a taxi for both runs to the airport. He was not feeling the least bit tired despite the fact that he had now been awake since six the previous morning. He rang Mary's bell and she opened the door almost immediately.
"You all set Mary ? Got everything ?", he asked picking up her suitcase.
"Oh, you have a car ? I thought we were going by taxi ?", she asked with surprise.
"Yes, the school rang and said I could use it. I thought that was nice of them."
"Yes, it was. I suppose they can do without it for the week. I never asked Ralph, are you the only driver ?"
"At the moment I am so I guess if I'm not there the car is not much use to them. Look, I am really sorry about the flight times but it was the only way I could afford for us to go."
"I offered to pay half, and the offer still stands Ralph".
"I know you did and don't think I don't appreciate it neither but this is my treat so we will say no more about who is paying. Now get in because I have cut it a bit fine I am afraid."
The all-inclusive package deal that Ralph had booked came at a budget price, but it also came with a few catches - the main reason it was so cheap in the first place. Ralph was never a tight-fisted man but neither did he have money to throw around. Every penny he saved was more to spend on holiday, and every penny of the holiday bit a big hole in his modest savings that he hoped one day would take him out of his caravan. There had been a nasty month of wind and rain that had managed to find a new way in through the patched roof of the caravan in which he lived. He had made yet another repair but the thin tin roof was looking more patches than original metal now and Ralph reckoned that one more hard winter would finish his home off altogether.
"I bet you missed Daniel on his birthday. Has he sent you a postcard yet ?", asked Ralph as they set off.
"Better than that. Mister Steele arranged a phone call on his birthday which I thought was really kind of him, so I could wish Daniel a happy birthday."
"Mister Steele ?", queried Ralph.
"Yes, those nice people that took Daniel on holiday. Oh I know they're filthy rich but they are very nice people too. If they weren't I would never have let Daniel go with them. I don't want him coming back home full or airs and graces."
"Yes, but you said, Mister Steele. You don't know then ?"
"Know ?", she replied puzzled, "know what ?"
"About him, Mister Steele ?"
She looked at Ralph who was concentrating on his driving now and said, "what about him then? What don't I know ?"
"He's not a Mister, he is a Lord, and his wife is Lady Steele."
Mary's hand flew up to her mouth, "I had no idea, I mean, I just thought he was some very rich man being kind to Daniel because he was friends with his son, and that other business, with the accident. Gosh! I hope Daniel doesn't make a fool of himself, mind you when I spoke to him on his birthday it didn't sound to me as though he had. He was so pleased - he has learned to swim."
"Oh, I didn't know that he couldn't. They have a pool at Ashdown for the boys to use but there are no lessons of anything like that, its just for fun.".
"Daniel had almost a phobia about water, especially going under. At his old school he used to have to go to swimming once a week. They only thing they did with the non-swimmers was to make them try to do widths holding onto a float. Poor Daniel couldn't get the hang of it and the more they made him try the more he kept going under. I was in two minds to go around to the school and ask them to stop sending him, but Daniel wouldn't let me. He said it would make him look even sillier, and that some of the boys would pick on him all the more."
"But now he can swim ? That's marvellous. How did he learn ?"
"He said that Mister, or if you must, Lord Steele taught him. They were moored off Corsica."
"What do you mean, moored off Corsica ?", asked Ralph who had no idea where Daniel had gone other than the fact that he had gone with Jonathon.
"Sorry, I was thinking that I had told you. Daniel seems to be living like a film star at the moment. A private jet to the South of France if you please, then some huge boat that they are just wandering around the Mediterranean on. It all sounds very grand and Daniel says he is loving it. He told me they stopped at some little beach that the Steele's knew, and that that is where he finally learned." She looked at Ralph's face as she explained and could see a look that changed his expression, it seemed to draw a shadow over his usual cheery smile.
"He is a lucky young man", Ralph managed to say.
"I think something is bothering you now. It is because of how rich the Steeles are ?"
"Well yes, Mary. I mean, private jets and yachts and stuff, All I can do is scrape up a budget holiday that we have to start at two ‘o' clock in the morning. I'm sorry. That's all."
She put an arm around while he drove, "don't be so silly Ralph Jennings. This is not a competition. Daniel was asked in the first place because he saved Lord Steele's son's life, and Daniel still insists it was luck. Don't forget that to them what they are doing is as normal as what we are doing now is to us. I am just glad that Daniel is having such a good time because I don't want to worry about anyone but you while we are away." She pecked the side of his cheek to emphasise her point.
"If you want to take a nap on the way to the airport, that's fine by me."
"Oh no. I will stay awake to make sure you do too. To tell you the truth, I've been up since seven yesterday morning."
"Beat you! I was up at six", grinned back Ralph, his usual self back now.
They were lucky with the drive to Gatwick airport. Although described as London's second airport, Gatwick lies an hour drive away from the Capitol - if traffic is good. Since the main artery that must be used to reach this airport is the notorious M25 - the most congested motorway in Europe, a ‘good run' is never guaranteed. As they reached the spur road that leads off to the two terminals, it began to rain and Ralph switched on the windscreen wipers. He had to miss the terminals altogether to find his way to the off-airport parking lot. Once there they waited for the bus that would take them back to the main terminal.
A half-hour later, Mary and Ralph were crammed on board a shuttle bus with thirty or so fellow package holiday travellers. The inside of the bus had a sweaty kind of smell and there were discarded food wrappers on the floor. Some children were having a loud argument on the seats behind and a teen-age couple were having a full on row where they stood, trying to hold onto the handrails. As they shouted insults at each other the language got worse and worse until one father asked them to keep it down because of the children on the bus. That reasonable request looked liked it was heading for a much worse confrontation with the shaven headed boy deciding he could thump the father, and then batter his girlfriend later. Luckily the bus arrived at the terminal building and disembarking defused the crisis. Mary and Ralph joined the melee to recover their suitcases before heading off for the check-in desk. It was easy for them to find their check-in for two reasons. One it was deserted, and Two, it was shut. A notice had been written in green marker pen on the side of an old cardboard carton. It read "Flite EA003 to Palma delaid. Now dew at 0500". The time was a quarter to three, so they had over two hours now, to lose.
"Oh dear", said Ralph, "that's us I am afraid, Mary. I am sorry."
"Oh stop it. Its not your fault. So we're going to Majorca then ? You said Spain".
"Well it is Spanish. I thought I would surprise you."
"Come on then, let's see if we can get a coffee or something."
Despite the early hour the airport was teeming with people. Because of cancellations and delays, mainly caused by budget carriers slipping in and out of flight slots that suited their profit line the best, there were lots more holidaymakers than usual competing for the stained airport seating. Children ran riot shouting and screaming at each other and bouncing from the impact of one adult, to another. Some older boys had obviously started their holiday early. One was being sick into a nearly full rubbish bin whilst his friends were still trying to get as much lager inside them, as possible. A young mum was changing the nappy of a baby that was clearly well into solid food and the smell of the nappy was particularly offensive, but she just stuffed it into another overflowing refuse basket. There were the slops from a hundred spilt cups of tea and coffee on the floor, interspersed with sticky brown pools of Coca-Cola. One of the seats had a ‘Big-Mac' firmly ingrained into its fabric and there was a cascading trail of French fries from the seat to the ground.
Ralph and Mary moved on in search of somewhere just a tiny bit more peaceful, that's all they hoped for - somewhere not quite as manic as the area they were standing in. With a lot of ‘excuse mes', and ‘sorry' as they pushed their way through, lugging a heavy suitcase each, they eventually found a cafeteria. It was marginally better, but only just - nobody was throwing up into the waste basket, yet. Discarded plates and the remains of uneaten meals were on every table, on some stacked two or three high by later gourmets of airport mass catering. Two families, assuming that the four adults were in fact two families, seemed to have somehow reared the children of the Israelites between them and had taken over one corner from which came regular shouts of, "mum, tell Dwayne to leave me alone!"
"Dwayne, leave your sister alone before I lump you one you little bleeder!"
"It weren't me. It was fuckin' Ryan!"
"Don't answer me back and don't you swear you mouthy little sod !"
"Mum! Tell him!"
Ralph joined the growing queue at the head of which was a single Asian girl who was both cashier and server, and Mary cleared a table off. She was lucky to find one because word had already spread that the cafeteria was still open and a mass of people were surging towards it. She quickly pushed all the rubbish from her table onto the one next to them. Ralph returned bearing a tray on which there were two teas, a pile of paper napkins and two sandwiches that most certainly had not been made ‘fresh today in our very own bakery'. She used the napkins to wipe the rest of the gloopy mess from the table top, and there, against all the odds, they managed to have a surprisingly good cup of tea and an unsurprisingly awful cheese sandwich - at least Ralph reckoned it had been cheese once upon a time. Every now and then they looked up at the flight display monitors that showed ‘EA003 Palma Delayed'.
The next two hours seemed like an eternity, but at long last the sign changed first to ‘Landed', and a little later to read ‘baggage in hall'. Ralph decided this would be a good time to get back to their check-in. He was right of course, but so had everybody else who was travelling on flight EA003, decided the same thing. The first few people were checked in quite speedily and the queue seemed to be moving with surprising speed, until a very fat couple ( to describe them as large would simply be untrue), were called forward. Both their cases were well over the weight limit and there were only two options; pay for the excess or get rid of some items. Their remonstrations were hardly heard above the general noise in the airport. There was a lot of arm waving, the cases were opened and the contents rifled through, twice, but in the end, after shouting, swearing and threatening, the excess was paid and the queue began to move again. When Ralph and Mary were called the check-in girl said that the best she could do to give them two seats next to each other was to give them one each on either side of the gangway, so they settled for that hoping that somebody might swap on the plane. There was a swap but it was made by Ralph who, ever gallant, spotted their seats and by a deft change of boarding pass, exchanged with Mary - who never noticed the switch. Mary sat in the middle block, on the end of four seats and across the gangway sat Ralph, on the end of a block of three seats. The other two seats in his row were struggling to contain the bulk of Mister and Mrs excess baggage. Mrs Baggage was spilling over into Ralph's seat and he knew he was in for a very uncomfortable journey.
The plane had been late landing and every minute of delay cost the carrier more than the profit of one passenger. This time it had been unloaded as quickly as possible, bags dragged from the hold and dumped onto the waiting luggage carts with handles torn off and sides battered and cracked. The next lot of baggage had been stowed with almost as much speed. So fast was the aircraft turned around that the inside got no more than a walk through. When Ralph got up a few minutes after take off to use the lavatory, he found that the drunken lads had taken over one and the other was blocked with paper towels. Yellow urine splashed around on the floor and Ralph decided that he might just be able to hold on until they landed.
Back in his seat he closed his eyes, hoping to at least nap as Mary was doing, but there was a sour smell coming from the fat woman beside him whose copious rolls of flesh kept pushing him harder against the aisle side of his seat. He tried valiantly to ignore everything around him, to just close his eyes and shut it all out, and he might have done too, except that just as he was really dropping off into a peaceful sleep there was a shout from the row behind him, accompanied by a sharp kick into the back of his seat, "mum, tell Dwayne to leave me alone!"
"Dwayne, I told you once already! Leave your sister alone before I lump you one you little bleeder!"
It was a very long flight to Palma, Majorca, a Spanish island that lies about one hundred and fifty miles from Spain, in the Mediterranean sea. The sun was rising as they came into land and few of the travellers were more relieved to get off the cramped aircraft than Ralph, but of course he said nothing to Mary who had slept for most of the flight and assured her that he slept well too, while they waited at the carousel for their suitcases. Their bags were almost the last ones to be taken from the moving belt and while they waited the crowd thinned noticeably. It was also their first lucky break of the holiday because when they eventually left the building in search of the bus that would take them to their hotel, they saw Mister and Mrs Baggage together with ‘Dwayne you sod' and family, boarding a bus for a different resort.
"Won't be much longer now", Ralph said in an encouraging tone.
"Did you err...find the Men's ?"
"Yes, in the baggage hall. Ah, here we are Mary, Hotel Sol Arenal", he said reading the card in the front of the coach. They climbed on board and saw that there were only six other people on the coach. The driver looked around and then an English girl who looked as though she had just got back from partying all night (which was correct), climbed on board and picked up a microphone, into which she began to speak.
"Good morning. My name is Tracy and I will be your holiday rep", she began in her practised ‘monotone holiday rep' voice, the intro that she spoke at least twice a day, every day, every bloody day except the one she got off, if she was lucky - and that was not often either in this crap job at which she earned barely enough to live, let alone get bladdered on a good night out with the girls. "Can I just check I have everybody before we move off, and on behalf of Majorca Sun Tours, I hope you have a great holiday", and I also hope that none of you start complaining every five minutes and generally just leave me alone, as long as you buy all the excursions so that at least I get some commission this month, because the tight-fisted skinflints I had last week were useless. She ran down her list of names eliciting a shouted ‘here' or ‘yes' in response and then the coach pulled away.
"As I say, I am your rep for any problems you might have and you can find me at my desk which is in reception from nine until eleven, every day", Tracy continued.
"Oi Tracy! Do you mean your desk is not there unless it between nine and eleven darling", shouted some wag.
Here we go, there's always one, "no, of course I mean that I will only be there it between nine and eleven, silly. Now when we arrive at the Hotel you will all be given your rooms. If you would like to meet me later in the ‘Shangri-La' bar by the pool at half past eleven there will be free Sangria so that we can all get to know each other." With any luck none of you lot will bother and I can take the cheap rubbish back to my room and get slaughtered on it. Mind you that lot last week could sink a drink or two, blimey, but this bunch look quite tame.
"If I could now tell you about the excursions that we have available for a small extra charge ?"
"How much do you charge Tracy ?", from the wit again.
Too much for you tosser, "now then, lets not get too naughty".
Tracy carried on with her standard chat, doing her best to sell a few over-priced excursions to the almost empty coach. Although there were only a half dozen couples on board, the coach had to visit four different hotels that were all spread out from the airport. It took another hour before the final stop at which Mary and Ralph were the last couple to leave.
"Well it doesn't look too bad does it ?", said Ralph as they walked into the reception area of the hotel. There was a lot of faux marble on the walls and the floor. To the right there was a brown sofa and armchairs arranged around a low coffee table. A man dressed in a white ‘T' shirt and long beige shorts that reached down below his knees was stretched out asleep on the sofa.. At one side there was a tall counter faced with black marble behind which was a collection of pigeon holes, each marked with a room number. A battered looking desk was almost hidden away in a corner and on it was a hand written sign the read ‘Tour Reps'. Apart from the sleeping man the whole area was deserted. Ralph checked his watch and saw that the time was a quarter to nine. There was a brass bell fixed to the counter and so Ralph hit the top of it, making a dull ring. After a few minutes he did it again. The man on the sofa woke up, stretched, and then broke wind noisily. He looked over to the counter and called out, "you won't have any luck with that mate! They don't start until nine", and then he wandered off in the direction of the two lifts at the far end of the floor. It was almost nine anyway and after the trip they had endured so far another few minutes made no difference at all, and so Ralph and Mary waited patiently for the hotel staff to arrive for work.
It was just after nine thirty that an exhausted Ralph and Mary finally put their suitcases down on the floor of their room. Any worries that they might have had about the fact they would soon be sharing a bed for the first time were dissolved but the mutual desire to simply get some sleep. The unpacking could wait until later, finding out where everything was could wait until later, the promised Sangria at eleven would have to drunk without them, and the two of them took of their shoes, lay down on the bed, and were asleep in a few minutes.
Ralph was the first to wake up, some time after mid-day. As quietly as he could he unpacked his case and put the clothes he had bought into the wardrobe. He put is shaving things and toiletries in the bathroom and then opened a sliding glass door that led out to a small balcony. There was a thin ‘welcome pack' that listed the hotel amenities, phone numbers and that sort of thing. Inside the pack there was also a handful of leaflets pushing the day excursions, and a dog-eared map of the local area. Ralph sat on a white plastic chair that had a number of brown melted cigarette burns along the back and a crack running across one leg, reading the bits of paper. He was hungry and thirsty but did not want Mary to wake up alone in the room, so he sipped from a glass of tepid tap water as he sat there. Ralph had never been abroad before and had read up about Majorca in his local library, so he decided that in this day and age, he could at least take a chance on the water. Even so he only took tiny sips and the level in the chipped glass that he found in the bathroom barely moved. There was a vague chemical taste to the water which he took as a good sign because at least there was something in the fluid ( he assumed), intended to purify it. Another hour passed before Mary stirred. When she first opened her eyes there was the mildest possible moment of panic and she looked around, trying to wake herself up and orient herself. She saw Ralph sitting on the balcony. He had nodded off again under the hot sun but luckily he had not been out there long enough to burn.
"Ralph", she said shaking his shoulder.
"Wh...what ?", he said groggily as he opened his eyes.
"You fell asleep. Better come in and get some sun block on before you burn."
"Oh damn! Oh excuse me", he coloured as he used the mild expletive, "I didn't pack any."
"That's okay, I brought some for both of us. Get your shirt off."
Mary rubbed the suntan lotion over his shoulders and back. Ralph was not a big man, only and inch taller than Mary. He was neither skinny nor fat, his physique was completely average but Mary was pleased to see that although he had a hairy chest, his back was hairless. She worked the cream into his skin and Ralph found the sensation of a woman's touch, mildly erotic. It had been a long time since any woman had touched him, and for Mary it had been ten years since she had touched a man. She had shared a few kisses with Ralph but nothing more. Almost shyly and with a voice that had thickened in his throat, Ralph tried as casually as he could, "do you want me to put some cream on you too, if we're going out now I mean ?"
"Yes, let's go and have a look outside. I don't know about you but I could do with drink and something to eat." She turned around and thought to herself how shy and careful Ralph was, but they had come away together, there was a double bed, they would have to cross the invisible line that they both knew was there sooner or later, so why not now ? She slipped off her top and then unhooked her brassier, dropping both onto the bed. Her back was to Ralph who squeezed a small amount of the white cream onto his hands and then began to smooth it over her shoulders. She liked the sensation. Ralph rubbed more cream over the top of her back, his hands moving with utmost care. Mary said in a low voice, "that feels so good Ralph", and leaned back into him. His hand slipped as she moved and he naturally held her, imagining for a second that she was falling. Inadvertently his hand was just below her breast, the very edge of his palm was just touching the swell on the beast above. She knew that if she did not finish what she had deliberately started, then the moment would be lost, and now she did not want to wait any longer. Mary took his hand and moved it up over her breast. As she did so she could feel Ralph's breathing quicken, as hers was. He teased her nipple and at the same time moved his other hand to cup her other breast, teasing that nipple erect also. Mary groaned. It had been so long. She felt no guilt at all. Philip would never be forgotten and she would always see him in Daniel, but now, now she needed Ralph.
Mary turned around now and put her arms around him. He pulled her closer and her breasts were pressed hard against his naked chest. They kissed, but not the chaste kisses that at times had infuriated her, it was a long hungry kiss, exploring each other's mouths with inquisitive tongues, tasting each other for the first time. She nipped his lip playfully and then he lowered his head to her breasts, his tongue licking around each nipple in turn. They parted and undressed quickly, urgently, then naked lay on top of the bed, and in the heat of the afternoon Spanish sun, they finally made love together for the first time. For Mary and for Ralph it was a special moment that they had both wanted really for some time. When Ralph at last whispered in her ear that he loved her, Mary told him that she loved him too, and they both knew that their lives were going to be together from that moment on. Somehow the two of them managed to squeeze into the tiny shower and the fun, together with the added eroticism, while they soaped each other removed the last of any shyness they might have harboured. The bathroom was very wet when the two giggling lovers emerged to dry each other so that they could dress and go out.
By the time they left the hotel the siesta time when everything in Spain stops for a rest in the mid-day sun was over, and people were returning to work. The package they had booked included breakfast and an evening meal but after this change in their relationship, a change that was inevitable and welcome from the moment that Mary had said to book one room and not two, Ralph wanted to have a special meal in a nice restaurant to sort of mark their new beginning. They found exactly what they were looking for tucked away in small courtyard so easily missed. Over a cosy and romantic dinner they shared themselves, hopes and fears, like a pair of young lovers on a first date. When Mary detected a slight darkening to Ralph's mood he shrugged it off and said it was nothing, but he was wondering how to explain to her just how hard up he really was, and that he lived in a decrepit caravan, in a field at the edge of the town.