The Urban Trail

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It was a typical Monday morning and even in the school holidays Jo was struggling to pour Charlie’s co co pops into his bowel. She had a headache, was constipated and grumpy. Sophie had demanded they play the soundtrack to Greece very loudly. Pete of course, had made a lucky escape and had left for work half an hour ago. But he had been complaining that his bicycle helmet was broken. Sophie ate her toast and while singing along with Olivia when Jo’s mobile went off.

It was Cleo. “Hi Jo?” she said briskly and almost as though she was asking a question.

“Yes obviously.” said Jo, “Who else lives here?”

“Sorry bad morning.” said Cleo dramatically.

“Cleo its eight thirty!” said Jo and surveyed the fight about to break out in front of her as Sophie poured orange juice into Charlie’s cereal.

“Aaaaaa” screamed Charlie and chucked his coco pops at his sister. Sophie began to cry and kicked over Jo’s favourite plant.

“Henry!” cried Jo.

“Whose Henry?” asked Cleo.

Jo picked up henry her huge green plant and tried to put the soil back into his pot. Sid rushed in through the cat flap and looked cross that his breakfast wasn’t ready. While the two dogs howled loudly for their morning walk.

Jo put the phone back to her ear, “My plant look Cleo I’m busy, have a good trip down OK I’m looking forward to seeing you.”

“Yea well...” continued Cleo. “I’m leaving in about an hour if that’s OK it will take me two hours to get to you anyway.”

“Ok...” Jo turned around just in time before Charlie chucked a cup of hot tea over his sobbing sister’s head. “Charlie!” yelled Jo.

“Ow!” said Cleo grumpily. “Ok you are busy I will see you later.”

She hung up and Jo was half tempted to lob the phone across the kitchen. When was the last time Cleo asked her how she was feeling? Then she remembered in her tired foggy mind that Cleo had indeed asked her how she was feeling yesterday.

After breakfast and a mad rush to dress both kids , quickly walk the dogs, they headed out to a toddler and kid club, something Jean the local PTA, woman from the school had organized over the summer holidays.

As she walked rather slowly along the pavement, Charlie in his buggy and Sophie happily riding her pink scooter Jo took in the sunny surroundings that is their village. They had lived in Claxey Green, just outside of Salisbury for four years now. Jo loved it the people were friendly and her Mother lived in Salisbury which was only a bus ride away. Now her Mother was another kettle of fish completely. The large, divorced lady with six cat’s three dogs a budgie and about seventeen goldfish had had more blind dates than Cila Black had arranged.

But she was happy and always had been even through her tremulous divorce. Her ex-husband Steven was a gambler and alcoholic and if that wasn’t enough in its self for the pretty woman, he had also had a string of affairs which yes sounds like something out of an American gangster novel. Well anyway at least it made Jo’s rather chaotic life seem normal.

As she reached the play centre and smiled at various, chatty some overdressed for toddlers Mums. I mean who needs three inch heals for sitting round drinking tea and talking about colic, nappy’s and sleep deprivation?

Sophie parked her scooter and went charging inside to the big play area to mingle with the other over sugared four year olds. Letting Charlie free from his buggy he happily followed his sister but after she had pushed him over and told him to go play with the other babies he got the hint and joined in playing cars with two other two year olds. Jess waved cheerfully from across the room and pointed at perfect Steffi who was colouring something in on the arts and crafts table.

Waving back rather half heartedly Jo found an empty seat.

Mary another pregnant Mum and good friend of hers plonked herself next to Jo and handed her a big cup of tea.

“Here love looks like you need this.”

“Thanks Mary” said Jo and took a sip gratefully.

“So how are you?” asked Mary and watched without much interest really as her chubby three year old nearly fell off the small plastic slide.

“It’s ok they always bounce!” she said to Jo.

“Oh I know tell me about it. The other week Charlie bounced off the sofa landed on his butt and was fine oh and my sister’s coming to stay she will be here in about two hours.”

“Oh that’s nice.” Mary said.

“Yea it will be nice to see her she’s just split up with her boyfriend though so she won’t be too happy.” Sophie charged over, pig tails swinging.

“Mummy I want a biscuit!” yelled the little girl loudly, causing Jess to look up from handing out flyers.

“Soph A it’s not biscuit time, B you don’t say I want!” Jo said calmly yet firmly. Even so Jo produced some flavoured rice caked form her bag.

Jo continued “Cleo will need a lot of TLC.”

Mary nodded sympathetically and sipped her drink.

“How are you?” Jo asked her.

“I’m OK tired but they will be back to school in a week.” Jo smiled and looked at Mary’s already large brood. Her four children aged between 2 and 7 ran around the room well not the seven year old. Thomas her eldest sat in the corner colouring quietly.

“Thomas ok?” asked Jo studying the boys slender ridged back. Thomas had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at age two, it had hit Mary very hard but and her lovely husband Tom now took it all in their stride.

Nodding Mary drained her mug and put it on the floor under her plastic hair.

“Yes he seems fine been getting a bit bored it’s been quite hard entertaining him over the summer holidays” Mary wearily rubbed her eyes she looked tired, but happy. And so she should be apart from Pete she had the most wonderful husband in the world. Tom is a builder and has his own business which thankfully due their expanding brood is doing very well. They lived about fifteen minutes’ walk from Jo.

Bored now with his picture Thomas first scrunched it in to a ball then UN scrunched it and tried to smooth out all the creases in the paper. When he was unsuccessful Mary stood up as quick as her large bump would let her and walked over to the now red faced cross boy.

“Come on Thomas it’s nearly drink and biscuit time.” almost very carefully she led the boy away from an impending trail of disruption and sat him down next to wear Jo sat.

“Hi Thomas how are you?” Jo asked.

The boy looked at her as though he had no idea who she was even though he had met Jo a zillion times and shrugged. Sophie walked over and Jo could tell almost instantly that the four year old had a strop on. “Mummy I’m hungry where my biscuit?” asked the grumpy little girl.

And as if on cue Sue appeared with the biscuit tin and offered one to Sophie. Sue had been running bumps and babes for three years now. Her own children had grown up and left home a million years ago who so it seems is how Sue always describes it. Gingerly and now shy Sophie slowly picked a biscuit out of the tin. Thomas who was hovering politely looked into the tin almost in utter disappear.

“They are all broken!” he wailed. Sue and Mary both exchanged silent, knowing looks.

“Here Thomas” said Sue and produced a whole digestive, fully intact.

“Thanks Sue” Thomas said and taking it he wondered over to the other end of the noisy room. Jo s mobile blared at her and when she saw Cleo’s number flashing up she felt a twinge of worry. She had presumed Cleo was on route and cleo never used her mobile when driving. Not even hands free.

“HI cleo what’s up?” asked Jo pleasantly, but loudly over the noise.

“My car has broken down! And I’m so damn disorganized I have no break down cover. I would ask you to pick me up but you have no car or no licence!” said Cleo as though it was almost as bad as having no arms.

“OK where are you?” asked Jo and tried not to cringe as Jess cackled loudly, they were probably discussing Made in Chelsea again!

“On the A 32 on the hard shoulder. I’ve called the A A, they can get me back on the road for a small price anyway I will be a bit delayed so don’t wait for at lunch time. See you when I see you.”

“Are you al right though?” said Jo.

“Yes the A A will be here any minute I will phone you again if there are any problems.” Cleo hung up. Yawning Jo sat back in the rather UN comfortable

chair and stroked her tight bump four weeks to go and she will be bringing this little bundle of joy to Sue’s coffee mornings. She still had to get through Sophie’s first day at school and she wasn’t sure who was more nervous her or Sophie!

It was half past one everyone had had lunch and Charlie was fast asleep on the sofa while Sophie watched Peppa Pig on her green bean bag. The doorbell went getting off the sofa Jo now quite excited to see her sister went to answer the door. As she opened the door she could tell already how upset her younger sister was.

She looked in shock at Cleo’s red, puffy eyes her usually bright cheeks were grey and sallow. Her long blond highlighted hair was tied back in a rather greasy ponytail. She leant forward and gave her a big hug. After they pulled apart Cleo sighed and dropped her bags onto the green carpet.

“Hi Jo” she said rather huskily.

“Hi Hun come one let’s get you a nice cup of tea.” Her sister walked past the sitting room and spotted the kids. On seeing Charlie was asleep she crept in quietly and went to give Sophie a hug.

“Hi Aunty Cleo!” cried Sophie.

“Hi Sophie how are you? Watching my favourite show I see!” Cleo smiled and ruffled Sophie blond hair. Nodding Sophie turned her attention back to pepper. The two women wondered into the warm kitchen causing Jo to open the back door

“You still not into gardening then. “ joked Cleo as she stepped out into the wild but beautiful garden really. Following her Jo chuckled.

“I like the wild look.′ said Jo. Cleo sat down on the wooden bench which the back stoned wall and closed her eyes relishing the hot sun on her lids. Jo nipped inside and made the tea, sitting next to her sister a few minutes later they both sipped their tea in silence for a bit. Similar to how they both drank their juice when they were children.

“So did he say why?” Jo asked softly, referring to Richard.

Cleo shrugged and Jo could see the pain it cause for Cleo to talk let alone even think about him. “He says he doesn’t want the commitment. Wants to travel first! First! He’s not eighteen for goodness sake!”

Jo put her arm around Cleo again a bit like when they were much younger and the evil twins from next door used to throw eggs at them out of the window. Except now there where not eight and their Mum wasn’t in the next room ready to help them at a moment’s notice.

“Anyway I will be all right. So baby number three due soon” said Cleo and tried to smile brightly but looked a bit manic instead.

“Yea and then that’s it I never thought I would have three kids by the time I am thirty five!”

“No me neither!” said Cleo jokingly. “I always knew you and Pete would get married even a week after you had met him.

Nodding Jo sipped her drink and could still see his face the very first time they had met. It had been at a party at Cleo’s old flat in London.

Jo was living just outside of London at the time working for a newspaper the job had been fun but her living arrangements rather student like and she wasn’t even a student then. At Uni she had studied Journalism and therefore graduated with a degree as well as lots of experience in drinking and dancing! Anyway the night she met Pete she had just been dumped that day by Paul a guy off her course.

Jo and Paul had been seeing each other for a few weeks and Jo had thought things were going well until Paul pulled her to one side one afternoon and said “We need to talk.”

Soon after that Jo had text Cleo in tears and an hour later Jo was at Cleo’s plush flat in west Hampstead drinking champagne, which Cleo had paid for as that day she had just got a promotion at work. “So I’m having a few people around tonight fancy staying over?”

“Oh yes.” said Jo her head already fuzzy from the bubbles.

When people arrived Jo expected to be slightly bored but as soon as she saw Pete she knew she knew she had found her soul mate.

They sun began to hurt Jo’s eyes and trying to conceal her yawn she turned her attention back to her sister now in their overgrown garden.

“Why don’t you go and have a nap Jo.” said Cleo. “I can watch the kids.”

“Are you sure?” asked Jo but had already stood up and was imaging her head on her soft pillow.

“Yes go” said Cleo.

Sophie ran into the garden with Charlie in tow his blond thick hair was all ruffled form his sleep. “Mum!” he said cutely Jo ruffled his soft hair and silently blessed herself again for being so lucky.

“Kids, mummies just going to take a nap so what would you guys like to do?” asked Cleo pleasantly.

The two children looked first at Cleo then at each other and both shrugged their little shoulders. As lovely as Cleo is she has no kids yet.

“OK let’s play out here in the garden” said Cleo and pointed to the rather tired paddling pool half full of murky green water and a few leaves. A few snails floated about as well.

“Ok” said Sophie and picked up her pink watering can. Charlie followed suit but with a bucket instead.

“Prepare to get messy!” said Jo and grinned.

“I’m cool with that” said Cleo.

Jo went upstairs and laying on her bed exhaustion took over, her weary head hit the pillow and she knew there was no chance of fighting sleep.

What felt like minutes later she could feel someone kissing her forehead then pushing back her hair.

“Jo its six o clock” the soft male voice floated into her dream it was nice and she didn’t want to open her eyes.

“Jo...” he said once more.

Slowly opening her eyes she looked right into Pete’s eyes. He bent down and kissed her “Right you dinner needs cooking!”

She sat up and smiled at him sleepily. “Only joking.” he said.

Smiling even more Jo hugged Pete and climbing off the bed slowly she smoothed down her creased clothes. “It’s ok,” said Pete following Jo in to the bathroom, “Cleo’s cooked and she fed the kids too. Think they are about to have a bath”

“Wow.” said Jo, generally surprised. Cleo never cooked Richard did all the cooking but then I guess if they are not together she will have to get used to cooking. “Be down in a bit” said Jo and carefully sat down on the loo. Nodding Pete disappeared downstairs.

Jo just had time to pee wash her face and brush her teeth before she heard cleo bringing the kids up. “Mummy!” they cried and hugged her legs tightly as though they hadn’t seen her for years.

“Hi guys! Said Jo, “Thanks Cleo that was just what I needed. “

Bending down Jo popped the plug in the bath and turned both taps on.

“No worries,” said Cleo who looked a lot! Better that she did this morning she had colour in her cheeks and there was almost a shine in her blue eyes. Jo began to undress the kids and cleo poured some bubble bath into the water.

“Oh Rich phoned while you were asleep but I told him I was busy.”

“Oh ok I guess it hard speaking to him” said Jo unsure of what else to say. She lifted Charlie into the bath and turned off the taps Sophie climbed in herself and dived straight under the bubbles.

“Yes it’s horrid really and really weird” cleo tried to mask her emotion but failed and her eyes welled up. Sophie popped back up from the bubbles and giggled.

“Go and have a drink” said Jo softly and nodding cleo went downstairs. As Jo bathed her children she felt sad for her sister. Cleo had pinned hopes on marrying this man, having his babies.

“Muma out!” asked Charlie and stuck his little arms towards Jo.

The rest of the evening went smoothly the children were in bed asleep by eight and as Jo sat down with Pete and Cleo she inhaled the delicious smell of the beef stew cleo had made.

“Umm this is fantastic!” said Jo and quickly loaded up her fork again. Her sister just grinned. “Did you really make this?”

“Well not exactly.” said Cleo and wiped some gravy up with her bread.

“Don’t look at me” said Pete who was happily tucking into his dinner.

“Ok.” said Cleo, and poured some wine into her glass. “While you were asleep I met your next door neighbour.”

“We don’t have next door neighbour.” said Jo. “Our nearest neighbours are about five, ten minutes away”

“Well he must live there then,” said Cleo

“He?” asked Jo and looked at Pete who just shrugged.

“Yes John anyway we got talking and he said hi to the kids, then I...”

“Oh John!” said Jo cutting Cleo off. “Yes he’s just got divorced lives alone now expect he has a dog.”

“OK” said cleo, “he’s very handsome don’t you think?”

Jo looked up from her plate as though she was unsure who Cleo was talking to. “I hadn’t noticed obviously” she grinned at Pete who being so laid back merely shrugged.

“Yea right!” said Cleo laughing.

After dinner they relaxed in the sitting room.

“So as I said earlier Richard phoned. “said Cleo.

“Oh yes, and?” asked Jo.

“Well he wants us to get back together.” Cleo said.

“So what are you going to do?” asked Jo to her rather flushed face sister. Who had, had three glasses of white wine.

On hearing a girl’s conversation about to start Pete casually stood up “I’m going to meet Tim for a drink at the bell and ball”

“Ok babe” bending down he gave Jo a peck on the lips and then stroked her hard bump.

After he had gone Jo turned back to Cleo. “Yes Jo I love him more than anything and I know he loves me”

“Has he told you this?” asked Cleo kindly.

“Yes three times” said Cleo

“Three times that’s it!” Jo frowned.

“What?” asked Cleo.

“Well it’s just that you have been together for five years. “

“Look Jo he says he still loves me and that he was feeling a bit smothered and needed a bit of time to think”

“What two days!” said Jo worried for her sister?

Shrugging now and then yawning Cleo stood up, “I am going to give him a second chance, right sis I need to hit the hay. You don’t mind do you? It’s just it’s been a long day. Good night.” And then Cleo did something she had not done in years she bent down and kissed and sister on the cheek.

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