It’s six in the morning. Emily sits in her makeup chair, the lights on her mirror glowing, resembling a backstage dressing room, on the west end. She is flattening her hair with a pair of straighteners. Olivia sits on the edge of the bed, legs crossed, with a glass of lemon water in hand. The breeze from the past evening is gone and, though the sun is still making its speeding ascent above the horizon, Emily’s whole house is boiling. No flat screen fires are lit, and Emily’s windows are wide open. The drapes don’t move an inch in the still air. Olivia yawns.
“Oh doll.” Emily coos. She rummages in one of her makeup drawers and, setting her straighteners down, she comes over to Olivia with something gold in her hand. “Those bags are not designer. Look up.” Olivia does as she is told and Emily sticks something under her eyes, careful not to disrupt the, still darkening, bruise. “There,” she says, “leave them on for ten minutes, then take them off and dab, don’t rub, the excess around your eye socket.” Pleased with her work, she goes back to her hair. Olivia walks over to a standing mirror in the corner of the room. There are gold stickers under her eyes. They look like tiny pillows. Anything that make her feel more human, she’ll gladly accept. If she was sore yesterday, it’s nothing to how she feels right now. Her body is groaning like it’s been hit by a truck and her face pinches and pulls with every expression. She pulls back her long black hair and twists it into a bun on top of her head, tying it with a bobble. She invades Emily’s desk and pinches a few grips to hold it into place. “Those things are like gold in this house.” Emily grunts.
“Same at my house! It’s like putting socks in the dryer. When these things go in your hair, they seem to disappear into an alternate reality, from which they never return.”
Emily laughs and nods in agreement. There is scratching at the door. Olivia opens it a little and a tiny, fluffy Poppy comes bounding in. She is panting and excited at the visitor and jumps up at Olivia’s legs, leaving tiny scratches on her skin. Olivia doesn’t mind. She bends down to pet her and Poppy rolls over for her tummy to be tickled. “Ooh, you’re a good girl, aren’t you? Yes, you are, you’re a lovely little girl. Look at that likkle face. Look at that lovely, likkle face.” Emily looks at her like she’s a crazy person. Poppy jumps up and licks Olivia’s face, she lets her. “Urgh. Get a room.” Emily gags. Olivia gently pushes Poppy down, as she considers the unhygienic downfalls of a dog licking an open wound. She wipes away at her face, then tickles the dog’s ear. “Shall we get a room, Poppy?” The dog looks up at her, tongue hanging out, with absolutely no idea what that means, but seeming to think it a good idea. She bounds up giddily and races out of the room, her usually curled up tail, straight out like a ruler as she speeds away. Olivia laughs and Emily shakes her head, having moved onto to dabbing concealer under her eyes. “I’m more of a cat person.”
“Shh.” Olivia scolds. “She’ll hear you.” Emily rolls her eyes by way of response, but Olivia can still see the smile playing on her lips. She loves that dog, really.
Olivia takes the masks from under her eyes and gently dabs the excess serum around her eye socket, as instructed. She’s not sure it has helped any with her bags, but it has given her eyes a brighter look. She dabs on a little concealer, under her eyes, around her nose and very tentatively over the bruise, avoiding the actual wounds on her face. It barely covered anything, but every little thing will help. She brushes her lashes with mascara, they stick out at odd angles…Olivia isn’t sure why they’re behaving in such a way and curses their disobedience. She finishes by brushing her eyebrows down with a little gel and dabbing some tinted balm onto her lips. “That’ll do.” She flippantly remarks. Emily turns to watch her. She shakes her head. “It’s crazy! I’ve been up since five this morning so that I could look this fabulous, you roll out of bed, dab on a little mascara and you’re ready for a film set!” Olivia laughs and rolls her eyes. “I’m sure these bruises and cuts would go fantastically with a red carpet, ball gown!”
“No, not so much the ball gown, but you do kind of look like an avenging angel!” Olivia laughs. “Really! You do, just throw on some body armour and you could be Thor’s wife, ready to smite down those who will harm you. You’re an absolute goddess!” Olivia takes in her friend’s face, the face that always has a smile for her and always encourages her to speak her mind. She sees Olivia in a way she can’t seem to see herself. To Olivia, Emily is the goddess here and she wants to make sure she knows it.
“No, you’re a goddess.” She gushes.
“No, you’re a goddess.”
“We’re both goddess’ and absolutely ready for our close up.” They laugh and agree to agree. They get back to getting ready, throwing on comfy clothes for the drive. Emily dresses in a coordinate set of white cotton shorts and a matching white cotton crop top. Olivia throws on a bright red maxi skirt with white flowers scattered across the fabric and matches it with a ribbed white vest top, that cuts off above her lower rib. Her silver necklace with the rose quartz droplet, hanging around her neck. They take some much needed selfies and head downstairs, bags in tow and Poppy catching up at their heels, ready for a summer road trip.
Poppy sits in the back of the car, in the most adorable dog car seat, Olivia had ever seen. Actually, it is the first dog car seat she has ever seen. Her tongue sticks out as she pants giddily. Olivia sits next to her and Emily sits up front with Nick. The road is open and even though its early in the morning, the air is still hot. It’s the best time of the day at the moment. The warmth is there, but the stickiness that comes with the midday sun, is not. The cars residents are sleepy, but don’t give way to tired eyes. There’s a lot to see on this trip. Rolling hills are the least of it. Olivia feels so full of gratitude, she’s certain her heart will burst. The kindness she has been shown from Emily, Nick and Ian is beyond compare. They’re wonderful people and there can be no denying it. Whilst she is feeling a little guilty about leaving her Mum alone, she knows Claudia is going to enjoy the peace and quiet. Music hums around the car, Emily sings along terribly and every once in a while, Olivia looks into the rear-view mirror, to meet Nick’s eyes. No words are exchanged but the silence speaks legions. “If she carries on like this, it’s going to be a hell of a long journey.”
An hour into their journey, with little more than forty-five minutes left, the group decide that it’s absolutely time for a toilet break. Poppy will surely be wetting the adorable car seat if they don’t stop soon. There’s a little service station, just outside the Lake District, complete with toilets, coffee shops, book shops and a small food store. As they start to slow down, Poppy gets excited and tries to break free of her seat. Olivia unties her and, as they stop, opens the door to allow the little fur ball her freedom. She does her business right there next to the car. Poor love. Olivia tickles the dog’s ear. Poppy stares up at her gratefully, she stands on her hind legs and sets her tiny paws on Olivia’s legs. Olivia is certain she is already in love with this sweet natured dog and will be sad when they have to part ways. “Right, I’m gonna grab some food and drinks. What does everyone want?” Nick asks, a little too gleefully for this time in the morning. “I’ll take an iced mocha and a breakfast burrito.” Emily, as equally gleeful as her Uncle, answers. Olivia really isn’t hungry but knows how she gets without caffeine. “I’ll take the same, hold the burrito…if you don’t mind.”
“If I minded, I wouldn’t offer.” He chuckles. “Food?”
“None for me.” He heads towards the service station. Olivia is overcome with a sudden urge to pee right there next to Poppy and the morning chill doesn’t help. She hands the lead to Emily and runs off after Nick.
She catches him at the door, he turns, a little in shock, to see her beside him. “You alright?” He asks. She nods cheerfully.
“Just needed to pee.” He chuckles by way of response. They are inside now and, even though it is quiet, given the time of the morning, there are still a few passers-by. An elderly couple are exiting, each holding a takeaway coffee cup from a well-known coffee chain. As they leave, the elderly gentlemen sets the bag of food he is carrying over his wrist and reaches out his other hand to take his wife’s. Hand in hand they walk out the automatic doors and down the steps. Olivia turns to watch them go and smiles to herself as the Old man leans down to kiss his wife on the lips. He gives her a cheeky grin and they disappear into the lowered car park. “Must be on an anniversary trip.” Nick says, pulling Olivia out of what appears to be a creepy staring spell. “What makes you think that?” Olivia asks.
“Just a guess…it’s fun, guessing where people are going and where they’ve come from. Look around…do you see any international spies? Who came here from Russia to find his one true love from the Soviet days, whom he lost contact with because she was American and their love was forbidden?” Olivia looks around. Who could that possibly be? She looks at a large man with, jet black hair and heavy-set eyes. He wears a long brown coat…unusual for this weather. His shoulders are square and look like they could be useful in a game of rugby. As he turns around, she sees his full face. He has stubble around his jaw line, it creates a slight shadow. His heavy-set eyes are so dark, they’re almost black and are framed with thick lashes. He’s actually quite beautiful. She is about the point him out until he thanks the barista for his latte and comes out with the broadest, Irish accent she has ever heard. It could almost be fake…maybe it is fake, could that be part of the back story? Maybe. She is ready to call him in as a mysterious stranger, who fakes an Irish accent to cross the boarders and find his true love but then turns to look at Nick. If ever there was a mysterious human being with a million stories behind his face…its him. She holds up her fingers to make a camera square, with Nick in shot. She sticks out her tongue as she focuses the angle. He looks through at her. “Rude.” He scoffs. “Do I look old enough to be from the Soviet Union days?”
“I don’t know how old you are…could be.” She walks backwards following him through the ‘camera’ as they stroll towards the café. “Hmm, I could be offended. How old do I look?”
“I’d say…” She considers, dropping her hand to focus on him better. “Thirty-one, maybe thirty-two?” He laughs.
“Ouch. I’m twenty-nine.”
“Oh!” Olivia feels a little sheepish at having guessed higher than his age, but she can’t help but feel a little pleased that their age gap is smaller than she had imagined it to be.
“Maybe I should stop stressing so much, premature aging isn’t a good look, is it?”
“I think you look great.” He stares at her, cocking his eyebrow at the remark. “I just mean,” she falters, “that you’re doing great. For someone…who has so much to offer…like…you’ve done so much with your life and you’re so successful, I’d say it’s unusual to be so well off at such a young age.” He smiles widely at this.
“Now that’s a compliment I’ll take. Maybe when I’m forty, I’ll look sixty from my efforts, but at least I’ll have something to show for it.” Olivia feels a funny twist in her stomach. She is sucked into the cavern that she tries so hard to keep covered. The cavern full of questions, full of what ifs? What if she can’t think of something to do with her life? What if she finds it but can’t achieve it? What if she ends up stuck in a dead-end job till, she’s old and hunched over? What if she is still living at home, way into her thirties, because she can’t find work that pays above minimum wage? The trip. The nice weather. The prospects of staying with Nick and her best friend for two weeks, is suddenly a distant dream. How could she spend this summer, lulling in a lake, when her entire future is at stake? “Didn’t you have to pee?” Nick pulls her, again, out of a daydream.
“Yeah!” She potters off to the bathroom, leaving Nick at the café with their coffee order.
She returns a short while later, to the car. Poppy is back in her car seat. Emily sits next to her, so Olivia climbs into the front seat. Nick is already ready to go; he chugs back at his coffee and points down to the iced mocha that sits in the cup holder by the gear stick. He leans down to pick it up for her, at the same time she reaches for it. Their hands brush together and they both pull back a little too hastily. Olivia looks up, he smiles awkwardly and laughs at their silliness. Olivia laughs in return. A simple, gentle and joking encounter to most but Emily watches from the back. She narrows her eyes at the playful exchange, she sees the sparks, but says nothing and instead, sips away at her drink and chomps on her burrito, stopping only to feed a little to Poppy, who begs by staring deep into Emily’s soul until she gives in to share her food.
Olivia picks up her drink and sips away. “Thank you.” Nick waves his hand at her by way of response.
“Everyone ready to get back on the road?”
“Yep.” Both Emily and Olivia say in unison. Nick puts his cup in his holder and starts putting the car into gear. Olivia watches. She is curious by the way cars work. Maybe that’s a potential career option: a mechanic. Though, would she have to go back to college for that? “What’s the difference between an automatic and a manual?” Nick takes the car out of gear and looks at her. He then puts the car into first, “That is. Beyond the clutch, I’m not really certain if there are any other differences.”
“Which is the clutch?” Nick laughs and points at the pedals. He pushes down on the pedal furthest to the left. “That’s the clutch.” He moves to the middle pedal. “That’s the brake.” Then he presses the right pedal with his right foot. “And that’s the accelerator.”
“You don’t want to mix them up.” Olivia jokes.
“No, you do not. Have you never had any lessons?”
“Nope! I’ll be honest; besides the expense, I’m scared to death about the idea of driving a death machine.” He shakes his head.
“It’s only a death machine if you don’t drive it safely.” He puts the car into gear and they start to move. Olivia expects them to head for the exit, but instead, Nick pulls into a dirt track that runs, unused, at the side of the building. It’s quiet and shaded, Olivia notes that there is actually dew on the patches of grass. It’s dark and almost moggy. The coolness of their surroundings is incomparable to the field back home. Olivia has to resist the urge to jump out the car and roll around in it. The idea makes her weirdly thirsty. That is until she sees a pipe at the side of the building, pouring waste onto the damp ground…there’s no way in hell she’s going to roll around in that. She looks back at Emily, who is looking around, confused. “What’re you doing?” She asks. Nick grins wickedly and climbs out the car. He comes around to the passenger side and beckons Olivia out. She complies. “Jump in the driver’s seat.”
“Just do it, you chicken.” Olivia has never been one to shy away from a challenge and is curious for the outcome. She does as she is told and jumps into the driver’s seat. They close the doors.
“What the hell are you doing, right now?” Emily is leaning forward between the two seats. Olivia puts her belt on and sets her hands on the wheel, feeling the leather that binds it. She’s a little nervous. After all, this isn’t the cheapest of cars. Maybe she should be trying to drive a tiny Citroen of some kind…something that would cost more to fix than to sell to a scrap yard, if she were to accidently wrap it around a tree. She is Nervous. Scared. Excited. It’s exhilarating, actually.
“What now?” She beams to Nick.
“Now you put her into gear.”
“Wait. Which one is the brake again?” Emily leans her head against the back seat and groans.
“So, this is how I die.”