This is the third and final part of Story 3 in our What’s Normal? short story series exploring life and emotions as lockdown eases. Story 4 begins next Sunday, August the 16th. You can catch up with stories 1 and 2 here and we have another series of Solo Lockdown Short Stories (written by Hannah) during the lockdown.
The drive from their little house in Glasgow to the lodge near Loch Lomond was only just over an hour, but it was still a much longer drive than Lin had managed since the beginning of the year. Other than trips to the shops and visiting her brothers, she hadn’t done any travelling at all – and it showed.
Fifteen minutes in and her patience was waning. After half an hour she was getting jittery, and by the end of the drive, Tai’s over-excitable music made her want to tear her hair out.
“Tai, could you turn the music down for me?”
“Aw, but this is my favourite song!”
“Please, love? I can barely hear the sat-nav.”
Tai huffed but did as she was told, cranking down the radio until it was barely a background hum. The following peace allowed Lin’s head to stop ringing, and her shoulders relaxed. The rest of the drive passed in relative quiet, save for Tai munching on a packet of crisps and the tinny voice of the sat-nav.
Turn left in five-hundred yards.
Lin squinted ahead, lips forming a frown as they approached the road. Road was being generous – it was a country path really, narrow and unmarked. At least it was paved, and Lin’s Ford was compact enough to pass through easily. That hadn’t been mentioned on the booking, she griped, but at least it was easy to find. The country road eventually opened up into a wide stone driveway with crowded trees on either side. Up ahead, the lodge peeked through the foliage, warm and welcoming.
There was another car already parked, and as Lin rolled to a stop she saw a short, round blonde woman hop out.
By the time Lin had unlocked her seat belt, Tai was already bounding out of the car. She didn’t bother to help with the suitcases, only waving to the woman – who Lin assumed was the owner – before scampering to explore the outside.
Climbing out of her car, Lin sent her an apologetic smile. “Sorry about her, she’s a touch excited.”
“I can see,” the woman beamed, “I’m Amber. Just here to drop off the keys, but I can show you around if you like?”
The door snapped closed behind her, shrill in the peaceful quiet. Wincing, Lin offered a shrug. “I wouldn’t mind a tour, but I know the rules are-“
“Still to social distance,” Amber finished, “well, it’s your choice. I’ll leave the keys with you, and my number in case you need anything.”
Before Lin could utter another word Tai came shooting from around the corner, nearly careening into her mother in her flurry of excitement. “This place is amazing! There’s a deck around back and it has a hot tub. There’s also like two whole balconies and a room made of windows.”
“A sunroom, you mean?” Lin replied with a smile.
“Is that what it’s called? Cool! Hey, can you show us around?”
A smile tugged at Amber’s lips, glancing to Lin for permission.
And, well, she couldn’t very well say no now, could she? Rolling her eyes, Lin gave in. “All right. Just a quick one.”
Tai, who seemed more filled with energy than she had in months, grinned broadly and raced toward the front door. The adults followed at a more reasonable pace – but Lin couldn’t help the little flutter in her chest. Despite all the panic, the concern about safety, this seemed to be just what Tai needed.
The front door opened up to a brightly lit foyer, and then on to a cosy living room with an enormous TV mounted above the fireplace. Wooden beams crisscrossed the ceiling, the back wall made of bare bricks, mixing in rustic with modern. Lin had to admit it was gorgeous, ten times better than the – already lovely – photos she had seen before.
“Kitchen’s to the left, through that archway,” Amber gestured to said archway, where Lin saw a kitchen island peeking through. “There’s a bathroom through the hall and both upstairs bedrooms have an en suite. Be careful though, because one bedroom has a sloped ceiling.”
Both Tai and Lin were short, barely above five foot, so she doubted they had to worry.
Speaking of Tai, she was flitting about the place like she didn’t know what to do with herself. She poked her head through the kitchen, nodded in approval, then darted off down the hall to inspect the rooms there.
“Someone’s excited,” Amber laughed, “In the hall, there’s also a study, there’s books and board games in there, as well as a third bedroom if you need it. Then…”, she gestured to the furthest wall – which, as Tai had said, revealed a glass sunroom and the enormous deck beyond. “Hot tub and sunroom, as promised. Controls are kept in the side table by the stairs.”
“This place is amazing,” Tai gushed, “could we just… buy it from you and live here forever?”
Lin snorted, lips curling into a smile. If only they could afford a place like this – she hated to think of the mortgage on a place like this. It was stunning though, she couldn’t deny it. A small swell of pride rose up at the knowledge they had picked such a perfect place.
Amber beamed as if sensing their happiness. “I think that’s everything! You know who to call if you need anything. There’s a map on the side table, and leaflets if you want to go exploring. Although I believe most of the places are still closed, there are restaurants open and I think a few museums open in town. Anyway,” she waved, dropping the keys into Lin’s outstretched hand. “I hope you both enjoy your stay, yeah? Have fun.”
Amber showed herself out, taking a moment to say goodbye, and then the drone of her car starting up drifted through the open door. She was sweet, but Lin was – feeling a flash of guilt – glad she was gone. Now it was just her, Tai, and a beautiful house.
“Let’s grab the suitcases,” Lin mused, “get unpacked before we settle in.”
Tai grumbled but agreed, on the condition she took the littlest one. Together they heaved two small suitcases and a backpack into the living room, but the heat of the afternoon left them sweaty even after such a simple task. With so many big windows it should have been breezy and open – but the weather had decided they weren’t to be so lucky. It was heavy too, and Lin just hoped it wasn’t a sign of a downpour later.
“I’m gonna get water,” Tai said as she wandered into the kitchen. Then she stopped dead in the hallway, lips spreading into a slow grin. “Come look at this, Amber left us a care package!”
Brow quirked, Lin padded over to investigate. It seemed like a crime to walk across the polished floor in her shoes, but it was too dry out to bring in the mud. She peeked over Tai’s shoulder, eyes scanning the gorgeous kitchen – and they landed on an enormous hamper overflowing with goodies.
“Wow, she went all out.”
“Let’s check it out!” Tai scampered over, plucking the first item from the top. “Oh, iced tea, you’ll like that Mum.” She beamed even brighter as her eyes caught a tin of hot chocolate – the proper Belgian stuff that goes thick and creamy. There were snacks too – crackers, breadsticks and delicate chocolates, jam and what looked like homemade whipped butter.
There was a card, a simple note inside that said enjoy your stay! with a little love heart at the end.
“I feel spoiled,” Tai exclaimed with a laugh, “do you want to try some of this tea? It’s strawberry and mint.”
“Strange combination,” Lin replied, “but sure, why not?”
The unpacking had been all but forgotten, shoved to the back of her mind for a later hour. Together they investigated the rest of the hamper, putting things away one by one and making lists of what they needed to buy in town. Other than fresh stuff like milk and bread, the thoughtful little hamper had almost everything they needed.
Eventually, Lin collapsed onto the sofa with a sigh, her glass of iced tea on the coffee table beside her. The sofa was plush and she sank right into it. It was like sitting on a cloud, almost weightless. Stretching out her legs across the sofa, she let her eyes slip closed for a moment…
Until Tai dropped right beside her, kicking her legs out of the way. “I’ve been looking at the leaflets,” she mused with a grin, “I didn’t know there was so much to do around here!”
“You were too young for most of it as a kid,” Lin replied, cracking an eye open, “you try dragging a child around a museum for hours.”
A shrug, eyes sparkling. “Okay. Fair enough.” She tapped the pile of leaflets on her knee – and oh hell, there were a lot. “There’s the aquarium, like a hundred museums all over the place, castles… and get this, there’s an aerial adventure course! I don’t even know what that is but it sounds great.”
“I don’t think it will be open, love.”
From the corner of her eyes, she saw Tai pout. “It might be,” she offered weakly, “besides, there are definitely some places open. Like the castles! It’s easy to social distance when you’re walking around a castle yourself.”
“I think they have tours for that,” Lin replied, laughter deep in her throat, “you can’t just wander about by yourself.”
“We can see what’s open tomorrow,” she reassured, “but today I’d really like to just relax.” Lin was in no rush to get out there and fill her days with adventure – that wasn’t her style even without a pandemic looming over them. Frankly, she just wanted to relax the entire two weeks, maybe eat out a couple of times, and spend most of her time in that lovely hot tub outside. Weather permitting of course.
“Did you speak to Uncle Zian? I bet he’s so jealous.”
Lin sat up, leaning across to take a sip of iced tea. It was sweet, the way Americans tended to drink it – but the cool mint flavour came through, the strawberry lingering a little longer on her tongue. Somehow, it tasted expensive. “Zian can afford places like this twice a year,” Lin laughed, passing over the glass to let Tai try, “but I absolutely intend to make him jealous, yes.”
Tai took a hesitant sip – only for her face to scrunch up as she handed it back over. “Tastes like someone put toothpaste over strawberries,” she muttered – and took a long gulp of hot chocolate to dull the taste.
Fighting back a grin, Lin set the glass back down. “Anyway, after his scare I don’t think Zian will be going out as much. At least I hope so.”
“What about you?”
“Hmm?” Lin looked over, brows furrowed. “What about me?”
Tai wriggled in her seat – and leaflets went flying, but she scrambled to grab them before they floated to the floor. “I mean,” she replied, stretching out to grab one that managed to escape, “you were all paranoid about us getting ill or stranded or something. You nearly cancelled the trip, remember.”
Lin sighed, squeezing the bridge of her nose between two thin fingers, “it isn’t like those thoughts have just vanished,” she answered honestly, “but we can’t live life without a little risk.”
“Who are you, and what have you done with my real mum?”
Dropping her hand, she sent Tai a mock-glare – but winked to let her know she wasn’t really mad. “I just think, given everything, we could do with being careful. But careful doesn’t mean locking ourselves in the house and never doing anything.” Folding her arms, she sank back into the cushions. They almost enveloped her. “Besides, we have this entire place to ourselves; social distancing is easy in a house in the middle of nowhere.”
That wasn’t quite true – it only looked like the middle of nowhere because of the trees and empty road, but it was only fifteen minutes from Balloch. Still, her point stood intact.
Humming in agreement, Tai took another generous gulp of chocolate. How she could drink it on such a hot day was beyond Lin, but it was a holiday. She deserved it.
Stretching out, Lin ignored how her joints popped and her back protested. In her early forties, she was hardly old, but that didn’t seem to stop her joints from aching. “We really should unpack,” she stated with a reluctant sigh, “or we’ll never want to.”
“Couldn’t we just live out of the suitcases the whole time?”
“Less effort,” Lin admitted, “but it won’t feel as comfortable.”
Tai must have figured she was right, because with a dramatic huff she downed the last of her drink and heaved herself upright. “Which one’s mine again?”
“The red one.”
Tai took her time in getting it upright, and even more time in fumbling with the handle. Lin didn’t need to be her mother to know what she was playing at, but it still worked.
“Come on, we can unpack later. Just find a swimsuit, would you? I want to try the hot tub.”
With a triumphant grin, Tai cheered. “Thanks! You’re the best!”
Lin’s heart warmed as she saw Tai’s beaming smile; a proper, face stretching smile she hadn’t seen since last Christmas. It occurred to her that the last few months had been even rougher on her than Lin herself, and this was the perfect way to unwind. Their problems would still be waiting when they got back home – but for now, this was an escape.
And maybe, just maybe, things wouldn’t seem so bad with two weeks of perfection behind them.