This is Part 2 of the third story in our What’s Normal? short story series exploring life and emotions as lockdown eases. The third and final part will be available from 9th August. Story 4 begins on Sunday, August 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.
Lin had been scrolling mindlessly through twitter when Tai came careening in, socks slipping on the hardwood floors, and skidded to a stop only seconds before banging into the coffee table. Lin startled, laptop nearly falling, and spilled out, “what the..?”
Tai simply shoved the phone into her palms. “Uncle Zian,” she stated simply. Then, tone hushed she whispered, “sounds serious.”
Frowning down at the phone, Lin huffed. It was nine o’clock at night, and Zian only ever called if he needed something. Usually a babysitter for his little one, sometimes a lift home from the pub. With pubs open again, she wouldn’t have put it past him. Rolling her eyes, she murmured thanks to Tai before pressing the phone to her ear. “Zian?”
“Lin! Sorry, I haven’t called much, I’ve been busy with the kids and working from home you know?”
We’re all in the same boat, she thought – but hummed in agreement anyway. “Is everything all right? You don’t usually call so late.” She shifted on the sofa, tucking her feet beneath her and tossing a blanket over her legs. Summer or not, the weather had been rotten lately.
She heard Zian on the other end of the line, his little intake of breath as if he was steeling himself for something. Then, “I’ve been an idiot, Lin. You know I’ve never been good at sticking to rules, so I decided to go to Aberdeen for the weekend-“
“Zian, are you ill?”
“I think so,” he replied, and she felt his scowl. “I’ve felt rotten for days, banging headache and my temperature’s through the roof.”
Panic wrapped around her chest, tight and constricting – but she forced her voice to stay calm as she asked, “what about a cough? Anyone else unwell?”
“Just me,” Zian replied, “and I don’t have a cough or any other symptoms but-“
If Lin had been there in person, she might have hit him. Relief flooded her, and she collapsed against the back of the couch with a groan. “It’s probably just a migraine or a fever, you idiot.” Running a hand through her hair, Lin pursed her lips. “Get a test done if you’re that concerned, but I think you’re just paranoid.”
Zian was thirty years old, and in all of that time, he had always been a hypochondriac. A cold meant he had flu, a twisted ankle had to be broken, and anything worse meant he was dying. Yet it never stopped him from taking stupid risks; she’d never understand him.
“So you don’t think it’s, you know..?”
“No, I don’t.” Although he couldn’t see her over the phone, Lin scowled, hoping maybe he could sense it somehow. Honestly. “Look, just do everything you’re supposed to, get tested, and you’ll be fine. It won’t kill you to follow the rules for once. But it might be dangerous not to.”
Distantly, a kid called out across the house. Zian’s youngest and her nephew, Rory.
Zian sighed heavily, tossing the phone from one hand to the other. “He’s getting so clingy recently, I think he’s getting too used to me being around all the time. I should go and see to him.”
“Go. And get that test yeah?”
“Yeah.” A pause, like he really was embarrassed to have panicked. Then, “I’ll be fine.”
“You will,” Lin replied with a snort of laughter, “see you.”
The phone crackled, Rory yelled for his dad, and the line went dead. She certainly didn’t envy him, with a three-year-old and twin teenagers.
A second later Tai popped her head through, one brow raised. “Everything okay?”
Humming an affirmative, Lin put down her phone and shifted the laptop onto the table. “Just Uncle Zian jumping to conclusions again. Don’t worry, he’s fine.” It was true, having a temperature didn’t indicate much of anything on its own; especially if everyone else in the house was fine. Yet she couldn’t help the little twinge of worry deep in the pit of her stomach, or the doubt that crept its way into her thoughts.
Maybe going away wasn’t a good idea. Maybe it wasn’t healthy, wasn’t safe to be travelling away from home-
“…remember the time he thought he had a brain tumour, but it was just a stress migraine?”
Lin blinked, tugged back to reality by Tai’s snorting laughter and beaming grin. She forced a smile of her own. “He’s always been like that, hasn’t he?”
“Not as bad as the time he convinced me I had bird flu, and then it went away after two days.”
Lin’s smile was a little more genuine now, and some of the worry evaporated. She was just as paranoid as Zian. That was all. Nothing had even happened… yet. Scowling, Lin pressed a palm to her temple.
“Now you’re worried, aren’t you?”
“Fine, a little. If Zian is sick it’s only because he decided to visit friends in Aberdeen, and we’re supposed to be going away next week-“
Tai flopped onto the sofa with a dramatic sigh, flinging her legs onto the coffee table – and narrowly missing both the empty coffee mug and the laptop. “If you cancel-“
“I won’t,” Lin promised, “especially not since I have to pay a deposit of a hundred quid.”
Tai beamed, apparently satisfied that her promised getaway was still on track. Nodding, she pulled Lin’s laptop onto her knee and started up a new browser tab. “I’m gonna see what there is to do. Isn’t there an aquarium? And Inveraray castle! Oh, and we could-“
“Hold up kiddo, I don’t think anywhere will be open just yet.” Lin rolled her eyes, but there it was, that worry again. Clenching around her gut and burying deep. “Besides, I don’t think crowds are in anyone’s best interest right now, and it’s difficult to social distance in places like aquariums.”
Tai pouted, and it was such a cute expression that Lin found it difficult to be angry. To her credit, Tai didn’t complain and instead huffed out a quiet sigh of defeat. “What’s the point of going away if we don’t get to do anything?”
“The point is to relax. To get away. Besides, there’ll be some stuff open, just not as much.” Of course, even if shops and restaurants were available, they’d have to be careful. A week away didn’t mean an excuse to forget safety – but Lin didn’t say that out loud. Better not to start another argument.
“Uncle Zian went away, and he’s fine. You said so yourself.”
Ah. Back to that again. Lin bit down on her lip, glancing at Tai from the corner of her eyes. Her daughter was typing away on the laptop, probably looking up places to eat near Loch Lomond. “Uncle Zian took a risk, going to Aberdeen before safety measures allowed it. We’re being cautious.”
Maybe not cautious enough.
Pushing those thoughts from her mind, Lin settled in beside Tai, peering over her shoulder to glance at the laptop screen. Just as she thought; pages of cafes and restaurants popped up on screen, scrolled past as soon as they appeared. “We’re not eating out every night you know,” Lin scolded.
Tai just shrugged, pointing out a cute cafe that had opened back up. It did look nice, and it had been months since Lin had tasted proper coffee. Shrugging, she decided to indulge.
As the days crawled closer to their departure, Lin found that nagging little worry only grew. It started off as a voice in the back of her head – a voice that told her all of the ways this could go wrong. Tai could get sick. Or both of them. They could re-introduce safety measures and end up stuck in their holiday home for weeks. Zian could have been genuinely ill the entire time…
When the phone rang, jolting her from her thoughts in the middle of the supermarket, she almost tripped over the tile floors. Digging into her pockets, Lin answered with a, “hello?”
“Lin, hey. I’ve got news-“
“Did you get the Covid test done? Are you ill?”
“What? I – no, I got that back and we’re all fine. I just caught a bug from someone.” A pause, and she felt the gears turning in his brain. “Wait, have you been worried this entire time?”
A muffled laugh left him, probably hidden behind his hand or sleeve. “Sorry,” he mumbled between laughs, “I thought I was supposed to be the paranoid one.”
Blowing out a breath, Lin carried on down the aisle. “I know, but Tai and I are supposed to be going on holiday and I can’t stop thinking about everything that could go wrong. I’ve got enough hand sanitiser to last a year and more masks than I’ll ever need, but what if that isn’t enough?” Great, now she was spiralling all over again!
Zian hummed quietly, as if in thought. “I think that just proves you need to get away. All of this bad news is getting to you.”
“Maybe you’re right…”
“I know I am.” There was a moment of static feedback from the phone, muffled voices as Zian scooped up his son, and then laughter as he said, “just enjoy yourself for once. You and Tai both deserve it. Don’t they Rory?”
“Yes!” her nephew shouted, loud enough that Lin had to pull the phone from her ear.
“See? Even the kid agrees.”
Biting down on her lip was becoming a habit, and she no longer even noticed the slight sting. Tapping her fingers against the marble countertop, she relented. “You’re really not ill?”
“Nope. Whatever it was, it’s cleared up.”
“And you think going away is safe?”
“Uh-huh. And so do you, otherwise, you wouldn’t have booked a stay.”
Well, that was true enough – but it was also before Lin really allowed herself to think about it. For a moment she didn’t reply, simply pausing to grab a fresh pack of batteries from the shelf. It joined her basket along with a collection of other things – some needed for their stay, some to stay in the house for when they got back. Eventually, she couldn’t put it off any longer so she said, “I just worry. Tai’s never been good at doing what she’s told – a bit like you – but I can’t be around her twenty-four-seven.”
“Then don’t try to be. She’s a teenager. You’re going away to relax, but that won’t work if you freak out over everything.”
“Maybe; but at least I don’t let my freak outs stop me from having fun.”
Well… he had her there. Dumping another pack of batteries into the basket. Across the aisle, an elderly woman wearing a flower print face mask glared. It was odd to see, with the mask covering half of her face, but apparently she didn’t like that other people had to shop too. Lips pursed beneath her own mask, Lin kept moving.
On the phone, Rory let out a high pitched baby yawn, muffled by a chubby fist.
Zian laughed, and she pictured him rocking Rory in his arms. For all his faults, he was a good dad. Maybe Lin should be more like him. “I’m just saying, a week away will do you a world of good. Tai too. Even if all you do is chill, it’s better than staring at the same four walls.”
That was true enough. As she meandered to the next aisle – avoiding a gaggle of six teenagers and one exhausted looking father – Lin couldn’t come up with a single counter-argument. It wasn’t that everything was perfect and there was no risk involved; it was simply that it was no riskier than what she was doing right now. Lin probably encountered more people in this shop alone than she would on her entire week away, considering how isolated the little cottage was.
When it came right down to it, wasn’t a little risk worth an enormous reward?
“You’ll be safe, follow the rules and take precautions. I know you, Lin, and you’ll be fine.”
Rory chirped in agreement, although he sounded close to passing out.
“I’ve got to put him down for a nap or he’ll be cranky later. Stay safe, okay?”
“You too,” Lin replied. Then, “wait, wasn’t there something you wanted to tell me?”
Zian’s snort of laughter made her wince, but then he clicked his tongue dismissively and told her, “nothing serious. Just one of the twins got her first wisdom tooth in.”
“Ouch,” Lin winced, “good luck with that one.”
“I’ll need it. See you later, okay?”
They hung up after a quick goodbye – Lin had barely shoved her phone back in her pocket before Tai came barrelling down the aisle. In her arms were an outrageous amount of snacks – cookies and crisps, gummies, chocolate, and an entire packet of doughnuts.
“What is that?”
“Snacks for the drive! You know I get hungry when I’m bored.”
“It’s less than an hour.”
Tai shrugged, dropping the snacks into the basket – it went from nearly empty to so full Lin nearly dropped it. How had she carried all this half way across the shop?
Rolling her eyes, Lin hoisted it further over her arm. “You’re impossible.”
“I try.” A beat of silence, then a smile brightened her features. “Does this mean I’m allowed the snacks?”
“I suppose.” Just like that, her worry vanished. Well, less that it vanished; more like it retreated to the back of her mind. It was difficult not to smile when Tai beamed up at her like that, and with Zian’s words in the back of her mind, she felt more at ease than she had in weeks. Maybe months.
Tucking her arm through Lin’s free one, Tai tugged her toward the next aisle. Already she was chatting away about this and that; the restaurants she wanted to go to, the best place to go for a walk, how she had dibs on the nicest bedroom. After a minute it all merged into one, but Lin didn’t mind.
Her excitement was infectious, and Lin found she didn’t worry quite so much on the specifics any more.