It’s best to choose your holiday companions very carefully – as Tina and Jack are about to find out
The villa was perfect. As they drove up, Tina felt a rush of relief. The responsibility for booking the holiday had weighed heavy on her shoulders – largely because Jack had shown virtually no interest in where they went.
“Are you sure going with them is a good idea?” He had drained his glass of wine. “Sarah can be pretty full on.”
Tina didn’t want to admit she was having second thoughts about her suggestion, made after a few drinks, that they should all holiday together.
Sarah did like being the centre of attention but Tina didn’t, so that shouldn’t matter, and Jack got on well with Paddy.
She plumped for a two-week package to the Greek island of Paxos.
You’ll like it when we get there,” she told him firmly.
And indeed as they parked outside the villa, Jack said, “Nice place.” Though that might have been because they’d passed a golf course less than a mile back.
Sarah and Paddy turned into the drive behind them. They all entered the villa and dumped their cases in the living area.
“Toss for rooms?” said Paddy, balancing a shiny Euro on his thumb. He must have forgotten they had agreed Tina should have first choice as she’d done all the spadework. But Sarah didn’t correct him, and Tina didn’t like to.
“Why didn’t you say something?” Jack asked as they pushed the two single beds together.
“Why didn’t you?” She opened the French windows that gave on to a tiny patio overhung with bougainvillea and with just enough room for two chairs.
The expansive terrace outside the other bedroom came with sunbeds and a view not of the washing line and dustbins, but of the sea. The photos in the brochure had been deceptive.
Outside, Paddy was already in the pool. Tina looked away from his budgie-smugglers. Sarah lay in her bikini – her bikini! At fifty-two! Their St Tropez tan treatment made it look as if they’d been there for weeks.
Tina checked her sarong was firmly in place, reluctant to display her fuller body and the cellulite that dimpled her white thighs.
“Shouldn’t we do a shop?” she ventured.
Sarah patted the sunbed beside her.
“We’ll do that later – after our siesta.”
There was no mistaking what the smile she shot in Paddy’s direction was meant to convey.
Tina wilted inside. The walls of the villa were thin, her own libido on borrowed time. Her hesitation cost her the sunbed that Jack was already commandeering. He arranged himself beside Sarah.
“Chill out, T. Make the most of this. We’re only here for a fortnight.”
She walked round to the shadier side of the pool, deciding not to drag one of the beds round to join them. She sat down and, when she thought no-one was looking, unwrapped her sarong.
“Nice cozzy,” Sarah shouted so both men turned to look. “Is it new?”
Tina held in her stomach as she quickly lay flat, wishing she’d stuck to that diet she’d started in spring.
But even if she had, she’d never look like Sarah. That bikini was tiny.
Tina’s legs prickled in the heat. She could see Jack considering Sarah out of the corner of his eye. When Sarah asked him to rub sun lotion into her back, he obliged far too eagerly.
Tina rested her head on her arm.
Despite herself, she opened her eyes and squinted towards her husband, who was handing back the lotion bottle to Sarah with a broad smile.
Her stomach lurched.
That night they drove to the little fishing village down the hill. The scent of wild thyme flew into the car on the warm breeze. The lights from a string of tavernas and the chatter of other holidaymakers welcomed them.
Paddy took charge, ignoring the blandishments of the waiters touting for custom outside each taverna.
Tina watched Sarah rest her hand on Jack’s arm as they made their way to a table.
The retsina soon loosened Paddy’s tongue and he was regaling them with stories from his and Sarah’s last holiday in the Caribbean, encouraged by Jack’s laughter and Sarah’s chipping in.
The food arrived: calamari, moussaka, lamb kleftiko. Salad for Sarah. Another bottle of retsina.
Sarah raised an eyebrow when Tina took her second slice of bread. Tina ignored her and helped herself to another glass of wine. Soon she would be in bed.
In the morning, Sarah’s gold bikini was even smaller than the one from the day before.
Tina lay beside her, her chest white with sun cream, a towel covering her legs that were scarlet with sunburn.
Paddy and Jack had gone to play golf.
“It relaxes Paddy,” Sarah explained. “He works so hard to make the business a success so he needs it. Dealing with property and the tenants can be horribly stressful. I hope Jack understands.”
Her eyes were shut as Tina got to her feet and walked down the steps into the pool, resisting the urge to jump in and splash her.
This holiday had been a dreadful idea of hers. How had she forgotten how trying Sarah could be?
The fortnight stretched ahead of her like an endurance test.
Why had it taken her until now to realise how little in common the four of them really had?
Living in such close proximity was not at all the same as meeting for supper in the pub every month or so. Three years working at neighbouring concessions in John Lewis did not mean you knew anybody well.
Jack would have preferred they holidayed alone. He could see how uncomfortable the glamorous Sarah and Paddy made Tina whenever they met.
Yet she didn’t seem to realise, and was often the one who suggested they met in the pub or went round to their state-of-the-art, child-free house – such a contrast to their messy but comfortable home.
But she wanted to be their friends so he went along to please her.
He had let her choose where they went because he knew how much it meant to her.
He tried to point out the downsides, but she didn’t listen, and he didn’t mind dipping into his wallet if they were going to have a good time.
But he knew what would happen. He and Paddy would be thrown together while Tina and Sarah stayed by the pool. Girls together, gossiping, tanning, and whatever it was that women did together.
But if Tina was happy, then he would be too, even though he could take or leave Paddy.
Paddy had suggested the game of golf over breakfast. Sarah had already mooted a morning by the pool and, to Jack’s surprise, Tina had agreed.
He was obviously expected to join Paddy, though he’d had a bellyful of him the previous evening. One more word about the bloody Caribbean and he’d thought he’d deck him!
He’d slept badly. His narrow single bed dipped in the middle, and he could hear Paddy snoring.
“We’ll take our car.” Paddy pulled at the waist of his checked golfing shorts. “Don’t know why you didn’t get a bigger one.”
“It’s the one Tina booked,” Jack said.
She looked up. Only he saw the warning glare.
“It’s big enough for us,” he added hastily.
He was relieved to get out of the house, away from the inexplicable tension between him and Tina.
For some reason she hadn’t sat with them by the pool the day before. He would have moved her sunbed to be beside him if she’d asked.
She was looking gorgeous in her new costume, all womanly curves.
He wasn’t one for all those angles and points on a skinny woman. He shuddered at the memory of rubbing the cream into Sarah – he could count every one of her ribs. Not a pick of fat on the woman. Nothing to get hold of.
He’d kept an eye on Tina in the evening and she was enjoying herself, even got a bit tiddly.
Not that it led to anything. They’d been put off by their proximity to the other bedroom.
Maybe she hadn’t slept so well, pinned between him and the wall.
Still, a morning with Sarah would put her right.
The game of golf was not enjoyable. Paddy talked about his business, taking calls as he went, being the big I-am. He didn’t ask Jack once about his work in IT.
“I’m not used to these clubs, that’s all.” Paddy wiped sweat from his brow as Jack potted his last ball in an easy win. “Rematch tomorrow?”
Jack nodded, wishing he could think of an excuse. Paddy lagged behind him as he took another call.
Back at the house, Sarah and Tina were lying on opposite sides of the pool, apparently asleep. Tina raised her head at his footstep.
“Jack!” Sarah sat up, clutching her undone bikini top to her breasts. “Let’s all go out for lunch. I’d love another Greek salad, and then the beach.”
She put out a hand for him to help her up.
He looked over to Tina who nodded. Her expression was unreadable but, for good relations, he played along.
At lunch, Paddy didn’t seem to notice Sarah flirting with the waiter, but Jack noticed Tina was almost silent.
Afterwards, they took their towels down to the beach.
“Anything wrong?” he asked her.
“Nothing,” she said, hitching up the top of her sarong to cover herself up as Sarah tweaked the top of her barely-there blue bikini.
“Boys! Coming for a swim?” Sarah held her hands out to them.
Jack dutifully got up and followed her and Paddy, casting a look over his shoulder at Tina who looked away.
The loud chime of Paddy’s mobile made heads turn. He ran back and snatched it from his shorts pocket, his Rolex falling on to the sand.
The conversation sounded urgent, heated. When it was over, he looked stunned.
“What is it?” Sarah joined him.
“That was Simon. The business is going belly up! That damn accountant. I knew I couldn’t trust him.
“I’ll have to go back.” He swiped the face of his phone. “I’ll find the next available flight.”
“But we can’t…” A pout played on Sarah’s lips. “I’ll stay. Tina and Jack won’t mind, will you?”
“Of course not,” Tina managed.
They held their breath.
“No way.” Paddy stood up, grabbing his towel. “You’re coming with me. I’ll need you there.”
Sarah looked away, muttering an imprecation they only just heard. “It’s always all about you,” she finished.
The astonished Tina and Jack watched them depart, Sarah a few angry steps behind Paddy. They hadn’t even suggested they return to the villa together.
Jack and Tina looked at each other, uncertain, tentative. Finally, Jack broke the ice.
“I feel as if we’ve just had an incredibly lucky escape.”
“But won’t you miss them?” Tina looked puzzled.
“I’ve never been more glad to see the back of someone. Won’t you miss Sarah?”
“Not one bit.” Tina began to laugh. “I got it so wrong, didn’t I?”
“You’re all I need.” Jack picked up the sun cream.
“I wonder how many bikinis she brought,” said Tina with a small smile.
“We’ll never know.” His arm curved around her shoulders. “Not that I care.”
Tina reached up and touched his hand. “You loved them.”
“Me?” Jack put both arms round her. “Wrong again. She’s not a patch on you. Let’s get rid of this.”
He put down the lotion, untied her sarong and kissed her shoulder before rubbing in the cream with care, feeling her relax.
“Shall we move into the other bedroom when they’ve gone?” he said.
Tina nodded as she felt her libido make an uncharacteristic bid for attention.
Perhaps being on Paxos for a fortnight wouldn’t be so bad, after all.