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Enjoy this short story about family…

The kids had left home and she was going on a road trip with her best friend… so why did she feel so on edge?  

Get a grip, I told myself.

“OK, so you want to live with your dad.” I summed up what I’d been told. My fourteen and sixteen-year-olds had called a family meeting and sat me down in the kitchen. I’d split from their dad four years ago. There’d been no question who they’d live with back then. My husband, career-orientated, had left the child-rearing to me.

“I’ll see them at weekends,” he’d said. We’d tried to keep things low-key, always reasonable, always friendly. If any arrangements changed it would be up to the children.

“Dad’s place is bigger,” my eldest son, Noah, now reasoned as his sister sat swinging her legs under the table. “I won’t have a box room.”

“It’s warmer,” his sister Katy added. “Dad has the heating on more often.”

With his bigger budget, their dad could treat them to more expensive food, too – less baked beans, more steak. He could take them on trips out I couldn’t afford. He had another advantages as well. No cleaning? No washing up? No special projects like changing your own bed sheets? You could tip his cleaner with your pocket money increase. I didn’t say any of that since I realised my kids had turned into proper teenagers lately – a tiny bit self-absorbed.

I heaved in a slow, deep breath. In for five, out for six and repeat. I could refuse and they’d resent me. I could dissolve into tears and remind them of the years I’d spent making sacrifices. “Do you think you’ll get on with Cassandra?” Their dad’s partner did live in.

Katy shrugged. “She’s OK.”

“Yeah, she’s all right,” Noah agreed.

I swallowed hard. “OK then, what do you need to take?”

They left midweek after packing up their things. They took clothes, books, tech, but no furniture since I expect their dad had already forked out on new items. It was simply his turn to have them, they repeated, as they packed up his car.

I’ll call every morning, was my own mantra. At their age I expected them to tell their friends my calls were a blooming nuisance.

You could feel deserted, I told myself on Friday when I once more returned from my job to my empty house. Or you could remember you don’t have four loads of washing to do this weekend. You don’t have a pile of ironing and you won’t need to do any extra shopping in case a zillion teenage friends drop round then forget to go home. You don’t have to drive from venue to venue like a taxi either. “Your time is all your own. Now what do you want to do?”

I did recall a similar feeling from years ago, back then a tingle of excitement raced up my spine. Aged nineteen, after passing my driving test my parents added me to my mother’s insurance policy. Her car suddenly was also mine and at weekends she rarely used the thing. I could simply get in and drive with no plan in mind, no destination plotted. “You could do that again,” I muttered in my kitchen.

Heart hammering, I fished my mobile out of my bag and dialled.

“Hi, it’s me. Are you free for a few days? You remember that trip we took years and years ago?”

“Who is this?” was not the reply I anticipated.

It’s me, Lorna. I know I haven’t rung in a long time but do you want to catch up? Do you want to go for a drive? We can simply see where we end up, like we did last time.

“Are you all right, you don’t sound it?”

“Er, well something unexpected happened. I’m… free.”

“Oh, right. OK. I suppose Jack could look after the kids. It’ll be fine. Yes. OK. When do you want to pick me up, then?”

“Tomorrow, around 9am?”

The next morning, my car wound its way through open countryside.

“So your Noah and Katy upped and left?” my passenger repeated.

My best friend back in my youth had been Carrie Thomson. Aged nineteen we had taken my first epic drive together, only on that scorching day in summer she’d rolled down the window and let her long hair stream back, one arm getting tanned a shade darker than the other. Today, in winter as drizzle fell, she donned an efficient pixie-cut and a worried frown. Like me, she’d never left her home town, commuting instead to an office job in Manchester. Later she’d married and kids came along. She’d given up a lot to be a mum. We used to discuss it all until somehow our friendship drifted.

“How do you feel about them leaving?” she asked.

At the wheel, I gulped as a surge of emotion tightened my throat. “Confused. Upset. Conflicted.”

“Is that why we’re going to Skegness?”

That’s where we ended up the first time. We’d driven through the flat lands of Lincolnshire marvelling at the growing cabbages, just miles of miles of brassicas. Since we both were on a shoestring budget we’d slept in the car, me in the back since I was driving, her propped up in the passenger seat. I’d parked at the kerb outside a row of B&Bs on the outskirts of town, well beyond the arcades and the fish and chip shops.

I also remembered a park where a convenient toilet block stood.

Today I’d followed our old route for nostalgia’s sake.

As we reached a set of railway barriers, Carrie’s phone interrupted.

“Hi,” she said when she took the call. “No, no I’m fine. I told you when I left I’m off on a little trip with an old friend. I’ll be back on Sunday. Your dad can help out with your homework. Yes, he can do compound fractions. Don’t let him make excuses.”

I glanced to my bag in the rear seats as she nattered on, and a long goods train rattled by. Noah and Katy will call you if they need you, I told myself, but don’t call them, not today.

As if to rub in my own offspring’s continuing silence, Carrie’s children rang another three times before we reached the coast.

“I’m fine,” she kept insisting. “I’m having a few days away.”

When she rang off after her latest call she glanced over to me.

They seem to think I’ve been kidnapped.

I wished my kids thought the same thing. The sea crashed to my left by this time, the sky above it grey and brooding as I drove through the heart of Skeggy then out the other side.

“We’re not sleeping in the car again, are we?” Carrie asked when I parked up in the exact same road as all those years ago. The B&Bs didn’t look so different, maybe a few had a new door, a few had new coats of paint and a new signs.

“I think I might for old time’s sake, but you can do whatever you like. You’re free, too, remember?”

She frowned at the notion. “I could book into a B&B? They’ll be eager for trade out of season. I might even get a discount. I’ll try that one up there… won’t be a second.”

She climbed out, then wandered off towards the big white house that stood on the opposite side of the road. Meantime, I grabbed my bag then sat with its weight in my lap. I’m not ringing you, kids. I’m not. If you don’t miss it then why bother?

A knock came at the window about fifteen minutes later, it gave me a start. I rolled the window down.

“I’ve booked a room,” said Carrie. “If you don’t really want one, that’s fine. The landlady does offer sandwiches for lunch though – cheese and tomato, tuna and mayonnaise or ham salad. Come on, the place isn’t exactly crowded.”

It seemed no other parents had escaped this dreary wet weekend. Inside the B&B’s dining room stood empty. The room did boast a lovely bay window, not that the view of tarmac and a skeletal hedge deserved it. My sandwich did taste good though. I chewed on a ham salad doorstop while Carrie sat across from me chomping a cheese and tomato.

Her brow furrowed. “You know you could have taken a week off work then looked for a last minute booking abroad – Spain, Italy, France, or somewhere more exotic. You could have rung that nice man from accounts. That one you stopped seeing because your kids started acting up. Didn’t they call him stuffy? Is he still around?”

I nodded. “Yes. I mean, he’s not attached.”

Her frown deepened.

You really are having issues with the whole ‘freedom’ concept, aren’t you? I’m not struggling so much myself.

“Yes, but we know why that is.” I gulped down more sandwich then abruptly my resolve snapped. I grabbed my bag from the tiles. “I would have heard a call but I might have missed a text from my kids. Maybe when that freight train rolled by earlier?”

I rifled past tissues in the depths of my bag, past boiled sweets, lipstick and mascara. Then I patted the pockets of the coat I’d draped over the back of my chair. I know I’d definitely cleared the car of valuables before I’d abandoned it at the kerb.

The truth struck abruptly. “Oh heck, no wonder I haven’t had any calls, my phone’s at home! I left it on the drainer in the kitchen. I did make a mental note to pick it up, then clearly forgot.”

I blinked in shock. “That means I’ve been completely out of contact. I might as well have disappeared off the face of the earth.” I gulped, realising the next few minutes might really, really hurt. “I wonder if anybody’s actually noticed.”

Carrie looked pensive as she offered her mobile.

“Right, OK, I’ll find out.” I dialled my daughter. The call rang for about three seconds before Katy picked up. “Hi, it’s me… your mother.”

“Where the heck have you been?” she yelled. “Are you alright? You didn’t call so I rang about a hundred times and left messages. Noah’s been calling too… Noah! Noah, it’s Mum. She’s on somebody else’s phone. What happened?” she demanded.

“I went travelling and I forgot to take my mobile.”

“You had us really worried.”

“Oh, did I?” I inquired so innocently before breaking into a big, wide grin.

Abruptly I did feel the lure of wide open spaces. I could easily have worried them in France. I could be wine-tasting now. I could be flirting with some Frenchman with puppy-dog eyes. I could be on a faraway beach, sunbathing. I could be reading a novel without constantly being interrupted by somebody demanding food. I actually could have asked Rob from accounts out. He possessed a dry sense of humour and wasn’t stuffy at all.

I could have done any of those things and, like Carrie, felt fine if I’d trusted my wayward children hadn’t truly thrown me out of their lives.

“I might go travelling a bit more now,” I told my kids over the phone. “You might need to track me down. You might need to ring me for a change to see if I’m alright.” Do I sound like a self-absorbed teenager myself now? Does it sound like I expect everybody to bend to my will? Well, if it’s good for the goose…

Lorna, you’re making the best of this now, I told myself.

Maybe this “freedom” thing can work after all?

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Allison Hay

I joined the "My Weekly" team thirteen years ago and, more recently, "The People's Friend". I love the variety of topics we cover both online and in the magazines. I manage the digital content for the brands, sharing features and information on the website, social media and in our digital newsletters.