The weekend minibreak that Douglas organised for their silver wedding anniversary proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
On paper, at least, two nights’ dinner, bed and breakfast at a luxury hotel in the Highlands sounded lovely. But as soon as they arrived at the sprawling country estate, Alison realised that what had been billed as a treat for her was, in fact, just another opportunity for Douglas to play golf for hours on end. To make matters worse, it turned out that they were ‘double dating’ with Fraser and his vacuous third wife Tiffany.
The next morning, Douglas and Fraser rushed off straight after breakfast to make their first tee time of the day, suggesting that ‘the girls’ check into the hotel spa for some pampering. Alison felt her jaw tighten at the thought of several hours stuck in Tiffany’s less than scintillating company, not least the effort required to paste a stoic expression on her face as the self-styled social media influencer passively aggressively judged her wobbly thighs, undyed hair and mumsy one-piece swimming cossie. To say that Tiffany was fake didn’t touch the sides of all the work she’d had done. Alison often wondered how her collagen-pumped face would look if it ever sprang a leak. And even that luscious bum had been constructed by a cosmetic surgeon slash structural engineer.
Swiftly making her excuses vis-à-vis the proposed spa session, Alison headed outdoors alone to try her hand at some of the country pursuits on offer. After false starts with off-roading (too bumpy) and falconry (too Hitchcock), she turned out to be a natural at clay pigeon shooting, her accuracy with the gun doubtless aided by visualising the targets as Douglas, Fraser and Tiffany. Yet, despite a moment of elation as she imagined Princess Anne placing an Olympic gold medal around her neck, Alison couldn’t shake nagging feelings of dissatisfaction with both the weekend minibreak and her life in general.
What had she ever achieved beyond being wife to Douglas and mother to three frankly obnoxious sons who should have left home by now? Nothing. Nada. A big fat zero. She felt exhausted by having to co-exist with these men who expected her to accommodate their capricious demands at all hours of the day and night. Something needed to change, and change soon, Alison thought. Otherwise, she might be tempted to act upon her murderous intentions towards Douglas and the kids, albeit with the potential bonus of taking out Fraser and Tiffany as collateral damage.
Alison determined that what she really needed was a break from the mundane. A proper relaxing holiday to get back her sense of perspective and rediscover her lust for life. Somewhere sunny, preferably an island, with plentiful opportunities to discover historic sites and enjoy local food. Not another golf trip disguised as a five-star couples’ retreat in Florida or Portugal. And most definitely NOT a holiday that involved Fraser and Tiffany. Or even Douglas for that matter.
A few days later, Alison packed her suitcase and took a taxi to the airport. As a courtesy, she left a note taped at eye level to the door of their vast American-style fridge: ‘Gone to Greece—back soon!’ She speculated how long it would take Douglas to realise that she’d gone AWOL. When he wanted his dinner, most likely.
The first morning of her great escape, Alison set up camp on the hotel terrace to take stock of the situation and get her bearings. From this vantage point, her fellow holidaymakers appeared immobilised on their sun loungers, arranged in neat rows, like tuberculosis patients undergoing treatment at a 1930s sanatorium. She would join them later in worshipping Helios, but first felt obliged to check in on Douglas.
Alison’s phone chimed with a barrage of missed calls, text messages, Facebook notifications, even a rambling email with little in the way of punctuation. Douglas seemed particularly troubled by the lack of clarity around her intended return date. Just how soon was soon, he queried. Tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Alison grudgingly provided him with the day of her arrival back in the UK, noting that her phone would remain switched off until then. She also sent a quick snap of the vista across the beachfront, just so he could see what he was missing.
Alison quickly established a peaceful routine of swimming in the hotel pool, exploring the island, basking on the beach and dining in the local tavernas. It felt quite revolutionary to just please herself after years of meekly going along with whatever Douglas wanted to do. The hotel receptionist was particularly helpful in suggesting things she might enjoy. Eleni seemed to have numerous brothers, sisters, cousins and friends who ran bars, restaurants and other assorted businesses, so Alison always received the warmest of welcomes (plus mates’ rates) wherever she went in the resort.
Returning from the beach one evening, Alison was unexpectedly waylaid by Eleni, who seemed in a bit of a flap about something. Apparently, someone had turned up at the hotel looking for Alison and they were now waiting for her on the terrace. Alison’s heart sank. Unlikely as it seemed—especially given the sheer number of Greek islands to choose from—Douglas had obviously managed to pinpoint her precise location on the planet.
The terrace was packed with people treating themselves to happy hour drinks before dinner. Alison scanned the area but there was no sign of a middle-aged Scottish man wearing overpriced golf clothes. Just as she was about to abandon the search, Alison heard a familiar voice calling her name. Startled, she pivoted meerkat-like towards the source of this unwelcome sound.
Wearing a tiny pink dress that left little to the imagination, Tiffany was positioned at a table overlooking the pool, manically waving to attract her attention (and the attention of everyone else, it seemed). Keen to avoid prolonging this embarrassing scene, Alison scuttled across the terrace and plonked herself down in a wicker chair.
“Tiffany! How lovely to see you,” she exclaimed, blushing furiously at her bare-faced lie.
“Oh, tell it like it really is, Alison,” Tiffany laughed. “I bet you’re raging that I’ve crashed your little adventure. But don’t worry. Douglas isn’t here. In fact, he still doesn’t have a clue where you are, other than somewhere in Greece, obviously.”
“So what are you doing here, then?”
“I know everyone thinks I’m thick but, thanks to that photo you sent, it only took me a couple of minutes on Google to figure out exactly where you were. I thought it would be fun to join you for some girly time. So here I am. Surprise!”
Alison couldn’t help thinking that ‘fun’ was probably stretching it. Nonetheless, she had to concede that finding Tiffany waiting for her on the hotel terrace was quite the surprise.
“Did you tell Fraser that you’d gone to Greece and would be back soon?” she asked pointedly.
“Yeah, I totally copied your note,” Tiffany replied. “You’re such a rebel, Alison. Always doing your own thing. I really admire you for that.”
“Seriously? I reckon the last time I exercised free will was during my final year at Uni, probably about five minutes before I met Douglas.”
“You didn’t seem to have any problem exercising free will when you dumped me at the hotel spa,” Tiffany shot back. “I would’ve loved to give clay pigeon shooting a go, but you never even thought to ask if I wanted to join you.”
Alison felt a twinge of shame as fat teardrops started to gather on Tiffany’s heavily mascaraed eyelashes.
Right then, Eleni appeared at their side with a couple of garish-looking cocktails. “On the house,” she muttered awkwardly, sensing friction in the air as she placed the drinks on their table, before rapidly retreating to her post in the lobby.
“I’m sorry,” Alison said, handing Tiffany a paper napkin to avert the imminent onset of panda eyes. “I realise I’ve not made much of an effort to get to know you properly. I suppose I was intimated by your trophy wife vibes.”
Tiffany raised an eyebrow. “Trophy wife number three vibes, you mean.”
“Well, I’ve become Glasgow’s answer to Shirley Valentine.”
“Hope that doesn’t mean you’ve shagged a waiter while you’ve been here.”
“Not yet, but there’s still plenty of time…”
They both burst out laughing and the tension between them began to dissipate. Perhaps spending some girly time with Tiffany might end up being fun after all, Alison reflected, as they clinked glasses and said the customary cheers.
After that first evening together, Alison and Tiffany settled into a mutually agreeable rotation of sunbathing and excursions. By night, they shared confidences over cocktails and souvlaki. Tiffany admitted that she was using the earnings from her social media platforms to secretly train as a veterinary nurse, ensuring she had a plan B in place for when Fraser predictably moved on to wife number four.
“See, I’m not so thick really,” she declared.
For her part, Alison expressed regret at having relinquished her dream of working in a New York gallery when she married Douglas—and then fell pregnant—just weeks after graduating with a First Class degree in Art History. Consequently, she’d never had a job, other than a brief spell waitressing for pocket money while at school.
“Talk about wasted potential,” she sighed.
Their time in Greece sped by and, all too soon, Alison and Tiffany were facing the prospect of heading home. They decided that their final day should be given over to a boat trip. As usual, Eleni came up trumps. Her cousin Yiannis owned a small yacht that he used to ferry tourists to coves and beaches inaccessible by road. He offered to take them out for a few hours, with food and drinks provided on board.
It was a beautiful day to be sailing, with cyan skies and dazzling sunlight bouncing off the water. At one point, dolphins swam alongside the yacht, drawn by the sound of reggae and nineties chill-out music that Yiannis played over the loudspeaker. Could life get any better than this?
After a couple of hours spent hugging the coastline, Yiannis moored the yacht in a secluded bay for lunch. As they waited to be fed, Alison looked across at Tiffany, who was stretched out on the sundeck, topping up what only days before had been fake tan. Now, instead of being tangerine, her skin had taken on a lovely natural glow.
“I don’t want to go home.”
Alison was startled by the realisation that she’d just spoken her innermost thought out loud.
“Me neither,” Tiffany replied despondently. “Perhaps we can just keep going.”
“What, like Thelma and Louise, you mean?”
“Yeah, but without a police chase and the Grand Canyon.”
“Maybe we could pay homage to them by jumping off the boat together,” Alison suggested. “Are you up for it?”
“Never been more up for anything in my life,” came Tiffany’s quick-fire response.
“Although, I’ll need to protect my hair extensions,” she added, whipping a shower cap out of her beach bag.
Stood side by side at the back of the yacht, Alison and Tiffany looked down into the crystal clear water. Although they could see shoals of shimmering fish darting back and forth, and some rocks scattered on the seabed, it was difficult to gauge the precise depth. Undeterred, Alison reached for Tiffany’s hand and, on the count of three, they leapt into the unknown. After a moment seemingly suspended mid-air, they plummeted into the Aegean with an almighty splash, then bobbed back up to the surface.
Alison was choking on salty water. Tiffany had lost her shower cap. They both felt exhilarated.
“Let’s do it again!”
Yiannis laughed as he watched their antics from the yacht.
Too much sun going to their heads, he supposed. Better limit the lunchtime alcohol or who knew what the pair of them might get up to next.
© Vicky Heath