7. Georgia

Georgia and Neil were making slow progress. Every time he saw a service station he stopped to get more food. Georgia got out every so often to stretch her long legs and empty the car of wrappers and bottles. She liked to think that she ate a normal amount. In fact, some people thought she ate quite a lot. Either way, Neil put her to shame. It was a mystery to her how he managed to eat that much, but he insisted that it was necessary because of how much he rowed. As they got back into the car at the sixth rest stop, Neil stopped with his legs still out of the side of the car and bent forward.
         “Babe, you okay?” Georgia asked, concerned.
         “Totally fine, I'm just taking a moment,” came the response, slightly strained and worryingly quiet to her ears. Before she had time to express this worry, though, Neil jolted and then bolted from the car into the bushes. Georgia called after him and got out of the car to try and find him but he had disappeared. She tried calling his name again but to no avail. Then, suddenly, he appeared behind her and patted her on the shoulder, making her jump quite a lot.
         “Neil!” she cried, throwing her arms around him, “that was so scary, don’t you ever bloody do that to me again! I thought you’d just run off and left me here! Actually, no, I didn’t think that but I didn’t know what to think, I had no idea what was happening!” she pulled away slightly, “What smells like sick?”
         “I maybe shouldn’t have had that prawn and taramasalata sandwich last time we stopped, I just vommed pink in the bushes.”
         Georgia slowly took her arms away from around Neil’s neck and moved back a step. Then, she took a deep breath and did what her friends referred to as ‘going into G-mode’. This was used to describe Georgia’s talent at organising problematic or otherwise potentially sticky situations by going into overdrive and coming up with – as well as implementing – solutions at speed. First, she sat Neil down in the passenger seat with his legs sticking out again so that he was closer to the bushes. She opened all the doors of the car and took out all the remaining food wrappers (starting with the pink ones) to alleviate any smells that might make Neil sick again. Finally, she went back into the service station and bought water and a change of clothes for Neil (just in case) from the M&S there.
         When she got back to the car, Neil was hunched over his legs, looking pretty sorry for himself. As she walked towards him, a woman stopped her and pointed towards the sorry sight.
         “Is he okay?” she asked, sounding genuinely concerned.
         “Yes, he’s fine,” Georgia told her, “It’s nothing bad, just a bit of food poisoning I think. I've bought him some water and things and I'm going to take him home to rest for a while,”
         “Oh, that’s alright then,” the woman sounded relieved, “I hope he gets better. How lovely you are – he’s lucky to have someone like you. These men just overdo it sometimes don’t they, leaving their wives to clear up behind them. Good thing we love them!” she laughed. Georgia turned from Neil to tell the woman that she wasn’t his wife and that they’d only been together for three months, hardly enough time to fall in love. But the woman had gone.
       Georgia returned to the car, put the clothes in the backseat and checked on Neil. She helped to ease him fully into the car and strapped him in, closing the door when she was done. Then, she went round to the driver’s side and got in herself. She gave Neil water and told him to drink plenty, and then she set off at an easy pace to be sure the car didn’t jolt. Oh my gosh, she suddenly thought to herself, I am being his wife. But for some reason, the prospect didn’t scare her or make her at all uneasy, as it would have before with any other boyfriend she’d had. That fact, though, did unease her slightly.

7. Claire

Claire grimaced for what had to be the hundredth time that minute and the thousandth time since Jill had started speaking. As was her custom, she was insisting on telling Claire and Margaret everything about her night, right down to the details of her conquest. At some point about 4pm, she had swept into the house in Cambridge, gushing about her ‘amazing’ night and ‘fantastic’ day, not even slightly aware of the extent to which she was not welcome there. She had helped herself to tea and biscuits and then had begun badgering Claire and Margaret about the time it was going to take them to get back to Leeds. Georgia sighed.
         “I’ve got to go as well, I have to get a ticket back to Nottingham.”
         “Don’t bother, I’ll drive you,” said Neil, “I don’t have any lectures tomorrow anyway and I’d feel bad making you go alone. Plus this way Clive won’t have to go back to the station to get you once he’s dropped Tricia off.”
         “You’ve thought this through,” Georgia laughed. Now it was Claire’s turn to sigh. She hated having to leave everyone. It had been the same way since she was young, goodbyes made her so sad. Part of it was probably some deep psychological reason but she was pretty sure that most of the reason she had for hating leaving was that she knew she was about to end up in this very situation: trying to concentrate on the road while Jill went on and on about the gory details of her night. After the thousand-and-first grimace, Margaret cut in. Claire could see a change in Margaret; she was becoming a lot more confident and less afraid of Jill.
         “So I’m hungry. Claire, how about you?”
         “Guys, you totally interrupted the best part of the whole thing I was just getting to it and you cut me off!” whined Jill. The other two girls ignored her as Claire pointed out a sign for a service station two miles away. As they pulled in, Jill started to make a beeline for the McDonalds, while Margaret and Claire had turned towards Boots in search of sandwiches.
         “What are you guys doing?” demanded Jill on seeing that they weren’t following her, with quite blatant scorn in her voice, “McDonalds is so much cheaper and so much nicer, I always get it!” Claire and Margaret nudged each other and stifled their laughter and any snide comments they wanted to make.
         “It’s actually cheaper and easier to just get a sandwich or something,” Claire pointed out, “but if you want to go there then we’ll just meet you back in the car in half an hour, okay?” Jill was now torn between her overwhelming desire to binge and her other overwhelming desire to never be alone and especially never leave Claire and Margaret alone. She did not like people having bonds that she wasn’t involved in – if people were alone together, they would end up with their own inside jokes and stories that Jill wasn’t a part of and that was so not ideal. But when Jill looked in her purse she saw that she had just enough left over for a burger and chips and her mind was made up. She left Claire and Margaret and said she’d try to come and find them in the seating area in a minute.
         “Don’t worry about it,” Claire reassured her, “We’ll just see you at the car in thirty! Have fun!” she called out before quietly adding, “Enjoy your McHeart Attack” in a voice low enough so that only Margaret would hear.
         “Is it really going to take us half an hour to eat sandwiches?” Margaret asked. Claire was a notoriously slow eater but even that seemed like a push.
         “No way, but it was the longest I thought I could get away with telling Jill. I need to mentally prepare myself for the last hour of the journey.”
         “I would laugh but that’s actually just such a painful concept,” agreed Margaret, “I really hope she’s at least finished with her story about… What’s this one’s name?”
         “Will? Or maybe Bill. Or maybe I'm thinking of Jill and I have literally no idea what his name is.”
       “That seems like the most likely option,” laughed Margaret. Her laughter was cut short by a rumbling overhead, which was soon followed by the heavens opening. The girls squealed and ran inside protecting their hair. They bought their sandwiches and took seats as far away from McDonalds as they could, finding the best ones before the station got overcrowded with people sheltering from the rain.

7. Lucy

Flopping down onto the sofa for what had to be the hundredth time that day, Lucy groaned, having realised during her flop that she needed a drink and that this meant getting back up again for the hundred-and-first time. She looked around, trying to see who she could convince to bring her a drink. Steve was standing by the kettle. Perfect.
         “Steeeve?” she started, elongating his name as much as she thought necessary and using her ‘damsel in distress’ voice (which she had perfected at 16 for use in just this type of situation) to show him that helping her would make him her knight-in-shining-armour forever. Steve, knowing full well what she was about to say, simply looked at her. She batted her eyelashes at him, since she knew that she wouldn’t actually have to say anything for him to know what she wanted and that he was probably still feeling guilty enough to do whatever she asked. He went to say something, probably some joke-sarcastic comment about being Lucy’s slave but Carter, coming in from the hallway at about 100mph once he had heard Lucy say Steve’s name, cut him off.
         “Baby girl, everything okay?” he asked Lucy, with a puppy-dog look in his eyes that was probably supposed to be concern for her wellbeing but in fact just served to irritate her in her tired, post-hangover, Sunday evening state of mind.
         “Fine thanks, I was just going to ask Steve to make me tea since I only just sat down again and he loves me so very, very much,” she explained, turning to Steve for the last part and batting her eyelashes again while reverting to the voice. Steve went to laugh and turn to the kettle but Carter interrupted again.
         “I’ll make you tea, my sweetheart, because I-“
         “Aw thanks, babe,” Lucy interrupted him before he could try to say the ‘L-word’. Steve looked at her half knowingly, half amused as Carter spun round like an eager teacher’s pet to make tea. Don’t, Lucy mouthed at Steve, who was smirking at her reaction. He knew her aversion to that word, and especially to that word coming from Carter. As the kettle boiled, Lucy tried to ignore Carter gazing at her. Steve thumped him on the back perhaps less gently than he ought, partly to stop him gazing and partly to get his attention and ask for a coffee, since he was boiling the kettle anyway. Carter grimaced. He didn’t like Steve. He didn’t like the fact that he and Lucy were so close and he definitely didn’t like the fact that their friends were always making jokes about Lucy and Steve being together. If Carter had it his way, he and Lucy would just be alone, the two of them, forever, with nothing to distract them but their love.
       Carter kept trying to tell Lucy that he loved her. She must not realise, he thought, or she wouldn’t let herself get distracted. Obviously she loves me back but doesn’t know how to express it. He looked up from the mugs only to be dismayed by what he saw. Lucy had stretched out on the sofa but her legs were over Steve, who had stretched out at the other end, facing her. They were laughing together, either at some joke or at the T.V. Carter brought the drinks over, resisting the temptation to ‘accidentally’ spill Steve’s on him and inserted himself next to Lucy, fidgeting until he had his arms around her and she had been forced to remove her legs from Steve’s.