Christine Stovell’s up next! Today we finally get to meet the elusive Mark.
In a plane somewhere above Bulgaria, Mark lifted his eye mask to a scene of wild, rowdy revelry reminiscent of a Bacchanalian rite.
All around him passengers had loosened inhibitions along with their seat belts. Some were embracing, others swayed in their seats and waved their arms above their heads looking blissed-out and a few – who he was sure had been strangers before they’d boarded the plane – were snogging as if they had only minutes to live. His mates, Dan and Robbie, wearing tearful smiles, clapped each other on the back and exchanged manly hugs whilst Tim and Adam, raising little plastic wine glasses, drank toasts to two hot blondes across the aisle whose beaming expressions radiated pure unalloyed joy.
What the heck was going on? He must have dropped off after all. He’d pretended to be asleep at first, but only because he didn’t want to field any teasing about Meg. Especially not on his birthday. Meg. What a cliché! What a chimp he was! Of all the women in the world to choose from, why had he fallen for his sister’s best friend, the girl who’d witnessed every mistake he’d ever made and would only ever see him as Katie’s annoying brother?
Suppose he’d gone along with the ‘surprise party’ – what then? Would Meg have agreed to dance with him or let him hold her? Nope, more likely she’d have told him he had a stray nostril hair, rocked with laughter and disappeared with another man. She wasn’t even bothered by the mention of Lola-Rose, the stripper. He didn’t want Lola-Rose though – even if she hadn’t been a made-up ruse to make Meg jealous – he wanted Meg. And Meg thought he was a complete joke. If only there was something he could do to impress her.
Suddenly Mark became aware that a frantic air steward was mouthing something at him and realised that not only had he been asleep for far longer than he’d reckoned, but that he was still wearing his headphones. He removed them and was instantly regaled by singing, laughter and new couples billing and cooing like reunited turtledoves.
‘You didn’t have the prawn vol au vent, did you sir? You were sleeping when they came round, weren’t you?’
The steward wrung his hands. ‘That damned catering company. First they spin us a line about one of the catering staff losing the five-carat diamond from her ring in the pastry and then we get the truth. Turns out they used contaminated prawns. We’ve got a major case of Vibrio lascivibundus on our hands!’
The steward broke off for a moment to extricate himself from a middle-aged woman with a coquettish smile who was trying to remove his tie.
‘FPB – otherwise known as Frolicsome Poop Bug. The symptoms present themselves initially by inducing feelings of intense well-being in the sufferer, an overpowering sense of affection towards others and a tendency to inappropriate flirting.’
As bugs went it didn’t sound too bad to Mark. Some inappropriate flirting would certainly take his mind off Meg.
‘And then comes the stomach pain, cramping, bloating, gas and—’ His words were muffled by a matronly passenger clasping him to her bosom and kissing the top of his head.
‘Let’s hope we get to Dalaman before those later symptoms arrive,’ Mark said, fervently.
‘Ah, I’m afraid there’s a slight problem with that,’ said the steward coming up for breath. ‘London’s the only airport equipped to deal with an outbreak like this. We’re turning the plane round.’
Bloody great, thought Mark. Not only was he not going to get his week in the sun trying to think about any woman except Meg, but any moment now the cabin air would be filled with something much worse than happiness.
‘You’d better tell the pilot to put his foot down,’ Mark said, trying to smile. ‘This could get messy.’
‘It already has. The pilot and co-pilot both ate the vol au vent. I’m afraid it’s all down to you and me now.’
Christine Stovell was born in Epsom, Surrey and now lives in Wales. Winning a tin of chocolate in a national essay competition at primary school inspired her to become a writer, an ambition she neglected for far too long thinking she had to have a proper job. After graduating from UEA, she took various jobs in the public sector writing research papers and policy notes by day and filling up her spare drawers with embryonic novels by night. Losing her dad to cancer made her realise that if she was ever going to get a novel published she had to put her writing first.
Setting off, with her husband, from a sleepy seaside resort on the east coast in a vintage wooden boat to sail halfway round Britain provided the inspiration for her novel Turning the Tide. Christine lives on the beautiful west Wales coast where long-distance running helps her plan her plots. Half marathons, like novels, both begin with small steps. Christine’s novels include Turning the Tide, Move Over Darling and Follow a Star.
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