A white P against a blue background: Janice was almost level with the sign when she swung the wheel to the left and shunted into the lay-by. A horn blared as a livestock lorry loaded with lambs sped past. Janice swore, but only the Snoopy swinging from the rear-view mirror heard her.
Silencing the engine, she scuffled into the passenger seat and stomped out onto the verge. Fisting the air, she dropped her jaw and screamed.
Traffic roared by, indifferent. The slate hillside wore the frown that had served it for millennia. A small brown butterfly danced from daisy to dandelion, oblivious. Throat tingling, Janice clambered back into the driving seat, grabbing a water bottle from her bag in the passenger foot-well on the way.
By the dashboard clock she had less than an hour to get to her appointment. Or to find a phone box to tell David Pargeter she’d changed her mind. She could scoff scones spread with Cumberland rum butter in a twee teashop, fuel for the drive home. Or skip the scones and take a detour via Huddersfield and ask her dad to fix the car door.
Was it really over with Stuart? Could love perish between the first and second slice of toast? She’d imagined a cottage on a dirt track, a couple of Labradors to fill the gap before babies. On summer evenings they’d walk the dogs after work, up to the fells or down to the shore. (Janice oscillated between a coastal idyll and one inland.) Senseless pitching up in the middle of nowhere without him. She’d be better staying in Nottingham among familiar faces, and with a wider selection of post-qualification jobs.
The last year of snatched phone calls and hours on the M6 was bound to be stressful. Juggling essays, lectures and placements while Stuart grappled two hundred miles away with his first grown-up job. But it wasn’t only geographical separation that strained the relationship. Feet in different counties, their politics had drifted continents apart.
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