BRAND NEW

‘Hey Susie…’ Samantha’s voice sounded out from Susie Brand’s mobile phone. ‘Guess what just happened to me.’

‘Don’t tell me, Sam, let me guess …a new man in your life?’

‘Cheeky,’ Samantha remonstrated, ‘but, well, actually yes.’

Samantha Brand had finished university as a mature student four months ago and had spent the first few weeks wondering what on earth to do with the rest of her life. She hankered after travelling Europe before settling down to husband, home and two point four children. What should she do? Interpret? Translate? Yes, maybe. Teach? Possibly. But she didn’t want to tie herself down just yet. She wanted freedom to see what life had to offer.

One evening in early summer, Samantha’s vivacious older sister, Susie, had come up trumps. Susie worked for Epic, a prestigious travel company based in their hometown of Felstone. Epic had been a small family concern that had grown and grown in recent years until it featured highly in the local economy of Felstone, a large number of the population of Felstone and its surrounds depending on it for employment. Recently it had branched out into selling cheaper insurance and this had succeeded in making it a household name.

‘Why don’t you ask if you can be a holiday rep for Epic until you’re ready to decide? It will keep the wolf from the door at least,’ her sister had suggested one morning over a breakfast of muesli and coffee.

‘You know, I might just do that,’ she had replied thoughtfully, picking up a brochure that was lying, coincidentally, on the kitchen table.

So, Samantha had started to work for Epic in their Spanish resorts, a little anxiously at first, although her fear had not been long-lived since over the weeks she had encountered interesting places, exciting things and intriguing people. But now the season was waning and the temporary contracts were running out, including hers.

Today Samantha was returning to Alicante airport from Gatwick escorting a group of holidaymakers bound for the Prickly Pear Hotel in Albir. Since this hotel was one of her favourite places, she was only too happy to oblige. Overlooking the Peñon de Ifach of Calpe to the left and the Sierra Helada to the right, the hotel was designed to reflect the sea, with its ultra modern exterior representing the glassy calm of the Mediterranean. Inside, the merry lights of the hotel served only to give cheer to the incoming tourist with its welcoming coffee-aroma foyer and azure tinted windows. She was looking forward to seeing it again.

In a world of her own, Samantha was miles way from the airport lounge she was traversing, cup in hand, in search of some peace and quiet to think. Although she was looking forward to coming back again to England for good, she knew that it would be a wrench to leave Spain in two weeks’ time and she found herself contemplating what this last trip would hold in store for her. During an excursion to the mountains the previous week, she had found herself assisting unexpectedly at a premature birth. In this job it seemed the unexpected was to be expected.

Now, lost in her thoughts, Samantha was not altogether conscious of where her feet were leading her and suddenly, like a bolt from the blue, a bulky form collided with her and swept her feet from under her. In slow motion her coffee hurtled away from her in a liquid arc and flooded the polished floor with an enormous splash. Embarrassed, she looked around her quickly, for it seemed to her that every eye in the airport lounge had turned towards her. She hoped that none of her group was near or she would never live it down.

‘I’m so sorry,’ came a deep male voice. ‘Let me help you up.’

Samantha looked upwards, blinking, into the bluest eyes she had ever seen.

‘Yes. Er..thank you,’ she faltered.

Trust me, she thought, to give such a great first impression. Sprawled on the floor, legs stuck out like a dying ostrich.

‘Are you hurt at all?’ the mellow tones were inquiring.

She shook her head.

‘Only my pride, I guess.’

She ran her fingers through her long dark hair and, as she flicked it over to the side out of her face, she was not a little irritated to see a spark of amusement in the man’s eyes.

‘I’m such a clumsy oaf,’ he told her. ‘I was too busy looking the other way. I do apologise. Here, let me buy you another one of those. My plane doesn’t leave for an hour.’

Standing up and brushing herself down, she nodded weakly as she let him lead her up the escalator.

‘Adam Travers, by the way,’ the man smiled.

Samantha took a better look at him now and realised that he was wearing a uniform of some sort under his over jacket.

‘Sam Brand. Pleased to meet you,’ she smiled.

‘Follow me. I know a quiet spot where we can find a drink. It’s not easy to get away from the general hubbub in a place as big as this.’

Samantha could not have agreed more. The airport was a maze of corridors and moving floors with hordes of people moving this way and that. It never seemed to let up. Maybe it was just for the summer season, but she doubted that. Adam pulled out a seat under a green canopy next to a palm tree and Samantha sat down gratefully.

‘What would Madam like? Something stronger to calm her nerves?’ Adam asked.

‘G & T would be lovely, please.’

He returned before too long with a gin and tonic for Samantha and a glass of water for himself.

‘Well then. Where are you off to? Holiday?’

‘Alicante. Work. You?’

‘The same,’ he smiled. ‘ Do you travel this way often?’ he asked and apologised immediately for the cliché.

Samantha chuckled.

‘Yes, I do. Although I’m mainly based in Spain at the moment. I’m a tour guide for Epic. Do you know them?’

‘Who doesn’t, these days?’

‘Do you see those people down there?’ she pointed and he nodded.

‘Affirmative.’

‘Well, they’re in my charge, so to speak. It’s good. I enjoy it. Get to meet people and see places.’

‘Okay, that’s good. I’m glad you enjoy your work.’

‘Well actually, it’s only temporary and it’s soon to come to an end. I’m taking a year out after university, you see, before I decide what to do with my life.’

‘What do you think you’ll do with it?’

‘Teach, I guess. Like my parents. Spanish and French probably. It’s all a bit daunting though. Teaching’s tough these days and little appreciated.’

‘It’ll keep the wolf from the door at least,’ he said, wisely.

Samantha smiled as she thought of Susie.

‘I’m sure you’ll get used to it. Once you’ve done it for a while. Anything’s frightening at first. Just imagine how it must feel to be a pilot with a plane full of people. What a responsibility that is.’

‘Yes, it must be.’

Samantha frowned as she imagined the pilot in the cockpit of the plane she was about to board. She hoped he had a contingency plan! Well, surely there must be a relief pilot, or assistant, or something. And they had lots of automatic controls which would kick in in an emergency, didn’t they? She wasn’t keen on flying at the best of times.

‘I would hate to be a pilot,’ she said with feeling and shuddered. ‘Nothing between you and the sky in front, and below. I’ll stick to what I know I think.’

They had enjoyed each other’s company for little more than an hour when suddenly Adam made a move.’

‘Is that the time? I’m going to have to go now, but it’s been really good talking to you Sam,’ he smiled. ‘Would you have dinner with me tomorrow evening?’

‘Yes, I’d love to, but…’

‘Don’t worry. Give me your number. I’ll come to where you are. See you then.’

Samantha scribbled her mobile number on a piece of paper, which he folded neatly and placed securely in his top pocket. Then quickly, after kissing her lightly on both cheeks, in a flash he was gone, leaving Samantha gazing open-mouthed into the space he had occupied seconds earlier.

Her head swung round swiftly to look at the lower floor and as she watched him stride away purposefully through the airport lounge she thought what an altogether striking image he cut, with his tall, dark and rugged looks that made her feel weak at the knees. What if she never saw him again? She pinched herself to make sure she was not dreaming, but she could still see his retreating figure as it moved towards one of the exits. She wondered why she hadn’t found out more about him. He had said he would be on her flight. Why hadn’t she asked him some questions about himself? She sat for a little while longer nursing her drink until a voice over the tannoy summoned her to gate number six.

As the group moved their way along the moving walkways to gate number six, a small child took a fancy to Samantha and offered her a lick of his lollipop.

‘No, thank you sweetheart, but it’s very kind of you to offer,’ she smiled at the child and ruffled his hair, before turning to her party.’ Could everyone have his or her boarding passes at the ready please, we’re about to be called.’

Samantha stood to the side as the members of her party filed past her and through the gate. She smiled a reassuring greeting at each one but, between the passing of each passenger, she found her eyes scanning the sea of bobbing heads for Adam.

Nothing. Had she imagined him after all?

Her party was seated and comfortable but Samantha found it hard to settle. Every so often, on the pretext of sorting out a problem or checking on her party, she would stand in the aisle and scan the seats for the dark tousled head. Why did she feel so disappointed? She had only just met the man, for goodness’ sake, she remonstrated with herself. Yet he had made a deep impression upon her. She felt like a teenager in the throes of first love and she felt vulnerable and a little silly. Snap out of it girl, she told herself sharply.

As the plane taxied for take off, she resigned herself to the fact that she’d lost him. Such a brief encounter, yet it had been something of great moment, as far as she was concerned anyway. She knew so little about him. He had taken her number but she didn’t have his, nor where he was staying. If he didn’t turn up tomorrow night she would most likely never see him again. Why should that worry her so much?

She watched as the buildings to her right skirted ever faster past the window and, as the wheels left the tarmac, receded down below. Up through the fluffy white clouds over the United Kingdom, the 747 began its ascent. It soared over the patchwork quilt that was France and soon it would be cruising over the snow-capped Pyrenees and down across the parched lands of Spain. Samantha allowed herself to be pampered by the stewards as she tried desperately to put Adam out of her mind.

She put on the headset and, with fleeting concentration, began to watch the in-flight film. It had just reached the exciting climax in the battle between the two Greek warriors when the bing-bong of the tannoy rudely interrupted her viewing.

‘The captain and his crew welcome you on board this BA flight to Alicante…’

Samantha felt not a little irritated by the intrusion.

‘…we are expecting the flight ahead to be smooth and free from turbulence…’

Samantha slackened off her seatbelt

‘…We should be landing at Alicante El Altet airport in just under an hour’s time. The temperature in Alicante is a comfortable thirty degrees Celsius…’

Samantha reclined her seat a little more.

‘… So, on behalf of Captain Travers and his crew…’

Samantha sat up bolt upright in her seat. Did she just say Captain Travers? The voice was continuing and it had Samantha’s full attention now.

‘…we hope you will sit back and enjoy your flight with us today.’

Stunned, Samantha stared at the screen with unseeing eyes as the film resumed. It must be him. There couldn’t be two Adam Travers. But why didn’t he tell her he was the pilot? Well, he had, in a way, she supposed. He had said he was going to Alicante. He had talked about pilots. He had been wearing a uniform. She felt ashamed that she hadn’t enquired about him, when he knew so much about her in the short time they had been together in the airport lounge.

Where did he live? What did he do for a living? Well, she knew that now, didn’t she? Was he single? She suddenly realised the deep relevance of the latter. What if he was married? What would she do then?

Suddenly her hands flew up to her ears and she began swallowing unattractively to dispel the pressure that was building up inside them. They must be on the descent to Alicante.

‘Please fasten your seatbelts, Ladies and Gentlemen, and place your trays in the upright position. We are now beginning our descent in Alicante.’ The air steward informed them cheerfully.

The aircraft touched down so smoothly that Samantha hadn’t realised they were down at first. As the plane trundled to a halt and the mobile staircases came out to meet them the tannoy cracked into life again.

‘We have arrived in Alicante airport, Ladies and Gentlemen. Please make sure you take all your belongings with you when you disembark. On behalf of my crew and myself, we wish you a very pleasant stay in Spain. ‘

She would know his voice anywhere. Adam!

After alighting, the passengers were ferried towards the terminal building by bus, which rumbled its way across the flat expanse of ground, jolting its passengers and forcing them to clutch at anything in their grasp in order to simply keep their balance. Out of the bus window Samantha was concentrating on nothing in particular when she was suddenly startled into consciousness by the unmistakably handsome figure of Adam striding out across the tarmac. But he wasn’t alone. Beside him walked a pretty blonde lady, hand in hand with her little boy. The boy with the lollipop.

Samantha felt a thud somewhere in the depths of her stomach. She felt suddenly betrayed, let down. What a fool she had been to let this man get under her skin.

Once through Passport Control, Samantha stood waiting for the rest of her party to catch up. She had had no further sightings of Adam. Throughout the rest of the journey to the hotel she felt thoroughly miserable and on arrival, she was subdued as she checked in her party, who immediately dispersed to their rooms.

The following morning, after meeting with the members of her party to tell them about the attractions of the area, Samantha spent a restless and uneventful day by the pool. At about six o’clock, she picked up her things and made her way back to her room to get ready for dinner.

‘Hola Carlos, hay mensajes para mí?’

The young man behind the reception counter nodded and handed her a yellow slip of paper, upon which were scribbled the words, ‘See you in the Pelican Hotel at eight o’clock. I’d pick you up myself, but I won’t be back in time. We’ll eat in. Adam.’

‘How dare he?’ she thought and for a moment she resolved not to meet him. But, a few minutes later she took a bath and swept up her hair attractively. She chose her dress carefully and applied just enough make-up for the natural look that she always achieved so easily. As she glanced at the mirror to make a final check, her hand flew to her mouth in horror.

By her bedside, her alarm clock said eight ten. She had forgotten to put her watch on an hour when she landed. She tore down to the reception desk to ask for the telephone number of the Hotel Pelican.’

‘Puede usted dar un mensaje al Señor Travers, por favor?’ she asked breathlessly and left him the message that she would be half an hour late.

Quickly she returned to her room to grab her jacket and bag and left it soon after to make her way to the Hotel Pelican. On her arrival there she went straight to the dining room.

‘Buenas noches, Señorita.’

‘Buenas noches. I am meeting Señor Travers for dinner at eight.’

‘Veremos,’ the manager answered in broken English. ‘There is a table booked for a Mr and Mrs A. Travers tonight, Señorita. They are already eating.’

‘No! There must be some mistake. May I?’

Samantha looked carefully at the list of bookings and there, plain as day, were the words Mr and Mrs. So, he was married, after all!

‘Thank you. I’ve… er… changed my mind.’

She retraced her steps to the reception desk and was just on the point of leaving a message for him, when suddenly her eye caught sight of a letter on the desk addressed to Mr and Mrs A. Travers,

Her blood ran cold and she stood still as if frozen to the spot. Here was proof, if she needed it. Without further ado and much to the amazement of the receptionist, she galvanised into action. Turning on her heel she shot out of the hotel with as much dignity as she could muster, fighting back the tears.

The next day she awoke feeling more than a little sorry for herself.

‘Come on, girl,’ she told herself. ‘No use moping. You’ve got a job to do. People are relying on you.’ She would be accompanying those who wished to go on the trip to the Altea market later that morning.

‘Good morning, Mrs Scott, Mr Scott. How are you this fine morning? Sleep well? Good.’ Samantha said all the right things in all the right places but her heart was not in it.

‘Yes, thanks. We’re going to see if we can buy a cheap carpet from the market.’

‘Oh? Good for you. See you later then. We leave at four o’clock.’

She watched as the shoppers moved between the various stalls, buying jewellery, lace, pictures, local crafts, shells and leather goods amongst other things. With time to kill before four o’clock, she decided to have a wander down by the sea.

As she ambled along, admiring the pretty waterfront and the cafes that were dotted along the palm-lined promenade, couples passed her hand in hand or arm in arm. A group of friends laughed and teased each other animatedly and another pair of giggly girls went by at a more lively pace. Out of the corner of her eye, Samantha perceived three people approaching from her left and something drew her gaze towards them.

All of a sudden, her eyes widened in horror as Adam came nearer. Between him and another man, arming them both, was the pretty blonde woman. She was laughing happily and chuckling at a joke one of them had made. Samantha felt small and silly.

Suddenly, Adam caught sight of Samantha.

‘Sam! Thank goodness I’ve found you. Your mobile’s out of action.’

As he broke away from the other two startled onlookers into a run towards her, Samantha couldn’t move, even when he kissed her on both cheeks as he had done when he had left her.

‘What happened to you last night?’

‘Uh …er… I couldn’t make it. Sorry. I left you a message.’

‘Oh? Well, maybe you could come with us now, for a drink?’

‘Oh! Er…no. I’d better get back. Thanks anyway.’

The disappointment showed immediately in Adam’s face. What does he expect me to do, she thought, play gooseberry? Perhaps he wants me to pair up with his friend?

‘Tonight then, yeah? Eight o’clock?’ he cajoled.

She was weakening. He had such a winning way with him.

‘OK. Eight o’clock then,’ she agreed resignedly.

‘Great! Oh, by the way. This is my brother Alan and his wife Elena.’

Suddenly everything took on a brand new meaning. Samantha smiled at him warmly.

‘Eight o’clock it is then.’