The Secret Seaside Escape - Heidi Swain
If I closed my eyes and concentrated, I could see the sea stretching ahead of me, all the way to the distant horizon. I could breathe in the fresh salty air and almost taste the tang of it on my lips. If I stood in that exact spot, I could see the sun rising, quickly reaching the glistening rockpools, tempting me to explore their secret depths. And if I concentrated even harder, I could hear the waves lapping the shore, gulls wheeling overhead and feel the warm, soft sand, pushing up between my bare toes . . .
I concentrated that little bit harder.
‘Are you all right?’
I screwed my eyes up tighter still, hoping to catch sight of my mother. She would be sitting in a deckchair, wearing her favourite yellow sundress and waving with one hand, a well-thumbed paperback clasped firmly in the other.
‘Earth to Tess. Do you read me?’
It was no good. The spell was broken. No amount of focused concentration could block out the noise of the office and my colleagues who, I discovered when I finally opened my eyes, had crowded around my desk, concern etched across their brows.
Apparently, it wasn’t possible to close your eyes and stick your fingers in your ears without drawing a certain amount of attention, but I had been deeply immersed in my moment of mindful meditation and would have been happier if they’d just left me to it. That said, I supposed I should have been grateful that my team had even noticed my ‘absence’. Considering the week we’d had, I was surprised any of them actually cared for my wellbeing at all.
‘Oh, you are still with us then?’ Chris snapped.
Not that Chris’s tone was particularly caring, but given the fact that it was now seven forty-five on a Friday evening, and we still had work to do, it was hardly surprising that tempers were frayed.
‘Where else would I be?’ I told him, as I smoothed my hair, sat up straighter and tried my level best to look, at least, present.
It wasn’t easy when I could still hear the call of the sea in the distance and imagine the warmth of the sun on the back of my neck. My body might have been behind my desk in the offices of Tyler PR but my mind was very much elsewhere. Every atom of me was craving the freedom of a holiday, a three-day minibreak even, but as senior project manager in my father’s firm the chances of that happening were pure fantasy.
Judging by the enormity of my current workload, it was looking more and more likely that I would end up sacrificing the larger chunk of my holiday entitlement again this year. I couldn’t deny that my role came with what looked like, on paper at least, an extremely generous holiday quota, but I had never managed to take it all. In fact, the higher up the pay scale I had worked so tirelessly to climb, the less opportunity I’d had to recharge my batteries.
And if I was being honest, that had been exactly how I liked it, especially during the last year and a half since my mother’s unexpected death. Powering through whatever life threw at me had felt like the right way to go then, but not now. Now I was in danger of a meltdown because I had the wherewithal to recognize that I was heading towards burn out and that marching on had brought me no closer to accepting my loss at all.
Conversely, my father had no idea about my fragile mental state. He just noticed the parts of my life he wanted to and had always derived great pleasure in telling his contemporaries that he was incredibly proud of my commitment to the business. He abhorred nepotism, had consequently made me work twice as hard as everyone else to prove myself and loved the fact that my work ethic matched his own. He was completely clueless that this latest project had brought me to the brink and had me dreaming of an escape even during my waking hours.
‘We thought you were going to pass out,’ frowned Lucy, my assistant, as she handed me a glass of water and fanned me with a file.
‘You thought she was going to pass out,’ tutted Sonya, another colleague.
Relatively new to the role, efficient and eager, Lucy had a tendency to flap when the stress ramped up but I was working on ways to calm her. A cool and collected head