It took four attempts to squeeze the hire car into the only space they spotted since arriving in the town. If she’d known how, Lily would have sabotaged the parking alert to stop the incessant beeping from driving her insane. An irate French driver honked his horn whilst scooting away from behind her, followed by a string of traffic.
‘Well done’, Tom said dryly. A waiter on an adjacent terrace gave her a thumbs-up.
Cheeks burning, Lily turned to Tom. ‘Let’s be quick about this, I wanted to be in the middle of the national park by now!’ she hissed, ‘and let’s get away from this idiot.’ The waiter still stood staring at her with a broad-toothed grin on his face.
Lily walked up to the meter and chucked in a few coins before spotting the notice about free parking between 12 and 2. She looked at her watch. Five past twelve. Typical!
‘Blimmin’ wifi-detours’, she muttered through gritted teeth. Things weren’t exactly going according to her carefully planned itinerary. Unfortunately Tom seemed to think the world couldn’t cope without him downloading emails and papers every day.
‘Shall we check there?’ Tom nodded towards the grinning waiter.
‘No way’, Lily snapped, ‘let’s just find the tourist office and ask. You’ll be lucky finding anywhere in this place.’ In truth, she wasn’t going to embarrass herself further by letting that chap spurt out a torrent of rapid French that she couldn’t understand.
They walked through the cobbled streets crowded with market stalls. No wonder they struggled to find parking. Most stallholders were packing up.
‘Might have been nice if we’d got here on time,’ Lily commented sharply.
Tom sighed. ‘It’s a pretty enough town though, don’t you think? Just enjoy the stroll!’
Lily frowned as she took in the sandstone properties with their wooden shutters, the sleepy looking mairie with its flags hanging limply in the breezeless heat, the little church with its pretty bell tower. Pretty enough perhaps, Lily thought, but not in the plan!
The town was rapidly descending into lunchtime lock-up, shutters coming down around them as if the place was preparing for an imminent assault.
They found the tourist office in the nick of time. An impatient looking lady, keys in hand, referred them to the local internet café. ‘And maybe Café de Paris’, she added, frowning pensively, ‘and McDonalds, that’s for sure.’
‘Great’, Lily sighed, ‘just the kind of place I like to visit on holiday in Provence.’ She looked at her watch. Half past twelve.
Tom glared at her. ‘Ten minutes, okay?’ he snapped. ‘I promised the office I’d post a few articles on the blog. Those mountains will still be there later, won’t they?’
Armed with a map they ventured back towards the other side of town. Lily felt the beginnings of a blister on her heel. ‘Should have put my walking boots on’, she moaned out loud, but fell silent when she caught Tom’s dark glance. When they finally discovered the small IT shop which doubled as the internet café, they were both relieved to find it open.
‘I close for lunch,’ the helpful attendant said, ‘but you can stay. I’m not going anywhere.’ Lily’s heart sank.
‘Ten minutes, right?’ she said suspiciously. But Tom had already pulled out his iPad and was lost in his own cyber-world, wrinkles of concentration on his forehead.
Ten minutes later, Tom raised his head. ‘Sorry, few problems, I’ll need a bit longer.’ He looked down again before Lily’s killer look hit his eyes. She pulled her book from the rucksack and went outside, slamming the door behind her.
It was nearly two o’clock when they got back to their car. The Provence heat did little to melt the icy chill between them.
‘I’m sorry to mess up your plans, love’ Tom said quietly, ‘but I really wanted to do this. Can we not take it easy on the sightseeing today? How about lunch first?’
Lily shrugged her shoulders in resignation. ‘It’s a bit late to get going now, I suppose. I just wanted to make the most of our time here!’
Tom smiled. ‘I know that. Come on, lunch. I’m starving.’ He grabbed her hand and pulled her to a table on the terrace right next to the car before she could object. They sat down and glanced at the specials on the blackboard, then froze simultaneously. At the bottom of the board, black on white, was a small notice: ‘Wifi gratuit’.
Lily’s giggle broke the stunned silence. Then they both surrendered to uncontrollable bouts of laughter until the thumbs-up waiter appeared, looking bemused.
‘A bottle of your best champagne, Monsieur!’ Tom managed in between the fits of laughter. ‘We are celebrating the start of our holiday!’