672 45 11

When a jog in the park becomes a tryst with a dangerous lover. To get away from the blasted Valentine Day parties, Natalie goes out for a jog. But there's a secret hiding in the Japanese Pavilion...

This story was contributed by Lina Hansen

With a soft slap, slap, the soles of my trainers hit the trail. A spring day in winter is too rare to be missed. It feels great to be out and running again after weeks of too much junk food, too much cramming—too much of anything.

But the day is almost over, the light in the woodlands is fading, and the shadows are drawing close. And the air is getting chilly and damp. As I jog along, my breath now billows out in delicate clouds of white. The trail snakes towards the little pond, and a group of fellow runners puffs towards me, beetroot-red in the face.

"Hey," they shout and wave and, "Hey," I shout back. We pass each other. The others still have quite a bit of running ahead of them. I'll be done soon. I only have to jog once around the pond, through the little copse and back to my car. And then, I'll enjoy a nice, long soak in the bathtub, just me, a mug of cocoa, and some chocolate. Plenty of chocolate. What a great way to spend Valentine's Day. No bloody parties, noisy jokes, and stupid pimply blokes in various states of drunkenness trying to feel you up. No bad booze, loud music, and throbbing headaches the next day. And certainly, no waking up next to somebody you never met before in your life.

Well, with Garth it sort of worked. But not for long. Since we broke up last autumn, I've steered clear of men, and focussed on my thesis.

Am I virtuous, or what?

Slap, slap, slap. The pond comes into view, and the trail twists along until it hits the shore. By now, my breath is searing my throat; I have to slow down.

I really should have exercised more in winter, shouldn't be huffing and puffing like that. At almost fifty, mum is a lot fitter than me. How bloody embarrassing is that?

The car park isn't far anymore, just another ten minutes I promise myself as I trot along the shores of the pond. It's such a beautiful place in spring, summer, and autumn. During the season, the little Japanese pavilion at the far end serves green tea, sake, and sushi, and there's nothing better than sitting on the sunlit wooden deck with the girls, having a good natter and enjoying life.

But not at this time of the year and at this hour of the day. The surface of the water is a dark mirror, the mists are swirling in, and the pavilion huddles at the back, its graceful arched beams dripping and desolate. The windows are boarded up, the garden furniture stacked away, awaiting the real Spring.

By now, I'm only trotting, too tired for more, my calves aching. I stop to rub them and look out over the water where the mists are rising and falling like translucent swans about to lift off and fly to the heavens. Among them bobs something red. It glitters, catching the last rays of the setting sun.

A balloon. A heart-shaped red Valentine balloon.

Blast, even here I can't escape. Valentine's Day is everywhere. With a grimace, I force myself to move again. The sweat is cooling on my back, and the air is getting chillier by the minute. It feels as if the pond has sucked in winter and is now throwing it back into my face.

Time to go.

A soft breeze stirs the blond strands that have escaped from under my cap. I push them away and jog on. And here's the balloon, drifting across my path, carried along by the playful wind. For a moment, I wonder how the wind even got here. This place is protected by a ring of old fir trees, their feathery twigs shifting and shimmying as if alive.

Lucky In Love? A Valentine AnthologyWhere stories live. Discover now