Ashley woke to the sound of hundreds of birds singing in the trees above them. In the end they had chosen a small field to set up camp in, made some food and went straight to sleep, planning an early breakfast and swift set off for the next morning. Ashley stretched luxuriously, and sat up. Grace was still fast asleep, her hair sprawling over her pillow. Her name suited her much better when she was blonde, Ashley thought. She eased out of her sleeping bag, leaned forward, quietly pulled the zip on the door down, and screamed. Grace sat bolt upright, her hair wild.
“What? What is it?” She looked around frantically.
“God, sorry, Grace.” Ashley laughed. “But we have unexpected company.”
“What company?” Her voice was thick with sleep. Ashley grinned, and pulled back the door for her to see.
“Sir Sheepenstien would like to join us.” Ashley announced, and Grace started laughing. Outside the tent stood a very curious sheep, looking stunned.
“Okay, I would have screamed too.” Grace admitted, giggling.
“Not how every girl likes to start her day, is it?” Ashley started rooting round one of their panniers. “You sleep some more, I’ll make breakfast. fried egg sandwich sound good?”
“Sounds great. Thanks, Ash.” Grace snuggled back down, still giggling.
After breakfast, Ashley loaded up the bikes while Grace took the tent down. Ashley took her turn carrying the heaviest panniers, and after hoisting up heavy backpacks on their shoulders, they set off, waving goodbye to the sheep and aiming for the sea. Today they would have lunch at the beach, and cycle along the coast until sunset. Then they would find a place to camp somewhere.
“I’ll tell you the best thing about England, right?” Grace was saying.
“What?” Ashley was people watching shamelessly.
“Well, the two best things. The chocolate, and these chips.” She speared a chip with her fork, and held it up. “You don’t get chips like this anywhere else. Like, ever.”
“Aww man, really? We better pig out on these then.” Ashley smiled and ate one.
“Yeah, well, we’ll totally be working it off.” Grace flexed, and Ashley laughed at her. “It’s true! What with the amount of exercise we’ll be doing, we are gonna come back looking like goddesses.”
“I should certainly hope so!” Ashley broke off. “Err, that guy’s coming over.”
“Better tell him we’re both taken then…” Grace stage whispered.
“Oi, I’m not taken! Shhhh…” She jabbed her in the ribs.
“Excuse me, but are you guys doing a cycle tour?” The guy was in front of them. Ashley could sense Grace looking him up and down.
“Um, yeah, I guess we are!” Ashley said, looking at Grace.
“We are.” Grace repeated. “Why?”
“Oh, sorry, I’m such an idiot. I must look like a total creep. No, me and my girlfriend are doing a tour as well.” He smiled and gestured over at a nearby cafe, where a girl next to some bikes waved.
“Oh, that’s awesome! Where are you guys headed?” Grace switched into charm mode.
“We’re going to Portugal…” He started to explain,and Ashley zoned out, looking at the sea and eating her chips. She already missed Lauren and Anneka, and all her friends back home. They had started a group chat to keep up with her travels. She had messaged them about the sheep earlier, and hadn’t checked her phone since. She kept thinking about Jock. Grace had a point, the last night thing was a bit annoying, but she felt no obligation to him. Like she told Grace, she wasn’t taken… was she?
“Ashley? Earth to Ashley?” Grace was poking her arm.
“Sorry, what?” She turned round.
“I’d like to introduce you to Luke, and we’re about to meet his girlfriend Melissa.”
She and Grace wheeled their bikes over and introduced themselves. Melissa was excitable, bouncing up and down and giggling a lot. Ashley liked her, and spoke to her while Grace spoke to Luke. After a long chat they agreed to cycle along the coast together some way. Melissa needed to visit her sister in the next town, so they would split up there, with Ashley and Grace continuing to their own camping spot.
“You SO fancied Luke. Everything okay with Stefan?” Ashley was fussing around the bikes, locking them together and putting the panniers in the tent.
“Ugh, was it that obvious?” Grace moaned. She was cooking dinner: baked beans on fried bread.
“You may as well have had a sign on your head, honey.” Ashley crawled out of the tent and zipped the door up, passing Grace the plates.
“Damn. I don’t know, it’s like he’s just my type, you know?” Grace dumped the bread on the plates. “Everything seems fine with me and Stefan, but I get mad lonely. Pass me that spoon?”
“How can you be lonely when you have me?” Ashley mimed horror, chucking her the spoon.
“It’s a crime, I know!” Grace laughed. “But seriously. I kissed SO many foreign boys last year, and that’s not the half of it.”
“Pffft, you’re no better!” Grace tipped the beans onto the bread, scraping the pan out and then pouring some water in it.
“I have no idea what you mean.” Ashley took her plate, laughing. “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. And hey, you know what I mean! I saw the way you were eyeing up Melissa!”
“Now hey, I said earlier, I’m not taken!”
“Not pledging your allegiance to Jock then?”
“Who do you think I am? Of course not. I’m going to check out the flavour of these French boys and girls everyone raves about here.”
“Haha, too much information! You know, I think the French accent is overrated.”
“I’m not the only one!? Thank heaven! Nobody gets it!”
“I just don’t understand what they’re saying!”
“I think it’s sexy on women though.”
“I can see that, but on men it’s just… ugh.”
They laughed together, and Grace started playing on her guitar she’d insisted on bringing. Ashley set up a little beach fire, and they made up songs together. The waves crashed on the shore, the ripples on the water turned silver by the moon. They had chosen a patch of grass almost right on top of the beach. Grace had got Melissa and Luke’s numbers, and they were thinking of meeting up again in France. Ashley was content. So far, so good.