What the hell was she going to do? Claudia interrogated herself as she turned from the current strangeness of her reflection in the mirror to inspect her feelings. They were…she didn’t know how to describe them. Unsettled and unsettling? For the first time in twenty-five years, she scowled. Not only did she scowl, but her lips didn’t then pull automatically into a copycat expression of the person she’d last been with. The scowl didn’t feel right though, any more than her usual shape-shifting smile did. Or the unusual summer slacks and T-shirt she was wearing.
Claudia perched wearily on the edge of her and Greg’s double bed. An extrovert and natural chameleon, she’d been dressing in others’ dreams for years. Her subconscious would tap into aspirations and mirror them back without intention, she realised now. With Gary, she was chirpy and looking for money. With Elinor, she was quietly elegant and enjoyed adoration. With Tim, go-getting and out for fun… Mostly, other people’s hopes fitted her nicely. A successful businesswoman with an adoring husband (Greg), two now grown-up kids (Trixie and Tom), a tidy pension and a holiday villa in Spain, what else could she or anyone dream of?
She arched her eyebrows. The mirror bounced them back. The cream wall behind her was empty except for one charcoal-effect print of a hare raising its head from the grass, a faraway look in its eyes.
The trouble had started when she met Darren, her new colleague. Intelligent, witty and good-looking, his goal was to climb higher than anyone else, to fly faster than, well, light.
At first everything glided along smoothly; Claudia relished matching Darren’s energy, the open horizon stretching away before her. But the more new clients they took on, the less time she had with friends and family. Nearing the top, also meant fewer peers. She spent brief snatches of time with lots of people but nothing beyond small talk and sealing the deal, except for with Darren.
Given less exposure to different dreams, Darren’s hold on her grew stronger. But with his ambitions, came emotions, and Claudia had never experienced so many conflicting wants, needs and fears.
Darren’s dream wouldn’t let anyone else get in his way, including her. As her dream reflected his, she found she couldn’t let him impede her either. Their competition was fierce. By the end of the first year, business was up by 45 clients. But only 18 of these were hers. And jet-setting faster than light wasn’t dazzling. In fact, it was darker, lonelier and more red-eyed than flying long-haul at night.
After months of Claudia’s long hours, champagne dinners and exhausting travel, Greg had a face like a permanent thundercloud. At a distance, this was fine. But she was still partially mirroring him too, so, whenever they were together, she had an air of being constantly pissed with him.
The rumblings of discontent came to a head when Darren booked a flight to her best clients in Barbados and Greg announced that he was leaving. With both men packing their suitcases, Claudia found herself packing hers too.
She looked again at her reflection. Both the slacks and T-shirt were stylish, and far more comfortable than the other outfits neatly folded into the case in front of her. Bright red stilettos, tight grey jackets and an assortment of bras, bikinis and cardigans…a strange selection at best. They definitely didn’t feel like hers, at least not anymore. She emptied the suitcase into the bottom of the wardrobe, then picked up her phone.
Five hours later Claudia was on a flight to Barbados with just her handbag and credit card. The rum shacks weren’t exactly paradise, but the umbrellas were distinctively colourful. And the sun and the sea…she felt relaxed for the first time in years. There was only one thing missing from this dream; she texted Greg, Trixie and Tom to join her.
While she waited, Claudia perched on a stool with a rum punch and listened to the barman’s dream of running his own diving school. Five drinks later, Fidel was still talking and she was now dreaming. She’d never tried scuba, but Fidel made the world underwater sound so peaceful, the coral so beautiful. Looking out across the golden sand behind him, she watched the blue waves gently frill into feathered surf. Her eyes glazed over with wonder at the thought of a whole ocean to explore – what a life that could be!
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