The girls were in bed, Lou, Rachel and Pluto were all dozing off on the sofa when Mark finally arrived. He looked tired and his skin had lost its usual healthy colour. He sat down on the armchair and ruffled Pluto’s ears. Lou leaned over and gave him a hug. “You look knackered.”
“I am, and I’m sorry Lou but it doesn’t get better. Pete’s gone. He died without regaining consciousness from the internal injuries he got in the beating. The only positive thing that has come out of this is that one of the ‘uncles’ has told all and incriminated the other three that we arrested. Maria’s parents are in the clear; they were under duress and had little choice about putting up with the drug smugglers. Will you be okay Lou?”
“I did all my crying over Pete when he first left. The man who turned up here yesterday wasn’t the man I married. Go home Mark, and get some sleep.”
He looked over at Rachel, who was deliberately keeping quiet. “Do you want to stay here, or do you and Pluto want to come home?”
“Home please, if that’s alright with you. We’ll cancel the London trip Lou. I think we could all do with a lazy day.”
“Good idea. I doubt if you could last another night on that sofa, Rachel. How about if we have a proper Sunday roast; about two o’clock?”
“Sounds wonderful,” said Mark. “Come on Pluto. You can have a quick walk in the garden before we go to bed.”
The journey home was quiet; Rachel didn’t want to pump Mark for more details, there would be plenty of time for that tomorrow. The most important thing was that everyone was safe; except for Pete, but at least he wouldn’t have to endure any more pain or the stress of a court case and probable imprisonment. Mrs Kneller had left the porch light on and a plate of sandwiches and biscuits on the kitchen table. It was this thoughtful touch that proved to be the final straw. Rachel tried to hold back the tears but all she really wanted to do was to feel Mark’s arms around her and know that he understood. He understood. The embrace might have led to something more, but Pluto expressed his desire to be included by jumping up and down around them, and barking excitedly.
With a guilty laugh, Mark broke away and took Pluto out into the garden. Rachel took a very deep breath, blew her nose on a piece of kitchen roll, and found the sherry bottle and two small glasses. Other people may rely on whisky in stressful moments but sherry always seemed to raise her spirits and then induce much-needed sleep. Pluto returned with Mark following behind him. Rachel handed Mark a glass of sherry.
“Cheers.” said Rachel, raising her glass. “Much as I could do with a shower, and clean clothes, once this sherry is gone, I am off to bed, and no Pluto! You can stay in the living room my boy, and have the sofa to yourself tonight.”
“Same for me.” said Mark. “I’ll see you in the morning, Rachel and…I’m glad you and Pluto came back with me.”
It was another moment that could easily have progressed, but Rachel took the wise choice, gave Mark a swift hug and a peck on the cheek, then set off down the corridor to her room. She had a feeling that if she had turned around, she would have gone running back down the corridor and into Mark’s arms, but it wasn’t the right time for either of them. Mark watched her go; glad that she was back under his roof but wishing that she hadn’t gone. Settling Pluto in the living room he went back to his own bedroom relieved to find that Mrs Kneller had cleaned up the mess that Pete had left in the bathroom.