Breaking Free – Keeping Secrets

Sarah had something that she hadn’t even told Jude and Dan about – partly because she was a little embarrassed about it, and partly because she quite like having a guilty secret now that Andy had gone. She had been watching a crime programme, exactly the kind of programme that Andy hated, and would do his best to disrupt so that Sarah would give up on watching it.  The police were trying to catch a criminal but every time they went to his flat, he wasn’t there and the rest of the people in the flats denied that he’d been there. The crime prevention officer had suggested that they put small strips of see thru tape at the bottom and top of the doors. It was unlikely that anyone would notice the tape and provided the strips were very thin, they wouldn’t present any resistance when you tried to open the door.

Before she left the house for Jude and Dan’s that morning, Sarah had been very busy booby-trapping the doors in case Abigail visited. Sure enough, the tape was loose on the kitchen and lounge doors as well as the bedrooms and bathroom. There was no evidence of Abigail having cleaned. as Sarah’s bowl and mug were still on the draining board, and the usual smell of bleach that followed Abigail like some noxious cloud was also missing. The door to the garage was still intact however, so her printer would be safe at least.  Sarah, in sleuth mode, checked out the rooms that Abigail had despoiled, and came to the conclusion that she had probably been looking for the letter that Sarah had read out to her on the phone that morning. Her books were out of order and her briefcase wasn’t quite back under the bed.  She smiled to herself and felt very glad that she had put a note in the briefcase telling Abigail to mind her own business.

Satisfied that no real harm had been done, Sarah turned the TV on and set up her laptop. She decided to send Millie an email to say ‘thank you’ for lunch and the visit to the studio. Of course, she had used email at work, but that was on a networked computer and didn’t require an awful lot of thought. Jason had set up an email account for her and Millie was going to be the first person she emailed. She found Millie’s card and copied the email address details. She even managed to save the address into her contacts. Feeling very proud of herself, she sent the email off and did some more browsing to a background viewing of ‘The Antiques Road Show’. Millie’s reply came in around ten o’clock, whilst Sarah was dozing on the sofa after a scratch tea of cheese, crisps and a glass of red wine.

‘Hi Sarah, Get you! I see the new laptop has arrived then, and you’ve paid attention to your IT guy. Just got back from Cambridge having had a lovely weekend with Tom. I need to pick your brains about something. How would you feel about coming up on Tuesday morning and staying the night? If you are interested – and only if you are interested – I can also arrange for you to sit in on some meetings, see another episode of the show, and have me cook your dinner.  Nothing fancy – my cooking skills haven’t improved over the years. Tom is fine about you using his room. Fortunately, he is much better organised than his mother. Please say yes? Lots of love. Millie’

Sarah’s reply was sent speeding back and within a few moments her mobile rang.

“Hello! For someone who says that are useless with technology you seem to have mastered your laptop fairly quickly. How was your weekend?”

Millie roared with laughter as Sarah told her about the run ins with Abigail and was impressed by the forethought shown in Andy’s letter. After a moment’s hesitation, Sarah also told Millie about the tape on the doors. This caused a further outburst of laughter.

“How was Tom anyway? How was Cambridge?”

“Tom was disturbingly well settled in. I feel quite bereft. His rooms are extremely tidy, he has organised his studies and insisted on paying for lunch. It was a light lunch, and the two dinners that I paid for were extremely large. My hotel was nice though, and the bits of Cambridge that I saw were beautiful. I have a feeling that I’m missing him more than he misses me.”

“Oh, think back to our first weeks at University, Millie. It was such an adventure, and to be at Cambridge with all that history and tradition. Your Mum and Dad must be so proud.”

There was a short but significant pause.

“Sorry Sarah, I should have said. Mum died just over three years ago and Dad is in a home for demented vicars. That sounds cruel but they never accepted Tom – especially after he was born.”

“Oh Millie, I’m sorry. Why didn’t they accept him? They weren’t that old fashioned.”

“Perhaps if I had come home and borne a nice white baby, they might have coped, or explained him away as a relative, but my darling Tom is Anglo-Indian, and that was more than their middle-class morals could cope with.  They wanted me to have him adopted. I waited a week after giving birth, and packed up Tom and all I could carry, and headed for London. Are you shocked?”

“At their attitude, not really, they were always rather strait-laced, as I remember. Am I shocked that Tom has an Indian father? No. Why should I be? My best friend’s husband comes from the Caribbean, and their children have inherited their father’s beautiful eyes, and their mother’s curly blonde hair.  No racist bones in my body. Quite a few in Andy’s, but again that was due to his parents and their horrible middle-class values. I’m sure that they would have insisted on us getting engaged and married, but luckily for me they’d already shuffled off by the time I came along. I think that they passed the bulk of their prejudices on to Abigail, but Andy inherited a few opinions that set my teeth on edge.”

“You’ve no idea how happy that makes me feel. We had no problems when we were in London, and even when we moved up here, Tom didn’t have any issues with racism. I like living in a multicultural community. Life is so much more interesting.”

“It’s why Jude and Dan moved to their current house. Nasty racist neighbours at the last one, and with Jude being ill, she just doesn’t need the stress.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, what’s wrong with her?”

“She has Myalgic Encephalitis or ME; one of those nasty immune system conditions. We worked together years ago. She met Dan at work; he was one of our IT contractors and they got married. Things were fine after Emily and Sadie were born. Jude came back to work after maternity leave and the girls were in nursery. When she fell pregnant with Chloe she was very poorly, and spent most of the pregnancy in hospital. No one seems to know what causes ME but stress certainly doesn’t help. She had to give up work.”

“It’s not constant though is it? I mean, I’d heard that you get good days and bad?”

“True. On good days you wouldn’t know that she was unwell, and she does try to keep up a good front because she hates people feeling sorry for her. On bad days she just has to stay in bed, and Dan works from home. In essence, she’s still my good friend Jude though, and nothing will ever change that.”

“Oh Sarah, it feels so good to hear you say that, and to have found you again. Which brings me to the other reason for ringing.  Will you be able to come and stay next week?  I know that you weren’t overly impressed with Oliver, but you did seem quite taken with the show, and there are some people that I’d love you to meet.”

“I’m a free agent. I’ll let Roseanne know that I’ll be away on Tuesday and coming back Wednesday night so she can let the prospective buyers snoop around as much as she likes.  Actually, I’ve decided that Roseanne is more of an ally than an enemy. She hates Abigail as well. Will we have time for looking into renting a flat as well? I talked to Jude about it today and depending on which part of the city I live in; I might even be closer to them than I am here.”

“What kind of accommodation are you looking for?”

“A purpose built flat. No garden. No work needing to be done. The opposite to this horrible 50s semi with its immaculate lawns and borders. Somewhere I can just move into and scatter my books and DVDs around.”

“Plenty of those around. I’ll have a look on my way in tomorrow.”

“Should I come on the train again or bring the car?”

“I have two parking spaces so if you don’t mind braving the traffic – I get the tram into work and back most days unless I’m going food shopping afterwards. Oh, you aren’t allergic to cats, are you?”

“Not as far as I know. I take it you have a cat then?”

“Yes, Buster. He’s Tom’s cat really but he tolerates me provided I feed him. He’s a big fat black and white Maine Coon house cat. He was a present from Oliver for Tom’s sixteenth birthday.”

“Sounds lovely. I have nothing against cats or dogs. Andy detested both because of the damage they did to his garden, not to mention the gardens at work.”

“Right, well I need to sort out some clothes for tomorrow so I’ll leave you in peace. Sarah, you just don’t know how happy I am to have you back in my life.”

“Me too. Laterz.”

“Oh yes, laterz potaterz.”

Sarah spent a happy hour flat hunting on the laptop. She was a little concerned about the prices, she knew that she would have enough for the deposit and a couple of month’s rental in the bank; and going on her previous salary, once she was employed, she wouldn’t have a problem either. It was the getting employed that was the difficult bit.

Just then Sarah heard a sound out in the garden. At first, she thought it was a cat prowling around but the noise was more like footsteps.  Who on earth would be prowling around outside the house at this time of night?

To give him credit, Andy had thought about household safety rather a lot, and whilst the alarm system he had installed was simple enough for even Abigail to turn on and off, there were a few added extras that only he and Sarah knew about because he had put them in to make her feel safer in the house when he was away. Very quietly Sarah walked to the alarm panel and pressed a sequence of buttons before whipping the door open. Instantly the front garden was flooded with light and there – like a stunned rabbit caught in the headlights – was Abigail.

“For goodness sake, Abigail! It’s a quarter to one! I’m not letting you in, and if you do anything to damage my car, I will call the police.”

Abigail found her voice. “I was just checking that you were okay. Please turn the lights off Sarah, you’ll wake up all the neighbours.”

“Go home Abigail. I know that you’ve been sneaking round the house whilst I was out today, and you weren’t doing cleaning either. I’ll just warn you now that Andy installed some other security measures that you don’t know about, and I’m quite happy to use them to protect his property and mine if you don’t scuttle off home and leave me in peace. Good night!”

Sarah left the lights on until she was certain that Abigail had left the premises, got into the car and driven away.  Lights were already going on in the neighbour’s houses, so Sarah quickly switched off the intruder lights, locked and bolted the door and went back to her laptop.

Working on the basis that Abigail was unlikely to return that night, Sarah closed everything down, put her dirty plate and cup in the sink and walked very slowly up the stairs. What exactly was Abigail trying to do? Scare her out of the house? Some chance, she wouldn’t go until she was well and truly ready. Andy and Abigail’s parents must have been pretty strange people to have raised two such weird children. Sarah had to admit to herself that she had never really been curious about the former inhabitants of the house before. When Andy asked her to move in, she just took the house on face value, accepted that his parents were dead, and never really asked any questions. As far as Abigail was concerned, her parents were saints who would never have approved of Sarah, let alone of Andy and Sarah living together. Piqued by a sudden fit of curiosity, Sarah went into Andy’s box room, and a few moments of rummaging, found a trunk containing old photographs and papers.

The first photo album was fairly standard; photographs of Andy as a baby, then as a toddler. His parents seemed like a fairly normal middle-class couple; a bit older than most but why were there no pictures of Abigail? A glossy white album yielded up the answer; this consisted solely of pictures of her, and at the very back a certificate of adoption.  Sarah sat back on her heels. Abigail was adopted! She wasn’t even a blood relative of her blessed Andy! At the bottom of the box was an envelope containing a birth certificate and some social work reports. It appeared that Abigail had no father as such, her mother had been a sixteen-year-old, who was made pregnant by her own father. The situation was hushed up within the family, and Abigail was put up for adoption. The first family who adopted her however, handed her back to the care of the local authority because of her bizarre behaviour by the age of three. A year later Andy’s parents had taken her on, and the social work reports held a catalogue of dysfunctional behaviour, expulsion and police cautions for violence. The bad behaviour appeared to cease once she left school and got a job in the local greengrocers where she met and fell in love, apparently, with the owner’s son. There was nothing recorded after that. Sarah packed everything away. She would never tell Abigail what she had found but it certainly explained a few things. Feeling extremely tired now she went off to the bathroom, washed her dusty hands, cleaned her teeth and climbed very wearily into the bed.


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