The Chinese takeaway tasted almost as good second time around. The bottle of Riesling they picked up on the way home vanished very quickly, and it was only the thought that Millie had to go to work the next day that stopped them from opening up a bottle of mulled wine that Millie found lurking in the back of the cupboard from last Christmas.
Sarah had signed the contract before they left the studio. She had agreed to start on Monday morning, on a very respectable salary according to Millie. The hours seemed rather strange compared to her social work hours of nine to five, but having seen a little of the way the aftercare team worked, Sarah understood why there had to be this flexibility.
Slightly tipsy and full of takeaway, Sarah and Millie sat on the sofa, both of them wearing silly smiles, and still a little shell-shocked from the events of the day. When they had returned from getting coffee, Al stopped them in the corridor to confirm that according to airport security Marta was safely on the plane and barking orders at anyone who’d listen.
“They promised me that they wouldn’t offload her unless she actually hit anyone, and all the staff have been briefed to be mega tolerant and get her arrested at Schiphol when they arrive if she plays up too much.” said Al.
“Well, we have some more good news Al.” said Millie. “Sarah is signing the contract and joins the team on next Monday!”
“Brilliant!” said Al, blushing slightly. “I mean, welcome Sarah, it’s really good to have you on board – although I hope we don’t have any more Martas for you to deal with. See you later.”
Millie waited until Al had disappeared round the end of the corridor. “I think you’ve made something of a hit there my dear! He is one of the nicest men I know, and gorgeous to boot.”
He does have rather gorgeous blue eyes, Sarah thought, and lovely dark hair. A total opposite to Andy with his pale green eyes, ginger hair held back in a manbun, and silly goatee beard.
She gave Millie a very old-fashioned look. “The last thing I need right now is a man in my life.”
Three hours later, warm, fed and mellow, Sarah had unwelcome thoughts intruding about Marta, and whether she would come back to haunt them all when the programme aired. Thinking of Marta made her think of Al, and she was stunned to find that those thoughts made her feel rather warm inside. She sat up straight and put the thoughts down to wine and silliness. Millie was looking at her in a peculiar way.
“You were thinking about Al, weren’t you?”
“I may not have seen it since you developed a crush on Steve Horgan leading up to the Graduation Ball, but I’d recognise that little smile anywhere. Now you’re blushing.”
“No, I was just thinking about how glad I was that Dave – and Al – were there to make sure that Marta went home. I wonder if she kicked off when she got off the plane?”
“I doubt it. Peter was telling me that the Dutch police are far stricter than ours are – and Marta knows that. She won’t want to run the risk of getting locked up in her own country. The penalties for what she’s done are fairly hefty.”
“It’s a shame that we couldn’t find out more about her childhood and youth. I know she came over here and married a builder when she was in her late teens, but all she would tell Peter was that her ex-husband was a bad man who beat her. After all she said, he might just have been a really nice man who wasn’t prepared to put up with her lying and fantasies. Anyway, enough of Marta. I need to start packing up my stuff. Are you sure I can stay here for a while Millie?”
“Of course. You go home tomorrow and start sorting out the stuff you need on a day-to-day basis, and box up the rest. I’ve been meaning to clear out that boxroom for years. Once it’s done, I can move Tom’s stuff in there so that he has a room to come home to. He’ll have to have a single bed again, but a double bed is a luxury for a teenager anyway. I’ll drive over on Saturday, between us we can take the boxed-up stuff to a storage unit, and then on Sunday we can bring the rest of your staff back here and get you settled in.”
“Abigail will go bonkers. I don’t think I’ll tell her where I’m staying.”
“What about your post?”
“I don’t get much. I’ll get it redirected to here in the meantime if that’s okay? I’m sure Roseanne can deal with any post that turns up before the redirection starts. To be honest, the only post I’ve had since I left work have been Andy’s postcards. I’d imagine that Abigail gets identical postcards and reads them over and over.”
“And you don’t?”
“Good Lord no! Andy is a sweet man but he writes the most boring postcards ever. Oh, did you just hear what I said? For the first time in seven weeks; I actually referred to Andy as a ‘sweet man’ I must have stopped disliking him then.”
“And that means?”
“I’m over him – after ten years. It’s funny though – you mentioning Steven Horgan – I never felt about Andy the way I felt about Steven Horgan. All through my final year I dreamed about being in his arms at the Graduation Ball. I should hate him if I hated any man. He copped-off with Amy Loomis and I never saw him again.”
“Amy Loomis! She was such a floozy. She’d worked her way through most of the people we knew by the time we got to the ball. I wonder why she left Steven till last?”
Sarah pulled a face. “Because she knew that I was after him. Every time I let it be known that I liked someone – Amy was in there – sitting on their laps, big hugs and kisses. ‘Oh, please teach me how to play the guitar/poker/backgammon – you are so clever and I am so silly’.”
“Oh God – that was such a good impression. Amy with her little girl pigtails and big wide eyes.”
“And those satin blouses!”
“And the fake fur coat.”
Sarah leaned over conspiratorially. “I have a confession to make. Do you remember Derek Draper?”
“Class dweeb. I do.”
“He had a bit of an unrequited love thing for me. Followed me everywhere.”
“Then he stopped suddenly – and didn’t he drop out?”
“No, he went to another Uni nearer home. I let slip that I really fancied him, and of course Amy made a play for him. Rumour has it that she actually got him into bed. It lasted a week – until a mutual friend told her that I’d been lying. Oh my God – that’s a psychopathic tendency!”
Millie roared with laughter. “That was a wonderful moment when you got the researcher checking out the Hare list. I overheard a couple of the runners using it to analyse Oliver.”
“No, Oliver is a pain but he isn’t a psychopath. I wonder what happened to her.”
“Mm. I wonder who she ended up with.”
“Go on – if you don’t then I will!”
Sarah slowly made her way out to Tom’s room.
“Come on Millie! I’m not doing this on my own!”
“Just a minute, I need to get something first.”
By the time the laptop was up and running, Millie had appeared in the doorway proudly waving their graduation programme. There was no sign of Amy Loomis on Google. Sarah tried Amy Horgan and Amy Draper but the lack of hits made her more relieved than anything.
“Time for bed now, I think. You have to go to work tomorrow and I need to drive home, acquire some large boxes and find out the best rates for storage. Jude will be gobsmacked when I tell her.”
“She’ll be pleased for you though?”
“Oh yes, all the time we were working together she kept telling me to leave Andy and get a better job. She’s always been polite to him, but she didn’t like the way he stopped me from doing things.”
“That’s the thing that I’m most confused about. You are an incredibly intelligent woman, you have remarkable insight into other people’s issues, so why did you let yourself get stuck in such a rut?”
It was a question that Sarah had been asking herself over and over since Andy left.
“I lost all my confidence when Dad died. Andy was there and he picked up the pieces, he supported me and as I began to feel better in myself, I also felt that I couldn’t manage without him. That’s the way it started in the beginning anyway and we grew apart over time until it was a strange kind of companionship. Before you ask – yes, we did do it, to start off with anyway – then it became mechanical and after that non-existent. A peck on the cheek, a little hug; I got tired of my overtures being snubbed. I often wondered if he was gay – or at least bisexual. Or maybe it was me – I just didn’t turn him on. I hope he sorts that side of himself out in Thailand.
“Oh no! We’re back to ladyboys again.”
“Goodnight Millie! Do you want the bathroom first or shall I?”
“I’ll dive in first then you can take your time. Do you want me to wake you up before I go?”
“No, I’ll be awake. See you in the morning.”
Millie hugged her and was gone.
Sarah sat back down at her laptop and did a few more searches until Millie yelled that she was finished in the bathroom.
Curling up in Tom’s bed, still a little happy from the food, the wine and the success of the day, Sarah smiled to herself as she pulled the duvet up round her ears and wondered what Andy was doing.
It was thinking of Al that banished Andy from her mind however