Millie wasn’t due to arrive until eleven o’clock but something made Sarah wake up early and connect the printer to her laptop. She dug out the box containing Andy and Abigail’s mementos and scanned some of the documents; not the photographs, she didn’t feel that she wanted anything that would remind her of the two of them as children. Abigail as a child, looked like butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. Andy’s mother had made a point of dressing her adopted daughter in frills and flounces. The early colour photographs made the pink dresses look particularly sickly.
By nine o’clock everything necessary had been scanned and the box was packed up and sealed. The devil in Sarah was still active, so taking a chance that some solicitors might work on Saturdays, she called Andy’s solicitor. He was in and seemed quite nice on the phone. Sarah explained about the box of papers and photographs and asked if she could drop them off at his office for safekeeping.
“I’m moving out this weekend you see, and I don’t like the idea of them being left in an empty house. I’ve only had a quick look but there are things in the box that must be important to Andy….”
“….and to Abigail I would imagine.”
“Ah, you know about Abigail then?”
“I’ve known the family for many years; Andy and I went to school together. I think you’re right, they should be here really till Andy comes back. Rather than you come in here, would it be easier if I popped round later? We close the office at one o’clock.”
“That would be fine, my friend and I are packing up my things today – I’d be grateful to have a third-party present otherwise Abigail will accuse me of stealing the potato peeler or something!”
“She hasn’t changed then. She had a ridiculous crush on me when Andy and I used to hang around together. I tried to dissuade her as gently as I could but she took to stalking me. Every time I left the house she would be hiding badly behind a bush. I told Andy eventually and I don’t know what he said to her but the stalking stopped. I also stopped going round to Andy’s after that. His parents took Abigail’s side – she’d told them that we were going out and I dumped her of course – it was a shame because Andy was always a good friend, although I don’t suppose you want to hear that right now do you?”
Sarah couldn’t help but smile.
“Strangely enough I’m feeling rather grateful to Andy right now. He gave me the jolt that I needed. I know that you are his solicitor, but can I tell you something in confidence?”
“You mean that you don’t want Abigail know. My lips are most definitely sealed!”
“Phew. I must admit that I felt quite distraught when Andy left, but in retrospect, it was the best thing that could have happened. Having to think about my own future instead of trailing along in Andy’s wake for another ten years was just what I needed. I took voluntary redundancy and went off to the big city looking for work. Purely by chance I met up with one of my oldest friends in a coffee shop. Thanks to her, I start my new job on Monday and I’ll be staying in her spare room till I find a place of my own. “
“Wow! Things have moved fast. Is this the friend who is helping you pack?”
“Yes, Millie. We were at Uni together and lost touch when we graduated.”
“I look forward to meeting you both later this afternoon then.”
Sarah hung up the phone and grinned. She phoned Roseanne next and let her know that she would be moving out that weekend, and that the solicitor was popping round that afternoon to collect some of Andy’s papers. Roseanne laughed.
“I bet those are the papers that she’s been nagging me about. I’ve told her that no one can remove anything from the house until you have handed the keys over and moved out. She got very agitated and was rather rude.”
“Sorry about that. I think I may have wound her up a bit. Can I give you my forwarding address? I’ve arranged to have my post redirected but it won’t kick in for another week. “
“I promise not to give it to Abigail.”
“Please no! I really don’t want her stalking me in town as well. I sometimes wonder why there isn’t anything more interesting in her life than bothering me, but she’s a little obsessive so that probably accounts for it.”
“When are you actually moving out?”
“Tomorrow. We’ll be taking my boxes out to the storage centre in the morning and then taking my clothes and stuff back to Millie’s in the afternoon. I can leave the keys in an envelope here for you. There is one key that neither you, nor Abigail has, it’s for Andy’s chest in the garage. It’s full of fairly expensive climbing gear so we always kept it locked. If Abigail is going to be responsible for packing up the rest of the things in the house then I suppose it makes sense for her to have it.”
“Just leave her a note explaining about the extra key then. That way she won’t be ringing me non-stop asking what happened to it.”
“Will do. Thank you for everything Roseanne. You’ve made it all quite painless.”
“It’s been nice knowing you. Shame I can’t say the same for Abigail. Bye.”
Thinking about how modern and individual Millie’s flat was, Sarah couldn’t help but wonder what she would make of Andy’s monument to seventies bad taste. Strange how she was able to look at the house through different eyes now, and realise how dreadful her surroundings were. Moving from the lounge to the kitchen, her eyes were assaulted by the cladding and those horrible brown and white tiles. She looked at her watch. Nearly eleven and Millie would be here very soon.
Although Sarah had been looking out of the window like an impatient child, she actually missed Millie’s arrival due to a telephone call from Abigail, who was demanding to come round again. Sarah told her, quite curtly, that it wasn’t convenient as she had visitors and didn’t want Abigail there making a nuisance of herself. Abigail took great offence at this and was about to come over anyway and have a showdown, when Sarah dropped her bombshell and mock-reluctantly stated that it was Andy’s solicitor that was visiting, and she was quite prepared to complain to him about Abigail’s behaviour if she did turn up. This seemed to silence her temporarily at least.
Sarah managed to let Millie in through the front door whilst still on the phone to Abigail. She took advantage of Sarah’s being busy, and prowled around every room downstairs, coming back to Sarah in the hallway with her eyes opening wider and wider, as she wondered how on earth Sarah had managed to live in a place like this for so long. When she finally got rid of Abigail, Sarah joined Millie in the kitchen where she was unpacking a number of mysterious looking tubs and packages.
“Abigail?” said Millie.
“The very same. What’s all this?”
“Lunch. I hit the deli on the way over. I have a variety of cheeses and meats, some olives, anchovies, tiny red bell peppers stuffed with cream cheese, and some fresh granary bread. I thought I’d lay it out on the table to warm up a bit.”
“There’s an awful lot for just two of us.”
“I know. I always over cater. Still, what we don’t eat today we can have for lunch tomorrow.”
“Actually, we have a guest so extra is good.”
“Who’s coming? Not Abigail surely?”
“Good God no! Would I waste food like this on her? No, Andy’s solicitor is coming round after one o’clock to collect that box of photos and papers I told you about. He doesn’t think they should be left in the house. He knows all about Abigail’s past, in fact, she stalked him when he was at school with Andy.”
“No! Poor guy. What’s he like?”
“Nice enough on the phone. Never met him in person before. Andy didn’t mention that he had a solicitor, let alone one that he went to school with and who Abigail had a huge crush on. I felt that the box should be in safekeeping because if I left it here Abigail would get her mitts on it and probably destroy the paperwork. If it’s in a safe place then Andy can decide what to do with it if he ever comes back – with his true love.”
“What true love?”
Sarah poked around in her handbag for Andy’s latest postcard. She handed it to Millie who read it and whistled. “Are we still taking bets on whether he comes back with a he, a she or a ladyboy?
“Please don’t. Whoever he or she is, I hope they’ll benefit from Andy getting rid of this mausoleum.”
Millie looked around her and sniggered.
“How the hell did you live in this place without going off your trolley. It hasn’t been decorated since the seventies. I didn’t know that Formica existed anymore.”
“It probably came back into fashion but nobody told me. Come on let’s get some packing done. Sitting here looking at all that food makes me feel hungry, and I don’t think we’ve done anything to earn it yet.”
The next two hours passed quickly as Millie helped Sarah sort through her clothes and the other personal belongings that would be coming with Sarah when she moved in. Sarah was stunned to find how much of what she owned had sat at the back of a drawer or in a wardrobe for years without being touched. There were outfits that hadn’t been worn since she graduated; together with several items of clothing that were obviously presents from Andy, and an attempt to turn her into a taupe ghost of his mother. It was these items that Sarah took the greatest of pleasures in designating to the growing charity shop pile.
It was while the two of them were giggling over a particularly loathsome polyester blouse in orange, black and green, that Sarah heard the knock at the door. She looked out of the window and after establishing that Abigail’s car wasn’t outside, they went downstairs hoping that the caller would be Andy’s solicitor. It was, tall, dark and rather handsome, he introduced himself as Simon Forder, as he followed the two women into the kitchen. He looked around and laughed.
“Nothing changes. This is exactly the way I remember it. Andy’s mum was so pleased when they had the cladding put in here. She said that it added ‘chick’ to the room. I always thought that it made it look like a run-down sauna.”
“That’s exactly it!” said Sarah. “I wish that I could say that Andy left the house the way it is because of his childhood memories and as a tribute to his parents, but I rather think that he saw no reason to change, and that doing anything with the house wasn’t very stimulating compared with gardens, trains and mountain climbing.”
“Didn’t you try and get him to change? To decorate and make something of your home?” asked Millie as she opened up the cheese and hams ready for lunch.
Sarah shrugged. “Getting Andy to do something that he really didn’t feel comfortable doing, was almost impossible. I’d get sulks, and if that didn’t work, there would be the ‘stomping around the house’, and as a last gasp attempt, he would invite Abigail and her family round for dinner. He always cooked it though. He didn’t trust me after the time when I let a pan of potatoes boil dry because I was watching the news on the TV.”
Millie pulled a face and started cutting the bread into suitably thick slices whilst Sarah laid the old mismatched plates round the table. Simon watched them both, partly amused by their interplay but also wearing the face of someone who really needs to say something.
“Can I ask you a really personal question Sarah?”
Sarah sat down at the table. “Fire away. It seems that you knew Andy far better than I did though.”
“Possibly. We’ve got to know each other a lot better in the past couple of months whilst he was planning his trip.”
“His escape you mean?”
“Don’t be bitter Sarah. He felt very guilty doing it the way he did, but he didn’t think he had any choice other than to make a clean break. He wanted you to be angry with him, he felt that it would hurt less.”
“You’re certainly right about the being angry bit.” said Sarah, tearing a lump of bread off the slice that Millie had just put on her plate. “I was furious with him. It passed after a day or two though. It’s so much easier to be furious with Abigail.”
“I suppose Andy explained why he had to leave to you, didn’t he Simon?” asked Millie, cutting chunks of cheese and putting them on a plate with the slices of ham and salami.
“He did, and I’m assuming that I can say what I like in front of Millie, can I Sarah?”
“Of course, you can. It all sounds very mysterious though. Has he got some serious condition? A brain tumour or cancer or something like that?”
“No Sarah, although it would probably be easier if he had.”
“Is he gay?” asked Millie.
“Possibly, although I think confused would be a better description.”
“Right. That would explain a few things. Umm. Was he experimenting before he went away Simon? I mean, should I go and have any blood tests or anything?”
“Unfair Sarah. He wouldn’t do a thing like that to you. He had a full health check before he went, and his physical health is fine.”
“I’m sorry Simon, it’s just that spending ten years with someone, and then finding out that you didn’t really know them at all, it’s a bit much to take in at once. I don’t feel angry with him anymore. He made the best decision for both of us, and I really am grateful to him for being brave enough to make it.”
“He told me that you’d come round sooner rather than later. He said that you deserved so much better, and that he’d been holding you back all these years because he was so frightened of change.”
“I’d noticed.” said Millie as she looked around the room.
“That’s why you have to admire his decision to put the house up for sale. He knew it would force your hand about moving out, and when he eventually comes back, he can start from scratch.”
Sarah stared at the food on her plate, not really feeling very hungry now.
“I wish we’d talked more. Ten years is such a long time to be wishing you were somewhere else.”
“No, he only began feeling like this about six months ago. He mentioned you’d been on a secondment some years ago?”
“Yes, forensic social work.”
“Right, and he said that you did very well and they wanted you to apply for a job there.”
“It would have meant longer hours, travelling. It felt like a huge step. Andy wasn’t happy about it; in fact, he was so stressed that I didn’t feel I could take up the job.”
“And this post you are about to take up?”
“Bloody hell!” said Millie. “An even huger step if you ask me!”
Sarah looked a Simon a little ruefully. “Okay. You win. I just hope that things work out well for Andy too.”
“He’d be very happy to hear you say that.”
Simon’s mobile rang and he looked at the display. “I’ll just take this out in the hall if that’s okay?”
As Simon closed the door behind him, Millie reached over and squeezed Sarah’s hand. “He’s a nice guy. How are you feeling?”
“Fine. A little shell-shocked but I’m glad that Andy has got someone like Simon that he can talk to. That was one of the things that I worried about. Not that Andy and I did talk – or confide in each other for that matter but, to be honest Millie, I’m even more anxious to get out of this house and all its memories as soon as possible.”
Simon came back in.
“Got to go. Something urgent has cropped up. You have my number Sarah, if you have any problems, don’t hesitate to call. Now where is this highly confidential box?”
“Here, I’ll carry it out to the car.”
“Thank you. Nice to meet you, Millie.”
Sarah walked out to the car with Simon, and he locked the box securely in his boot. “I meant what I said Sarah, call me – here’s my mobile number as well – if you have any issues. I’ve got your numbers, and Millie’s address. Do you want to know when Andy comes back?”
The question took her aback but when she stopped to think about it, yes, she did want to know. Sarah nodded, feeling a bit choked. Surprisingly, Simon hugged her and got into the car. He grinned and waved as he drove away and Sarah couldn’t help wishing that she had met him sooner; he might have helped her to understand Andy and Abigail.
Millie was in the kitchen examining Andy’s list and comparing it to the items on show. She turned to Sarah with a quizzical look on her face. “You don’t seem to own much in the way of kitchen equipment my dear? I can see a garlic press, one small aluminium saucepan, and a set of ‘comic’ egg cups on this list but not a lot else.”
“I bought the garlic press; the saucepan is a hangover from Uni days,and the set of egg cups is one of the few things I bought from my parents’ home. A chicken, a duck and a rooster. Andy hated them. I used them to annoy him. I also cut my bread into soldiers and dipped. Very cross face. In fact, he wouldn’t sit across the table from me if I was having a boiled egg. “
After rummaging in the kitchen cupboard, Millie found the egg cups and pulled them out triumphantly. “Oh, these are so cute. If you don’t mind Sarah, until you find your own place, these will have pride of place on the dresser. One can never have too many small saucepans and Tom broke my last garlic press. You are coming to our flat with a considerable dowry already!”
The rest of the day sped by; having Millie there took all the pain and strain out of the packing. They decided not to pack up any of Andy’s things as Abigail was bound to unpack and check everything anyway. By nine o’clock all the storage boxes were packed, the charity boxes were ready to be dropped off at Jude’s as there were no shops open, and Sarah thought that it would give Millie and Jude a chance to meet finally. Sarah’s own belongings were mostly packed with just a few things that would be needed overnight and in the morning.
Sarah ordered pizza for them both and opened a bottle of wine. They watched an old comedy programme on the TV and laughed. It was a good end to the day.