Breaking Free – Extending Friendships

There can be few things nicer than waking to the smell of fresh coffee – unless of course you don’t like coffee. Sarah felt confused.  Andy didn’t drink coffee, and grudgingly made her cups of instant coffee. He had frowned at her attempts to persuade him that a cafetiere would be a useful addition to the kitchen.  Pulling on her dressing gown, she stumbled downstairs to the welcoming sight of Millie soft boiling eggs, cutting bread soldiers and pouring coffee from what must be her own cafetiere.

Millie turned round and grinned. “I thought that we should celebrate your last morning here doing things that Andy wouldn’t approve of. I’m having one egg, you can have two so that all the egg cups are being used again, and I hope you appreciate the neatness of my soldiers?”

Sitting down at the breakfast table, Sarah felt a lump in her throat and looked up at Millie.

“Stop it Sarah, don’t you go getting all sentimental on me now! Today marks the ending of one life and the beginning of another. We’ll take the storage boxes down after breakfast, I get to meet the lovely Jude and her family, and then we hightail it off to the big bad city and the overwhelming whims of Oliver Standish! Ta Da!”

“It almost feels as if we were back at Uni again. Promise me something Millie?”

Millie sat down at the table next to her. “What’s up?”

“Promise me that you’ll be honest with me, and tell me if I behave like a prat?”

“As if!”

“No, I realise now how poor the communication was between me and Andy; how little I knew about him really. There were things I should have said and so should he, but both of us were too scared to say them. Promise me that you’ll tell me if I do anything to annoy you, or you need more space, or you regret having me to stay – and work with you?”

“Listen, I know an awful lot of things have happened to both of us since Uni days, but I knew as soon as we sat down to lunch that day, that beneath it all, we were still the same two silly sods as we used to be. I was dreading Tom going off to Uni. I miss him so much. You know what it’s like coming home from a traumatic day with no one to offload to.”

“I know, I used to stop off at Jude’s sometimes because I knew that Andy wouldn’t want to listen.”

“And Jude will still be there. We’ll have each other to grumble to when Oliver gets up our noses, or we have a really sad story that doesn’t look as if it will work out.  You’ve been living in limbo land for a long time, and now it’s time to take the real world on. I promise not to make you eat boiled eggs every day though. I like the egg cups for their decorative use as well as practical. Now taste this coffee, it is rather gorgeous but needs to be drunk fresh.”

The storage boxes took up all the room in both their cars and Sarah was glad of Millie’s previous experience of storing goods as the whole system was totally alien to her. When she moved out of her parents’ house Andy had hired a house clearance firm to take everything but Sarah’s clothes, and her most personal belongings. She had been so shell-shocked by the death of her father that she had just let Andy take charge of everything, signing papers when bidden but unable to deal with anything that reminded her of the loss of both her parents. To be fair to Andy, he had done an excellent job. He told her that most of the money from the house sale had been invested in shares for her, and the rest put into a savings account that he set up in her name. He really had been her rock in those early days and she was grateful for his kindness, which she now knew she had mistaken for love.

Sarah was fascinated by the storage facility. The manager had looked at the number of boxes they had, sold them a stout padlock with a couple of keys, and helped them load the boxes onto a trolley.  He led the way down a dark corridor where movement activated lights sprang into life as they passed. The little windowless room that would house Sarah’s belongings for the time being was half-filled by the time the trolley was unloaded, and as she padlocked the door and pushed the empty trolley back to the entrance Sarah felt like another door in her life had closed.

“This is the key code to get into the building, and the same code opens the gates if you decide that you desperately need something when the office is shut. We have ten-four-hour CCTV, so although you may feel you are alone if you come in out of hours, I can assure you that we’ll be watching. It gets a bit spooky here after dark though, so I wouldn’t advise it.”

The manager was quite matter of fact but Sarah had a feeling that she wouldn’t be venturing down the corridors if there was no one with her. A simple pub lunch rounded off the morning and left them both in a better frame of mind for the final packing up. Sarah phoned Jude when they got back to see how she was. It was a good day.

“Are you sure Millie doesn’t mind stopping off here on the way back?” said Jude.

“Of course not, she’s really looking forward to meeting you – all of you – she understands just how important you are to me. Oh, and we have to tell you about Andy’s solicitor Simon.”


“Oh, more than, he went to school with Andy and – get this – Abigail used to stalk him and fantasise about him.”

“Oh my god! What else?”

“No, I’ll tell you when we get there. I’ve got three bags of charity stuff but I thought the girls might like a rummage for dressing up clothes first.”

“Brilliant. Millie will like us, won’t she?”

“She’s just as worried that you won’t like her, and desperate for you to know that she won’t take me away, or try to take your place. I love you both, and I know that you’ll be able to see in each other what I see in you.”

“Okay, we’ll see you soon. Have you eaten?”

“Pub lunch after the storage place. All fed and watered and very anxious to close the door on this place for the last time”

“Hurry up then.”

With renewed vigour, Sarah and Millie packed away the last of Sarah’s belongings and put them into her car. Sarah left most of the house keys in an envelope on the kitchen table, and after a long look around each room in the house to say goodbye, she locked the front door and posted the keys back through the letter box. No turning back. Millie waited patiently in her car, watching Sarah methodically saying goodbye to the house she had seen as a home for the past ten years, then followed her on the drive to Jude and Dan’s house.

The girls greeted Sarah with enthusiasm, but the potential dressing up clothes met with absolute joy. Dan took them off into the front room to supervise, and indicated with his head that Jude was in the kitchen. Sitting at the table, with coffee and biscuits ready, Jude looked very nervous, but one look at Millie’s face made her realise how nervous she was as well. Sarah made the formal introductions and once they were sitting down, began to tell Jude all about Simon, Abigail and the revelations of the day before, with the occasional back up from Millie. Within a few moments all three of them were laughing, and both Millie and Jude realised that no one had anything to fear in regard to losing Sarah’s friendship.

Dan sent the girls in to display their creative use of Sarah’s old clothes; the combinations were hilarious but Sarah wondered why she ever wasted money on some of them.  Dan followed the girls.

“I’ve packed the other stuff away and I’ll take it to the charity shop on my way to work tomorrow. I have to say Sarah, there are some really bad taupe things in there that even the girls wouldn’t entertain.”

“Don’t blame me. They were presents from Andy in his effort to make me look more like his sainted mother. I fell very short of the mark, I’m afraid. Most of them I wore only once, just to please him, the others stayed hidden in the wardrobe. Andy was a kind man, but he had no taste whatsoever.”

“I’ll say!” said Millie. “I couldn’t believe it when I first walked into the house. Those kitchen tiles!”

“Yes!” said Jude. “And the pine cladding. I’ve never seen so much pine cladding before in my life!”

“Okay you two. No ganging up on me. I know that I should have persuaded Andy to do something about the décor years ago, but it’s too late now. That house is someone else’s problem. I need never set foot in it again. Although I’d give money to be a fly on the wall when Abigail goes in there, and finds that the box of papers has disappeared. Simon says that he will write to her saying that the box is in his safekeeping till Andy’s return. For some reason he didn’t seem too keen on giving her a call!”

United by a common dislike of Abigail, the rest of the afternoon sped by and soon it was time for Sarah and Millie to make the last leg of their journey back to Millie’s flat. Jude hugged them both goodbye and whispered into Sarah’s ear, “You’re right, she’s lovely and I do like her, and I’m not worried anymore.”

With that reassurance ringing in her ears, the drive back gave Sarah a little more time to take stock of all that had happened in such a short space of time. Before she realised it, she was following Millie’s car into the car park and parking beside her in what was now her designated space. It took three trips to get everything upstairs and the flat looked a little cramped once Sarah’s belongings cases and boxes were placed inside.

“Come and look.” said Millie, leading Sarah towards the box room. It was completely transformed. Millie had managed to get rid of most of the clutter and with the addition of a new single bed and wardrobe, it now looked like a place that Tom would be willing to sleep in when he came home.

“This makes me feel so much better Millie. I was worried that Tom would feel resentful about me coming here and taking over his space.”

“He’s fine. I sent him pictures and even he was quite impressed with what I’d done to the junk room. Now come and look at your room.”

It too was transformed. Millie hadn’t gone mad but she’d had toned down Tom’s masculine approach and made the room a softer and more feminine place by a fresh coat of lilac paint, some pretty curtains and duvet cover.

“How on earth did you manage all this in two days – and work?” said Sarah.

“I can’t take all the credit. Our good friend Al came over after work and did all the heavy stuff as well as the painting. He wanted you to have a warm welcome too.”

It was all a bit too much and Sarah sat down on the bed, feeling that the emotions she had been trying so hard to keep at bay for weeks were about to break through the well of self-defence. Millie handed her a box of tissues and left the room so that Sarah could have the time to herself. She cried like she had never cried before; big sobbing gasps that eventually subsided into snivels that could be safely mopped up by the tissues. Sarah was just beginning to pull herself together when Millie knocked on the door and came in bearing two large glasses of red wine. Her timing, as always, was impeccable.

“Sorry Millie.”

“What for? It was bound to catch up with you sooner or later. Come on Ms Professional Social Worker. You should know as much if not more than me, about the process of separation and grieving.  Drink up that wine and when you are ready, come and join me in the kitchen where I am cooking up my signature dish.”

“Which is?”

“You’ve forgotten already? Cheesy pasta topped with griddled spicy tomatoes – except the spices are a bit more sophisticated than they used to be.”

“Ah but one can work wonders with a tub of curry powder!”

“You do remember! The pasta’s just gone in the oven but I need to stand over the tomatoes in case the grill incinerates them. Warning – it can get a bit fierce. I’ll see you in a bit?”

“How can anyone resist the lure of your cheesy pasta and griddled spicy tomatoes? Do you mind if I do a bit of unpacking?”

“Course not. It’ll save me from tripping over the cases when I use the bathroom.”

“Sorry!  Oh, you were taking the mickey. I must get out of this habit of over apologising.”

“You must! I’ll call you when it’s ready. Drink up!”

Sarah pulled her suitcases and boxes out of the hallway and into her room. She had done her best to be organised and written a resume of the contents on each of the boxes. On closer examination of the room, she was pleased to find that she had a double wardrobe, two chests of drawers and a floor to ceiling bookcase.

With an unusual self-control, Sarah unpacked all her clothes and hung them up, or folded them away. The suitcases went one inside the other and Sarah managed to put them up on top of the wardrobe. That left her books, DVDs and CDs, and the little box containing her most precious items, including the egg cups. She decided to leave these, till later, and having deposited her make-up, perfumes and pitifully small amount of jewellery on the desk cum dressing table, she took another sip of her wine, threw her shoulders back, and followed the enticing smell of cheesy pasta into the kitchen – her new kitchen for the time being.


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