The runner came back for Sarah, and led her along the corridors that she had seen previously on the screen at the back of the stage. There were a few curious looks from some of the staff, but Sarah just smiled at everyone she saw and was gratified when she received some smiles in response.
Millie was waiting in one of the anterooms and patted the seat next to her.
“Well? What did you think?” Millie grinned.
“I have a confession to make,” said Sarah as she sat down. “I have seen the show before. I didn’t want to say because you were in a rush to get back and I thought you might not invite me to stay.”
“So, come on then?”
“My friend Jude taped some episodes for me and we watched them together. One of the women I worked with had a client who was having custody issues with her ex and they had a huge row on the show. I felt really stupid when they started talking about it in the office. Not Andy’s type of thing at all you see. So, Jude and I spent an entire afternoon watching episodes back-to-back. We ate popcorn and drank cider so we were a bit silly towards the end.”
“Did you hate it?”
Sarah wrinkled up her nose. “I didn’t actually hate any of the episodes. Some of the people made me angry, others made me cry, and for most of the afternoon I wanted to bitch slap Oliver.”
“That’s a fairly standard reaction. We all feel like that at times. Sssh, here he comes!”
Oliver Standish, his shirt unbuttoned a little more to expose his greying chest hair, strode into the room.
“Aha!” he said, “So this is your friend from student days, Millie. Do I merit an introduction?”
Millie and Sarah got to their feet, and Sarah shook Oliver’s outstretched hand.
“Oliver Standish, meet my oldest friend, Sarah Gibson. Like me, she has a social work degree, and shedloads of experience.”
“Impressive. What did you think of my show though?”
“I was just about to tell Millie. I’ve never seen behind the scenes of a televised show before. I was fascinated by the organisation involved in getting people on the stage, finding the right camera angles, sound, and all that running down the corridor after people!”
Oliver looked a little disappointed. Sarah carried on quickly.
“I was very impressed with the way you coaxed information from people, and how you can change from the hard guy into an empath though. It must be very difficult “
This seemed to appease Oliver and sooth his ego.
“I work on gut feelings, you see Sarah. Did you have any gut feelings about any of my clients this morning?
“Not at first, but I began to have misgivings about whether Tina really was the good-time girl she was making herself to be. I wasn’t suckered in by the mother who was allegedly being abused by her son either.
Oliver winked at Millie,
“When I read the research papers, I wondered how long it would be before the audience saw her true colours. Hideous woman. We can help the lad though, and it looks as if Darren and Tina have patched things up too. Beki will be okay too, especially if she dumps that hideous jumper and gets her hair done! I like it when we can get them sorted out. Nice to meet you anyway Sarah – any friend of Millie’s – you know?”
With that, Oliver stalked out of the room again, leaving Millie and Sarah giggling like a pair of silly schoolgirls.
“Right! What are you doing now?” said Millie, grabbing a pad of paper and a pen off the table.
“Back home on the train – if you can call it home. The house is a shrine to Andy’s beloved parents still, and when he left, nearly everything in every room sprouted envelopes of typed instructions and post it notes. Andy’s horrible sister Abigail is liaising with Roseanne the estate agent. The pair of them are busy selling the house from under me, but I don’t really care. It was never my house anyway. My new laptop and printer are being delivered tomorrow, so I shall inevitably call on the skills of Jude’s husband Dan to come in and set it up for me.”
“Tom is my IT guy. I’m not sure how I will cope without him. He’s been gone a fortnight, and there’s only me and the cat. I feel quite bereft. God knows how you feel Sarah.”
Sarah smiled and shrugged.
“Numb, confused, relieved, free? A whole host of emotions. I am amazed that Andy has done anything as exciting as running away to Thailand. I’m not surprised that he kept it all from me, he’s always been rather secretive, that and the fact I wasn’t really that interested in the things that he was interested in.”
“Have they got anyone for the house yet?”
“Not yet. I try to keep the place reasonably tidy and go out whenever they have a viewing. Abigail comes in and blitzes the place the place every week anyway. She doesn’t touch my stuff; I make sure that it’s all stowed away.”
Millie doodled on the pad of paper.
“How much stuff have you got then?”
“Clothes and shoes mostly; books and DVDs, and my new laptop and printer. All the furniture was Andy’s and I don’t particularly want the bedding and towels. I always hated his taupe towels. It won’t be hard to move out – when I finally go. I can probably fit all my stuff in the car. I don’t know where I want to move to yet. My experience with those agencies this morning has put me off moving up here really.”
“Wouldn’t you miss your friend Jude and her family if you moved?”
“No, Jude and Dan live halfway between here and Andy’s anyway. They offered me their spare room but it isn’t really spare. They have three children, and their eldest should really have a room of her own. They are wonderful people and going there is like an oasis, but I want to keep it that way.”
Millie handed Sarah a piece of paper, complete with flowery doodles.
“This is my address, home telephone number and email. You’ve got my mobile number on the card. I’m going down to see Tom this weekend but I’ll be back Sunday night. Let me know how you get on with the laptop? Maybe we can meet up for lunch again next week?”
Sarah wrote down her address and mobile number for Millie.
“I don’t use the landline. All I ever get when I check the messages is nagging Abigail. I’d love to meet up. To have found you again after all this time – especially when my whole world has just been turned upside down – it must be fate!”
“I’ll see you out, they are sticklers for security here – not surprisingly.”
She laughed and led Sarah through another series of corridors, stopping to drop off Sarah’s pass and lanyard. The tall, well-built, but rather attractive security guard told her that she could keep the wristband as a memento.
“Don’t throw that pass away Al, you may well be seeing this lady again. We’ve been separated for years and I have no intention of losing her again!”
Al smiled and shook Sarah’s hand. He was surprisingly gentle for such a large and well-muscled man.
Outside on the concourse, it was getting dark and the array of lights were twinkling through the trees. After hugging Millie goodbye, Sarah hurried over to the tram stop and was lucky enough to get on one going back to the station straight away. Looking out of the tram windows, Sarah couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to work in such a big city after ten years in a small town where nearly everything was a familiar landmark. The train station was bustling and busy with commuters going home. Her next train was in ten minutes so Sarah indulged in another cup of the kind of coffee that Andy would sneer at. With that in mind she asked for an extra shot of espresso, and a double chocolate chip cookie.
The train was in when she got to the platform and she was extremely lucky to get a seat. The feeling of contentment that settled over her as she sipped her coffee and nibbled the cookie, was similar to the way she felt when she visited Jude and Dan and yes, similar to the way she felt when she and Millie saw each other again. It wasn’t a long train journey, and fairly quiet as once again, nearly everyone in the carriage was busy on a device of some kind. The coffee kept her awake however, and the thought that by this time tomorrow she would have her own laptop to play with made her smile. Best of all, there would be no Andy to look on disdainfully when he caught her playing Solitaire instead of writing up her reports and case notes.
Throwing caution to the winds, Sarah decided to take a taxi home instead of waiting for the bus. Andy’s extremely organised lighting system made the house look occupied anyway, but Sarah was surprised to hear voices in the lounge when she unlocked the front door.
Dumping her bag on the floor and throwing her coat over the newel post in a manner that would have deeply distressed Andy, Sarah walked into the front room to find Abigail and Roseanne deep in discussion.
“Oh, hi.” She said, forcing a note of cheerfulness into her voice.
“Where have you been all day, Sarah? This is most inconsiderate.” snapped Abigail
“Not that it is any of your business what I do Abigail dear, I’ve been on a lovely train ride and met up with an old friend from university. Did I miss something?”
“Roseanne has found us a buyer for the house so I’m giving you four-weeks-notice to leave.” said Abigail smugly. “Don’t you ever check your messages? I left one this morning telling you that we had a viewing. I had to rush over and do some tidying up; you left a dirty bowl in the sink.”
If Andy’s face bore a resemblance to a goat, then Abigail’s was distinctly porcine. Her snubby little nose wrinkled with disgust at the thought of Sarah leaving dirty crockery around when there was a perfectly good dishwasher that her brother had provided for the inconsiderate Sarah.
“Okay.” said Sarah. “Is that it? Only I’ve had a long day and I’m really hungry.”
“Well, there’s hardly anything in the fridge, all that nice food that Andy left for you. I’ve had to recycle it today!”
“That’s okay. I’ll order up a pizza – or a kebab – or maybe even a curry! Not sure what I fancy yet. Was there anything else you two wanted? Only I have it in writing from Andy that this is my house until it is sold, and the keys are handed over to the new owner. With all due respect I don’t particularly want to share my food with either of you.”
Roseanne got to her feet, slightly embarrassed by the situation. She quite liked Sarah, who had made efforts to keep out of the way, whereas Abigail tended to turn up at viewings, singing her brother’s praises, and being very rude about Sarah.
“I must be off anyway. There won’t be any cause to disturb you over the weekend, Sarah but the buyers might want to visit again next week, if that’s alright with you?”
“I keep telling you Roseanne, Sarah doesn’t have a say in it. This house belongs to my brother Andy. It was our childhood home and he has done his best to keep it in good condition. I dread to think what our mother would say about Sarah having lived here all this time, and not even having the courtesy to marry my brother.”
“Woah! Hold on there, Abigail!” said Sarah angrily. “We never married because he never asked me. Just like we never had children, for which I am extremely grateful under the circumstances. Right, off you go, and I will do my best not to hold any weekend raves and trash the places. Stop gaping Abigail, it makes you look even more gormless. Bye-bye, you two. You can see yourselves out.”
Abigail got to her stubby little feet and clutched her tasteless taupe coloured bag in front of her. Her face was red with rage and Sarah hoped that she might explode.
“I’ll just remind you Sarah, that under the terms of Andy’s instructions – which were noted and verified by our solicitor, that you will be held responsible for any damage to the house and grounds until such time as you have left the premises permanently.”
“Do one. No offence Roseanne, but you can do one too.”
Roseanne stifled a giggle and headed for the door with an angrily stomping Abigail in her wake.
Once she was sure that they had left the house, Sarah locked the front door and hunted out the takeaway menus she had hidden in her bookshelf.
Pizza sounded like a very good idea indeed.