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Author's Chapter Notes:


Ricky and Randa, unaware of the new embargo on their presence in the Maynard household, turned up early in the afternoon and strolled in through the kitchen door, where they encountered a tired and harassed-looking Millie, who was about to start on the large pile of washing up from lunch, Will helping.

“Hullo Millie!” said Ricky. “Where are the others? We’ve got something we want to show them.”

“Actually,” began Millie. She stopped. How did you tell two eager, apparently innocent children that their being in your house was a very bad idea just at the moment? Especially when you couldn’t help feeling that the attitude was a little unfair, since Ashley, Stacia and Poppy would probably have attacked Mary-Lou anyway. But before she could even begin to explain, Randa spotted the mountain of washing-up, and her eyes lit up.

“Gosh, what a lot of washing-up,” she said. “Shall we help?”

“Oh – no!” said Millie quickly.

“Don’t worry,” said Randa. “We’re very good at washing-up. We hardly ever break things. Will, bring me a chair so I can reach. And give Ricky the towel – he can dry up. Go on, Millie, you look awfully tired.”

Millie looked at Will, who shrugged and tossed the towel to Ricky.

“Mum’ll be furious if she finds out,” she whispered.

“Well, what are you going to do about it? Stop them washing up?” He glanced towards Ricky and Randa, who were already plunging with enthusiasm into the task. “Actually, I’m not sure you even could, now they’ve made a start. Here, I’ll put the things away. I know where they go.”

Millie decided that, on the whole, it would be more tactful not to apprise her mother of the latest development, and wandered off with an idea of finding Charlie and steering her away from the kitchen. In the living room she found John entertaining Sphinx and Amy with a dramatic account of the previous night’s activities.

“Do you know where Mum is?” she said.

“No idea,” said John. He turned back to his enthralled audience. “So then Dad shone his torch on her – it was the first time there hadn’t been people crawling all over her face – and it turned out to have been Mary-Lou all along!”

His audience collapsed, laughing.

“John!” said Millie more loudly. “Ricky and Randa are washing up in the kitchen.”

“Good Gad!” said Sphinx, jumping up. “Don’t worry, I’ll stop them. Have they smashed a lot?”

“No – it’s not that.”

Sphinx paled.

“They’ve made a flood?”

“No! No, it’s just that Mum – well, after the kids beat up Mary-Lou last night she – Mum, that is – seemed to think it was sort of their fault.”

“Ricky and Randa’s?”

“Yes.” Millie felt her face grow hot with embarrassment. “And – well, the kids are grounded, and although she didn’t actually say she didn’t want them to play with Ricky and Randa any more, I think it might be better if she didn’t know they were here. I’m sorry,” she finished miserably.

There was a rather awkward silence.

“Better go and fish them out then, Sphinx,” said Amy quietly.

“I know it’s not their fault,” said Millie. “But – well, Mum and Dad have been under a lot of strain, what with Hilda going missing, and I think Mum couldn’t help imagining what might have happened to them if it had really been one of the kidnappers.”

“It’s all right,” said Sphinx, at the door. “Those two aren’t likely to help anyone’s stress levels at any time.”

He strode through to the kitchen, ready to bundle his siblings out unceremoniously. When he arrived, however, Charlie had already discovered them. She was standing with her hands on her hips, demanding to know exactly what they were doing in her kitchen.

“Washing up,” said Randa, looking innocently at her through clumps of dripping hair.

“And drying,” said Ricky, brandishing the towel, with which he had been rubbing the floor vigorously. Charlie frowned.

“Why?” she said with, Sphinx felt, perfect justification. He rather wondered that himself.

“Millie looked like she didn’t really want to be doing it,” said Randa.

“And we like washing up,” said Ricky.

“We didn’t break anything, don’t worry.”

“Will put it all away for us, but he went when we started cleaning the floor.”

“The floor?” echoed Charlie.

“I slipped on the chair,” admitted Randa. “And some water went on the floor. That’s why my hair’s all wet.”

“Well, I’m glad you had the decency to mop it up, then,” said Sphinx, deciding it was time to reveal his presence.

“Oh, hallo!” said Ricky brightly. Sphinx eyed him with disfavour.

“Nice of you to help out,” he said. “But you’d better cut off home and find some dry clothes before you drip so much you have to clean the floor again. And find something else to do today – the Maynards have got a lot to do and they don’t want you people on their hands.”

Ricky and Randa, recognising in their brother’s face a perfect willingness to take them by the scruffs of their necks and bodily throw them out of the house, accepted defeat. As they departed, not noticeably crushed, Sphinx turned to his hostess.

“Sorry about those two. Believe it or not, they think they’re being helpful.”

“I know, but –”

“Millie explained,” said Sphinx, cutting her short grimly. “I’ll make sure Mum knows you don’t want them around. Would you like the rest of us to stay away too?”

Charlie flushed, but years of experience with obnoxious politicians had prepared her for dealing with hostile opponents.

“I just want to know that my children aren’t being encouraged to perform pointless acts that put them in serious danger,” she said. “Ricky and Randa seem to have a very strange idea of what’s safe and what isn’t, and it’s rubbing off on the children.”

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