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Author's Chapter Notes:

Change of name!

i didn't mention in the original post that this is emphatically NOT a continuation of T&M - it just uses the same characters. I'm definitely not giving away the ending of T&M in this! The reasons why it isn't a continuation should hopefully become very apparent as the story progresses!


 

The woman who answered the door to Susie's knock was much older than Susie had expected. She had last seen Sarah eighteen years ago, before Tom was born, and her friend had been starting to go grey at the temples then, but now her hair was completely white and her face was grey and tired. She seemed thinner than before and her dark eyes were weary, though they lit up in astonishment as she recognised her guest.

 

"Susie!" she exclaimed in surprise, taking a step back.

 

"Sarah!" The tears welled up in spite of her efforts at self-control, and Susie stepped over the threshold and pulled Sarah into her arms. "Oh, Sarah, I'm so sorry - so sorry!"

 

"Thank you," said Sarah mechanically, patting Susie on the back gently. "Oh, Evelyn! There you are. Come in, dear. Susie, you come in too. And…ah…"

 

"This is Tom, Sarah," said Evelyn, from behind him, and stopped, clearly unsure whether to explain the relationship. Sarah did not notice the hesitation, however; she was staring at Tom with a startled expression, fascinated by his appearance.

 

"Oh, yes," said Susie, steadying herself and drawing Tom into the house. "This is Tom, my…my son."

 

"How do you do, Mrs Humphries," said Tom, stepping forward with his hand outstretched. "I'm very sorry for your loss."

 

"Well, I never," said Sarah quietly as she shook hands with Tom. She held onto his hand for a moment, then released it and looked quickly at Susie, who found herself blushing, an unusual experience for her. 

 

"I meant to tell you," she said, "but so much happened and what with one thing and another…" 

 

"Oh, indeed," said Sarah, displaying a remarkable lack of interest. "Come in, all of you. Come and sit down and have some tea. Have you just got off the train? Where did you find Evelyn?"

 

They went through to the salon, all polished oak floorboards and rose-coloured rugs, and as Susie and Tom took a seat on the old fashioned sofa and glanced about at the bowls of flowers and the silver framed photographs on the mantelpiece, Evelyn explained about their unexpected meeting on the train.

 

"Susie was very shocked to hear the news, so I brought them here straight away," she finished. "I hope you don't mind?"

 

"No," said Sarah, "not at all. I expect you'd like to know what happened."

 

"I would," said Susie, who had regained some control of herself and was able to speak normally. "I didn't think, not in a million years, that I'd arrive here to find this had happened. I felt quite faint on the train - Tom had to fetch me some sweet tea, didn't you, darling?"

 

Tom patted her knee, and she grasped his hand and held it tightly. For once, he allowed it to remain there and sat still, quietly attentive to Sarah.

 

"I'm sure it was a shock," said Sarah, without emotion. "It was to me as well. It was a month ago. He was supposed to come round for Sunday lunch, but when he hadn't arrived by two I thought he must have forgotten and we ate without him. I mean, you know as well as I do how he was about forgetting things. I was angry with him - angry! The potatoes had gone to crisps and the meat was overdone, and…it wasn't until his housekeeper got in from her day off and found him…found him in bed, as if he were asleep, only he wasn't, because he wasn't breathing."

 

Sarah broke off her narrative to pour some tea. Her voice had grown rather listless, quite unlike the crisp vigour of the younger Sarah. It brought fresh tears to Susie's eyes, to see how her old friend had been affected by her brother's death.

 

"Was he ill?" she asked as Sarah handed her a cup, and Sarah shrugged.

 

"He had pneumonia a while back, but he recovered from it quite well," she said. "No, I don't think he was ill, but he had been very distracted of late, as if he had something on his mind. He never said what, but I sensed…oh, something, I don't know. A secret. But people don't die of secrets. Dr Maynard says his heart just stopped, but he had never had any heart trouble. He worked too hard, of course. Hilda is terribly upset. She thinks she ought to have seen it coming, to have given him fewer responsibilities, more time off. But it's too late now. He wasn't so terribly old. He was going to be sixty this year. We were all planning a party for him…"

 

Her voice finally broke and she turned her face away, towards the wall, and gripped her hands tightly together. Evelyn, sitting next to her, put her hand over Sarah's clenched ones but Sarah snatched her hands away and Evelyn retreated, cowed, and shot a look of helplessness at Susie.

 

"I keep forgetting he's not here," she said. "I keep talking about him as if he's still alive. I don't know if I can stand to be here, really. It's too connected with him."

 

"We have to keep going," said Sarah, her voice now back under rigid control. For a moment she even sounded fierce, but then she relented. "You don't have to stay, Evelyn, if you don't want to. It might be good for your health, but if it makes you unhappy, you can go back to London."

 

"Oh, I'll stay," said Evelyn quickly, her eyes darting sideways at her aunt. There was an awkward, angular silence, during which Sarah gave Susie a searching look up and down, taking in the smart clothes and the fashionable appearance.

 

"I like your hair."

 

"Thank you." Susie patted her greying hair and sighed. "It seems rather frivolous now, what with…"

 

"Yes, well, we all have to have things to cheer us up," said Sarah frigidly, and the awkward silence fell again. They sipped their tea and tried not to look at each other.

 

Susie was a few seconds from speaking when a lanky whippet of a dog trotted into the salon. It came loping halfway across the room but at the sight of Evelyn it skittered to a halt and dropped, belly low to the ground, making a low, fearful whine deep within its throat. Sarah reached out a hand to calm it but it sprang up and bounded out of the room at full tilt, almost colliding with a leggy girl who was just coming through the door. They heard its claws rattling across the oak of the hallway, and Sarah sighed deeply.

 

"Who was that?" asked Susie.

 

"That was Arty," said Sarah. "Artemis - Tristan's dog. She's been with us ever since…"

 

"What have you done to her, Evelyn?" asked the girl in the doorway in a low, laughter-filled voice. "Ever since Christmas she's hated you."

 

"Rubbish," said Evelyn. "It's new people she doesn't like."

 

"No," insisted the girl, coming in and sitting next to Sarah, taking her hand between her own two and chafing it slightly. "She's been right off you for months now. Hallo, Mother. Who are these people?"

 

"These are Susie and Tom…Susie's an old friend, and Tom is her son. How old are you, Tom?"

 

"Seventeen this Sunday," said Tom, who had risen when the girl had come in and now bowed to her in dramatic fashion. "Tom Smith, at your service, miss."

 

The girl giggled and offered him her hand. 

 

"Cal Humphries," she said, "and if you carry on treating me like a lady, I'll have to start behaving like a gentleman and call you out."

 

Tom grinned impishly and kissed the proffered hand.

 

"Sweet lady," he said, and was thrust back into his seat by his mother.

 

"Stop it," she said, for Sarah's eyes were fixed once more on Tom. But she did not seem offended; she was studying him with narrowed eyes and a small frown. Then she glanced at Susie again.

 

"Hm," was all she said, and Susie saw the flicker of suspicion in her eyes. She was about to speak, but Sarah got to her feet.

 

"I'm tired," she said. "Cal, you can entertain our visitors, can't you? Take them over to the school and show them round. I'll be in the garden."

 

And before Susie could even put down her teacup she had disappeared from the room. Cal put her own cup down and sighed through her teeth.

 

"It's hit her hard," she said. "I'm sorry. She won't even be gardening, you know - she'll just stand and pick a few flowers and then fall asleep in the deckchair. I wish there was something I could do."

 

Susie gave the girl a sympathetic grimace. She was a skinny creature, tall, quite unlike her mother, though she was very like her uncle, with short curls in an untidy tangle about her ears. Not even the tragedy of the last month had drained the humour from her, and she was warm-eyed beneath the worry. But she was pale and a small line was visible between her eyebrows, and she sighed in a way that aged her. Susie felt suddenly very sorry for her.

 

"You have to remember that everyone reacts in his or her own way," she said, and felt a sudden urge to give in to overwhelming tears. She clenched her teeth and drove them back, then put her teacup down and stood up.

 

"Let's leave her to it," she said. "Won't you show me this school of yours? I've been rather looking forward to seeing it. Nell Wilson has told me so much about it."

 

 




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