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  • Pamela Belle


“Jennifer? Is that you?”

As she gazed down at her mother, looking very small and frail in the hospital bed, most of Jenna’s doubts vanished like smoke, leaving a sour, sooty guilt. Whatever the reasons for Patricia’s accident, the consequences had obviously been devastating. Her face was so swollen and black with bruises as to be almost unrecognisable, she was hooked up to two drips and a monitor, and the arm which lay outside the bedclothes was heavily bandaged.

“Yes, mum, it’s me.” Jenna sat down on the chair by the bed, and took the nearest hand in hers. “Whatever happened?”

“Going too fast,” said her mother, in a faint, breathy voice that reminded her uncomfortably of her last conversation with Nanna May, in a hospital bed very similar to this. “Came out of nowhere, I didn’t have a chance.”

“That’s awful. But at least you’re alive, that’s the main thing.”

“I don’t feel as if I am.” Patricia’s hand was icy cold, despite the heat in the room, and her touch was feeble. “Hurts ... everywhere. So glad you came, dear.” She sighed, and closed her eyes again. The fingers in Jenna’s hand relaxed, and her breathing became more regular. The nurse had said that she was heavily sedated, and probably wouldn’t be up to more than a very brief conversation, so after a few moments Jenna gently laid her mother’s hand back on the blanket, got to her feet and crept out of the cubicle.

In the reception area, there were the usual ranks of people sitting glumly waiting to be seen, though there were a few empty chairs, and at least the hysterically sobbing child with an injured arm had gone, presumably to be treated. Conscious of all the eyes upon her, Jenna went back to the desk and diffidently asked if she could have a quick word with a doctor about her mother’s injuries.

“They’re all very busy at the moment, I’m afraid,” the woman said. She looked tired, and slightly apprehensive, as if she expected Jenna to break into a furious rant about the underfunding of the NHS. “But if you’d like to take a seat, I’ll see if I can get someone to talk to you.”

Jenna thanked her, and found a place between a middle aged man with an alarmingly wheezy chest, and a mother cradling a small child who was worryingly pale and quiet. At least in the middle of a Sunday afternoon there were unlikely to be any obstreperous drunks. She closed her eyes, feeling suddenly exhausted. What if her mother turned out to be seriously hurt? What if she was unable to live on her own? The prospect of her coming to Orford on a semi-permanent basis was appalling, and Jenna was ashamed of her own selfishness even as she quailed at the thought. There was, after all, no law that said you had to like your mother, or even get on with her, and when that mother had lied and deceived her so enormously for thirty five years, it was very difficult to summon up any respect or liking, let alone affection. I’d probably murder her inside a week, Jenna decided. Oh, God, why did she have to walk out in front of that bloody car?

“Excuse me, are you Mrs. Clarke’s daughter?”

Jenna’s eyes snapped open, and she found herself looking at two police constables. Everyone else was looking too. Her heart was thumping, ridiculously, since she hadn’t done anything wrong. She swallowed her alarm and said, “Yes, I am.”

“Could we have a quick word in private?” said the younger of the two, a woman so fresh-faced and apparently innocent that she looked about twelve. “If you’d like to follow us ...”

They led Jenna to a side room kitted out with comfy chairs, pretty pictures and walls painted in a calming shade of green. It was probably where relatives were given bad news. She sat down rather nervously and the two constables sat opposite. The male one, who looked to be about the twins’ age, took out a notebook and pencil. “Thank you for this, Mrs ... “

“Johnson. Jenna Johnson.”

He wrote it down. “Could we have contact details, please?”

She gave him her address and phone number. He looked surprised. “Suffolk? Were you staying with your mother for the weekend?”

“No, I’ve driven – or rather, a friend drove me here as soon as I heard the news.” Saskia had said she’d be back as soon as she’d found somewhere to park the car, which presumably had proved more difficult than she’d anticipated.

“So you didn’t witness the accident.”

“No, I didn’t.” A thought occurred to her. “A friend of my mother’s may have done so – he’s the one who phoned to tell me. His name’s Stuart – sorry, I don’t know his surname.”

The woman constable smiled. “Stuart Blanchard. Yes, we’ve already spoken to him – apparently he was not with your mother when it happened, but was in a tea shop waiting for her, heard the commotion and rushed outside. So he didn’t actually see the accident itself, only its aftermath. Have you spoken to your mother here? Did she say anything?”

“Not really – she’s been sedated. She just muttered something about the driver speeding.”

The constables exchanged a look. The woman leaned forward slightly. “Please don’t take this the wrong way, Mrs. Johnson, but has your mother any kind of ... problem?”

Where to start, Jenna’s treacherous inner voice murmured wryly. “No,” she said aloud. “What sort of problem?”

“Er ... with her hearing perhaps? Or her vision?”

“What are you trying to tell me?” Jenna asked in bewilderment. “She wears glasses for reading but that’s all, she still drives, and she’s certainly not deaf – in fact I should think her hearing’s pretty good, given that she’s 75.”

“Well, according to the witnesses we spoke to, she walked straight out in front of the car which knocked her down. And the driver says that he was doing a maximum of twenty miles an hour.”

“Which is hardly speeding,” Jenna said, thinking that managing even twenty miles an hour along Berkhamsted’s notoriously congested High Street was quite an achievement.

“Exactly. Which is why we wondered whether Mrs. Clarke might not have seen or heard the car – or perhaps had been momentarily distracted?”

“Possibly,” said Jenna, who could see where this line of questioning was leading. “But my mother is definitely in full possession of her faculties. I’ve always thought she was doing very well for her age.” And how Patricia would hate to hear herself so described – she’d call it patronising. Tough, Jenna thought. “Is the driver OK?” she added. “It can’t have been very nice for him either.”

“He’s not hurt, but he’s very shaken up, especially as he’s eighteen and hasn’t long passed his test.”

Influenced by countless courtroom dramas, Jenna could imagine the prosecution’s case – careless young driver goes too fast and mows down blameless elderly lady, who appears in the witness box bandaged, bruised and pathetic, and accuses him of speeding. And suddenly she knew that her initial, instinctive response to the news of the accident had been right.

She swallowed her anger, and chose her words carefully. “I think my mother may have been thinking of other things. She came to stay with me last weekend and unfortunately we had an unpleasant argument over a family matter – we parted on very bad terms. Quite possibly she was distracted by this.” Or had deliberately chosen a rather drastic and dramatic way of regaining her daughter’s attention and sympathy. Whatever the reason – and she knew that there was enough doubt to prevent her raising the issue, and in any case Patricia would never admit to it – Jenna had no intention of letting an innocent person take the rap for her mother’s action. Fortunately, it seemed as if there had been enough witnesses to confirm that the driver hadn’t been to blame.

The female constable was nodding her agreement. “That may well have had something to do with it.”

“Are you going to prosecute the driver? I wouldn’t want that to happen if it wasn’t his fault.”

“That’s not for me to say, but on the basis of the evidence we have so far, it looks unlikely. Accidents do happen, and on the evidence and witness statements we’ve gathered so far, it really does seem as if this was an unfortunate accident. How is your mother? We were given to understand by the paramedics at the scene that her injuries looked a lot worse than they actually were, but of course at her age ...”

“I haven’t seen a doctor yet, but the nurse told me that they couldn’t really tell until they had the results of her scan.”

There was a knock on the door, and a doctor, looking about Rosie’s age, put her head round it. “Mrs. Johnson? I understand you’d like a word about your mother?”

“I don’t think there’s anything else we need to know,” said the male constable, getting up. “Thank you very much, Mrs. Johnson, you’ve been very helpful.”

“And we’ve got your details in case we need to get in touch,” the woman added. “Thank you, and I do hope your mother makes a speedy recovery.”

The doctor waited until they’d shut the door behind them, and then shook hands and motioned to Jenna to sit down again. “Hello, I’m Doctor Kirby, and I’ve been treating your mother. I’m glad to say that she seems remarkably unscathed, considering what’s happened.”

“She’s a lot tougher than she looks,” Jenna said. It was possibly the only characteristic that Patricia shared with Nanna May.

“Just as well, to be honest. I know she looks in an awful mess, but that’s largely superficial – cuts, bruises, lacerations. We’ve X-rayed her and there are no broken bones.”

“Oh, Stuart – that’s her friend – he told me she might have a broken collar bone.”

“No, we’ve had a good look, and it’s fine. We sedated her and gave her an MRI scan, just to be on the safe side – you can never be too careful with head injuries. I’ve just seen the results, and that’s all fine too, no fractures, no bleeds. Of course once she comes round she’ll feel like she’s done twelve rounds with a heavyweight boxer, and she’ll be very shaky and in considerable pain for a while, but I don’t think, given what we know, that there’ll be any lasting damage, physically at any rate – though these things do often have some psychological effect in the short term.”

“Thank God for that,” said Jenna, with heartfelt relief. “So – what happens now?”

“They’re finding a bed for her upstairs, and I’m going to recommend that she’s kept in for three or four days, for observation, just in case. Then she can go home, with suitable support, of course. Does she live on her own?”

“Yes, but she’s very capable and independent.”

“That may change, at least for a few weeks. Something like this can knock back a much younger person. You may find she needs a lot of help. Do you live locally?”

“No, unfortunately I don’t.”

“What about her friend, the one who came in with her?”

“Stuart? Yes, he does.” Though whether he’d be up to ministering to her mother’s every need and whim was debatable. She added, “I haven’t seen him yet – do you know where he is?”

“He went to her house to get some clothes and other things, I think. He should be back shortly.” Doctor Kirby got up. “I expect this has all been rather a shock for you, Mrs. Johnson – would you like me to fetch you some coffee?”

“No, that’s OK, I’m sure you’re very busy – I’ll get one myself, if my friend hasn’t already got one for me.” Jenna got up too, feeling as if she’d been passed through a wringer. “And thanks for taking such good care of her.”

The doctor smiled brilliantly. “We do our best.”

Saskia was indeed out in the reception area, holding two steaming plastic cups and looking round with an impatient expression on her face. It vanished as she saw Jenna emerging from the side room. “There you are, darling! I thought you could do with one of these. Hot chocolate, it’s usually more drinkable than vending machine coffee or tea. And I’ve just spotted a couple of seats over there in the corner.”

They threaded their way between the rows of chairs, and subsided into the only two that were together. Jenna took the chocolate and found that her hands weren’t quite steady. She sipped at it cautiously, welcoming the comforting heat, the chance to order her thoughts. “Thanks,” she said after a moment. “I really needed that.”

“I thought you would, darling. Auntie Sass knows best, as always. So – how is she?”

Jenna grimaced. “Well, she looks absolutely awful. As you’d expect, bruises everywhere, and they’ve sedated her. But the doctor said there were no broken bones and her head was fine.”

“She was bloody lucky, then,” said Saskia with feeling. “I bet she’s regretting it now.” She glanced sideways. “You’ve got froth on your lip. And you’re not rising to the bait.”

“What bait?” Jenna couldn’t help feeling that this was a rather public place to be airing such a private matter, but a glance round revealed that of the half dozen people within earshot, two were plugged into their phones, one was reading a magazine, and the others appeared to have fallen asleep.

“You know what I mean, darling. Do you still think she did it deliberately?”

The anger that Jenna had felt during her interview with the police, when she had realised that Patricia’s selfishness could have had a dreadful effect on that young driver’s future, had all but evaporated. She just felt immeasurably weary, and desperate to flee back to her own, comparatively uncomplicated existence. “Yes,” she said, keeping her voice low.

Saskia put the chocolate down on the table beside her, leaned over and gave Jenna a hug. “Oh, darling, that’s awful. Are you sure? It’s a pretty serious accusation.”

“Well, ninety five per cent sure. She’s always done something like that when she wants attention – she accidentally on purpose fell down the stairs once, when I was a teenager and she didn’t like me going on a date. This time, she didn’t like me ignoring her after our argument, so she chose a rather drastic way of summoning me back to her side. And it worked, didn’t it?” She couldn’t keep the note of bitterness out of her voice. “Here I am, dancing attendance on her like a good little daughter.”

“You don’t have to give in to her crap, you know,” Saskia said. “You can drink your chocolate and go home. You don’t even have to say goodbye. You don’t owe her anything at all, after what she’s done – not just this, but all the lies about your dad. You can just walk away and leave her to stew.”

“I can’t,” Jenna said despairingly. “I’m all she’s got.”

Saskia snorted. “She’s got that Stuart bloke.”

“She’s only known him five minutes. He could be a con man, or anything.” Jenna was determined not to give in to the impulse to scream, sob, cry. “And blood’s thicker than water.”

“That saying should be banned,” Saskia said. “It’s not. She doesn’t deserve you. You’ve only just got your life back after that shit Rick deserted you, and now she wants to take it away from you again. Why let her?”

“Because I’ll be on a permanent guilt trip if I don’t?”

“Bugger that. It’s how women are controlled – by men, as well as by narcissists like your dear mama. Ladle on the guilt with a trowel, and watch her submit. I bet Rick used to do that too.”

Jenna thought of the times when she’d got things wrong, messed up, forgotten to do something – even something as trivial as omitting to make his sandwiches in the morning – and her ex-husband’s reproachful looks, far more effective than anger. She nodded.

“Thought so. Swine. Look, just come home with me, we can wreck a couple of bottles of Prosecco, and you can go back to Orford in the morning.”

“Oh, God, I’ve just remembered.” Jenna put her head in her hands. “I’m working tomorrow, at the shop. I can’t let Andrew down.” Suddenly it was all threatening to overwhelm her, and she fought hard against it. Don’t be such a wuss, she told herself sternly. You’re stronger and better than that.

“He’ll understand, surely? This is an emergency, after all.”

Jenna thought of Andrew, cheerful, self-deprecating, and above all reasonable. “Of course he will, but I don’t want to take advantage of his good nature too much.”

“There you go – the guilt trip again. And talking of that Stuart bloke, which we were a few minutes ago, where’s he disappeared to? I thought he was meant to be here.”

“He’s gone back to Berkhamsted to get some clothes and things, so the doctor said. They’re going to keep her in for a few days.”

“Well, that’s no reason not to go back home. She’ll have her inamorata – no, darling, don’t spray your chocolate all over me, it’s not very dignified.”

“I’m sorry,” Jenna said, spluttering, and trying not to give way to rather wild laughter. “I’m always going to think of hippos now, when I hear that word.”

“Well, be grateful it’s not a very common word, darling. Anyway, she’ll have her gentleman friend for support. And you’ve not only got your job to go back to, but those pesky little felines.”

“I know. I can’t leave them for very long. They still need three meals a day, and lots of cuddles. And there are so many other things I’ve got to do – speak to Rosie and the twins, for a start, and explain about my dad and his family.” Jenna took a deep breath, her mind made up. “I’ll wait till Stuart comes back, and have a word with him. Then I can go home with you, spend the night, and catch a very early train back to Ipswich.”

“How are you going to get back to Orford from there? By bus?” Saskia made it sound as if it was some extremely dodgy conveyance dating back to the dark ages.

“No, that’d probably involve most of the day and include three changes and a scenic tour of the remoter parts of Suffolk. I’ll phone Fran, ask him to pick me up from Woodbridge station. I know he hasn’t got anything on this week, as it’s half term.”

“What’s that to do with anything? Oh, the kid.” Saskia looked at her knowingly. “And of course he’ll oblige, won’t he?”

“I hope so. If not, there are other people I can ask, it’s not a problem.”

An elderly man, carrying an overnight case, had entered the reception area. Saskia, noticing him, gave Jenna a nudge. “Could that be Stuart? He looks as if your dear Mama would eat him for breakfast.”

She’d only seen that snapshot of him on the cruise ship, and he’d been wearing a hat, whereas this man was bareheaded, with thinning grey hair cut short. Nevertheless, she was sure that Saskia was right about his identity. He was heading straight for the desk, so Jenna got up, squeezed her way past the other people in the row, and approached. “Excuse me? Are you Stuart? Stuart Blanchard?”

He turned with the abruptness of surprise. “Yes. And you must be Jennifer?”

“Yes, Jenna Johnson.” She held out her hand, and he shook it, his grip reassuringly firm. “The doctor said you’d gone to Mum’s house to collect some things for her. That was very kind of you.”

“Well, it was the least I could do.” He was surveying her, his expression one of curiosity, as if she wasn’t what he’d expected. “Your mother is a dear friend, after all, and in an emergency it’s only right to rally round.”

The pomposity she’d noticed in his phone call was still there, but at least his manner was courteous and friendly. “Well, anyway, thank you very much,” she said.

“Have you seen her yet?”

“Yes, but very briefly – she’s been sedated and she wasn’t making a lot of sense. I’ve spoken to the doctor, though, and she said that Mum’s going to be OK – no broken bones, and the head injury seems to be superficial.”

Stuart seemed almost to deflate with relief. “Thank God for that – I’ve been so worried. What a terrible thing to happen, out of the blue like that. One moment I was looking forward to a nice cup of tea with her, and the next I thought she was going to die.” He let out a gusty sigh. “And all because of a thoughtless driver.”

“The police spoke to me as well,” Jenna said, knowing that she must nip this idea in the bud, gently but firmly. “They told me that they didn’t think it was the driver’s fault. Apparently Mum just stepped out in front of him without looking, and several witnesses said the same thing.”

“Oh.” Stuart looked puzzled. “But Patricia said ...”

“I know, she said to me that the driver was speeding, but the police assured me that wasn’t the case. I think Mum must have been distracted by something and wasn’t thinking about where she was going.” Inspiration struck. “I expect she was looking forward to meeting you and in a hurry to get to the tea shop.”

“Well, yes,” Stuart said. “In fact, she was running a little late – I’d been waiting for about five minutes, I was beginning to wonder where she was, and then I heard the squeal of brakes and the shouting, and someone came in saying that an – an old lady had been knocked down, and I think I knew then that it was your mother. Oh, dear, how terrible, she could have been killed.”

To Jenna’s surprise, his eyes had filled with tears, and she realised, with a rush of shame, that he must really care for Patricia. She put a hand on his arm. “But she wasn’t, thank goodness, and it looks as though no real harm has been done. Let me get you a cup of tea.”

“That would be very nice, thank you.”

“Don’t thank me until you’ve tasted it, it’s only out of a machine.”

The waiting ranks were thinning out a little, and they were able to perch on the end of the row nearest to the desk. Stuart put her mother’s overnight bag on the floor, with considerable care, and took a cautious sip of the tea. He said, “I had not expected you to get here so quickly. Where is it that you live? I think Patricia said in Suffolk?”

“Yes, in Orford. But I had a friend staying with me, she lives in St. Albans, and she drove me here.” Jenna glanced round, saw Saskia watching them from her corner, and gave her a significant look. “But I shall have to go back tomorrow, I’ve got two cats, and a job.”

“Of course, I quite understand. But please don’t worry about your mother, Mrs. Johnson –“

“Jenna, please.”

“Jenna. I’m more than happy to look after her needs, both when she’s in hospital, and when she is able to go home.”

“Oh, but – “

“No buts, I shall consider it a pleasure to have someone to care for.” His voice was full of sadness. “My dear late wife was ill for some months before she sadly passed away, and I did much of the nursing, even towards the end. I can assure you, your mother will be in the best possible hands.”

Jenna knew it sounded much too good to be true, but she couldn’t prevent herself from being sorely tempted. She said, trying to inject a note of sincerity into her voice, “Oh, that’s far too much for you to take on!”

“I would be happy to do it, and of course you need not worry, I’ll know if I need help, and where to ask for it.” He paused, and added, “I am aware that you have your own life to lead, and that it will cause you considerable difficulties to abandon it, even in the short term, but I am almost on your mother’s doorstep, I have no ties, and as I said, it would be a pleasure.”

Guilt struggled feebly with temptation, and yielded. Jenna said, “Are you sure about this? Absolutely sure? It’s going to be an awful lot to take on.”

“Well, yes, perhaps for the first day or two, but of course she will get better in due course,” Stuart said, with a blithe confidence that Jenna envied. “If no bones have been broken ...”

“The doctor said not, but she also said that she’d probably be quite knocked back by it and might need a lot of help for several weeks.”

“That’s no problem,” said Stuart heartily. It almost sounded as if he relished the prospect, and Jenna wondered if he realised quite how difficult her mother could be. Then she remembered that air of almost girlish excitement when Patricia had told her about meeting him, and knew that there would be no difficulties. Only with Jenna, bound to her, despite everything, by blood, guilt and duty, could she afford to be difficult.

“Well, if you really are sure,” she said at last. “I’d be so grateful, and I know that Mum will be too.”

“Not at all. The least I can do.” Stuart smiled at her, patently so glad to be of service that she didn’t have the heart or the will to protest any further.


“He must be mad,” Saskia said decisively. “Your dear mama doesn’t need a nursemaid, she needs therapy.”

Despite herself, Jenna laughed.

“Mind you,” Saskia went on, warming to her theme, “her therapist would probably end up needing therapy. I thought my family was dysfunctional enough, but yours is far worse.”

“I’m OK,” Jenna protested, “and so are the boys and Rosie.”

“Are you sure about that? Have you told them yet that they’ve got a whole new family in Oz that you didn’t know anything about?”

“Well, the twins know, because my half-brother got in touch with them, but I haven’t had any chance to explain it to them yet. They’re somewhere in Queensland and off-grid. I haven’t said anything to Rosie though, I didn’t want to, she’s working on a big essay this week.”

“That’ll be an interesting conversation,” said Saskia, with an evil cackle. “More Prosecco? There’s another bottle in the fridge.”

“I shouldn’t, but go on, just this once – it’s not as though I do this very often.”

“You should do it more often, lighten up, loosen up – you’ve got no-one to please but yourself, not your love-rat husband, not your monstrous mother, not even your lovely kids – no-one. Apart from those cute little kittens, of course.”

“Don’t exaggerate, she’s not monstrous.”

“Oh, she is, darling, she bloody well is.” Saskia poured out the last of the Prosecco into their two empty glasses. The remains of an Indian takeaway littered the coffee table, and Mama Mia!, the ultimate feel-good movie for the end of a difficult day, was paused on the TV. “And to be honest, she’s lucky you didn’t cut her off completely when you found out about your dad.”

“I just couldn’t. And the trouble is, she knows it.” Jenna took the glass of wine and leaned back against the soft cushions of Saskia’s huge, squashy sofa. She felt utterly exhausted, and she still wasn’t certain that letting Stuart assume the mantle of Patricia’s carer was a good idea, particularly as Patricia herself had been too far out of it to understand most of what they had told her, before she was taken up to the ward. But what choice did she have? She supposed that she could abandon her life, send Apollo and Artemis to a cattery, shut up the house, put the casket in a safe deposit box and her research on hold, let Andrew down by telling him she couldn’t work for him anymore, and devote herself to her mother. It was what Patricia wanted, after all: having someone dance attendance on her was her life-blood. Would the newly devoted Stuart be an adequate substitute, in her eyes, for the daughter she had alienated? Jenna could only hope that he would step up, for she knew that she had come to the end of her tether. She had had enough of Patricia’s lies and deceptions, and she couldn’t take any more.

“But I absolutely refuse to play ball,” she added. “I’ll phone the hospital in the morning, check she’s recovering OK, but I’m not going to visit her.” Instead, she’d go home. She would be welcomed by the kittens, whose idea of being manipulative was limited to looking appealing and hopeful when their food bowls were empty, and by Andrew, who’d been so understanding when she explained to him over the phone why she wouldn’t be able to come in to work tomorrow, taking her brief description of her mother’s ‘accident’ at face value, because it wouldn’t occur to him that it could be anything else. And Fran had been happy to pick her up from Woodbridge station, even when she’d told him that she wouldn’t be able to give him an exact time until the morning. Her life didn’t revolve round Patricia, and for the sake of her own sanity, she couldn’t let it.

“Attagirl,” said Saskia. “That’s what I like to hear, darling – you taking control. Now, can you promise me two things?”

Jenna eyed her dubiously. “It depends what they are.”

“OK, first off, you promise me that you won’t give in to her, no matter what. Even if she turns up on your doorstep and claims to be dying of cancer.”

“She wouldn’t!”

“I shouldn’t be so sure. If she can walk out in front of a car to get your sympathy vote, she’s perfectly capable of pretending that she’s terminally ill. Does she watch any of the soaps? Because they’re full of people saying they’ve got cancer when they haven’t. She probably got the idea from Eastenders or Corrie.”

“She doesn’t watch them, she thinks they’re beneath her. Though she’s an avid fan of The Archers.”

“Which probably means she does watch them, on the sly. Anyway, she needs to know that you’ve twigged her little game, you don’t have to tell her straight out, just don’t give in, whatever she says.”

“I won’t. What’s the second thing?”

“That you don’t let Fran slip through your fingers.”

“That sounds rude.”

“It’s the Prosecco talking, darling. Anyway, you know what I mean.”

“I’m not sure I can promise that. You might be wrong about him.”

“I’m not, trust me, I’m wrong about a lot of things but I’m never wrong about who fancies who.” Saskia glanced at her. “Of course, I never asked you the million-dollar-question. Do you fancy him?”

It was something that Jenna hadn’t yet asked herself, and didn’t want to. Avoiding Saskia’s gaze, she said, “I like him – I really do. As a friend, he’s brilliant. But –“

“I know, I know. You’re not ready, too soon, don’t want anyone else. Yada, yada, yada, I get it.” Saskia leaned forward and picked up the remote. “But don’t forget you’ve got the rest of your life to live, and the day’s going to come when cuddling up with two kittens just isn’t enough any more. Don’t laugh, I’m being serious. You know what I mean. It certainly wouldn’t be enough for me. Celibacy’s great if you’re a nun, but that’s as far as it goes.”

“And you should know,” Jenna said, still trying to stop giggling. “I’ve never met anyone less likely to become a nun.”

“Good. Anyway, enough of the serious stuff. Back to Pierce Brosnan and Meryl Streep – even if they do massacre Abba’s greatest hits, at least they do it with conviction and style. And forget about your bloody mother, at least until tomorrow.”

Which definitely, Jenna thought, picking up her glass of Prosecco, came under the heading of ‘easier said than done’.

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