Authors: Josephine Cox
‘Well, Adam? There’s nothing to worry about. I won’t be far away, and it’s only for a few minutes, ten at the most.’
It was the encouraging smile and slight nod of the head from Liz Dexter, that prompted Adam. ‘Yes, please, Miss Martin. I would like that.’
Both Miss Martin and her treasured assistant departed the office and left them alone. ‘Ten minutes,’ Miss Martin reminded them. ‘Then I’ll be back to see how you got on together.’
When the door closed behind her, Jim was the first to speak. ‘Adam, for what it’s worth – and you don’t have to do it if you don’t want – but I think it might be best if we don’t just ask each other questions. Instead, what if Liz and I tell you all about who we are, what we do, and why we thought you might be the one to come home and live with us, as a son? After that – and only if you want to – you can tell us about yourself. Tell us whatever you feel we need to know. After that, we can ask each other questions. So, Adam, is that all right with you?’
Adam nodded. He liked that idea.
Liz was the first to speak. Without going into details, she told him how she and Jim had always wanted a third child but it was not advisable because her health had suffered greatly when giving birth to her two babies.
She described the baby, Harriet, and her other daughter, Alice, and assured Adam that they would love him as a big brother.
When it was his turn, Jim explained how much they both loved their two children, and that he would be cherished in the same way.
‘There’s enough room in the house, and enough love in our hearts, to make another child feel as though he belonged. Our preference for a boy is simply because we already have two daughters. Today is the culmination of many meetings that we’ve already had with the relevant authorities, so we do know a little about you and your background, Adam, and it’s only made us want you all the more.’
Soon, it was time for Adam to tell them something about himself. There was much he kept back because he was not ready to discuss some of the really shocking things that had happened.
He told them that his father was a bad man, and that his mother was the kindest and loveliest mother ever, and that he missed her terribly.
He said he thought Mr and Mrs Dexter were kind people and that he would like it very much if they decided to make him part of their family, because he had never had a brother or a sister.
There was one, very important thing that Adam thought could swing his decision either way. ‘My only friend is called Phil, and I would be unhappy if I never saw him again.’
Liz was interested. ‘Oh, but I’m sure if we take you into the family, and if you want to stay, then your friend Phil can visit … if his parents don’t mind.’
‘Oh, no!’ Adam was taken aback at her remark. ‘Oh, no! He’s not a boy. He’s an old man who drives the school bus. He’s my very best friend, and Miss Martin lets me go out with him and Polly to the park, and sometimes we go to the churchyard, where I take my mum flowers.’
Jim was a bit taken aback to learn Adam’s friend was an elderly man. ‘Of course, if you decide that we’re the family for you, then we’ll need to meet up with your friend.’
Adam’s passion about his friendship with Phil, and the taking of flowers to the churchyard had really touched Liz’s heart. ‘I’m sure we can work something out about your friend,’ she said. ‘First, though, you need to decide whether or not you would like to be part of our family. And we must do the same.’
Jim tried to reassure him. ‘You’ll need time to think, Adam. No one is expecting you to decide here and now.’
Almost before Jim had finished speaking, Miss Martin tapped on the door and entered immediately. ‘All done, are we?’ She had a good feeling about this particular family.
Jim had a question. ‘Adam has been telling us about his friendship with Phil. Could you tell us a little about him, please?’
‘Of course. Phil has been close to Adam from the first day he was brought here, and even before that. He’s a local man. He drives the bus that took Adam to school every day.’
Being careful with her choice of words, she explained, ‘Phil was there on the day Adam’s father ran off. At the hospital he remained at Adam’s side, and he has seen him through all his trials and troubles. He’s a stalwart and well-respected member of the local community, and still remains a very important part of Adam’s life. In fact, we actually relaxed a certain rule so Phil might accompany Adam whenever he takes flowers to his mother.’ She finished with a bright, proud smile to Adam. ‘In fact, Phil is more like Adam’s granddad than just a friend.’
Both Jim and Liz were impressed.
Liz had no hesitation in telling Adam, ‘It’s been an absolute pleasure meeting you, Adam. The first thing for us to do is to agree on the next step, I think.’ She turned to Miss Martin. ‘What happens now?’
‘Well, I believe you were informed by the office that the next step is for Adam to have a trial visit to your home, but first, now that you’ve met Adam, and he’s had the opportunity to talk with you both, you and your husband need to discuss it further, between yourselves. This is a very important decision for all three of you. When you’re ready for the next step, let me know, and whichever way you decide, I shall act accordingly.’
Liz glanced at her husband and smiled. ‘I think Jim and I have already decided.’
Miss Martin was pleased. ‘Even so,’ she said, ‘in something as important as Adam’s future and your own peace of mind, you must have space to reflect. I cannot go ahead with arrangements until you’ve had time to think and discuss it, away from here. Away from Adam.’
She had seen far too many quick decisions, only for them to be overturned later. After what he had already experienced, she had no intention of putting Adam through further trauma.
EDFORD CENTRE WAS
relatively quiet for a Friday, as was the Woolworths store. ‘Friday at last!’ Sally slunk down into the passenger seat of Anne’s car.
Sally and Anne were on their way to work. ‘Honestly, Anne, if you’d been just five minutes late picking me up from home, I reckon I’d have gone back to bed.’ As though to make her point she gave a long, lazy yawn.
‘I know what you mean,’ Anne smiled as Sally yawned again. ‘I’d much rather be run off my feet than waiting for customers to come to the counter. It just makes the day seem twice as long.’
Sally hunched herself up in the seat, ‘Anne?’
‘Are you sleeping better at night?’
‘And what does that mean?’
Anne shrugged. ‘Just that … I don’t wake up quite as often, that’s all.’
‘You promised me and Mick that you’d tell us if you were not all right.’
‘But I am.’
‘It doesn’t sound like it to me.’
‘Well, if I’m honest I do sometimes wake up at the slightest sound, but I’m getting better. Really I am.’
Sally was not totally convinced. ‘If you want me to come and stay with you again, I will. You do know that, don’t you?’
She had missed Mick terribly last time, even though he’d come over most evenings to keep them company. Despite this, she would stay with Anne if need be.
Anne graciously refused her offer. ‘Thanks all the same, Sal. I do appreciate your concern, but I must learn to fend on my own. Like you said, he can’t hurt me from where he is.’
‘That’s what you need to keep in mind, Anne.’ It had been a while now, since Sally had stayed at Anne’s house. Only when she thought Anne was confident enough to be on her own did she move back with Mick.
‘I really don’t know what I’d have done without you, Sal.’ Though she would not admit it, Anne still had her bad moments. Sometimes, she was afraid to go into the back garden, even in daylight. And even though she had locked the back gate securely, she still wedged all manner of things against it – wooden garden chairs and even the dustbin – anything to make a noise and alert her if anyone tried to get into the garden.
She was afraid to leave the curtains open once the night closed in. Even now, she did not feel safe upstairs, fearing that if Carter somehow got to her, she would have no way of escaping. She had slept downstairs for a week or so after Sally had first gone home.
Fully dressed, she had slept lightly on the sofa, with a torch beside her, the door secured by the weight of an armchair, and the line from the telephone fed under the door from the hallway, with the phone itself sitting on the pillow beside her.
Nighttime or daylight, and even with the knowledge that he was locked away, Edward Carter still had a hold over her.
She was suddenly startled from her thoughts when Sally said, ‘All right, but don’t forget, if you change your mind the offer is still there. I’ve discussed it with Mick, and he’s OK with me coming to stay the odd week now and then. Just until you feel one hundred per cent safe.’
‘Sally, I’m absolutely fine! Having you for a week was really great.’ Anne added light-heartedly, ‘Apart from your snoring.’
‘I do not snore!’
‘You do so! When you get going, it’s like all hell let loose.’
Sally was silenced for a minute before confiding meekly, ‘Mick said when I snore, it’s like a runaway train thundering along the tracks.’
Her throwaway remark soon had the two of them roaring with laughter. ‘Poor Mick!’ Having experienced Sally’s snoring at first hand, Anne had sympathy for him.
‘Poor Mick nothing!’ Sally groaned. ‘Without me knowing it, he sometimes wears the same socks for a whole week! When he takes ’em off, they stand up all on their own.’
They were still giggling as they turned into the car park.
In the cloakroom, they hung up their coats and put on their smart white overalls. ‘You and Mick are such wonderful friends to me,’ Anne admitted. ‘I honestly don’t know what I’d have done without you both. You’ve helped me so much. I know you think I don’t listen to your good advice, but I do.’
She hadn’t been going to say anything about the positive step she had recently taken, but now she thought it only right that Sally should be made aware of it.
‘You might be pleased to know that after the good advice you gave me some time ago, I am now seriously trying to get my life in order. I’m feeling stronger now … more like my old self. I’m thinking things through and making decisions that I should have dealt with years back. For all the wrong reasons, I’ve let things slip for too long, but I’m onto it now, and that’s all down to you and Mick.’
Sally was thrilled to hear Anne being so positive. ‘That’s wonderful, but what kind of decisions are we talking about?’
‘Oh, you know, things like I might get the house painted inside, change the furniture and such. It might help me to forget he was ever there.’
She realised she was not quite ready to explain just now. ‘I’ve decided to make an effort to live my life and not be afraid to do things. Important things that have been neglected for too long.’
‘Such as what?’ Sally was intrigued.
‘Like I said, all kinds of things.’ Anne realised she would have to be careful what she said, or Sally would never leave her be. ‘Just to generally … well … get my life in order.’
‘Oh, Anne, I’m so relieved. It seems to me you have a new fighting spirit.’ She reached out and patted her on the shoulder. ‘Atta girl!’
Changing the subject, Anne hoped to draw Sally away from asking more questions she was not yet ready to answer.
‘Are you going to the works dance tomorrow night?’
‘Yes, but you’re coming as well, aren’t you?’
‘I might have other plans.’
‘Oh, I see!’ Sally playfully taunted her. ‘Sounds to me like you’re hiding something. So, what are you up to?’
‘I’m not up to anything. I just don’t feel like going to the dance, that’s all.’
‘Is that because Tony McDonald asked you to go with him?’ She gave a little wink. ‘I kid you not, Anne, he’s the one bloke that every girl here would love to go with.’
‘Except for me.’
‘But why? I thought you liked him. You seem to get on well enough. I saw you and Tony chatting the other day and you looked really comfortable with him.’
‘I’m not saying I don’t like him, Sal, because I do. He’s polite and caring, and he doesn’t force his attention on you, not like that new maintenance bloke. Bad-mannered oaf. He thinks he’s God’s gift.’
Sally persisted, ‘So, if you like Tony, why won’t you go to the dance with him?’
‘No reason in particular. I just don’t plan on going, that’s all.’
As Anne closed the subject, Sally caught her by the arm. ‘Anne, I very much doubt if he’s the sort of man who would force himself on you, if that’s what you’re worried about.’
‘Huh! I wouldn’t even be talking to him if I thought he would ever do such a thing, but he has a kind and thoughtful nature, and like I say, I do like him. I’m not going to the dance, because I have other things to do.’
‘Well, I think that’s a shame, because he really likes you. He did ask you to go with him, didn’t he?’
‘Yes, but I’m not ready for dating.’ The thought of being close to any man made her shiver.
‘Oh, Anne, that’s such a shame.’
Sally was used to the shutters coming down where Anne was concerned, but for now she decided to leave the subject alone. ‘We’re still going out to the café for lunch, though, aren’t we?’
‘Of course. I’m looking forward to it.’
‘Good, because I’m tired of canteen food.’
‘Me too. Whatever meal you get, they all taste the same.’
Sally laughed. ‘You’re absolutely right! But don’t let Cook hear you say that or she’ll have your head on a plate.’
A few minutes later, the two of them walked through the store and took up their respective places: Sally behind the perfume counter, and Anne fronting the bits and bobs counter, where the selection of threads, needles, wool and bric-a-brac made a lively and colourful display.
As always, there was the initial rush of customers, followed by a slight lull, during which the sales women would have a quick gossip amongst themselves. Today they were all excited about the works dance.
Brazen Pauline from hardware had her eye on a partner for the evening. ‘I’m hoping to bag a dance or two with our new assistant manager,’ she cooed. ‘He’s single, probably not short of a bob or two, and he’s the best-looking bloke I’ve seen in a long time.’ Clicking her tongue, she gave a knowing smile. ‘Oh, yeah! He’ll do for me!’