This is the eighteenth part of a fiction serial, in 757 words.
After arranging for his tea-chests of books and a few bulky possessions to be taken to his parents’ home by a local removal company, Adrian packed his clothes into a suitcase, and said goodbye to his rented room. Stopping at the bank, he drew out a large part of his savings, exchanging most of it for French Francs and traveller’s cheques. Then he headed east, to Sally’s parental home in Dartford, Kent. Just after three that afternoon, he eventually found the house on a sprawling council estate, where every house looked depressingly identical.
The man who opened the door was wearing a British Rail uniform. Adrian was polite and chirpy. “Mister Brooks? I have come to collect Sally. We are off to France, as I expect she has told you”. The reply left him confused. “France? I don’t know anything about France. Sally isn’t here. She left a few days ago. Some student friends of hers picked her up in one of those Volksagen camper van thingys. I would ask you in, but I have to go on shift soon, and my wife isn’t home from her job until seven”. Adrian was flummoxed, to say the least.
“Did she say when she might be back? We had plans to leave today or tomorrow for France. It was all arranged before she left Oxford”. The man shook his head. “Sorry, she doesn’t say much to me, tends to do her own thing. Why don’t you come back tomorrow and speak to my wife? She isn’t working then, and Sally usually tells her what she’s up to. You will have to find somewhere to stay I suppose? Try the Royal Victoria and Bull, in the High Street in town. They have rooms above the pub. I’m going to have to go to work now I’m afraid”.
Adrian mumbled his thanks, and walked back to the car in a daze.
It was easy enough to find the hotel, and they had a room available. It was one of the refurbished double rooms at a premium rate, but Adrian was in no mood to search the unfamiliar market town for a better deal. He sat on the bed wondering what to do, and becoming more annoyed that Sally could be so irresponsible and selfish. Imagine leaving like that, when she knew he was coming as arranged? He resolved to speak to her mother the next day, then went down to the bar for a beer and a meal.
After a below average breakfast the next morning, he arrived back at the house just after ten. Mrs Brooks answered the door, and he was immediately relieved to discover she knew who he was. Eyeing the plain-looking young man with his double-breasted blazer and neatly trimmed hair, Charlotte Brooks was wondering how her daughter had hooked up with someone so unlike all her other friends.
“Yes, Adrian. She told me you were giving her a lift to visit my relatives in Normandy. That’s very kind of you. Then she went off with some of her old friends who came to see her. I think they were going to see Stonehenge. I’m sure they will be back in a few days. Would you like a cup of tea?”
Her accent was very French, but after so long in England, her English was flawless. Over tea, she chatted in a friendly manner. “I met my husband during the war of course. He was part of the army that liberated Caen, where I lived with my parents in a village outside the city. I was a young impressionable girl then, and he was very handsome. He drove a tank, you know. Now he drives trains, and maybe he’s not so handsome any longer”.
Adrian had the uneasy feeling that the woman might be trying to seduce him. He had no experience with girls or women, not so much as a kiss, and he felt uncomfortable around this lady, who seemed to be much younger than her husband.
Standing up, he remained impeccably polite as he produced a piece of paper with a phone number written on it. “Thank you so much for the tea, and your kindness. This is the phone number of the hotel where I am staying. I am in room six, and would be grateful if you could ask Sally to call me when she gets home. I am keen to get started on our trip to France”.
She took the paper, and he couldn’t help thinking that her smile was a knowing smile.