"I really don't get it, Amanda. It all seems so drastic." Amanda. It always meant she was in trouble if Mum used her full name.
"I've got to do it, Mum. There's no way I can stay here."
"But all that work you've done on the cottage? And won't you miss this boy?"
"Of course I will." Mandy stooped down to pat the head of the ageing Golden Labrador. "But you'll be alright with Mum and Harry, won't you Buddy?"
The dog whined and wagged his tail slowly. Perhaps he'd recognised the suitcases. And the fact that she'd brought him over to Mum's. That was a sure sign that she was going away. Did he even realise that she wouldn't be coming back?
It was for the best. She'd loved the little cottage which she'd gradually renovated and made into a beautiful home. She'd enjoyed working at the orphanage. Adopting Buddy from the rescue centre had made her life complete, or so she thought, until Greg had come along. It was even more wonderful when he moved in. Then it all went sour when she found out that he'd been having an affair with her best friend. She had to get away. There were too many memories now in the place. Working at the school in India might give her a purpose again.
"Well I wish you'd let us take you to the airport at least."
"No, Mum. There's be all the hassle of parking. The taxi can take me straight to the entrance. Airport goodbyes are horrible anyway."
She glanced at the kitchen clock. Half past three already? The taxi had been due ten minutes ago. Should she ring them and check they were on their way? She'd allowed plenty of time but even so. Mum's place could be difficult to find.
Then her phone rang. She recognised the number of the taxi firm. She accepted the call.
"Mandy Crossley? I'm afraid I can't get up the lane from the by-pass. There's been a serious accident right across the entrance. I'll have to come the other way round. I'm sorry, but it'll take another half hour."
"Okay." She would still get her flight, wouldn't she? She'd allowed plenty of time, hadn't she?
"What's up, sis?" said Harry.
She explained about the accident.
"Perhaps Smittons could send a car?" He was grinning. Of course he was. He knew that Smittons was out of the question even though they were nearer and wouldn't have to come up from the by-pass; Greg worked for them. And wouldn't it be just her luck if they sent him? "Or. You could let me do the honours."
She bit her lip. What was the least of the three evils? Missing her flight? Risk bumping into Greg? Or a ride in Harry's old wreck? No, she just couldn't risk missing her flight or seeing Greg again. She would have to take a chance with the old Ford Fiesta. She sighed. "All right then. But just drop me at the entrance."
"So, is it OK if I come along?" said Mum.
"No!" Harry and Mandy said together.
"The suspension won't take two passengers," said Harry.
At least Harry's joke had lightened the mood a little.
The next twenty minutes found them loading Mandy's luggage into the old car.
"Come on Binky, you can do it," said Harry. He patted the bonnet of his car.
Mandy phoned the taxi firm. "I'm cancelling," she said. "You won't be able to get me there in time. I've found someone else to take me." She ended the call before she had to listen to a tirade of abuse from the thwarted taxi company. A good job she hadn't used an Uber; she would have had a bad rating for sure.
The boot was good for nothing. Her luggage had to be wedged awkwardly on to the back seat.
Buddy circled the car and barked. Mandy had trouble swallowing the lump in her throat.
And then they were off.
"Which way will you go?" she asked.
"Clearly not down the lane. Over by the paddock and then on to the B road."
"Will it get down that road?
"Oh yes. Don't underestimate this baby."
The car made a few spluttering noises and Mandy found herself gripping the side of her seat and holding her breath. Ten minutes later, however, they were on the B road.
"Deserted," said Harry. "That accident must have kept the traffic away from here."
Mandy glanced at her watch. Five past four. Would they make it? "Can't you go any faster?" she asked.
"We're already doing sixty-five. What more do you want? It's a sixty limit here."
She relaxed a little as they turned on to the A road and ten minutes later they were on the motorway that led straight to the airport. The car seemed to be travelling smoothly now. It was bit noisy but then Harry put the radio on and any strange sounds the engine might be making were drowned out by the voice of Lady Gaga. Not Mandy's first choice but if it kept her brother happy and focused, so be it. The traffic was moving smoothly now. It looked as if it might be alright.
"I don't get it though, Sis," he said. "He made a mistake. Have you never made mistakes? You loved him, didn't you? He said he was sorry, didn't he? You and he were good together."
She felt sick now. Did her brother really not get it? How much Greg had hurt her? How he'd left her feeling so inadequate? And so foolish? How could she not have known what was going on? All those late nights. Not coming home until almost midnight. The strange phone calls.
"It was so hurtful," she managed to whisper.
"Even so. Going away from me and Mum. We would have looked after you. And that lovely cottage. Why India anyway?"
Because it would be so different. A new start. Away from all the memories. Why couldn't he get that?
"I don't know, Sis. I wish I could afford to move out. Mum's alright but you know she fusses. I wish I could be independent like you."
Mandy bit her lip. Why hadn't she let Harry rent her cottage? He'd begged and begged. But she just didn't trust him not to wreck the place. Now she felt a bit guilty though. She'd rented it to some stranger and she was now intent on making the most of it. Letting it make a profit for her. Harry would never have been able to afford the full rent. But shouldn't she have let him have it a lower price? After all, he was family.
Well it was too late now. What was done was done.
Suddenly there was big bang. The car lurched forward and then stopped abruptly. There was a strong smell of petrol.
"Shit," said Harry. "I think it's the big end."
"What does that mean?"
"It means we can't get anywhere very fast."
Harry had put on the hazard warning lights and they were drifting towards the hard shoulder.
"I'll ring you a taxi," he said. "We're not far from the airport. I'll gift you an Uber."
Did private hire talk to Uber? Had Harry realised that? Was she now blacklisted for cancelling the earlier lift? She held her breath as he made the call.
"Right," he said. "The Uber's on its way. I'll phone the breakdown people now."
They climbed up the embankment. She looked up at the sky whilst he made the second call. It was getting dark now. They weren't far from the airport at all. She could see planes taking off and landing. Perhaps it would be all right.
Ten minutes passed. And then twenty.
"Do you think they'll get here in time?" she asked.
"Well, you'll just have to get the next plane out if they don't," said Harry.
"Hmm." It wasn't that simple, actually. They were paying her expenses but they were a charity and they'd paid for an non-refundable flight. She would have to use her credit card to pay for a new one. All supposing that they had room for her.
Thirty minutes went by. Then forty-five. She wouldn't make it now.
Soon it was six thirty. Her flight was due to leave a six forty. Six forty came and went.
An aircraft flying low passed directly over them. Qatar Airways. Her flight.
They stood in silence.
Why was it all going so wrong?
"How long did they say they'd be?" she asked Harry.
"They should be here any minute now. Oh look. Here they are."
It was the breakdown truck, not the Uber. As it came to a stop Mandy's phone buzzed. She took it out of her bag. Six missed calls. And now a text message. It was from Thulasi Sarin, the head of the Indian school she was going to work at. Please confirm you've heard my voice mail and that you didn't take the flight.
What? How had she missed all of those calls? Harry's car must have been too noisy and then the motorway as well.
She scrambled further up the embankment and listened to the voice mail.
Hi Mandy, it's Thulasi here. I have some bad news. We had a fire at the school in the night. No one was hurt but we've had to resettle everyone at different schools. We have no accommodation for you at the moment. Please don't come. We'll be in touch again when we can offer you work and accommodation. We are so sorry.
Harry had finished talking to the breakdown man. He came over to her. "He can't fix it here. But he can put the car on his low-loader and drop us off at the airport. You should be able to get another flight. And I've cancelled the Uber and ordered a regular taxi to take me home."
"I'm not going."
She explained about the fire. "I think the universe is trying to tell me something."
Twenty minutes later they were standing at the exit to the airport. "Will you go back to the cottage?" asked Harry.
She shook her head. "It's already let out. I'm afraid I'll be moving back in with you and Mum for a bit. And I suppose I'll have to start looking for a job."
A car pulled up in front of them "I think you're right. The universe really is trying to tell you something." Smittons. Well, Harry had thought he would be on his own and it was after all the nearest company to where they lived. And naturally it was Greg driving.
"Right," said Harry. "I'll get the tram and the bus back. You two need to talk." He pushed her towards the taxi.
"Hi," said Greg. "What happened then?"
"It's just not happening." She told him about the call from Thulasi.
"I'm so glad," he said.
What did he mean, he was glad? "I'll go and catch Harry up; there's no way I'm getting in the car with you."
"You want to go on the tram? With all that luggage?"
He had a point. Reluctantly she climbed in.
"I really am so sorry," he said as he accelerated on to the motorway. "It was just a moment of madness. I'm not seeing Jenny anymore."
Perhaps it was. There was something so familiar about sitting next to him in the car. He was a careful driver. She appreciated that. She felt safe.
"Will you go back to the cottage?"
"Can't. There's a new tenant."
"Yes. It's me."
"I thought I might look after it for you while you're away. Make sure it would be okay for when you came back. But I'll move out again if you like."
Was this the universe telling her even more?
"Tell you what," she said. "Take me to my mum's and then invite me round for dinner one evening. We'll see how it goes."
A big grin spread across Greg's face. A plane passed them overheard. Another Qatar.