It’s the long hot summer of 2018 and four colleagues’ situations are about to reach boiling point.
Keiran’s managed to keep his dark secrets hidden in the past. However, a face from it could undo all of his not so good work since.
Andrew’s under serious strain from tragedy and disgrace tearing his family apart. Matters aren’t helped by job competition from Keiran and his influence on Lynsey who’s even more desperate to do better. Meanwhile Michael’s hopes of post divorce happiness with Maxine are threatened by her discovery of a ruthless kindred spirit.
And when these worlds collide, it’s the innocent who suffer the worst collateral damage ….
Targeted Age Group:: 18+
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I had created some of the characters and a similar climactic event for an earlier novel which didn't come to fruition. I wasn't even thinking about it – or even awake – when a revised, better climax came to me in a dream. I know it sounds really bizarre but it helped my writing dreams come true!
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
For me the most interesting characters are the ones not written in black and white. Ever since I read Jean de Florette as a French A-level student, I've been fascinated by what I call "mixed bag" characters.
Ugolin in Jean de Florette does have a basically bad nature and no remorse for doing bad things when they pay off. However, he does have a softer side which being among better people than his heartless, bullying uncle would have brought out more.
Similarly there is no mitigation for a lot of Keiran's behaviour but nor is he as much of a villain as has been portrayed within his estranged family. Kyle is a conduit for both his best and worst sides as well as a representation of the fun, sociable aspects of my personality.
Andrew's background and how it makes up his character has similarities to my own. Like Keiran he has many facets which I love to explore as a perpetual student of human psychology. He also serves as a catalyst for controversy and seismic events among characters.
Michael is the contrast and complement which Andrew needs in overcoming his demons. He embodies the caring, sensitive nature I try to have as well, particularly with those needing support. I felt he would trigger the side of Keiran which shows more validity in his estranged family's stances.
Maxine actually dates way back to a teenage plan I had for a TV drama. She was written very much in black and white then and still remains somebody with a lot to answer for. However, she has taken on more redeeming dimensions.
Lynsey arose from the frustrations I felt with my lack of life progress when I was younger. She demonstrates as well something I have learnt since then – that it's not always bad people who do bad things but desperate ones.
CHAPTER 1 – Sunday 18 March 2018
Andrew Millen opened the Barcelona hotel room door, excitement shining in his hazel eyes. That knock signalled the arrival of a champagne breakfast for him and Kayleigh.
An oddly familiar English voice called from outside. "Mr Millen, Miss Greenwood?" Andrew thought of how the couple would be Mr and Mrs Millen on their next foreign hotel stay.
However, it was another tall, dark haired man standing in the corridor. Gavin Westbrook.
"What the bloody hell are you doing here?" both men asked each other.
"Yes, Andrew – what the hell are you doing here?" demanded Kayleigh. She'd got up from the bed, her long black hair cascading over the red silk bathrobe. "You know this room's for me and Gavin. Go to the honeymoon suite in Mexico – you'll have a bigger mini bar all to yourself there…"
The knocking was actually on Andrew's front door and came from his best friend Michael Curtis. Michael's girlfriend Maxine Duncan peered through the front window to see Andrew slumped across the sofa.
"I said he'd have been on the booze all night, didn't I?" she said in disgust. "Lots of Spanish cervezas just to make himself feel even more tragic!"
"No – those new Invisible beers!" Andrew and Michael's In The Market colleague Lynsey Bretnall glared at Maxine. "Do you see any bottles or cans in that sitting room?"
The emotional dynamo within this petite, delicate featured ash blonde always amazed people. The willowy Maxine regained her composure by looking down on Lynsey with steely dark blue eyes. She then remarked perhaps there was a bottle of whisky behind the sofa.
"One from Scotland because of the imprisoned and dead relatives up there nobody else has,” she added. She tossed her fair, wavy locks with the same disdain.
"Maxine – you don't have to be here!" snapped Michael, as ruffled as his windswept light brown hair. The smoky grey eyes beneath blazed with a rare anger.
"I do if I'm to see anything of you before tonight!" retorted Maxine.
"You expect me to make the whole of next weekend about your friend!" said Michael. "Your friend who's also going through a bad time because of something that happened in the Alps!"
Michael and Maxine were heading for London after work on Friday night. They'd be staying with Maxine's friend Cassie and helping with her party. This was to celebrate recovery from serious injuries sustained on a French ski holiday two months back. Around the same time and place where Andrew's cousin Robbie had taken his fateful ski-ing holiday…
"Shut up, both of you!" said Lynsey, nodding towards the window. Andrew was now stirring on the sofa. "Today's meant to be about Andy and reminding him what he's still got here! If it's just people forgetting what he needs he'll have no reason to stay!"
Andrew had ruled out the return to Edinburgh suggested by his family. Nonetheless, South Cambridgeshire wasn't feeling like a happy home, either. Perhaps he should make a completely fresh start somewhere with no back history.
Everybody agreed staying in the house he'd shared with Kayleigh wasn't a good idea. However, nor was Andrew removing himself from a support network's range. Holmesbridge could offer a new beginning among the old friends best placed to guide him there.
Andrew didn't see them when he first woke up in what he realised was his living room. So Kayleigh was spending her birthday with another man in Barcelona, after all. Like she'd just told him, there really wouldn't be any July wedding or honeymoon.
Lynsey's calling of his name outside the house brought Andrew back to reality. His friends were here offering more help through the weekend. So time he returned the favour and started helping himself make the best of it as well.
Andrew opened the window with profuse apologies and almost a concussion to Lynsey. He must have dropped off after Match Of The Day. He'd a lot of sleep to catch up on what with – one thing and another. Maxine held back from suggesting two bottles of brandy at bedtime rather than just the one.
She couldn't stop herself from remarking upon the Baileys coffee in Caffe Bellissimo, though.
"They've a Baileys cheesecake as well, Andrew!" she observed drily.
"Well, the Tesco opposite has got whole bottles of Baileys!" said Andrew, mimicking Maxine's excited tone. "You'll get a serious sugar rush, though – why not run it off with Keiran's dog Bailey? Just don't try to walk him in a straight line …"
An A grade response to an A grade bitch, thought Lynsey with a grin. Annoyed at seeing this and hearing nothing from Michael in her defence, Maxine launched a stealthy attack.
"What I'd like," continued Maxine, "is the hazelnut or pecan latte. Which do you prefer, Lynsey – or didn't you try them before you went to The Coffee Cup instead?"
The duty manager raised his blond mopped head from cutting a huge red velvet cake. His gaze then pulled Maxine into the depths of his dark brown eyes.
"Well, I can make one recommendation – this cake with totally natural colouring," he said. "We use the blood of people foolish enough to think it's a free market economy."
Maxine went as red as the sponge to a chorus of sniggers down the queue.
The pecan latte with a comforting crown of cream soon erased the painful memory. Unfortunately one was now coming back to Andrew before his very eyes.
"It's a text from Natasha," he declared sadly. "Hoping I'm OK because she knows it's a difficult day for me."
Robbie had also been due to marry in the summer. Natasha's selflessness in the worst of times showed just why she'd given him his best. Not to mention why Andrew shouldn't be throwing himself a pity party.
No, you shouldn't, thought Maxine grimly. She knew Gavin and she knew Kayleigh was a damn sight better off with him. She also knew reverse psychology when she saw it.
Andrew wanted everybody to give him the OK for throwing the king of pity parties. Of course his way too soft bezzy would fall headlong into that trap.
"Would you have told me not to mourn the end of my marriage because Zoe didn't die?" Michael then answered his own question. "Unless you wanted to reach the middle of next week early by getting knocked there, no! You recognised it was a loss the same as the two you're grieving for – Robbie was like the brother you never had!"
"No – he was one of my three brothers," said Andrew, clasping Michael's shoulder. "I've still got you and Leon. I've got a second sister in Lynsey. So I've got every reason to honestly tell Natasha I'll be having a wonderful day with wonderful people."
Maxine doubted this included her but really didn't care. It wouldn't end up meaning much to anyone after Andrew had drunk half the beer cellar.
However, he didn't wash down the roast lamb dinner and apple crumble with a drop of alcohol. His friends had fortified him enough – to the point where he felt he could manage without them. They'd given up enough of their days for him already.
"I'll be watching the Hibs with my boys on the sofa and folk on social media," he grinned. By the boys he meant his two silver tabbies, Logan and Fyvie. The brothers were named after Hibs players. "Then I'll be off to the cinema – as a frugal Scot I don't want to waste my advance booking money!"
"I love seeing the action from Easter Road too, remember?" said Michael. The pair had gone to quite a few Hibs games with Andrew's younger sister Kirsty and her partner Leon. With Kayleigh and Robbie, too, Michael then remembered.
Michael was about to kick himself for issuing the reminder when Andrew thanked him. All but two of his visits back home had been for happy reasons. Wouldn't Robbie want him to start living it up among his living family again? Andrew was Skyping Kirsty and Leon after today's match. How about Mikey chatted with them too and they all arranged another Edinburgh get together?
Lynsey wasn't keen on football but she wanted to see more of Andrew at his bubbling best. A play date with Logan and Fyvie was a bit overdue as well. This gave her a mischievous idea …
"Why don't we stop off quick at ASDA on the way to Andy's?" Lynsey suggested merrily. "Then I can get the cats a replacement for that ball with the bell."
Toys from Aunty Lynsey – round about a tenner. The look of horror on Maxine's face – priceless.
After curtly requesting a puzzle book, Maxine put herself in silent solitary confinement at the dining room table. In a less comfy chair than the sitting room ones and nearer the back garden cat games. Well, God forbid she should actually enjoy one minute here, thought Michael in fierce resentment.
Maxine barely heard a peal of either toy's bell amid shouts of encouragement and cheers of celebration. Lynsey wanted to share in them, too. The Andrew she knew and loved was back.
It seemed somebody up there could read Lynsey's mind as five minutes later the heavens opened. She went inside to enjoy the Hibs victory like it was an England World Cup win. In fact she asked to join Andrew and Michael at the Skype post match party.
Kirsty was delighted by the prospect of Andrew's first homecoming since their cousin's funeral. She recommended following up the football with a meal at the new Italian restaurant in town. It was a firm favourite of hers and Leon's already – Andrew would see why when Kirsty messaged over its menu.
"That's a point!" said Lynsey. "I need to look at The Gondola's desserts again so I can decide what to have for my main!" She and her boyfriend Declan were going out for a meal on his birthday.
Maxine looked up from the puzzle pages submerged under the waves of her hair. "I'm feeling like a gooseberry fool myself," she announced. Her dark blue eyes looked pointedly at Michael.
He decided to make the point that actually he did prefer his friends' company right now. After coming off Skype, Michael suggested Andrew kept the laptop on for some Hibs match clips.
Maxine was first out of the door after bidding Andrew the coolest of farewells. She'd got halfway down the path before realising Michael was still in Andrew's hall. The two friends shared a warm embrace before agreeing the morning's lift arrangements. While Andrew's car got MOTed, he was sharing Michael's for work journeys.
Maxine seemed in a much better mood for getting Michael to herself again. She smiled at him before drawling seductively.
"Maybe you can be here for quarter past eight tomorrow without having to get up early." Maxine only lived two roads away from Andy and Michael was driving to hers later. So this sounded like an invitation to stay overnight.
Maxine made her intentions even clearer as she went on. "You could have a longer night and longer in bed than usual, if you get my drift .." Taking the lapels of Michael's shirt, she snarled ferociously: "Just go back in and stay – you know you want to!"
She shoved him away before flouncing off. To Splitsville, most probably, Andrew thought. Hoped as well, part of him had to admit.
Of course Andrew was delighted at Michael moving on from his divorce. He just didn't think it was in the right direction or with the right person.
Maxine wanted the high flying high life with other ruthless go getters. Andrew couldn't see how a principled, down to earth family man tied in with that vision. Or that Maxine would want the role of stepmother to Rhiannon permanently. That involved thinking of somebody else for more than thirty seconds.
On the flip side Michael and Rhiannon could be the making of Maxine. Michael did bring out the best in people. Rhiannon was the most adorable little girl. Maxine's hardnosed selfishness might result from feeling incomplete. A lot of people weren't truly fulfilled until they'd a life partner and family.
Plenty of career girls wanted those, too. Kayleigh would have raised children alongside running her hand crafted jewellery business. It being home based gave her flexible working hours.
Would have – those two words said it all. Kayleigh had a different home and a different boyfriend now. Move on, Andrew – there's really nothing to look at here, he chided himself.
Being a typically houseproud eastern Scot, he soon noticed Maxine's dining table debris. The puzzle book and a coffee cup bearing traces of a pink lipgloss just like one Kayleigh wore.
Andrew took the cup through to be washed up later. Unfortunately putting it out of sight didn't put the associations out of mind. Perhaps a Sudoku or cryptic crossword would help.
Flicking through the book, Andrew could see most of its puzzles had been done already. They'd helped to pass the long, lonely winter nights without Kayleigh, he recalled.
Exactly, he chided himself. Those evenings were in the past and yet still post Kayleigh. What connection did she really have to the here and now?
A surprisingly strong one as her logic grid notes leapt off the page. Of course – Andrew always left those puzzles for Kayleigh. Ironic that one he'd not touched could still send his head round in circles.
"Only if you let it," Andrew told himself sternly. Not wanting any further opportunities for self sabotage, he took the book to the bin. Opening its lid in the strong breeze sent a sheet of paper sailing towards him. Andrew caught it with lightning reflexes – and his wrong left hand.
Still got it after all these years, he thought proudly. He'd made some brilliant catches in the rounders games of his schooldays. For a while he'd dreamt of becoming a superstar fielder for the New York Mets.
Well, Andrew's ambitions might be different now but he was still young enough to fulfil them. He was only 26 with an impressive marketing CV already. In the words of that great philosopher Del Boy, the world was his lobster.
What were the words in front of him, though? They looked like complete gobbledegook. Then Andrew saw "Spanish" on the link description and understood perfectly. He'd wanted to learn the basics for his Mexican honeymoon.
Andrew threw the paper away like it was on fire. How could he not think of the past when it lay at the bottom of the bloody garden? The answer came within five seconds of his return from there. Sensing Dad's sadness, Logan and Fyvie rubbed their heads against his legs.
Andrew grinned and vowed to give both pets extra Dreamies as a treat. They still provided him with affection and company. His family and friends did the same even when they weren't under his roof. He could chat to them on Facebook before heading to the cinema.
Sure enough, Andrew was soon immersed in a lively football debate with his Edinburgh pals. This was interrupted by the announcement that Kayleigh Greenwood had posted on Dean Stimson's timeline.
Kayleigh was thanking her best friend Heidi's husband for the Barcelona recommendation and information. She was having such a wonderful time with Gavin. Her best break ever, according to the hashtag. The point was highlighted with carefree, loved up photos underneath.
Andrew now knew what a knife in the back felt like. It was just hard to say whose cut went the deepest.
He'd never expected Dean to declare war on Kayleigh and Gavin. He'd seen no reason to do that himself when they'd done nothing wrong. They'd just fallen in love and admitted it before anything actually happened between them.
What Andrew had thought Dean would do after remaining a friend was to remain loyal. Not act like it to his face, then act as a travel agent to Kaygav.
Dean had never treated Kayleigh and Andrew's romantic breaks like royal honeymoons. They'd always been left to make their own arrangements – hang on.
What was with Kayleigh's "Wish I'd not been there" attitude to those getaways? She'd had 50% creative input – and no complaints about Andrew's at the time. He'd planned all of the surprise Paris trip for Kayleigh's last birthday which she'd declared "perfect".
Andrew slammed down the laptop lid with shaking hands. He could hear his heart thumping and feel it racing like his mind. Well, he'd been babysat all day. He'd just have to find a way himself of knitting the frayed nerves back together.
Andrew opened his eyes to find a familiar figure shaking him by the shoulder. Honestly, Michael was only supposed to let himself in for holiday security arrangements and emergencies. Not for dragging Andrew off to work before the crack of dawn. It was still pitch black outside.
"Mikey, why are you here already?" murmured Andrew vaguely. A horrible stench suddenly galvanised him. "Logan – have you made yourself sick again eating Fyvie's food as well as your own?"
"You've made yourself sick drinking," said Michael with unmistakeable annoyance. "It's just a good thing I was passing and wondered why the curtains weren't drawn. Or I could have found you choked to death in the morning."
Maxine's disapproving glare clearly said that would have been good riddance to bad rubbish. Michael picked up the mobile on the coffee table and made a frosty offer.
"I'll text a message to Tara as from you. It won't be a lie saying you've got vomiting and you're not well enough for work."
"But I can't be off tomorrow – I've to do that presentation," said Andrew.
"Perhaps you should have thought of that before you started hitting the bottle!" said Michael unsympathetically.
"You don't know what drove me to it – " Andrew began.
"I know exactly what got you pissed – you and your wallowing!" yelled Michael. "Well, that and my excuses for you are over from this moment on!"
After putting Andrew's shirt in the wash, Michael guided him to bed. Andrew was passed out on it when Michael came through to clean him up.
No way would Andrew be able to do the job for himself if further sickness struck. So Michael reluctantly decided to set up a camp bed nearby – much to Maxine's fury.
"Andrew can't choke – you've put him in the recovery position!" she snapped. "He's a bowl by the bed in case he chucks up! Everything he needs except being made to deal with his own self inflicted problems! The one you really need to be here for is you! That's what today's been all about – St Michael of the lost drunken cause!"
Maxine stormed out of the house, slamming the front door almost off its hinges. As he winced, Michael didn't know if it was the noise or the truth jarring on him more.
Maxine's words kept going round his head the whole of the endless night. They made more sense with every anxious awakening to Andrew's peaceful slumber.
"Make the most of it, while it lasts, so called mate," said Michael grimly. "You won't be staying oblivious to everything and everyone else any longer."
CHAPTER 2 – Monday 19 March
At the breakfast table, Andrew shamefacedly poured Michael some industrial strength filter coffee. He knew his friend was in serious need of energy level boosting for today's digital marketing seminar.
Andrew finally broke the awkward silence with a halting, guilty statement. "I know I've to do a lot more than say sorry. But if I explain, perhaps you'll understand."
Michael had a good idea of what was coming. Poor, hard done by Andrew – not to blame for any of this. Sure enough, it soon became clear Dean Stimson was the villain here.
For Christ's sake, Andrew didn't act as independent travel agent to all his mates, either. He'd provided Keiran with loads of information on Dublin and Michael with none on anywhere. How did he think that left Michael feeling?
No sense of betrayal whatsoever was the answer to that one. Andrew knew Dublin from visits to his old friend Russ. City breaks in general were much more what Andrew was about. He steadfastly kept away from the sun drenched beach resorts Michael favoured.
"Dean knows Barcelona better than the places Kayleigh went to with you," Michael pointed out briskly. "He's done quite a few Facebook posts from there with that English teacher mate of his."
"And Kayleigh's now posted how our supposedly perfect Paris trip was nothing of the kind!"
"Andrew, Kayleigh meant everything she said about Paris," said Michael. "But it must make her sad to think of how happy times like that ended as well. The only baggage she's got with Barcelona is the cases in her room."
"Well, who was it who put an end to those happy times?" said Andrew. "I don't think you'll find it was me!"
"Oh, of course not!" exploded Michael. "I mean, all you did was forget there's two people in a relationship and nobody without problems! Your father's let you down his whole life so why the blessed martyr act when he does it again?"
"Nobody ended up dead – " began Andrew.
"Yes, that's right – nobody ever died before your stepfather, did they?" shouted Michael. "Except Kayleigh's gran, but what did that matter when she'd had a much better innings? Except Kayleigh's dad, very nearly but then she'd still got him so what was the problem? After all, you've lost two dads one way or another! Kayleigh can't have any idea what Lawrie Millen's put his family through, can she? I mean, her fiance's only taking more after the selfish, drunken shitbag by the day!"
"Just fuck off out of here – I'll get a taxi to work!" yelled Andrew. "And don't worry – you'll not be seeing me there much longer! I might as well pack the job in and pack for Edinburgh! That's where my best mates are!"
They certainly weren't at the offices of In The Market. Lynsey could hardly bring herself to return Andrew's greeting or look at him. Obviously she'd had a message from Michael. Andrew's first visit to the kitchen confirmed she'd fully briefed her new BFF, too.
"There's a big jug of coffee just brewed," announced Keiran McAleevey in his broad Lancashire accent. "I expect you'll be wanting a few mugs of that today."
His deep brown eyes drilled into Andrew, obviously looking for signs of the night before.
"Not mugs you've washed up," retorted Andrew, gesturing inverted commas. He took a mug off the tree and closely inspected it to make the point.
"That'll be spotless – it's one of the set Tara bought Friday lunchtime," said Keiran. "Perhaps you've lost a few brain cells since then."
He made no particular effort to disguise the knowing smirk before swigging from his own mug. A picture of nonchalance with his tall, muscular frame leant against the wall.
Keiran's dark brown hair was lightened by a sunbeam through the opposite window. Or it could have been a bulb above the head clearly deep in troublemaking thought.
"Tara might decide she wants new staff as well," added Keiran. "Ones who aren't so stupid as to drink themselves stupid on the eve of a potentially lucrative contract."
"Well, that'll be up to Miss Calvert when you or Lynsey tell on me, won't it?" said Andrew. "Perhaps she'll be able to tell which one of you's more pathetic because I can't. It's like playground bully and lovesick lassie under his spell with you two!"
More than once Andrew had wondered if Keiran and Lynsey's relationship went beyond a working one. He studied Keiran's expression for a look of alarm or guilt. All it showed was that nothing would be revealed.
"Tara won't need to be told anything when she's back," came the cool, smug response. "Either you'll be fine or the fragrance of eau de whisky sweat'll be telling its own story."
"I've had plenty of water, I've kept my breakfast down – " Andrew began furiously. Keiran held his hand up with a "calm down, dear" kind of look.
"Then answer A's more likely, isn't it?" he said with equal condescension. "And there's nothing to worry about for now anyway, is there? Apart from whether any orange creams are left in this …"
Keiran prised open the biscuit tin, which Andrew longed to smash over his head. He held aloft a gold wrapped circle like it was a doubloon.
"Ooh, wasn't that a bit of luck – getting the last orange cream?" declared Keiran. He knew those were Andrew's favourites.
"When you prefer the florentines – not really," said Andrew before returning to his desk. He heard Keiran fling the biscuit back into the tin with a loud curse.
Keiran was even more put out when Andrew had no problem eating the orange cream or keeping it down. In fact there were no signs of alcohol withdrawal at all throughout Keiran's morning watch. All Keiran could report at its end was getting far less done than Andrew.
The sandwiches stuck in Keiran's craw like that thought as Latimer Logistics' visit got underway. Honestly, why had he sacrificed half his weekend preparing for the presentation? Because he couldn't count on Andrew being up to it.
Nobody could count on Andrew being up to the job of brand manager any day. The signs were obvious to everyone. Sweats and fans on in wintertime, ibuprofen for breakfast, drinking the water cooler and cafetiere dry … Tara must have seen them too, judging from the series of talks she'd held with Andrew.
The first ones had opened with gentle, concerned usherings into a meeting room. Andrew had come out of them with a blend of regret, annoyance and steely resolution. But what eventually happened to steel under more pressure than it could handle? It got weaker and buckled worse under the same load next time.
After these discussions, Andrew could focus and perform much better for a while. Then his problems stealthily crept up behind him and into the office again.
Other meetings followed with more swiftness than the last – and even less achieved from where Keiran was sitting. Literally when he heard the sound of tempers loudly fraying one January morning.
When all Tara ever did was find fault, Andrew didn't know why she kept giving him more chances. Neither did Tara – all he did was abuse them and abuse her like he was doing now. So he could just go straight home and not return until the disciplinary she'd notify him of.
With characteristic efficiency, Tara had done this inside an hour. It was all arranged for Wednesday of next week at half past ten.
However, on Monday morning Tara was organising a card and collection for Andy. His cousin Robbie had been killed in a French Alps avalanche over the weekend. The suspension was abandoned and replaced with compassionate leave.
Of course that was only appropriate but what had Andrew returned to do? His job like he’d done before Robbie died and that was the whole problem. Still he came in hungover, tired and distracted but Tara just put the “grief” umbrella up over everything.
Well, soon she wouldn't be seeing what she wanted to in Andrew. She'd be seeing a car crash she couldn't walk away from.
Was that apt or ironic in front of transport company execs? wondered Keiran grimly. Andrew was shaking, sweating and stumbling his way through the presentation.
Andrew stumbled, sweated and shook throughout his presentation to the transport company execs. Was the car crash appropriate or ironic? wondered Keiran grimly.
Poisoning panic began to spread among Andrew's fellow prawn and tuna sandwich consumers. His endorsement of the caterers rang somewhat hollow for accompanying his dash out of the meeting room.
*There's a stomach upset going round – me and another colleague have had it," said Keiran. Both Latimers delegates moaned about that bloody bug having bitten them, too. An hour later it was a miracle Keiran had no toothmarks on the palm they'd eaten out of.
Andrew felt much better for the walk home in the fresh air. He decided to get more of this on the garden bench. Logan and Fyvie contentedly nuzzled against him for earlier than usual post work fuss.
"Nice to be in somebody's good books," murmured Andrew as he caressed the cats into sleep. It was a lovely feeling for all of the five minutes it lasted. Both boys abandoned him with filthy looks when they were awoken by his ringing mobile.
Tara informed Andrew that Keiran had clinched the deal but some points of discussion did remain. She could come round for those after work today or during her lunch break tomorrow.
Did that mean Tara thought Andrew would be off sick tomorrow or he was fired? The calm, professional tone gave nothing away and he'd give himself a far worse headache for fretting. So Andrew opted to get the meeting over and done with ASAP.
Three hours later, he apprehensively noted the high resolution of the stilettos’ tapping on the path. So businesslike the same as everything else about Tara. The navy pinstripe suit, the immaculate side chignon, the perfect make up. Those sea blue eyes never washed over any detail and nor did she.
Tara surprised Andrew by beginning with a criticism of her own workplace performance. She wished now she'd insisted on Andy taking more time off after Robbie died. Instead she'd just kept giving him excuses to bury his grief under his work. It was always going to erupt and sooner rather than later at that.
"It's better for life to start going on sooner rather than later," said Andrew. "I'd the evenings and weekends to grieve at home. That's where personal stuff stays, isn't it?"
"Not for you at the moment, you have to admit," said Tara. "So perhaps it's better you take some time off to clear your head. Use up the rest of your annual leave to see your folks in Edinburgh and Inverness – "
"Including my so called father in HMP Inverness?" came Andrew's outraged reply. He wished he'd never told Tara about that visiting order. It had all come tumbling out like the contents of the folder his agitation made him drop.
"Well, perhaps you should see him for your own sake," said Tara. "There's obviously a lot of stuff you'd be better letting out than keeping in. And I don't just mean all the toxins sloshing about in your liver."
"Tara, today was the only time – " Andrew began.
"That you threw up your drink at work or suffered the effects of it there?" Tara cut in sharply.
She lay a hand on Andrew's with her more characteristic tenderness. "You've been through so much this past year, honey. And not having someone at home to share it with must make things even harder – "
"Well, we've all to solve our own problems at the end of the day, haven't we?" said Andrew. "My father wouldnae help himself either time he was married. Living alone's changed nothing with him and nothing with me."
"No, it hasn't," said Tara. "You were starting to drink more before you split up from Kayleigh."
"Before I drove her into the arms of another guy she's much better off with?" Andrew demanded belligerently.
"Andrew, I don't know Gavin and you know that's not what I meant." Tara tightened her clasp to show she wasn't giving up on him that easily.
She'd not become a business manager before her thirtieth birthday without a good understanding of people's needs. Or a very well thought of one without tireless application of it to her staff.
Soon she was saying just what Andrew had kept thinking all day. The issues were rooted in his family and Scotland. So where did their best chance of resolution lie? Back among those closest to him and the issues.
Andrew's remaining holiday entitlement only ran to Wednesday of next week. Tara recommended a doctor's appointment to extend the time off as sick leave. During this she'd suggest getting help for his problem with alcohol.
"That could be up in Edinburgh if you've got temporary resident registration with a GP," said Tara. "Take as long as you need wherever you want to get this under control. Don't come back to work until you really are ready – Keiran'll do a great job of covering yours."
I bet he's doing a great job of coveting it and all, thought Andrew – with surprisingly little resentment. He was on the verge of saying Keiran could have his role permanently – then something stopped him.
Initially Andrew couldn't quite pinpoint what it was. Not wanting to hand Keiran victory, not wanting to burn his boats … Then it came to him. Giving up his job meant giving up on the best friendships he'd ever had. No matter where life took Andrew, he couldn't live it without Michael and Lynsey. Best to keep his options and the possibility of reconciliation open.
After the door was closed behind Tara, Andrew telephoned the doctor's surgery – much to Fyvie's delight. A busy owner left him free to enjoy some moggy mischief.
Soon Fyvie was living up to star striker billing in more than name only. He kicked over the bin, then dribbled the rubbish around. Afterwards he began headering clothes out of the ironing bag until the referee stepped in. Andrew reached across, pulled the bag towards him and stood it by the telephone table.
Fyvie decided to give Andrew a taste of his own, rudely interrupting medicine. His flying leap across the table's lower tier scattered everything on it like tenpins.
Restoring the table to order, Andrew heard a rustle from behind him. He looked round to see Fyvie in a nearly empty ironing bag with disarray all around. The perfect life metaphor if ever there was one.
CHAPTER 3 – Monday 19 March
After getting the dirty ironing washed again, Andrew saw an altogether different life metaphor. Yes, things had got in a mess but he was now sorting them out. When he saw Dr Granwell on Thursday, he'd be requesting a referral for alcohol counselling.
The day after that Andrew hoped to be starting some family therapy in Scotland. His relatives and the distance from Holmesbridge would give him some perspective on the problems. Or perhaps Andrew's folks would prefer him not to bring those home. Didn't they have more than enough to deal with there already?
His mother had still been grieving for her second husband Donny when Robbie died. Now she'd be hearing horrible echoes of her first marriage all over again.
"Mum, I'm so sorry for putting you through this," Andrew almost sobbed down the phone. "Mikey's right – crap job I've done of trying to make sure I don't take after my father!"
"Sweetheart, it's been a stress reaction," Colette reassured him gently. "You've had so much to deal with this past year. And it isn't a copycat thing – it's genetically inherited. Your dad needed alcohol to help him unwind, just like his own father did. But he made sure not to set an example of that in front of yous two."
Grandad Malkie didn't with his own kids, though. So had Dad really stood any chance of learning to deal with things any other way? Andrew wondered. The thought kept churning round his head like the pain around his stomach. For some reason it was protesting a lot more than usual against the flood of alcohol.
Still, the day had been dreadful and this was even worse. Telling his most loved ones the fermented apple hadn't fallen far from the tree like Mikey said.
"No – Mikey's the one behaving like Dad by not being there when you need him!" Even down a faraway phone line, Andrew could see the outrage on Kirsty's face. He could feel the shame of seeing his own features almost mirror imaged in it.
"And don't go making excuses for Dad – he was around plenty of people who set a good example!" Kirsty went on. "What did he admit after Grandad Malkie died? That it wasnae really a loss because he always preferred his cousins' and friends' dads to his own."
"Perhaps part of the reason he resented his dad was inheriting his drink problem," said Andrew. "Perhaps he and Malkie couldnae stay off the booze however hard they tried!"
"They weren't alcoholics – they were selfish good time boys who didnae want to grow up!" said Kirsty. "And yes, Dad did keep his binges away from the family but as much for himself. It justified him being out of the house to get pissed with his mates! Never mind it pissed away half the money for his bairns' futures! Or that it made his wife a single parent during her marriage as well as after!"
"Dad only worked away because Callender's closed and the local jobs were scarce," defended Andrew. Callender's was the construction company Lawrie had worked for until mid October 1997. About a fortnight before Andrew's sixth birthday, which was why the date stuck in his mind. "He did need something better paid with the costs of Christmas and lost earnings to cover."
"Not for nearly eighteen months and a sight longer if he'd had his way!" said Kirsty. "He'd made up the money within three or four! He wouldnae have been expected to stay on the road many more with having a family! There were plenty of other building jobs that came up, too! I can see those blue streaked ads for them now!"
Every Thursday night Andrew had religiously highlighted these in The Finsmuir Follower. As soon as Friday tea was finished, he'd show them to Lawrie. Hopefully this week would be the one where Dad took the hint and work on his doorstep.
Dad just used to say he'd look at the paper when Andrew and Kirsty were in bed. After all, spending time with them first was more important.
"I'm amazed he could get off that sofa to play with us," recalled Andrew bitterly. "Those brass balls must have weighed a flaming ton."
"No, it would have been the pants on fire that were flaming," said Kirsty.
In fairness to Lawrie he did always look at The Follower for its news – particularly on Finsmuir's most popular unofficial sport. Spot the latest pub where Tam Proctor had been arrested for a D and D.
Things finally came to a head on a Saturday lunchtime in June 1999. Lawrie came in from gardening with an exclusive by one of his "Barrel Buddies". Mervyn Mayhew was passing the Millens' on the way to his own house. Or rather taking the route which would allow maximum broadcasting coverage.
"Local history has been made!" Lawrie announced excitedly. "Ray Jardine's finally banned Tam Proctor from The Beer Barrel! Of course most landlords wouldnae have waited for a pool night punch up – "
"Lawrie – I don't want to hear it and I don't want the bairns to, either!" said Colette firmly.
"I'm just saying – Ray's put up with far too much!" Lawrie's petulant self justification seemed childish even to five year old Kirsty. "I really like the guy and you know it! But he's way too nice for his own good!"
Andrew exploded, saying at least Ray was nice. He then explained exactly what he meant when asked by an indignant Lawrie.
"Ray helps his wife around the house! He wants to spend time with his children and they're grown up now! You say you're home for the weekend and then you're off out with your friends!"
The doorbell rang, signalling the arrival of Colette's brother in law Bill. He was driving Andrew and Kirsty to a birthday party round the corner from him. His own children Robbie and Teresa were walking to it with their mum, Colette's older sister Bridie.
"Uncle Bill's always pleased to see me and Kirsty," Andrew told Lawrie. Both children walked hand in hand with Bill to his car, surprising all three adults.
Kirsty quite openly displayed physical affection but not Andrew. He tended to let everyday interactions speak louder than grand words or gestures. But then perhaps this was a statement of who he felt his real father figure to be.
When Andrew and Kirsty got back, Lawrie told them he'd an interview tomorrow. He was seeing Pat Tennant about a job building new houses on the old shoe factory site. He'd only been aware of that work for nearly the last month. Pat's son Jamie was in Andrew's class and excitedly following the project's progress.
Back in the present day, Andrew felt he had to be fair here. Dad did get much better for working locally again – look what a fantastic summer that one of 1999 was. All the gatherings with all the Tennants' lads' families.
"Yes – and look how Dad was when the parties ended!" said Kirsty. "He couldnae wait to get out of the house before work or after it – to another woman!"
"Elspeth's more than paid her price for that," said Andrew.
"Aye – she's a lovely person who always deserved better!" agreed Kirsty. "Much like us. You're more than paying your price for our biological father not being our real one. That's Donny!"
"Who's gone before his time and before we could all make up for lost time!" lamented Andrew. "Meanwhile, Lawrie Millen's still free to cause trouble even with being locked up!"
"Only if we let the bastard," said Kirsty. "Remember two things here. You take after Donny and he'd be as proud of your courage as I am."
The tears were still pouring off Andrew half an hour later. The sweat, too, which puzzled him. OK, so it was mild for February but the nights were still cold. He only ever felt as hot as this on oven like summer days.
After his shower, Andrew noticed the message alert on his mobile. It was Michael's response to the text Andrew had sent him earlier.
Andrew knew ringing wasn't a good idea while tensions were running so high. Better to let the facts do the talking. Mikey would then see the son helped himself where the father didn't. Unless you counted Lawrie helping himself to items in a jewellery store he ram raided.
Andrew felt like he'd also been hit by a truck after reading Mikey's message. It hurt even more than this God awful stomachache.
Glad you're now getting help and going back home's a good idea. It'll give you some distance from the problems and the support of those closest to you. Please give them all the best from me.
"Those closest to you" – that said it all, didn't it? "I'm not one of them now so you've nothing left to stay for in Holmesbridge." Andrew forwarded the message to Kirsty with the bitterest of ironies introducing it. I'm sure you'll appreciate being chosen to receive Mr Curtis's good wishes.
The radio then taunted Andrew about the emotional baggage set waiting for him up in Edinburgh. Parklife had been on Radio Forth when the first ever Millen v McArdle darts tournament got underway. Around 4.30pm on Wednesday 11 November 1999 – a day which really went down in family history.
Andrew and Kirsty were picked up from school that night by their Aunty Bridie. The news of Mum being poorly round Grandma Janice's naturally caused the Millen kids some concern. Yet as ever Robbie was able to swiftly allay it.
Lots of people were poorly right now – half of Robbie's class to start with. Aunty Colette would soon be home and meanwhile there was Robbie's new darts game to play with. He'd received Aunty Sheena's belated eleventh birthday present yesterday. She always underestimated the delivery time from Cyprus.
Robbie and eight year old Teresa were master arrowsmiths already. They were also touchingly keen to hand their expertise down the family line.
Teresa was only nine months older than Andrew, which had gone on to seem like nothing. Yet to children a school year's difference made all the difference.
Teresa was so big sisterly in how she took Andrew's arm and guided it towards the treble 20. She'd notably been that way again since Robbie's death – ironically right at the beginning of the year meant to be his best ever.
The darts marathon stopped only for a fish and chip tea. Shortly after this, Colette came round with her children's clothes and toothbrushes. She felt a bit better now but Andrew and Kirsty would be staying here overnight. When they did return home, Dad wouldn't be there.
They'd probably guessed their parents hadn't been happy together for a while now. Everyone – Andrew and Kirsty most of all – would just be miserable if he stayed. Mum didn't think that was a good idea and Dad agreed. He'd be going to live with the lady who did make him happy – Elspeth.
Colette was right – her son and daughter had picked up on the bad atmosphere. It did come as a relief that wouldn't be hanging over their home any more. They'd also at least be spared seeing their dad make them second best to other people.
But of course that didn't stop them feeling the pain of it. Men who had wives weren't meant to have girlfriends, too. Men who had children should want to live with them, not someone they shouldn't be with anyway. Mum saying Dad could go didn't make it right, either.
Andrew and Kirsty refused point blank to set foot in Lawrie's new home. What if Dad married Elspeth? wailed Kirsty. Cinderella might be her favourite story but she didn't want a wicked stepmother.
Andrew was surprised to find himself hating the wonderfully supportive Robbie almost as much as Lawrie and Elspeth. His cousin's belated birthday present was a darts set. His own – fifteen days after he'd turned eight – was his parents divorcing.
Robbie knew how to deal with everything but never had to deal with anything. By day he did brilliantly at school where he was one of the most popular pupils. By night he went back to a house he wanted nothing more from. The perfect family life was already there. But then everything fell Robbie's way, didn't it?
Including carpets of snow that killed him at 28, you self pitying sod. The thought seemed to literally sicken Andrew as he felt the nausea rising again. Its violence brought him to his knees and doubled up his emptied stomach.
However, Andrew's failed attempt to stand showed the pain was even worse down his right side. Appendicitis, he realised – then with even more horror that both phones were in the lounge.
He forced himself down the staircase by sitting on each step, The sweat dripped off him on to the hallway carpet as he crawled across it. "For fuck's sake!" Andrew yelled at the mobile insistently ringing yet again. "I'm doing my best to get to you!"
It was a best brilliantly done as he got to within arm's length of the coffee table. Then in a split second finish to his marathon, he collapsed unconscious with a lingering, tortured scream.
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