Authors: Danielle Shaw
© Danielle Shaw 2003
Danielle Shaw has asserted her rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
First published in 2003 by Robert Hale.
This edition published in 2015 by Endeavour Press Ltd.
In a quiet corner of the hospital restaurant, Staff Nurse Sophie Fuller paused for breath and faced her friend across the table.
‘So – there you have it, Callie. My romantic weekend was anything but. In fact, the wedding’s off.’
‘Sophie! How could Gavin do that to you? After all you’ve been through…’
‘He didn’t,’ said Sophie, ‘I did it. I finally realised – other than working here at Beckford General – Gavin and I have absolutely nothing in common. Getting engaged was a huge mistake.’
Registering acute bewilderment on Callie’s face, Sophie continued. ‘I know exactly what you’re thinking. That Gavin was very kind to me after my parents’ accident and that I should be flattered by his attention but…’
‘Feeble though it might sound, I had neither the heart nor the courage to turn him down. Everyone kept telling me how lucky I was. Even you described him as quite a catch – once he’d bullied me into getting engaged.’
‘Sorry. I thought he was, at the time,’ replied Callie, ‘I thought he’d take good care of you.’
Sophie patted her friend’s hand. ‘Don’t look so alarmed. I’m not blaming Callie. If anyone’s to blame, it’s me. Worn down by Gavin’s persistent badgering I simply opted for the easy way out.’
Opting for her own easy way out – via comfort food – Staff Nurse ‘Callie’ Callaghan hurried to the self-service counter and returned with a plate of jam doughnuts.
‘Want one?’ she said, pushing the plate across the table.
Sophie shook her head. She’d only just had breakfast. Besides, Callie’s approach to doughnuts only served to remind her of Gavin and his recent, macabre obsession with horror videos. Watching her friend’s teeth sink into sugary dough and raspberry jam, she gave an involuntary shudder. Something in the way the jam oozed, red like congealed blood ...
‘How did Gavin take it? What exactly did you tell him?’ Callie mumbled through hamster-style cheeks.
‘In answer to your first question, not very well. He refused to take back his ring. And in answer to the second, I thought honesty the best policy. I told him I didn’t love him enough to marry him.’
Reminded of Gavin Markham’s gleaming new sports car in the hospital car park, and his family connections (his father was a senior consultant) Callie emitted a muffled squeak. Swallowing a mouthful of doughnut, she shook her head in dismay, sending black curls a quiver.
‘What’s love got to do with it, Sophie? Think of the life you’d have together!’
‘I did. That’s why I changed my mind,’ replied Sophie, anxious to avoid a lecture on her current financial status. The pile of depressing, brown envelopes waiting on the hall table at the inappropriately named Victoria Villas was reminder enough.
‘Oh, Sophie! Are you really sure?’
‘Positive. I know you mean well, Callie, but don’t they say everything comes in threes? Mum and Dad, losing the business was one, their decision to go on that fateful coach trip another – and now this unpleasantness with Gavin. I’ve been beside myself with grief and worry these past months. Now however, I’ve got to be strong and face up to the future. A future that doesn’t include either Gavin Markham and his mother or their obsession with timetables.’
Starting on another doughnut, Callie's jaws opened and closed in quick succession.
‘You’ve lost me,’ she puzzled, lips and tongue working overtime to stem the familiar larva flow of scarlet jam.
Waiting until a group of student nurses was out of earshot, Sophie leaned across the table and whispered, ‘I told Gavin his initials were extremely apt.’
‘What are his initials?’
‘G.F.M.M. Which I interpret as
– as opposed to Gavin Frederick Miles.’
Deeply curious, Callie glanced at her watch. In five minutes they ought to be reporting for duty. ‘What’s with the five minutes?’ she said, mopping up doughnut sugar with her finger.’
‘That’s what he was always saying. Five minutes to have his shower, five minutes to write a report, five minutes to grab a sandwich, five minutes to...’
‘Okay. Okay. I get the message ... so where’s the problem? Lots of people say things like that. Mum’s always saying “
” and Dad’s favourite is “
” only tomorrow never comes.’
‘Hmm…’ murmured Sophie, her expressive hazel eyes registering acute embarrassment. As far as she was concerned Declan Callaghan’s favourite saying was also extremely apt. Not only that, his youngest daughter was waiting for an explanation.
‘Let’s just say in Gavin’s case it also means five minutes to make love and another five before he rolls on his back, snoring. It's always been the same.’
‘You mean always, always?'
‘Always, always,’ blushed Sophie, nervously fingering her sandy-coloured fringe. ‘And yes, I have tried to explain but Gavin’s convinced he’s Mr Perfect in
Conscious of the time, Sophie prepared to leave the table. Her mind was quite made up. She’d been just as determined when, following the death of her parents, she’d firmly but politely, declined her aunt and uncle’s offer of going to live with them in Norfolk.
‘Don’t worry about me,’ she said, giving Callie’s hand a reassuring squeeze. ‘For once I know I’ve made the right decision. Look – if you’re not doing anything this evening, why don’t I pop round to the pub?’
Callie brightened. The Nag’s Head was always quiet on a Monday, and her parents usually took the night off. With her sister Colleen helping in the bar she’d at least have the family’s living-quarters to herself. ‘Good Idea! I propose we begin with a post mortem – by that I mean lay Gavin to rest – and then we can have a jolly good chin wag and put the world to rights. How does that sound?’
Sophie bit her lip watching Callie disappear in the direction of Rose Ward. Why was it despite all her years in nursing, that the words
should suddenly remind her of her parents?
‘Rose Ward,’ she whispered, blinking back a tear. With her rosy cheeks and rosy outlook on life, Callie couldn’t have picked a better ward. She even had the sweetly scented ladies to go with it. Unlike Sophie herself, who was heading for casualty!
Lost in thought of the sea of expectant faces, eagerly awaiting Staff Nurse Callaghan’s cheerful smile and button-bright eyes, Sophie felt someone grab her roughly by the arm.
‘Sophie! Thank heavens I’ve found you. I’ve been looking everywhere.’
‘Gavin! I’m sorry. I can’t stop. I’m expected in casualty.’
‘I know but this will only take five minutes.’
Sophie froze, registering a brief flicker of embarrassment in Gavin’s steel blue eyes. Had he also remembered their recent conversation?
‘We need to talk,’ he continued, flustered. ‘Mother’s suggested dinner this evening. Oh! And I’m to remind you that she’s playing in the county golf championship so doesn’t want it to clash with the wedding. She also thought pink chiffon for the bridesmaids – because it’s Camilla’s favourite colour.’
Dumbstruck, Sophie stopped in her tracks and with trembling fingers began tugging at the sapphire and diamond ring she’d struggled in vain to remove the previous evening.
‘Gavin. I’m truly sorry. I shall never forget how kind you were after my parents’ accident. As for getting married … it will never work. We’re simply not suited.’
‘You know you don’t mean that!’ Gavin protested, refusing to accept both apology and ring. ‘Mother says losing your parents and working all those extra shifts is bound to make you overwrought and—’
Silenced by the sudden, urgent wailing of his pager, Sophie winced when she heard him announce. ‘Dr Markham here. Yes. That’s okay. Ask someone to take it to haematology. It should only take five minutes.’
Returning the pager to his pocket Gavin looked behind him. To his dismay Sophie was already halfway along the corridor, the words
ringing in her head.
Far away from the busy north London hospital, Carlos Martins arrived to the relative peace and calm of his Lisbon office. Moving aside numerous files and a family photograph, he placed both laptop and briefcase on his desk, raked a hand through his sleek, dark hair and signalled to his secretary. His first call of the morning was already waiting.
. I mean yes, Miss Sheffield. Carlos Martins here, thank you for sending details of Rosa’s course. I plan to tell my aunt and uncle this evening. There is to be a family celebration for my cousin’s eighteenth birthday.’
With bold, confident strokes, Carlos made a note of Rosa’s placement address and telephone number in Beckford Heath. ‘
?’ he murmured, when he’d finished writing. ‘No. This will be Rosa’s first visit to a language school. After a year, we shall expect her to be speaking English like a native. Isn’t that what you say?’
From down the line came the sound of polite laughter before Carlos concluded. ‘Thank you Miss Sheffield. In the meantime I’ll ask my secretary to send you details of Rosa’s flight and expected time of arrival.’
Replacing the handset of the phone Carlos turned to straighten the ever present Martins-Ramirez family photograph on the corner of his desk. Just how many of them would put in an appearance tonight?
At seven thirty in the evening and with no immediate family of her own to worry about, Sophie left her flat at Victoria Villas and drove through the less than salubrious side of Beckford Heath. Pulling into the Nag’s Head car park she spied Callie hurrying towards her.
‘I’m so glad you weren’t needed in the bar,’ she said, linking her arm in Callie’s. ‘Can you imagine my horror when Gavin arrived, unannounced on my doorstep?’
‘You sounded desperate on the phone. What on earth happened?’
‘He turned up just as I’d got out of the bath, which in itself was bad enough. What am I going to do Callie? First he refused to accept I’ve broken off the engagement. As for his mother’s suggestion of ghastly, pink chiffon for the bridesmaids! When I explained dinner with his parents was out of the question – that I was coming to see you – he—’
‘Gee! Don’t tell me kid. I guess he thought you were heading for the wrong side of town.’
Listening to Callie’s attempt at a Humphrey Bogart style drawl, Sophie followed her up the dimly lit back staircase to the family’s living quarters. Once inside she smiled, relieved and slumped down on the bulging settee. ‘Gracious! If you’d seen Gavin’s face.’
‘Hmph!’ Callie snorted. ‘I’m glad I didn’t,’ and with a mischievous grin tugged her thick, wiry hair free from a scrunchie.
‘What’s so funny?’
‘I was suddenly reminded of Gavin’s reaction when you announced it was me you wanted for chief bridesmaid – not his stick insect sister, Camilla.’
‘Chief bridesmaid!’ Sophie gasped. ‘Oh, Callie. I’m
sorry. You won’t be getting your fairytale princess frock after all.’
‘Which is probably just as well. Would you really want a pink blancmange the size of a barrage balloon in tow? Look at the size of me Sophie! It’s not so much pinch an inch but pinch a yard. Or should that be metre, now we’re supposed to be metric? I’m getting bigger and you’re getting thinner. Are you sure you’re eating properly?’
‘Of course I am,’ Sophie insisted. She knew she’d lost weight but then who wouldn’t? Since the start of school summer holidays it had been manic in casualty. Unlike Callie, she didn’t go home to the Nag’s Head and Mary Callaghan’s wonderful cooking.
Unconvinced Callie made her way to the drinks cabinet. Sophie looked drained and exhausted. ‘So … I gather you’ve had quite a day?’
‘Quite a day is an understatement. Two doses of Gavin and half the Black Hand Gang falling out of their tree house in Beckford Park, certainly made it a Monday to remember.’
‘Not to mention the little girl and the ice cream van,’ Callie prompted. ‘Boy, am I glad my dear old ladies on Rose Ward are way past running after ice cream vans. Although … I have been known to confiscate the odd zimmer or two.’
Knowing only too well that Callie was doing her best to cheer her, Sophie forced a smile. ‘What would I do without you? You know you’re a real tonic.’
‘Speaking of which I take it you’ll have your usual? Tonic water, lemon and ice. I can’t persuade you to have the teeniest drop of gin?’
About to reply that she saw too many drink-drive accidents in A & E and certainly couldn’t afford to lose her licence, Sophie bit her lip. The last time she’d used the words “I can’t afford” Callie had immediately volunteered all manner of help from the Callaghan family financial and otherwise. It was only once she’d convinced them she wouldn’t end up in the poor house – that’s if one still existed in Beckford – the matter was allowed to drop.