Look­ing back, Sarah could tell that her re­la­tion­ship with Dan had never been the world’s great­est ro­mance

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‘And I hadn’t seen it com­ing. Didn’t have the slight­est in­kling’

Sarah didn’t im­me­di­ately un­der­stand what Dan meant when he said, ‘I’ve met some­one.’ ‘Oh, yes?’ She was only half-lis­ten­ing, her con­cen­tra­tion fo­cused in­stead on the man on the pave­ment with the gi­ant dog. She thought Dan meant he’d met some­one at, say, the newsagent. Or maybe at work. She was ex­pect­ing a not-very-amus­ing anec­dote, some­thing that Dan seemed to spe­cialise in lately. For in­ter­est value, the gi­ant dog was al­ways go­ing to be the win­ner.

Even when Dan at­tempted to clar­ify the sit­u­a­tion – ‘Some­one else, Sarah. I’ve met some­one else’ – she didn’t re­ally grasp the sig­nif­i­cance. She tried to think who was the first per­son he’d met, to make this some­one else. You couldn’t have a some­one else with­out a first per­son to be the orig­i­nal some­one. Was that a pre­vi­ous bor­ing anec­dote she’d for­got­ten? She tried not to frown, a sure sign she was hav­ing to dredge her mem­ory. Dan was of­ten say­ing re­cently that she didn’t pay enough at­ten­tion.

She turned from the car win­dow as they pulled away from the traf­fic lights and looked at Dan. His fin­gers were tight on the steer­ing wheel and his gaze was fixed dead ahead. He seemed... well, on edge.

‘You’ve met some­one?’ she said. A whole flurry of po­ten­tial some­ones flit­ted through her head now. Long-lost friends. Un­known brothers. A so­lic­i­tor with a se­cret in­her­i­tance to hand over. Or a spy who’d made him an of­fer he couldn’t... ‘Char­lie,’ Dan said.

It still wasn’t reg­is­ter­ing, what he was try­ing to tell her. ‘And Char­lie is?’

‘She’s one of the new anal­y­sis team mem­bers.’ Dan had a mas­ter’s in chem­istry and had worked in a lab­o­ra­tory ever since. ‘We’d al­ready met at uni. She was in the year be­low. I re­mem­ber we chat­ted a few times. Then there she was, at work. And wow, she’d changed.’

And fi­nally Sarah un­der­stood.

‘An af­fair. A flamin’ af­fair.’ ‘What a toad,’ Caz said. Sarah was with Caz now. It was the fol­low­ing day, lunch hour, and they’d grabbed one of the benches dot­ted around the cathe­dral, hav­ing walked over from the es­tate agency where they both worked.

‘And I hadn’t seen it com­ing. Didn’t have the slight­est in­kling.’

‘Guy’s a creep, sneak­ing around be­hind your back.’

‘I did won­der why he’d come to pick me up from the sta­tion.’

Dan had sent a mes­sage to say he’d meet her train. She’d imag­ined he’d or­gan­ised a meal out or some­thing like that. Some­thing that re­quired a quick re­turn home to have enough time to get ready. And she re­mem­bered hop­ing it wasn’t any­thing like that, be­cause go­ing out re­quired some gen­uine ef­fort and she would pre­fer stay­ing in, sat in front of the box. Sat in front of the box had be­come much more prefer­able to go­ing out some­where with Dan. Which said it all, re­ally, about their rather stale re­la­tion­ship.

‘Turns out he wanted some­where to tell me all about this Char­lie where he didn’t think I’d be able to ex­plode. And his car, he said, seemed like a good place.’

‘And did you? Ex­plode?’ ‘Fun­nily enough, I didn’t. Stunned into si­lence, I sup­pose. Any­way, he’d al­ready put some of his stuff in the boot, so he didn’t even come back into the flat. He just dropped me off and said he’d be in touch.’

‘The nerve!’

‘Ap­par­ently this Char­lie was a frumpy, cardi­gan-wear­ing nerd at uni, and now she looks like a sexy sci­en­tist from a Bond movie. At least that was the im­pres­sion I got from the way Dan de­scribed her. He said there was an in­stant con­nec­tion when they met again at the lab. They tried to fight it, but it’s like it’s meant to be. By the time he’d fin­ished talk­ing, he was sound­ing a bit manic ac­tu­ally.’ ‘So what are you go­ing to do?’ Sarah shrugged. ‘Luck­ily he moved in with me, so the flat’s still all mine. I might shred the rest of his clothes, or make a small bon­fire from his chem­istry books, but apart from that, I haven’t re­ally thought about the fu­ture yet. It only hap­pened yes­ter­day evening, af­ter all.’

‘I al­ways thought you two would get mar­ried,’ Caz said. ‘You’ve al­ways seemed so suited.’

‘Suited?’ Sarah felt vaguely hor­ri­fied, when she thought about how she had come to view Dan – and what she thought of him to­day.

‘Sta­ble, then.’

Sta­ble? That could be a worse de­scrip­tion than suited. Maybe that was Sarah’s trou­ble. She was too sta­ble. She never did any­thing par­tic­u­larly ex­cit­ing. She of­ten dreamt about ex­cit­ing things, of­ten watched ex­cit­ing things on the box, but that wasn’t quite the same. Her real life was as steady as a ship in dry dock, whereas some peo­ple seemed quite will­ing to be thrown com­pletely over­board by the most enor­mous waves the ocean of life had to of­fer. Sarah be­gan to re­alise she had never been swept over­board in her life. So to speak.

Sarah had been with Dan for over four years. And she’d been mostly happy and they’d had fun, sort of, to start with, but it was hardly the world’s great­est ro­mance story. And sit­ting here now, know­ing it was over, yes, she was an­gry and an­noyed and a lit­tle up­set, but she knew, deep down, that it wasn’t the worst thing that had ever hap­pened. She had al­ready ac­cepted his de­par­ture. And she was fairly OK with it.

The nat­u­ral end, she reck­oned, had been ap­proach­ing for quite some time any­way.

Dan wasn’t Mr Right. He wasn’t The One. He just hap­pened to be the one she’d been with for a while. And now, at least, she wouldn’t have to lis­ten to an­other of his bor­ing anec­dotes, or put up with his

aw­ful taste in mu­sic.

Al­though, think­ing about that, she couldn’t re­ally com­plain too much. Af­ter all, if Dan was ac­tu­ally bor­ing, what did that make the woman who’d stayed with him for so long? The woman whose sole hobby was watch­ing tele­vi­sion? The woman who seemed to have for­got­ten how to have fun?

Maybe Dan hadn’t been the prob­lem. Maybe it was her.

‘Caz, am I bor­ing?’

‘You? Never!’ But then Caz gave it a lit­tle more thought, purs­ing her lips and fur­row­ing her brow. ‘Al­though you don’t re­ally do a lot, do you?’

‘No, I don’t. Dan’s never par­tic­u­larly at­tacked life and I sup­pose we fell into a rut to­gether. I’m sure I used to be more in­ter­est­ing be­fore I met him. Al­though he’s made up for that now, with this Char­lie woman, hasn’t he? He’s seized his op­por­tu­nity and set out on a new course. And I, um, haven’t.’

‘You’re just ly­ing low. Wait­ing for your own op­por­tu­nity,’ said Caz, the archery ex­pert who had also won prizes for her rock’n’roll danc­ing with her quiz-cham­pion hus­band.

And maybe that was the prob­lem. Sarah didn’t have archery or danc­ing or pub quizzes. She’d had Dan. And now he’d scarpered.

‘So what op­por­tu­nity is that, then?’

‘You’ll have to make one,’

Caz said.

‘Make one. Right.’

‘Get out there and do some new things. Meet some new peo­ple. Who knows what might hap­pen?! What do you like?’ ‘Eh?’

‘What in­ter­ests you? There must be some­thing. Tell you what, we’re go­ing to a quiz night at the week­end, me and Neil.’ Neil was Caz’s hus­band. ‘Why don’t you come along?’

‘A quiz?’ Sarah wasn’t sure about that. She didn’t much like quizzes on the tele­vi­sion and the thought of tak­ing part in one live, as it were, didn’t fill her with ex­cite­ment.

‘Go on!’ Caz nudged her.

‘It’ll be great fun! Who knows what might hap­pen?!’

‘Well, OK, then.’ Not that Sarah ex­pected much. Af­ter all, what were the chances that some­thing re­ally life-chang­ing would hap­pen?

Turns out, oddly enough, that some­thing life-chang­ing did hap­pen.

‘You were very good tonight,’ said Caz af­ter­wards, while her Neil was off talk­ing to a friend he’d bumped into. ‘We def­i­nitely wouldn’t have got sec­ond place with­out you.’

‘My sort of ques­tions, I sup­pose.’ Sarah had found it slightly odd to be out and about with­out Dan at her side. It wasn’t that she missed him as such. It was more like the first time out with­out crutches af­ter break­ing your an­kle. There was a sense of free­dom, a sud­den urge to skip even though you know you prob­a­bly shouldn’t, not just yet, be skip­ping. In fact, she hadn’t en­joyed her­self so much for ab­so­lutely ages.

‘Bit of a se­cret his­tory buff,’ Caz said.

‘I do like a Time Team re­peat.’ Sarah loved watch­ing peo­ple dig­ging up an­cient stuff in fields. There was some­thing oth­er­worldly about trenches and ground-pen­e­trat­ing radar and lit­tle bits of an­cient lives sud­denly re-emerg­ing from the soil into the light of the mod­ern day that sent chills down her spine. She’d once sug­gested that she and Dan vol­un­teer when there was a piece in the lo­cal pa­per about a dig nearby. But Dan had pooh-poohed the idea, un­able to see the fun of ‘scrab­bling in the dirt’, as he put it. And so the idea was im­me­di­ately for­got­ten.

‘There you are, then!’ Caz nod­ded en­cour­ag­ingly. ‘Do that! Find some sim­i­lar ar­chae­ol­ogy thing and get in­volved. Then see where you end up.’

‘But I wouldn’t know where to start. I’m not qual­i­fied.’

‘I didn’t take up archery un­til I saw a flyer on the no­tice­board at one of the dances at the church hall.’

‘And your point is?’

‘My point is, Sarah,’ and now Caz gave her one of her looks, ‘my point is, it doesn’t mat­ter what you are or what you aren’t, it’s up to you to make the ef­fort and find out.’

Sarah frowned. It sounded dif­fi­cult. Sounded time­con­sum­ing. Sounded like a com­plete pain in the bum, when it was eas­ier to sim­ply sit at home star­ing at the tele­vi­sion. But that, again, was re­ally only Dan’s at­ti­tude. Or had been, un­til he met this Char­lie woman. And where was Dan now, right this minute? Prob­a­bly with Char­lie, al­ready cre­at­ing a new life.

And if Dan could do it... Sarah smiled. ‘Well, I’ll maybe look into it.’ And it was at that pre­cise mo­ment that her life be­gan to change.

Now, three years later, Sarah is crouched in a trench. There’s a howl­ing gale and she has dust in her wa­tery eyes. She’s won­der­ing ex­actly how she ended up here, hands blis­tered and sore from dig­ging, and limbs aching from all the hard phys­i­cal work. What a way to spend a sum­mer hol­i­day.

She sees Joe ap­proach­ing and there’s a cu­ri­ous ex­pres­sion on his face. She hasn’t seen him much to­day, not since he went off with Lucy, the dig’s on-site leader. Sarah met Joe when they were both vol­un­teer­ing at a his­tor­i­cal site two years ago. Seemed like they clicked im­me­di­ately, like they were des­tined to be to­gether. But re­cently, Joe’s been dis­tracted.

He stands by the edge of the trench and looks down at Sarah.

‘I’ve met some­one,’ he says. Sarah sim­ply stares, hav­ing a vague flash­back to some­thing that she can’t quite put her fin­ger on. Some­thing from a dif­fer­ent life en­tirely. Some­thing that makes her feel uneasy and ap­pre­hen­sive.

She looks at Joe and frowns. ‘You’ve met some­one?’

Joe crouches, his voice clearer now, his words not snatched away by the gale. ‘Not some­one.’ He shakes his head at her mis­un­der­stand­ing.

‘Sam Wendt. I’ve fi­nally met Sam Wendt.’ He points back­wards, to­wards the Por­tak­abin. ‘Sur­prise visit.’

And Sarah’s un­easi­ness sud­denly van­ishes, re­placed by an­tic­i­pa­tion and ex­cite­ment. Sam Wendt is a pro­fes­sor at the univer­sity that has or­gan­ised this dig. Joe – re­cently qual­i­fied as a ma­ture stu­dent – has been think­ing of his ca­reer, try­ing to wan­gle a place on Sam Wendt’s team, us­ing this hol­i­day vol­un­teer­ing as a spring­board.

‘And?’ She climbs out of the trench, grasp­ing Joe’s help­ing hand.

Joe smiles. ‘He said yes.’

She throws her arms round him. It’ll mean leav­ing her job, mov­ing across coun­try, start­ing afresh. But it’s what she wants more than any­thing.

Life-chang­ing? Seems like her life is chang­ing ev­ery day just lately...

If Dan was ac­tu­ally bor­ing, what did that make the woman who’d

stayed with him for so long?


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