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