Chapter 16. Reunion
Marianne got her negative test result which cheered her up, she was cleared to go home. She texted Maeve with relief, even though this was her anticipated outcome, the relief of knowing for sure that she could go home lifted her spirits.
Marianne had a very strong sense of fair play, and always abided by the rules, so she was never going to go against official guidelines. She resented the fact that students had taken the principal blame for this second wave of the virus. Being an undergraduate and in accommodation on campus she had been part of the testing pool. She already knew that their pool had tested clear a week ago and she had kept herself to herself since then in the hope that she could go home.
Although she didn’t have the sense of drama that her sister frequently displayed, she did want to make the world a better place. Hence her choice of course, PPS ‘politics, psychology and sociology’, which she felt would allow her to choose a career that suited her even if she wasn’t quite sure what that would be yet. Marianne imagined she would have worked it out by now, but she hadn’t.
She thought she was heading for politics, but she was exasperated with the current set of politicians. If she got an internship in Westminster she didn’t think she could keep her opinions to herself. Also, by now she had discovered the depths of the Oxford Cambridge rivalry, and if she wanted to get into politics, she should have gone to Oxford.
This first term had not been a success. The campus was beautiful, it definitely wasn’t the location that was the problem. Although everyone had been perfectly nice, she hadn’t appreciated the amount of online lectures and self supervised reading involved. She hadn’t had any of the real Cambridge experience. She knew her way around the town from her many walks, and knew Ellie, the girl who had a room next door on her landing. But effectively she had not had a social life at all.
Part of the reason Marianne had come here was because she really wanted to challenge herself. Academically she was fine, the course was stretching her, but not beyond her limits. For her, the question was much more personal, she didn’t find relationships easy. So far she had put her energy into study, rather than romantic or sexual relationships. And if she was going to find someone, she wanted it to be without any family around. No matter how loving they might be, her family were smothering. The last thing she wanted was other people involved before she knew what she wanted herself. In any event social distancing had ensured that experimenting with relationships was not an option. At least not within the rules.
Marianne had decided that if she had a break, with any luck the vaccine would be approved and available so that she could do a reset and start again. Now, she just wanted home, wanted to put on cosy clothes, and be where she was loved, unconditionally.
As a result, she was ready with her cases packed, long before she got the test results. She had a lot of bags because she was taking everything that she might need, in case the COVID lockdown situation changed and she ended up staying at home for the rest of this academic year. She would be happy to do that now, independence had proved to be lonely.
But Maeve hadn’t replied to her text, where were they? She tried again, this time she phoned Maeve, but no answer, it went straight to voicemail. ‘Bloody hell! I thought they would be waiting to hear from me, she could feel her irritation rising as she thought this. There was nothing she could do but wait.
Maeve got Orla into the car and just drove, giving Orla a moment to come back from whatever had happened. They were home before Orla even began to look normal.
Maeve was in the kitchen getting some hot sweet tea for both of them, when remembering Edward, she shouted out to the empty room,“Edward!”
He wasn’t her priority at the moment, but still, she wanted to give him a head start if she could, “Edward, there might be a guy called Thomas Apps, on his way over here to ‘sort you out’. He didn’t seem like someone you’d want to meet. If you’re hiding, then stay that way. We can talk later.”
No reply. She had done her bit. Now she could concentrate on Orla, walking back into the sitting room with two mugs in one hand as she opened the door she asked,
“Are you ready to talk about what happened?”
Orla nodded, “It was the same young girl. She was shouting over and over, ‘I want to be a good girl’ and then ‘I am a good girl’. But separately, I could feel fear, a trembling fear, of something I couldn’t see.” Orla stopped, her colour had drained again, her hands were shaking, she sipped her tea to give herself some time before going on,
“I could feel something else too. I think there might have been someone else there but I couldn’t see them.” Re-living the experience was clearly traumatic for Orla,
“I have never felt anything like this before. It was like an all consuming wave of emotion. I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t been there.”
Maeve was now sitting beside her on the sofa, she wrapped her arms around Orla and they rocked in silence for a few minutes, both of them with tears running down their cheeks.
‘Christ’, thought Maeve, ‘I am going to have to learn how to deal with this, if not for my own sake, then for Orla.’
The trip to Cambridge and back gave them some time when they only had to deal with logistics, and the normal traffic on the road. Being in a warm car on the motorway looking at the hedgerows, now changing yellow, red and brown, was comfortable, and safe; it gave a sense of ordinariness, a sense of ‘everything is always going to be okay’. It was settling. Maeve had packed a bag of snacks with the totally unhealthy crisps, chocolate biscuits and a flask of good coffee. Orla had worked her way through a good half of them before they even got to Marianne.
When they arrived Marianne’s bad temper evaporated into hugs and childish jumping up and down, not caring who was watching, just glad that they were all together again.
It was long dark by the time they got home, but making plans for Christmas, deciding on favourite foods, what decorations were allowed and what had to be done beforehand, dispelled the gloom. They were laughing as they unpacked the car. Maeve was hearing Ada’s words in her head as she watched her daughters maturing in front of her. She didn’t need to say anything for Orla to offer to help Marianne, ‘that wouldn’t have happened a year ago’, she thought.
Lights on, heating going, both girls in Marianne’s room chatting. Maeve was in the kitchen sorting out the easiest supper she could think of. Too tired to prepare anything fresh she opted for pizza from the freezer with a bowl of cherry tomatoes as a token gesture to healthy food. She had closed the oven door before she thought of Edward.
“Edward! Edward?” She shouted to the empty room. No reply. She couldn’t feel his presence either. ‘I hope he’s alright’, she thought and then wondered what does that even mean. Time to call Ada