'So how has your first morning at Pethkelly been?' Ben asked when they'd bought sandwiches and found a quiet table in the canteen.
'Fine,' Sadie said with a smile. 'Lots of tourists with minor injuries.
How about you?'
'RTA,' he said, 'and the driver had chest pain, which caused him to have the crash in the first place. Thankfully the other driver was uninjured, just a bit shaken. My patient's stable now and we've admitted him to the cardiac ward for monitoring.' He paused. 'I can't get over you being Becky's job swap partner. She said she was going to Hampstead. I thought you worked at the London Victoria.'
'I did, but Brad got a job in the cardiac unit at Hampstead,' she said, 'so I applied for a transfer.'
And now she was here. 'So has he come to work in the cardiac unit here?'
'No.' She looked away momentarily. 'We're divorced.'
He glanced at her left hand and realised she wasn't wearing a wedding ring, even though she'd kept Brad's name. He should've been more observant, and instead he'd been clumsy and hurt her. He winced. 'Sorry. I really didn't mean to tread on a sore spot.'
'It's OK.' She bit her lip. 'I guess as we're working together now, and we were friends as students, I should maybe tell you what happened. Though I'd prefer you not to tell anyone else.'
'Of course I'll keep it to myself,' he said. 'But you don't have to tell me anything if you don't want to, Sadie.'
She said nothing, and the silence had just got to the stage of being awkward when she sighed. 'Brad and I got married, and we were going to have a baby. But, just over a year ago, I had a placental abruption at five months.' A muscle flickered in her jaw. 'The baby didn't make it.'
Automatically, he reached over to squeeze her hand. 'I'm so sorry.' Strange how that light contact made it feel as if electricity was coursing through him. And it wasn't appropriate, so he pushed the thought away. 'That must have been hard for you both.'
She nodded. 'I went to counselling and it helped, but Brad couldn't deal with what happened.' She took a deep breath. 'He said the abruption wasn't my fault, but I think deep down he blamed me. The rows got worse. And he walked away.'
'That's such a shame.' How on earth could Brad ever have walked away from Sadie? Especially when she'd needed his support.
'Our divorce came through last month,' she said. 'He texted me a couple of weeks ago to let me know that—' she paused, her face full of pain '—he's with someone else now, and they're expecting a baby.'
And she'd only lost the baby a year ago. Brad had clearly moved on very quickly; and he'd started another family, leaving Sadie to deal with the sadness alone. 'That's…' Ben grimaced and shook his head, not knowing what to say.
'I guess he did me a favour. It made me realise that I needed a break from London. So I can still do the job I love, but without all the memories and the regrets everywhere,' she said. 'I don't know if you remember Georgie Woodhouse, but she did a job swap last year. It made a real difference to her life, so I thought I'd try it, too. I had to wait for a month to find a match; luckily for me, Becky from your department wanted to work in London. So here I am.'
'Well, it's good to see you,' he said.
'And you've hardly changed in seven years,' he said before he could stop himself, and winced at saying something so cheesy. He hoped she didn't think he was trying to come on to her.
To his relief, she laughed. 'I found my first grey hair the other day. And I think I have a few lines starting.'
'Don't we all?' he replied, equally lightly. But Sadie was just as gorgeous at thirty as she'd been at twenty-three, with her unruly dark curls and blue eyes.
'How did you end up here? I thought you were going to join the rest of us at the London Victoria for foundation training,' she said. 'But when things had settled down after the first couple of weeks, I realised you weren't there—and nobody had a clue where you'd gone.'
'Just home to Cornwall,' he said .
Something must've shown in his expression, because she raised her eyebrows slightly. And she used the same doctor's trick he'd used on her, waiting for him to fill the silence.
He sighed and gave in. 'My mum's bipolar. She didn't cope well with me studying away. She had a few episodes, and managed to upset just about all of her family and friends. There was a really bad one just after finals, and I realised she needed my support. She would have hated living in London, so the obvious solution was for me to come back and finish my training here.'
'Has it helped, having you around?' Sadie asked.
He nodded. 'I can encourage her to take her medication properly, and I've helped her mend a few bridges.' Though she'd also helped to break a couple that couldn't be mended.
'I'm sorry. I had no idea. It must've been tough to cope with caring for your mum as well as doing your training.' Her face was full of sympathy rather than pity.
'We managed,' he said. 'Though I've often thought that if I hadn't gone away to London in the first place, I could've helped her manage her illness better.'
'Or maybe you weren't ready to step into that role,' Sadie pointed out. 'You were only eighteen when you went to university. Maybe you needed that time away, to help you find the strength to support her. Bipolar isn't an easy condition to manage, for any patient or their family.'
'No.' And how he wished he could wave a magic wand to make life easier for his mum. He shook himself. 'Anyway. So you're here for six months. Maybe I can show you round the area a bit on your days off.'
'If your partner doesn't mind me tagging along.'
'No partner,' he said. 'I was engaged to someone, a couple of years back, but she found Mum a bit…difficult,' he finished, trying to be diplomatic. His mum, Jilly, had become really anxious when he'd first moved in with Lisa, and she'd phoned him a lot. Lisa had tried to be patient but, when Jilly as a result of the comorbid anxiety she suffered from on top of the bipolar disorder had started calling in a panic at two in the morning, it had been too much. Lisa had refused flatly to share a house with Jilly, and so Ben had ended up moving back in with his mum on his own.
Lisa was happy now. With someone else. Married, with a baby and a preschooler.
And Ben had taught himself not to mind.
Right now, he rather thought that Sadie could do with some reassurance that he wasn't going to make any assumptions. 'I'm not looking for another partner,' he said, 'so you'll be quite safe with me.'
'I'm not looking for another partner, either,' Sadie said. 'But I'd be very pleased to renew our friendship.'
'Me, too,' Ben said. He lifted his mug of coffee. 'Here's to friendship and a good summer.'
'Friendship and a good summer,' she echoed.
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