HELP THIS STORY AND BETTER MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT BECOME A REALITY!
My name's Sarah Morgan and I live in Newark, Nottinghamshire.
I'm a writer working on my first novel - well, first novel I've been able to sustain storylines over! However, proving that no writing is in vain, I realised a previous failed novel synopsis did actually have potential. Along came reworked and new characters who wrote the rest for me.
Thanks to them, powerhouse plots and people have become both reality and a story. They've a good range of humour brands, too!
If you'd like to find out more and help me get this published, please access the link below. All reading, pledges and post shares are gratefully received!
Any money raised beyond 1500 target will be donated to MIND. This is a charity close to my heart for the support it lent me during a mental health crisis. The issue forms a key plot in the novel and for the fictitious Kyle Newland it will only be a story. However, for millions of people anxiety, depression and other psychological issues are an extremely harsh reality.
This is a charity close to my heart for the support it lent me during a mental health crisis. The issue forms a key plot in the novel and for the fictitious Kyle Newland it will only be a story. However, for millions of people anxiety, depression and other psychological issues are an extremely harsh reality
WHEN THE STAKES ARE RAISED, SOMEONE WILL PAY
A web of internal complexities makes the professional and personal ever more tangled for four colleagues.
Andrew's drowning in a turbulent sea of grief, family shame and alcohol. But will the rescue efforts of best friend Michael be enough against a tide of undermining?
Keiran is leaving for Italy - hopefully before his criminal funding of the move there can be discovered. Howaver, an unexpected work opportunity and a chance meeting make him change his mind - but not his ruthless ways.
They've started to rub off on Lynsey, who's decided loyalty just doesn't earn her enough. Living dangerously, however, could cost her a whole lot more.
The explosion of events causes far reaching collateral damage. Will their main detonator's clear up and cover up operations be successful - or will the guilt find them out?
Now I like to give people the chance to try things before they pay for them - so please find below the first three chapters. If you like them and pledge, you can have a free copy of the book and free marketing/matched donation for your own project or business!
Andrew Millen opened the Prague hotel room door, excitement shining in his hazel eyes. That knock signalled the arrival of a champagne Valentine's breakfast for him and Kayleigh.
An oddly familiar English voice called from outside. "Mr Millen, Miss Greenwood?" Andrew thought of how the couple would be Mr and Mrs Millen on their next foreign hotel stay.
Andrew opened the door to find another tall, dark haired man standing there. Gavin Westbrook.
"What the bloody hell are you doing here?" both men asked each other.
"Yes, Andrew - what the hell are you doing here?" demanded Kayleigh. She'd got up from the bed, her long black hair cascading over the red silk bathrobe. "You know this room's for me and Gavin. Go to the honeymoon suite in Mexico - you'll have a bigger mini bar all to yourself there..."
The knocking was actually on Andrew's front door and came from his best friend Michael Curtis. Michael's girlfriend Maxine Duncan peered through the front window to see Andrew slumped across the sofa.
"I said he'd have been on the booze all night, didn't I?" she said in disgust. "Probably Pils, Bud and anything else Czech just to make himself feel even more tragic!"
"No - those new Invisible beers!" Andrew and Michael's In The Market colleague Lynsey Bretnall glared at Maxine. "Do you see any bottles or cans in that sitting room?"
The emotional dynamo within this petite, delicate featured ash blonde always amazed people. The willowy Maxine regained her composure by looking down on Lynsey with steely dark blue eyes. She then remarked perhaps there was a bottle of whisky behind the sofa.
"One from Scotland because of the imprisoned and dead relatives up there nobody else has,” she added. She tossed her fair, wavy locks with the same disdain.
"Maxine - you don't have to be here!" snapped Michael, as ruffled as his windswept light brown hair. The smoky grey eyes beneath blazed with a rare anger.
"I do if I'm to see anything of you before tonight!" retorted Maxine.
"You were the one who wanted to go away next weekend, not this!" said Michael wearily. "You expect me to delay that further for your friend who's been through a bad time! Because of something that happened in the Alps as well, I might add!"
Michael and Maxine were going on to London for three nights after spending Friday in Richmond. Maxine's friend Cassie was holding a party to celebrate the end of treatment for serious ski-ing accident injuries. Ones sustained near the Swiss resort where Andrew's cousin Robbie went for that fateful Christmas break ...
"Shut up, both of you!" said Lynsey, nodding towards the window. Andrew was now stirring on the sofa. "Today's meant to be about Andy and reminding him what he's still got here! If it's just people forgetting what he needs he'll have no reason to stay!"
Andrew had ruled out the return to Edinburgh suggested by his family. Nonetheless, South Cambridgeshire wasn't feeling like a happy home, either. Perhaps he should make a completely fresh start somewhere with no back history.
Everybody agreed staying in the house he'd shared with Kayleigh wasn't a good idea. However, nor was Andrew removing himself from a support network's range. Holmesbridge could offer a new beginning among the old friends best placed to guide him there.
Andrew didn't see them when he first woke up and noticed he was on his own sofa. So him and Kayleigh in Prague for a long Valentine weekend really wasn't happening. The July wedding and Mexican honeymoon had both been cancelled, too.
Lynsey's calling of his name outside the house brought Andrew back to reality. His friends were here to help him get through Valentine's Day. So time he returned the favour and started helping himself make the best of it as well.
Andrew opened the window with profuse apologies and almost a concussion to Lynsey. He must have dropped off after Match Of The Day. He'd a lot of sleep to catch up on what with - one thing and another. Maxine held back from suggesting two bottles of brandy at bedtime rather than just the one.
She couldn't stop herself from remarking upon the Baileys coffee in Caffe Belissimo, though. Lynsey sighed. She'd only just been able to show her face again after Paninigate. That had earned In The Market's loose cannon Keiran McAleevey a life ban. Now Lynsey was back with another troublemaker.
"Shall we make these take outs, Maxine?" suggested Andrew cheerily. "Then you can buy some Baileys from the little Tesco to keep topping up your coffee! Maybe after that you could volunteer to take Keiran's dog Bailey out for a walk!"
An A grade response to an A grade bitch, thought Lynsey with a grin. Annoyed at seeing this and hearing nothing from Michael in her defence, Maxine launched a stealthy attack.
"I was actually thinking it'd make a good third and fourth meal course for my dinner party," she said. "You know - coffee and liqueurs." Her flat tone had just enough sharpness to imply Andrew would know nothing of fine dining.
"What I'd like for now," continued Maxine, "is the hazelnut or pecan latte. Which do you prefer, Lynsey - or didn't you try them before you went to The Coffee Cup instead?"
Whose owner is your new boyfriend and an ex, embittered employee of this place. Maxine had managed to say it all without uttering one of those words.
The duty manager raised his blond mopped head from cutting a huge red velvet cake. His gaze then pulled Maxine into the depths of his dark brown eyes.
"Well, I can make one recommendation - this cake with totally natural colouring," he eventually said. "We use the blood of people foolish enough to think it's a free market economy."
Maxine went as red as the sponge to a chorus of sniggers down the queue.
The pecan latte with a comforting crown of cream soon erased the painful memory. Unfortunately one was now coming back to Andrew before his very eyes.
"It's a text from Natasha," he declared sadly. "Hoping I'm OK because she knows it's a difficult day for me."
Robbie had also been due to marry in the summer. Natasha's selflessness in the worst of times showed just why she'd given him his best. Not to mention why Andrew shouldn't be throwing himself a pity party.
No, you shouldn't, thought Maxine grimly. She knew Gavin and she knew Kayleigh was a damn sight better off with him. She knew reverse psychology when she saw it, too.
Andrew wanted everybody to give him the OK for throwing the king of pity parties. Of course his way too soft best bezzy would fall headlong into that trap.
"Would you have told me not to mourn the end of my marriage because Zoe didn't die?" Michael then answered his own question. "Unless you wanted to reach the middle of next week early by getting knocked there, no! And you're grieving for Robbie, too - he was like the brother you never had!"
"No - one of three brothers," said Andrew, clasping Michael's shoulder. "I've still got you and Leon. I've got a second sister in Lynsey. So I've got every reason to honestly tell Natasha I've a wonderful day with wonderful people lined up."
Maxine doubted this included her but really didn't care. It wouldn't end up meaning that much to Lynsey, either. She'd soon be back in The Coffee Cup thinking only of Declan, Keiran and where the pair of them could get Lynsey Bretnall.
Look at her now, being Andrew's super sugary arm candy on the way to the pub. Maxine thought she might need an insulin jab. No doubt Lynsey wouldn't want to be seen with Andrew at all after he'd drunk half the beer cellar.
However, Andrew didn't wash down the roast lamb dinner and apple crumble with a drop of alcohol. His friends had fortified him enough - to the point where he felt he could manage without them. They'd given up enough of their days for him already.
"I'll be with my boys on the sofa and Facebook at home, too," he grinned. By the boys he meant his two silver tabbies, Logan and Fyvie. The brothers were named after Hibs players. "Then I'll be off to the cinema - as a frugal Scot I don't want to waste my advance booking money!"
"Well, I love watching the action from Easter Road too, remember?" said Michael. The pair had seen quite a few Hibs games with Andrew's younger sister Kirsty and her partner Leon. Well, the four since Kayleigh and Robbie were both big football fans, too.
Michael was about to kick himself for mentioning it when Andrew thanked him. All but one of his visits back home had been for happy reasons. Wouldn't Robbie want him to start living it up among his living family again? Andrew was Skyping Kirsty and Leon after today's match. How about Mikey chatted with them too and they all arranged another Edinburgh get together?
Lynsey wasn't keen on football but she wanted to see more of Andrew at his bubbling best. Like she said, a play date with Logan and Fyvie was a bit overdue as well. This gave her a mischievous idea ...
"Why don't we stop off quick at ASDA on the way to Andy's?" Lynsey suggested merrily. "Then I can get the cats a replacement for that ball with the bell."
Toys from Aunty Lynsey - round about a tenner. The look of horror on Maxine's face - priceless.
After curtly requesting a puzzle book, Maxine put herself in silent solitary confinement at the dining room table. In a less comfy chair than the sitting room ones and nearer the back garden cat games. Well, God forbid she should actually enjoy one minute here, thought Michael in resentful embarrassment.
Maxine barely heard a peal of either toy's bell from the garden. The cheering down the other end kept drowning that out. Lynsey wanted to share in the celebrations, too. The Andrew she knew and loved was back.
It seemed somebody up there could read Lynsey's mind as five minutes later the heavens opened. She went inside to enjoy the Hibs victory like it was an England World Cup win. In fact she asked to be at the Skype after show party with Kirsty and Leon.
Kirsty was delighted by the prospect of Andrew's first homecoming since their cousin's funeral. She recommended following up the football with a meal at the new Thai restaurant in town. It was a firm favourite of hers and Leon's already - Andrew would see why when Kirsty texted its menu link.
"That's a point!" said Lynsey. "I need to look at The Gondola's dessert menu again to make a final decision!"
Maxine looked up from the puzzle pages submerged under the long fair waves of her hair. "I'm feeling like a gooseberry fool myself," she announced. Her dark blue eyes looked pointedly at Michael.
He decided to make the point that actually he did prefer his friends' company right now. After coming off Skype, Michael suggested Andrew kept the laptop on for some Hibs match clips.
Maxine was first out of the door after bidding Andrew the coolest of farewells. She'd got halfway down the path before realising Michael was still in Andrew's hall. The two friends shared a warm embrace before agreeing tomorrow morning's arrangements. While Andrew's car got MOTed, he was sharing Michael's for work journeys.
Maxine seemed in a much better mood for getting Michael to herself again. She smiled at him before drawing her body close to his and drawling seductively.
"Maybe you can be here for quarter past eight without having to get up early." Maxine only lived two roads away from Andy and Michael was driving to hers later. So this sounded like an invitation to stay overnight.
Maxine made her intentions even clearer as she went on. "You could have a longer night and longer in bed than usual, if you get my drift ... " Taking the lapels of Michael's shirt, she snarled ferociously: "Just go back in and stay - you know you want to!"
She shoved him away before flouncing off. To Splitsville, most probably, Andrew thought in his sitting room. Hoped as well, part of him had to admit.
Of course Andrew was delighted at Michael moving on from his divorce. He just didn't think it was in the right direction or with the right person.
Maxine wanted the high flying high life with other ruthless go getters. Andrew couldn't see how a principled, down to earth family man tied in with that vision. He certainly couldn't see Maxine playing stepmother to Mialong term. That involved thinking of somebody else for more than thirty seconds.
On the flip side Michael and Miacould be the making of Maxine. Michael did bring out the best in people. Mia was the most adorable little girl. Maxine's hardnosed selfishness might result from feeling incomplete. A lot of people weren't truly fulfilled until they'd a life partner and family.
Plenty of career girls wanted those, too. Kayleigh would have raised children alongside running her hand crafted jewellery business. It being home based gave her flexible working hours.
Would have - those two words said it all. Kayleigh had a different home and a different boyfriend now. Move on, Andrew - there's really nothing to look at here, he chided himself.
Being a typically houseproud eastern Scot, he soon noticed Maxine's dining table debris. The puzzle book and a coffee cup bearing traces of a pink lipgloss just like one Kayleigh wore..
Andrew took the cup through to be washed up later. Unfortunately putting it out of sight didn't put the associations out of mind. Perhaps a Sudoku or cryptic crossword would help.
Flicking through the book, Andrew could see most of its puzzles had been done already. They'd helped to pass the long, lonely winter's nights without Kayleigh, he recalled.
Exactly, he chided himself. Those evenings were in the past and yet still post Kayleigh. So what connection did she really have to the here and now?
A surprisingly strong one as her logic grid puzzle notes leapt off the page. Of course - Andrew always left those puzzles for Kayleigh. Ironic that one he'd not touched could still send his head round in circles.
"Only if you let it," Andrew told himself sternly. Not wanting to give himself any opportunities for self sabotage, he took the book to the bin. Opening its lid in the strong breeze sent a sheet of paper sailing towards him. Andrew caught it with lightning reflexes - and his left hand.
Still got it after all these years, he thought proudly. He'd made some brilliant catches in the rounders games of his schooldays. Dreamt of becoming a superstar fielder for the New York Mets.
Well, Andrew's ambitions might be different now but he was still young enough to fulfil them. He was only 26 with an impressive marketing CV already. In the words of that great philosopher Del Boy, the world was his lobster.
What were the words in front of him, though? They looked like complete gobbledegook. Then Andrew saw "Czech" on the link description and understood perfectly.
He threw the printout and book in the bin like they were on fire. How could he not think of the past when it lay at the bottom of the bloody garden? The answer came the minute he entered the kitchen. Sensing Dad's sadness, Logan and Fyvie rubbed their heads against his legs.
Andrew grinned and vowed to give both pets extra Dreamies as a treat. They still provided him with affection and company. His family and friends did the same even when they weren't under his roof. He could chat to them on Facebook before heading to the cinema.
Sure enough, Andrew was soon immersed in a post match discussion with his Edinburgh pals. Suddenly two familiar Holmesbridge faces popped up.
In the profile photo was Dean, the husband of Kayleigh's best friend Heidi. The timeline photo showed Heidi wearing a beautiful silver necklace dotted with dark red roses. Dean was thanking Kayleigh for having designed and made it. Heidi adored her Valentine's present from him.
In return, Kayleigh thanked Dean for the Barcelona recommendation and information. She was having such a wonderful time with Gavin. Her best break ever, according to the hashtag. The point was highlighted with carefree, loved up photos underneath.
Andrew now knew what a knife in the back felt like. It was just hard to say whose cut went the deepest.
He'd never expected Dean to declare war on Kayleigh and Gavin. He'd seen no reason to do that himself when they'd done nothing wrong. All they had done was fall in love and admit it before anything actually happened between them.
What Andrew had thought Dean would do after remaining a friend was to remain loyal. Not act like it to his face, then act as a travel agent to Kaygav.
Dean had never treated Kayleigh and Andrew's romantic breaks like royal fucking honeymoons. They'd always been left to make their own arrangements - hang on.
What was with Kayleigh's "Wish I'd not been there" attitude to those getaways? She'd had 50% creative input - and no complaints about Andrew's at the time. He'd planned all of the surprise Paris birthday trip Kayleigh had declared "perfect".
Andrew slammed down the laptop lid with shaking hands. He could hear his heart thumping and feel it racing. His head began whirling with dizziness as well as emotion.
He wasn't in a bad enough state to call 999. But then he wasn't in a fit enough state to remain on his own. Who could he call over, though, when everybody was off out? Did he want anyone to see him a nervous wreck without his babysitters?
Well, there was one friend who wouldn't be inconvenienced by Andrew calling upon him. Jack Daniels wouldn't mind it just being a flying visit, either. Whatever Andrew needed, he'd provide ....
Andrew opened his eyes to find a familiar figure shaking him by the shoulder. Honestly, Michael was only supposed to let himself in for holiday housekeeping and emergencies. Not for dragging Andrew off to work before the crack of dawn. It was still pitch bloody black outside.
"Mikey, why are you here already?" murmured Andrew vaguely. A horrible stench suddenly galvanised him. "Logan - have you made yourself sick again eating Fyvie's food as well as your own?"
"You've made yourself sick drinking," said Michael, emphasising his annoyance as well as the words. "It's just a good thing I was passing and wondered why the curtains weren't drawn. Or I could have found you choked to death in the morning."
Maxine's disapproving glare clearly said that would have been good riddance to bad rubbish. Michael picked up the mobile on the coffee table and made a frosty offer.
"I'll text a message to Tara as from you. It won't be a lie saying you've got vomiting and you're not well enough for work."
"But I can't be off tomorrow - I've to do that presentation," said Andrew.
"Well then maybe you should have thought of that before hitting the bottle!" snapped Michael.
"Perhaps Dean should have thought what he was posting to Kayleigh on Facebook!" retorted Andrew. "Perhaps she should have - "
"The only one who's set up the drunken pity party is you, Andrew!" said Michael crisply. That and the excuses ended tonight, he vowed.
After putting Andrew's shirt in the wash, Michael guided him to bed. Andrew was passed out on it when Michael came through to clean him up.
No way would Andrew be able to do the job for himself if further sickness struck. So Michael reluctantly decided to set up a camp bed nearby- much to Maxine's fury.
"Andrew can't choke - you've put him in the fucking recovery position!" she snapped. "He's a bowl by the bed in case he chucks up! Everything he needs except being made to deal with his own self inflicted problems! The one you do need to be here for is you! That's what today's been all about - St Michael of the pissed up lost cause!"
Maxine stormed out of the house, slamming the front door almost off its hinges. As he winced, Michael didn't know if it was the noise or the truth jarring on him more.
Maxine's words kept going round his head the whole of the endless night. They made more sense with every anxious awakening to Andrew's peaceful slumber.
"Make the most of it, while it lasts, so called mate," said Michael grimly. "You won't be staying oblivious to everything and everyone else any more."
At the breakfast table, Andrew shamefacedly poured Michael some industrial strength filter coffee. He knew his friend was in serious need of energy level boosting for today's digital marketing seminar.
Andrew finally broke the awkward silence with a halting, guilty statement. "I know I've to do a lot more than say sorry. But if I explain, perhaps you'll understand."
Michael had a good idea of what was coming. Poor, hard done by Andrew - not to blame for any of this. Sure enough, it soon became clear Dean Stimson was the villain here.
Giving travel advice to a couple he made no secret of being friends with. A couple Andrew didn't mind him being friends with at that. Michael dreaded opening the front door in case a pig's head was nailed to it.
For Christ's sake, Andrew didn't act as independent travel agent to all his mates, either. He'd provided Keiran with loads of information on Dublin and Michael with none on anywhere. How did he think that left Michael feeling?
Andrew knew exactly what Michael had felt - no sense of betrayal whatsoever. He knew Dublin from visits to his cousin Russ, not hours of research devoted to Keiran. City breaks in general were much more what Andrew was about. He steadfastly kept away from the baking Mediterranean beach resorts Michael favoured.
"Dean knows Barcelona better than the places Kayleigh went to with you," Michael pointed out briskly. "He's got a mate over there who teaches English, hasn't he? He's posted several Facebook photos and videos of them at Barcelona matches."
"And what else has Dean posted?" said Andrew. "A picture of jewellery made by my ex girlfriend in my full view! On my first Valentine's Day without Kayleigh - a bit bloody thoughtless, wouldn't you say?"
"Yes, I would," Michael had to concede. "But I'd also say Dean's a good bloke who'd never mean to hurt anybody. And we all do things without thinking sometimes, don't we?" Especially when we've drowned our brain cells in whisky, he felt like adding.
"Well, Kayleigh's shown just what she thinks of her times away with me!" said Andrew bitterly. "Nothing compares to her fairytale with Prince Charming - least of all our supposedly perfect Paris trip!"
"Andrew, Kayleigh meant everything she said about Paris," said Michael. "But it must make her sad to think of how happy times like that ended as well. The only baggage she's got with Barcelona is the cases in her room."
"Well, who was it who ended the relationship and happy times?" said Andrew. "I don't think you'll find it was me!"
"Oh, of course not!" exploded Michael. "I mean, all you did was forget there's two people in a relationship and nobody without problems! Your father's let you down his whole life so why the blessed martyr act when he does it again?"
"Nobody ended up dead - " began Andrew.
"Yes, that's right - nobody ever died before Donny and Robbie, did they?" shouted Michael. "Except Kayleigh's gran, but what did that matter when she'd had a much better innings? Except Kayleigh's dad, very nearly, but then she'd still got him so what was the problem? After all, you've lost two dads one way or another! Kayleigh can't have any idea what Lawrie Millen's put his family through, can she? I mean, her fiance's only taking more after the selfish, drunken shitbag by the day!"
"Just fuck off out of here - I'll get a taxi to work!" yelled Andrew. "And don't worry - you'll not be seeing me there much longer! I might as well pack the job in and pack for Edinburgh! That's where my best mates are!"
They certainly weren't at the offices of In The Market. Lynsey could hardly bring herself to return Andrew's greeting or look at him. Obviously she'd had a text from Michael. Andrew's first visit to the kitchen confirmed her new BFF had all the gory details, too.
"There's a big jug of coffee just brewed," announced Keiran in his broad Lancashire accent. "I expect you'll be wanting a few mugs of that today."
His deep brown eyes drilled into Andrew, obviously looking for signs of the night before.
"Not mugs you've washed up," retorted Andrew, gesturing inverted commas. He took a mug off the tree and closely inspected it to make the point.
"That'll be spotless - it's one of the set Tara bought Friday lunchtime," said Keiran. "Perhaps you've lost a few brain cells since then."
He made no particular effort to disguise the knowing smirk before swigging from his own mug. A picture of nonchalance with his tall, muscular frame leant against the wall.
Keiran's dark brown hair was lightened by a sunbeam through the opposite window. Or it could have been a bulb above the head clearly deep in troublemaking thought.
"Tara might decide she wants new staff as well," added Keiran. "Ones who aren't so stupid as to keep drinking themselves stupid. Especially on the eve of a potentially lucrative contract."
"Well, that'll be up to Miss Calvert when you or Lynsey tell on me, won't it?" said Andrew. "Perhaps she'll be able to tell which one of you's more pathetic because I can't. It's like playground bully and lovesick lassie under his spell with you two!"
More than once Andrew had wondered if Keiran and Lynsey's relationship went beyond a working one. He studied Keiran's expression for a look of alarm or guilt. All Keiran revealed was that nothing would be revealed.
"Tara won't need to be told anything when she's back," came the cool, smug response. "Either you'll be fine or the fragrance of Eau de whisky sweat'll be telling its own story."
"I've had plenty of water, I've kept my breakfast down - " Andrew began furiously. Keiran held his hand up with a "calm down, dear" kind of look.
"Then answer A's more likely, isn't it?" he said with equal condescension. "And there's nothing to worry about for now anyway, is there? Apart from whether any orange creams are left in this ..."
Keiran prised open the biscuit tin, which Andrew longed to smash over his head. He held aloft a gold wrapped circle like it was a doubloon.
"Ooh, wasn't that a bit of luck - getting the last orange cream?" declared Keiran. He knew those were Andrew's favourites.
"When you prefer the florentines - not really," said Andrew before returning to his desk. He heard Keiran fling the biscuit back into the tin with a loud curse.
Keiran was even more put out when Andrew had no problem eating the orange cream or keeping it down. In fact there were no signs of alcohol withdrawal throughout Keiran's morning watch. All Keiran could report from that was getting far less done than Andrew.
The sandwiches stuck in Keiran's craw like that thought as Latimer Logistics' visit got underway. Honestly, why had he sacrificed half his weekend preparing for the presentation? Because he couldn't count on Andrew being up to it.
Nobody could count on Andrew being up to the job of brand manager any day. The signs were obvious to everyone. Sweats and fans on in wintertime, ibuprofen for breakfast, drinking the water cooler and cafetiere dry ... Tara must have seen them too, judging from the series of talks she'd held with Andrew.
The first ones had opened with gentle, concerned usherings into a meeting room. Andrew had come out of them with a blend of regret, annoyance and steely resolution. But what eventually happened to steel under more pressure than it could handle? It got weaker and buckled more by the same load next time.
After these discussions, Andrew could focus and perform much better for a while. Then his problems stealthily crept up behind him and into the office again.
Other meetings followed with more swiftness than the last - and even less achieved from where Keiran was sitting. Literally when he heard the sound of tempers loudly fraying.
Tara issued Andrew with increasingly curt and annoyed requests to see her now. Andrew's expression said, "Here we go again" with ever decreasing patience. The pair then blamed each other for sending them round in tedious circles.
Andrew didn't know why Tara kept giving him more chances when all she ever did was find fault. Tara said she didn't know, either - all he did was abuse them and abuse her like he was doing now.
Keiran could by now almost recite word for word what invariably came next. Andrew would apologise and say he honestly did value her support and his job. He was so excited about this campaign and that contract, he'd got so many ideas for them... If Tara just waited a second he'd go and get the USB they were on.
Keiran wondered if it contained a mind control or memory wipe chip. Every time Tara would be mightily impressed by Andrew's work and think a corner had been turned. And every time it just led back to the start.
Well, soon Tara wouldn't be seeing what she wanted to see in Andrew. She'd be seeing a car crash she couldn't walk away from.
Was that apt or ironic in front of transport company execs? wondered Keiran grimly. Andrew was shaking, sweating and stumbling his way through the presentation.
Andrew stumbled, sweated and shook throughout his presentation to the transport company execs. Was the car crash appropriate or ironic? wondered Keiran grimly.
Poisoning panic began to spread among Andrew's fellow prawn and tuna sandwich consumers. His ringing endorsement of the caterers rang rather hollow after his dash out of the meeting room.
*There's a stomach upset going round - me and another colleague have had it," said Keiran. Both Latimers delegates moaned about that bloody bug biting them, too. An hour later it was a miracle Keiran had no toothmarks on the palm they'd eaten out of.
Andrew felt much better for the walk home in the mild February air. He decided to get more of this on the garden bench. Logan and Fyvie contentedly nuzzled against him for earlier than usual post work fuss.
"Nice to be in somebody's good books," murmured Andrew as he caressed the cats into sleep. It was a lovely feeling for all of the five minutes it lasted. Both boys abandoned him with filthy looks when they were awoken by his ringing mobile.
Tara informed Andrew that Keiran had clinched the deal but some points of discussion did remain. Tara could come round for those after work today or during tomorrow's lunch break.
Did that mean she thought Andrew would be off sick tomorrow or he was fired? The calm, professional tone gave nothing away and he'd give himself a far worse headache for worrying. So Andrew opted to get the meeting over and done with ASAP.
Three hours later, Andrew apprehensively noted how high resolution the stilettos’ tapping on the path was. So businesslike the same as everything else about Tara. The pinstripe suit, the Dutch pleat without a black hair out of place, the perfect make up. Those sea blue eyes never washed over any detail and nor did she.
Tara surprised Andrew by beginning with a criticism of her own workplace performance. She wished now she'd insisted on Andy taking more time off after Robbie died. Instead she'd just kept giving him excuses to bury his grief under his work. It was always going to erupt and sooner rather than later at that.
"It's better for life to start going on sooner rather than later," said Andrew. "And I'd the evenings and weekends to grieve at home. That's where personal stuff stays, isn't it?"
"Not for you at the moment, you have to admit," said Tara. "So perhaps it's better you take some time off to clear your head. Use up the rest of your annual leave to see your folks in Edinburgh and Inverness - "
"Including my so called father in HMP Inverness?" came Andrew's outraged reply. He wished he'd never told Tara about that visiting order. It had all come tumbling out like the contents of the folder his agitation made him drop.
"Well, perhaps you should see him for your own sake," said Tara. "There's obviously a lot of stuff you'd be better letting out than keeping in. And I don't just mean all the toxins sloshing about in your liver."
"Tara, today was the only time - " Andrew began.
"That you threw up your drink at work or suffered the effects of it there?" Tara cut in sharply.
She took Andrew's hand with her more characteristic tenderness. "You've been through so much these last six months, honey. And not having someone at home to share it with must make things even harder - "
"Well, we've all to solve our own problems at the end of the day, haven't we?" said Andrew. "My father drowns his in drink because he won't help himself. He wouldnae help himself either time he was married. Living on his own's changed nothing with him and nothing with me."
"No, it hasn't," said Tara. "You were starting to drink more before you split up from Kayleigh."
"Don't you mean the same as Michael?" Andrew demanded belligerently. "Before I drove her into the arms of another guy she's much better off with?"
"Andrew, I don't know Gavin and you know that's not what I meant." Tara tightened her clasp to show she wasn't giving up on him that easily.
She'd not become a marketing manager before her thirtieth birthday without a good understanding of people's needs. Or a very well thought of one without tireless application of it to her staff.
Soon she was saying just what Andrew had kept thinking all day. The issues were rooted in his family and Scotland. So where did their best chance of resolution lie? Back among his folks back home with happy reminders of what he still had in Edinburgh.
Andrew knew he'd declared moving back there more as a test of Michael than a decision. But didn't the lack of response confirm the lack of things in Holmesbridge to stay for? Andrew was dreading the prospect of a return before he'd made any arrangements for going away. His holiday entitlement only allowed him to remain off work until Tuesday next week.
Tara felt certain Andrew would need a longer break than that, too. So she recommended a doctor's appointment to discuss extending the time off as sick leave. And getting help for his problem with alcohol.
"That could be up in Edinburgh if you've got temporary resident registration with a GP," said Tara. "Take as long as you need wherever you want to get this under control. Don't come back to work until you really are ready - Keiran'll do a great job of covering yours."
I bet he's doing a great job of coveting it and all, thought Andrew - with surprisingly little resentment. He was on the verge of saying Keiran could have his role permanently - then something stopped him.
Initially Andrew couldn't quite pinpoint what it was. Not wanting to hand Keiran victory, not wanting to burn his boats ... Then it came to him. Giving up his job meant giving up on the best friendships he'd ever had. No matter where life took Andrew, he couldn't live it without Michael and Lynsey.
So for now he decided to keep his options and the possibility of reconciliation open.
After the door was closed behind Tara, Andrew got on the phone - much to Fyvie's delight. A busy owner left him free to enjoy some moggy mischief.
Soon Fyvie was living up to star striker billing in more than name only. Kicking down the bin, then dribbling the rubbish around the front room. Headering clothes out of the ironing bag before the referee stepped in. Andrew reached across, pulled the bag towards him and stood it by the telephone table.
Fyvie decided to give Andrew a taste of his own, rudely interrupting medicine. His flying leap across the table's lower tier scattered all its contents like tenpins.
Restoring the table to order, Andrew heard a rustle from behind him. He looked round to see Fyvie in the ironing bag again and the floor in complete disarray. The perfect life metaphor if ever there was one.
After getting the dirty ironing washed again, Andrew saw an altoget1her different life metaphor. Yes, things had got in a mess but he was now sorting them out. When he saw Dr Granwell on Thursday, he'd be requesting a referral for alcohol counselling.
The day after that Andrew hoped to be starting some family therapy in Scotland. His relatives and the distance from Holmesbridge would give him some perspective on the problems. Or perhaps Andrew's folks would prefer him not to bring those home. Didn't they have more than enough to deal with there already?
His mother had still been grieving for her second husband Donny when Robbie died. Now she'd be hearing horrible echoes of her first marriage all over again.
"Mum, I'm so sorry for putting you through this again," Andrew almost sobbed down the phone. "Mikey's right - crap job I've done of trying to make sure I don't take after my father!"
"Sweetheart, it's been a stress reaction," Colette reassured him gently. "You've had more stress than anybody could take this last couple of months. And you can't help things you genetically inherit from parents. Your dad needed alcohol to help him unwind, just like his own father did. But this isn't copycat behaviour because let's give Dad his dues. He did always keep his drinking away from you two. He didnae make Grandad Malkie's mistake of mixing booze with family life."
Had Dad really stood any chance of learning to deal with things any other way? Andrew wondered. The thought kept churning round his head like the pain round his stomach. For some reason it was quite a lot worse than the usual post booze binge one.
Still, the day had been exceptionally stressful and this was the worst part of it. Telling his most loved ones the fermented apple hadn't fallen far from the tree like Mikey said.
"No - Mikey's the one behaving like Dad by not being there when you need him!" Even down a faraway phone line, Andrew could see the outrage on his sister Kirsty's face. He could feel the shame of seeing his own almost mirror imaged in it.
"And don't go making excuses for Dad - he was around plenty of people who set a good example!" Kirsty went on. "What did he admit after Grandad Malkie died? That it wasnae really a loss because he always preferred his cousins' and friends' dads to his own."
"Perhaps part of the reason he resented his dad was inheriting his drink problem," said Andrew. "Perhaps he and Malkie couldnae stay off the booze however hard they tried!"
"Which wasnae at all!" said Kirsty. "The biggest problem with both of them was they wanted to be good time boys rather than responsible adults! And yes, Dad did keep his drinking away from the family but as much for himself. It justified him being out of the house to booze with his mates! Never mind him draining his glass drained half the money for his bairns' futures! Or that it made his wife a single parent during her marriage as well as after!"
"Dad only worked away because Callender's closed and the local jobs were scarce," defended Andrew. Callender's was the construction company Lawrie had worked for until mid October 1996. About a fortnight before Andrew's sixth birthday, which was why the date stuck in his mind. "He did need something better paid with the costs of Christmas and lost earnings to cover."
"Not for nearly eighteen months and a sight longer if he'd had his way!" said Kirsty. "He'd made up the money within three or four! He wouldnae have been expected to stay on the road many more with having a family! And having plenty of job opportunities nearer them by then - which he knew all about! I can see those blue streaked building job ads now!"
Every Thursday night Andrew had religiously highlighted these in The Finsmuir Follower. As soon as Friday tea was finished, he'd show them to Lawrie. Hoping this week would be the one where Dad took the hint and work on his doorstep.
Dad just used to say he'd look at the paper when Andrew and Kirsty were in bed. After all, spending time with them first was more important.
"I'm amazed he could get off that sofa to play with us," recalled Andrew bitterly. "Those brass balls must have weighed a flaming ton."
"No, it would have been the pants on fire that were flaming," said Kirsty.
In fairness to Lawrie he did always look at The Follower for its news - particularly on Finsmuir's most popular unofficial sport. Spot the latest pub where Tam Proctor's been arrested for a D and D.
Things finally came to a head on a Saturday lunchtime in July 1998. Lawrie came in from gardening with an exclusive by one of his "Barrel Buddies". Mervyn Mayhew had been passing on the way to his own house. Or rather taking the route which would allow maximum broadcasting coverage.
"Local history has been made!" Lawrie announced excitedly. "Ray Jardine's finally banned Tam Proctor from The Beer Barrel! Of course most landlords wouldnae have waited for a pool night punch up - "
"Lawrie - I don't want to hear it and I don't want the bairns to, either!" said Colette firmly.
"I'm just saying - Ray's put up with far too much!" Lawrie's petulant self justification seemed childish even to the five year old Kirsty. "I really like the guy and you know it - he's just too nice for his own good!"
Andrew exploded, saying at least Ray was nice. He then explained exactly what he meant when asked by an indignant Lawrie.
"Ray helps his wife around the house instead of just going out or watching TV! He wants to spend time with his children and they're grown up now! You say you're home for the weekend and then you're off out with your friends!"
"You need time with friends you don't see in the week!" barked Lawrie. "And you need to think about how you're talking to me!"
"You need to start thinking about me, Mum and Kirsty!" shouted Andrew. "If you don't want to be with us, don't live with us!"
The doorbell rang, signalling the arrival of Colette's brother in law Bill. He was driving Andrew and Kirsty to a birthday party round the corner from him. His own children Robbie and Teresa were walking to it with their mum, Colette's older sister Bridie.
"Uncle Bill's always pleased to see me and Kirsty," Andrew told Lawrie. Both children walked hand in hand with Bill to his car, surprising all three adults.
Kirsty quite openly displayed physical affection but not Andrew. He tended to let everyday interactions speak louder than grand words or gestures. But then perhaps this was a statement of who he felt his real father figure to be.
When Andrew and Kirsty got back, Lawrie told them he'd an interview tomorrow. He was seeing Pat Tennant about a job building new houses on the old shoe factory site. He'd only been aware of that work for near on the last month. Pat's son Josh was in Andrew's class and excitedly following the project's progress.
Back in the present day, Andrew felt he had to be fair here. Dad did get much better for working locally again - look what a fantastic summer that one of 1998 was. All the gatherings with all the Tennants' lads' families.
"Yes - and look how Dad was when the parties ended!" said Kirsty. "He couldnae wait to get out of the house before work or after it - to another woman!"
"Elspeth's more than paid her price for that," said Andrew.
"Aye - she's a lovely person who always deserved better!" agreed Kirsty. "Much like us. You're more than paying your price for our biological father not being our real one. That's Donny!"
"Who's gone before his time and before we could all make up for lost time!" lamented Andrew. "Meanwhile, Lawrie Millen's still free to cause trouble even with being locked up!"
"Only if we let the bastard," said Kirsty. "Remember two things here. You take after Donny and he'd be as proud of your courage as I am."
The tears were still pouring off Andrew half an hour later. The sweat, too, which puzzled him. OK, so it was mild for February but the nights were still cold. He only ever felt as hot as this on oven like summer evenings.
A thought suddenly struck him with the searing pain across his abdomen. Keiran's cover story could actually have been the gospel truth. Just his ironic luck, eh? The bug going round the workplace didn't bite till he was away from there.
After his shower, Andrew noticed the message alert on his mobile. It was Michael's response to the text Andrew had sent him earlier. Andrew knew ringing wasn't a good idea while tensions were running so high. Better to let the facts do the talking. Mikey would then see the son helped himself where the father didn't. Unless you counted Lawrie helping himself to items in a jewellery store he ram raided.
Andrew felt like he'd also been hit by a truck after reading Mikey's message. It hurt even more than this God awful stomachache.
Glad you're now getting help and going to Scotland's a good idea. It'll give you some distance from the problems and the support of those closest to you. Please give them all the best from me.
What wishes was Michael sending Andrew? That he'd be the one with distance from Andrew's problems in Holmesbridge. A fine head start he'd made, too. "Those closest to you" said it all, didn't it? "They're a separate entity from me now - you've nothing left to stay for."
The local radio station seemed to echo the statement when it played Parklife. That had been on Radio Forth when the first ever Millen v McArdle darts tournament got underway. Around 4.30pm on Wednesday 11 November 1998 - a day which really went down in family history.
Andrew and Kirsty were picked up from school that night by their Aunty Bridie. The news of Mum being poorly round Grandma Janice's naturally caused the Millen kids some concern. However, as always Robbie was able to swiftly allay it.
There were so many bugs going about right now - look at all the people off school. Aunty Colette would soon be home and meanwhile there was Robbie's new darts game to play with. He'd received Aunty Sheena's belated eleventh birthday present yesterday. She always underestimated the delivery time from Cyprus.
Robbie and eight year old Teresa were master arrowsmiths already. They were keen to hand their expertise down the family line - very touchingly so.
Teresa was only nine months older than Andrew, which had gone on to seem like nothing. Yet to children a school year's difference made all the difference.
Teresa was so big sisterly in how she took Andrew's arm and guided it towards the treble 20. She'd notably been that way again since Robbie's death - ironically right at the beginning of the year meant to be his best ever.
The darts marathon stopped only for a fish and chip tea. Shortly after this, Colette came round with her children's nightclothes and toothbrushes. She felt a bit better now but Andrew and Kirsty would be staying here overnight. When they did return home, Dad wouldn't be there.
They'd probably guessed their parents hadn't been happy together for a while now. Everyone - Andrew and Kirsty most of all - would just be miserable if he stayed. So Mum didn't think that was a good idea and Dad had agreed. He'd be going to live with the lady who did make him happy - Elspeth.
Colette was right - her son and daughter had picked up on the bad atmosphere. It did come as a relief that wouldn't be sharing their home any more. They'd also at least be spared seeing their dad make them second best to other people.
But of course that didn't stop them feeling the pain of it. Men who had wives weren't meant to have girlfriends, too. Men who had children should want to live with them, not someone they shouldn't be with anyway. Mum saying Dad could go didn't make it right, either.
Andrew and Kirsty refused point blank to be around Lawrie's new home or Elspeth. She must know you shouldn't go out with men who were married, especially when they'd bairns. What if Dad married Elspeth? wailed Kirsty. Cinderella might be her favourite story but she didn't want a wicked stepmother.
Andrew was surprised to find himself hating the wonderfully supportive Robbie almost as much as Lawrie and Elspeth. His cousin's belated birthday present was a darts set. His own - fifteen days after he'd turned eight as well - was his parents divorcing.
Robbie knew how to deal with everything but never had to deal with anything. By day he did brilliantly at school, where he'd also been voted captain of the green house. Robbie had always wanted to be in that one because it had Hibs' colours. Andrew had shared that wish but ended up in blue.
By night Robbie went back to a house he wanted nothing more from. The perfect family life was already there. But then everything fell Robbie's way, didn't it? "Didn't it just!" the adult Andrew heartily agreed aloud.
Including carpets of snow that killed him at 28, you self pitying sod. The thought seemed to literally sicken Andrew as he felt the sickness rising again. Its violence brought him to his knees and doubled up his emptied stomach.
However, Andrew's failed attempt to stand showed the pain was even worse down his right side. Appendicitis, he realised - then with even more horror that both phones were in the lounge.
He forced himself down the staircase by sitting on each step, At the bottom he lay against the wall, gasping with agonised exhaustion and dripping with sweat. "For fuck's sake!" Andrew yelled at the mobile insistently ringing yet again. "I'm doing my best to get to you!"
It was a best brilliantly done. Andrew managed to crawl through a crushing pain barrier to within arm's reach of the coffee table. Then in a split second finish to his marathon, he collapsed unconscious with a lingering, tortured scream.