You would be pleased to be able to call Sheila Watson, ‘Best friend’. Your secrets would be safe with Sheila, whose benevolent character embraces every person she meets. But she had come to love Esther, who had spent more time in her house than in her own when they were growing up, and it showed: “Esther! Ooh, you naughty girl,” Sheila shrieked when opening the front door. “Come in. Why didn’t you tell me you were coming? Who’s the hunk?”

       “Don’t you start” said Esther, with fake seriousness. She released her friend, and followed her in to the lounge. “Mom’s just given me the once-over. My how you’ve grown. Blonde too. This is Ricky. I met him on the flight back.”

       Sheila took Ricky’s hand, and held it for a moment. “Hmm, good handshake. Blue eyes, too. You’re a lucky man, mister.”

       “Sheila, will you stop it!” said Esther, faking again. “It’s not like that. Ricky’s a gentleman and a friend.”

       Sheila screwed up her nose and narrowed her eyes. “Aah, friend is it? And where d’you live, mister nice guy?”

       “Birmingham,” said Ricky, immediately taken by Sheila’s friendly attitude. Her searchingly pretty, hazel and green eyes locked with his. “Did you hear that, Esther?” she said, mysteriously. “Bit of a detour, wouldn’t you say?”

       “Take no notice of her, Ricky. It’s her hormones, she’s broody,” said Esther, giving Sheila a nudge in the back. Then, returning Sheila’s hug, she said, “It’s lovely to see you. How’s your mom and dad?”

       “Mom…? Oh, you must have picked that up in America. I like it, I think.” Sheila frowned as she considered the word. Finally, she said, “I hope you don’t say ‘Have a nice day,’ though. I don’t much care for that. Mum and Dad? They’re out shopping. They just keep going, thank God. Are you okay? You look a bit peaky to me. I’ll make you a hot drink.”

       Just for a moment, Ricky, who had been enjoying the girls’ reunion, saw an icy look on Esther’s face. He half expected her to break down like she had on the plane, but she kissed Sheila on the cheek, and said, “I’m fine, thanks. Jet lag, I expect.”

       “Jet lag.” Sheila said it with a sigh, motioning Esther and Ricky to sit down. “I wish someone would fly me away somewhere.


Later that night, while drifting off to sleep, Sheila thought about Esther: So glad you came back. I’ve missed you. Mind you, looks like I’m going to be the only virgin left now.