A Debt of Honour – Episode 05

Shauna and her children and Neil, the man she is searching for. The main characters from A Debt of Honour

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Charlie always claimed that Ellie got all the brains, and he had been forced to settle for good looks.

But Ellie was as lovely as she was bright. The perfect daughter, and the apple of her dad’s eye.

Shauna sighed. She had done her remembering and her grieving. She wasn’t going to go there again.

The bumps over the Alps were relatively minor.

By now Shauna felt like a seasoned flier – and an impatient one.

The land below disappeared under thick grey cloud. Welcome back to rainy Europe.

Shauna swallowed the lump of emotion that rose in her throat.

Eventually the seatbelt signs came on, suggesting that the descent was about to begin.

Her heart beat faster still.

Foolishly, Shauna had thought the descent would only take minutes from start to finish.

She hadn’t factored in that dropping from 40,000 feet took time.

Shauna glanced at her watch, which was several time zones out of sync.

She’d no idea what time it was – other than this was technically the evening of the same day she had taken off in early morning, back in Australia.

Her body clock was in chaos, from unwanted meals at odd times and too much coffee.

The stewardesses made their final check through the plane, then moved quickly forward to their own seats.

Then the clouds swirled up past the windows and the plane began to get knocked about by the air currents.

The bumping seemed to go on for ever.

Then they broke through beneath the cloud and Shauna could see the tiny houses and roads of Scotland.

At first the picture in the window was almost stationary, but then the ground got closer and closer and began to speed up and flash beneath them.

The big plane touched down light as a feather, then the brakes slammed on and the engines howled into reverse, throwing everyone forward against their seatbelts.

As abruptly as it had happened, the braking ended and they were trundling slowly along a runway in the near-dusk, the runway lights dazzling.

She had made it. She was back in Scotland.

Tears began to trickle down Shauna’s cheeks.

Back to meet Ellie, who had only been a stream of cheerful e-mails for the last three years – too busy to come home.

Even though, for once, there had been enough money to bring her home almost as often as Shauna would have liked.

Shauna was back where it had all started, before everything had gone wrong.

Now it was her job to do what she could to put things right again.

Her mum looked so small, Ellie thought. And, for the first time ever, she seemed fragile and drained.

Pushing through the ring of waiting people, Ellie ran to meet her.

A lovely smile lit up her mother’s face as she dropped her luggage higgledy-piggledy on the airport floor, and opened her arms to greet Ellie.

Finally, they held each other at arms’ length, while Calum gathered up the bags and headed for the exit, keeping out of their way.

“You look so tired,” Ellie said.

“What time is it?” Shauna asked.

“My watch is set for back in the Middle East . . . and my mind feels like it’s been left in India.”

“It’s quarter to nine. We’ll have you back home by ten.

“We can leave your cases at the hotel and walk to mine for a cup of tea.”

“Real Aussie tea?” Shauna asked hopefully.

“Strong enough to rot the spoon.” Ellie smiled. “Was it a good trip?”

“Yes, I guess so,” Shauna said. “But it seemed to go on for ever.

“I honestly can’t believe this is still the same day I set out . . . that feels like a week ago.”

She clutched her handbag closer.

They waited by the entrance until Calum came back.

“There’s no chance I’ll find my way back to where he parked,” Ellie said cheerfully.

“You know what my sense of direction is like. He won’t be long, then we’ll get going.”

To Shauna’s relief, Calum was back within ten minutes.

“Who is Calum, exactly?” she said quietly to Ellie as they followed him to the car park.

“He’s my friend, so take that look off your face. He volunteered to bring his car through and collect you.

“Actually, I must e-mail Charlie and tell him that we’ve picked you up.”

“A friend, eh?” Shauna mused.

Ellie avoided her gaze as they climbed into the car.

Leaving the motorway at the Keir roundabout, they doubled back to Bridge of Allan.

Calum stopped outside the hotel, and silently went round to the boot and lifted out Shauna’s luggage.

When Ellie took the bags and case from him, he saluted, touching an invisible chauffeur’s cap. Then he turned back to his car and drove away.

I’ll kill him, Ellie thought, smiling. That’s what close friends can do: they know exactly which buttons to press to wind you up.

“He’s nice,” Shauna said. “But very quiet.”

“He’s shy,” Ellie said. “But a really nice guy.”

Shauna headed wearily to the hotel’s reception desk, collected her room keys and climbed the stairs on legs which felt as if the bones had been removed.

They dumped her luggage in a corner of the small, neat single room.

“Quick!” Shauna croaked. “Get me a cup of Aussie tea, before I drop.”

To be continued…

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