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The Casual Vacancy, Page 40

J. K. Rowling

Part Five Chapter II



  'Brace yourself,' teased Howard Mollison at midday on Saturday. 'Mum's about to post the results on the website. Want to wait and see it made public or shall I tell you now?'

  Miles turned away instinctively from Samantha, who was sitting opposite him at the island in the middle of the kitchen. They were having a last coffee before she and Libby set off for the station and the concert in London. With the handset pressed tightly to his ear, he said, 'Go on. '

  'You won. Comfortably. Pretty much two to one over Wall. '

  Miles grinned at the kitchen door.

  'OK,' he said, keeping his voice as steady as he could. 'Good to know. '

  'Hang on,' said Howard. 'Mum wants a word. '

  'Well done, darling,' said Shirley gleefully. 'Absolutely wonderful news. I knew you'd do it. '

  'Thanks, Mum,' said Miles.

  Those two words told Samantha everything, but she had resolved not to be scornful or sarcastic. Her band T-shirt was packed; she had had her hair done and she had bought new heels. She could hardly wait to leave.

  'Parish Councillor Mollison then, is it?' she said, when he had hung up.

  'That's right,' he said a little warily.

  'Congratulations,' she said. 'It's going to be a real celebration tonight, then. I'm sorry I'm missing it, actually,' she lied, out of excitement at her imminent escape. Touched, Miles leaned forward and squeezed her hand.

  Libby appeared in the kitchen in tears. She was clutching her mobile in her hand.

  'What?' said Samantha, startled.

  'Please will you call Harriet's mum?'


  'Please will you?'

  'But why, Libby?'

  'Because she wants to talk to you, because,' Libby wiped her eyes and nose on the back of her hand, 'Harriet and I've had a big row. Please will you call her?'

  Samantha took the telephone through to the sitting room. She had only the haziest idea who this woman was. Since the girls had started at boarding school she had virtually no contact with their friends' parents.

  'I'm so desperately sorry to do this,' said Harriet's mother. 'I told Harriet I'd speak to you, because I've been telling her it's not that Libby doesn't want her to go . . . you know how close they are, and I hate seeing them like this . . . '

  Samantha checked her watch. They needed to leave in ten minutes at the latest.

  'Harriet's got it into her head that Libby had a spare ticket, but didn't want to take her. I've told her it's not true - you're taking the ticket because you don't want Libby going alone, aren't you?'

  'Well, naturally,' said Samantha, 'she can't go alone. '

  'I knew it,' said the other woman. She sounded strangely triumphant. 'And I absolutely understand your protectiveness, and I would never suggest it if I didn't think it would save you an awful lot of bother. It's just that the girls are so close - and Harriet's absolutely wild about this silly group - and I think, from what Libby's just told Harriet on the phone, that Libby's really desperate for her to go too. I totally understand why you want to keep an eye on Libby, but the thing is, my sister's taking her two girls, so there would be an adult there with them. I could drive Libby and Harriet up together this afternoon, we'd meet up with the others outside the stadium and we could all stay overnight at my sister's place. I absolutely guarantee that my sister or I will be with Libby at all times. '

  'Oh . . . that's so kind. But my friend,' said Samantha, with a strange ringing in her ears, 'is expecting us, you see . . . '

  'But if you still wanted to go and visit your friend . . . all I'm saying is there's really no need for you to attend, is there, if somebody else is with the girls? . . . And Harriet's absolutely desperate - really desperate - I wasn't going to get involved, but now it's putting a strain on their friendship . . . '

  Then, on a less gushing note, 'We'd buy the ticket from you, of course. '

  There was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide.

  'Oh,' said Samantha. 'Yes. I just thought it might be nice to go with her - '

  'They'd much prefer to be with each other,' said Harriet's mother firmly. 'And you won't have to crouch down and hide among all the little teenyboppers, ha ha - it's all right for my sister, she's only five foot two. '