©Sarah could hear her parents arguing already.    She hated it when they shouted at each other.

“Whose stupid idea was it that we go camping anyway? ‘ asked Fiona.    ‘And why did you book such an early ferry?

It will be wonderful, if you would only get it into your head that we are a family, said Derek.  ‘You can’t expect my parents to cope with three children every year in the holidays.    And we are catching the early ferry so we can get a good start driving to Brittany.   For goodness sake woman, get a move on’

‘James! Harry!’ Fiona shouted ‘stop that noise and get into the car.  And make sure you haven’t left anything behind.’

‘Potty little place like this, Fiona grumbled at Derek, ‘call it a Premier Inn, more like third class.   That breakfast wasn’t much good’.

It’s fine’, said Derek, totally exasperated with trying to pack their overnight bags while Fiona mooned around doing very little except complain.  ‘It’s near the Ferry Terminal, and it saved us a very long drive all in one day’.

‘Boys’, he suddenly shouted, ‘do as your mother says, stop arguing and get in the car’.

Sarah crept into their bedroom.   At six and a half years old, she could write a short story fairly neatly, could read her favourite story books, knew all her numbers and was a whizz at card games.   She also knew her mother loved her two big brothers more than her, and in fact felt Mummy didn’t really want her.   She had been told she was an accident.   She knew what an accident was, it was something that happened that wasn’t your fault, like when Freddie had knocked into her and she had spilled all the poster paints on the classroom floor.   Her beloved teacher, Mrs.Turner, had told Freddie to be more careful, and said it was an accident, and not Sarah’s fault.

So she wasn’t sure how she could be an accident.      Her two brothers were much older than her.   James was 12 and went to the big school, and Harry was in his last year at her school, both of them ignored her except telling her to buzz off when she tried to join them.

‘Oh for goodness sake, Sarah, get a move on’ grumbled Fiona when she saw her.

‘I have packed’, began Sarah, but before she could say anything else her mother gave her a shove and told her to get in the car with the boys.

‘But Mummy, I need the toilet’ said Sarah.

‘Well go then, and be quick about it’, and Fiona followed Derek out to the car, where she could see the boys chasing each other round the car park.

Sarah went into the ensuite in her parent’s room.   In the room she had shared with the boys, they had flooded the floor, and she didn’t want to get her trainers wet.   She shut the door and locked it, afraid the boys would burst in and tease her.

She carefully washed and dried her hands before she came out, to find that the door of the room was shut.   She opened it, and carrying her knapsack, ran to the car park.     Where had their car gone?   She ran round the car park, but there were only three other cars there, and none of them was theirs.

Slowly she walked back to their room, pushed the door open and sat on the unmade bed.     Obviously Mummy and Daddy didn’t want her.   They liked the boys better, and she had heard her mother say frequently that two children were OK, but a third one just made things awkward.

Sarah was wondering whether she could go her Grandparents, who loved her to bits, and where she was very happy.  Her eyes filled with tears, and Sarah lay down, clutching her bear called Tommy to her, and burying her head in the pillows. It must have been and hour or so later, though Sarah had no watch, and had no idea how the time had passed, when the door opened, and the woman who cleaned the rooms came in.

“Bożeż ty mój! ’, she exclaimed,’ I thought the room was empty!   What are you doing here’?

‘Everyone has gone without me’, said Sarah, and burst  into tears again.

Elita, who was Polish, and who missed her family very much, went over and gave Sarah a hug.

‘We will find them” she said, ‘you come along to Reception and Sandra will look after you’.

Sandra proved to be a very motherly woman, and sat Sarah on a chair behind the desk, while she phoned the Manager.   Then she went and got Sarah a drink, and a big Danish pastry.   Sarah discovered she was hungry, and tried not to get crumbs on Sandra’s desk.

The Police then arrived, in the shape of a Sergeant called Della, who asked Sarah her name and address, and getting the registration of the car from Sandra, talked into her radio to alert the Port Police.   But they soon replied  that  those passengers had not yet checked in.

Social Services then arrived, a harassed looking woman called, it seemed, Rose, who questioned Sarah as to where her Grandparents lived, and their names.     Sarah told her they were Daddy’s mummy and daddy, so had the same name, and they lived near a big castle that belonged to the Queen.   It was near a very big river that went to London, she added.

Mr. and Mrs. Watson senior were eventually contacted, thanks to the Police, and said they would drive down immediately to collect Sarah and take her home with them.    Meanwhile, Sandra agreed to look after her at the hotel, as she was due to end her shift in an hour, and could easily do so.   She had quite fallen for Sarah, who seemed such a bright little girl, and very pretty now she had stopped crying.   She found some board games and she and Sarah played happily until Mr. and Mrs. Watson senior arrived.    They had already spoken to the Police and Social Services, and willingly gathered Sarah up, saying what fun it would be to have her all to themselves.

They kept their opinions of their son and daughter-in-law to themselves until later, when Sarah had snuggled up in bed.

Chapter two

Meanwhile James and Harry of course knew that Sarah was not in the car.  How could they not know when she was always wedged into the corner while the two boys squabbled as only brothers can?   Harry, who was very like Fiona, shrugged off any responsibility and hoped that Sarah was dead, and then he could go back to being the baby of the family, and  not the boring middle child.

James, on the other hand knew he should have said before they started that Sarah was missing, but both boys were frightened of their mother’s volatile temper.   The argument between Derek and Fiona had got very acrimonious, and he was too scared to interrupt.

Tempers had flared into a bitter and vicious fight by the time they reached the Ferry Port, and when they parked, in order to check in, the two boys rapidly disappeared into the Terminal building.   Fiona and Derek hardly noticed they had gone as they locked the car and wearily made their own way to the Terminal Building.

‘God, I need a drink’ said Fiona, as she marched towards the bar.   Derek joined her, although he really wanted to get the check-in process done soon.

Harry found them there, and demanded a coke.

‘Where are James and Sarah?’ asked Derek, returning with the coke.

Dunno’ shrugged Harry after taking a long drink straight from the can.

‘Well, where did you leave them?’ asked Derek, ‘you should have stayed together.’

James suddenly appeared.   ‘Where did you go?’ he asked Harry, ‘I’ve been looking everywhere for you’.

Harry looked at Fiona.  ‘Mum, I’m ever so hungry’.

Fiona got up, ‘come on then, we’ll go and find the café.’

‘Wait a moment’, said Derek, ‘where is Sarah?’

‘You’d better go and find her’ snapped Fiona, James and Harry can come with me.   Really, that child is impossible.   She’s done this deliberately; I suppose she thinks it’s funny.   I’ll give her funny when she comes back’.

‘I’ll go with Dad’, said James quickly,   running after Derek, who had strode out of the bar.

‘Dad…..’ started James, but ‘not now, James,’   barked Derek, ‘Where did you last see Sarah?   Where did you all go?’

‘We were in the shop, but Dad……’  At that moment James’ phone rang.   James listened, his eyes filling with tears, and said ‘Dad….’ But his father snapped ‘not now James, I’ve just told you!’

‘But Dad, its Granny!’

‘Tell her I’ll phone later, come with me, don’t you go and get lost, we’d better report Sarah missing’.

James held the phone out, so that Derek could hear his mother shouting.  He took the phone

‘Yes, he growled, ‘what is it now?’

There was a very long pause.   Then Derek said ‘I see.’ And then ‘thank you, and I’ll turn my phone on.

He gave the phone back to James, and stared at him silently for a moment.

‘Sarah is with Granny and Grandad,’ he said.   ‘Did you know she wasn’t in the car?’

James went very red, and said ‘yes, but you and Mum were arguing so much we couldn’t talk to you’.

‘Come and find Mum and Harry, Derek spoke more gently, ‘and we’ll decide what to do.Harry and Fiona were in the café eating Danish pastries.     Derek sat down and looking Fiona straight in the eye said ‘Sarah was never in the car.   You left her in the bathroom’.

‘Rubbish!’ said Fiona, ‘I told her to get in the car with the boys.   That child is nothing but trouble, and if you hadn’t chosen such a ridiculously early start it would never have happened’.

‘Don’t start that again, said Derek.   ‘You and I have got to have a long talk, but not now.   Sarah is with my parents and they are happy to keep her there while we go on holiday.’

‘How did Sarah get to Windsor,’ asked Harry, ‘perhaps she hitch-hiked’ and he giggled.

‘Don’t try and be funny’ said Derek.   ‘The hotel called the Police, who got in touch with Social Services, and they managed to find Grandad’s address.   And they will be in touch with us when we return.

‘Oh my God’ Fiona wailed, ‘what did they want to involve Social Services for?   Now they will come and ask all sorts of nosey questions’.

‘They will indeed’ thought Derek, but he said instead ‘I’ll go and get checked in, if there is still time, and we can still go on holiday‘.

Fiona pulled a disgruntled face, but the boys both brightened up.   Derek checked in, and very quickly they were on board the Ferry.

‘Sarah would have liked this’, thought James as the Ferry pulled out of Portsmouth into the channel.

The boys had a great time at the camp site.    They joined up with other boys on the campsite, and despite at least 3 languages being spoken, they all made themselves understood to each other, played football, swam, and enjoyed barbecues provided by enthusiastic German parents..

Fiona lay on a sunbed on the beach all day and refused to speak to Derek.   Derek took himself off to the town, and looked round the castle and other ancient sites.    He made sure the boys knew where he was going, where Fiona was, and the Dutch and German parents of the other boys, who could see there was trouble, promised to keep an eye on James and Harry, and in fact were very kind to them, including them in meals and a couple of times, excursions.

When they got home, the acrimonious arguments started again, and Fiona and Derek soon separated bitterly.   Sarah and James stayed with their father in the family home, settled back happily in their schools and with their friends. Harry and Fiona moved to her parents, and got on everybody’s nerves.

Sarah remembered Sandra at the Premier Inn, and sent her a Christmas card, which Sandra put on her desk and kept there for many months, wondering how anyone could forget such a lovely child.

© Gillian Peall

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