On the train, Grace thought about everything that had happened over the course of just a few short weeks. She gazed at the view as the train sped on it's way. She felt no sadness at leaving everything behind. She needed to get away, and she needed a break from Shelley. The only person she knew she would miss was Jennie. It wouldn't be the same not seeing her at school every day, but at least they would be able to talk on the telephone.
Grace caught a taxi from the station to the address Vahn had given her. She was excited, but she was also scared and she could feel butterflies in her stomach dancing around. Grace knocked on the blue front door, a suitcase in each hand. A woman answered it, and Grace knew she was Vahn's mother immediately. She could tell by her eyes, the way they shone with kindness, just as Vahn's did.
"You must be Grace! You're every bit as beautiful as Vahn said you are." The woman hugged Grace to her, and Grace, surprised, hugged the woman back. "Come along in." She led Grace through to the living room, telling her to leave her cases in the hall on the way. "Sit down, dear." She motioned for the sofa, and Grace sat.
"Thank you so much for inviting me up here," Grace said, smiling. She wasn't sure what to call the woman. She was no longer married to Thomas, so she wouldn't be using his name anymore. Had she gone back to her maiden name?
"You can call me Sandra," she said, as if she could read Grace's mind. "There's no need to thank me, anyway. Vahn can't stop talking about you, you know. He's told me everything that's happened, and there's nothing else I can do but offer you a place in my home." Grace smiled, but she felt a little uncomfortable knowing that Sandra knew about the past few weeks. "How was the train journey?" Sandra asked.
"It was OK," Grace replied.
"I should have sent Vahn to pick you up," Sandra said. Vahn had offered to take the day off college to come and collect Grace, but she hadn't allowed this, and insisted she find her own way there.
"I quite like trains really. I remember my dad taking me on one to the seaside once. He kept it a secret, and didn't tell us where we were going until we were almost there." Grace wanted to laugh at the happy memory, but she couldn't bring herself to. Instead, her mind had returned to all the bad things which had taken place between her father and herself.
"Don't worry," Sandra said. "I experienced something similar to you myself. When I was a little girl, my uncle abused me. I got over it in the end, as I'm sure you will too. And if being here with Vahn and myself helps you to heal quicker, that'll be wonderful. Vahn may be a good listener, but he might not quite understand all that you're feeling. I'm here if you ever need to chat." She smiled at Grace, and the smile was completely infectious, giving Grace no choice but to smile back.
"So you must know how I'm feeling?" Grace asked. Sandra nodded. "My mum doesn't understand," Grace said. "She just tries to control me, to try and make me feel how she thinks I should be feeling."
"None of that happens here," Sandra replied. "If you're feeling low, all you need to do is say so. You seem like a lovely girl, too nice to experience such hurt. And as for Vahn, he clearly dotes on you." Grace giggled.
"I'm so lucky to have him," she said. "I don't know what I would have done without him these past few weeks. It's been so hard not being able to see him whenever I want to."
"He hasn't quite been himself, either. You know how happy he usually is. He's been moping around a bit, you know? Missing you. He cried in my arms the night he got back here. He was like a little boy again, instead of a twenty-year-old man. He was so worried about you, and so scared for you. He really loves you."
"I know," Grace said, blushing. "I love him too. I don't know where I'd be without him."
"It's so fantastic to know that my son has found someone he truly loves," Sandra said, and Grace couldn't help loving her approach to everything. It was the complete opposite to how Shelley had taken everything. Sandra didn't care that Vahn was Grace's stepbrother, so long as he was happy.
"You don't mind the fact that he's my stepbrother?" Grace asked. Sandra shook her head, and told Grace that love was always the most important thing.
"Vahn's going to be back from college any minute," Sandra said. "I'd better turn the oven on. You know how men get when they have empty stomachs!" Smiling broadly, Sandra left the room. "Do you like pizza?" she called a moment later. "I was going to do something special for you tonight, to welcome you, but I was getting the house tidy and your room ready and I ran out of time. I thought if I made some pizza, you and Vahn can just watch a film and relax with it. I'm going to see my friend tonight, so you can have the house to yourselves."
"That's really nice of you," Grace said, knowing that she was probably only going out to give herself and Vahn some space. "It's only been a couple of weeks, but it feels as though I haven't seen Vahn for a lifetime." Sandra came back into the room with a chequered tablecloth which she spread over the coffee table.
"He said the same thing about you this morning. I swear, every time he opens his mouth, it's obvious what's going to come out. Grace this, Grace that. I don't know," she shook her head, laughing. "He was trying to describe you to me because he doesn't have a photograph of you, and I must say he did a very good job. You're quite the pretty young lady." Grace would normally have been embarrassed at this, but she smiled. Sandra was certainly good at making her feel at home, so Grace was hardly shy at all.
Grace had tried not to dress up too much for her arrival, but she took care to see that she looked nice, wearing smart jeans and a lilac blouse, with a silver locket she'd had since she was a small child.
"Vahn looks like you," Grace said, out of nowhere. He did have his mother's infectious smile, her easygoing nature.
"Speak of the devil," Sandra said, nodding outside, and went back into the kitchen. Grace glanced out of the window in time to see a car pull up outside, and Vahn step out of it. She opened the front door, and tore down the path. Half laughing and half crying, she flung herself into Vahn's arms.