"Lynda, I'm off now."
No response from the dark curly head bent over a rewrite, red pen in hand.
Louder this time. "Lynda? I'm off."
The head didn't look up. "Fine. See you tomorrow."
Sarah groaned. "Lynda, I won't be in tomorrow! I'm off on holidays for a week. You know that! I wrote it in your diary. I raised it at the last staff meeting. I sent a memo to all staff. I stuck it on a Post-It on the operations board. I wrote it on the whiteboard. I even made a note of it - " she snatched up her friend's hand " - here!"
Lynda snatched her hand back which had SARAH'S LAST DAY TODAY scrawled on it. "Fine. Have fun."
"Lynda . . ." began Sarah warningly. "Don't do this . . . !"
"No, it's fine," said Lynda. "It's perfectly, completely, totally fine. You have a nice relaxing time in Blackpool."
"Brighton," corrected Sarah through clenched teeth. "We're going to Brighton."
"A nice relaxing time in Blackpool," continued Lynda as though she hadn't heard. "And we'll just muddle through one of our busiest weeks, with our bumper school holiday special edition and training up the new kids starting on the graduate program without our best Features writer."
"We've. Been. Through. This."
"I mean, it's not like Blackpool is the end of the world," Lynda mused. "After all, they have telephones there, don't they? Maybe even a library with a computer? Certainly a postal service if you were to - let's say - get bored and want to write a little something to send home?"
"I am not writing on my holiday, Lynda! Nothing! Not a word! I won't even sign my name on a credit card receipt. That's how much I am not writing!"
Lynda gave her the infuriatingly calm stare she was famous (and feared) for. "Right. Well, I suppose we're now clear on that point."
"I know I am," replied Sarah, in as firm a voice as she could manage. "Right. Well, I'm leaving. And don't you dare do the 'go ahead, everyone else is' line either. I've had enough! I'm not going to university, I'm not leaving for good, I'm going on one weeks' holiday and it's starting now!"
Lynda's answer was to uncap her red pen and start slashing away at her work, effectively dismissing Sarah from the conversation. Rolling her eyes, Sarah returned to her desk, picked up her satchel and headed for the double doors.
"Well, bye then," she muttered as she was about to push through.
"Sarah! Are you off, then?" Colin called.
"Yes, Colin. See you in a week."
"A week?" Colin looked confused. "Why? Where are you going?"
The rest of the newsteam looked up in surprise.
"Are you on holidays, Sarah?" asked Sonya.
"Where are you off to? Somewhere nice?" asked Frazz.
The newsroom exchanged uneasy glances as Sarah let out a loud frustrated noise somewhere between a scream and a moan and banged through the double doors.
"She should've let us know," said Kate. "We could have had a drink with her or something after work, see her off."
"Does Sarah even drink?" asked Sonya.
Kate shrugged. Sonya shrugged back and they returned to their work.
"Dad, you can overtake now, it's clear," Sarah said from the back of her parents' Renault.
"No rush," replied Norman Jackson, vaguely.
"But we've been sitting behind this tractor for ages. It's only doing 20 miles an hour!"
"We've got plenty of time," replied her father. "Are there any more sandwiches?"
"I'll get you one, dear," replied his wife, digging through a refrigerated cooler bag. "Here's a cucumber one. Will that do?"
"Mmm," replied Norman.
"That's my cucumber sandwich," remarked Sarah petulantly.
"There's another one here," said Edith Jackson after handing the cucumber version to her husband, who chomped into it absent-mindedly. She passed back the other wrapped sandwich to Sarah.
"This isn't cucumber, it's corned beef and mustard pickle. I hate corned beef."
"Well, you'll just have to go without then, dear. You should have thought of that when we were packing."
"I did think of it! I made myself a cucumber sandwich which Dad has just eaten!"
"Don't shout, please, Sarah."
The tractor in front of them turned off the motorway.
"Can we stop at the next services please?" she asked.
Her father checked her watch. "Is that the time? We're supposed to be there by seven. Sorry, dear. You'll have to wait."
They arrived at the Victorian-era hotel shortly before seven that evening. Sarah rushed into the lobby of the hotel with her backpack as her parents placidly unloaded their suitcases despite the howling wind and rain whipping around them.
"Excuse me, can you tell me where the loos are, please?" she asked the woman at the front desk.
The woman regarded her with a bleary stare through eyes caked in a violent shade of blue, reminiscent of one of Colin Mathews' more lurid suits.
"Loos are for guests only," she said. "Sorry."
"I am a guest," said Sarah. "I'm staying here with my parents, they're out at the car."
The woman shrugged. "How do I know that you won't use the loos and then tick off? You're not checked in so you're not a guest yet. Can I 'elp you?"
Speechless, Sarah turned to find a guy about her own age standing behind her. He wore a brightly coloured Stussy shirt, baggy jeans and braided friendship bracelets on both wrists.
"Hi, would it be possible to get a single room for a few nights?"
"Hang on!" Sarah interrupted. "Look, excuse me. I am checking in. The name is Jackson. One double room, one single room."
The woman sighed. "Confirmation number?"
"I don't know. My parents . . ."
"Then you'll have to wait." She turned her attention back to the man, who was looking uncomfortable at being caught up in the altercation. "One single room? Ah yes, I can help you out there. Fill this out please?" She pushed over a card and he began scribbling on it as she flicked through a rack of keys.
"Room 207," she said, handing him the key.
"Thank you." He shouldered his rucksack and headed towards the staircase.
Sarah tapped impatiently on the desk, peering out into the forecourt to see her parents seemingly deliberating over bringing in the road atlas. Finally, they came into the lobby, dripping wet and started peeling off their outer garments.
"Can we check in, please?" Sarah asked. "Apparently, I'm not allowed to use the facilities until I'm a guest."
"Confirmation number?" asked the woman behind the desk.
"Errr . . ." Edith began rummaging through her handbag. "It's in here somewhere. I think it has a 3 in it. Norman, dear, do you have the confirmation number?"
Sarah's father patted his pockets thoughtfully.
"Don't think so, dear. Didn't you put it in your day planner?"
Sarah watched in growing frustration as her mother flipped carefully through the pages of her day planner.
"Oh, here it is. Yes, I was right. It does have a 3 in it."
"Perhaps you could tell the woman the whole number?" Sarah asked.
"Of course!" Edith smiled at the woman behind the front desk. "It's 49372."
"How many rooms?"
"One double and one single."
The woman checked her listings. "Oh, now there's a pity. We've just given away our last single room."
"What?" Sarah asked. "How could you give away a room that had been booked?"
The woman shrugged. "It's tourist season, we're fully booked. The best I can do for you is a family room. One double, one single bed."
"What??" Sarah repeated in a squeak.
"Oh, that will be fine," her mother replied, pleasantly. "Thank you."
"It will not be fine! I don't want to share a room with my parents!"
"Sarah, please lower your voice. You're shouting."
"Of course I'm shouting! 'What did you do on your summer holidays, Sarah?' 'Oh, spent a week trapped in a room with my Mum and Dad!"
"We won't be in the room the whole time, dear," said her father. "It's just for sleeping. We'll be fine."
Sarah rolled her eyes to the ceiling and took a deep breath.
The woman handed over a key. "Here you are. Room 222. And the loos are down that corridor, to your left," she said to Sarah.
"Thank you," muttered Sarah out of habit and as her parents began the arduous process of gathering up their belongings, she quickly hurried down the corridor towards the toilets.
The bathroom had seen better days, some time around the 1940s. Sarah ignored the chipped tiles, cigarette scars and wonky latches and sat down in a cubicle. After she had finished, she reached for the toilet paper and rattled the empty dispenser fruitlessly.
Her scream could be heard in the lobby where her parents were still wondering whether to make two trips up the stairs or carry everything at once.
After remembering the fortunate inclusion of a pack of tissues in her backpack, she eventually arrived up at the room where her parents were already busying themselves making cups of tea.
"There you are! We were starting to think you'd fallen in," her mother said. "Tea?"
"No, thanks," Sarah muttered and threw her backpack onto the single bed.
"We thought we'd stop in tonight," her father said. "Not hungry after all those sandwiches."
"Well, I'm hungry," said Sarah. "There's a fish and chip shop down the street. I'm going to pop out and get something."
Her mother frowned. "Fish and chips? Hardly a nutritious choice, dear."
"Well, staying in here isn't good for my health either," mumbled Sarah and left.
On the way down the stairs, she encountered the guy who had been signing in at reception.
"Hi there!" he said cheerfully. "That woman at the front desk was a bit of a dragon, eh? Get checked in alright?"
"No, actually," snapped Sarah. "You took my single room and now I'm sharing with my parents."
The guy looked startled. "Oh, hey, I'm sorry. I didn't know. It's just that I'm on a tight budget and this was the only place - "
"Forget it," replied Sarah, curtly.
"My name's Matt, by the way," he said, undaunted. "Matt Prince."
"Hi Sarah," he said, shaking her hand. "Are you heading out? I was just going up to the fish and chip shop."
"I suppose you were going to get the last piece of fish before I got there?" she replied, half-jokingly.
"You too? Let me treat you to fish and chips, it's the least I can do."
"The very least," Sarah agreed. "If you knew my parents, you'd know that sharing a room with them is worth lobster, caviar and bird's nest soup rather than fish and chips but I appreciate the circumstances aren't conduscive at this point."
"So it's a date?"
"It is," she agreed and they walked through the lobby. The woman who had checked them in had been replaced by a bored and sullen-looking teenager who was flipping through the latest issue of Smash Hits.
"So where are you from, Sarah?" asked Matt as they sat in a scarred Formica booth, sharing fish and chips.
"Norbridge," replied Sarah. "West of London."
"And what do you do there?"
"I'm a writer. I work for a newspaper."
"Really?" Matt looked impressed. "What's that like? Lots of old crusties calling the shots?"
Sarah laughed. "Not at all. It's actually a newspaper for young people. It was started while we were at school for kids who needed an outlet, you know? Whether it was creative or challenging or just to keep them out of trouble. And it was successful and then it went commercial, run to make a profit. We pretty much run it ourselves with a bit of input from our parent paper, the Gazette. Not much though."
"Fantastic!" Matt looked genuinely impressed. "Something I could have used back in the day. Keep me on the straight and narrow, you know."
"So if you're not on the straight and narrow, are you on the swerving and wide?" Sarah asked, slightly nervously.
"The famous gap year," replied Matt. "Just swanning around, travelling, doing a bit of this and that. I'm down here for a rave, actually. Tomorrow night."
"A rave?" Sarah looked faintly appalled. "You mean gathering with 3000 other people, all in various stages of drug-related euphoria, in a muddy field somewhere listening to ear-blistering electronic noise, wearing fluffy trousers and dancing like seizure patients?"
"Oh, so you've been to one?"
Sarah grinned in spite of herself. "No, can't say I have. As you can probably see, I'm not really the raving type."
"Ah, that's where you're wrong, Sarah. You should give it a go, you might enjoy yourself."
"I don't know that I'm an 'enjoying myself' type either!"
"You should come with me, it will be great. Have you heard of Norman Cook? He's brilliant, he'll be playing."
"I don't know . . ." Sarah dabbed at grains of salt from the table with her finger. "I'm just not - I mean, I don't even have anything to wear."
"Were you planning on spending your whole holiday down here in what you've got on?" Matt asked.
Sarah blushed. "No," she mumbled. "I just don't have anything suitable for a rave, that's all."
"It's not there's a dress code," replied Matt, grinning. "Jeans? Trainers?"
Sarah nodded. "Well, the trainers are a bit - "
Later that night, Sarah returned to the room she was sharing with her parents who had long since retired for the evening. Undressing in the bathroom, she switched off the light and felt her way across the room towards her single bed.
The bedside light snapped on.
"Sarah! Why are you stumbling around in the dark?"
"Sorry," said Sarah, rubbing her barked shin. "I was trying not to wake you."
"Well, take your torch next time, if you're going to be late," her mother said.
"I will," she mumbled, climbing into bed. "Oh, and Mum?"
"I think I'll go out tomorrow night. I've met a friend."
Sarah saw Matt at breakfast the next morning.
"Hi there!" he said. "All set for tonight?"
"I suppose so," she said. "What time will we leave?"
Matt shrugged. "I'm one of those sticklers that like to get there early. Say, midnight?"
"Midnight?" asked Sarah loudly and then reduced her voice to a more acceptable level. "I mean, the night's nearly over by then!"
"Wrong! It's just beginning. Here's the deal. We sleep until say, 11pm, get up, get dressed and head out!"
"But my parents - they won't - I can't just waltz out at midnight? What time would I be home?"
"Depends how good the party is," grinned Matt. "I don't expect to be back before breakfast but that's me."
"Look, maybe I'm just not cut out for this kind of thing . . ." Sarah began.
"Come on, Sarah, live a little. You're on holidays!"
"Sarah?" It was her father, looking puzzled at the toaster. "Can you tell me how to toast my bread? It's not like the one we've got at home."
"In a minute, Dad," she called.
"So, are you in?" Matt asked.
"Sarah? Can you help, please?"
"Great! See you in the lobby at midnight." Matt clapped her on the back and trotted out of the breakfast room.
"No! I mean . . ."
Too late, he had already gone. Sarah turned her attention to her father.
"How can I help, Dad?"
She trailed along behind her parents as they ambled down the street, poking in and out of antique shops.
Resolving not to be any more petulant than she could possibly help, she dutifully admired the lamp shades, croquet mallets and costume jewellery her mother would show her while her Dad dug gleefully through boxes of old records.
"Oh, look, Oxfam," she said eventually. "I'll meet you in there, okay?"
"Fine, dear," her mother said distractedly as she sorted through a box of glassware.
Sarah stepped inside the Oxfam shop and the bell above the door tinkled happily. She intended to head straight for the bookshelf at the back but a rack of t-shirts caught her eye. Flipping through them, she came across a purple long sleeved top with a print of animals making the letters of the alphabet.
She took it up to the counter. "I'll take this one, please."
"Oh, this is cute. 2 pounds, thanks, love," said the girl behind the counter, running her hand through her short, spiky hair. "Down here for the rave, are you?"
"Err, well, not specifically, but yes, I think I am going," said Sarah, handing over her money.
"You all sorted?"
"Yeah, just the top, thanks," Sarah replied.
"No, I mean . . . are you sorted?" the girl asked with emphasis.
Sarah wasn't entirely sure what she meant but decided to cover off on all bases. "Yes, I have a friend taking care of me."
"Oh, brilliant. Yeah, we all need someone to lean on every now and then!" She laughed. "Well, I might see you there, yeah? Peace."
"Um, yeah. Peace." Sarah gathered up her bag and headed out of the shop.
She could see her parents in the antique shop, peering into glass cases and pointing. Further up the road was a chemist, a newsagency and a hairdresser's.
Sarah fingered her ponytail thoughtfully. She'd never really bothered about her hair, it hadn't changed since first year. Maybe doing new things meant it was time for a change.
She stuck her head into the antiques shop.
"Mum? I'll be in the hairdresser's, alright?"
"It's so short!" her mother wailed. Sarah touched the spiky crop tentatively.
"Do you like it?" she asked.
"You look like a boy!" sobbed her mother.
"Oh, come on, Edith, she doesn't look like a boy," said her father. "I think it's very . . . interesting. Very modern."
"Thanks, Dad. And look, Mum, now you can see my earrings better. Remember the ones you bought me from the craft fair? See? Look nice, don't they?"
Her mother sniffed.
"Your head will get cold."
"I can buy a hat. They had some nice ones at the craft fair. Moroccan ones, with embroidery and little mirrors."
"And where are you going tonight? You haven't said."
"To a party, Mum."
"The friend I met yesterday."
"Yes. As it turns out, err - he's a cousin of Lynda's."
"Lynda Day? I didn't know she had relatives down here."
"Me either," replied Sarah, truthfully. "But it's a small world."
"Well, I . . ." her mother faltered and looked at her Sarah's father for support.
"Let her go, Edith. We'll be in bed by 9pm anyway after the day we've had!"
"One more thing," said Sarah. "It's a, errr - midnight feast."
"A midnight feast?" repeated her mother.
"Yes, sort of an Enid Blyton thing, you know. So I'll have a little nap beforehand and he'll meet me downstairs at midnight and we'll go off to the party."
"Well, it sounds very . . ."
"Exciting," interjected her father.
"I suppose," said her mother. "Well, what about dinner? Surely you're not going to wait until midnight and then fill up on biscuits?"
"There's an Italian down the road that looks nice," suggested Sarah. "Why don't we try it out?"
Her alarm went off under her pillow. Sarah fumbled for it and sat up slightly disorientated. Why was she getting up in the dark? As consciousness seeped in, she remembered - she was off to a rave of all things. Sarah Jackson at a rave party! What would Lynda say?
Using the light from her alarm clock, she stole into the bathroom and got changed into the purple alphabet top, jeans and her conservative white trainers. Her reflection caught her unaware in the mirror - the short hair was taking a bit of getting used to - but it was so easy to style! A small blob of mousse, the craft fair earrings and she was tiptoeing out of the room and down the creaky stairs.
The reception area was unattended so she sat in one of the cracked leather seats to wait for Matt who came bounding down the stairs soon after. Sarah was relieved to see he was not wearing fluffy trousers or a reflective safety vest.
"Hey, great hair!" he said.
"Really?" asked Sarah, ducking her head shyly.
"Yeah! It really suits you. Do you always get your hair cut when you go on holidays?"
"Nope, first time. I'm doing a lot of things for the first time today!"
"Brilliant." Matt whipped a disposable camera out of his pocket, slung his arm around Sarah and held it in front of them to take a photo. "I always like to document the night. This is the start. Shall we?"
They walked along the darkened streets of Brighton, Matt consulting what looked to be like a hand-drawn map on a flyer.
"Here we are," he said, eventually.
"But this is an industrial area," said Sarah. "Where is it?"
"Can't you hear it?" Matt asked. Sarah listened. There was a faint sound of bass coming from one of the buildings. They walked towards it. Apart from the guy standing on the door, stamping hands, it was hard to tell it was anything but an old warehouse.
"All right?" asked the guy at the door, stamping their hands. "Enjoy."
They entered the warehouse which was already half-full of people brightly dressed and twirling glowsticks. The music was so loud and the bass so deep that Sarah could feel it thumping against her chest.
"Want to dance?" Matt asked.
"Oh no," said Sarah. "I don't dance."
"Neither do I," grinned Matt, "I just sort of flail around wildly like everyone else. Come on, it's your night for trying new things!"
"I don't know . . ." protested Sarah.
"Come on," repeated Matt and grabbed her by the hand, leading her out onto the dance floor where people grinned at them happily. Sarah stood uncomfortably as Matt began bouncing around.
"I love this track!"
"Look, I'm just going to . . ." Sarah gestured feebly to the sidelines.
"Sarah, come on. Loosen up. Nobody's watching!"
Sighing, Sarah gave a half-hearted hop.
"Good start. Now, keep it going!"
She laughed and hopped again, then skipped on the spot.
"That's the way!" He pulled out his camera and snapped her.
The music really was infectious. Although Sarah didn't really have much exposure to electronic music, she could feel the energy behind it, building up to a crescendo. When the DJ asked the crowd to put their hands in the air, she obeyed like everyone else on the floor and soon found herself in the middle of a group of happy people all doing the same thing.
After some time, Matt stopped and wiped sweat from his brow.
"Phew! Shall we take a breather?"
"Good idea," she agreed, panting.
They sat down on a couple of crates away from the dance floor after grabbing some water from the bar.
"How on earth do you expect to keep going past breakfast?" she asked. "I'm already exhausted!"
"I'll need a bit of help," Matt admitted. From his pocket, he took a small plastic container and shook two brownish capsules into his hand. "Here, have one of these. It'll pick you up."
Sarah blanched. "I don't take drugs. Drugs are for idiots." She stood up. "Look, maybe I had better go. This really isn't my thing."
"I agree drugs are for idiots," said Matt, popping his capsule into his mouth and swallowing. "That's why I don't take them."
"Then, what . . . ?"
Matt showed her the container.
"Guarana and ginseng?" Sarah asked. "What's that?"
"Herbal stimulant," replied Matt. "100 natural, 100 legal. Available from any good health food store. In fact, you can probably get it at Boots."
"Oh," said Sarah, sitting down again, feeling a bit foolish. "Sorry."
"Did you want to try one?" Matt asked, holding the capsule out. "Seriously, it won't hurt you. It's like drinking a couple of cups of really strong coffee. No heart conditions I should know about? Not pregnant or anything?"
Sarah laughed. "No." She took the capsule from Matt and swallowed it with a slug of water. After a little while, she felt more awake, alert. Matt was right, it was like having a strong belt of coffee - something she was used to after all-nighters at the newsroom. Maybe she should put Lynda onto guarana and ginseng.
They danced into the early morning hours with occasional rests. Sarah found herself being hugged a lot by people she didn't know but kept smiling back as they grinned at her, lollipops in mouths and glowsticks waving.
The sun was rising as they left the warehouse and walked back towards the hotel.
"So, how did you like your first rave, Sarah?"
"It was great," she replied. "I mean, my ears are still ringing and I haven't jumped around like that since I was about seven, but it was great. Thanks for taking me along."
"You're welcome," Matt replied, cheerfully. "Anyway, this is it for me. Just have to pick up my bag, I'm catching an early bus to Cardiff."
"Oh!" said Sarah, feeling a pang of disappointment. "So soon?"
"Yeah, got to keep moving, you know," he replied. "But I'd like to keep in touch. What's your address?"
"Here," Sarah handed over one of her business cards. "That's supposed to say Junior Gazette by the way, not Junior Gazelle. Our finance manager got them cheap because of the spelling mistake. I hadn't got around to Tippexing that one."
"No problems," Matt pocketed the card, then leaned forward and pecked her cheek and pulled out his camera again. "Now, big grin, please. End of the evening documented. I'll send you copies. It's been nice meeting you, Sarah."
"You too," replied Sarah. "And thanks, for everything."
"What did I do?"
"I'm not sure," replied Sarah. "But I think I needed it."
A couple of weeks later, Tiddler dropped a fat envelope on Sarah's desk, addressed to Ms Sarah Jackson; care of the "Junior Gazelle".
Opening it, she found just a packet of photos, the ones Matt had taken during their night out.
Normally she hated photos of herself, but these showed a different Sarah, someone who was having fun without worry or concern.
She pulled out the last one, the two of them grinning in front of the hotel. Rummaging through her desk drawer, she found a photo frame she had received in last year's office Kris Kringle.
She slid the photo into the frame and propped it up on her desk to remind her. Always try new things.
At lunch time, she decided to go and get herself a pair of red trainers.