The rest of the evening went in a blur for Mandy, not giving her any time to stop and think about why James was acting so strangely. The Twins were the perfect distraction, as ever and her parents were so happy to see her that they too demanded her time and attention. When she could finally ask a question around their many, she managed to learn that James was finishing his final year of veterinary practise and in a few weeks should receive confirmation of being a board certified vet. Her parents were full of praise for the man, stories of his academic success were traded around the dinner table. She ignored the stirrings of jealousy she felt as her dad said how impressed he was when he had read James' papers and dissertation. He had also taken a first, which made Mandy's 2:2 run away screaming loudly.
"And now Johnny says he couldn't do without the boy, he is that good with the animals and even better with the owners." Adam continued, obvious of the kick-war that Mandy had been unwillingly dragged into below the table.
"Really? I thought you said that people didn't really like Mr Sturgess' surgery because he was so gruff towards them?"
"Mandy, I never said anything of the sort. Johnny is a perfectly polite man who simply doesn't put up with any nonsense. How many times have you seen Mr X or Mrs Y flapping their hands or ripping out their hair because Fluffy got a thorn in his paw?"
"Thousands, but rather that than someone neglecting their pet."
"Agreed but you can be sure that the only people that would avoid Johnny would be those nonsense lot."
"Who all end up coming to us, of course." Emily said, sending a look at George that told him she knew all about the kick-war and who had started it. She started to collect up the plates once her son looked suitably repentant and continued, "And Mr Hope would never be 'so gruff' towards any of the 'nonsense lot'."
Mandy giggled as her father blushed furiously, his previously condescending tone instantly dropped. "Hey, I notice Mrs Hope isn't either!"
"Of course not but I don't mind them flapping so much!" Emily's reply floated through the door to the kitchen she'd just disappeared into.
"Twins, go help mum clean up."
"What about you Mandy?!"
"Sophie, don't take that tone with your sister. It's her first night home, I think she can be excused. Go help your mother." The twins followed Emily, both grumbling and sending betrayed looks back at their older sister.
Mandy ignored them and returned to the subject of conversation she was most interested in. "So, without questioning the people skills of Mr Sturgess, James' are apparently excellent?"
"Yes, they make a wonderful team by all reports. I haven't heard Johnny so full of praise for anyone in a long time and I've known him for years. It sounded like he was going to try and convince James to stay with him, which is a shame as I'd thought he might like to come here."
"What do you mean dad?"
"Well it would be nice to know who the surgery is going to go to when your mum and I retire."
"Dad! I thought the plan was I would work here!"
Adam smiled at her, a little sad. "Surely you would miss your lions Mandz? Mrs Figg's tabbies aren't quite as exciting as Banji and Kecko love. And the last thing we want is for you to feel you had to stay here when you would really want to be out in Africa."
Mandy sat back, a little overwhelmed. She'd never really thought about Animal Ark that way. Her parents were so incredible to her that it seemed they'd always be here, rescuing the animals of Western Yorkshire, come rain, thunder or snow. But every time she returned, she noticed more grey hairs on her father's head and noticeably less of it too, more wrinkles around her mother's eyes. They were of course fit and healthy for a couple in their early fifties but suddenly the accepted idea she'd always had, that she would return and take over the surgery from her parents, seemed a far more real and daunting prospect. Did she really want to return to England? Return to the what now seemed very tame problems of mainly pets? ... She honestly didn't know if she could.
Adam was still smiling at her, apparently all of this had occurred to her parents a long time ago. She shook herself and stubbornly said, "None of that matters now, you and mum are not going to retire tomorrow."
Adam laughed. "I wish we could, we'd avoid Brunhilda Jones and her overactive terrier!"
Mandy cringed. "Honestly, what was her mother thinking with that name?"
Adam's laughter only got louder. "Probably the same thing Brunhilda was thinking when she named the terrier Napoleon!"
By the time Emily and the twins returned with apple pie in honour of Mandy's homecoming, all the tension and sadness had gone from the room as Adam and Mandy were almost crying with laughter from each other's joking names for any children Ms Jones may someday have.
The next morning Mandy was rudely awakened by the sun before she wanted to be. If she could have bargained with it, she may have complained that she had been in a different time zone the previous day and also been on a nine and a half hour flight. However, the sun is notorious for being entirely immune to the protests of just-woken-up grouches and so continued to shine quite merrily. Leaving Mandy to trudge down the stairs, decidedly un-merry.
"Morning Mandy." Emily chirped, entirely too put together and awake for Mandy to appreciate.
"Wow." George teased, "Are you sure mum? Doesn't look like the Mandy who was here last night."
"You really can't talk Rover." Mandy replied, not only using George's baby nickname to annoy him but also ruffling his already muffled hair into a birds nest.
"Maaaanddddyyyy!" he whined before Emily put down some toast in front of him which he fell upon with all the usual appetite of a nine-year-old boy in the morning, hair forgotten.
"Jet lag honey?" Emily said, smoothly sliding another two pieces in front of Mandy. "You're usually as awake as Sophie and I in the mornings."
"Uh-huh, I think so. Though, Kenya is two hours ahead of us so you'd think I'd have awaken up earlier," Mandy said, through yawns and toast. "Where is Sophie?"
"Upstairs. Apparently hair is more important than breakfast."
Mandy grinned at her mother's disapproving sarcasm just as Sophie bounced down the stairs, her black hair admittedly looking gorgeous.
"Hair is more important than breakfast mum!"
"Hmm, if you say so. Eat please."
Sophie's adorable pout never failed to make Mandy smile. In a far better mood she asked, "So, anything in particular going on today?"
"Well, your father has Napoleon to see to while I get the treat of seeing the Smythe farm horses and these two have the even more incredible treat of school!" The twins gave the customary groan. "Would you like to come with me and Ciara to the farm Mandy?"
Mandy looked blank. "Ciara?"
"Ciara Williams, our nurse, Mandy." Emily rolled her eyes while smiling fondly at her sleepy eldest daughter.
"Oh right yeah." Mandy privately thought that she couldn't be expected to remember the name of a woman she had never met and had only briefly heard about in letters. "Hm, do I know the Smythes?"
"Oh yes, you went to primary school with their daughter, Rebecca. She went to some boarding school in Scotland though, not your high school. But they are actually called Dixon-Smythe. When Judith married her husband Wendell, they didn't want to change the name of the farm but Judith did want to take his name. So they compromised by having them both!"
Mandy only half-listened to her mum's chatter about their neighbours, not recalling Rebecca Dixon-Smythe at all, probably because they hadn't seen each other since the age of eleven. Eventually she cut off the long spiel by interjecting, "Mum, mum! Yes, I'll happily come with you to the Smythe farm."
"Excellent!" the happy morning person replied before managing to put the plates in the sink, pack both protesting twins into the car for school and kiss her just emerging husband on the cheek within the space of a minute. Thirty seconds later they heard the roar of the engine as the three of them left, all before Adam had managed to take the last step off the stairs.
"Urgh." He complained as he pulled things out for his own breakfast, "Now I know where you get it from."
Mandy just winked at him, enjoying the fact that someone else disliked the early hour even more than she did.