When Jess was still in primary school, she'd had a friend called Laura. Laura had been older than Jess – all the kids in Jess' class were older than her, because Jess was 'advanced' and 'special', and had to be moved ahead several years – but Laura was used to younger kids because she had little sisters a bit younger than Jess. Laura had let Jess use her coloured pencils to colour in a map of Europe, and they had bonded over their love of S Club 7 and netball.
Jess used to love it when she was invited to tea at Laura's house. The best days were Sundays, when the entire family used to sit in the living room around the enormous coffee table, laden with doorstop sandwiches, bags of crisps and cakes from a packet made by Mr Kipling, and watch The Simpsons on Sky.
Jess' family didn't do that.
For a start, all meals were eaten in the dining room. No trays on laps like at Laura's house, or crowding around the coffee table. There was no tv or radio, just the sound of her mother's best china clinking delicately, and the glug of water from the Dartmouth crystal jug decanting into glasses. Jess wasn't allowed orange squash at home. She was at Laura's.
Laura's family all talked to each other, noisy and at cross-purposes. They bickered over who got the last French Fancy, refused to eat their crusts unless their father threatened to withhold their pocket money and all laughed when Homer said something stupid on TV. Jess' father always retreated behind the Sunday Times, leaving her mother to address her comments about the McKinleys from the golf club, or the state of the hydrangeas, to a wall of text.
Jess' older brothers, Richard and Christopher, weren't there a lot when she was a child – they were already away at university and only home at holidays. Then joined the navy and the air force respectively, and they were there even less. When they did come home on leave they were large and loud and unfamiliar, and Jess did her best to stay out of their way. Her sister, Anna, was seven years older than her, and had been the baby of the family, and the only girl, for seven years until Jessica arrived. Once Jess became old enough to understand her sister's reasons for being so casually cruel to her, she disliked her right back.
So family meals in the Parker household were always fraught with discreet, quiet, middle- class tension. Jess often thought longingly of Laura's house, with its noise and casual affection and cartoons.
Jess was eventually moved out of Laura's class, and then out of the school altogether as her family found her a placement at a special academy for gifted children. Jess lost touch with Laura and her family, and was left to suffer through years of Sunday afternoon teas alone. When she was allowed to live-in at university, doing her Masters at age eighteen, the first thing she did was to buy a packet of Mr Kipling Viennese Whirls and a Simpsons DVD for her first Sunday afternoon away from home.
She was still expected at her parents' home for afternoon tea every Sunday afternoon now, four thirty pm without fail. She bitterly resented the way it cut into her only guaranteed day off a week, but yet she found it impossible to say no to her parents. Well, to her mother. She got the feeling that she could say whatever she liked to her father's newspaper as he'd be too busy reading the cricket scores to hear her anyway.
Early in his marriage Robert Parker had cultivated a very peculiar and specific form of deafness, and it had been the reason the marriage had lasted as long as it had. Jess had no doubts that her father loved her very dearly, as did her mother, but his job in the civil service often meant long hours and Jess didn't really see very much of him growing up, apart from at meals. She had been enrolled on a myriad of after-school activities, and always had homework to do anyway.
In her head, when she pictured her father, Jess saw a smiling man sitting at a dinner table Sometimes, it was hard to separate man from table.
Now as an adult, every Sunday she found herself sitting at the same mahogany table in the dining room, sipping tea from delicate china, prodding a limp slice of quiche with her fork, and listening to her mother and her sister casually assassinate the characters of mutual friends and acquaintances. Eventually her mother would realise that Jess had not taken part in the conversation, and would start to interrogate her about her job and love life. As Jess couldn't say much about her job, and had no love life to speak of, it resulted in a lot of disapproving lectures about the importance of social networking from her mother, and condescending looks from Anna, who usually dragged her revolting boyfriend Jasper with her.
Jess generally got through the whole experience by gritting her teeth and imagining Anna being trampled by a brachiosaur. It would take a dinosaur that large to squash her ego.
The Sunday that Anna announced her engagement was the worst one yet. Her mother immediately burst into delicate, lady-like tears and announced how happy she was. Her father emerged from behind his newspaper long enough to peck Anna on the cheek and shake the odious Jasper's hand, then he retreated again. Jess offered her congratulations too, and dutifully admired Anna's ring.
It was everything Jess couldn't stand – large, flashy and ostentatious. The diamond was huge, standing proud from the ring, and announced that the owner had access to serious cash. Jasper kept staring at Jess, his eyes darting to the neckline of her top and then to the hemline of her skirt before he'd lick his lips.
Urgh. Jasper was an a-grade creep, and Jess had no idea what Anna saw in him other than his wallet. He was the very worst of those that worked in the City – all expense accounts and braying public school voices and a sense of smug superiority you wanted to wipe off their faces with the nearest blunt instrument. Money was Jasper's world, and he always had the latest and best of everything. All this would have been tolerable for Jess; after all, she wasn't the one that had to go out with him, thank God. But at the last family party on New Year's Eve he'd got drunk and tried to stick his hand up her skirt when she was in the kitchen, checking her email on her phone. She fought him off by sticking the spiked heel of her shoe into the hand-stitched Italian leather of his.
Something had told her that Anna wouldn't have believed her even if she had told her the truth of what happened, which just made Jess more angry and more amenable to hating Jasper's stupid, chinless face. Perhaps hacking his bank details and sending a sizable donation to a charity set up to support abused women was a little much, but it made Jess feel a hell of a lot better the situation.
"And, of course, bridesmaids! How many will you have?"
Her mother's delighted voice brought her back to the real world.
"I haven't really thought about it," Anna said, with the studied casualness of a woman who has her hypothetical wedding already planned down to the choice of font in the order of service. "But Jasper has a niece, and Richard's two are just adorable."
"How about Christopher's girl?" Jess' mother asked, keen to see all her grandchildren dolled up for the big day.
Anna's lips pursed into a moue of distaste. "She's a little young," she said eventually.
"Young!" Jess couldn't help but say. "Mum, she's five years old. She's far too young to be a bridesmaid."
"A flower girl then," her mother said decisively. "And anyway, it'll be your job to look after her."
"My job?" Jess asked, confused. "How so?"
"Because you'll be the senior bridesmaid, of course," her mother told her. "Don't be silly, Jessica."
"I'm not sure…" Jess began, but Anna interrupted her.
"Actually Jess will be one of three adult bridesmaids. I couldn't possibly be married without Tipsy and Lolly being there."
Oh God, Lolly (real name, Lauren) and Tipsy (real name, unfortunately) were the only two women on earth possibly more annoying that her sister. While Anna owned and ran a successful furniture importing and interior design business, Lolly and Tipsy, her friends since school, were predatory man-hunters, constantly on the look-out for the poor soul that would provide their financial future. By day they were temps for an office staff service that provided glossy, well-spoken women to sit on a company's front desk. By night they systematically trawled the nightclubs of upper-class London for their prey.
When Prince William had announced his engagement to Kate Middleton, they wore black for a week and threw darts at her picture before turning their sights onto Harry instead. He'd once spilled a drink on Lolly in Mahiki; it was the highlight of her life.
"So that's settled," her mother said firmly. "Jess, Lolly and Tipsy as the adult bridesmaids, Jasper's niece and Richard's two as the younger bridesmaids, and Christopher's as the flower girl."
"It is symmetrical," Anna mused.
"No it's not," Jess said to nobody in particular.
As usual, nobody listened.
Whenever Jess went to Sunday tea after that, the wedding was the only topic of conversation. Jasper, having done his bit by buying the ring and promising to turn up to the church, no longer accompanied his fiancée.
He wasn't missed by anyone.
Jess perfected a look of polite interest, and duly browsed the incredible number of bridal magazines that Anna always surrounded herself in. As neither her mother nor her sister asked her opinion about the venue, the flowers, the readings, the caterers or the dress, she needn't have bothered.
As the months went on, Anna's feeling of security in planning her wedding shrivelled up and dried out. She became the victim of the latest fad emblazoned over the magazines, and changed her mind about four times a week about every detail.
One Sunday about six weeks before the chosen date was spent writing out invitations; Modern Bride had run a piece about the importance of the personal touch at weddings, and in a panic Anna had cancelled the order with the printer and re-ordered the invitation with most of the text missing.
There were simply too many to do that Sunday; Jess took her share home, brought them into work with her, scanned a copy of her handwriting into the computer and then printed hers out. They looked handwritten, and only took her twenty minutes. A quick browse of Tipsy and Lolly's Facebook pages showed that they weren't quite so enamoured with their share of the work.
That had cheered Jess up quite well.
The choosing of the bridesmaids dresses were a major bone of contention between Jess and her sister. She simply didn't have time to go to every bridal shop in London and the home counties to try on dresses; thankfully, her cover story as being employed by the Home Office (sort of true, after all) got her out of most of her sister's flares of temper. Jess got to as many as she could fit into her lunch breaks, which was where problems started and tempers frayed.
Tipsy, Lolly and Jess all had very different ideas about what a suitable dress looked like. Tipsy sulked for days when Anna said she couldn't wear anything that hit above the knee. Jess wouldn't have minded a shorter dress, but she was wise enough to keep her mouth shut and not attract her sister's wrath. Lolly had the deep brown skin tone that wore strong colours perfectly and did not see why all three bridesmaids couldn't wear the same striking cerise. Anna refused to be followed down the aisle by three refugees from My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, which led to a three day argument on Twitter before Lolly and Anna made up again.
It also didn't help that while Anna, Lolly and Tipsy were all tall, Jess…wasn't. Some of the styles of dresses they picked out suited the long, elegant ladies perfectly, but made Jess feel like she was a little girl dressing up in an adult's clothes.
It wasn't until Anna had the spectacular wedding administration ('wedmin', in the trade) related breakdown in the florist's shop and tried to attack the woman with a bunch of callia lilies that the matter of the bridesmaids' dresses was solved at all. Finding a new florist meant that the design and make-up of the floral decorations changed. He suggested that instead of sticking rigidly to one or two colours, Anna consider a palette of harmonious colours for her flowers. This led her to the idea of having different colour dresses for her bridesmaids, to match the choices in her bouquet.
Jess would have kissed the darling man, if she had any thought that the idea might be welcomed by him. Given the surprising number of male shop assistants in very tight t-shirts he employed, she doubted it.
One Thursday, between running a full systems diagnostic on the ARC's newly-repaired wiring and co-ordinating the clean-up of a herd of hungry herbivores that ran rampant through an indignant fruit farmer's orchard, Jess managed to find a fabric shop that contained enough pale violet silk to make Jess' dress. The actual dress pattern was a compromise needed to suit all three adult bridesmaids; it actually made them all look equally bad, but Anna was happy with it. After all, the role of the bridesmaid in the modern wedding was to show how beautiful the bride was by comparison.
So, with the material delivered to the dressmaker, the invitations sorted, the cake finally selected and ordered, the flowers now taken care of, the younger bridesmaids dresses picked from Marks and Spencers and the venue eventually decided on and booked, Jess breathed a sigh of relief. Her part in organising the wedding was done. All she had to do now was make at least one fitting for her dress, turn up on the day and try not to breathe too loud a sigh of relief when the whole business was over and done with.
Never had she wanted to retreat behind a copy of The Times more.
Of course, life wasn't that simple. A mere three weeks before the wedding, at Sunday afternoon tea, Anna demanded to know the name of Jess' guest to the wedding so she could get a name-plate written for the reception afterwards.
"Guest?" Jess asked, uncertainly. "You never said anything about a guest."
"Of course you're bringing a guest," Anna said, eyeing the crumpets oozing with butter with longing, before spearing a raw carrot stick instead. "Who else will you sit next to?"
"Whoever's in the chair next to me," Jess said, nonplussed. "Anna, I don't need to bring a guest to your wedding."
"Yes you do," snapped Anna, her knuckles whitening around the fork she was holding. "Because Lolly and Tipsy are both bringing guests and if you don't bring one the whole table will be lopsided and that would be bad."
"Alright," Jess said carefully, catching her mother's worried look. "I can ask Abby to come with me; she's getting married, maybe she'll want to have a look at your lovely flowers to get some ideas…"
"It has to be a man!" shrieked Anna. "Everyone will think you're a lesbian!"
"And what's wrong with that?" Jess said, purposefully provoking her sister. She couldn't help it. That was how they always had been. "Plenty of lesbians in the world. Some of them even go to weddings."
"A man," Anna snarled. "So you match Lolly and Tipsy."
"Jessica," her mother said purposefully. "Stop antagonising your sister and tell her that you will bring a suitable male companion to the wedding."
She could hear the unspoken desperation in her mother's voice; running the business and planning the wedding was driving Anna mad. She was usually about three minutes away from a screaming fit or crying jag, and trying to stick to a non-carb diet on top of that was making her even more moody. Really, the best thing for everybody would be for Jasper to stick a potato in her mouth and elope with her to Gretna Green, but he was conspicuously absent from all wedding-related matters.
Jess sighed. It really wasn't worth it.
"I will find someone to bring to the wedding," she said. "A man," she clarified.
"He'll probably be some nerdy little computer geek," Anna sniffed, but let the matter rest.
"Actually," Jess wanted to say. "He's the man that makes David Gandy feel fat and ugly." But she didn't say it, because right then she wasn't sure that she could even find a nerdy computer geek in her little black book.
She pondered the problem the next day as she sat at the ADD and observed her readouts.
Jess didn't really date. Not much, anyway, and not often, and that was before she had started work at the ARC. Since then, her social life had pretty much ground to a halt; drinks a few times with some college friends, the odd film or a barbeque and that was it. Not much chance of meeting the man of your dreams when you spend most of your time staring a bank of screens half a mile underground.
Her few male friends from her university days were all married or in relationships. No help there. She hated the idea of going out on the pull, like Tipsy and Lolly. She just didn't have the confidence for that, or the time. In fact, the boy that delivered pizza to her flat too many times a week was probably the man she saw more often than anyone, other than her work colleagues.
As soon as she thought that, she let her eyes slide across the room to where Becker was standing with Matt, each both trying to out-alpha the other. She looked back at her screen again immediately, hoping they hadn't noticed. Not that she really cared if Matt saw that she was looking at him. No.
If David Gandy did have a rival, Jess thought, her cheeks flushing at the image, it was probably Becker. He had model good looks and a physique toned not by hours in a gym but by actually running around and being heroic. Well, running around and being heroic and hours in the gym, as the security camera feed showed.
Jess particularly liked it when he did press ups.
Jess spared a moment to think about the look of the face of Anna when Jess showed up with Becker on her arm, his sharply-cut grey morning suit showing his broad shoulders to perfection. There would be Jess with this specimen of male beauty, and there would be Anna, forever stuck with Jasper, the walking advert for retroactive contraception.
Oh, it would be bliss.
A small beeping noise from one of her screens brought her back to reality. She wouldn't be breezing into the wedding reception with Becker. He was a colleague, possibly verging on friend status, and while he would gladly put himself in front of future predators to save her life, he probably wouldn't be willing to endure hours of tedium at her sister's wedding just to make her appear like less of a loser by pretending to be her boyfriend.
Jess dealt with the alert that caused the beeping and sighed. There had to be something she could do. She needed an idea. She needed a plan. She needed…lunch.
She sat at the back of the canteen with her sandwiches and KitKat (peanut butter chunky, the vending machine gods had been kind today) and opened her little netbook computer. The idea had hit her while she was waiting at the drinks dispenser for her coffee. Whenever she had a problem, she turned to technology to solve it. No time to shop? eBay! Tired and didn't feel like cooking? Order a pizza online! Sink blocked up? Check for a plumber on Yell!
Why did finding a date for the wedding need to be any more complicated than that?
A few minutes research saw her find several internet dating sites that looked like they would do the job. She was just narrowing the choice down when Abby and Emily turned up, holding their trays.
"Fancy some company?" Abby asked, sitting down at the table anyway. "It seems like I never see you now."
Since Abby and Connor had found a flat of their own, Jess had found her own home a little too quiet. She missed having them around, even if Connor did prefer to wander around the flat in his boxer shorts and not much else.
"Sure," Jess said, pushing aside her computer. "This wedding business has calmed down a bit now, so you might actually catch a glimpse of me at lunchtimes."
"You found the right material?" Emily asked, looking at her meal with curiosity. Today the canteen workers were trying their hand at Chinese cuisine, and she was having trouble with the concept.
"Oh yes, and had my first fitting. It's going to make me look awful, but at least I'll look awful in a colour that flatters my skin tone."
"So why the annoyed face?" Abby asked, tucking into her own meal.
"Because my sister has decided that I have to bring a date to the wedding, and I haven't got anybody to ask," Jess said gloomily.
"You must have somebody," Abby said encouragingly, but Jess shook her head.
"I really don't," Jess sighed. "If this was any other occasion, I wouldn't care. But Anna's getting incredibly stressed out by the whole thing, and if her bridesmaids don't match then she's likely to self destruct."
"You could ask Becker," Abby said with a smile. "He'd go very nicely with your dress."
"He wouldn't want to go with me," Jess said nervously. "I can't ask him."
"I'm sure he would," Emily started, but Jess shook her head firmly.
"If I ask him, and he says yes, everybody there would assume he was my boyfriend. My mother would start asking embarrassing personal questions. I'd die of shame. So no, I'm not asking Becker to go to the wedding with me."
Abby started looking around the room.
"There's got to be some fit men here you could ask," she said thoughtfully. "How about Marcus the lab tech?"
"Married," Jess told her, her eidetic memory bringing up Marcus' personal file in her head. "They've just had a baby."
"Oh, I know, !"
He was the new doctor in the medical bay, and had been the focus of a lot of female attention.
"I'm not interested in being another one in a line of women," Jess sniffed.
There were other valid reasons why none of the other men either Emily or Abby suggested were viable candidates for the role of Jess' Boyfriend; already taken, gay or eaten by velociraptors pretty much excluded anybody she could consider starting a relationship with.
"I'd loan you Connor for the day, but the wedding is the same day as Collectormania and he's already getting excited about meeting Jeri Ryan," Abby commiserated.
"I couldn't stand between Connor and Seven of Nine," Jess told her, smiling. "I'd never forgive myself. Besides, I think I have a plan."
"What's that?" Emily said, accepting the fact that she'd never understand most of what her friends talked about.
"Internet dating," Jess said, sinking her teeth into her KitKat and sighing as the sugar started singing in her bloodstream.
"Seriously?" Abby asked, wrinkling her nose.
"Why not?" Jess shrugged. "I use it for everything else, why not this?"
They took some time explaining the concept of internet dating to Emily, but once she understood the process she was in favour of it.
"It makes sense to correspond with someone before you meet them in person," she said thoughtfully. "It will give you time to appreciate their character. Of course, in my time this was all handled very differently. Unmarried women were chaperoned, and potential suitors had to be approved by their parents or guardians."
Jess snorted. "I dread to think what sort of person my parents would find suitable," she said, balling up the wrapper of her chocolate bar. "Probably another Jasper."
"We could do it though," Abby said suddenly. "We could help you pick out a prospective boyfriend."
"I'm not sure…" Jess began, but Emily interrupted her.
"I helped my cousin through her Season," she said gravely. "It was with my assistance that she was able to secure a love match, even though her parents were hoping for another gentleman to marry her. Let me help you, Jess."
"You just give us time to write your personal profile," Abby said, grabbing the netbook. "We'll upload it onto a few sites and filter out anyone we don't think is right for you."
"You don't have to…" Jess began, but was waved off by an intent Abby and Emily, who were busy with the websites Jess had selected.
Sighing dubiously, Jess went back to work and left them to it. She hoped she was making the right decision.
Every time she asked either Abby or Emily about the plan in the next three days, she was politely rebuffed. All she was told was that profiles had been submitted to several sites, and they were working their way through the responses.
Jess was getting impatient. This was her idea, and she still wasn't completely confident about Abby and Emily's decision making abilities in this area. Then again, she reminded herself, Abby was engaged and Emily and Matt were…well, it was hard to put a name to it, but they had an understanding.
Still, waiting was hard.
On the fourth day they found her in the canteen and waved a large stack of paper at her excitedly. Jess eagerly pushed her fajita to one side, today's Mexican Food Day experiment not really succeeding with anybody other than the soldiers, who would eat anything put in front of them.
"Here is the first batch of successful applicants," Abby said proudly, laying them out in front of her. "I've marked the ones I like with a star."
"And the ones I like have got a little heart by them," Emily added, nudging some of her choices closer to Jess.
Jess scanned the profiles of the men that had been selected, and tried not to laugh. It was clear what had happened; both women had selected men that had qualities that they found attractive.
"I'm sorry Abby," Jess said, pushing the papers back towards her. "But I don't think these men are for me."
"What's wrong with them?" Abby demanded.
Jess pulled a face. "They're all very…typical," she said carefully. "Short, working in IT, really into their science fiction…"
"And?" Abby said, confused.
"Abby, they're all just like Connor," Jess explained.
"No they're not!" Abby exclaimed, snatching back the papers and reading them again. Her face fell as she took in the details on the profiles properly.
"Yes, they are," she groaned. "Sorry, Jess."
"That's okay," Jess said, smiling. "Connor's lovely, Abby. I can see why you think all women should have someone like him."
"Yeah, but he's not your type," Abby said, folding up her profiles. "I could tell that when we were living together. Whenever he'd wander around in his boxers, you'd just wince and pass him his dressing gown. I used to do the same with Jack."
"None of the suitors I selected are like Connor," Emily said, sounding a little smug. "Or Matt," she added, before either Jess or Abby could tease her.
Jess picked up Emily's chosen pages and scanned through them. She was right; none of the profiles reminded her of any of her colleagues. In fact, the profiles didn't even match each other. It wasn't until Jess focused on the income section that she saw the correlation.
"Emily, did you pick all these men because they make a lot of money?" she asked in disbelief.
"In my time gentlemen did not work," Emily explained. "Only the middle class. But all that is different now. Everyone seems to work. So I selected those in the highest income bracket as they would be able to provide you with the most comfortable lifestyle."
Jess and Abby sighed. While Emily had been adapting to modern life, it seemed that some attitudes were hard to break.
"I can provide myself with a comfortable lifestyle," Jess said kindly. "I don't need to pick a partner who makes a lot of money."
"Yes, but isn't it easier to be happy if you have a lot of money?" Emily asked her, raising an eyebrow.
"Not to be rude, Emily, but it didn't seem to make you happy with your husband," Jess pointed out.
"Ah, but I never got a say in choosing him," Emily said triumphantly. "You do. You can find a nice man and fall hopelessly in love, and have a lot of money at the same time"
"That is either incredibly romantic or incredibly mercenary of you," Abby said eventually. "I honestly don't know which."
Jess pushed the profiles back towards Emily.
"I don't think so," she told her. "I want to date the man, not his bank balance."
"We'll try again," Abby told her. "We'll have more for you by tomorrow."
Abby and Emily left, throwing the useless profiles into the recycling bin by the door on the way out. Jess gave up on her fajita, scraped it into the food waste bin and left a few minutes later.
Two minutes after that, Becker got up from his table just out of the women's' line of sight, rescued the abandoned pages from the recycling bin and headed to his office with a thoughtful look on his face.
A large pile of papers landed on Abby's workspace, startling her. She whirled around, the paring knife she was using to cut up food for Rex already up in a defensive position, when she realised that she was in no danger from her intruder.
"What are those?" Becker asked tightly. "And what do they have to do with Jess?"
"How did you get these?" Abby shot back, rifling through the papers. "They're private!"
"They were found in one of the recycling bins," Becker said carefully, making no mention of the fact that he was the one who had deliberately fished them out. "Anyone could have got hold of them."
"They're exactly what they look like," Abby said, going back to cutting up fruit for Rex. "Internet dating profiles."
"Oh please," Becker said scornfully. "Who uses those things, anyway?"
Abby turned around, the knife in her hand waving in a distinctly non-friendly manner.
"Lots of people do. Jess does, so you can keep your opinions to yourself, do you understand me?"
"Why does Jess need internet dating for anyway?" Becker asked crossly, trying to pretend that the thought of Abby Maitland with a paring knife wasn't something that made him feel slightly uneasy. "It's not as if she'd have trouble finding someone to go out with her."
Against his will, he found his gaze slipping to the large glass window of Abby's lab that looked out onto the hub, where Jess was sitting at the ADD, typing away at the controls. He followed the pale length of her leg up from her ridiculous red shoes to the hem of the navy blue skirt she was wearing, and frowned when one of his men spent far too much time talking to her while returning his black box.
"You'd think that would be the case," Abby said, staring at him strangely, "but she never gets the chance to meet anybody. And anyway, there's a time issue."
Becker returned his attention to Abby and frowned.
"What time issue?" he asked.
"Jess' vile sister is getting married in three weeks time, and has demanded that Jess bring a date to the wedding. Despite the fact that her sister has been a psychotic bitch in the run up to the grand event and has been driving Jess mad, she's given in to her."
Abby started chopping the fruit on the table in front of her with slightly more force than was necessary.
"Honestly Becker, Jess has been running herself ragged in the last few months trying to keep up with her sister's demands. And now, with only a few weeks to go, she drops this bombshell on Jess. So, Jess being Jess, turned to the internet to solve her problems. Hence, internet dating."
"I see," Becker said, glancing through the window again to Jess and the smitten soldier. "Well, just be careful where you put those in future. Someone could find them and…"
He stopped before he could say "…and be mean to her," but it was heavily implied.
"I will," Abby promised.
Becker recognised an opportunity for a tactical withdrawal into the neutral territory of the corridor and took it.
Abby put down her knife and watched him run away before something as horrific as an emotion showed on his soldierly façade. Then she smiled, picked up her mobile and dialled Emily.
"I've got the answer to Jess' problem," she said gleefully. "And it's been under our noses the entire time."