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Story Title: Lookalike

Story description: Rachel Armstrong

Type of story: Long fic

Main Characters: Rachel Armstrong, Hugh Sullivan, various regulars and made up characters.

BTTB rating: G

Does story include spoilers: No

Is story being proof read: No

Any warnings: None.

Summary: Rachel makes decisions about her future, but Fate intervenes.

Rachel sat outside the diner, idly stirring her coffee. What was left for her in Summer Bay? Kim had gone to the city with Kit and Archie months ago; Brad was occupied with Sally and family. There was Leah of course: she was such a good friend. She made an effort to meet up with Rachel once a fortnight for a drink, or to watch a DVD. But Rachel's life revolved around her job and housework. She enjoyed working at the hospital but had been wondering for a while if she needed to move on. Otherwise she would be stuck in Summer Bay forever, stagnating, mulling over the past.

She finished her coffee and stood up. Yes, that was the answer. She would start looking for a new job and make a fresh start. It was so beautiful round here though. The sky and sea went on forever, always changing colour, deserted and friendly at the same time. But she had made a decision and felt lighter.

The day at work passed quickly: security had been increased so much that there hadn't been an attack for a month. The female staff members were starting to relax.

That evening, Rachel was travelling to yet another conference in the city. She was looking forward to this one- How Depression Affects Recovery from Major Surgery- because it had an element of counselling in it and she needed a refresher.

The conference was held at the Carlton, a luxurious hotel in an exclusive neighbourhood. She was disappointed when she found she was sharing a room. Oh well, she told herself, it'll be nice to have company. She sat on one of the beds, reading the TV guide. Some great films on. She had become a bit of a film fan lately, to keep herself busy.

The door to the room opened and Rachel put on a welcoming smile. A tall blond man manoeuvred through the door with his suitcase.

'G'day,' he nodded.

Rachel had frozen in shock. She was struck by his resemblance to Kim, then horrified to think she had to share the room with a strange man.

'There must be some mistake-' she faltered.

'Oh. Yeah.' The man looked confused.

'I'm sorry. I just thought I would be sharing with another woman.'

There was an awkward pause.

'I'm Ceri.'

'Rachel.' This was so embarrassing.

'I'll put my stuff down here anyway, if that's okay?'

'Oh yes- y- yes of course.'

Rachel got out of the room as quickly as she could. Memories of Henk were too strong and frightening for her to risk it happening again.

'Can you help me?' she asked the hotel receptionist. 'My name's Rachel Armstrong. I am sharing a room with a man I don't know and I'm not comfortable.'

The receptionist looked down at her records. 'I've got you down as sharing with a Miss Ceri Pritchard.'

'Oh no. That can't be right. He's definitely MR Ceri Pritchard.'

The receptionist sighed. 'I'm sorry Miss Armstrong. Everyone else is settled.'

Rachel went slowly back to the room.

'They thought from your name that you were female.'

'That's what comes from having Welsh parents,' he shrugged.

'There isn't anyone else we can swap with, so we'll have to share this room.'

'Oh well. I don't bite.'

Rachel laughed politely. At least she could find out his identity if anything happened, and she didn't have to stay in the room all the time with him.

So that evening, Rachel spent as much time as she could out of the room. She met lots of ex colleagues and friends, all of whom said how they missed her, how they must keep in touch and meet up regularly.

On a high of popularity, Rachel drifted back to her room. It was eleven o'clock: she could make her excuses and go start to bed. To her surprise, Ceri was already fast asleep. So she got ready for bed as quietly as she could.

She couldn't sleep during the night. She was so scared of suddenly being attacked, so she lay there tensely, listening to Ceri breathing. He kept snorting, then stopping breathing, then starting again. Rachel couldn't remember the medical name for that. Great! Her brain was going as well as her nerves. She resolved to move to a single room as soon as possible.

The next day was the first full day of the conference. An exhausted Rachel dragged herself through it, putting on a smile, trying to take an interest. She had been unsuccessful getting a single room. The receptionist had been sympathetic but there were two conferences at the hotel, so all rooms were taken.

At lunch time, she was wiped out.

'Hey,' said Ceri, sitting down with his tray. 'I didn't keep you awake with my snoring last night did I?'

'Oh- er- yes.' Rachel was too tired to be polite.

'Sorry. People always tell me off about it.' He tucked into his chicken and chips. 'So, where do you work?'

'Er- Summer Bay General. How about you?'

'St Johannes General. In Cape Town.'

Rachel felt like she'd been slapped. That was where Hugh had gone to work after she'd rejected him.

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For the rest of the afternoon, Rachel was on autopilot. She went over and over what had happened when she and Kim had split up, the involvement of Kit and Hugh and the aftermath. Her relationship with Kim had been so exciting to start with: forbidden, tempting and ultimately irresistible. How had it gone so wrong? She forced herself to stop thinking about Kim. It didn’t do any good. She tried to concentrate and take notes on what the presenter of the seminar was saying about alleviating depression. But there were a lot of doodles and scribbles on her notepad.

That evening Rachel was meeting some old friends from a hospital she used to work at in Sydney. They were going out for a meal in the city and she was looking forward to dressing up, some interesting conversation and hopefully laughing a lot.

She put on her make-up in the bathroom of her room, feeling light hearted and ready to have fun. It would be nice to get out of the hotel. She made faces at herself in the mirror, practising looking interested in case the conversation was boring, and ending up making herself laugh.

‘What’s so funny?’ said Ceri, peering into the bathroom.

‘Oh! Nothing.’ She couldn’t subdue her smile though.

‘Going out? You look nice.’

‘Thanks. Yes, old friends. What about you?’

‘Dunno. I might watch the footie downstairs in the lounge.’

‘Well, I hope you enjoy it.’

They went downstairs together, Rachel trying really hard not to ask him about Hugh. There is no point, she told herself firmly. I decided not to be with him and I can’t go running off to him now.

The restaurant was brightly lit and full of chrome- tables, stools, chairs etc. It was very modern and Rachel realised how much she’d missed this in Summer Bay. The city was busy and exciting, while Summer Bay was slow moving and quiet, a country town a good distance from anywhere.

‘Hi Rach!’ shrieked a voice. It was Rachel’s old friend Marianna, a fellow doctor. ‘How are you?’ She flung her arms round her happily. She had always been very loud and enthusiastic, the complete opposite of quietly spoken, calm Rachel. Which was probably why they had got on together- opposites attract.

‘Oh, I’m fine, thanks.’

‘Still at Summer Bay? Still married to your gorgeous toy boy?’

‘Yes to the first, no to the second.’ Rachel smiled bravely.

‘Oh Rach! What happened?’

‘Oh, you know. We just grew apart. Things happened.’

‘Don’t interrogate her Mari,’ said Liane, coming over and hugging them both. She was a nurse from paediatrics. ‘Its her business.’

‘Sorry Rach.’

‘Anyway, what about you two?’ Rachel smiled. She had missed her friends from Sydney. They had all been young and carefree, and laughs had come easy. Long ago.

‘Do you remember Clyde Bowman?’ said Marianna. ‘The one I had that love/ hate relationship with? I ended up married to him!’ She shrieked with laughter. ‘Two years ago!’

‘That is a surprise! Do you have any kids?’

‘Yes, twins! I don’t do things by halves.’ Marianna shrieked with laughter again. She looked so happy, a change from the rather bitter Marianna that Rachel had met sometimes in the past.

‘And my husband’s called Patrick, you don’t know him, Rach,’ said Liane quietly. ‘Come on, lets go to our table.’

At the table were four of Rachel’s other former colleagues and friends, and a couple of people she didn’t know.

The evening got off to a roaring start. The food was delicious, and the conversation got sillier and sillier as everyone avoided talking about work.

‘You won’t be able to mess about like this soon, Angela,’ said Paul, a registrar. ‘You’ll have to slow down soon you know and be a sensible, careful person.’

‘No, never!’ said Angela, who was one of the guests Rachel didn’t know. She wondered what Paul meant, so waited to see.

‘Oh yes, when the baby’s born, it’ll change your life,’ warned Paul heartily. Rachel hadn’t realised that Angela was pregnant.

‘How many months have you got left?’ asked Marianna.

‘Four. I can’t wait to be a mum!’

Rachel kept quiet. How lucky Angela was. If only.... She quickly stopped herself thinking along those lines.

‘More wine?’ she asked Marianna politely.

‘I thought she was asking me!’ laughed Angela. ‘Pregnant women can’t have alcohol you know!’

There was a pause.

‘I think Rachel knows that,’ said Liane. ‘She IS a doctor.’

Rachel started to feel a chill, even though the weather was as warm as it usually was.

Marianna and Angela started discussing babies, and most of the other women joined in, as women who have had babies always do.

‘Are you okay Rach?’ Liane asked quietly. ‘I take it you and Kim didn’t have any children?’

‘No. No... it wasn’t an option.’ Rachel looked longingly at the door.

‘Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t know.’ Liane squeezed her hand sympathetically. ‘You’re young, you’ve got time.’

‘I’m nearly thirty.’ And no one wants me, she added silently.

The evening moved on. Rachel didn’t join in much but she enjoyed watching and listening to the antics and chatter of the others. She had forgotten how lively they all were, and how much they all drank. She felt a bit old for all this.

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At about eleven o’clock, Dean, who was yet another doctor, got up to leave.

‘Sorry guys. I’m presenting the early morning seminar tomorrow, so I want to be fresh for that.’

‘Lightweight!’ shouted some of the others.

‘Oh, I’d better go too.’ Rachel was tired and had had enough of the talk about babies and marriages.

‘I’ll escort you ma’am,’ said Dean, who was a smiley and jolly person Rachel had always liked.

They set off towards the hotel.

‘Its a shame the old crowd don’t see you anymore Rachel,’ said Dean slowly.

‘Yes. It is. I live the quiet life now.’

Their footsteps echoed along the streets as they walked. Rachel couldn’t think of anything to say to Dean. Her life had diverged from his, as it had from all the other friends from Sydney. Why can’t I cheer up? she told herself crossly.

‘What room are you in, Rach?’ asked Dean.

‘Five oh two.’

‘Let me escort you to you room.’ He insisted on walking with her right to the door of 502, where he hovered outside as she unlocked the door.

‘Aren’t you going to invite me in?’ Dean smiled broadly. Too broadly.

‘Oh. Er- well- I’m tired. I’ll see you tomorrow.’

‘Oh come on Rach. These conferences are always a chance to let your hair down, go crazy.’

‘No. I’ll see you tomorrow.’ What was wrong with him? Rachel began to realise that he was more drunk than she had thought.

‘Oh, come on Rach, I’ve always liked you.’ He tried to push past her.

‘Hey mate! She said no!’ shouted a voice, and Ceri appeared. He pushed Dean back by the shoulder, and shut the door.

‘Oh- er- thanks-’ Rachel sat down on the bed, overwhelmed by all this.

‘What a loser,’ Ceri shook his head. ‘Hope you didn’t mind me butting in.’

‘No, no. I thought he was my friend, not some letch!’ Rachel had had enough of this evening, and stalked into the bathroom.

When she came out after a lovely long shower, Ceri had fallen asleep. Thank God. She jumped into bed, so tired that she dozed off immediately.

She awoke at three in the morning with a start. She had had such a narrow escape from Dean, what an idiot she had been. How had her life come to this? Everyone seemed to be pairing off into couples, having babies, settling down. All nice and normal, except for her. The lonely divorcée who seemed to attract creeps and pushed decent men away. A lump rose in her throat, and she began crying silently. Why hadn’t Kim wanted her and not Kit and Archie?

Suddenly the light came on. She snapped her head round to see Ceri looking at her.

‘What’s up? Was it what happened earlier?’

‘No.’ She couldn’t help crying more, and Ceri came and sat on her bed. She told him how she’d split up with her husband recently.

‘It was all messy at the end, but I suppose most break ups are.’

‘Actually, I split up with my girlfriend last month. So I know what you mean.’ His eyes met hers for a moment. He’s not really much like Kim, she thought. Just tall and blond, like so many other people.

‘Must be something to do with being a doctor. You’ve no time for a personal life and people just lose interest in you.’ He shrugged. Rachel thought how nice it would be to be held by him. She didn’t want anything more, it would just be comforting.

‘My friend Hugh has just had his heart broken by a girl. He’s a doctor too,’ Ceri shrugged. ‘See what I mean?’

Rachel nodded blankly. Hugh again. He’d gone to the back of her mind tonight, but leapt back into focus.

‘I- I guess so.’ Had his heart broken, she thought. Heart broken, heart broken, heart broken. She didn’t realise she drifted off to sleep again thinking that.

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  • 4 weeks later...

The next day, Rachel sat in a side seat at Dean’s presentation. She wanted to see if he’d acknowledge her after last night, but didn’t want a confrontation.

She got nothing. Not a smile, not even a glance. Maybe Dean had forgotten about his behaviour. But fortunately due to this, she was able to study him. His hair was going grey at the temples, and his stomach was showing definite signs of a beer gut. He had been athletic when she knew him at Sydney hospital but the change in him just showed how long ago that was. Rachel knew she must stop looking back at her life in Sydney through rose coloured glasses.

She was brought back to the present by Ceri asking a question from the back of the audience. She looked over at him and wondered idly how old he was. She was twenty nine, so he was probably twenty three or twenty four. Actually, he couldn’t be that young if he’d trained as a doctor, she realised. He must be older than he looked- twenty six?

After Ceri had a satisfactory answer from Dean, he smiled at Rachel. At that moment, she made a decision and intended to tell Ceri of this as soon as possible.

When she saw him after the presentation, she made her way over to him.

‘Alright?’ he said.

‘Yes. Listen, we’ve got four days left here. Lets just forget we’re getting over failed relationships, and just have fun. As friends I mean.’

‘Have a break from real life, you mean?’


‘Sounds good to me. What shall we do?’

‘Lets see what the city can offer us.’

They smiled at each other. Rachel didn’t know why she trusted him. She just did.

The first thing Rachel and Ceri did was go to the cinema. She was excited to see that there was a series of foreign language films at the local independent, and chose to take Ceri to see ‘House of Flying Daggers.’ During her DVD evenings with Tony Holden, they had become more adventurous in the types of films they had rented, and watched quite a few films with subtitles.

Rachel was carried away with the visual beauty of the film, and sat entranced throughout it. When she came out of the cinema, starry eyed and overcome with the sheer spectacle of it, she looked up at Ceri.

‘What did you think of that?’ she asked.

‘It was alright,’ he said carefully. ‘Not really my type of thing.’

‘Oh. Oh, well. I’m sorry you didn’t like it. What type of films do you like?’

‘Er... I just tend to watch the latest ones that are out. To be honest I don’t go to the cinema much, I’m more into sport and outdoor things.’

Rachel tutted. ‘Oh, you could have told me!’

‘It doesn’t matter. It was a break from the conference.’ He smiled.

She suddenly remembered how Hugh had once got all excited about some film called ‘Seven Samurai’, which she had never seen but knew was Japanese. He would have liked ‘House of Flying Daggers.’ But yet again, she pushed him to the back of her mind. What would Ceri say if he knew how much she had hurt his friend?

The next night, Rachel decided they needed a less demanding distraction. The city had an open top bus tour, as most cities do, so she and Ceri bought tickets.

‘Are you alright?’ she asked him as they sat down on the top deck.

‘Not really. I’ve been thinking about my ex a lot today. Did I tell you she went off with my best friend?’

‘No. You poor thing. How cruel.’ She patted his arm awkwardly.

‘There’s no point brooding though, but you know what its like. They pop into your head when you least expect it.’ He looked down glumly.

‘I know.’

The bus set off. It was a very old bus, red like English ones. The name Routemaster was fixed on a metal plate at the front and Rachel supposed it was the name of the manufacturer.

The tour went along the river and stopped at each of the magnificent bridges which spanned the water. Rachel was admiring the structure of one, when Ceri nudged her.

‘Look at that man.’

Rachel saw a man wavering out of a wine bar. He tottered along the pavement, then began walking in ever decreasing circles, arms working as if he was in a marathon. He paused for a second, then fell down flat.

For some reason, this was hilarious and Rachel and Ceri burst out laughing, to the surprise of the elderly couple in front of them.

‘Oh we shouldn’t laugh, poor man,’ gasped Rachel.

‘He’s only drunk, Doctor,’ said Ceri. ‘Look, he’s alright now.’

The man’s friends had rushed to him and picked him up by now. The bus drove on with Rachel and Ceri still chuckling.

A bit further down the road, the bus paused at a red traffic light. The warm evening breeze blew Rachel’s hair and she felt miles away from being a sensible doctor at a hospital, or a supportive sister, or reliable flatmate. She was so glad she’d met Ceri. He was reassuring and he didn’t want anything from her. It was obvious that he was trying to cope with his own situation and his thoughts were taken up with that. She must try and keep in touch with him.

‘Look!’ he said suddenly. He nodded towards a couple of brightly lit windows in the block of flats opposite. In one window, a couple in a kitchen were having a violent argument, throwing cups and plates at each other. In the adjacent window, a table of guests tried hard to carry on polite conversation and ignore the shouts and crashes from the kitchen.

‘An awkward dinner party,’ Ceri observed, smiling.

‘Fascinating social interaction,’ replied Rachel distractedly. ‘Oh by the way, I trained to be a psychiatrist. That’s my area of expertise.’

‘Ah. So, Doctor, what’s your analysis of the situation?’

‘Well, Doctor. I would say that the couple in the kitchen invited their friends round to show off their new flat. They wanted the occasion to be perfect but some minor thing went wrong and caused an argument.’

‘What a perceptive observation, Doctor.’ He pretended to take her seriously. ‘Oh, hang on, they're making up now. Don’t look.’ He turned away from the window, shielding Rachel from the sight of the couple getting amorous. Fortunately, the bus drove on at that point, saving any embarrassment.

Rachel began thinking about what they could do for their last evening in the the city. She had seen adverts for an outdoor sculpture exhibition- if Ceri liked being outside, hopefully he would enjoy that.

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When Rachel had suggested the sculpture exhibition, Ceri had looked sceptical, but he’d gone along with it as he didn’t have any better ideas.

At first they had been overawed by the intense, eccentric art lovers milling around the entrance of the exhibition but as they went further inside, there were fewer people. The exhibition site covered many acres, and Ceri and Rachel enjoyed finding unexpected sculptures round every corner and trying to work out what they represented. This was sometimes very difficult.

‘We should have bought a guide,’ said Rachel.

‘Nah. Not at that price. Its more fun to guess. What d’you think this one is?’

He pointed to a large stone which looked like a sponge shaped like a Polo mint without the hole. It was balanced precariously on the side of a triangle of smooth black granite.

‘Er- perhaps its the sun going down at night.’

‘Or how easy it is to slip onto a downward path in life.’

‘Or how we just need a little nudge to send us on our way to fulfilling our potential.’

Ceri paused. ‘No. You got me. I can’t think of anything better.’

‘Well, we can’t all be brilliant.’

‘Hm... Hey look! A maze!’ He dragged Rachel over to the sign. ‘Race you to the centre!’ He disappeared off into the maze.

Rachel wasn’t competitive but this time she felt like she had something to prove. She set off determinedly. Every turning was marked with a sculpture, a clever way of making sure more people took notice of the less famous sculptors’ work.

She became distracted and took a few wrong turnings, having to retrace her steps. She turned the corner, thinking she had finally got to the end, when someone jumped out at her. She shrieked, but of course it was Ceri, laughing.

‘Oh you! You’ve led me into a dead end!’ she scolded.

‘As if you knew the right way!’

‘I’ve got a better chance than you!’ She pushed him and he staggered, caught off guard. She ran off, giggling. What on earth would her colleagues at the hospital think of her? Running about like a silly little girl playing chasing games with her friend.

She could hear Ceri running up behind her and ran shrieking round the corner, right into the centre of the maze. She ran up to the sculpture in the middle like a winning sprinter, scattering the other visitors left and right. The sculpture was a huge stylised humanoid being with its arms pointing to the sky and she grabbed its leg, closely followed by Ceri, crashing into her back in his eagerness to get there first.

Immediately a loud bell rang and two burly security guards were at their side.

‘Don’t touch the exhibits!’ ordered one.

‘Stand back!’ shouted the other.

‘We’re only having fun!’ replied Ceri, putting his arms round Rachel to protect her from the pushy guards. ‘Isn’t that allowed here?’

The bystanders stared as Ceri and Rachel were escorted briskly away.

Back in her room that evening, Rachel felt subdued. She had enjoyed all the running about, laughing, shouting, being silly and irresponsible for a change. But tomorrow was the last day of the conference. Back to normality: being cautious, careful, reserved, hard working.

A more pressing problem was what she should tell Ceri about Hugh. She basically had two options. She could tell him that she was the one who hurt Hugh, or she could avoid telling him. The complication being that she wanted to keep in touch with Ceri, and she was sure he wouldn’t approve of her behaviour towards his friend. But there were so many variables- how much had Hugh told him? Did she secretly want to get to Hugh through Ceri? Did Ceri even want to keep in touch with her?

She wondered if Ceri suspected something about her and Hugh anyway. After they had been ejected from the exhibition, he had become distant and thoughtful and then gone to find his friends for a drink. Perhaps she had said something to give away the secret of Hugh. It also occurred to her that she was getting rather obsessed with the Hugh/ Ceri situation.

Just then the door opened and Ceri came in.

‘Hi. Did you have a nice time?’ she asked cosily.

‘Okay.’ He went off into the bathroom and switched on the shower.

Perhaps he was just tired or getting ready for going back to real life. She should do the same. The wonderful break was nearly over.

She awoke next morning without realising she’d dozed off. She knew immediately that she must tell Ceri about Hugh and just take the consequences. She would tell him at coffee break. Full of determination, she bustled around the room getting ready, not noticing Ceri watching her with a thoughtful look in his eye.

So when the first morning presentation finished, she led him to a table away from the others.

‘Sit down. I’ve got something to tell you.’

He did as he was told, looking wary.

‘Did your friend Hugh tell you the name of the girl who broke his heart?’

He shook his head.

‘Well- er- as far as I know-’ Rachel suddenly wondered if she was being conceited. Maybe it was someone else who had hurt Hugh.

‘What’s Hugh’s surname?’

‘Sullivan.’ Ceri raised one eyebrow. ‘What’s all this about?’

‘I think it was- I think I’m the one who broke Hugh’s heart.’ How stupid that sounded out loud.

There was a long, uncomfortable pause.

‘So what happened?’ Ceri’s blue-green eyes were suddenly cold and hard.

‘Well, as you know my marriage was breaking up. I’ve known Hugh for years and then he got a job at Summer Bay General.’

She glanced across, trying to gauge Ceri’s reaction. He gestured for her to continue.

‘I didn’t realise he was in love with me.’ She blushed deeply. ‘I opted to try and make my marriage work, instead of-’

‘Cheating on your husband.’

‘Er- yes. Hugh left the hospital without me and my marriage ended anyway.’ She blinked back tears.

‘Hm.’ Ceri stood up. ‘I’ll see you at lunchtime.’ He strode off.

Feeling snubbed, Rachel slumped and studied her capuccino. She hadn’t expected him to just shut down like that. She had built herself up to some big confrontation but hadn’t got it.

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At lunch time, Ceri beckoned Rachel over.

‘Let’s talk now,’ he said flatly.

She sat down, feeling like she was in front of the headmaster at school.

‘Sorry I went off like that. I was shocked.’

She nodded, prepared to be understanding.

‘I thought you were- well, I liked you. Now I find out you're the girl that hurt Hugh. He’s a good friend of mine. I got the idea that his girlfriend was a- well, you know. Not very moral. Playing him off against her husband. Then it turns out it was you all along. I suppose its my fault for judging you without knowing you.’

Rachel considered what to say but couldn’t think of anything which wouldn’t make the situation worse.

‘I’m not going to tell him I met you. There's no point reminding him.’

She didn’t know whether to be relieved or regretful.

‘Or did you want me to tell him?’ said Ceri at once, seeing her face change.

‘Oh! No- I- it wasn’t...’ she trailed off, again at a loss.

His expression was sceptical.

‘Come on Ceri, you can’t think I arranged to meet you here so I could find out about Hugh!’ She was starting to feel annoyed.

‘I hadn’t thought that til now, but-’ He shrugged and looked away. The silence between them lengthened.

‘I just want you to know that I was in a difficult position too. My husband had a child with another woman and decided to go with her rather than start a family with me.’ She felt herself blushing, but had to say it. ‘So Hugh wasn’t the only one hurt.’

She walked away briskly, angry tears starting in her eyes. Now she had lost a potential friend, thanks to- what? Her honesty? Hugh? Kim? Perhaps she was destined to be trapped by the consequences of her failed marriage forever.

Ceri watched her leave regretfully. He wanted to go after her.

Rachel brooded over the conversation all the way home on the coach. It was only to be expected if she thought about it logically. She was just some girl that Ceri had met, whereas Hugh was his friend and colleague. It irked her that Ceri would now think of her as someone who played people off against each other and used them to her own advantage. She had always prided herself on being honest with people but in this situation she had appeared the opposite.

Back in Summer Bay, life settled back into the usual routine. Rachel had enjoyed the actual conference and taken useful notes, which she circulated around her colleagues. She recommended everything about the conference- the presenters, the hotel, the facilities- whilst keeping quiet about the people she had met there. Or should that be the one person she had met there.

When she couldn’t keep her feelings inside anymore, she called on Leah at home. She had meant to call this weekend anyway: it was just that they both led such busy lives, it was hard to find the time.

‘Hi!’ Leah greeted her with her usual enthusiasm, a big hug and a kiss. ‘How did it go? Come and have brunch with me.’ Leah’s cooking was so good that it cheered Rachel up just thinking about it.

‘Tell me all about it.’ Leah sat down at one end of the sofa, indicating for Rachel to sit at the other.

Rachel took a deep breath and poured out the whole story of the conference, without pausing. How she’d felt when she’d found she was sharing a room with a man, how she had grown to like him and how it had all gone wrong.

‘Wow, Rach! I thought these conferences were boring and stuffy!’ Leah smiled, offering Rachel more food. ‘Not full of scandal!’

‘I don’t know about scandal! But what do you think? Did I do the right thing telling Ceri about Hugh? And before you say it, yes I know I’m obsessing.’

Leah considered. ‘I suppose you could have kept the secret. But its done now. I think he was bound to be annoyed about it though. ’

‘Mm... It was odd that Ceri became distant before I told him about Hugh. It was after the sculpture exhibition. He was quite happy being silly, then after we were thrown out, he completely shut down.’

Leah suddenly burst out laughing.

‘Why are you laughing?’ Rachel threw a breadstick at her, making her laugh even more.

‘Rach, who’s got the counselling and psychiatry qualifications here?’

Rachel looked puzzled. ‘What do you mean?’

‘I mean that he fancied you! But didn’t you say he’s just been hurt by his girlfriend going off with his best friend? And he knew you were getting over a break up, so he probably didn’t want to get involved and hurt both of you. And then to make it worse, you then tell him you were the one who hurt his friend, and he probably thought he’d had a lucky escape.’

‘Oh thanks!’

‘You know what I mean. If he got to know you properly, he wouldn’t think that. He’d like you.’

‘Hm... I’ll let you off then. Do you really think he fancied me?’

‘Yes! Honestly Rach, you can be dense! All the evidence is there.’

‘Oh dear, maybe I should give back all my diplomas.’ Rachel laughed. ‘I’m obviously hopeless at understanding people.’

‘No, you’re not! Its easy to work out other people’s problems, its just hard to work out your own. Its normal, its just being human.’

‘Well, at least I’m normal and human.’ Rachel laughed again. ‘Its so good to see you Leah! I must come round more often.’

Leah hugged her. ‘Definitely. The other thing is, Ceri probably thought he didn’t stand a chance ‘cause you were still yearning after Hugh. Are you?’

‘I really don’t know now. If I’d noticed that Ceri liked me, I might have changed my mind.’

‘Yeah, you could do with having a fling, couldn’t you?’

‘Yes, I suppose I could. Too late now though isn’t it?’

[probably won't post anymore over Christmas and New Year, so hope you all have a great time and thanks for your support of my writing :)]

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Rachel was determined not to get any more obsessed with the Ceri and Hugh situation and tried to put it at the back of her mind. She met Jack in the kitchen at home, making a cup of tea.

‘Do you know whether your dad is seeing Jazz at the moment?’ she asked him.

‘Erm- they’re off again. I think that’s what Luc said the other day. Why?’

‘I think I’ll ask him if he wants to start our DVD watching evenings again.’

Jack gave her a questioning look.

‘Nothing like that! Just as friends,’ she smiled, knowing he was only teasing.

‘Just as well.’ He made his way towards his and Sam’s bedroom, with the tea. ‘You might end up as my stepmother.’

Rachel chuckled. As if that would ever happen. It was good that Jazz was off the scene. Rachel didn’t like her- she was obviously wrong for Tony and the way she had treated Drew was despicable.

So the next free afternoon, she went next door. The first person she saw was Kit, sitting on the sofa with Matilda. Speechless with shock, Rachel stepped back.

‘Oh! Oh, hi Rachel!’ stuttered Matilda. ‘Are you- can I help you-’

‘I’m here to see Tony.’ Rachel helped her out of her awkwardness.

‘Oh- yes- I’ll get him.’ Matilda hurried out of the door.

Kit and Rachel regarded each other warily.

‘How are you Rachel?’ Kit looked pale and thin.

‘I’m fine. Thanks. Er- how are you?’

‘Very tired. Archie doesn’t sleep through the night, and he-’

Just then, Tony and Matilda came in.

‘Hi Rach, what’s up?’ asked Tony jovially.

‘I was wondering if you’d like to start our film watching again?’

Everyone was staring at her, which was off putting.

‘Yeah, sure. Come into the kitchen,’ said Tony, realising the situation. Rachel followed and he put the kettle on.

‘I’m really glad you came round, I was sorry we stopped getting DVDs out.’

‘You were otherwise occupied.’

Tony laughed uncomfortably. ‘Well, I won’t be from now on.’

While they waited for the kettle to boil, Rachel couldn’t help overhearing Kit and Matilda’s conversation.

‘Its just never ending, Mattie. I’m so tired all the time, Kim is out at work and Archie’s totally my responsibility all day and all night.’

Matilda made soothing noises.

‘Sugar?’ asked Tony.

‘Sorry... what?’

‘In your tea?’

‘Oh- no thanks.’

‘So what type of films shall we rent? We watched lots of subtitled ones for a while didn’t we?’

‘How about having a break from then then? How about we watch some old fashioned classics, like Casablanca? Maybe our theme could be black and white films?’

‘Yeah, like The Dambusters, All Quiet on the Western Front.’

‘Is that black and white?’

‘I don’t know. We’ll have to watch it and see.’

Rachel hoped he didn't want to watch war films exclusively. She would have to ensure they watched some non war black and whites too.

‘I know Kim works hard,’ said Kit’s voice, ‘but he forgets that I’ve done a day’s work too at the end of the day and need a break from Archie.’

‘It’d be easier for you if you were still in the bay, then we could help you with Archie.’

‘It’d be a bit difficult in the circumstances....’

Rachel suddenly imagined Kit pointing to the kitchen, mouthing ‘we don’t want to be near Rachel’ and Matilda giggling in agreement.

‘Jack told me you went to a medical conference last week. How did it go?’ asked Tony.

‘Oh- it was good. I got some useful information. I needed a refresher.’ Rachel was award she was babbling, trying to eavesdrop on Kit’s conversation.

‘Rachel? Listen, I’m sorry you didn’t know Kit was here. She just turned up.’

‘Oh, its okay. I’d better go, anyway.’

‘Don’t feel you have to.’

‘I had to just get away for a few days,’ said Kit’s voice.

‘No, its better I go home,’ said Rachel to Tony. ‘I’ve got things to do.’ She went into the lounge with Tony hovering around anxiously.

‘Bye Rachel, nice to see you,’ said Matilda.

‘You’re looking well, must be nice to get a good night’s sleep every night,’ said Kit.

Rachel paused. ‘I beg your pardon?’

‘Kit-’ Tony began.

‘I said “it must be nice to get a good night’s sleep every night.”,’ repeated Kit dangerously. ‘You don’t know how lucky you are.’

Rachel gasped, and let the words sink in.

‘I can’t believe you aren’t satisfied!’ she said at last. ‘You’ve got a lovely baby, you’ve taken my husband and any hope I had of having my own baby with him, and you still aren’t happy! What more do you want, Kit?’

She turned abruptly and hastened out. Why did Kit have to be here, reminding her of everything? Why couldn’t she just stay in the city and never come back to the bay? Rachel knew she’d never get over the way her marriage had broken down but to have Kit hanging around complaining was the last straw. Rachel strode through her front door and into her bedroom, where she flung herself on her bed and cried for her broken marriage, for the baby she and Kim would never have, and the life she could have enjoyed with him.

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The days crept by, the weeks wore on, and Rachel arranged her life how she wanted it. She saw Leah every other week, for a natter and a gossip. As Leah worked in the diner, she heard all about people’s affairs, business or otherwise. She and Rachel swore to keep the details between themselves but enjoyed knowing what was really going on in Summer Bay. Even Colleen couldn’t coax any titbits of information out of them.

Then the alternating week, Rachel watched a film with Tony. Kit hadn’t stayed long so the coast was clear.

Before Kit had left however, she had gone round to Rachel’s house.

‘I just came to say I’m sorry for being insensitive a few days ago,’ she blurted the minute Rachel opened the door.

‘Oh!’ Rachel’s mind was on other things. ‘Thanks. Er- I’m just off to work, or I’d invite you in.’

‘Its just I’m so tired all the time, its making me go crazy. Tony and Mattie made me realise how horrible I’d been to you, so sorry again. Take care.’ Kit trudged off.

Rachel felt a bit better. She should be more understanding about new mothers and the exhausting time they had. But it was hard when she wanted so badly to be a new mother herself.

The DVD evenings with Tony were always entertaining. Rachel heard all about Tony’s love life, now he was single again, and sometimes Lucas or Matilda came to have a chat with her as well. She began to feel like an agony aunt, hearing about the heartbreaks, scandals and secrets of everyone’s love lives, but didn't mind too much. She was the centre around whom things happened these days- if she was destined to have a dull life, at least she was surrounded by people with interesting ones.

‘Have you heard what’s happened?’ whispered Julie to Rachel when she came in one evening for her shift.


‘That new doctor has been sacked.’

‘What new doctor?’

‘The one who they brought in to replace James.’

‘Oh. Why’s that?’

‘He was involved in something dodgy, I’m not sure what. It might be gambling. Something to do with that new policeman. That’s yet another doctor who’s been sacked in the space of a few months.’

Rachel shook her head, shocked. First James had come to replace Hugh, but his drug addiction had led to his dismissal. Then after the usual rounds of interviews and second interviews, another new doctor, Lewis, had come to replace James. But now it seemed he had been dismissed too.

‘I don’t know what they’re going to do now. This hospital is going to get a really bad reputation for unprofessional doctors if its not careful. Anyway, better get back to work. See you soon, Rach.’ Julie bustled off.

Rachel mused on this information. If only Hugh had been the third doctor to come to Summer Bay General, he would be here now and she would be single and able to- she stopped herself. No point thinking in ‘what ifs’. But would she and Kim still have split up without Hugh being around? Almost definitely, she told herself. Archie and Kit were the ready made family Kim wanted and Rachel couldn’t compete with them. She went off down the corridor deep in thought.

Julie had more news the next day.

‘The managers are going crazy. They are looking round for any doctor who can come and clear the backlog of non urgent operations. They’ve stopped worrying about the car park security, so anyone could get attacked. Its really stupid!’

Rachel had never seen Julie so cross. But then she was entitled to be, because she had been attacked and was terrified that it would happen again.

‘I’ll speak to my supervisor about it. Don’t worry. I’ll get something sorted out.’

Julie didn’t look convinced. ‘Its all about money isn’t it? They can’t afford all the extra security, so they don’t bother.’

‘It’ll be alright, don’t worry.’ Rachel was not sure what she could do, but the situation needed to be addressed.

However, she was right. Her supervisor had not been really interested. He kept talking about targets, budgets, reports, but not people. She didn’t know what to do next. Except hope the attacks had stopped for good.

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  • 1 month later...

Rachel couldn’t stop thinking about the lurking attacker. She had distracted herself from thinking about Hugh and Ceri but instead fallen into the trap of worrying pointlessly. At least Jack and Sam were usually at home to notice whether she to there safely, but having house mates wasn't the same as having a husband you could call if you felt in danger.

She finished her discussion with Mrs Green, a patient with a chest infection then stepped outside the room, taking a breather before her next patient. She looked out across the car park below. She was on the fourth floor so had a good view of the whole area. What if the attacker was lurking right now? Darkness was falling and the tiny figures of the staff and patients scurried about, seeming nervous.

A man dawdled by the well lit entrance, studying a sheet of paper- perhaps a letter? He looked so familiar. Rachel peered down at him, her interest caught. He was the same height, shape, colouring as Hugh. It couldn't be, she told herself. I’m overtired and seeing things. Remember how I kept seeing Kim everywhere after he left? She watched the man-who-could-be-Hugh meander into the hospital, still seeming thoughtful. She pulled herself together and walked slowly along the corridor to her next patient.

The next day, no matter how much she told herself not to be silly, she couldn’t stop thinking about the man. She carried out her duties as efficiently as usual but her full attention was not there.

‘Are you okay Rach?’ asked Julie as she checked in that afternoon.

‘Oh- yes. Sorry. A lot on my mind.’

‘Don’t worry,’ Kind Julie patted her hand. ‘They’ll catch him soon.’

‘Sorry? Oh, the attacker. Yes. They will.’

Julie gave her a look of concern. ‘Are you sure you’re alright?’

‘Oh yes. Just overtired.’

Rachel smiled and hurried off. She must focus. Now, her next patient review was in the osteo department and she mustn’t be late.

As she got closer to Mr Brewer’s room, she could hear a male voice speaking loudly. It didn’t sound like an argument, just a raised voice, as if talking over something else. She crept to the door of the room. As she got there, she could hear the sound of a plaster being cut off.

‘There you are, Mrs Barton. Good as new,’ said the voice at a normal level.

‘Thank you Doctor. Oh, that’s such a relief.’

‘Just physiotherapy to go now. Then you’ll be back to normal.’

‘I can’t wait.’

‘Sorry I can’t stay. The nurse here will help you.’

Rachel leapt out of the way as the doctor’s footsteps came towards the door. There was no escape but a nearby supplies cupboard, so she ran inside as quickly as she could. She counted to fifty, then stepped out again and went to Mrs Barton’s room.

‘Excuse me?’ Patient and nurse looked up questioningly.

‘Hello, Doctor Armstrong,’ said the nurse with a smile.

Rachel smiled back. ‘Could you tell me, was that Doctor Waterman I just missed? I need to discuss some results with him.’

‘Oh no, it was that new doctor. Can’t remember his name.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry. It sounded like Dr Waterman.’ Rachel was half proud and half ashamed of herself for making up stories like that. ‘Never mind. Sorry to have disturbed you.’

Am I going mad? thought Rachel as she walked a quick circuit of the corridors to clear her head before visiting Mr Brewer. I’m seeing and hearing Hugh everywhere. But what if he is this new doctor? What if he has come back to Summer Bay? In her distracted state she walked straight into a nurse along the corridor.

She must set her mind at rest. When she got a spare moment she must find out, discreetly of course, who the newest members of hospital staff were.

It took Rachel days to find the time and opportunity to find a current staff list for Summer Bay General. She received monthly newsletters from the Staff Association but usually filed them in the bin. So she had to hunt for old copies and trawl through the lists of which staff members were being welcomed and which were saying good bye.

To her disappointment, she couldn’t find Dr. Hugh Sullivan’s name anywhere.

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[your wish is my command :lol:]

‘Come out for a meal with me and Jack on Friday,’ suggested Sam to Rachel when they met at the hospital desk one day. ‘Lets get out of the house for once.’

Rachel considered for a moment.

‘Thank you for thinking of me, but I don’t want to play gooseberry.’ [do you have that expression in Australia?]

‘Oh no, you won’t be. We- I thought Brad could come too. He must need cheering up after Sally jilted him.’

Rachel paused again.

‘Okay, thanks. Where shall we go?’

Rachel didn’t like the idea of being someone who needed cheering up, but knew Sam meant well, as she explained her plan of a drink and a meal at a restaurant in Yabbie Creek.

‘We’ll get away from it all, a complete break from Summer Bay.’

‘That's just what Brad and I need right now. Thanks.’

It was hard to persuade Brad to come with them. He wanted to stay in and fill his time looking for a new job, keeping Tam out of trouble and getting on with his life after Sally. It took a lot of emotional blackmail by Rachel to get him to agree to the outing.

‘Here we are!’ said Sam as the quartet entered the restaurant. It was overlooking the Creek, where the town curled around the edge of the water as far as the cliff in the distance. The sun was setting in a flame red streak across the sky and the night life was just beginning.

‘Isn’t that beautiful?’ exclaimed Rachel. The view was so different to Summer Bay, which was spread out and wild. Here at Yabbie Creek, the lights of the buildings were dotted thickly around the water, clustered together happily in a jumble of sizes and shapes.

Brad’s stern face softened. ‘Yes, it is.’

‘Let’s sit on the terrace,’ suggested Jack. A waiter stepped to the table at once, holding out chairs for Sam and Rachel.

The evening went well. It seemed to be charmed: Jack kept cracking jokes and telling funny stories about his job. Sam had taken the trouble to make sure everything went smoothly: she had booked a table in advance; asked what everyone wanted to eat beforehand and ordered it; and arranged a taxi there and back. Even Brad seemed less bitter than he had been lately. Wine and conversation flowed.

The four friends had fun talking about their dreams and fantasies. Sam told them to imagine what they would all do if they won a million dollars, and real life was forgotten. Brad wanted to travel. He obviously felt the need to get away from Summer Bay and experience different situations.

‘I’m no linguist,’ he said, ‘so I’ll start with America and the U.K. where they’ll understand what I’m saying.’

‘Don’t know about that, mate,’ smiled Jack. ‘We Aussies are a breed apart.’

Brad pretended to frown in a teacherly way at him. ‘Anyway, it would be interesting.’

Sam had had enough travelling around in her life and wanted a big house full of children and animals, something which Rachel could relate to.

‘It’ll have big gardens and we can grow our own veg. and fruit,’ she enthused.

‘I’ll come and work for you,’ smiled Rachel. ‘We can go organic and-’

‘-sell all the produce, and get rich,’ interrupted Jack, suddenly getting enthusiastic.

‘And of course you can make organic wine and beer,’ added Brad. ‘Hm. Maybe I’ll stay here and join in your venture.’

Everyone laughed, feeling happy at the thought of such a life: not tied to a job; healthy delicious food; not depending on anyone.

‘I’ll provide the security. I’ll leave the police, and patrol the gardens all the time,’ said Jack, waving his pint.

‘I’ll teach kids all about how good organic food is for you: we can have visits from the local schools,’ declared Brad.

‘I’ll do all the cooking and Rachel can help me,’ cried Sam. ‘And we’ll hire men to help get the crops in, they will all fall in love with Rachel and the right one will marry her and join us in the business!’

Everyone paused and looked anxiously at Rachel.

‘Its alright guys!’ she reassured them. ‘I think that sounds just what I need. Just make sure he’s a spunk!’

They all dissolved into laughter, as the waiter collected all their empty glasses and wine bottles.

The next day, Rachel was woken from a deep sleep by the telephone. She muttered ‘hello’ into it, and an anxious voice told her there had been a serious traffic accident on the main road. Could she come in at once because all the other doctors were either helping out or involved in other serious cases.

She got ready as fast as she could, resenting the fact that the return to real life was so abrupt after the dreams of yesterday evening. She told herself not to be mean: the victims of the accident were innocent and didn’t deserve her bitterness, but a bit of it lingered.

At the hospital, everyone was hurrying around, efficient but hasty.

‘Ah Doctor Armstrong,’ said the senior consultant. ‘Operating theatre six please. A young guy with internal injuries.’

Rachel strode briskly off. She scrubbed up, put on her gown and mask, and entered the theatre. There was another doctor and three nurses, all gowned and masked already. They looked so professional: Rachel hoped she wouldn't let them down. She must get her woozy head together after last night.

‘Hello Doctor. Can you assist me with stopping the blood flow?’ said the other doctor, while the nurses got the equipment ready.

Rachel immediately snapped into professional mode: cleaning, repairing, monitoring. She focused all her attention on the patient, who fortunately became stable after a couple of hours and seemed to be on the road to recovery. He was wheeled off to Intensive Care at once.

Rachel took a breather and looked closely at the other doctor for the first time. His brown eyes were pleasant, then he pulled down his mask.... she gasped and stepped back. It was Hugh.

‘Thanks for your help. I know it was your day off,’ he said formally.

‘Th- that’s alright,’ she stuttered. ‘When did you- when were you-’

‘I’m only here on loan, from St Johannes. We’d better see how things are out there.’ He ushered Rachel out of the theatre to find out the latest on the traffic accident victims.

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