Sarah Jane looked at the kitchen clock and noted that it was half past three. She sighed. Half past three was usually a pleasant time for her. It was when she made tea for Luke and Maria and, except when he had football practice, Clyde, too.
She liked that time. She liked their noise and their chatter. She didn’t even mind the mess, much. She listened to their school talk. They listened to her. And precious few people did that.
But it was summer and they were all away. Maria was on holiday with her dad. Luke had gone with Clyde on an adventure camp in Wales – canoeing and that sort of thing. It was good for Luke. He got to spend time with boys his own age, and got to be that bit more like an ordinary boy with an ordinary life. And that was what she wanted for him more than anything.
But meanwhile, she was lonely. She missed Luke, her adopted son who needed her so much at first, but was now starting to be independent in all the right ways. She missed Maria, the daughter she never had, who came to her with the sort of problems she would have taken to her mother if her mother had been around to hear them. She missed Clyde and his cheeky, irreverent, but wonderful ways.
The house felt empty. Yes, of course, there was K9 and Mr Smith upstairs in the attic. But if she started to depend on them for company, then she really would be at the end of her tether.
Of course, she had lived alone for years. And she enjoyed the privacy. She hadn’t felt lonely, then. She didn’t regret anything much. But then she had become a parent, and now she missed noise and mess and chatter. Even yesterday, when she had tracked down a UFO and sent the six inch tall would be invading party packing with a threat to step on their space ship if they didn’t make themselves scarce, it just wasn’t as satisfying with nobody to tell afterwards.
She sighed again and turned to put the kettle on. She could have a nice cup of tea and then go and see if Mr Smith had picked up anything unusual in the skies today.
The doorbell distracted her from the tea making, and she told herself not to get excited. It was probably the milkman or a door to door salesman. That was all.
She never quite knew how to react on the rare occasions he turned up. Whether to punch him or kiss him, or possibly both, or to complain about him parking his police box on her lawn.
Stuff the lawn, she thought as his wide grin infected her mood and she hugged him.
“Hello, Sarah Jane,” The Doctor said to her. “How are you?”
“I’m… great,” she answered. “Even better for seeing you. It’s been… since Christmas. Which isn’t bad really, considering once I didn’t see you for over thirty years. But I never know if you’re alive or dead. I don’t know if there’s anyone who could tell me if you were… and… and… and…” She was babbling. Only The Doctor could do that to her. With everyone else she was a grown woman, a parent. An accomplished journalist and a professional. She was a person who could tell alien invaders to go away and stop bothering this planet.
With The Doctor she always felt twenty-one years old, and not entirely certain which way is up and whether the sun will rise in the east or west.
“I came to ask you something,” he said when she stopped hugging him and let him into the kitchen. She found another cup and saucer and poured tea into the pot. She opened a packet of nice chocolate biscuits that she wouldn’t have bothered with just for herself. He waited until they were sitting drinking tea and eating biscuits before asking his question.
“Are you free for dinner tonight?”
“Dinner?” she almost dropped her biscuit into her tea.
“Dinner. It’s a meal that most humanoids eat in the evening.”
“I know that, silly,” she answered. “But… you’re asking me… to go to dinner with you… like… like… a date?”
The Doctor smiled even more widely than before.
“Yes, I suppose so. Yes, why not. Sarah Jane, I am asking you to go on a date with me.”
He blushed when he said it. He actually did. He blushed.
So did she.
“Er… Um… Where?” she asked. “Where do you want to take me to dinner? And what should I wear?”
“Where is a surprise,” he answered. “Any nice dress would do… I suppose.”
“Oh, will it?” Sarah Jane laughed. “You may be a Time Lord, getting on for a thousand years old, but you’re a typical man. ‘Any nice dress will do’. Dinner with you could be anywhere from a burger bar on the space station at Alterion IV to Buckingham Palace. ‘Any nice dress’ I own would be two much for the first and not enough for the second.”
“Then take a look in the wardrobe while we’re travelling. It always came up with something for the right occasion before… well, except for that pink stripy number you wore when we got mixed up with Eldrad’s nasty little scheme, and I have to admit I never liked that big yellow coat.”
“Neither did I,” she admitted. “But…” She broke off what she was saying and looked at him for a long, hard moment. He knew she was looking at him and studiously concentrated on his tea.
“Doctor,” she said at last. “Tell me something. And I promise I won’t be upset. Was I your first choice for this ‘date’?”
“Why the ‘’?” he asked. “It’s a date. A real date. No need for ‘’.”
“What about Martha? Couldn’t she go with you? Or… Donna… your new friend. I haven’t met her yet, but Martha told me you were travelling with somebody nice.”
“Martha has her own life. She’s working hard. Donna is not with me at the moment. She needed to spend a few weeks with her family, touch base as it were. I’m on a promise not to get lost in the Alzodat desert and remember to come back for her.”
“And Jack? Have you seen him lately?”
“I get texts from him now and again. Usually comparing notes about alien species.” He paused and frowned. “You know Jack?”
“Our paths crossed. But you can’t have asked him to go with you. He wouldn’t say no to a date with you. If I read the signals with him, he’d jump at the chance.”
The Doctor laughed, though not unkindly.
“Yes, he would. I might even drop into Cardiff some time and shout him lunch. He deserves that much. But no, Sarah Jane. You aren’t bottom of some big list of other possibilities. You are the one I really want to take out to dinner. Nobody else came to mind. You’re the first one I thought of. I promise.”
She believed him. He might be many thing, but he wasn’t a liar. She was sure of that.
“I ought to say no,” she said with a sigh. “Getting on that roller coaster again… life with you… even if it’s just dinner, just for an evening, and even though I’ve got nothing better to do right now, and even if you won’t admit to being lonely, I will. I’ll admit that I’ve got nothing else to do tonight but make a meal for one and sit and watch a load of rubbish on television that I’m not even interested in. And if I said no and sent you away I’d probably choke on the meal and cry myself to sleep in front of the TV. But I should say no. Because I can’t do it again. I can’t live that life again, not even for a little while. I’m too old for it now.”
He put down his tea cup and looked at her solemnly.
“I’m sorry, Sarah Jane,” he said. “For everything that has happened, or not happened in your life that’s my fault. I am sorry for it all. For taking you away from the life you should have been leading, for making it impossible for you to have an ordinary life. For leaving you in Aberdeen… for being too stupid to check the location… for getting in the way of you and Harry… I know I did that, and I am VERY sorry for it. For… for not coming to see you all those years, when I could have done… when a cup of tea and a chat about old times would have been nice. For…”
“For looking like that NOW, instead of when I was young enough for us to actually look like we’re a couple,” she told him. “When we might have…”
“Yes, that, too.”
“And for those rude remarks about my pink outfit.”
“I apologise unreservedly for any spoken remark, any unspoken thought, about your pink outfit, and for any unconscious comparisons with Andy Pandy. I’m also sorry for getting you blown up when you were wearing that outfit.”
“Ok, then,” she said and poured him another cup of tea.
“Sarah,” he said after watching her put the right amount of sugar and milk in his tea, as if they really were a couple who had been together for decades. “None of those things, nothing that happened in the past, has anything to do with me coming here today and asking you to be my guest, my very special guest, my special friend. All I thought was, ‘Sarah Jane would love it.’”
Again, she knew he was telling the truth. Because he had never knowingly lied to her.
“I understand about the roller coaster. I get a bit sick of it myself sometimes. I’d give it all up for a quiet life if I actually knew what to do with one. But I promise you, one ride only. Will you, Sarah Jane Smith, my friend, come along on that roller coaster with me for one ride only.”
“Yes,” she answered. Because after all, she knew she would regret saying no.
To Be Continued...