Spanish Groom(10)

By: Lynne Graham

As soon as Bruce had carried her bags upstairs for her, he left to speed back to the office, long hours being a feature of his highly paid employment. Dixie unlocked the door of her bedsit. She transferred Cesar the fish into a large glass mixing bowl and fed him, setting him next to the window in the hope that a view of the pigeons on the roof opposite would keep him entertained.

Locking up again, she went down the street to call in on a neighbour she often babysat for at weekends. In return the older woman kept her Jack Russell dog, Spike, during the day.

She took Spike for a quick walk in the park, and then nervously carried him back up to her bedsit for the night. She wasn't allowed to keep pets, but she had never had any bother sneaking Spike in after it got dark. Now that the light nights had arrived, she was really scared that she would be seen.

How on earth had her life got into such a terrible, frightening mess? she asked herself in a daze as she watched Spike wolf down his dinner. The future had looked so promising when she had first come up to London to share Petra's spacious apartment, certainly a lot brighter than it had seemed for many years beforehand...

Dixie's mother had died when she was five and her father had remarried the following year. It was hard to recall even now that Petra wasn't really her true sister but actually her stepsister—the daughter of her father's second wife, Muriel. Already a teenager, Petra had had little interest in a child seven years younger, but Dixie had always longed for a big sister and had adored blonde and beautiful Petra. At seventeen, Petra had left home on her first modelling assignment.

A year later, Dixie's father had died of a heart attack, and the year after that Muriel had shown the first symptoms of what was to prove to be a long, debilitating terminal illness.Dixie had never managed to pass any exams because she had been forced to miss so much school. Whenever Muriel's health had been particularly bad, Dixie had had to stay at home to see to her needs. She had left school at sixteen.

Over the following four years, Petra had sent money home regularly but the demands of a career which took her all over the world had made it impossible for her to visit much. A year ago, Muriel Robinson had passed away, and Dixie had more or less invited herself up to London to stay with Petra. Used to living alone, Petra had understandably not been too keen on the arrangement at first, but had soon appreciated that Dixie could look after her apartment when she herself was abroad.

For her own convenience, Petra had opened a household account in both their names, and paid in sufficient money to cover her bills, so that Dixie could easily pay them for her. And when, soon afterwards, Dixie had started work at Valverde Mercantile, she had had her entire salary paid into the same account.

Dixie had frequently ordered expensive food and alcohol for Petra's lavish parties. In the same way she had dealt with Leticia Zane, after the interior designer's initial meeting with Petra, ensuring that all the costly redecoration was done in exactly the way her sister wished.

And then, about three months ago, Petra had suddenly announced that she was leaving the UK. Giving up the lease on her apartment, she had packed her bags and flown to Los Angeles. Dixie had moved into the bedsit. But within weeks the demands for payment had begun rolling in from her sister's creditors. Dixie had discovered that the joint account was not only empty of her own savings but also overdrawn. Only after the deputy bank manager had patiently explained it to her had Dixie understood that she herself could be held liable for Petra's unpaid bills.

She had immediately phoned her sister. After admitting that she was broke, but promising to help as soon as she could, Petra had rather drily reminded Dixie of all the money she had generously sent over the years that Dixie had been nursing her mother, Muriel. And Dixie had felt really guilty, because tough as those years had been they would have been intolerable without Petra's financial assistance.

But the next time Dixie had phoned that same number she had been told that Petra had moved on without leaving a forwarding address. That had been two months ago, and since then she hadn't heard a word from her sister.

The awful fear that Petra had not the slightest intention of getting in touch again, or of trying to satisfy her creditors, was now beginning to haunt Dixie. She felt so disloyal, thinking about Petra that way. Yet in her heart of hearts she was facing up to the harsh fact that her glamorous stepsister invariably put her own needs first.

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