"You shall be fine darling," Theresa whispered as she hugged her daughter, "just do your best."
Then, when she pulled back, she added, "I'll write as soon as I get your letter. Have a lovely time!"
Darrell, Theresa's eldest daughter, didn't look quite as sure about Theresa's sentiment but she smiled back and agreed she would with something approaching confidence. Theresa had to admit that it felt a little peculiar for her as well, putting her daughter on a train and sending her off to boarding school over two hundred miles away. Even throughout the entire war, no matter what, Theresa hadn't been separated from her children. The fact that she wouldn't have eyes on one of them now for at least six weeks was a most peculiar realisation.
Theresa gave Darrell one last wave and walked off down the platform.
Once she was far enough away that neither Darrell or any of the girls in her form would see her, Theresa found somewhere to stand. She couldn't say why but a part of her couldn't bear to leave without seeing the train off, even if Darrell had no idea that she was doing it. Perhaps it was because it would make it real. The train would chug off out of the station and down through the tunnel and it would all finally be real. Theresa knew, of course, that Malory Towers would be safe and that this was nothing like not seeing Michael for months on end and never knowing if she would receive a telegram to say that the worst had happened but a part of that fear was still there, no matter how irrational she knew it to be.
Theresa stepped back to make sure she was out of the thoroughfare and a girl bumped into the side of her. The girl stumbled to regain her balance and turned around. She was wearing the same brown and orange uniform that Darrell had put on that morning.
"I'm terribly sorry, please excuse me." The girl could only be the same age as Darrell but she spoke with an overcontrolled tension to her voice that made her seem that much older and far more serious that Theresa had ever known Darrell to be. Theresa looked around for the girl's family but found no-one closing in to claim the girl.
"No problem at all, are you alright?" Theresa asked.
"Perfectly fine, thank you," — the strained edge of that voice suggested otherwise — "I must get on. I need to find my train."
"The Malory Towers train is just down there," Theresa said, pointing, "on platform seven."
Theresa watched the strange little girl go and wondered whatever must have happened to her. No family here to see her off either... Theresa shook her head before the morose thoughts could settle in, the war had taken so much from everyone and now it was impossible to see some situations without wondering whether tragedy had befallen a person. Theresa thanked her lucky stars every day that Michael had come back to them. The months he had been overseas, working in field hospitals near the front lines, had been some of the worst of her life so far. The nightmares that still, at times, kept Michael up for all hours at night told her that she had been right to be so worried.
"Well, I never... Theresa?"
Theresa spun around and found herself face-to-face with a familiar face and for a moment, she was transported back to days — and some nights — spent huddled over coded messages, frantically decrypting alongside scores of other women.
"My word, Dorothy! It is you isn't it?"
"It is indeed. Of all the places to bump into you," Dorothy said with a beaming smile.
"I was just dropping my eldest off, she's starting boarding school."
"It's not Malory Towers is it?" At Theresa's nod, Dorothy continued, "My Irene goes there, she's been there for a term already, if your Darrell's in the North Tower, they'll be in the same dormy."
"She is, what a small world." Theresa wanted to pinch herself to make sure that this was real. She hadn't seen any of the women she'd been at Bletchley with for at least a year, despite working so closely with them and writing to a few quite regularly.
"Have you heard from any of the others?" Dorothy asked. "I must admit, I lost touch with most of them. I still write to Millie on occasion, she's been off travelling the world just like she said she would."
"Only Susan. She's met a man and it sounds like she's thinking of settling down..."
"I would have thought for sure that she would have...oh nevermind, it was different times wasn't it?" Dorothy said, then grinned slyly. "Did you ever find out if your two managed to learn any national secrets in all their shenanigans?"
"Oh don't." Theresa groaned, thinking back to the trouble Darrell and Felicity had gotten up to while Theresa was trying to juggle her work at Bletchley and looking after two curious children. "They were little terrors, weren't they? Do you remember that time we found the—"
"Cup on the string!" Dorothy let out an explosive laugh. "Oh, they were something else. Used to drive Jean up the wall whenever we had to meet at your place. Made me glad that Irene was away staying with her grandparents, I dread to think of the mayhem they might have caused if the three of them had teamed up. Can you imagine if our two put their heads together at Malory Towers and start piecing together bits and pieces about what their mothers really did during the war?"
"Oh, I shouldn't think they will..." Theresa said.
One of the station guards bustled towards them. "Come on ladies, out of the way, this is no place to stand around gossiping!"
Theresa stepped to one side, though there had been plenty of space for the guard to walk past her. "After all, like you said, it was different times..."
"The world looks differently at us now," Dorothy agreed with a sigh. "If only they knew what the housewives of Britain did for them all. Do you suppose we'll ever be able to tell our families? Irene's got my love of maths, she'd think it was simply marvellous that maths could make such a difference in the world."
Theresa thought about how Darrell and Felicity would react, their wide-eyed delight at learning just how important a role their mother and so many other women had played during the war. "I don't know, I suppose only time will tell."
A whistle went up and Theresa turned to watch as the Malory Towers' train slowly pulled out of the station before building up some speed and disappearing into the tunnel that would take it out and on its way down towards Cornwall. That little grip of fear grew stronger and Theresa took a deep breath, reminded herself that it was only boarding school.
"I'm just the same. I suppose when you learnt what we learnt, it's only natural that we worry that little bit more about them." Dorothy admitted. "Though Irene would hate it if I stood any closer or dared wave her off. They have their schoolgirl reputations to uphold after all."
Theresa chuckled, thinking that Darrell would be much the same. "And so starts a new chapter, gosh it feels so strange."
Dorothy glanced at her watch. "I don't suppose you've got a bit of time, do you? There's a lovely cafe not far from here, the right sort of place for a decent catch-up without anyone listening in."
"In fact, I think I do..."