'I hope you'll be okay, Paige,' my Mum fretted.
'I'll be fine! Don't worry,' I breezed, as I packed my clothes and toiletries.
I'd miss my parents, but being an only child, it was Mum I'd miss the most.
A charity admin officer, she was considerate, caring and diplomatic, plus she was a good, neutral listener and tried to see different points of view in a kind, empathetic way.
At twenty one, it was time I flew the nest. As a new student, I couldn't afford to rent a place of my own, so a flat- sharing set- up was ideal.
'As long as it's with another girl,' Dad had said.
It was. I'd hit it off with the current tenant - office worker Gemma, who was around my age. We liked the same fashion, music and TV programmes, too.
Things went well, until Gemma's boyfriend Mark stayed over.
I was pretty laid back, but one weekday morning at breakfast, I paused in my tracks when
I overheard him talking to someone on his mobile while Gemma was in the shower.
From his loving tone, I wondered if he had a long- term partner tucked away at home.
I waited until he'd gone before I said anything to Gemma.
She looked on edge. 'I know it's an awkward situation, but he's really unhappily married, Paige. He just needs to find the right moment to let his wife down gently and walk away.'
Hmm, I mused, would this 'right moment' ever materialise?
'How long have you been seeing each other?' I asked.
'Three months,' she replied dreamily.
'Where did you meet Mark?'
'At the laundrette. The washing machine had broken down. He was in the same boat.'
'I hate to say this Gemma, but are you sure Mark's not just stringing you along?'
'Of course he isn't. We're soulmates and totally in love,' she simpered.
'I'm sure you are.' I kept my voice gentle.
There was a tense pause. She busied herself, washing up the breakfast things. Then she stopped and turned to me.
'Some might may judge me, saying me being involved with Mark is morally wrong. You haven't. I appreciate that.'
'Thanks. But -'
'Look Paige, I've got to go, I'm late for work.' She grabbed her coat and bag, slipped into shoes and headed out.
All day at Uni, in-between lectures, I mulled the affair over.
No doubt it'd all end in tears... and I'd probably be the one to mop them up!
Gemma and I had become good friends. She deserved better than being a married man's bit on the side.
When I arrived home, the landline phone rang.
'Am I speaking to Gemma?' a strange woman's voice enquired.
Gemma was still at work. Before I could correct the caller, she rudely cut in:
'This is Mark's wife, Angie. We need to talk.'
I jolted, but I kept my cool.
'I'm afraid Gemma's out. Can I take a message?' I asked smoothly.
'Who are you?' she demanded.
I didn't like Angie's sharp tone, yet I kept my counsel. 'I'm her flatmate, Paige.'
'Right. Well, tell her to meet me in town at the Ginger cafe at one on Saturday. It's opposite the post office..'
Then the line went dead.
I wondered how Gemma would recognise her. Then I realised that she must have seen photos of Angie on Mark's mobile. I expect that's where she found our number, too.
I decided not to tell Gemma about Angie's phone call. Was it really a good idea for these love rivals to meet?
I didn't know Mark's wife, but it wouldn't surprise me if she caused a scene.
A loud shouty row was bad enough but, with emotions running high, what if she did something horrid, like throw scalding coffee in Gemma's face?
I wanted to talk to Angie myself. Yet how would I recognise her?
In the cafe, when I spotted a pretty, red- haired, jean- clad, slim woman sitting on her own, I asked her if she was Angie.
She nodded warily, so I took the seat opposite and launched straight in.
'I'm not Gemma. I'm Paige, her flat- sharer. You spoke to me on the phone.'
'I knew you weren't Gemma. I've seen a pic of her on Mark's mobile,' she muttered.
So he hasn't kept his affair top secret then, I thought dryly.
'Why didn't you pass my message on to Gemma?' she challenged. I'd told Gemma that I was meeting an old school pal in town.
'Well, I don't mean to think the worst, but what if either of your feelings got out of hand? One of you could have started a cat fight.'
She shrugged. 'Fair enough. Yes, I'm hurt by the affair but I realise that it takes two to tango. I have no intention of causing her injury or harm. I just wanted to talk.'
She shifted. 'If you must know, I'd planned to give her a ton of cash if she agreed to ditch him.'
I was taken aback. Buying her off?
Yet I quickly considered her words. Angie clearly didn't want to end her marriage.
'That's a risky strategy. What if Gemma took the money and used it for her and Mark to start afresh?'
'I'm a highly successful businesswoman. I own a nationwide haulage company. Mark wouldn't leave me, mainly for financial reasons. He works for me - or he's supposed to. That's when he's not skipping off to be with her,' she spat.
'It sounds like you're feeling quite angry.'
She nodded. 'I also feel sad. He's betrayed my trust. Why are you so bothered about me? I thought you'd be defending your friend.'
'I can't defend her actions. I'm bothered about you, Angie, because this concerns all of us. I don't feel that this affair is good for her emotional well- being.'
She took a sip of tea. 'Let me guess. Gemma is probably blinded with love and he's taking advantage of that. I'm not sure if staying married to him is good for my emotional well- being, either.'
'Well, you need to decide what to do', I urged.
I noticed that Angie had uttered Gemma's name. That was a positive step.
I suspected why Mark had strayed. Angie had probably become heavily involved in the business and had neglected her marriage.
'Look, tell me to keep my nose out, but I have a suggestion. How about a holiday abroad for you and Mark – just the two of you? Time in the sun together to relax, talk and reflect.'
Angie looked pensive. 'We haven't had a holiday in years. Do you know Paige, that's not a bad idea.'
She then scooped up her bag.
She was clearly bringing our meeting to a close. 'Thanks for listening.'
Three weeks later, Gemma was in a state of shock as she read out a text from Mark.
'I don't believe it! Mark's ditched me!' she cried.
'What?' I pretended to be surprised, yet secretly I was relieved.
When Mark had declared he was going away abroad for a fortnight's holiday with his wife, Gemma was distraught.
While he was away, he'd cut contact with his girlfriend. And now -
'But he promised to leave her for me!' she wailed.
A stab of sympathy pricked. 'A married man is never a good bet, Gemma.'
She burst into sobs, so I handed her a box of tissues and hugged her.
Later, Angie got in touch - she wanted to meet me at the cafe again. I agreed.
'You've saved my marriage, Paige,' she beamed.
I waved a hand. 'A holiday was only a suggestion.'
'But no- one else did suggest it. How can I thank you?'
I thought about all the things a wealthy woman could afford - then inspiration struck...
'Are you sure you'd like me to share this prize with you?' Gemma asked me later.
I'd told her that, in a prize draw on social media, I'd won a long weekend for two in a luxury spa country hotel.
'Well, with your counselling studies, I expect you need to chill out more than me!'
Yes, I was learning at Uni, but it was also good to use those vital lessons in listening that I'd picked up from my lovely mum!