Breaking Free – Chins Up

“Shall we go on the tram?” asked Millie, fluffing up her fringe in front of the hall mirror as they got ready to go to the studios.

“Why not? I like the tram. Is it far to walk either end?”

“Nope.  Door to door, that’s why I like it. You look far too smart to be in the audience you know.”

Sarah’s face was panic stricken. “Oh no! Have I got time to go and change? I don’t want to make you late for work.”

“Gotcha! You look fine. It’s merely the fact that you aren’t showing acres of leg, tons of cleavage, have no baggy grey tracky bottoms, no pineapple ponytail, and no tattoos or piercings – apart from your two very discreet and expensive gold sleepers.”

Sarah looked in the mirror. She thought that she looked fine too. One of her go-to-court black suits, and a honey-coloured top with delicate black lace applique. She stuck out her tongue at Millie who was similarly dressed.

“Oliver has said that you can come backstage before the show and come to the mop up afterwards if you want. I think he’s taken a shine to you. I don’t mean in that way silly; he is absolutely devoted to his wife Elena. She’s really nice. You might meet her today too.”

“What have I done to deserve this?” asked Sarah.

“Doh! Have you never been headhunted my dear? No, you haven’t. I forgot. Ten years in the same office for the same local authority. Let’s look at you more closely – qualified social worker with ten-odd years of experience, looking for employment, no children or partner, able to relocate to the big bad city at short notice, with a friend already employed in media in said city. Oliver has already got your CV from Miles. Once he sees the work you did yesterday afternoon, he will be begging you to join us. That is, you do want to join us, don’t you?”

Her legs felt a bit wobbly; Sarah sat down on the sofa in a mild state of shock and panic. Millie sat down next to her and took her hand. 

“I should have said something last night, but we got so caught up in reminiscing that I didn’t want to change the mood. Can’t you see how ideal this job would be for you, Sarah? You were already using your instincts when you were watching the show last week. Oh hell, I haven’t upset you, have I? Do you really hate the idea so much?”

Shaking her head, partly in disbelief, Sarah took a deep breath, trying to marshal her thoughts into some semblance of order.

“I would love to work on the show. I would love to work with you. I just didn’t think it could be possible.  After those awful agencies I went to, I thought that there was no future for me unless I changed completely.  Andy told me that I wasn’t management material so there was no point in looking for promotion. “

“Oh darling, it wasn’t your abilities that were holding you back, it was Andy. Andy feeling too scared of losing you if you got promoted. “

“Do you really think so?” said Sarah trying very hard not to cry.

“I know so. I went through three years of a social work degree with you, remember? Talking to you over lunch, seeing how quickly you sussed out the issues on the show the other day, I was fairly certain, but seeing the work you did yesterday afternoon, convinced me that you’d be ideal for the job. The fact that you ARE footloose and fancy free, and in a position to relocate, is the icing on the cake. I believe in you, Sarah, and that will have to do until you start believing in yourself again. Now, are we going?”

“Y-yes.”

“Right. Chins up!”

Grabbing her arm, Millie propelled Sarah out of the front door and locked up behind her.  A nervous giggle escaped her as she allowed herself to be led into the lift, and out to the tram stop. Millie already had a transport season ticket, but she’d bought a ten-hour pass for Sarah on her way home from the studio. The bulk of the rush hour traffic had passed, but it was exhilarating to watch the commuters rushing through the city. Even at peak times, her own little town was far less hectic – and far less interesting.

Millie nudged her. “Here we go.”

They got up and joined the others getting off the tram, and walking across the concourse to the studios. Several of Millie’s colleagues hailed her as they headed in through the side door, and collected their security passes. At the front of the building the glass frontage revealed a crowd of people lined up in a disorderly queue. Runners in black moved up and down the queue, trying to keep people in order without much success.

Millie and Sarah left their coats and bags in a very secure locker room.

“The clients have a tendency to run off the stage – as you saw. Some of them take the opportunity to see if there are any mementos that can take home with them – or they used to until we stepped up the security. Right. Take a deep breath and follow me. If Oliver gets snappy, just smile politely and leave us to deal with him. You’ll get your turn later.”

Sarah followed Millie into the meeting room. It was gradually filling up; although the seats near the end of the table were left empty.

“Oliver, the director and producer sit down that end.” whispered Millie. “Do you want some coffee?”

Noticing that everyone else was getting coffee from the trolley near them, Sarah nodded her head, and was grateful to have the warm mug to wrap her shaking hands around, especially when Oliver and the other two important people came into the room and sat down.

Jenny, the producer, spoke first. Order sheets were handed out, and runners were allocated to each of the groups of clients. Mel, the director, concentrated on the focus for each of the three case studies. Millie had brought her own, and Sarah’s notes to the meeting and was gleefully putting ticks next to the points that concurred with the director’s notes. The first case was going to be concentrating on aftercare and support for the young couple, but with the proviso that the lad’s mother should be kept out of it as much as possible. Jenny skipped onto the last case.

“I’ll go back to the middle case in a moment, but I think Oliver may enjoy this one. We have two young couples. The male of one couple is accusing his partner of having sex with the male of the other couple, whose female is also accusing her partner of cheating. We have a double lie detector. I can’t tell you the results in advance, but I would say that it is likely that there has been some cheating going on. Probably the part that is most worthy of note, and presents Oliver with a difficult situation because we are daytime TV, is that both cheating parties have been observed by a third-party, copulating on a park bench on one occasion, and the female gave the male oral sex on the same park bench at a later date.”

A runner put her hand in the air. “How reliable is the third-party?”

Jenny grinned. “The park warden caught them both times. He takes a dim view of people having sex in his park.”

Oliver steepled his fingers. “I take it that we have the first male, then his partner, then the second female, then her partner, then the test results?”

“That seems to be the best order Oliver, I guess you can confront the female with the oral sex bit, and the male with the copulation?”

“Okay. Let’s go back to this odious Dutch woman who insists on deliberately calling me by a different name. How are we going to play it?”

“You’ve seen the interview tapes. She is rude, overbearing, and her story changes by the minute. He seems like a nice guy, but the publicity may not do him any good.  He’s been warned about that, but says that whilst there is any credibility in her allegations, no one will believe him – that’s why he wants to take the test. The researcher who has been minding her says that this woman is quite delusional about her actions. She feels it is okay to tell lies, steal and blackmail this guy, because the car he bought her had to be repossessed when the banks crashed, and he lost all his money.  She isn’t certifiable though, and she will most definitely make for a good show once she gets going.”

Oliver smiled. Sarah wasn’t sure that it was a particularly nice smile. He caught her looking at him and his smile became wider.

“One other thing to mention team. You may have noticed a new face in our midst. Her name is Sarah, she is a long-term friend of Millie’s, she is also a social worker, and once I’ve had more time to check her CV and the notes she has made for this show, she may well be joining us. She’s far too well dressed for our audience, but I would like her to be out there observing, and contributing to the mop up meeting this afternoon. With regard to the mad Dutchwoman; we’ve kept her as far apart from her ex as possible, and we must make sure that she is on a plane home this afternoon. Her ticket cannot be exchanged for a later date, and whoever takes her to the airport had better follow her through as far as you can. Two runners with her if necessary. Yes?”

Jenny looked over at the producer, and there was an almost imperceptible nod of agreement.  The meeting broke up then, with everyone getting to their various stations ready for filming.  Millie took Sarah out to her seat in the audience this time, and gave her a notepad and pen.

“If you think that you can take any useful notes, fire away.” She whispered as the audience began to file in again. “There are quite a lot of students, and a couple of their tutors in today so it shouldn’t look suspicious. Fasten your seatbelt. This is going to be a good one. Either I’ll come and get you at the end or I’ll send a runner. Don’t get cross and shout either. Leave that to the audience.”

And she was gone, leaving Sarah up on the topmost tier, watching the seats fill up, and the eagle-eyed security staff checking that all electronic recording devices were turned off. Sarah recognised one of the men from her previous visit, and he gave her a sly wink as he went past to argue with a student who was taking pictures with his phone.

The lights dimmed and Oliver’s theme music played as he entered stage right this time, instead of coming from the top of the stage as before. Sarah was curious about this change and made a note of it. The young girl with the baby was on first. She was little more than a child herself, and looked thin and tired. She had no family, and was living in a hostel with the baby. She had previously lived with her boyfriend and his family, but had to leave because his mother had been so controlling, and kept criticising the way she looked after the baby. Oliver was patient with her, encouraging her to speak up in a kind, but firm fashion, whilst all the time the boyfriend’s mother was hurling abuse from the pod room next to the stage.

The boyfriend was called out next. He didn’t seem to be a bad lad, but didn’t have much to say. He was obviously a mummy’s boy, but there something in the way he looked at the girl, and then at the picture of his baby son on the screen. Oliver picked up on it, and began to bully the boy into talking for himself. His mother had to be warned several times about shouting, and eventually she was allowed to come on stage and have her say.

She was vitriolic. She didn’t think that that the baby was her son’s, but if the DNA proved that it was, then her son had been trapped, and he was far too young to have such responsibilities, especially when the girl was hopeless as a mother, and useless at helping around the house. Oliver allowed her to rant for a little while, then told her to shut up and listen. The boy and girl had been looking at each other, oblivious to the woman’s allegations. Oliver turned to them, and held his hand up for silence. He crouched down between them

“Tell me, son, do you love her? Do you love your baby?”

“Yes.” He muttered.

“Are either of you happy being apart?”

The both shook their heads.

“Would you be happy getting back together if you didn’t live with his mum?”

“Yes.” She nodded, with just the slightest hint of a smile.

Oliver was handed the DNA test results. He looked at the three of them, and then at the baby on the screen. “The test results reveal that you ………are the father of this lovely boy.”

The lad left his seat and took his girlfriend in his arms.

“Right.” said Oliver as he stood upright. “Mum, you go that way. You two – go through that door to the left, and the aftercare team will talk to you about housing, and looking after your baby, who looks beautiful to me. You,” he said pointing at the lad, “Need to cut the apron strings and leave Mummy at home. She is not helping and if you two are going to make a go of it, she needs to be out of the picture for a while.”

A gobsmacked mother left the stage escorted by a runner. The young couple went into the next room and the screen showed them sitting down with Millie and a couple of other workers. Sarah felt very proud of Millie at that moment.

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