Looking back, Sarah realised how easy people were on her in those first few weeks of working on Oliver’s show. She sat in the audience for many of the shows, getting a feel for the production methods, how the runners and researchers worked, and where she would be fitting in to the bigger scheme of things. One of the younger researchers seemed a little offhand but Millie soon put them in their place if she caught anyone making snide comments about Sarah. Finding her way round the studio, and all the associated rooms and corridors took quite a while. During filming, if she wasn’t actually sitting in the audience, she would watch on the monitors and be ready to flatten herself against a wall when the camera and sound man came hurtling past with Oliver, in pursuit of someone who had suddenly become camera shy.
It seemed at first to Sarah that the attitude held towards the people who came on the show by those who worked with them was rather callous. Initial applications were filtered and grouped according to the main course of action needed. Some of the people came under more than one heading – ‘cheated on by ex’, ‘DNA’, ‘double DNA’, ‘double lie test’, ‘estranged sisters’. Once they had been grouped into the appropriate category, each case was then given a sexy strapline that would be bound to attract the viewer, and keep their interest during the advertisement break as it was put up on the screen at the beginning and ending of the segment.
Sharing the flat with Millie was the easiest part of her new life. They didn’t always work the same hours or even the same days, so there was no constant falling over each other in the flat. They laughed and chatted as they had in the old days, but now they had so much more to talk about. Millie encouraged Sarah to cook again, although with the plethora of restaurants surrounding the Quays, there were times when going across for a meal after a hard day was by far the easiest, and most palatable option.
Sarah felt like her horizons were being expanded in every way, and she liked it. The house purchase went through, and Roseanne kept her updated on the progress. She was delighted to hear that the young couple who bought the house intended to rip out all the seventies ghastliness, and turn it into a sleek, modern family home. Abigail had complained about the fact that Sarah had not packed Andy’s things up, but received a quick retort from Roseanne regarding the fact that Abigail would have only unpacked everything to check that nothing was missing anyway. There had also been a couple of calls from Simon to see how she was, which she thought was rather sweet. His office had also been besieged by Abigail but she refused to talk to Simon, and would only pass messages to him via his secretary. As predicted, she had demanded the return of the box, but Simon had sent her a very formal letter stating that Andy had specifically requested that the box be kept safely until his return. She threatened all kind of legal action, but gave up eventually and concentrated on putting Andy’s belongings into storage, and cleaning every trace of Sarah from the house.
The rest of the aftercare team accepted Sarah, and she found that the time spent in forensic social work was particularly relevant to many of the people who came on the show. It was at a pre-show meeting at the start of the week that Sarah and Millie’s past came back to haunt them. They were seated round the table looking at cases and deciding which case would fit best with the others. Oliver had a tearjerker episode scheduled for the end of the week, where he gently interviewed some particularly tragic but non-confrontational cases in order to show his softer side. Young children were inevitably involved and the bestowing of toys, or an iPad for the older ones, was part and parcel of building up the genial Oliver persona. Sarah found it all a bit saccharine, but decided to keep her opinions to herself. It was media, and media was the part she had to mug up on. The producer was working through the resumes of the cases when a familiar name jumped out at both Sarah and Millie. Amy Loomis! The siren of the Graduation Ball and the seducer of Steven Horgan. They nudged each other and read through the notes quickly. Amy Loomis was going to be on the show! Would she recognise them?
Skimming through the notes, it appeared to them both that fate had not been kind to Amy. She had an adult daughter who had three children of her own, and Amy had another four younger children, from three different relationships. She was coming on the show to establish the DNA of the two youngest because her current partner was accusing her of cheating. She was also accusing him of cheating, so it would be a double lie detector test as well. How Oliver relished those! On the plus side Amy had a large council house, and was on every benefit she could get, so there was no need for the aftercare team to get involved. Nowhere was there any mention of Steven Horgan however, and Sarah couldn’t help wondering how long the two of them had lasted after graduation.
Oliver decided that it was quite meaty case, so he’d sandwich it between a father with issues about his ten-year old son’s gambling habit, and a couple who were being harassed by a jealous ex-girlfriend. Oliver was optimistic that the case could be sorted out on the spot, and so they would have a happy ending. At the end of the meeting Sarah and Millie both spoke to Jenny, and made her aware of their previous association with Amy Loomis. She seemed slightly irritated, but having read through the notes again, decided that if there was any aftercare involved another member of the team could deal with it.
“Try and keep out of the corridors that morning if you can. I really don’t want this woman throwing a wobbler because she recognises you both from her dim and distant past. By all means, watch it on the monitor though, and if you see anything that might be useful, let one of the team know.”
Feeling summarily dismissed, they went back to the aftercare office and had a quick meeting with the rest of the team, most of whom were fascinated to know how both Millie and Sarah knew her of old.
The day of the filming arrived and there was a higher level of curiosity than usual about Amy Loomis and her family, because of her previous association with Millie and Sarah. The first section of the show went without a hitch. The father confronted his son about the gambling and money issues. The son broke down in tears. They hugged, and were left off stage to talk to the aftercare team about gambling addiction and counselling. Tucked safely out of the way, Millie and Sarah sat together, glued to a monitor for the first sight of Amy Loomis.
“If she’s still wearing her hair in pigtails I shall scream.” muttered Sarah.
“No.” said Millie. “She must have grown out of them by now.”
Oliver was on stage doing his introductory piece on Amy. Several other people had come into the room since the section had started, almost as curious to see what Amy looked like as Millie and Sarah were.
Amy wasn’t wearing her hair in pigtails. She was wearing it scraped up on top of her head in a pony tail, a style that was only ever flattering to models with high cheek bones and perfect skins. Amy had neither of those. Time had not been kind to her. The dark-haired girl in a red satin blouse was now painfully thin, her brown trousers hung on her and the beige cardigan that she pulled around her was far too large. Her skin was pale and there were huge circles under her eyes. The worst moment was when she managed a nervous smile and revealed several gaps in her teeth.
Haltingly she told a tale of how she had achieved a degree in media studies at university, but fell pregnant to a fellow student who had dumped her shortly after the Graduation Ball. He had never been interested in her daughter, nor contributed any money to her care. Amy and her daughter Stephanie lived in various hostels and sheltered housing, because her parents would have nothing to do with her. Eventually she met up with and married a kind, gentle man who was happy to take Stephanie on as his own, and they had a son to complete the family. Seven years into the marriage her husband was punched in the face whilst on a stag do. He fell to the ground smashing his head into the concrete and died within a couple of hours.
Amy turned to drink as a way out, and had another baby by a man she could hardly remember. She had two more children by her current partner, who was also a drinker, and who didn’t get on with Stephanie. Torn between her eldest daughter and her partner, Amy threw Stephanie out because she couldn’t stand the arguments any more. Stephanie’s relationship with an aggressive boor who beat her resulted in twin girls, a baby boy, and numerous visits to hospital for Stephanie with broken fingers, black eyes and bruises that never matched up with the accidents that she said had caused them.
Amy told Oliver that what she wanted most in life was some peace. She knew her current partner was cheating on her, and was just looking for a reason to get out of the relationship, which is why he was accusing her of cheating too. She wanted proof that the two youngest children were his, and that she, too tired and weary to do much more than look after her children and worry about Stephanie, had not cheated on him. Stephanie joined them on stage and Sarah was struck by how much she looked like Steven Horgan. The penny dropped. She felt a shiver down her back. Steven Horgan was the kind of man who got a woman pregnant and then dumped her. What a lucky escape she’d had.
Stephanie was angry. She was angry with her mother; she was angry with her mother’s partner. She was angry with the man who had supported her through two pregnancies, but had then abandoned her for another girl who didn’t have any children in tow. For once the audience were very supportive of both Amy and her daughter; the boos and catcalls started when Amy’s partner strolled onto the stage looking very full of himself. He threw himself down in the chair and glared at Oliver as if he was the worst person in the world. He was not a pretty sight; shaved hair, tattoos that went from his shoulder, up his neck and ended where his hairline would have been, if he’d had any hair. The researchers had managed to persuade him to change his tee-shirt, as it had a particularly obscene phrase on the front.
Oliver went into his summary spiel to bring TV viewers up to date. He did his best to engage with the man, but each question was met with a hostile glare. As a consequence, the results of the lie-detector tests were presented to Oliver sooner than normal. He opened Amy’s envelope first. Not surprisingly, the test proved that she was not lying on any counts. It was a shame that the same could not be said for Amy’s partner. He failed. He tried to get up and walk away, but Al and Dave prevented him going until he’d heard the DNA test results. As Amy had predicted, both the younger children were his, and although she was throwing him out of the council house they shared, Amy had the grace to say that he could visit his children when he wanted to.
Both Millie and Sarah were feeling empathic towards Amy. On the day of the Graduation Ball, they had all had high hopes for the future. Sarah realised now that she could have been in Amy’s position. That it could have been her sitting on Oliver’s stage, warn down and haggard, arguing with yet another worthless man who had left her high and dry. She knew that she and Millie shouldn’t get involved, but she had a compulsion to see Amy before she left. To tell her that things would be alright in the end, but everything that she thought of saying seemed trite and trivial compared to the awfulness of Amy’s situation. She felt that Millie was having the same thoughts, and as the show cut to an advertisement break, they both sat in the office, silent and rather ashamed.
A runner burst into the room just then, “Oliver wants you two downstairs as soon as possible.”
“What for?” asked Millie.
“Dunno. Just said to come and get you both quick.”
Casting confused glances at each other, Sarah and Millie followed the runner downstairs and through the maze of corridors to another green room. Oliver was sitting on a sofa talking with Amy.
“Ah, come in you two. Amy was asking after you. She’s very eagle-eyed and had seen Millie on the show ages ago, but then she saw a more recent recording and recognised you as well, Sarah. She asked if she could say hello?”
Oliver moved over so that Sarah and Millie could sit next to Amy. She smiled; a shy ‘I-know-my-teeth-are- bad-but –I-can’t-afford-to-see-a-dentist’ smile.
“I wasn’t sure if it was Millie, but then, when I saw you as well Sarah, I remembered how inseparable you two were at Uni. You both look as if you are doing well. Is it all okay with you?”
Sarah couldn’t find the words at that moment but luckily Millie could.
“Hey Amy, I have a son who’s just started at Uni. Sarah’s just emerged from a long-term relationship. She’s a bit like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon. She’s staying with me till she finds a place of her own.”
Amy smiled again and they could all see beyond the wrinkles and the sunken eyes, what a pretty girl she used to be.
“Just like the old days at Uni then. There’s something I’ve always felt guilty about, Sarah.” she said. “This seems to be a day for getting things off my chest. I had a feeling that you had almost arranged to go to the Graduation Ball with Steven, and I stepped in and pinched him. Do you forgive me?”
“There’s absolutely nothing to forgive Amy. It sounds as if you saved me from a fate worse than death.”
Amy nodded. “It was good with Steven at first but once he found out I was pregnant he wouldn’t stay. He went off to some foreign place to find himself.”
“So, did I, and found myself pregnant instead.” said Millie.
“My partner – sorry – ex-partner has just gone off to Thailand to find himself.” said Sarah trying not to sound too bitter.
Just then a runner turned up and announced that the car had come to take Amy and Stephanie back to the train station, so that they could go home and start the process of throwing her partner out of the house and reclaiming it for their own.
“Thank you for today, for getting to the truth for me, and for letting me meet up with my old friends.” Amy said to Oliver as he stood by the doorway doing his compassionate clasping of hands. Impulsively, Sarah came forward and hugged Amy, followed by Millie.
“The aftercare team will be here to support you Amy.” said Oliver in a less oily tone than usual.
“Thank you. I feel like you’ve put me on the way there already.”
“Just out of interest, what happened to Steven in the end?” asked Sarah.
“I’m afraid he died. He joined the army and became an explosives officer. He was defusing a bomb in Afghanistan. I kept in touch with his mother. He wasn’t a bad man Sarah, just young and unable to handle the consequences. I have Stephanie to remind me anyway.”
Amy turned and followed her daughter and the runner out to the waiting car. Sarah and Millie both sat down on the sofa.
“Come on girls! No blubbing! Amy has left the building and you two have work to do. Chop, chop!”
There were times, thought Sarah, when she could cheerfully strangle Oliver Standish.