Breaking Free – Another Breakthrough

After all the angst, it was turning out to be a good weekend.  Tom quite liked sleeping in the small room; he and Sarah got on really well, and all of Millie’s anxieties went out of the window. There was a brief moment when she almost objected because Tom wanted to go and meet up with some friends for lunch on Saturday, but then she stopped herself, remembering that he hadn’t just come home to see her, he had friends of his own too.

“What do you think of him then?” Millie whispered.

“He is lovely; incredibly handsome and very intelligent. He obviously thinks the world of his mother, and I find him to be very easy company. Stop worrying so much. You’ve done a wonderful job of bringing him up to be confident and independent. Well done!  At the same time, he has mislaid his phone three times since we got home yesterday which makes him a fairly normal teenager by all counts.”

After Tom, in unfeasibly tight jeans and a brightly striped tee-shirt, had gone out to meet his friends, Sarah turned on the TV to catch the lunch time news. The main section was full of doom and gloom as usual, but it was the local news that made Sarah sit up and call Millie in from the kitchen. She came running in quickly at the sound of fear in Sarah’s voice. There had been a car accident in the early hours of the morning. Five young people were in the car. No one was killed fortunately, but all five were in hospital, and the front seat passenger was said to have head injuries. It was when the camera showed footage of a large dark green Range Rover stuck in a ditch that Sarah had cried out. It was Natasha’s mother’s car.

Millie flipped through the channels trying to find out more information, whilst Sarah did the same on her laptop.  Details were sketchy but it appeared that all the occupants had been drinking, and the driver had taken a corner too quickly and gone into the ditch.  Millie phoned Jenny, who had only just heard about it herself, but had been able to ascertain from the police that it was Natasha that was driving. Jenny had given the police details of Natasha’s mother’s whereabouts, and was able to provide further information about the other four people in the car based on what the police had given her.  According to Jenny, Natasha had come off worse in the accident; her ankle had also been broken in the impact. The other four had scrapes and bruises but were very lucky. They had all been discharged from hospital except for Daryl, the runner that Sarah had met on her first day at the studio. They didn’t want to let him go as he lived on his own, and he had bumped his head when the air bag went off.

“He can come here.” said Millie impulsively. “I’ll sleep on the sofa and he can have my bed.”

“Are you sure? I thought Sarah was staying with you, and that you had Tom home this weekend?”

“All the better, plenty of us to keep an eye on him.  We’ll come and collect him from the hospital. Will you let them know?”

“Of course. If you really don’t mind?”

“We don’t. We’ll be over for him in about half an hour.”

Millie and Sarah sat in silence for a moment or two after Millie had put the phone down. They looked at each other.

“There was nothing we could do to stop it happening, Sarah. They’re all adults after all and who’s to say that she was drink-driving anyway; she may well have sobered up by the time they’d gone out and had a meal.”

“Do you really think so Millie? I think Natasha is so used to getting her own way that even if we’d got the car locked up somewhere, she’d have gone home and borrowed another one.”

“I didn’t realise her parents were that rich.”

“If her boasts are to be believed, they are.  She generally uses the family Golf to whizz around in, but wanted to impress her mates by using the Rangy because it’s brand new and can seat five.”

“Not any more by the look of that TV footage.  The Rangy is a write-off now.”

“Poor silly little girl. Come on, I’ll drive.”

The hospital wasn’t far away and Sarah managed to squeeze into a parking space not far from the entrance. Daryl was sitting in a wheelchair near the entrance talking to a nurse, and a tall man whose face looked rather familiar.

“Hey!” said Daryl. “Thank you so much for this. I wanted to go back to my flat but they don’t want me to be alone for the next day or so.”

“He may have concussion as well as a sprained wrist and a number of bumps and bruises,” explained the nurse.

Daryl indicated to the man next to him. “This is Natasha’s father, this is Millie and this is Sarah, they are social workers on the show.”

Mr Hart-Heron frowned. He shook Millie’s hand but took a pace backwards. “Sarah? Aren’t you the one who took Natasha’s job?”

Millie shook her head. “The post calls for a registered social worker with extensive experience in a number of fields. Natasha has only studied media to ‘A’ level, there’s no way she would have been considered for the job.”

Mr Hart-Heron’s frown deepened and he turned to Daryl. “Is that right Daryl? Natasha led us to believe that she was being lined up for promotion to the aftercare team.”

Daryl started to shake his head but thought better of it.

“No, Sir. Natasha was only on a temporary contract as a runner; she’s the youngest of all of us, and has the least experience. In fact, she dropped a huge clanger today that could have caused a huge amount of trouble if one of the security guards hadn’t stepped in so quickly.”

Natasha’s father turned back to Sarah. “Then I apologise for my daughter’s behaviour Sarah. Is that why she had been drinking yesterday?”

“It started off badly for her.” said Sarah and went on to explain about the car parking incident, being late for the meeting, getting hauled out of the meeting and then making a mess of the exit strategy. “We saw her with her friends in the restaurant and she’d been drinking then. I thought you were going to sober her up a bit Daryl?”

“We tried, but she had a bottle of vodka in her bag, and after she’d been put on a final warning by Jenny, she went off to the toilets, drank the lot and passed out. We put her in one of the green rooms to sleep it off, and she seemed to be okay when we came back to get her. I’m sorry Sarah, but she blames you for everything. There’s no rhyme nor reason to it – she’s just jealous that you got the job that she wanted.”

Millie shook her head in amazement. “I’m sorry Daryl, but Sarah and I qualified as social workers over twenty years ago. Does she not understand that?”

“Nope.” said Daryl. “She said that her mother thought she would make an ideal social worker, and that she would speak to Oliver about trying her out, but before she could, Millie had introduced you to Oliver and he’d given you the job.”

“I’m afraid my wife and I have widely differing opinions regarding Natasha’s abilities. Don’t worry. I’ll sort this all out when she gets back.”

Sarah looked thoughtful, “Perhaps Oliver might consider putting her into the aftercare team as a runner once she’s better. It might help her to understand that the job is nowhere near as glamorous as it looks. How is she anyway?”

“Whiplash, a broken ankle and some facial injuries from the airbag; she was very lucky really. They think that she probably does have concussion as well. I dread to think of what might have happened to both her and Daryl if it wasn’t for the air bags. Thank you again ladies. I’ll go back up and check on her.”

Millie pushed Daryl’s wheelchair out to the car and took it back whilst Sarah got him settled in the back seat.

“Does she really hate me that much Daryl?”

“She’s jealous. She adores Oliver and doesn’t like the way he asks yours and Millie’s opinions all the time. Her dad is right. Mrs Hart-Heron thinks Natasha is exceptionally talented, but to be honest we have to carry her most of the time because she gets so distracted,”

“Oh well, these things will sort themselves out eventually. Are you hungry?”

“Starving. I could murder a cheeseburger.”

“Fine, we’ll stop off at the drive thru’ on the way home. I could murder one myself and Millie is very easily persuaded where junk food is concerned.”

Millie needed no persuasion at all and the three of them arrived home laden with cheeseburger, fries and thick milkshakes. Once these were dispatched, Millie escorted Daryl to her room and ordered him to bed. He didn’t need much persuasion. Tom returned around six o’clock, in very high spirits, which were dampened slightly by the news of the car crash. Sarah was a little puzzled by his level of concern, and then she realised that Tom had spent a great deal of time on set after school and in the holidays, so he knew most of the crew very well.

They had planned to go out for a meal but in view of Daryl’s situation, they decided on pizza instead. Sarah grinned as she reached for the menu.

“What’s so funny?” asked Tom.

“Andy hated pizza. I tended to order it when he was away, but however hard I tried to get rid of the boxes, he always knew. I always got the same lecture as well. Pizza boxes may be made of cardboard but they contain a substantial amount of animal fat on them which could taint everything in the recycling bin, and make it all worthless.”

“He’s quite right Sarah, you are very nearly as irresponsible as my mother.” said Tom with a wink as he dodged the tea towel his mother threw at him.

The smell of pizza and garlic bread had a reviving effect on Daryl, who limped blearily out of Millie’s bedroom in time to sit down at the table and eat. The bruises on his face were beginning to show now, but his appetite didn’t seem to be affected by the accident. After dinner, Tom and Daryl commandeered the TV and set up Tom’s X-Box. Despite the sprained wrist, Daryl seemed to have no problem competing with Tom, and sometimes even winning. After clearing away and not putting the pizza boxes in the recycling, Millie and Sarah moved into Sarah’s bedroom and sat by the laptop.

“I need your help Sarah. I need to bounce something off you so you can tell me if I’m mad or not.”

“Okay. How mad?”

“Very. When I went down to visit Tom, he kept on asking me questions about his father. Questions that I couldn’t answer.”

“He’s at that age, and a point in his life where a bit of curiosity would be expected.”

“Yes, yes. I know that. Sarah, I’m toying with the idea of taking a leave of absence from the show and going to India to find Tom’s dad.”

There was a part of Sarah that had been expecting this to come ever since she had tracked him down on the Internet, so she had prepared herself.

“Will Oliver let you go? Do you have enough money?”

“Now that we have you on the team, Oliver and Jenny will be fine. I may have to leave it a few weeks until the runners are back, but that’s not a problem. I have plenty of money to finance the trip. I was hoping that you would put off your flat hunting for a while and stay here to look after Tom and the cat. Would you?”

“Of course, I would. “

“Good. Will you come with me to tell Tom?”

“Shouldn’t you tell him on his own?”

“No, I can’t put off telling him any longer. Come one.”

Millie led the way back into the living room where Daryl and Tom had just completed another war game.

“Tom, can you turn that thing off for a moment please?”

Tom looked at Daryl, then at Sarah, and turned the X-Box off.

“What’s up Mum?”

The response came out like a bullet. “I’m going to India to find your father.”

There was a moment’s silence before Tom turned back to the X-Box.

“Yeah, I hoped you would. Will you be gone long?”

“A couple of weeks, a month maybe. Sarah will stay on here to look after the cat – and you if you come home.”

“What’s Oliver going to say?” asked Daryl.

Millie grimaced. “He won’t like it, but I’ve not had a proper holiday for a couple of years, and now that Sarah is on the show, he can probably do without me for a while.”

“One condition Mum.”

“Yes Tom, what’s that?”

“Make sure you come home, and don’t join a religious sect or a harem or something?”

“I promise not to. Daryl, not a word of this at the studio. I need to do this my own way.”

“My lips are sealed.”

“Good,” said Tom. “Can we get back to the game now?”

Millie and Sarah went back into Sarah’s room, and spent the next hour or so checking out what vaccinations Millie would need, which flights were the best, and where to stay. It was quite exciting really.

Breaking Free – Nasty Natasha

Tom was coming home for the weekend and Millie was more hyperactive than Sarah had ever seen her before. The flat was cleaned and re-cleaned. Millie stressed over whether Tom would like sleeping in the small room, and Sarah offered to go to Jude’s for the weekend so he could have his old room back. Millie was desperate for the two of them to meet however, and Sarah had to admit, she was just as anxious to make Tom’s acquaintance.  It wasn’t that Millie was being bad-tempered or awkward about anything, but Sarah found herself tiptoeing around and doing her best not to untidy anything.  It was after Millie had wiped the worktop down for the fifth time before they were due to go off to work, that Sarah took her friend by the hands and sat her down on the sofa.

“Millie. Chill. The flat is cleaner that it’s ever been. Tom’s told you a million times that he’s happy sleeping in the little room and can’t wait to meet me. That’s mutual. You are my oldest friend, and I love you to bits, therefore I will love Tom to bits as well. Let’s get to work now. Oliver is filming one of those cases where he crams a dozen people on the stage and security are run off their legs trying to stop everyone killing each other. It promises to be a busy morning, which is just as well because you need something to keep you occupied today. I’m taking you out to lunch, and then Tom is coming to the studio to meet us. He’s been to the studio a million times; he is a street-wise young man who can cope with trams and a rucksack. Put your shoes on, and I’ll drive us in so that Tom can relax on the way home, and you don’t have to swear at the traffic too much. Deal?”

“Sorry.” said Millie, with a rueful smile. “I am being a pain, aren’t I? I just don’t want Tom to think he’s being pushed out. I love having you in the flat, and I’m in no hurry for you to buy a place of your own. It’s just so important to me that the two of you get on.”

“We will. Just don’t get so tense about it. Come on. Shoes!”

Sarah handled the morning traffic with an ease that Millie envied. She even managed to find a decent parking space under the studio, nipping in quickly ahead of one of the younger runners who had borrowed her mother’s Range Rover and was having difficulties manoeuvring.

“Sorry!” Sarah called cheerily, as she and Millie hurried towards the lift. “Got a meeting to go to.”

“Mean girl. You know that she has to be at that meeting too.” said Millie.

“I know. I also know that she was boasting about her mother’s new Rangy in the green room yesterday, that her mother is away and that little Miss Spoilt is driving said Rangy without insurance or her mother’s knowledge.”


“Quite! I also know that she has been spreading poison about me to anyone who will listen. God knows why because the only qualification the child has is an alleged ‘A’ level in media studies, and a well-placed mother who has had to pull a lot of strings to get her kept on.”

“Natasha will be out by the end of the month. Does she even have a car park pass?”

“Nope. She’s using her mother’s pass, again without permission, and there will be hell to play if she gets caught. Someone mentioned the risk to her yesterday, and she just batted her baby blues, tossed back the blonde locks, and said that she was sure she could blag her way out of it. Apparently, she is taking some of the other runners out for a meal and drinkies tonight, hence borrowing Mummy’s Rangy.”

“It’s one of those times when you know that you should butt out and leave them to it, but the old social work instincts keep nagging at you to do something. But what can you do?”

The lift arrived and took them up to the fifth floor. Al passed them in the corridor and grinned. “Busy one this morning. Get your flak jackets on.”

“I know. I’ll be the one hiding behind you Al.”

“Any time Sarah, Any time.”

Millie nudged Sarah with her elbow.

“You’re blushing! You do like him!”

“How could anyone not like him. He’s a lovely man. Don’t get ideas, I’m just getting comfortable with the idea of being single again.”

“I know, but he really is a nice man.  A lot better than Andy I’ll bet.”

“Andy was nice – is nice – and will undoubtedly be a total hero to whoever it is that he’s fallen in love with. Just not me. Hurry up or we’ll end up sitting in the danger zone.”

Fortune favoured them and they were able to get two seats well out of Oliver’s eye line. They already had their coffee to hand and notepads at the ready when Natasha, red-faced and glowering entered the room, only to be pushed into the hot seat directly in front of Oliver by Jenny as she shut the door.  Sarah got the distinct feeling that someone was looking at her; raising her eyes up from her notebook she caught the hate-filled glare of Natasha, her little lips pursed and her eyes narrowed.  Sarah returned the gaze with a beatific smile, and looked back down to her notebook quickly.  Oliver was on good form this morning. The aftercare team came in for a battering, more to get them ready for the amount of work they would get from the morning’s show than for anything that had gone wrong. Someone in the research team got well and truly told off for some sloppy work, that had it not been picked up by one of the more experienced staff, could have caused a great deal of embarrassment to everyone involved with the show.

Just as the meeting was winding up, there was a knock on the door and one of the car park security guards entered.

“Looking for a Natasha Hart-Heron?”

All eyes turned to Natasha, and Oliver pointed her out. “What’s the problem?” said Oliver. “Only we are in the middle of a meeting you know.”

“Sorry Mr Standish. I’ve just had a complaint that a car belonging to Emma Hart-Heron has taken up two spaces. I went up to see Mrs Hart-Heron but it appears that she been in the Bahamas since Saturday. I came to see if her daughter might know why the car is in the car park when her mother isn’t in work, and why it is taking up two spaces?”

“Off you go Natasha – yet another black mark my dear. Bad enough pinching your mum’s car when she’s away, but to pinch two parking spaces when they are at such a premium …” Oliver’s voice trailed away ominously.

“It wasn’t my fault!” spat Natasha. She pointed at Sarah. “It was hers! She took the space I was going to park in.”

The look that Jenny gave Natasha would have silenced anyone sensible, but not Natasha who embarked up on another rant about the unfairness of it all.

“Just remind me.” Oliver drawled. “Are we in the habit of giving parking spaces to runners who are still on six months trial?”

“Definitely not! Off you go now Natasha and get the car moved. You’ll have to have to move it to the long-stay car park if you can find a space. Report to me when you get back.”

Jenny was definitely cross now and started packing up her laptop. An indication that the meeting was well and truly over. Oliver waited until Sarah and Millie were walking past, and put his hand on Sarah’s arm. “How’s it going Sarah?  Settling in okay?”

“Yes, thank you. I mean I hope so. I should be asking you really. Am I doing okay?”

“Considerably better than that gobby little madam. We only took her on as a runner because Mummy works upstairs in the Chief Execs office.  She doesn’t appear to have taken a shine to you, though does she?”

“Oh well, we can’t be loved by everyone can we.” said Millie brightly. “I think Natasha considers everyone over forty to be too boring for words, and can’t understand why we haven’t all be put out to grass.”

Knowing that Oliver was very tetchy about his approaching fiftieth birthday, Millie had touched exactly the right nerve to make him even more annoyed with Natasha.

“Jenny!” he called. “Just a word please?”

Millie and Sarah made good their escape, and settled down with the other members of the aftercare team to check out the case notes of the people appearing on the show that morning.  As predicted, the huge family group took some handling; the mother and father had been separated for years, and hated each other. The mother said that her husband had cheated on her, so of course she had cheated on him. There were seven children in all, the first three went into care when the couple split. Then they got back together, had four more children who went to live with their grandmother when she gave up work to look after them. Two of the children went back to live with their mother when grandmother died, the other two went into care. Four of the children hated their father, three of them hated their mother. None of them appeared to like each other particularly, and a complicated strategy had been worked out so that each group was kept separate from the other until they actually went on stage.

It would have worked out okay if everyone had followed the strategy. Security worked very hard but because of a moment of inattention, two of the brothers that should have been kept separate managed to find themselves in a corridor and started lashing out. It took a while for Al to get from the corridor on the other side of the stage, to the corridor where all the action was taking place. He split the lads up before any real damage was done, but unfortunately blood was spilled, and a cameraman was already filming. Oliver soldiered on, and through sheer luck, managed to get some of the siblings reunited. The DNA test results were read out and to the surprise of nearly everyone, especially the mother, all the children turned out to have the same father after all. The mother was rather concerned about this as she had been getting the CSA to get money out of two other men who she’d claimed were fathers of her children. The mother and the father still didn’t like each other, and although the children were more kindly disposed to each other now that they knew that they shared the same parents, none of them wanted anything to do with said parents for abandoning them.

The aftercare team swooped in and made counselling appointments for everyone who felt that they needed them. Oliver carried on with the last part of the show, which was rather quiet and understated, in an attempt to patch up a sad relationship between two gay men who were seriously insecure about their relationship. Give Oliver his due, he had no shred of homophobia in him, and he dealt with their situation with an unusual amount of tact and diplomacy. He wrapped up the show with one of his standard homey platitudes to camera about dealing with conflict in a controlled environment. Sarah had heard most of them before but this one rang true, and she had a feeling that things were going to get ugly when Oliver found out who was responsible for letting two of the opposing sides end up together without security.

Word flew around and soon everyone involved with that morning’s show was gathered in the meeting room. Oliver sat on the table with his legs on a chair. He only usually adopted this position when he was delivering a bollocking to someone. Jenny was beside him, clipboard in hand ready to ascertain who it was that had let the side down. The aftercare team were immediately eliminated; their job began after the show. The researchers appeared to have done their job well, which brought it down to the runners, and to security.

“So, Al.” said Jenny. “Thank you for getting there so quickly but why were you on the wrong side of the stage?”

“We’d arranged for the more aggressive lad to be brought off on the left, that’s why I was waiting there. He was escorted off on the right though, and the other aggressive brother was already waiting there.”

“Right.” said Jenny, looking around the room. “Who took the brother off the wrong side of the stage?”

There was a silence as people looked around the room, and checked their clipboards. After looking at his colleagues, the chief runner cleared his throat.

“It was Natasha, she was responsible for the older brother.”

“So, where is she?” asked Jenny.

“She said she had to nip out and get another ticket for the car park. She hasn’t come back yet.”

“Okay, so now you can all see what goes wrong if people aren’t where they should be at the designated time. If you see Natasha, send her to me again. I’ll be my office. Do you want a word with her too Oliver?”

He nodded, thanked the rest of the teams for their hard work, punched Al in the arm and followed Jenny to her office. It was time for lunch in the Italian restaurant across the concourse. Millie and Sarah sat in one of the booths, hidden from sight and munching on garlic bread until their main course came. The distraction of work had taken Millie’s mind off Tom’s arrival, but she was beginning to get anxious again. It was while they were tucking into tagliatelle carbonara, that they heard familiar voices from the booth behind them.

“Natasha! You have to go back. Jenny is waiting for you.”

“Tough.” Natasha’s words were slurred, and she obviously realised what she had done wrong. Her friends ordered strong black coffee and tried to make her drink it. It was while Natasha was being escorted to the toilet, that Millie and Sarah took their opportunity to escape. As they were paying the bill, one of the runners came up to them. “

Please, you won’t tell anyone will you? We’ll try and get her sobered up before we take her back.”

Millie and Sarah looked at each other and shrugged.

“Been there and done that. Of course, we won’t say anything. Just make sure she doesn’t smell of booze or sick when she gets to Jenny’s office.”

“She isn’t that bad really.”

“She has good friends. That makes all the difference.”

As they walked back through security, Al popped his head round the door.

“Someone to see you. I put him in your office.”

“Tom!” squealed Millie as she ran down the corridor to the office.

Sarah made to follow her but was stayed by Al’s hand on her arm.

“Give her a moment with him.” he said quietly.

“Good idea.” said Sarah and sat down at the desk next to Al.

“Nasty business this morning.”

“It was all over before it started. You got there really quickly considering you’d been sent to the wrong side.”

“I move fast for a big guy – or so I’m told.”

Sarah laughed and nodded in agreement, trying very hard not to think about Al moving fast.  He was still smiling when he left the room, and made way for Millie and a very handsome young man.

“Sarah, please allow me to my lovely son Tom.” Said Millie with pride.

“God mum! Do you have to be so embarrassing! Hi Sarah. You don’t look as if Mum has driven you round the bend yet then?”

“No, she hasn’t so far – we seem to rub along quite well together.  Are you two ready to go soon?”

“I forgot to say Tom, Sarah’s got her car here so we don’t need to go on the tram.”

“Thanks Sarah, Will you have room in your car for my stuff?”

“What have you got?” Sarah followed him back in to the office. “That’s not much. We’ll fit that in easily.” 

Tom walked over to her and gave her a hug. “I’m glad Mum has you Sarah. I don’t need to worry about going away so much now.”