Breaking Free- Oliver Shows his True Colours

Jude was intrigued by the flat; she’d only ever lived in family houses before, and this style of living was an entirely new concept. Like Millie and Sarah though, she loved the views of the canal and the other old mill buildings.

“So, will you start looking for your own flat when Millie comes back?” Jude asked as they sat on the sofa watching the lights of the city through the window.

“Probably. I know there isn’t any rush as far as Millie is concerned. She loves me being here, and I feel extremely comfortable. We shared a student house for two out of our three years at Uni, and we were in halls together for the first year.  People change a great deal over time but we don’t seem to have.  We complement each other I suppose, like an old married couple. At the same time, I feel for poor Tom having to sleep in that tiny room. It’s okay for the odd weekend but I think I should be looking to move before the summer comes. Millie bought this place but there are plenty of others up for rent in this block alone. I might trump her and go for a penthouse suite!”

“Really? This is all so exciting Sarah! Thinking back six months, you’d never have dreamed of all this happening, would you?” said Jude, shaking her head in amazement.

“Nope. Six months ago, the most exciting thing on my agenda was a visit from you, or a visit to you. I still rate those visits very high on the enjoyment tariff, even though I am a high living media woman now!  I’ve changed the sheets on Millie’s bed for you, help yourself to towels and stuff for a shower or bath. We need to leave by eight-thirty tomorrow morning so I’ll be up at seven, and give you a call if that’s okay?”

“Seven! That’s a lie-in! I’d normally have been up for hours dozing with the girls in front of Peppa Pig! I hope they miss me.” Jude’s voice lowered and sounded more than a little sad. Sarah squeezed her hand.

“They will, and you and I both know that it’s good for them to miss you. Ooh! A text from Millie!”

“What? What does she say?”

“Her texts are cryptic at the best of times. ‘Hotel gorgeous. Spoilt rotten. Sightseeing at the moment, but starting the hunt tomorrow. I have a nice ex-pat lady who is going to help me. Nervous. Hug Buster and Jude – but Jude first xxx M’. That’s probably one of her better ones.”

“I’m impressed that I get hugged before Buster.”

“Don’t be too impressed. He hates me, and just about tolerates my presence in the house. Added to which I banished him to Tom’s room this morning in case his hair got all over your bed.”

“Poor old boy. Can I go and see him?”

“I’ll have the antiseptic and bandages ready, but by all means. Tom’s room is at the end of the hall.”

Jude very gingerly opened the door to Tom’s room a little wider and turned on the light. Buster was well and truly at home in the middle of the bed. He hissed and flattened his ears back when Jude sat down on the bed next to him. Jude stayed where she was, and waited. Sarah watched them from the hallway. Very slowly Buster got to his feet and walked towards Jude, his tail waving ominously. He sniffed Jude’s leg and then her hand. She remained still. To Sarah’s amazement, Buster began to purr and butt his handsome black and white head against Jude’s leg. Once he had climbed onto her lap, he allowed Jude to stroke his head and the purring became louder. Jude smiled.

“He can come and sleep on Millie’s bed if that’s okay. I think we’re friends now.”

Trying not to glare at Buster too much, Sarah put his dinner down, and cleaned out his cat litter tray. Buster was very much an indoor cat and even wrinkled his nose up at the fresh air when the balcony doors were open. Sarah slept better that night, knowing that Jude was there with her, and when she poked her head round the door of Millie’s room, she could see that Jude and Buster were very happily curled up together.  Putting the coffeemaker on, and taking the opportunity to have a quick shower before breakfast, Sarah was surprised to see a very wide-awake Jude and a happy Buster sitting at the kitchen table.

“You were fast asleep when I looked in. I thought I’d leave you for a bit. The bathroom’s all yours now.”

“Thank you. Buster is a very good companion; his purring is quite hypnotic. I just got a text from Dan. He says he hates Peppa Pig.”

“Tough! Toast or cereals for breakfast?”

“Do you have Marmite?”

“We do. I’ll go and get dressed, and put some toast on.”

Buster looked quite bereft when Sarah and Jude left for the studio. As soon as the door had shut, he made his way back into Millie’s bedroom and curled up once again in his customary spot by her pillow.

Sarah was pleased with the friendliness with which Jude was greeted when they arrived. Al sorted out the security passes, and Daryl promised to make sure that Jude had a seat with a view, but away from any potential drama that might occur in the audience.  The filming started later than it should have due to some minor temper tantrums on the part of Oliver, who felt that the couple should just bury the past, and get on with life with their new partners.  He didn’t agree with the lie detector tests, and was feeling very tetchy. He rarely got to meet the participants beforehand, and Sarah felt that on this occasion it would have been a good idea if he had at least read through the case papers. The woman came on first and Oliver was initially sympathetic to her story of a cheating partner. When her ex-partner came on stage though, he gave an equally convincing story of being cheated on that confused everyone – including Oliver. He asked the couple what they would do if the tests proved one or the other – or both had been cheating. They shrugged. Shrugs always annoyed Oliver. He read out the man’s test results first. All three questions were answered with lies and the man responded by gluing his eyes to the floor. Sarah could see that Oliver was seething now.

He ripped open the envelope containing the woman’s results. Same again. All lies. the pair sat there, sullen and uncommunicative. Oliver threw the results envelopes to the floor; said he was going for a lie down, and advised them to do one as he couldn’t be bothered with them. The pair were ushered off stage by two of the researchers, and Sarah went off to make sure Oliver was calming down. He wasn’t. In fact, he was pacing up and down the room like a caged lion. He turned round when Sarah came into the room, and was about to hold forth when something in her expression changed his mind.

“I suppose you are going to tell me that I came over too strong with them?”

Sarah shook her head.

“No. I agree with you that it is a waste of valuable resources, but we have to have cases like that don’t we? Just to add a bit of boring normality to all the drama.  I just came up to make sure you were okay. The next one is easier. Just a pair of kids who had a bad start and might get back on the rails if we help them.”

“Hmmm. Kids having kids. You know how I feel about that!”

“I do, but I think these two are fragile, and could get things back together given our support.”

“Thank you, but I’ll be the judge of that. I may not be a social worker Sarah but I’ve been doing this for ten years and I know my stuff.”

“Okay, I’ll leave you to it then.”

Sarah left the room feeling more than a little annoyed with Oliver. If he was going to continue in this frame of mind it did not bode well for the next couple, and the final case had so many elements that could set him off on another temper tantrum that Sarah wondered how many takes they’d have to go for before they got some good footage.

Jenny was coming down the corridor; her face displaying her annoyance with Oliver.

“How is he?” she said.

“Grumpy,” Sarah replied, “and we have a delicate one on next. Something’s got up his nose this morning.”

“Make sure your team are ready to pick up the pieces then. I’ll deal with Oliver from now on.”

The rest of the aftercare team were ready and waiting, Sarah also warned the rest of the staff. Oliver in a bad mood was liable to lash out at anyone that he felt was not doing their job properly.  It was a tense atmosphere therefore that greeted both Oliver, and the young couple as they waited in separate pods. Oliver stalked on stage and did his preamble about young kids having kids, and the importance of using contraception if you weren’t prepared to deal with the consequences. The young lad came on first; he was quiet and clearly hurt regarding the prospect that he might not be the father of the baby.  Oliver was a little brusque with him and this resulted in monosyllabic answers that annoyed Oliver even more. When the girl came on stage to join them, she cried. And cried. And cried.

There was a real possibility that the lad might not be the father of the baby. They were on a break around the time that the baby was conceived, and in between sobs, the girl confessed that she was drunk at a party and had sex with two complete strangers.  Oliver was getting very angry. Al brought the DNA results out and handed them to him. Not surprisingly the baby was the product of one of the strange men at the party. The lad burst into tears; so did the girl. The tissue box was passed between them whilst Oliver paced angrily around the stage. Sarah heard Jenny calling Oliver through his ear piece to go to a break. It wasn’t scheduled but the case was going nowhere and she needed to get the aftercare team in to mend a few bridges. Oliver grudgingly announced the break and that the aftercare team would be waiting to sort out this ‘mess’.  By the time the runners had the couple in the safety of one of the pods, Sarah was there to meet them.  Jenny was hovering outside, and going on a curt nod from Sarah, she made sure that Oliver didn’t join the young couple.

It was salvaged. It wasn’t easy but it transpired that the young girl had no idea who the potential fathers of her child were. She had never seen them before or since, and didn’t want to either. She was devastated that her boyfriend wasn’t the father – and so was he. Having been there at all the scans and the birth, he truly believed that the baby was his. Slowly and calmly, Sarah listened to them both, and talked to them about the options. They truly did want to stay with each other, and although it would have been the best thing in the world if the baby had been his, the boy wanted to carry on being a father. Sarah set up some counselling sessions with them, gave them a contact number for emergencies, and told them that above all, they had to talk to each other about problems rather than bottling it all up as they had before. They seemed to be taking it all in and eventually, holding hands, they went off to the creche to see their baby. Sarah breathed a deep sigh as she watched them go and felt a hand on her shoulder. It was Daryl.

“That was brilliant Sarah. You did such a good job with them.”

“I hope so. One more segment to go, and I can’t see it going smoothly somehow. Is Jenny around?”

“Outside soothing Oliver; he says that he hadn’t finished with those two. She just told him that he was.”

“Oh hell, there’s only one way out of this room isn’t there? Is my friend Jude, okay?”

“I’ll go and check now before we start the last segment. Perhaps you can sneak out behind me?”

Sarah drew herself up to her full five foot four.

“I am not sneaking anywhere Daryl. If Oliver doesn’t like me, he can sack me but I’ll be a huge pain in the arse to him for my month notice!”

Oliver was still outside with Jenny and looked as if he was about to say something but Jenny’s hand on his arm stopped him. She smiled at Sarah.

“Ready for the last section Sarah?”

“We are.” said Sarah trying to keep her voice as even as possible, and walk sedately down the corridor to where one of the two families were waiting.

When Oliver stalked onto the stage, there could have been few people in the audience and none on the crew, that were oblivious to the brewing storm.  The young girl that came on stage was not an example of all that was good in the world. She was chewing gum, loudly. Her hair was pulled up on top of her head and her pink sparkling tee shirt and matching leggings would have still looked tacky on a girl three sizes smaller. As it was, every time she raised her hands to gesticulate wildly, several inches of pasty white muffin top were exposed. There was no way to deny it, she was one of the most unlovely females that had ever been on the show. She swore so much that the bleep boy was kept on his guard every time she opened her mouth. Oliver made no attempt to hide his disdain, and when her parents joined her on stage, his sneer went into overdrive. Mother was a larger, much larger, version of her daughter and had even more pasty flesh on show. Father was a tall, skinny, bedraggled creature in stained joggers and a tee shirt meant for someone much broader. He limped on with a crutch but used it more to emphasise his points than as a support for walking.

It appeared that the girl had originally moved in with her boyfriend in his parents’ house when she found that she was pregnant.  The standard of living there was considerably higher than she was used to, and whilst her boyfriend and his father were out working during the day, she lazed around and invited her friends in to enjoy, and trash the house. Her behaviour was tolerated until the baby was born, at which time she took to her bed, and expected everyone to look after her and the baby. Not surprisingly, the boy fell out of love, and his ex-girlfriend moved back to her parents, and took the baby with her. She had come on the show to expose him as a liar and a cheat who was stalking her, and constantly harassing her family. There seemed to be only one other thing she and her family wanted – apart from humiliating her ex, and that was money. Her requests were far in excess of anything that the CSA would order the boy to pay for his child, and Jude, sat out in the audience, could feel the seething dislike for the charmless trio increasing as they painted themselves the victims.

Eventually, Oliver brought on the boy and his father. They were both quiet and well dressed. Unusually there had been no raised voices from their pod, despite the obvious insults and lies that were being hurled at them.  The boy answered Oliver’s questions calmly, ignoring the cat calls from his ex-girlfriend and her parents. He had tried very hard to get her to look after the baby, to help out with the washing, and to tidy up after herself but she refused, and what had been love and affection rapidly turned to loathing. According to his father, she had caused thousands of pounds of damage to the house when she and her friends were partying during the day, and had even tried to set up a cannabis farm in one of the outhouses.  She denied all this. She claimed that she had been kept a prisoner in the house and had to do all the family washing up until the week she gave birth. Her story was full of inaccuracies and when pictures of the trashed rooms were shown, she just grinned at her parents, and waved her hands about in a mocking fashion.

Sarah and the rest of the audience were waiting for Oliver to put his foot down. He didn’t. In fact, he launched both barrels at the boy and his father for their middle-class values and taking advantage of the girl. A DNA test had been requested and Oliver seemed to relish telling the boy that he was indeed the child’s father and that he ought to face up to his obligations. Oliver offered contact sessions and arranging for money to be paid into an account for the child. The boy was agreeable to this, although there was some discussion about the amount of money requested. The girl however, said that she would have the money, but that the boy would never see his daughter again. She had already had the boy arrested twice for harassment – and released without charge on both occasions. When the subject of contact was mooted again, the girl got up from her seat, stuck two fingers up at her boyfriend and stalked off stage, followed by her parents, the father forgetting that he should be limping. Shrugging his shoulders, Oliver indicated that the lad and his father should leave from the other side of the stage, and suggested that he should use contraception in the future, and be a bit selective about who he had sex with.

The usually noisy audience was silent when Oliver wrapped up the show, and only a few people clapped him as he left the stage. Sarah left the obnoxious girl and her parents to other members of the aftercare team, and went straight round to the boy and his father, who were sitting in the green room, stunned and silent. The boy looked up as she came in and she was struck by the terrible sadness in his eyes.

“She wasn’t always like that you know. When I first met her, she was in care, we had two years of happiness. She had really nice foster parents. Her own parents didn’t want her. When she left care, she came to live with us and we got engaged. She said it would be okay to have sex because she had an implant. She got pregnant and I found out that she lied about the implant. She went off the rails after that, and once the baby was born her parents told her to come home – so that they could get benefits for her and the baby. She isn’t a bad girl really, it’s just her parents.”

Nodding in agreement, Sarah took his hand in hers.

“The most important thing is that you don’t get caught up in the illegal side. She can and will accuse you of anything in order to blacken your name, but you need to stay calm. We’ll give you some guidance about the legal side, and we will try to work with her – and her parents – but you may have to face up to going for custody in order for your daughter to have the life she deserves.”

She left them with one of the aftercare team, who gathered more information and gave them the dates for counselling. Sarah walked along the corridor; she had no need to ask where the other family were. She could hear them and so could the audience, slowly filing out of the studio. When she entered the room, she found Oliver in a slanging match with the mother. Hands on hips, he was giving far better than he got but Sarah had visions of the whole sorry story ending up in the news. Beckoning to the girl, Sarah led her out of the room and into another pod. She threw herself down on the sofa and glared at Sarah.

“What? He ain’t seeing my kid and that’s the end of it.”

“Why? Is he such a bad father?”

“No, he did more of the looking after than I did when we brought her home. My mum says it ain’t natural a bloke looking after the baby so I left.”

“Who looks after the baby now?”

“My sister does. She’s only fifteen but she loves babies. I’d be happy to give her to my ex but my mum and dad said we could make enough money for me to have a nanny. Then I could get back to my modelling career.”

Modelling for what? Sarah wondered but supressed the thought quickly. she handed the girl the packet of counselling leaflets, and some telephone numbers, but suggested that she stop making false allegations because she would probably be the one getting arrested for wasting police time if she did it again. For some strange reason, this seemed to sink in and the girl became silent, sullen but mercifully silent. Sarah arranged for Daryl to escort the family off the premises, making sure they went in the opposite direction to the lad and his father. Jude was waiting in Sarah’s office. she was rather white-faced and didn’t look well.

“Oh, darling Jude. I’m so sorry you had to witness all that. They seemed like such easy cases yesterday. Was it really awful out there?”

Jude nodded. “I feel so disillusioned about Oliver. I know he can be a bit snippy at times but that was horrible. People in the audience were whispering about it, and booing him.”

“Don’t worry, I’ve managed to sort out the second couple, and I’ve given the lad some advice. Are you okay here for now? I think I need to see Jenny – and Oliver – before we go.”

Sarah made them both a cup of coffee first, then making sure Jude really was okay, she picked up her cup and went in search of Jenny. The sound of raised voices made it easy to track them down to a green room far from the stage. Jenny saw Sarah coming through the half-open door and beckoned her over.

“Are they alright?”

“Yes, we held onto the lad and his dad until the girl and her family had left the building but it’s all clear now.”

” I suppose you waved your magic social work wand and sorted all their problems out then Sarah.”

Oliver’s words were spat out with venom. She did her best to stay calm.

“Is it okay if I go now? My friend is in the office waiting for me.”

Jenny nodded. “We’ll look at this on Monday, okay?”

“If Sarah still has a job by then.” muttered Oliver, stalking over to the sofa. Sarah chose to ignore him and went back to Jude.

“Come on lovely. Let’s go home to normality.”

Al caught up with them as they walked to the car park.

“Are you alright? It got a bit hairy out there. I’ve never seen Oliver lose it like that before.”

“It’s probably because Millie isn’t here. She’s so much better at dealing with his tantrums than I am. “

“He’ll have calmed down by Monday.”

“I know. This is my friend Jude, she used to be a fan of Oliver’s.  Jude this is Al, who is a very good friend of mine.”

Jude shook Al’s hand, noting that Sarah’s words had made him blush.  He smiled at them both.

“Take care of yourselves and have a good weekend.”

The drive home was very quiet, and Sarah felt angry with Oliver for spoiling what was supposed to be a treat for Jude. When they got home, Dan invited Sarah to stay for dinner but looking at Jude, they both knew that she needed to go to bed.  Making her excuses Sarah got back into the car and waved everyone goodbye. She was so distracted by what had happened that she didn’t notice the car driving behind her as she left Jude’s house.

She just wanted to get home.

Breaking Free – Jude’s Visit

Millie’s absence was obvious to everyone; not just from a practical aspect but because everyone was so used to her long rangy figure loping around the corridors, and managing to be everywhere at once. Sarah did her best to compensate, but she learned very quickly that the teamwork approach she and Millie had developed, was nowhere near as effective without Millie.

 It didn’t help that there had been a huge row up in the Chief Executive’s office which resulted in Natasha’s mother resigning, because she couldn’t accept that her darling daughter had done anything wrong, and couldn’t understand why efforts were not being made to have Natasha reinstated and apologised to.  The Chief Executive had explained that Natasha had not reached the required performance level required for a permanent contract, and in addition she had broken the law and put the lives of her colleagues at risk. A member of the legal team had been brought in and further emphasised the issues regarding Natasha’s employment but this was to no avail; Natasha and her mother were taking the company to court – allegedly.

As a consequence, everyone was on their best behaviour and rather snippy.  Sarah picked her moment before asking Oliver if Jude could come to the studio and see the show. He grimaced but gave his consent.

“On one condition though Sarah.”

“Of course, what is the condition?”

“Make sure that the runners know that your friend is not seeking employment, she is just coming here to visit, and see what it is that you do for a living now. I don’t want any more runners getting silly ideas.”

“Jude is a social worker, but she is also a very busy mother of three who is not in a position to take up any work even if she wanted to, which she doesn’t.  She does watch your show though and enjoys it. She’s very excited at the prospect of actually seeing the show being filmed – and of seeing you!”

Oliver preened, just as Sarah knew he would, and gave her a wink as he wandered off in search of someone else to irritate. She sent a text to Jude confirming the arrangements for Thursday, and was immensely cheered by an immediate response saying that Dan and the girls could do without her for the two days, especially when it meant a posh dinner with Auntie Sarah.

A meeting was held that afternoon to look at the cases for Friday. There wasn’t likely to be any controversy, a double lie detector, a DNA and a DNA plus ‘I don’t want my ex to have any contact with me if the baby isn’t his’. There was something about the last case that annoyed Oliver, but Sarah couldn’t put her finger on it. The research was thorough, if a little limited by contradicting information given by both parties. Sarah decided to look at the cases more closely given Millie’s absence, and make sure that the aftercare team had everything set up ready for the end of each show segment. Neither Sarah nor Millie usually did this; it was a job that fell to the researchers, but Sarah just a niggling feeling that wouldn’t go away.

The first couple were in their late twenties and had been going out with each other for a couple of years, but they kept splitting up and drifting back together again. Mercifully there were no children, and they had both settled with new partners. Rumours about both of them cheating on each other were rife, and they felt that they could only move on with their own lives if they could finally find out if any cheating had gone on. It was the type of case that Oliver hated; it was unlikely to produce any dramatics, no real aftercare was needed, and the lie detector test wasn’t really needed now that they were no longer together. Sarah expected that there would be a bit of an Oliver rant at the end of the segment. The next couple were temporarily estranged until it could be established whether the male partner was actually the father of the little boy. He was only four weeks old, and his mother looked very young and fragile. Her partner was a couple of years older, but from the answers he gave the researcher, he really wanted to get back with his girlfriend, and be a good dad to the baby. Oliver would like that one. It would give him the opportunity to show his softer side. Sarah hoped to hell that the girl was telling the truth, and the baby was her partner’s. She hated it when it all went wrong, but at least this case had the possibility of reconciliation through counselling, or at the very least, access arrangements set up by aftercare.

The last case had the potential for fireworks if it wasn’t handled well. It was another couple who had split up. The young mother was being dominated by her parents who wouldn’t let her ex-partner see their child. Her ex was being equally supported by his dad, and there were accusations of stalking, bad motherhood, overbearing parents, and drug-taking flying about on both sides. Just from looking at the notes, Sarah could tell that the girl and her parents were from different social circles to the boy and his father. The boy worked in his dad’s building firm and was being groomed to take over the company; the girl was the youngest of six children, all of whom lived at with their parents in a very crowded house. They were all on benefits of some kind according to the boy’s father. None of them had ever worked for more than a day or two, and they were constantly trying to get him to resign from his father’s company and live with them on benefits. It all looked very stacked against the girl and Sarah could just hear Oliver sounding forth on benefit cheating, and silly kids having babies in order to get a house. Kid gloves for this one definitely, she thought as she filed them away in her bag and left the office.

The underground parking was always a bit spooky but especially so at night. Sarah had parked near a wall light that morning but some bright spark had smashed it during the day. She got the distinct feeling that she was being watched, as she walked to her car and felt in her pocket for the rape alarms that all the staff had been issued with. She was just about to press it when she heard her name being called. She turned round and there like some black clad avenging angel, was Al.

“It’s you! I was sure that someone was following me, and I was just about to press my alarm.”

“I’ll walk you to your car. We’ve had some vandalism down here today, and I said I would keep an eye out, especially for the female staff. Did you see anyone when you came down?”

“No, it was just a feeling. Here we are. I’ll just check the back seat for intruders.”

“Don’t joke about it, Sarah! Umm, I was wondering if you wanted to go out for a drink again?”

Sarah felt a little thrill but dismissed it immediately. “I need to do some shopping tonight, and clean the flat. My friend Jude is traveling up with her family on Thursday, she’s coming to the show on Friday, and then I’m taking her home to hers afterwards. I’m free over the weekend though?”

Al looked somewhat crestfallen. “I’m busy all weekend. I said I’d help my sister decorate her kids’ bedrooms and the front room. She’s a single mum and doesn’t get much help from her ex.”

“Careful, Oliver might snap her up for the show. I’ll see you tomorrow anyway. Thanks Al.” 

Sarah got into her car and drove off, hoping that she hadn’t put Al off. She really didn’t have any food left in the flat, and wanted to have the place tidied for when Jude stayed. She came to work on the tram the next day. It was much cheaper and she still enjoyed looking at the old buildings on her way in. It was whilst the tram was waiting at some traffic lights that she thought she saw a familiar figure standing in a shop doorway. Marta? She looked back but the figure had gone and the tram moved forward. Sarah tried to reason with herself. Marta was in Holland. There was no way she could know where Sarah and Millie lived. There were lots of women who looked and dressed like Marta. She must have been mistaken. She was going to mention Marta to Al, but he seemed to be very distant all day, so she thought she had better leave well alone. Oliver kept her very busy anyway.

Thursday was one of those lovely bright days where there was a slight nip in the air and all the trees displayed the golden red hues of autumn. Sarah was glad to have brought her car in though. The day passed without incident, and she was roused from her case studies by a phone call to say that Jude and her family were in reception.  Oliver had agreed to Sarah giving the girls a very quick tour of the studio; there was nothing much going on in there anyway. Jude and Dan were almost as fascinated as the girls with this peek into Sarah’s new world. Having watched the show so often, Jude was particularly keen to see the pods at the back of the set, and the corridors where Oliver and the crew were constantly chasing people who suddenly decided that they didn’t want to be on stage anymore. They bumped into Al as they were coming back out of the studio, and Sarah introduced him as ‘my friend Al’ which made him smile and blush slightly.  Seeing this gentle giant interacting with the girls, Sarah took another step back as it struck her again what a very nice man he was. He looked a lot happier than he had the last time she’d seen him.

Tour over, Sarah collected her things and led the way over to the Italian restaurant. There were other places to eat but this was her favourite.  She was greeted warmly by the manager, and a great fuss was made of the girls.  It was a lovely meal with much laughter; Sarah watched Jude and Dan, glad that finally she was able to give them something more than the snatched hours that were their lot when she lived with Andy. The concourse was lit up and rather magical when they left the restaurant.  They all walked back to Dan’s car and collected Jude’s overnight bag. There were hugs and a few tears, when the girls realised that Mummy and Aunty Sarah weren’t coming home with them, but with the promise that both would come home tomorrow teatime, Dan packed the girls into the car and drove off.

Sarah and Jude walked back to the underground car park arm in arm.

“This is almost like the old days, isn’t it?” said Jude.

“A bit yes, nicer surroundings than the old social work offices though.”

“Oh yes, this is such a glamorous place to work by comparison.”

She hadn’t thought of it in that way before, but looking around now, this new world was rather glamorous and she had a lot to be grateful for. Someone had arranged for the broken light to be replaced and Sarah had a feeling that she knew who that someone was. The thought of Al made her smile again, and so distracted by the thought and the need to drive carefully out of the entrance, she didn’t even notice a familiar figure standing in the shadows and watching her every move.