Breaking Free – Sticky Labels

Andy was finding true love apparently.

At least that was the impression Sarah got from the latest missive that was lying on the doormat when she came home. The postcard was less crammed with writing than usual. Andy hoped she was well, that the house sale was progressing, and that she had found somewhere else to live. He advised her about redirecting her mail and ensuring that the estate agent knew where she was although he didn’t think that it was necessary to give too much information to Abigail. The last sentence read. ‘I hope you are putting your life together in the same way that as I am. I believe that I have found true love at last, and hope that the same will come to you eventually’.

Sarah threw the card down on the kitchen table in disgust, then, thinking better of it, stowed it away from Abigail’s eyes in the deepest recesses of her handbag. Whilst she was there, she found the list that Andy had so kindly put together, and armed with some sticky labels and a marker pen that she had bought on the way home, Sarah began to work her way round the house methodically labelling ever article that was hers – according to Andy. She had to admit, some of the things that Andy had allotted to her, could have been considered a joint purchase, but she had no need for kitchen chairs and a table at the moment. Andy had completely avoided itemising her CD, DVD and book collections. He didn’t have many books, had only wildlife DVDs, and only listened to her classical music CDs, but never bought his own. Trying to decide what she could put into storage and what she wanted with her at Millie’s, was less difficult than she had imagined, and using another set of coloured stickers, she then went round the house putting these on everything that had to go into storage. When that was finished, she was left with a handful of books, DVDs and CDs that she couldn’t live without, all her clothes and accessories, her TV, laptop and printer – all of which – once it was properly packed, would fit quite easily into her car and Millie’s.

The next thing on the agenda was to tell Jude all her news. Sarah had deliberately postponed doing this because she knew that she would be on the phone for ages. She could tell by the tone of Jude’s voice that she was not having a good day; as such Sarah decided to play down her news at first rather than gabble it all out excitedly. She started with the sad Marta and Peter saga; Jude began to perk up and agreed with her that Marta did indeed show a more than healthy number of the psychopathic tendencies. It was whilst Jude’s foggy brain was remembering her own stint in forensic social work that Sarah dropped the bomb.

“Jude, I’ve got a job!”

“Wow! – not at the studio?”

“Yes – working alongside Millie. I’m packing up my stuff and moving into Millie’s son’s bedroom until I can find somewhere of my own.”

There was a tense silence at the other end of the phone. Then a very small, tight-sounding voice said “I’m really pleased for you Jude, I’m sure you know what you are doing and it sounds like the right thing.”

“I do Jude. I can’t wait to introduce you to Millie, I’m sure you will love her too.”

“Oh, I expect you’ll be too busy for us once you start work.”

“I was never too busy for you guys before when I was at work. Why should I be now? Talking of which, can I come over and see you tomorrow? I need to go out and get some boxes and tape today, but I can’t do any more till Millie gets here on Saturday.”

“Are you sure?” Jude’s voice sounded a little more enthusiastic.

“Of course, I’m sure you idiot! Finding Millie again after all these years doesn’t mean that I can’t keep you and Dan as my best friends. Technically speaking, it will be easier to get to you from Millie’s as well. If you’re still keen on coming to see the show, then I’ve got twice as much chance of sneaking you in now that I’m working there.”

Jude’s voice began to take on a whole new tone, and she asked Sarah to tell her about Peter and Marta again. They chatted for a few more minutes and Sarah confirmed her arrival time the following day – after lunch so she could natter to Jude and Dan, see the girls when they came home from school and stay for a bit of dinner. Relieved that things were sorted with Jude, Sarah called Roseanne to say that she would be moving out over the weekend and would put her keys in an envelope, and drop them off when she and Millie left. Roseanne also proved to be a useful source for where Sarah could buy packing materials and who had the best storage facilities.

Armed with this information, Sarah went out and loaded her little car with flat pack boxes, packing tape, bubble wrap and a decent pair of scissors – as Andy had decided the kitchen scissors belonged to him. She also called in at the storage facility Roseanne had recommended, was gratified to find that the mention of Roseanne’s name gave her a 10% reduction, worked out how big a space she would need and arranged to bring her belongings along on Sunday afternoon.

It was dark when she came back, but she could see the unmistakeable shape of Abigail’s car parked a little way down the road. Sarah opened up the garage, and with a little bit of manoeuvring, managed to get her car inside and lock the door so that Abigail couldn’t pry.

Bed that night was very inviting and knowing that she would be seeing Jude and her family the next day, and then Millie was coming down to help her go through things and pack on Saturday made Sarah sleep as sound as a bell.

Breaking Free – Remembering Schooldays

The Chinese takeaway tasted almost as good second time around.  The bottle of Riesling they picked up on the way home vanished very quickly, and it was only the thought that Millie had to go to work the next day that stopped them from opening up a bottle of mulled wine that Millie found lurking in the back of the cupboard from last Christmas.

Sarah had signed the contract before they left the studio. She had agreed to start on Monday morning, on a very respectable salary according to Millie. The hours seemed rather strange compared to her social work hours of nine to five, but having seen a little of the way the aftercare team worked, Sarah understood why there had to be this flexibility.

Slightly tipsy and full of takeaway, Sarah and Millie sat on the sofa, both of them wearing silly smiles, and still a little shell-shocked from the events of the day. When they had returned from getting coffee, Al stopped them in the corridor to confirm that according to airport security Marta was safely on the plane and barking orders at anyone who’d listen.

“They promised me that they wouldn’t offload her unless she actually hit anyone, and all the staff have been briefed to be mega tolerant and get her arrested at Schiphol when they arrive if she plays up too much.” said Al.

“Well, we have some more good news Al.” said Millie. “Sarah is signing the contract and joins the team on next Monday!”

“Brilliant!” said Al, blushing slightly. “I mean, welcome Sarah, it’s really good to have you on board – although I hope we don’t have any more Martas for you to deal with. See you later.”

Millie waited until Al had disappeared round the end of the corridor. “I think you’ve made something of a hit there my dear!  He is one of the nicest men I know, and gorgeous to boot.”

He does have rather gorgeous blue eyes, Sarah thought, and lovely dark hair.  A total opposite to Andy with his pale green eyes, ginger hair held back in a manbun, and silly goatee beard.

She gave Millie a very old-fashioned look. “The last thing I need right now is a man in my life.”

Three hours later, warm, fed and mellow, Sarah had unwelcome thoughts intruding about Marta, and whether she would come back to haunt them all when the programme aired.  Thinking of Marta made her think of Al, and she was stunned to find that those thoughts made her feel rather warm inside. She sat up straight and put the thoughts down to wine and silliness. Millie was looking at her in a peculiar way.

“You were thinking about Al, weren’t you?”


“I may not have seen it since you developed a crush on Steve Horgan leading up to the Graduation Ball, but I’d recognise that little smile anywhere. Now you’re blushing.”

“No, I was just thinking about how glad I was that Dave – and Al – were there to make sure that Marta went home. I wonder if she kicked off when she got off the plane?”

“I doubt it. Peter was telling me that the Dutch police are far stricter than ours are – and Marta knows that. She won’t want to run the risk of getting locked up in her own country. The penalties for what she’s done are fairly hefty.”

“It’s a shame that we couldn’t find out more about her childhood and youth. I know she came over here and married a builder when she was in her late teens, but all she would tell Peter was that her ex-husband was a bad man who beat her.  After all she said, he might just have been a really nice man who wasn’t prepared to put up with her lying and fantasies. Anyway, enough of Marta. I need to start packing up my stuff. Are you sure I can stay here for a while Millie?”

“Of course. You go home tomorrow and start sorting out the stuff you need on a day-to-day basis, and box up the rest. I’ve been meaning to clear out that boxroom for years. Once it’s done, I can move Tom’s stuff in there so that he has a room to come home to. He’ll have to have a single bed again, but a double bed is a luxury for a teenager anyway. I’ll drive over on Saturday, between us we can take the boxed-up stuff to a storage unit, and then on Sunday we can bring the rest of your staff back here and get you settled in.”

“Abigail will go bonkers. I don’t think I’ll tell her where I’m staying.”

“What about your post?”

“I don’t get much. I’ll get it redirected to here in the meantime if that’s okay? I’m sure Roseanne can deal with any post that turns up before the redirection starts. To be honest, the only post I’ve had since I left work have been Andy’s postcards. I’d imagine that Abigail gets identical postcards and reads them over and over.”

“And you don’t?”

“Good Lord no! Andy is a sweet man but he writes the most boring postcards ever. Oh, did you just hear what I said? For the first time in seven weeks; I actually referred to Andy as a ‘sweet man’ I must have stopped disliking him then.”

“And that means?”

“I’m over him – after ten years. It’s funny though – you mentioning Steven Horgan – I never felt about Andy the way I felt about Steven Horgan. All through my final year I dreamed about being in his arms at the Graduation Ball. I should hate him if I hated any man. He copped-off with Amy Loomis and I never saw him again.”

“Amy Loomis! She was such a floozy. She’d worked her way through most of the people we knew by the time we got to the ball. I wonder why she left Steven till last?”

Sarah pulled a face. “Because she knew that I was after him. Every time I let it be known that I liked someone – Amy was in there – sitting on their laps, big hugs and kisses. ‘Oh, please teach me how to play the guitar/poker/backgammon – you are so clever and I am so silly’.”

“Oh God – that was such a good impression. Amy with her little girl pigtails and big wide eyes.”

“And those satin blouses!”

“And the fake fur coat.”

Sarah leaned over conspiratorially. “I have a confession to make. Do you remember Derek Draper?”

“Class dweeb. I do.”

“He had a bit of an unrequited love thing for me. Followed me everywhere.”

“Then he stopped suddenly – and didn’t he drop out?”

“No, he went to another Uni nearer home. I let slip that I really fancied him, and of course Amy made a play for him. Rumour has it that she actually got him into bed.  It lasted a week – until a mutual friend told her that I’d been lying. Oh my God – that’s a psychopathic tendency!”

Millie roared with laughter. “That was a wonderful moment when you got the researcher checking out the Hare list. I overheard a couple of the runners using it to analyse Oliver.”

“No, Oliver is a pain but he isn’t a psychopath. I wonder what happened to her.”


“Mm. I wonder who she ended up with.”

“Google her.”


“Go on – if you don’t then I will!”

Sarah slowly made her way out to Tom’s room.

“Come on Millie! I’m not doing this on my own!”

“Just a minute, I need to get something first.”

By the time the laptop was up and running, Millie had appeared in the doorway proudly waving their graduation programme. There was no sign of Amy Loomis on Google. Sarah tried Amy Horgan and Amy Draper but the lack of hits made her more relieved than anything.

“Time for bed now, I think. You have to go to work tomorrow and I need to drive home, acquire some large boxes and find out the best rates for storage. Jude will be gobsmacked when I tell her.”

“She’ll be pleased for you though?”

“Oh yes, all the time we were working together she kept telling me to leave Andy and get a better job. She’s always been polite to him, but she didn’t like the way he stopped me from doing things.”

“That’s the thing that I’m most confused about. You are an incredibly intelligent woman, you have remarkable insight into other people’s issues, so why did you let yourself get stuck in such a rut?”

It was a question that Sarah had been asking herself over and over since Andy left.

“I lost all my confidence when Dad died. Andy was there and he picked up the pieces, he supported me and as I began to feel better in myself, I also felt that I couldn’t manage without him. That’s the way it started in the beginning anyway and we grew apart over time until it was a strange kind of companionship. Before you ask – yes, we did do it, to start off with anyway – then it became mechanical and after that non-existent. A peck on the cheek, a little hug; I got tired of my overtures being snubbed. I often wondered if he was gay – or at least bisexual. Or maybe it was me – I just didn’t turn him on. I hope he sorts that side of himself out in Thailand.

“Oh no! We’re back to ladyboys again.”

“Goodnight Millie! Do you want the bathroom first or shall I?”

“I’ll dive in first then you can take your time. Do you want me to wake you up before I go?”

“No, I’ll be awake. See you in the morning.”

Millie hugged her and was gone.

Sarah sat back down at her laptop and did a few more searches until Millie yelled that she was finished in the bathroom.

Curling up in Tom’s bed, still a little happy from the food, the wine and the success of the day, Sarah smiled to herself as she pulled the duvet up round her ears and wondered what Andy was doing.

It was thinking of Al that banished Andy from her mind however

Breaking Free – Gainfully Employed

It was with a great surge of relief that Sarah followed the two security guards back to the car.

“Umm. Do you mind if I sit in the back Sarah?” said Dave. “I’m used to driving and Al’s driving makes me feel sick.”

“Not a problem.” said Sarah, “I prefer to sit in the front if I’m not driving anyway.”

Dave made himself comfortable and Sarah got in next to Al. He smiled, a little shyly for such a large and imposing man. He did drive a bit fast but she didn’t mind that, and it was nice to sit back and relax after all the rushing around.

“Do you think that she’ll come back?” asked Al.

“I’m afraid so.” said Sarah. “She as good as told me that she would. I have a bad feeling about that woman; she seems to have little remorse for what she’s done, and although she expresses concern for her son, she is the only person in her life that she cares about.”

“Airport security said that they would confirm once she was on board the plane.”

“Oh, I’m sure she’ll go home today but I think she’ll come back again. She’s looking for another source of easy money, and now that she can’t blackmail Peter, she may target someone from the show.”

“We’ve been careful. There have been at least two people with her all the time except for between eleven last night and eight this morning. There was a CCTV camera outside her room though, and she didn’t know where Peter and his friends were staying.”

Sarah grinned. “Hopefully she’ll content herself with suing Security at the airport for manhandling her and disregarding her human rights.”

“Phew, I got between her and Oz at one stage, but never put a finger on her – and it was all on camera anyway.”

“I think she may try and blackmail the producer by alleging that we have told lies about her, and the final edit has made her look bad. That’s not going to happen until she gets to see the episode though. Do they have it in Holland?”

“Probably, but we do send out a DVD of their episode sometimes.  Depends on their contract. Talking of which, are the rumours true that you’re coming to work with us?”

Al was smiling as he drove and cast a sidelong glance at her, she smiled back taking in a deep breath.

“I think I might accept the offer – if the terms are agreeable. I need to find somewhere to live as well. I can’t keep crashing at Millie’s on a permanent basis.”

“You don’t live up here then?”

“No, I’m about 17 miles away, but my partner and I broke up about seven weeks ago and the house is being sold, so it makes sense to move to the city if I’m going to be working here. I love Millie’s flat. It has incredible views. That’s what I’d like because it is so different to what I’ve been looking at for the past ten years. I saw some lovely old mill buildings that have been converted to flats.”

“I’m sorry about – you know – you and your partner.” Al looked a little embarrassed.

“Don’t be. We’ve been drifting along aimlessly for years. The past seven weeks have been the most exciting since I graduated from Uni with Millie.”

There was a comfortable silence whilst Al negotiated the busy city streets and drove into the underground car park at the rear of the studios.  Sarah couldn’t help but cast a few sidelong glances at her companion.  Very tall, dark hair kept short, clean shaven, and she had a feeling that his eyes were blue. Very blue.  She must remember to look more closely when she had the chance.

“Wake up Dave, we’re home.” said Al.

“What! Has she come back? Where are we?”

A very drowsy Dave came back to the world of the wide awake. “Oh, we’re back. Do you think Oz needs both of us to go to the mop up session? I’m liable to fall asleep again and I could do with something to eat.”

“I have to take Sarah along anyway, so I’ll go. You owe me one though.”

“Cheers, mate. Welcome aboard Sarah.”

Dave headed off to the cafeteria, and Al led Sarah upstairs to another meeting room. He knocked first then opened the door for her. The room was smaller than the meeting room she had been in that morning. All heads turned to the door as she and Al walked in. Oliver grinned.

“Tell me that she’s no longer our problem? Please?”

Al and Sarah looked at each other and grimaced. With a nod of her head, Sarah indicated that she felt Al should report back first.

“We saw her go through to security and the guards there picked her up. They said they would phone in once she was safely on the plane. The plane is due to depart in about an hour’s time.”

“Do you think she’ll get on the plane, or will she escape security?”

“I told them that although she wasn’t a terrorist, they should use her to practice their high security techniques on. Sarah has a theory about what she might try to do next.”

“Come on Sarah, I have a contract ready and waiting for you to read and sign.” said Oliver with a wink to Millie.

“Thank you. I think she will go back to Holland on the plane. They’ve reserved a nice seat with plenty of legroom for her, and she knows she’ll get free food and drink on the trip. At the moment she has more to gain by returning home than she does by absconding. “

Oliver beamed. “Excellent!’

Sarah shook her head. “I’m not so sure. She hugged me goodbye, and said that she would be back, that she never gave in. I need to check it out but I’ve a feeling that she may be a borderline psychopath.”

“Flippin’ heck!” said one of the runners who had spent most of the day with Marta having met her at the airport when she flew in the day before.

“Tell me more, Sarah?” said Oliver.

“I’d need the Hare twenty-point check list to be sure. I don’t carry it with me.”

Without needing to be asked, one of the researchers was already checking for the list on the Internet.

“Got it!” he cried triumphantly and passed the tablet over to Sarah. She read through the list a couple of times before saying anything.

“Bear in mind that all of us may have two or three of these tendencies but a true psychopath will have them all. A couple of them are linked to a past history of offending and I can’t check that out, but looking at some of the others ……”

“Come on Sarah!” said Oliver, craning over to see what was on the list.

“Right, if I read out the tendencies that I’ve spotted from the research notes, and from meeting her, let me know at the end if you agree? She appears charming, has a very good opinion of herself, gets bored easily, and is attention-seeking. She tells lies and believes that they are the truth, is cunning and manipulative, shows no remorse for her actions, doesn’t appear to have a typical reaction to usual emotions, has a complete lack of empathy with others, is parasitic, has no control over her behaviour, and can be promiscuous with a variety of different partners, is impulsive, irresponsible, can’t accept responsibility for her own actions, and lives in a fantasy land.”

“You said there were twenty.” said the researcher.

“I did, but the others relate to early behaviour difficulties, juvenile delinquency, and any prison history.  Hey, seventeen out of twenty is scary enough. We could contact Peter and check if she ever told him about her childhood, but given her ability to fabricate and believe her own lies, I wouldn’t think she would have told him the truth anyway. If it’s any consolation, I don’t think she is liable to kill anyone, but she is fully able to wreck lives and careers. I think there will be repercussions once the show goes out. In her fantasy, she is attractive, intelligent, charming, and totally in the right. From what I saw this morning, that is not the image that the public is going to get of her.”

Jenny leaned forward. “Should we scrap the show? It would be a shame to. It really was good.”

“You have a moral obligation to Peter to let him clear his name but I really won’t be surprised if you get bombarded with threats – does she have anyone’s email address?”

Several of the researchers nodded and began to look very worried. Sarah tried to be reassuring.

“Check the content of any correspondence you’ve had with her. Al tells me that no one was left alone with her, so there is no chance of allegations about anything untoward happening. Believe me though, if there is a chink in the armour, she’ll find it.”

“How come you know so much about psychopaths Sarah?” asked Oliver. “I thought you were a social worker?”

“I am, but I spent six months attached to the forensic social work department and got to know quite a few clients with psychopathic tendencies. No one with quite as many as Marta though.”

“I think we need to get legal to go through everything connected to this woman.” said Jenny. “All correspondence is to be brought to me, no matter how trivial, and if anyone remembers any incidents that might be vaguely troublesome, let me know. Thank you, Sarah, your input has been invaluable. If you can stay behind when the meeting ends, I’d like to discuss the possibility of you joining our team permanently.”

Sarah blushed as a rousing cheer went round the table. The cynic in her wondered if the accolade was more for the end of the meeting than for her employment. The other staff filed out of the room, some of the younger runners were already checking out the psychopath tendencies to see how many of their mates would also fit the profile; Millie stayed behind and moved up the table to sit beside Sarah.

“Was she totally horrendous when you left?” asked Millie.

“Not really. I gave her some advice on the way to the airport – pointed out the possible repercussions of refusing to go, the impact on her son and the rest of the family. You know the stuff. I thought she had accepted it until she hugged me goodbye. I really felt chills when she looked me in the eye and said that she would be back.”

“Oh well,” said Jenny “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Now for more pressing matters. We’d like to offer you a job on the show in the aftercare team with Millie. I have to say that we were very impressed with your CV. Miles handed it over very reluctantly; said he could have found employment for you a dozen times over – but those would have been temporary whereas this is a permanent contract – subject to performance of course – but that is put in everyone’s contract. You’ll find that the pay scale is quite generous, certainly above par with your previous post and there are various perks, but I’ll let Millie explain those to you. “

Sarah sat in a daze. Things were happening so fast. She looked at Millie with an expression of barely disguised terror.

“Jenny, would you mind if Sarah and out went out to have a coffee and look through the contract – just to give her a bit of time out.”

“Of course, Millie, take all the time you need but I’d be grateful if you could get back to me before the end of the day.”

Jenny left the room, and Sarah felt her hand shaking as she sat there trying to focus on the contract.

“Come on mate, we’ll go and hit the coffee shop where I first spotted you. You look like you need some sustenance, and our cafeteria will be full of researchers and runners trying to work out whether they are psychopaths or not.”

Sarah allowed herself to be led back to Millie’s office, where she picked up her coat and handbag. The wind was quite bitter as they walked across the concourse to the half-empty coffee shop. A very sweet and strong latte restored Sarah’s equilibrium but Millie was careful not to start in too quickly.

“First things first – what is worrying you.” she said.

“Umm – can I do the job? Where will I live? When will I start? Can I cope with Abigail’s glee when she finds out that I’m moving out? That sort of thing really.”

“Number one – of course you can do the job. There will be things that you need to learn about working in media, but you’ll soon pick those up. Number two – you can stay with me as long as you like. I can clear out the boxroom, put Tom’s stuff in there for now, and you can make his room your own for as long as you need it. Number three – they were asking if you could start next week, but that has to be negotiable considering that you have things to wrap up with Andy’s house. Number four – leave telling Abigail until the last minute. You can rely on Roseanne not to tell her. If you have too much stuff to bring here, I can come over at the weekend and we can put your non-essentials into storage. There! Have I banished your problems?”

“Looks like it.”

“Come on then, drink up your coffee, and we’ll go and put Jenny out of her misery. You did so well today Sarah. You may not realise it but you’ve probably saved the company a huge amount of hassle, not to mention the money. Fancy coming home with me again tonight – we can finish off the takeaway?”


Walking back to the studios, Sarah felt very proud of her accomplishment, terrified but proud.

Breaking Free – Off to the Airport

Millie came running up the steps during the break and crouched down by Sarah’s side. “I need you to do me the hugest favour.” she whispered.

“What? ” She whispered back.

“At the end of the show we need someone to accompany Marta and security to the airport. She refuses to have any of the runners or researchers accompany her. She wants someone important.”

“Millie! I’m not even employed, let alone important.” Sarah hissed.

“You look important. She spotted you taking notes during her segment. She asked who you were, and I said that you were a senior social worker who was considering coming to work with us. To her, that’s good because she feels that you are still impartial, and will protect her from the security guards.”

“I’m not sure that I am impartial. That woman is horrendous!”

“Please Sarah? You’ll have the lovely Dave, and the even lovelier Al with you for protection. More to the point, you will have guaranteed yourself a job on the team and everyone’s undying respect.”

Sarah sighed. “What do I have to do?”

“Brilliant! You go with her and the guards to the airport. Because she is rather unpredictable, the airport has agreed to fast track her, provided she is supervised through to airside security. They will take it from there and get her onto the plane. The guys will bring you back here and you will receive a hero’s welcome at the mop up meeting.”

A runner came up the stairs behind Millie and beckoned to her.

“Right, ready to go. At least this bit will be fairly funny.”

Millie and the runner returned to the backstage area and the lights dimmed again as Oliver stepped out onto the stage. His composure had returned and Sarah noticed that there was a slight smile on his face that had been missing in the previous segment.

“Welcome back my friends. I hope we’ve all recovered and are ready for the last section which, if nothing else might raise a smile or two. First on the stage today is Ben. Ben is in a relationship with Sukie. They have no children – for which we should all be grateful. Ben has found out that Sukie has been cheating on him with a mutual friend Will. Will is in a relationship with Teena Marie, who is far too young to know who she is named after. According to the park warden, Sukie and Will have been indulging in sexual contact on a park bench. He has reported them to the police, and they are under investigation. They have come here to take lie detector tests to prove to their respective partners that they have not been cheating, and that the whole thing is a figment of the imagination of the park warden – who has a grudge against young people allegedly. So put your hands together for Ben!”

The audience laughed and clapped, relieved that the last case would be a bit of a giggle anyway.  Ben, a stripling in black skin tight jeans and tee shirt, tattoos and piercings, came onto the stage with a sheepish grin on his face. He touched knuckles with Oliver and threw himself down in the chair, legs stretched out in front of him.

“Hello Ben. So, you have been in a relationship with Sukie for how long?”

“Hi Oz. We’ve been together for – uh – around a couple of months. I’ve known her for a couple of years though.”

“Right, and you know Will and Teena Marie too.”

“Yeah, we kind of hang together. Will’s my best mate – well he was anyway.”

“Okay, let’s get Sukie out. She’s on the show, give her some applause – if you want too.”

Sukie stomped out on the stage, her platform Doc Martens making any kind of secretive approach impossible. Like Ben, she was dressed in black from head to toe; leggings, net tutu, crop top, and small leather jacket. Her long hair was an improbable shade of black, put to shame by her vivid purple lips. She sat on Ben’s lap, legs crossed and swinging in an attitude of complete disregard for her situation.

“We are on daytime TV Sukie. In your own chair please?” said Oliver. With the sulkiest pout, Sukie got up and flung herself into the chair. Oliver nodded his thanks curtly.

“Sukie, tell me about the park bench. According to the park warden, you did WHAT on a park bench with Will?”

“Nothing. We wuz just sittin’ and talkin’. We had a few cans like and we wuz gigglin’. That old parkie, he’s just a perv. You not even allowed to breeve in that park he’s so strick.”

“I think I understand although I’m not sure why a white girl like you has to adopt a Jamaican patois? You did a lie detector test but before we read out the results, let’s meet Will, who was also apparently doing something naughty on a park bench, and Will’s girlfriend Teena Marie. Welcome them both onto the stage please?”

Teena Marie dragged Will onto the stage. In appearance, Will was almost a twin to Ben but Teena Marie was a vision in girly pink and frills. Her blonde hair was teased and backcombed into a bouffant that sported several candy-pink bows. Her pink spotted leggings formed a bridge between sparkling red stilettos and layers of pink sequinned net that formed her skirt. She wore a tiny white tee shirt that exposed her belly ring and topped the outfit off with a luminous pink fake fur bomber jacket. Sarah wondered if Teena Marie had put this outfit together in an effort to show that Will preferred girly blondes to sulky Goths, or whether this was her usual style of dress. Teena Marie gave a curt nod of acknowledgement to Ben but blanked Sukie completely. She kept a very firm hand on Will; Sarah could tell that Oliver was watching their body language closely too. He was standing to one side of the stage looking from one couple to the other and very obviously comparing them.

“Welcome Teena Marie and Will. Will has also done a lie detector test regarding the alleged incidents on the park bench. How do you feel about this Teena Marie? It can’t be nice to hear that your boyfriend might have been canoodling with someone else on a park bench can it?”

Teena Marie pursed up her glossy pink lips.

“It’s a load of rubbish. Will’s not into that Goth stuff as far as girls are concerned. Why would he want to go with her when he has me?”

“Why indeed?” Oliver’s eyebrows were raised so far up his forehead that they had almost disappeared into his hairline. “I take it that Will denies that anything out of order has taken place between himself and Sukie?”

“Yeah. “

Will grunted and winced slightly, as Teena Marie squeezed his hand just a little too tight. Oliver shook his head but decided that they had enough decent material filmed already and that there was no more mileage to get out of these four sulky teenagers.  The runner handed Oliver the two envelopes.

“Well, who shall we do first? Sukie? Or Will? Will first, let’s put Teena Marie out of her misery. Will, we asked you if at any time since you’ve have been in a relationship with Teena Marie have you ever engaged in sexual intercourse or any other sexual acts with anyone else. What is your answer Will?”


“A man of few words. you answered no to this test and guess what it says on this card? Will said no and he was telling the truth!”

Teena Marie flung her arms around Will’s neck and kissed him. Oliver smiled benevolently and opened the second envelope.

“Sukie, we asked you, if you had been engaged in any kind of sexual activity with anyone else since you have been in a relationship with Ben. What is your answer Sukie?”

“I said no of course. Get on with it an’ stop your chattin’ man.”

“Your answer was no, Sukie, and why did you say no?”

“‘Cos I was tellin’ the troof.”

The lie detector test says you were lying. The second question was about kissing other people and you failed that one too.”

“Ah – it’s a load of rubbish. I was gettin’ bored with Ben anyway, and Will ain’t much more use than him.”

Sukie got to her feet and stomped off the stage.

“I’m not running after that one. Ben and Will – stay mates and ignore the rumours. You might see if Teena Marie has a friend, Ben, then you can make up a foursome. Off that way you three. That’s all for tonight folks. I don’t think I dare lie down in a dark room in case I get attacked by a mad foreign lady.”

The audience roared as Oliver walked off the stage after the trio of teens. A runner came up the steps double time and motioned for Sarah to follow him. Millie was waiting in the first backstage pod, and with her was Peter, Ali and her husband.

“Sarah. Hi. I wanted you to meet Peter and his friends properly. We used your notes as guidelines for Oliver for that section, and as you can see, it worked extremely well. Word is beginning to get round in the business, and we haven’t even edited yet. We have Marta on tape showing her true colours, and our legal representative has advised her that she had better go straight back to Holland, because she has incriminated herself and admitted to persuading her son to lie on her behalf.”

Peter stepped forward and held out a hand shyly.

“Thank you, Sarah. I only hope you manage to get Marta on that plane without any incidents.”

“Me too. What are your plans now?”

Ali stepped in and shook Sarah’s hand as well. “We are taking him off for a celebration meal with lots of cocktails. He’s earned it.”

“I know the value of good friends myself. We don’t always like what they tell us, but it’s because they care that they don’t mince their words. Talking of which, my very good friend Millie is waving at me frantically. Have a lovely meal and I hope the work picks up again now. No trips to Holland though!”

Peter turned to go then stopped.

“The way to Marta’s heart is through her stomach, and her pride, so if you feed her up and make her feel really important, she’ll give you less trouble. Bye”

Sarah watched the three of them go, hoping that the media circus would let Peter back in again. She followed Millie down the corridor to another room.

“Here she is.” Millie grinned. “We put a load of food and drink in there so you should be fine.”

“You misheard him – he didn’t say NO trouble, he said LESS trouble. Let’s get the introductions over with then.”

Millie rapped on the door and entered. Marta was holding court with a glass of red wine in one hand, and a ham salad baguette in the other.

“Aha!” she said. “So, this is the important senior social worker.  You are called Sarah?”

Sarah held out her hand. “Yes, I’m pleased to meet you.”

Marta looked at Sarah as if she were speaking a different language.

“Why? All these other peoples are rude to me. They tell me that I have to leave the country now, but I want stay, maybe see Peter?”

Sarah sat down next to her and looked at very directly.

“I’ve been advised that if we don’t get you out of here and on the plane back to Holland straight away, the police will come and arrest you for perverting the course of justice – and a few other charges. You have your son to think of Marta. How would he feel if you didn’t come home?”

“Aargh, he is with my father, is okay. So is dog.”

“If you get arrested, you may be refused bail because you would be considered a flight risk. Work it out for yourself. You have an escort to the airport, and you are being fast tracked through to airside where they will provide you with a free meal and drinks. Then you have a free flight home, and when you get there you can put all this behind you and move on.”

“But if stay I could sell my story to tabloids and make much money, and maybe get more money from Peter if he goes back to work.”

Shaking her head, Sarah began to wonder what she had got herself into.

“That’s not going to happen, Marta. Once this programme is broadcast your credibility is shot, and no tabloid will touch you. Peter’s friends from the business will have heard the outcome already. They won’t take any notice of you either.”

“I have to go home then. I am so poor and I have so many expenses.”

Millie stood up, “We paid you well Marta, there isn’t any more in the budget. Can you gather up your things now and use the toilet if you have to. You won’t get a chance until you are airside.”

“I go at airport. Sarah – she can take me.”

It was looking into a piece of machinery. Sarah could see the cogs whirring as Marta started planning her escape route.

“No chance Marta. That’s well beyond my brief.”

Marta reluctantly drained her glass and walked into the toilets adjoining the room. A sigh of relief went around the room.

“I so hope that you have a decent car for her.” said Sarah.

“We’re using the Merc that we use for the rehab people.” explained Mel. “It looks posh but there are child locks on the back doors so people can’t do a runner. We’ll be fine, especially if she doesn’t need the toilet.”

“Mm.” said Sarah. “I’m expecting a desperate need to go once we get there. We’ll have to use distraction until we get her through.”

Millie laughed. “I knew you’d be up for this Sarah. “

“I spent some time working in a young people’s secure unit. This is bringing it all back. I have a feeling my maladjusted adolescents were easier to deal with though”

“Here I am!” said Marta, breezing back into the room. “Ready to be escorted to the airport like a dog with a tail between its little legs. Are my jailers ready now?”

“Catch you later. “Millie whispered and disappeared down the long corridor. The car was waiting at the back of the studio. Marta and Sarah sat in the back seat whilst Al drove, and Dave sat in the front with him.

Once they were on the road, Marta turned to Sarah, her head cocked to one side. “So, Sarah. How do you fit in with this bunch?”

“I don’t.” Sarah replied, measuring her words carefully. “Oliver would like me to work for the team, but I haven’t said yes yet. At the moment I work for myself, and am therefore completely impartial.  As such I can advise you that it would be foolish to cause a scene here or try to get out of going home.”

“A scene? What kind of scene would I do?”

“Urgent need to go to the toilet, fake illness, hysterics. These security guys from the studio have seen it all. You are going through a major airport that is set up to screen for terrorism. If you throw a wobbler once you are airside, you’ll be considered a flight risk and locked up immediately. The studio is giving you a good deal. They could just have handed you over to the police and have done with it.”

“Do you think I am the bad woman too?”

Knowing that her reply could make a huge difference to the outcome, Sarah chose her words very carefully.

“I feel that you genuinely believe that you have been wronged, and that you deserve some kind of revenge on Peter. You both said how happy you were in the first three years when Peter was working and there was plenty of money. The emails you sent stopped the work for Peter, and put him in a bad place. I think that now, you have to show what a good person you can be by letting things go, and moving on yourself. You are still young; you say that you have a nice flat for you and your son, you have family nearby and support. Why stay in a foreign country where people don’t understand you, and want to lock you up? “

“Okay, what would you do if you was me?”

I never could be, thought Sarah.

“I’d take the money and run home. Be graceful and prove those who are expecting you to cause trouble, wrong. Rise above all this, and give your son something else to be proud of.”

Marta fell silent then, and Sarah sent up a silent prayer that she had said the right things. Airport security had allowed them to park temporarily near the entrance. Marta seemed very proud to be escorted through check in, and then up to security. Sarah handed her over with an immense sense of relief which was halted when Marta hugged her goodbye and whispered

“I will be back. I never give in.”

Breaking Free – In the Spotlight

There was a level of quiet in the audience; as if they knew something was about to happen. The stage was reset with just two chairs and Oliver dashed off stage to get the shine powdered off his face. When the programme was sent out the televisual audience would see it as an advert break, but it took a good half an hour to get the stage and all the people involved, where they should be.

The lights dimmed again, and Oliver stepped into centre stage.

“My next guest alleges that her ex-partner is accusing her of lying about domestic violence, and she is determined to get her revenge on him. She admits to having lied to the police to get him arrested, and having him thrown out of the house by the police when he came round to collect his belongings. She fled the country with his belongings, including his dog, whilst he was away, and tried to blackmail him.  When that failed, she contacted his employer, and threaten to sell her story to the media. She admits to having done all these things, but says that they are all acceptable because – and get this people – when the banks crashed and this guy lost all his money, and his home, the car that he bought for her had to be repossessed. She’s on my show, her name is Marta, she’s Dutch, and she’s here for more revenge.”

Not surprisingly, the audience set up a resounding boo of disapproval to greet her.

Marta stomped on stage with the demeanour of an angry bull. She threw herself down in the chair, and glared furiously at the floor.

“Good morning, Marta. I am Oliver Standish, and this is my show. You don’t seem to be very happy to be here, despite the fact that we flew you over from Holland on a return ticket, and put you up in a very nice hotel. Would you like to have your say now?”

“I am still very angry with your researchers. What you just read out is not what I say. I am tired, I was up very late with the researcher talking at me. I was not allowed anything from my mini bar, and only given a Continental breakfast instead of a Full English, which is what I like when I am over here.”

Oliver bent his head in mock supplication.

“Please feel free then to tell us all what happened – in your own words – and please avoid using swear words and sexual terms – this show is broadcast on daytime TV, and we have to adhere to certain standards.”

“For three years Peter and I are living together. In his house, or at least the house he lived in. We had three years of happy. He help me get custody of my son from his terrible father, we go to parties and ceremonies because he is a bit famous. Then the banks crash, and the TV work dry up. Is no fun anymore.  No more staying at the Hilton when we go to London, my beautiful mini car is taken away, and we argue like the cat and the dog. He make me angry when he go out walking his dog for hours, or do DIY on the house instead of looking for work. One Sunday morning I am very angry with him – I forget why – he just annoy me. I start to shout and scream, and he taps me on my arm and tells me to be quiet. He leaves the room and I call the police. I say arrest him he has hit me, and my beautiful son, who is only twelve, he has seen it all too.”

Oliver interjected. “Your son witnessed domestic violence between the two of you? An impressionable boy?”

“No! You stupid man! He saw nothing! But he is a good boy, and he does as his mother tells him to.”

Oliver got up from the chair, his face almost incandescent with rage.

“So, you got this man, a man who you had lived with for three years, arrested for tapping you on the arm and telling you to be quiet. I’ve done far worse on this stage. And not content with that, you tell your own son to lie for you. You really are a piece of work, aren’t you?”

Applause from the audience that Marta saw as applause for her.

“What is this piece of work mean?  I am a woman with a child to look after. I get the police to take him away, and he is gone all day and all night. We have nothing, me and my son, I go through the pockets of Peter’s coats, but he has nothing there. No money, so that my son and I can go out to have a treat. Peter comes back early in the morning, but he does not stay, he takes a few things and goes somewhere else. I would have said sorry to him, but he was cold. I invite him to come back to collect things, but every time he turns up, I phone the police in case he become angry.”

“And did he ever become angry and hit you?”

“No, he is not of red blood like I am. I get really cross when he turns up the last time, and I call the police to say he is shouting at me, and threatening me again, my son is witness but when the police come, they bring Peter inside the house, and say that they were with him all time, and I am lying. They wait whilst he packs up stuff. I shout. I scream, but they tell me to shut up or they arrest me and have my son taken into care.”

Sarah could see that Oliver was getting more and more wound up. She also saw the floor manager making frantic hand gestures. Oliver regained himself, and turned to the camera.

“We’ll go to an ad break now before I explode. When we come back, we’ll hear more about this woman’s revenge, and we’ll meet the poor guy who was her target.”

As soon as he could, Oliver stalked offstage. Marta made to follow him, but two of the security guards persuaded her to sit back down again. Millie came out and very gently reminded her that she had signed a contract to appear, and that she really should stay if she wanted to put her case. She sat back down and Oliver, face freshly powdered and temper soothed, came back on stage.

“So, Marta, before we bring Peter on stage and reveal the results of his lie detector test, there’s one last thing I want you to explain. Are you okay with that?”

“Yes, but you tell these stupid people in audience to stop making the boo noise. Is not kind.”

“Neither is having an innocent man arrested, but we won’t go there just yet.  Now tell me if I’ve got this right. Peter had to go to London, and you arranged to meet him at the house when he returned? Yes?”

“I did. But his train is delayed and he take too long. I have already packed up things in house, and had them shipped to Holland while he is away. My son is bored, so we leave the front door unlocked for Peter, and we leave in a taxi.”

“Peter comes home, finds his house unlocked, and most of his and your possessions gone, and no sign of you and your son?”

“Yes, but I am nice. I send him a picture of me, my son and the dog on the ferry so that he know we are all safe. I not want to cause him worry.”

Oliver turned away again, and Sarah could see that his fists were balled and his teeth gritted.

“Right Marta. You and your son – and Peter’s dog ….”

“….dog not Peter’s. He given to Peter’s daughter, but her mother not let her keep him in the house. I good with dog, and my son love him. So we take him. He better off with us.”

Oliver continued. “Once you are back in Holland you find that Peter got the job he went for in London, and is going to Australia for five months.”

“Yes. Big bucks! Accommodation all paid for so he don’t need the money, and I do. I ask for money at first, and he say no because I take all his things, and dog. This make me angry, so I threaten to tell the little red-topped newspapers that he is a nasty man who beats his woman in front of a child. Stupid man still say ‘no money’ so I email the producer of his show and say the same. I say that show will be wrecked if public know what a wicked man Peter is.  Producer is very angry, and threatens to set the police on me. Me! A poor woman with a child to support – and the dog.”

“So, wind the clock forward another three years. After threatening to have Peter arrested if he ever contacted you again, you suddenly decide to email him to let him know how you are.”

“Well, I have 40th birthday coming up, which makes me sad. Dog has too many of pills and has to go to vet. I have insurance, but I need more money so I email Peter, and make like I want us to be friends.  A friend tell me that he has been looking after his mother for three years, but that now he is starting to get work again. He has money, and he should give me some. It is only fair.” 

Marta looked to the audience for some kind of approbation, but saw only stares and another chorus of booing.

“Let’s bring on the man at the centre of this – ladies and gentlemen – Peter!”

Sarah was surprised at Peter’s appearance. She’d imagined that he might be a small, perhaps weedy kind of man but in fact he was way over six foot and bear-like. There was something open, and almost innocent in his face as he walked shyly on stage, and sat down in the chair next to Marta, who was smiling and clapping with the audience. Peter seemed to have his eyes elsewhere; Sarah followed him and saw him looking at a couple in the audience at the end of a row. They smiled at Peter, and it seemed to give him strength.

“How do you do Peter? It’s been a couple of rough years for you really, hasn’t it?”

Peter smiled and shook his head. “My mum needed looking after, that’s kept me busy. I get an allowance as her carer; it isn’t much, but I have food, and a roof over my head at least. And friends, I’m lucky to have really good friends.”

Marta interrupted. “I am your friend, Peter. I am here for you!”

Pater turned slowly towards her, and shook his head again.

“No, we used to be friends, we had a very happy three years, but after all that has happened, we can’t be friends again. I’m sorry.”

“You -You! You say you sorry – what about the money you owe me. Money borrowed from my poor sick father. You are making money again, so you pay me back.”

Oliver stepped in front of Marta, who had risen to her feet, the two security guards were also hovering nearby.

“You borrowed the money off your father, Marta, it was spent on paying the bills and buying food for the three of us. Compared to the amounts you ran up on my credit cards, it’s just a drop in the ocean. I don’t owe you anything, and I don’t really want you in my life again.”

“Okay,” said Oliver. “My show. Peter, can you tell us your version of events when you got arrested. Marta, shut up, we’ve all listened to you.”

“Sorry Oliver.” said Peter, visibly screwing himself up to recount what was obviously a very painful memory. “After the banks crashed, cuts affected the field in which I worked. The high life had to stop, and unfortunately the car I bought for Marta was taken back. She seemed to get more and more aggressive after that; throwing things around the house, screaming at me for the slightest little things. She said it was hormones or something. On this particular morning – a Sunday – we were in bed, and she started screaming at me for no reason. I put my hand on her arm, and asked her to calm down – the woman next door was in the last stage of pregnancy, and she didn’t need to hear us rowing. I got out of bed, got dressed and went downstairs.”

“Was Marta’s son in the room?” asked Oliver.

“No. He was still in bed. I was making him some breakfast when the police called, Marta ran downstairs in her nightgown and let them in. She pulled her son to her side and pointed at me. She said ‘That’s the man. That’s him, he struck me, and shouted at me in front of my son – didn’t he?’ I was arrested and taken to the police station. They locked me up all day whilst they went to see Marta and her son. Eventually they came back and interviewed me. I went back into the cell for the rest of the evening. I spoke to a solicitor who said that rather than going to court, it would be better if I accepted a caution, because it was my word against Marta’s, and she didn’t have any marks on her arm where I was supposed to have hit her.”

“This was your house wasn’t it, Peter? Not hers?”

“My wife and I bought it for her parents. When we split up, I moved into the little house because my in-laws had died.

“Not very lucky with women are you mate?” said Oliver, not unsympathetically.

For the first time, Peter smiled. The audience laughed but they were laughing with him, not at him.

“I’m luckier with my friends.  When Marta contacted me, I thought she wanted to be friends but although that’s what she said she wanted, it wasn’t long before she started asking for money; vet’s bills, help with her rent, school fees, the money we borrowed from her father.  She said that she really wanted to see me, encouraged me to fly over to stay with her so that we could sort out what had happened. I was very naive about her motives, and didn’t stop to think about what might happen if I did go over there on my own. When Marta started writing to me, my friends were wary about Marta’s motives. She kept coming up with reasons for me to go and support her; the dog was ill, her dad was in hospital, she was ill, her son was being bullied at school, a male neighbour was pestering her, and she couldn’t say anything because his wife was a good friend, the dog was ill again and then her sister was ill. Everything was just a honey trap designed to get me to Holland, so that Marta could have me arrested on some trumped-up charge if I didn’t give her any money.”

“This friend is an interfering bitch! They have no right to be telling Peter what to do.”

“Ah yes!” said Oliver, turning back towards a seething Marta. “Then we have the police records that Peter was helped to access. What did they say Peter?”

“The records said that I was arrested for battery, because Marta alleged that I had grabbed her arm. When she was interviewed by the police, they could see no marks on her arm, her son’s story didn’t match up with hers, and they saw no point in pursuing it any further. I was given a caution and released without charge.”

“So, Marta. When you sent the email to Peter’s employer saying that he had abused you and your son, and that he had been arrested, and locked up by the police for domestic violence, you weren’t being very truthful were you?  We’ve already heard you say that you lied to the police, and told your son to lie to them too. Unfortunately, you claim to be on a considerable cocktail of medication, which means you can’t do a lie detector test. Peter has taken a test to prove that he wasn’t lying about your behaviour, and that he did not hurt you. Are you ready Peter?”

Peter nodded and the atmosphere in the studio was tense, whilst Oliver opened the envelope.

“Peter. We asked you did you at any time during your relationship with Marta, commit any acts of violence against her person. You answered no. Why did you answer no, my friend?”

“Because I was telling the truth.”

“Indeed, you were. We also asked you if at any time during your relationship with Marta, you were ever violent or aggressive to her in front of her son. You answered no. Why did you answer no my friend?”

“Because I was telling the truth.”

Oliver walked over to Peter and handed him the card.

“Full house Peter. Security, can you please escort this woman from the stage, and put her with the runners assigned to take her back to the airport, and on her flight back to Holland. This man owes you nothing Marta. You on the other hand owe him a huge amount. You had him thrown out of his own home, you took his money and belongings, and if that wasn’t enough you tried to wreck his career. Get her out.”

Marta was too stunned to make a fuss, until she was actually off the stage, but then she started to scream and accuse the guards of hurting her.

“Reasonable force sweetheart. Peter, come here.”

Peter stood up and moved to centre stage with Oliver, who turned to the camera.

“We’re going to another break now and we’ll be talking to four young people and their colourful experiences on a park bench. Before we go though, I’d like to say to everyone out there – especially those in the media. This man was not violent to anyone. He did not abuse his partner or her child. He was a victim of circumstances, and the machinations of an evil woman. Employ him, and help him get back on his feet. He is very lucky though. He has good friends.”

The applause was overwhelming and several people, including Sarah, got to their feet as Peter left the stage.. Sarah wondered if the final case study could possibly top this.

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?”


“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.

Breaking Free – The Flying Dutchwoman

The Flying Dutch Woman

“Hunnee!!! I’m hooooome!!!!!!!”

Sarah woke with a start and wondered where on earth she was.  She sat up and stretched, remembering that she had gone into Tom’s room after an hour of searching for his father on the net. The bed looked so inviting, and though she felt rather like Goldilocks, she kicked off her shoes and lay down – just to close her eyes for half an hour ago.  Looking at her watch it appeared to have been two hours ago and now Millie was home and probably wondering where she was.

“In here.” she called. “I was testing out Tom’s bed.”

Millie appeared at the door, taking off her purple duffle coat and unwinding her long red scarf. “Did you sleep well? I changed the sheets of course and Tom is so fanatically tidy anyway. How did you get on? I wasn’t overburdening you, was I?”

Sarah got up from the bed and joined Millie in the hallway.

“Come and have a look. I went through the Flying Dutchwoman’s papers, then I had a look at the other two cases. I really think Oliver should save the best one till last though.”

“You mean the park bench one?”

“Oh yes. End the show on a laugh, and send the audience away happy.”

“Exactly! The first case is a bit dull. Another DNA daddy situation. Both parents are barely out of nappies themselves, and the boy has a domineering mother who wants custody of the child if we prove that her boy is the daddy. I met her today. Foul woman and stupid son. Mind you – the girl is no better and she is adamant that if he is the father – and there are three prospective daddies – she won’t let him see the child because she doesn’t want his mother getting involved.”

“Did you meet all of them today?

“Aha! I have grabbed your interest! The Flying Dutchwoman is mad as a box of frogs and her ex-boyfriend is a very sweet man, but far too trusting for his own good. We usually put everyone up at the same hotel but we’ve kept him in a different one with a runner babysitting.”

“Why? Is he that vulnerable?”

“No. He’s a nice guy but Mrs Clog is desperate to see him, and we want to keep them apart until they meet on stage. It has more impact then.”

“And the Park Bench Pair?”

“They’ve both bought the new partners with them. Although I’m not sure they’ll all be friends after tomorrow’s revelations. The researchers are trying to keep them all sober so that they can do the lie detector tests this evening. It’s not a job I fancy.”

“Me neither. Where do you come in then?”

“After care. We’ll try and set up contact centre care for the would-be daddy if the DNA comes out in his favour, mop up the tears and arrange counselling for the Park Bench mob, make sure Mrs Clog is on a plane back to Holland before she does any more harm, and do some damage limitation with her ex.”

“I still think he’s a fool for coming on the show.”

“So do I, but he feels that the stories she is spreading around are stopping him from working, and the only way to change that is to expose her as a liar. Real shame she can’t take the lie detector test. I smell a rat on her medical status and so does Oliver. She is a big girl and looks horribly healthy to me. Before you say it – her ailments are not obvious ones, so we have to give her the benefit of the doubt.”

“Will Oliver though?”

“She’s already put his back up. She keeps on referring to him as ‘Ollie’ which everyone knows he hates. She’s been told not to, but she just pouts and tosses her hair back with a sneer – ‘Is okay. I call him whatever I wants. He will not make a fool from me.’”

“Oh, dearie dear – have they actually met yet?”

“No, we tend to keep people away from Oz until the day of filming. It has more impact that way.  We wouldn’t even let him see photographs of the Body Snatchers.”

“The what!”

“Male and female – totally tattooed and pierced. They both had stuff all up their necks, arms and legs, but he had his face tattooed too. They looked plain silly. Oz knew something was up, but he also knew that his reaction to them would make very good TV. His face was a picture.”

“Why were they on the show?”

“She’d just had a baby, and her mother was dead set against having the baby’s ears pierced – and her nose.”

“NO! What happened?”

“We had to get social care involved – apparently ears are okay but the nose isn’t – and I’m with them on that. The last I heard, the couple had left the baby with her mum and done a bunk – before anything could get pierced.”

“Thank goodness for that. Are we eating in or out?”

“Would you mind takeaway? Oz was fairly foul to some of the younger runners this afternoon. The director had to take him out of the meeting at one point. The price of success. We need more people really. The research and aftercare that we provide are quite resource hungry and, despite what the tabloids say, we do have an extensive programme of aftercare. What kind of takeaway shall we have?”

“Any takeaway is a treat for me. Strictly limited to work or visiting Jude, unless Andy was away and even then, I used to have to take the empty cartons to work to get rid of them. He would get terribly disapproving if he found pizza boxes in the recycling!”

“Chinese? Tom is mad on curry – for obvious reasons – so the only time I get Chinese is when I’m here on my own. Talking of which, have you met Buster yet?”

“The cat? No. Is he hiding from me?”

“Probably still fast asleep on my bed. I’ll turf him out.”

Millie left the room, and was preceded on her return by a very large and fluffy black and white cat, who looked at her with some suspicion before strolling into the middle of the room and starting to wash itself.

Sarah looked from the cat to Millie. “Is that a good sign or bad?”

“Good. He hisses at anyone he doesn’t like. Oliver came here once. Buster hissed, spat and dashed from the room. He’s washing to show you that this is his flat, but that he’s cool about you being here. He’ll approach you when he’s ready.”

“I can’t wait.” said Sarah. “Do you want to know about this other stuff regarding Tom’s father?  I think I’ve found him.”

“Really! Good grief! Any pictures?”

“Yes. He would appear to have aged rather well, and you were right about him being a bit important.”

“Not a Maharajah or something?”

“Not that important but as far as the caste system is concerned, and no, don’t ask me about it, that was what sent me to lie down in the first place, he is something of a dignitary.”

“I thought so. Whenever I asked him about it, he just shushed me and told me not to worry about it, and that a Western woman could never understand. I guess he was right. What else did you find out?”

“One marriage, three children and get this, they are all girls so Tom will be considered his heir. That’s if you take away the fact that his mother is a white Western woman and that he was born out of wedlock. Heavily involved in local politics.  His two oldest daughters are married.  The trail goes cold about eighteen months ago though. How’s that for research.

“A social worker with exceptional research skills – how on earth have you stayed unemployed?”

“I’ve only just started making an effort. Talking of which – can you put a word in for me with your friend Miles?”

“Most certainly. Let’s get some food organised first though. Rowing with Oliver always makes me hungry.”

“I thought you said he was disagreeing with the director.”

“Well, I might have stuck up for her a bit. Trying to find decent committed workers isn’t easy. Oliver thinks we can employ just anyone off the street but we’d be in a right old state if we did. He would be the first to complain if people aren’t where they should be, or the runners and researchers have let people meet up before they go on stage. Okay, food. What do you like?”

“I don’t know. Andy wouldn’t have takeaways, Jude chooses when I eat at theirs, and on the rare occasion, we had takeaway for lunch at work, I just paid my share and dived in.”

“Good. Carte blanche. I shall go and order up a storm.”

Sarah packed up her laptop and the papers, and moved it into Tom’s room. It looked rather small on his huge desk and as she set it up again, she wondered how Tom would take the news about his father and half-sisters. What worried her more was how Tom’s father would take to the revelation that his eighteen-year-old son was curious about him, and wanted to be a part of his life. Walking back into the lounge she picked up one of the more recent framed pictures of Millie and Tom. He certainly was a very handsome boy.

“Aha! Looking at my favourite pin up boy eh?  He is rather gorgeous. His father’s eyes of course and hair, but I like to think that he’s inherited some part of me.”

“His face is the same shape as yours, and his skin is quite pale really. You wouldn’t look at him and immediately think he was Anglo-Indian – not that that would be a bad thing …”

“…I know Sarah, there have been times in my life that I’ve counted my blessings that Ram’s skin was so pale. Tom’s still encountered racism however, and usually from other Indians that were bothered about this caste thing. I don’t know whether to write to Ram again. It didn’t work eighteen years ago after all.”

“What’s the alternative?”

“Take some time off. Fly out there. Find him and tell him what a wonderful son he has? What would you do?”

“You are talking to a woman who has spent the past ten years playing it extremely safe. I have never been abroad, let alone anywhere as far as India. That’s what surprised me about Andy going to Thailand. The word ‘staycation’ could have been invented for him. He thought going into Scotland or Wales was daring, Ireland was totally out of the question – and no, we didn’t go to the Isle of Wight either. He was averse to boats.”

“And he’s gone to Thailand! He’ll freak! It’s all boats out there. Why has he gone again?”

“To find himself apparently. It seems that living with me for ten years has repressed him. I thought it was the other way round. After what I found out about his sister Abigail, I’m not surprised that he feels a bit out of place.”

“What! What did you find out about Abigail? You haven’t told me about this.”

They sat down together at the table and Sarah told Millie about her prowler and the box of family records and photographs. The excitement of driving up to Millie’s, looking at the case studies and hunting for Ram, had pushed it to the back of her mind.

“Do you think that Abigail knows she’s adopted?”

“No doubt about that. Looking at all the reports of the previous fostering and adoption breakdowns due to her behaviour issues, she was well aware of it. I guess that’s why she is so defensive about Andy. I’m surprised she’s actually let him sell the house and run away really.  It makes me feel a little less like it was me that drove him away.”

Millie put her hand over Sarah’s and squeezed it.

“I know we’ve been apart for ten-odd years but I know that it wasn’t you that he was running from. He’s kept you like a caged bird all this time!”

“Totally over the top, you daft woman! I’ve held down a job in all that time, had my own friends, and if I was unadventurous then it was just as much my fault as Andy’s. I felt safe; protected. I saw no reason to argue with Andy about where to go and what to do – apart from the TV in the bedroom. He never approved of that. I think those were the most abiding emotions in our relationship – Andy’s disapproval and my avoidance.”

“And now? Do you still feel the need to avoid issues?”

“Nope! Bring it on. I don’t deny that all this freedom scares the hell out of me, but in a way, I feel like I’m just out of Uni again and starting over. Finding you has just reinforced that feeling, and well, I like it.”

Millie was beginning to look a bit misty eyed, and the ringing of the door buzzer came as a welcome interruption. She answered the call, and said that she would come down for the takeaway.  Sarah set about finding plates and cutlery, and set the table ready for Millie’s return.

It was a proper Chinese banquet; aromatic crispy duck, sweet and sour chicken, special fried rice, and a host of other dishes that Sarah hadn’t come across but felt very adventurous for trying. Lemongrass was not a success however, and Millie advised that she might want to avoid Thai food in that case. This caused a fit of hysterics as Sarah visualised a bronzed and hugely bearded Andy returning from Thailand reeking of lemongrass. She eventually managed to explain her laughter to Millie and that set them both off.

It felt good to be laughing with an old friend.

Breaking Free – Moving to Millie’s

The sat nav on Sarah’s mobile phone was programmed with Millie’s address, and her overnight bag was packed and stowed in the boot together with her laptop.  Out of deference to Roseanne – but not Abigail the night stalker – Sarah washed up and tidied round so that the house would be respectable enough for visitors. She managed to fit her briefcase into the trunk in the garage where the printer was stowed. She locked it and piled some old magazines and boxes on top of it, and decided that it should be enough of a deterrent should Abigail decide to root around in the garage whilst she was gone. Sarah rang Roseanne and advised her about her visit to Millie, and when she would be back. Roseanne was of the opinion that letting Abigail know when the proposed buyers were visiting would be a very bad idea, as she had spent most of the time singing Andy’s praises and running Sarah down – not things that were liable to ensure a safe sale. Sarah assured Roseanne that she would move out as soon as required; her belongings could go into storage temporarily and she could stay in a hotel if necessary. They parted on very good terms.

Millie had taken the morning off so that she could be there to welcome and soothe Sarah after her drive through the city. As it was, the journey went without too many hitches. Driving was one of those things that Sarah felt comfortable and confident about; she saw the trip to the big city as a challenge, and one that she had to overcome. Parked in one of Millie’s designated parking spaces, Sarah opened the boot of her car and turned as Millie hailed her from a third-floor balcony of a block of flats with a marvellous view over the canal.

“Come round to the front of the building and I’ll buzz you in, the lift is just in front of you. Flat 36, third floor. I’ll be waiting!”

Bag in hand, laptop over her shoulder, Sarah made her way round to the imposing entrance and pressed the door button. Millie buzzed her in and after casting a quick glance round the rather stark but elegant entrance hall, Sarah called for the lift, and was happy to see a smiling Millie waiting for her when the lift doors opened on the third floor. Millie hugged her warmly and took the overnight bag from her, almost skipping down the corridor to her flat. Once inside, Sarah took stock of her surroundings. It was a lovely flat, a bit busy compared to the environment she had lived in over the past ten years, but the wall hangings and ornaments were all to Millie’s taste and they looked perfectly in place.  Millie took Sarah’s bag into one of the bedrooms and Sarah followed her. It was undoubtedly Tom’s room, three walls of light blue, and the other in a darker blue, a couple of music posters and shelves of books. The desk was bare but had obviously been the home of Tom’s PC before he left for Cambridge.

“And this is my bedroom – even more cluttered than the living room I’m afraid – this is the bathroom next door, and that’s the third bedroom, which is a junk store at the moment.  Kitchen and dining room lead off the lounge, and the balcony is a wonderful place for breakfast – well lunch and dinner as well – weather permitting. what do you think?”

Sarah looked around her and smiled. “It’s wonderful. The views are incredible.  I love it. As regards the clutter – just because I’ve lived in a sterile environment for so long doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate other people’s tastes. Andy would go mad in here, but this is more like Jude and Dan’s house, and I always feel very comfortable and happy there.”

Millie hugged her again. “I have two big favours to ask though.”

“Anything.” said Sarah.

“Number one is work related.  We’ve got an ex-couple on the show tomorrow afternoon. She alleges that she was a victim of domestic violence, that she fled the country (with all of his belongings) because she was in fear of her life.  She has custody of her fourteen-year-old son from her marriage, and has made contact with her current ex-partner threatening to expose him to the papers as being abusive to her and son. He, on the other hand, works in children’s TV, was assessed by social workers as being the perfect father-figure to this woman’s son, and says that all he ever did was put his hand on her arm and ask her to stop screaming. She had him arrested, but the police report states that there was no evidence of injury, it was her word against his, and she had a history of making false reports against her ex-husband.

The guy says he moved out of his own house to prevent any further arguments, but whenever he arranged to go round and collect anything, the woman phoned the police and alleged that he was bashing the door down and threatening her. Finally, the police went with him and waited round the corner whilst he knocked at the door. She phoned the police and made the same allegations, but was rather stunned when the police arrived within seconds and threatened to arrest her for wasting police time. The guy went up to London for an audition, and she arranged to hand over the keys to the house when he came back. When he got there the house was left open, and most of his stuff had gone. She sent him a text from the ferry saying that she sold his stuff, and taken his daughter’s dog.”

“Bloody Hell!” said Sarah.

“Oh, there’s more!” Millie said as she wafted the papers in the air. “The woman sent a blackmail email to her ex-boyfriend and when he failed to play ball, she emailed the producer of the show he was working on, and threatened to wreck the show by exposing the star as having been arrested for domestic violence. Luckily, the producer was made of sterner stuff and told her to back off, or he would tell the police. That was enough to screw up the guy’s career for the time being though. He went back to live with his mother and spent three years keeping his head down. A friend persuaded him to request his police records, and it turned out that he had received a caution for battery – almost as minimal as ABH – and certainly nothing that marked him down as an abuser, and not fit to work with children and young people.  He started to build his life up again, was getting work and enjoying life with his old friends. Then three years after she’d run off, the woman – who had told him that if he ever contacted her again, she would contact the police – emailed him asking for money towards the dog’s vet fees.”


“My thoughts exactly. She spun him a long story about her own poor health and gradually it would seem, tried to reel him back in.”

“You sound a little biased here.” said Sarah with a grin.

“I know and I mustn’t. I have to be fair. This guy’s friends warned him off – a leopard doesn’t change its spots and all that, but he seems to be extremely naive. The friends who have been supporting him state that he has a misguided tendency to forgive the people who shaft him. The woman wanted him to visit her in Holland where she now lives. His friends advised him against it, because she is still convinced that he owes her money and that he was abusive to her.  It was suggested that she is so devious, that she might use the visit to allege harassment and have him arrested.  He was persuaded not to go in the end. Anyhow, she has requested that he go on the show because she says he is lying about not abusing her, and she wants him to take a lie detector test. She however, cannot take a test to prove that her allegations are false because of the medication she is on.”

“Does he have to appear?  It could do more harm than good surely?” asked Sarah, her mind assembling the facts and sorting them logically

“That’s what I told him. We are paying for him to take the test. We are flying her over here, and paying for the hotel. Oz thinks it will make for good TV – her English is not that good and that will give him plenty of opportunity to take the piss out of her. He thinks the guy has got all he deserves for not listening to his friend’s advice, and for encouraging contact with the woman again. What about your opinion, oh social worker friend? From a non-TV point of view?”

“Can I look at the paperwork? I got the impression last week that Oliver knew more about the cases than was actually revealed on the show.  I felt he was overly harsh at times, and I wondered whether this was because he knew things that we didn’t.”

“I have to pop into work for a couple of hours this afternoon, can I leave you with the files? Loads of food in the fridge, coffee maker and pods, booze in the cupboard and I’ll make us dinner tonight unless ….”

“…unless what?”

“Unless Oz is really bloody-minded and I feel soul-destroyed.”

“In which case we either go out to dinner or we order up a takeaway.”

Millie raised her hands in salute.

“Nothing has really changed over the years, have they?”

“Only a little – we have matured Millie, and we have a bit more money nowadays. What was the other favour?”

“Oh God, yes. It’s about Tom. I suppose I knew this would happen one day and I really should have brought up the subject before but I was waiting for Tom ….”

“Let me guess, Tom wants to know more about his father.”

“I knew you were the best person to ask.”

“What DO you know about his father?”

Millie poured them both some orange juice and sat down beside Sarah on the sofa.

“I met Tom’s father on the rebound. I’d been living with an Australian guy who was running a bar. He got busted for selling dodgy booze, and I only got out of it because Ram interceded. He used to come to the bar a lot and I think he was some kind of local dignitary. Anyway, he whisked me away to his house – I had my own room I hasten to add. It was all very platonic at first but a girl can only cope with being wined, dined and spoiled by a handsome man for so long before she gives in. He was so very handsome. Educated in England and extremely intelligent. I confess. I fell.”

“But you came home.”

“Yes, I found out that he already had a wife and three children in Delhi. He said that he would be happy to have me and my child in the country, and flit between us. I wanted more than he could give me. So, I came home – if you can call it that.”

“Have you been in contact with him since? Does he know about Tom?”

“His name is on the birth certificate. I sent him a copy but he never replied. Probably gone back to Delhi. But hey, we have the Internet now and it’s a lot easier to track people down.”

“Leave me his details. With my new laptop skills, I can track anyone down. What time will you be back?”

“Subject to Oz’s mood but he likes to get home to his kids – so by five o’clock I guess.”

“No probs. I’ll go through these papers and make some notes first, then I shall turn into an Internet sleuth.”

Millie jumped to her feet and showed Sarah where she could plug in her laptop and connect through their broadband. Whilst Millie got ready, Sarah set up the laptop and got out some paper and a pen from the bag. 

“Can I write on these papers or should I make separate notes?”

“That’s a spare set. I have my own as well – we can compare notes later!”

Picking up her bag, Millie gave Sarah another hug and was gone. Sarah looked around the flat and wondered if she would ever be able to afford a place like this. The view over the canal was wonderful. She loved being up this high; the old red brick mill buildings and further away, the white stone turrets of the inner-city offices.

Enough gazing.

She sat down at the table and began reading through the research reports on the warring couple. The researcher had written the woman’s story in her own words, and the Pidgin English made some of what she had to say very amusing. The whole story was full of inconsistencies however, and she could already picture Oliver listening with mock interest, just waiting to pick her up on some of the more obvious falsehoods. It was a shame that the woman couldn’t take the lie detector test – very convenient.

The man’s story was more believable, if rather pathetic. She could see that the audience would be sympathetic towards him. If he was in children’s entertainment, he was less likely to be tattooed and pierced than most of Oliver’s customers. Even if he was telling the truth though, the mere fact of being on Oliver’s show would get round very quickly, and that could be almost as damaging to his career as being branded violent and abusive.

The researcher had also contributed a report on the man’s friends. They seemed to have done their best to give him good advice, and he had done his best to ignore it, believing rather foolishly that his ex-partner wasn’t really after revenge. Sarah made notes in the margins of the reports. It could be car crash TV. The woman was so convinced that she had been a victim, despite shedloads of research that contradicted her story, that she would probably argue that the lie detector test was false, the police reports had been fabricated and that she was far too ill after her long journey from Holland to sit on the stage once Oliver started picking at her. Sarah made some suggestions for damage limitation. She doubted that Oliver would take any notice though.

Millie had left her some cheese and crackers in the fridge, and the instructions on how to use the coffee maker and its pods. With food and drink on the table, and Ram’s details to hand, Sarah set to work with a very big smile on her face.

Breaking Free – Keeping Secrets

Sarah had something that she hadn’t even told Jude and Dan about – partly because she was a little embarrassed about it, and partly because she quite like having a guilty secret now that Andy had gone. She had been watching a crime programme, exactly the kind of programme that Andy hated, and would do his best to disrupt so that Sarah would give up on watching it.  The police were trying to catch a criminal but every time they went to his flat, he wasn’t there and the rest of the people in the flats denied that he’d been there. The crime prevention officer had suggested that they put small strips of see thru tape at the bottom and top of the doors. It was unlikely that anyone would notice the tape and provided the strips were very thin, they wouldn’t present any resistance when you tried to open the door.

Before she left the house for Jude and Dan’s that morning, Sarah had been very busy booby-trapping the doors in case Abigail visited. Sure enough, the tape was loose on the kitchen and lounge doors as well as the bedrooms and bathroom. There was no evidence of Abigail having cleaned. as Sarah’s bowl and mug were still on the draining board, and the usual smell of bleach that followed Abigail like some noxious cloud was also missing. The door to the garage was still intact however, so her printer would be safe at least.  Sarah, in sleuth mode, checked out the rooms that Abigail had despoiled, and came to the conclusion that she had probably been looking for the letter that Sarah had read out to her on the phone that morning. Her books were out of order and her briefcase wasn’t quite back under the bed.  She smiled to herself and felt very glad that she had put a note in the briefcase telling Abigail to mind her own business.

Satisfied that no real harm had been done, Sarah turned the TV on and set up her laptop. She decided to send Millie an email to say ‘thank you’ for lunch and the visit to the studio. Of course, she had used email at work, but that was on a networked computer and didn’t require an awful lot of thought. Jason had set up an email account for her and Millie was going to be the first person she emailed. She found Millie’s card and copied the email address details. She even managed to save the address into her contacts. Feeling very proud of herself, she sent the email off and did some more browsing to a background viewing of ‘The Antiques Road Show’. Millie’s reply came in around ten o’clock, whilst Sarah was dozing on the sofa after a scratch tea of cheese, crisps and a glass of red wine.

‘Hi Sarah, Get you! I see the new laptop has arrived then, and you’ve paid attention to your IT guy. Just got back from Cambridge having had a lovely weekend with Tom. I need to pick your brains about something. How would you feel about coming up on Tuesday morning and staying the night? If you are interested – and only if you are interested – I can also arrange for you to sit in on some meetings, see another episode of the show, and have me cook your dinner.  Nothing fancy – my cooking skills haven’t improved over the years. Tom is fine about you using his room. Fortunately, he is much better organised than his mother. Please say yes? Lots of love. Millie’

Sarah’s reply was sent speeding back and within a few moments her mobile rang.

“Hello! For someone who says that are useless with technology you seem to have mastered your laptop fairly quickly. How was your weekend?”

Millie roared with laughter as Sarah told her about the run ins with Abigail and was impressed by the forethought shown in Andy’s letter. After a moment’s hesitation, Sarah also told Millie about the tape on the doors. This caused a further outburst of laughter.

“How was Tom anyway? How was Cambridge?”

“Tom was disturbingly well settled in. I feel quite bereft. His rooms are extremely tidy, he has organised his studies and insisted on paying for lunch. It was a light lunch, and the two dinners that I paid for were extremely large. My hotel was nice though, and the bits of Cambridge that I saw were beautiful. I have a feeling that I’m missing him more than he misses me.”

“Oh, think back to our first weeks at University, Millie. It was such an adventure, and to be at Cambridge with all that history and tradition. Your Mum and Dad must be so proud.”

There was a short but significant pause.

“Sorry Sarah, I should have said. Mum died just over three years ago and Dad is in a home for demented vicars. That sounds cruel but they never accepted Tom – especially after he was born.”

“Oh Millie, I’m sorry. Why didn’t they accept him? They weren’t that old fashioned.”

“Perhaps if I had come home and borne a nice white baby, they might have coped, or explained him away as a relative, but my darling Tom is Anglo-Indian, and that was more than their middle-class morals could cope with.  They wanted me to have him adopted. I waited a week after giving birth, and packed up Tom and all I could carry, and headed for London. Are you shocked?”

“At their attitude, not really, they were always rather strait-laced, as I remember. Am I shocked that Tom has an Indian father? No. Why should I be? My best friend’s husband comes from the Caribbean, and their children have inherited their father’s beautiful eyes, and their mother’s curly blonde hair.  No racist bones in my body. Quite a few in Andy’s, but again that was due to his parents and their horrible middle-class values. I’m sure that they would have insisted on us getting engaged and married, but luckily for me they’d already shuffled off by the time I came along. I think that they passed the bulk of their prejudices on to Abigail, but Andy inherited a few opinions that set my teeth on edge.”

“You’ve no idea how happy that makes me feel. We had no problems when we were in London, and even when we moved up here, Tom didn’t have any issues with racism. I like living in a multicultural community. Life is so much more interesting.”

“It’s why Jude and Dan moved to their current house. Nasty racist neighbours at the last one, and with Jude being ill, she just doesn’t need the stress.”

“If you don’t mind my asking, what’s wrong with her?”

“She has Myalgic Encephalitis or ME; one of those nasty immune system conditions. We worked together years ago. She met Dan at work; he was one of our IT contractors and they got married. Things were fine after Emily and Sadie were born. Jude came back to work after maternity leave and the girls were in nursery. When she fell pregnant with Chloe she was very poorly, and spent most of the pregnancy in hospital. No one seems to know what causes ME but stress certainly doesn’t help. She had to give up work.”

“It’s not constant though is it? I mean, I’d heard that you get good days and bad?”

“True. On good days you wouldn’t know that she was unwell, and she does try to keep up a good front because she hates people feeling sorry for her. On bad days she just has to stay in bed, and Dan works from home. In essence, she’s still my good friend Jude though, and nothing will ever change that.”

“Oh Sarah, it feels so good to hear you say that, and to have found you again. Which brings me to the other reason for ringing.  Will you be able to come and stay next week?  I know that you weren’t overly impressed with Oliver, but you did seem quite taken with the show, and there are some people that I’d love you to meet.”

“I’m a free agent. I’ll let Roseanne know that I’ll be away on Tuesday and coming back Wednesday night so she can let the prospective buyers snoop around as much as she likes.  Actually, I’ve decided that Roseanne is more of an ally than an enemy. She hates Abigail as well. Will we have time for looking into renting a flat as well? I talked to Jude about it today and depending on which part of the city I live in; I might even be closer to them than I am here.”

“What kind of accommodation are you looking for?”

“A purpose built flat. No garden. No work needing to be done. The opposite to this horrible 50s semi with its immaculate lawns and borders. Somewhere I can just move into and scatter my books and DVDs around.”

“Plenty of those around. I’ll have a look on my way in tomorrow.”

“Should I come on the train again or bring the car?”

“I have two parking spaces so if you don’t mind braving the traffic – I get the tram into work and back most days unless I’m going food shopping afterwards. Oh, you aren’t allergic to cats, are you?”

“Not as far as I know. I take it you have a cat then?”

“Yes, Buster. He’s Tom’s cat really but he tolerates me provided I feed him. He’s a big fat black and white Maine Coon house cat. He was a present from Oliver for Tom’s sixteenth birthday.”

“Sounds lovely. I have nothing against cats or dogs. Andy detested both because of the damage they did to his garden, not to mention the gardens at work.”

“Right, well I need to sort out some clothes for tomorrow so I’ll leave you in peace. Sarah, you just don’t know how happy I am to have you back in my life.”

“Me too. Laterz.”

“Oh yes, laterz potaterz.”

Sarah spent a happy hour flat hunting on the laptop. She was a little concerned about the prices, she knew that she would have enough for the deposit and a couple of month’s rental in the bank; and going on her previous salary, once she was employed, she wouldn’t have a problem either. It was the getting employed that was the difficult bit.

Just then Sarah heard a sound out in the garden. At first, she thought it was a cat prowling around but the noise was more like footsteps.  Who on earth would be prowling around outside the house at this time of night?

To give him credit, Andy had thought about household safety rather a lot, and whilst the alarm system he had installed was simple enough for even Abigail to turn on and off, there were a few added extras that only he and Sarah knew about because he had put them in to make her feel safer in the house when he was away. Very quietly Sarah walked to the alarm panel and pressed a sequence of buttons before whipping the door open. Instantly the front garden was flooded with light and there – like a stunned rabbit caught in the headlights – was Abigail.

“For goodness sake, Abigail! It’s a quarter to one! I’m not letting you in, and if you do anything to damage my car, I will call the police.”

Abigail found her voice. “I was just checking that you were okay. Please turn the lights off Sarah, you’ll wake up all the neighbours.”

“Go home Abigail. I know that you’ve been sneaking round the house whilst I was out today, and you weren’t doing cleaning either. I’ll just warn you now that Andy installed some other security measures that you don’t know about, and I’m quite happy to use them to protect his property and mine if you don’t scuttle off home and leave me in peace. Good night!”

Sarah left the lights on until she was certain that Abigail had left the premises, got into the car and driven away.  Lights were already going on in the neighbour’s houses, so Sarah quickly switched off the intruder lights, locked and bolted the door and went back to her laptop.

Working on the basis that Abigail was unlikely to return that night, Sarah closed everything down, put her dirty plate and cup in the sink and walked very slowly up the stairs. What exactly was Abigail trying to do? Scare her out of the house? Some chance, she wouldn’t go until she was well and truly ready. Andy and Abigail’s parents must have been pretty strange people to have raised two such weird children. Sarah had to admit to herself that she had never really been curious about the former inhabitants of the house before. When Andy asked her to move in, she just took the house on face value, accepted that his parents were dead, and never really asked any questions. As far as Abigail was concerned, her parents were saints who would never have approved of Sarah, let alone of Andy and Sarah living together. Piqued by a sudden fit of curiosity, Sarah went into Andy’s box room, and a few moments of rummaging, found a trunk containing old photographs and papers.

The first photo album was fairly standard; photographs of Andy as a baby, then as a toddler. His parents seemed like a fairly normal middle-class couple; a bit older than most but why were there no pictures of Abigail? A glossy white album yielded up the answer; this consisted solely of pictures of her, and at the very back a certificate of adoption.  Sarah sat back on her heels. Abigail was adopted! She wasn’t even a blood relative of her blessed Andy! At the bottom of the box was an envelope containing a birth certificate and some social work reports. It appeared that Abigail had no father as such, her mother had been a sixteen-year-old, who was made pregnant by her own father. The situation was hushed up within the family, and Abigail was put up for adoption. The first family who adopted her however, handed her back to the care of the local authority because of her bizarre behaviour by the age of three. A year later Andy’s parents had taken her on, and the social work reports held a catalogue of dysfunctional behaviour, expulsion and police cautions for violence. The bad behaviour appeared to cease once she left school and got a job in the local greengrocers where she met and fell in love, apparently, with the owner’s son. There was nothing recorded after that. Sarah packed everything away. She would never tell Abigail what she had found but it certainly explained a few things. Feeling extremely tired now she went off to the bathroom, washed her dusty hands, cleaned her teeth and climbed very wearily into the bed.

Breaking Free – The Purple Metallic Laptop

Sarah’s learning curve was steeper than she thought. Jason had left her with a list of short cuts and troubleshooting hints, as well as his mobile phone number in case she really got out of her depth, but just packing up the printer into its box and stowing it away in the garage, left her slightly confused about which of the leads went into which sockets. The laptop bag made life a bit easier because it seemed to have pockets for all the things that she needed to make everything work smoothly. She remembered most of the things Jason had told her the day before however, and was busy whizzing through international news before she’d even finished her Shreddies. The phone was curiously silent this morning, but whether Abigail had taken her threats seriously or was just lying low for a couple of hours, Sarah wasn’t sure. She phoned Roseanne just before she left the house and confirmed that there were no viewings planned for the day. Roseanne went up in Sarah’s estimation when she apologised for the incident on Friday. Sarah assured her that she had no problem with the estate agency or Roseanne – just Abigail.

Feeling more than a little light-hearted after this, Sarah picked up her laptop bag, locked the house up very securely and drove off to Jude and Dan’s house.  She stopped on the way to pick up treats and surprises for the children, she always did this if she was going to be spending the day there. Fresh coffee and the smell of roast pork assailed her she walked up the drive. Jude’s smiling face at the door followed by the clamouring of the children made her feel doubly welcome. Dan was very impressed with her laptop, and set about installing some other software that he said would be very useful to her.  Sarah took him at his word and went off into the kitchen to drink coffee and bring Jude fully up to speed on her situation.

Already fascinated by Oliver Standish, his show, and the very thought of being in the audience of a live TV show, Jude hung on Sarah’s every word and almost jumped for joy when Sarah said she would ask Millie about Jude getting some tickets.

“So,” said Jude as she basted the roast potatoes and put them back in the oven. “Tell me about Millie. What does she look like? I know you met at university but what else can you tell me about her?”

“Hmmm, well she’s quite tall – taller than me anyway – straight dark hair. It was very long when we were at Uni, but she wears it in a very stylish bob now. She always dressed like a hippy chick in the old days. I have a very vivid memory of seeing her off to India – huge rucksack, leather sandals, long flowing cotton kaftan, and more beads than you can throw a stick at.”

“And now?”

Sarah grinned. “Complete change. She was wearing very smart black trousers, a matching jacket and a red blouse. No high heels though – she says they spend so much time chasing people up and down the corridors that she’d inevitably fall and break her neck if she didn’t wear sensible shoes. Her looks have always been striking rather than conventionally pretty, she stood out at parties, but tended to scare some of the boys off because she seemed rather aloof.”

“And was she?” asked Jude, stirring a white sauce before pouring over a tray of cauliflower and broccoli.

“No, just as scared as the rest of us really. She came from quite a sheltered background – her father was a country vicar and her mum was dedicated to parish work. It must have been something of a shock to them when she came home hugely pregnant, and with no husband in tow.”

“What happened to him?”

“Millie was a bit reticent but I get the impression that Tom is Anglo-Indian and that his father was someone quite important, compared to the other guys she hung around with.”

“It sounds as if she led a very exciting life – unlike us.” said Jude.

“Oh, come on. You have Dan and the children, before that you had the job – and it wasn’t always as bad as it is now, was it?”

“No, it’s just that sometimes I think that I should have lived a bit more. You can’t help being envious of people who manage to travel the world, and embrace new ideas and cultures when you’ve never really ventured further than your own back yard. Don’t get me wrong, I love Dan and the kids more than I can ever say, and I wouldn’t want to change things, but there’s a part of me that would like to be doing something more exciting. My inner hippy chick if you like. Didn’t you envy Millie when she went to India?”

Sarah looked puzzled and thought for a moment. “I never really considered it. Mum and Dad wanted me to come home, there was a job waiting for me and I hadn’t formed any special attachments at Uni, apart from Millie and she was going off travelling on her own. I was fairly unexciting and all these years later, nothing much seem to have changed.”

Jude laughed. “What are you like Sarah! You get dumped by your very boring boyfriend, given notice to get out of the house you’ve lived in for the past ten years, meet up with a long-lost friend, and learn how to use a laptop properly, and all in the space of a couple of months!”

“Well, when you put it like that – I suppose life has moved rather quickly recently. Talking of which, next week is Operation Find Somewhere Else to Live. I have four weeks left apparently, although Roseanne told me this morning that four weeks is fairly optimistic, and conjured up by Anxious Abigail in order to get me out quicker.”

“That woman is so obnoxious. Has she nothing better to do than harass you?”

“Apparently not. She has a husband called Kevin, and two immaculately behaved children. I doubt if any of them dare give her any grief.  I was quite impressed by what Andy said about her in the letter though. It seems that though he loves his little sis, he thinks she is just as much of a pain in the neck as I do. Which is nice.”

Laughing together, Sarah and Jude went into the dining room where Dan was still tinkering with Sarah’s laptop.

“Come on Dan. Stop playing now and get the girls cleaned up, we need to lay the table. Lunch will be in about ten minutes.”

“Thank you, my darling, I am almost done. This is a really nice laptop, Sarah. What made you choose it? Please don’t say it was the colour?”

Sarah looked shocked.

“As if Dan! I told the salesgirl what I wanted the laptop for, and how inexperienced I was with computers. The fact that it is metallic purple is merely a side issue.  She was excellent and Jason, the guy who came over yesterday to deliver it and set it up, he was brilliant too and I can phone him up if anything goes wrong.”

Dan and Jude looked at each other knowingly.


Dan shook his head.

“Andy really made you lead a sheltered life, didn’t he? I checked the paperwork. You are tied into a maintenance deal with the company for the next three years and you’ve paid a pretty penny for it too. I would have come over and sorted things out for nothing.”

“I know you would, but I have to learn to stand on my own two feet now, and if that means paying someone to come and bail me out, so be it. I have enough money for now anyway, and if I can get a job then I’ll be laughing.”

Dan packed the laptop away into the very stylish bag that Sarah had chosen whilst Jude went to get the cutlery.

“Come along girls, I hope you haven’t eaten so much chocolate that you can’t eat this roast that your Mum has made.”

“Don’t be silly Daddy. Is Auntie Sarah staying for lunch too?” asked Emily, the eldest of the three.

“I most certainly am.  Do you think I could leave this house when the food smells so good?”

“Goody. You’d better come and wash your hands too then, Auntie Sarah, even grown-ups get dirty hands.”

Sarah meekly followed Emily and her sisters out of the room and into the downstairs bathroom for some rather splashy hand washing and drying.

Lunch tasted as good as it smelled. Pork with crackling, crisp brown roast potatoes and the perfectly baked cauliflower and broccoli in cheese sauce. Dan had been up very early and prepared a fresh fruit salad with a variety of conventional and strange fruits.  Emily managed to guess most of them but was thrown by the lychees and dragon fruit. After lunch Jude settled the girls down to watch one of their favourite DVDs whilst Dan and Sarah stacked the dishwasher and cleared away. Jude came back into the kitchen just as Dan was making some coffee.

“Seriously Sarah, what are you going to do about work? Your lump sum won’t last for ever.”

“Oh no Jude! You sounded just like Andy then. I must admit that the idea of going back into mainstream social work doesn’t appeal to me at all.”

“But you are so good at it! You are so calm – even with really horrible people – and you come up with such good ideas for solving issues. I hate to use the phrase but ‘thinking outside the box’ could have been invented for you.”

“Thank you, but seeing Millie again, and the way that she’s using her social work skills – well it opened my eyes up a bit.  Millie says that Miles at the last agency I visited deals with all the companies at the Quays, and she said she would put in a good word for me.”

“Where would you live though? Are you sure that you don’t want to come here – until you get on your feet at least?”

Sarah smiled and shook her head. “No. What I really want right now is a nice low maintenance flat – possibly in town. When I was on the train the other day, I saw loads of old mill buildings that have been revamped into flats. I’d be no good with a garden; Andy would only let me sit in ours, and he did all the maintenance on the house.  I know my skills are limited, so it makes no sense to take on anything that needs any work doing. Don’t say it, Dan! I know you’d help with anything I needed doing but you work full-time, and you have Jude and the girls as well. I’ve had ten years of relying on Andy for everything, and now I need to stand up for myself!”

Jude clapped her hands and gave Sarah a huge hug.

“I am so proud of the way you are dealing with this. I never expected you to crumble, I know you too well for that but – and don’t hate me for saying this – this might be the making of you.”

“Finally! It’s only taken me ten years to discover that I rather like standing on my own two feet.”

“Have you heard from Andy lately?” asked Dan as he poured out the coffee.

“Postcards every week in writing so tiny that I have to use a magnifying glass to read it. Geographically they are very informative, but I am no wiser as to what he is doing. He did say that he hoped that I was well, that Abigail wasn’t irritating me too much, and that the house sale wasn’t too distressing for me. I have no return address for him so it’s all rather one way really.  I keep comparing his situation with Millie’s – at least Andy won’t come home pregnant but he might bring home a Thai bride – or even better – a Ladyboy!”

“Sarah! I had no idea that Andy was – you know – that way inclined!”

“He was never the most dynamic lover – not that I had anyone to compare him with anyway – but who knows what he might get up to.  Imagine Abigail’s face! I hope that he does find someone to love whilst he’s over there. He isn’t a bad man – just a very controlling one.”

Jude pulled a face as she set down her mug. “I think you are being very generous to him. I still can’t believe that he worked out his notice and planned his escape without letting you know what he was up to.”

“It wasn’t all his fault Jude. I was never interested in his things, so he could have been planning to steal the crown jewels right under my nose, and I still wouldn’t have noticed. We weren’t suited, and I’m glad that he had the courage to admit it, because I didn’t.”

The end of the DVD spelled the end of adult chat, and Auntie Sarah was cajoled into a walk to the park. Jude opted to stay home and put her feet up for a while.  Dan tucked a blanket round her and handed her the remote control.

“Find something non-stimulating. You can doze off then. We’ll keep them out for at least an hour.”

“Thank you darling. Have a lovely time.”

The park was only ten minutes away, and Sarah enjoyed the novelty of handling a pushchair, although Chloe insisted that she was far too big for it now. Dan took the hands of Emily and her younger sister Sadie as they walked down the road.

“Chloe thinks that she is too big for a pushchair but her legs get worn out on the way to the park and then Daddy has to carry her home.” Emily confided.

“Yes,” said Dan “And Chloe is a complete lump when she falls asleep.  She still has some way to go before she can manage both ways.”

There was a brief respite once they were inside the play park and Chloe had been installed in a swing.

“So how is Jude, Dan?”

“You noticed?”

“She looks very pale today.”

“She has good days and bad days. Luckily, I can work from home when things are really bad, and now that Chloe is in nursery, Jude isn’t so run off her feet.”

“Does the medication help at all?”

“Not really and the doctors don’t know what to do. ME is one of those invisible conditions that very few people know what to do about. I suppose the infuriating things about it is that when Jude has a good day, no one would know there was anything wrong with her, but on a bad day she can’t even get out of bed. Her family don’t really help.”

“If I can help, please let me know?”

“You do help, in more ways than you realise. Jude needs things to occupy her. It broke her heart having to give up work. You and Andy splitting up has perked her up immensely – I know that sounds weird….”

“…I understand. She’s always worried about my boring life with Andy!”

“Well, he wasn’t that challenging.  Are you going to sign up for any dating sites?”

“Good grief no! No disrespect Dan, but I rather like just being responsible for myself. Oh!  Sadie’s fallen over; time to go back?”

Dan ran over to Sadie and picked her up, stifling her tears in a bear hug. The sobs subsided on the way home with the promise of some more of Auntie Sarah’s sweets, and the favourite DVD again.

Jude had managed some sleep but still looked tired, so Sarah took her leave knowing that Jude would go off to bed once she had gone. Driving home, she thought about Jude and Dan and the fact they never seemed to have fallen into the doldrums in the way that she and Andy had. She did feel sad about Andy; not because she wanted him back, but because it took them both so long to realise that they both wanted, and needed more than they were giving.