Jenny concentrated on the music pumping directly into her ears from the headphones. With her eyes shut, she could just about kid herself that she was somewhere pleasant; like on a sunny beach, relaxing beside the sea. Of course the fact that her left hand was gripping the door handle and her body was totally rigid didn’t help to maintain the illusion.
‘We’re here,’ Miles said, from beside her, in a voice heavily loaded with frustration.
The car stopped moving. She opened her eyes and looked around her. It was still pretty much a building site. Certainly to the left of her it was hard hats and scaffolding. But all the houses on the right were finished and awaiting their new occupants.
‘We’re the first in.’ her husband said, as though it were something to be proud of.
And maybe it was. They had chosen the house 'off plan.' Miles said it was how you got the best deal. The biggest house in the Close, on the largest plot, and they had also put down deposits on two of the apartments from phase two build as an investment. Miles always had one eye on boosting the retirement fund. Jenny had enough trouble dealing with each day; she left the future for her husband to worry about.
She climbed out of the car and fought the impulse to run to the shiny new front door. This was a new start and, armed with the coping strategies her therapist had given her, she was determined to beat the fear.
‘Bloody builders. Look at that; talk about shoddy…’
She wasn’t really paying any attention to Miles. He would always find something to complain about. It wasn’t even that he was a miserable moaner, which he was, but as he frequently pointed out to her, if people did what they were meant to do then he wouldn’t have anything to moan about. He was, unfortunately, a perfectionist, and that made life difficult at the best of times and unbearable at the worst. This was definitely unbearable mode.
‘And where is the removal van? It should have been here by now. They left forty minutes before us. Bet they’ve stopped for coffee and doughnuts at the services…’ he looked at his watch and tutted.
‘They’re entitled to a coffee break,’ Jenny said, reasonably, trying to calm his agitation. The sky seemed to be expanding and the front door was retreating further away from her. She tried to do the breathing exercises that she had been taught, but her head was spinning and she could feel the nausea and panic welling up inside her. She walked fast, telling herself she was a calm and confident woman, while not believing a word of it. She reached the door and grabbed the handle gratefully. The door was locked.
‘Miles…’ She tried to keep the desperation out of her voice, but she knew she’d failed when he looked at her with the impatience and exasperation she had become so used to.
He strode down the path and put the key in the door. He didn’t actually tut at her, but she was sure he was making the sound in his head. She entered the house with a flood of relief. It didn’t matter that it was empty and impersonal. It was safe and it offered sanctuary.
‘You promised,’ Miles said, accusingly. ‘No more of that nonsense. You were cleared, it wasn’t your fault, and it’s all over now.’
As if a piece of paper could make everything alright, she thought bitterly. But she forced herself to smile, ‘I know, but you have to be patient…’ he opened his mouth to protest and she corrected herself quickly. ‘…more patient. My therapist said baby steps.’
‘I think the therapist…’ he made it sound like a swear word, ‘should stop treating you like a baby. Then you might get over this silly, self-indulgent stuff quicker.’
She should defend herself. She should defend Ally, her therapist, but what was the point? Miles couldn’t or wouldn’t understand what she went through, what she was still going through. In his world if you make a mistake then you learn from it and move on. If only it were that simple.
‘Look at the way they’ve hung that door…’ He pulled his ever ready pad out from his pocket with its little pencil attached and started to make notes.
Jenny left him to his snag list and went upstairs. It had five bedrooms; though why they needed so many for just the two of them she had no idea. It wasn’t even as though they were planning on having children in the future. They were both agreed, no babies for them. The master-suite complete with walk in wardrobe and his and her sinks were at the front of the house and looked out over the building site. It was a large room with plenty of light, but she didn’t feel the love. She opened the next door, a smaller room which again had its own bathroom; she thought it would make a good guest room. Across the hall she entered one of the back bedrooms and immediately knew that it would be her own special sanctuary. It looked out onto the big corner garden and beyond that the Grand Union Canal. It even had its own small balcony. She saw herself in the summer, sitting in the wooden chair she was going to buy and looking out at the barges while she sipped her Earl Grey tea and dipped in and out of a romantic novel.
‘About bloody time. Jen, van's here…’
Reluctantly, she left the room and her daydreams and went downstairs. She stood in the doorway and watched as her husband made the workman aware of his annoyance for keeping him waiting. She saw a young woman walking along the path holding the hands of two mixed race children she guessed to be perhaps nine or ten. A boy and a girl, that looked like they might be twins. The woman glanced at her and smiled. Jenny resisted the urge to look away and slam the door shut and forced herself to smile back. All the while hoping that the woman would keep on going and not expect to stop and chat. Her mental vibes must have reached the woman who did indeed keep on walking.
Jenny watched as the back of the removal van was lowered down and Miles started to issue instructions. He had directed the boxes and furnishings onto the van in a set order as though it were a military operation and would now no doubt supervise how they were all offloaded.
‘Hello, Mrs Fisher?’
Victoria held her hand out towards the woman who stared at her as though she were a ghost who had just appeared from nowhere.
‘Sorry, did I startle you?’ she let her hand drop, feeling a bit awkward, and instead offered the flowers she was carrying.
‘I didn’t see or hear you coming,’ the woman said.
‘But you are Mrs Fisher?’
Relieved, and still holding the flowers out to the woman, Victoria tried again. She adopted her best putting you at ease smile, ‘I’m Victoria, from the show- home. Here…’ she offered the flowers for a second time and was relieved when the woman took them. ‘I just popped along to say welcome to Jasmine Close.’
Victoria was beginning to think the woman might be a bit simple. She was hoping to get a promotional photo, but it wasn’t looking very promising. She glanced towards the removal van; the men were carrying a large cream leather armchair between them. It was one of those that had a remote control for the recline action. Another man was fussing around and issuing instructions. She assumed it was Mr Fisher; she wondered if she would stand a better chance with him.
As the men carried the chair towards the door, Victoria stepped aside, to allow them free access. Mrs Fisher didn’t step outside to join her, but instead retreated into the house. Mr Fisher followed the men to the door, making sure they got through without causing any damage. Victoria tried out her smile again. ‘Mr Fisher? I’m Victoria, from the show-home.’ This time it worked a bit better in that she got his attention and he shook her offered hand.
‘Call me Miles,’ he said. ‘Here…’ he pulled a notebook from his pocket and handed her a list of complaints. ‘That’s just for starters. I’ll give you a full list once I’ve finished moving in and had time to look around properly.’ Without a backward glance he went into the house.
She gave up on her plan for a photograph and walked slowly back to the show-home. A car turned into the Close; a red BMW with a young female driving. Curiosity made her turn around and watch to see where the car went. So far, apart from the Fishers, only four other properties were occupied, all of them apartments. She knew Flat one, three, five and seven were all owned by the housing association. Five and seven had already moved in, so had three, which was a ground floor fully adapted apartment suitable for a wheelchair user. Apparently, a Mr Lance had moved in there, but she hadn’t seen him yet. And the other occupant was in Flat two, privately owned, but apparently now let out to a tenant.
The Beemer stopped at the corner beside the apartment block and the female climbed out. Victoria wandered across to the building site on the other side of the road for a better view. She knew she was being nosy, but curiosity had always been her thing, she found other people's lives fascinating. The female was tall and slim with the longest legs she’d ever seen, shown off to fall effect by a very short skirt and very high pencil-thin heeled shoes. It seemed she had a pass key. Which was strange, it suggested she was a resident, but Victoria didn’t know who how or where, so maybe she was the tenant in number two.
‘You alright, Vic?’
She turned around to face the foreman, Barry.
‘You know I can’t let you take another step closer without a hard hat,’ he said, his blue eyes crinkled against the weak autumn sun.
‘It’s Ok, I don’t need one. It’s you I wanted to see.’
‘Yep, it’s a bit of a curse sometimes.’
‘My irresistibility to women.’
She hit him playfully. ‘You wish.’
‘I do, I really do,’ He said it with a smile, but Victoria had a suspicion that he had a bit of a thing for her.
She handed him the snag list from Miles Fisher and pointed across the road. ‘More to come, apparently.’
He looked at the list with resignation. ‘I’ll get one of the lads to have a look tomorrow.’
‘Thanks. Don’t leave it though, I’ve a feeling he’ll be a chaser.’
‘When’s your big day then,’ he nodded at the semi-detached house a couple of doors down from the Fisher’s. ‘It’s all ready and snag free, I double checked it myself.’
Victoria smiled with genuine pleasure. ‘Thanks, Barry. We move in two weeks, I can’t wait.’
It was true, she couldn’t. From the moment she'd started work on the development she knew she had to have one of the houses. It had taken a bit of persuading as her husband, Dave, doesn’t like change and would have been happy in their two up two down terrace forever. But she had lured him with the promise of a dog, something he’d always wanted, but couldn’t have without a garden big enough and an area where walking it was easier. She showed him the plans and took him for a stroll along the canal and by the time they ended up in the local pub she knew she’d won him around. The next day she put their name down for the three-bedroom-semi.
Realising that the mystery woman was now inside the apartment block and beyond her vision, she turned around and walked back to the show-home.
Jenny looked out over the canal. She felt a sense of peace and calmness that had eluded her for months. Miles was right about one thing; the move had been the right thing to do. Even though it had been less than a week, she felt the house was home, especially the back room she’d turned into her retreat. She didn’t think Miles was aware that she had claimed ownership. He spent the first two days in a whirl of organisation, then he went back to work and she rearranged everything how she wanted it. Since he commuted into London every day and left at six and didn’t return before eight or nine, he hadn’t really had time to notice.
The Victoria woman had knocked once or twice and she’d seen the odd car go past. She thought she heard the children one afternoon, presumably on their way home from school. But she had managed to avoid contact with anyone and that suited her fine. Looking across towards the canal she thought she might like to go for a walk, but knew that she wouldn’t. Still, the fact that the thought even existed in her head, surely meant something; some tiny wish to return to the outside world. One of those baby steps that Ally talked about.
She heard a car pull up and knew it was Miles arriving home. Although he worked stupid hours, he always tried to keep weekends free and to him it started with an early finish on Friday. She felt a small stirring of irritation that he would be around for the next couple of days, even though she knew she was being unfair. Once, before that awful day, six months ago, she had looked forward all week to Friday evening. They would both get home from work and discard their suits, the uniforms that made them corporate drones. Then into the shower to wash away the city grime, sometimes individually, sometimes together. Then they would order take-away and slob in front of the TV before an early night and sensuous sex.
It was like another lifetime.
‘Jen?’ she heard the door open and heard him call her name. She planted a fake smile on her face and walked down the stairs.
‘I’ve got a surprise for you.’
She tried to look excited and interested, but in her experience surprises were overrated. And she had a bad feeling about this one since he was standing by the front door which was still open.
‘Look,’ he said, pointing outside and grinning like a schoolboy who’d just scored the winning goal in a football match.
From a safe distance back from the entrance she stared out. His silver Audi was parked on the drive in front of the double width garage. Beside it, was a Yellow Volkswagen Beetle. She felt her lungs constrict as the familiar fear surged through her body. Surely he didn’t? Surely he wouldn’t.
Apparently he did and he had.
‘For you,’ he said, handing her the keys.
She wanted to be pleased and thrilled and excited. She wanted to throw herself into his arm with gratitude at his thoughtfulness. Instead she burst into tears and ran upstairs to the back room, slamming the door behind her.
Victoria fussed the dog, ‘he’s lovely,’ she said, ‘We’re planning on getting a Labrador.’ The couple moving in were going to be her new neighbours and she was pleased that they seemed friendlier than the Fishers.
‘Sonia Casey, friends call me, Son, and that’s Paul,’ she pointed to a man half hidden behind a huge potted rubber plant that he was carrying. And this…’ she bent down to pet the dog, ‘…is Casper. He’s a bit of an oldie now though, aren’t you boy. My husband's had him since he was a teenager.’
Victoria stayed and chatted for a few minutes then excused herself when she saw a car pull into the show-home car park. Saturday was often a busy day and she needed all the commission she could get, what with the house move next week. It was a flash car, a sports model of some sort. She didn’t really know about cars, but she knew an expensive one when she saw it. So she hurried back down the Close.
The driver was climbing out of the car and looking around him as if a bit lost.
‘I’m coming,’ she called, waving at him.
As she approached she saw that he was short, balding, and probably in his late fifties. He was well dressed and seemed to be in a bit of a hurry; he checked his watch and walked a few feet to meet her as though that would save time.
‘I’m looking for number two, Jasmine Close,’ he said.
‘Really?’ she replied, doubtfully.
‘Yes. Why shouldn’t I?’ he said, a bit defensively.
‘Do you mean you want to see the plans for it?’
Now he looked confused. ‘What plans?’
Victoria was pretty sure they were not on the same page with this one so she took a different approach. ‘Are you buying a property, Sir?’
‘No,’ he was getting impatient and looking a bit nervous. ‘I just want you to point me in the direction of number two, is that really so difficult?’
‘No, not at all,’ she turned towards the building site and pointed to a plot that had just had its foundations finished. ‘There, that’s number two, Jasmine Close.’
He looked at the building site and then without as much as a thank you he trotted back to his car. Victoria saw him inside on his mobile as she fussed around the flower beds. Then he started the engine and drove off up the Close. She watched as he went around the corner and pulled up at the end of the cul-de-sac. He climbed out of the car and hurried to the communal door of the apartment block. He pressed the buzzer and was immediately admitted.
She didn’t think of it any more until late afternoon when she was locking up ready to go home. Just one more week and she would be a resident. She had already seen a new dining table she wanted. They’d never had an actual dining room before and had allowed herself a brief fantasy of sitting down to family dinners. It didn’t last long. In reality, she knew that her teenage daughter usually ate, either on the run, or in her room and her husband liked his on his lap with the TV on. She looked up towards her house and waved as she saw Sonia mowing the small patch of grass at the front. It was then that she noticed a man come out of the apartment block. It was another middle aged man, but not the one she’d seen before. He walked to his car, a black hatchback of some sort, and started the engine.
Sonia’s front door opened and one of her young children ran out, chased by the other. Victoria smiled as Sonia stopped mowing to deal with her offspring’s argument. It was clearly something to do with a ball. Casper bounded out of the open front door to join them. One of the children grabbed the ball from the other and threw it. Casper chased after it straight into the road and the path of the hatchback which was going much too fast for a residential street. Brakes screeched, children screamed, and both Sonia and Victoria ran towards the dog, now lying with its front paw at an odd angle.
The car drove off without even slowing down to check what had been hit. Victoria dropped to the ground beside the whimpering animal. Sonia was sobbing and cradling its head in her arms.
‘I’ve gotta get her to the Vets.’ Sonia cried.
‘My husband will be along soon, he’s picking me up,’ Victoria said.
‘No, I can’t wait, but Paul's got the car…’ Sonia looked frantically around.
The building site was empty; they downed tools at twelve on a Saturday. Victoria’s eyes stopped at the yellow Beetle. She jumped up and ran for the front door of the Fisher house banging on it loudly.
‘Mrs Fisher, please, we need help, we need a lift.’
Jenny had witnessed the hit from the master-suite window. She’d instinctively run for the stairs to go out and help. But her footsteps slowed as she went down towards the door. If only Miles was there, if only they hadn’t argued, then he wouldn’t have driven off in a huff, and he could rescue the poor dog.
The door banged again. ‘Mrs Fisher, are you there?’
Jenny went down the last few steps and crossed the hall. She picked up the keys to the Beetle and even got her hand as far as the door handle. But then the shaking started; a tremble at first, but enough to make her hand fall away from the door. And then; violent, jerky movements, throughout her body. The first time he saw it Miles thought she was having an epileptic fit; he’d manhandled her into the car and driven her to A&E. But it was diagnosed as a panic attack and he’d told her that she had to get a grip of herself as though that alone could cure her.
She wanted to help, she really did, but what use was she to anyone. She crossed the hall and sank down onto the bottom step and put her hands over her ears to drown out the noise of her own failure.
The banging stopped; Jenny heard the sound of running heels and an approaching car. She got up and went cautiously into the lounge. She peeped around the curtain, not wanting to be seen. The car stopped and a man got out. From the gesturing and body language Jenny thought it was probably the Victoria woman’s husband. He lifted the dog and carried it to his car, and then they all piled in, even the kids. Luckily it was an estate car and big enough to take them all. The driver reversed on her drive to turn around and then shot off out of the Close.
Drama over, she went upstairs and into the bathroom. She took a couple of pills from the mirrored cabinet and swallowed them with water from the tap, then she crawled into bed, pulling the duvet tightly around her.
It was dark when she woke. She turned over and sleepily reached across the bed. Surprised to find it empty, she opened her eyes and looked at the illuminated clock. It was three-forty-four a.m. She pushed the duvet back and realised that she was still dressed. Without bothering to put the light on she left the bedroom and went in search of her husband. She checked the other bedrooms first thinking that he must have slept in one of them. But she found him downstairs in his favourite recliner chair sound asleep and snoring lightly. She felt a rare flash of love and compassion for him. He was doing his best, and more than that he was standing by her. She went to the cupboard under the stairs and pulled out a soft fleece blanket and returned and placed it gently around him. She bent down and kissed his forehead, then went back upstairs to bed.
The following day, Miles left early for a duty visit to his mum, up north. He asked her to go with him although it was clear he already knew her negative answer. No row this time which was a relief, but she couldn’t kid herself that the marriage could survive much more. But what could she do? She took the antidepressants the doctor prescribed. She tried to follow all the techniques that Ally had taught her. What else could she do?
Showered and dressed she made herself coffee and toast and sat at the kitchen table. She paused, mid bite, sure that she heard something. She listened carefully. It sounded like a man calling and it was coming from the front of the house. She went to the window and looked out. She couldn’t see anything, but heard the voice again. It was definitely a man and it sounded like he was in trouble. She ran upstairs to the bedroom and pressed her face against the window, searching the street. And then she saw him, or at least his wheelchair. She looked again and realised that the man was on the floor between two parked cars at the end of the Close.
With no idea what to do she looked up and down, hoping for help. But no one was about. It was too early for the showroom and the builders didn’t work on Sundays. As if some divine force wanted to crank up the dilemma for her even more, it started to rain, and not a gentle caressing shower, but a full on, black sky, cloud bursting downpour.
Drawing on all her limited reserves she ran downstairs, picked up a jacket from the hook in the hall, paused to look at herself in the mirror and chant at the stranger that stared back at her, ‘I am a calm and confident woman.’
Not allowing herself time to stop and think she pulled open the door and ran.
The pounding rain drowned out her panic. It focused her attention on helping the man and getting dry again. He was on his side, just beyond the curb, with little space between him and the car either side. His chair was a few feet away.
‘Push it to me.’ He shouted, as soon as he saw her.
She grabbed the chair and pushed it as near as the cars would allow her to get. He reached out but it wasn’t close enough.
‘Shit, shit, shit.’ He hissed, shocking her with his anger.
‘What can I do?’ she asked. The trembling starting in her hands now that she was standing still and not running. ‘Can I lift you?’
He gave her a bit of an ‘as if’ look. She knew he was right, he was a big man.
‘Try and drag me,’ he said.
‘I need to get closer to the chair so I can lever myself into it.’
She bent down and tugged his arm, nothing happened.
‘Seriously?’ he said, with more than a little impatience.
‘I’m useless,’ she said, the trembling turning into violent shakes. ‘I’ll go and ring for help.’
‘No. Don’t leave me.’
As she was about to do so, he grabbed her hand. He was surprisingly strong. He held it tight and looked up into her face, ‘please,’ he said, as his strength and will seemed to flow into her own veins and give her courage.
He folded his arms across his chest, ‘now tuck your hands under my arms and pull.’
She had to kneel down on the road in the puddles in order to get the leverage, but it worked. She heaved and he shifted a few inches. She moved back and repeated the process again and again until he was clear of the cars.
‘Put the wheelchair next to me,’ he said.
She pushed it alongside him and watched as he reached up to grab the handle. The chair slid away and he fell back onto the dirty wet road.
‘Brakes.’ He snapped.
Brakes on, he heaved himself up and into the chair, then lifted his legs with his hands into position on the footplates. He punched himself on his thigh. ‘Useless fuckers,’ he said, shocking her for a second time.
The wheels were large and his upper body was strong, he pushed himself around one of the cars towards the curb. ‘Get us up, can you?’
Jenny hurried around the car, she took the back handles and tipped the chair, putting the front wheels onto the path, then she lifted from behind and he was up and away pushing himself forward again towards the apartments.
‘You coming?’ He called, making it a statement rather than a question.
Was she? The rain was slowing, the sky was clearing and her own front door looked a long way away. His was already opening thanks to a remote device he was pressing.
She ran after him and into his home.
‘Bathroom's over there if you want a towel.’
She followed the way his head pointed and went from the open plan lounge into a large hall and opened a door to a wet room. Several big towels hung on a rail, she grabbed one and started to dry off her hair, then she picked up the other and carried it in to him. He was in the kitchen making a drink.
‘Tea or coffee?’
‘Tea, please,’ she replied, surprising herself. Why wasn’t she running for home or cowering in a corner?
The units were all lowered to wheelchair height, and everything was within reach for him. ‘I’m OK here,’ he said, as though reading her thoughts, ‘this is my safe zone, you know.’
Didn’t she just. She realised she could smell something, not unpleasant, but vaguely familiar. It stirred long forgotten memories; she tried to capture the elusive images from her past, something from her time at University. Then it came to her. ‘Marijuana…’
He shrugged, ‘medicinal,’ he said, swinging his chair around to face her, ‘wouldn’t do you any harm either. Steve…’
‘Jenny,’ she replied, shaking the hand he offered.
Out of the rain and safe in his home, she could see him properly for the first time. He wasn’t very old, certainly younger than her, maybe mid-to-late twenties. She took the mug from him and shook her head at sugar. She watched as he piled three spoonfuls in his and resisted making any comment. ‘What happened?’ she asked, not sure if it was acceptable to do so or not.
He wheeled himself back into the lounge, his own mug of coffee on a tray on his lap. ‘Some ignorant bastard parked across the lowered curb. I stupidly tried to get down between the cars, failed miserably, hit my head, cut my hand, lost the chair and all hope until I was rescued by my very own lady in red.’
She sat down and smiled at the reference to her top. ‘I meant…’ she looked at his legs, suddenly feeling embarrassed. ‘Sorry, none of my business.’
‘No, it’s not, but you saved me and that makes us mates. Car accident. Some dopey bitch used my mate’s car as target practice. We ended up overturned in a ditch, she apparently span a couple of times and then drove off at speed. My mate, clearly, more loved by the Gods than I was, walked away with concussion and a couple of broken ribs. Me? Broken spine…’ he stopped, ‘what? What is it?
Jenny was sobbing, loudly and uncontrollably, ‘I’m sorry, so so sorry…’
He wheeled closer to her, ‘huh?’
‘So sorry,’ she sobbed.
‘For what? It wasn’t you who was doing eighty in a sixty zone in a car you couldn’t control.’ He disappeared and came back with a handful of toilet tissue and a rolled up joint. He handed her the tissue and lit up the marijuana.
She blew her nose and inhaled as he smoked. The gentle aroma wafted up her nostrils and calmed the threatening hysteria. He handed it to her, she shook her head, he insisted, and she gave in.
‘I killed a man,’ she said, handing the joint back to him.
‘Your husband?’ he said, closing his eyes. ‘He probably deserved it.’
‘No, a car crash…’ She closed her eyes and for the first time in months she let herself return to the terrible moments. ‘It was a cold and icy February morning,’ she said, remembering how pretty it was with delicate snowflakes falling, but she had been in a hurry with a sales meeting to get to.
‘Traffic was heavy and I was getting impatient. I had Miles’ voice in my head telling me that I should have taken the train, but I had a pile of reports and papers to take in that day and I didn’t want to carry them.’ She paused to wipe her eyes and blow her nose then took a long drag on the joint before continuing.
‘Of course, I knew that later, when I got home, exhausted and exasperated, complaining about the traffic, he would say, ‘I told you so.’
‘You didn’t want to give him the satisfaction.’ Steve said, through a haze of smoke.
Jenny stood up, her legs felt a bit wobbly and her head was spinning, but not in a panicky unpleasant way, more like a disconnected, dreamlike state. She floated across the room and opened a window.
‘I wish I had listened though, the world would be a different place now if I had taken the train that day…’
‘Playing the ‘if only’ game is self-indulgent shit,’ he said, ‘and will drive you nuts, believe me, I know.’
She sank back down onto his sofa and looked across at him knowing that he genuinely did know and understand what she was talking about. She closed her eyes again and took herself back to the tragic story. ‘Then the traffic ahead of me opened up a bit as cars filtered off towards the ring road, my lane emptied and the open road beckoned; well, it was clear at least until the next traffic lights. I was on the inside and a car overtook me on the outside. I turned my head slightly and saw that it was a young lad driving. We both slowed as we approached the red lights and that’s when it all went wrong.’ Her voice faltered, new tears poured unchecked down her cheeks, her body began to shake, but she forced herself to carry on. ‘A car coming in the opposite direction lost control and sped head on towards us. I swung the wheel sharply to the right to avoid the collision. If the lad had done the same we might have both escaped uninjured. But through panic or inexperience he swung his wheel to the left and slammed the brakes at the same time. He smashed straight into the oncoming car and flipped over twice.’
She looked at Steve, he was watching her intently, her own pain reflected in his eyes.
‘I climbed out of my car and ran towards him. His little hatchback was upside down, sitting on its bonnet and he was already dead.’
‘It wasn’t your fault.’ He said.
‘The inquest cleared me of any blame. But if I had reacted differently, swung the car to the left instead of to the right, or maybe slammed the brakes harder instead of trying to avoid collision. Or…’ she paused, he handed her the joint, and she took a long drag, inhaling deeply, ‘if I’d simply smashed into the oncoming car.’
‘That would have been head on hit; you’d be the dead one.’
She looked at him. ‘I know. But that young lad would still be alive.’
Natasha was exhausted. The baby had cried half the night and Ed had snored the other half. The health visitor had told her that when baby did sleep she should grab some shut-eye herself. Wise words but then how and when was she supposed to get anything done?
She opened the washing machine and pulled the contents into a laundry basket. The sun was out, its rays streaming through the sliding doors. Was it warm enough to dry the clothes? The tumble dryer was so expensive and she hated having damp clothes all around the flat. She unlocked and opened the door onto the small balcony. It overlooked the building site, which wasn’t ideal, but the workers weren’t there today. A soft, autumn breeze lifted her hair and the sun was drying the rain that had fallen earlier. She could hear next door's TV, the kids were watching cartoons. She felt the irritation rise. Something about the woman really put her back up. Their sliding doors were open too, allowing the noise from SpongeBob Squarepants to spill onto the balcony.
And not just the noise. Her nose twitched as the unmistakable stench of pot hit her nostrils. She stormed back into the flat. Her husband, Ed, had just crawled out of bed and wandered into the lounge in nothing but his boxers.
‘What a night, huh?’ he said, stretching his arms out wide, ‘who’d have thought something so small could make so much noise.’
‘I’m reporting her.’
‘Her, she’s got kids in that house…’
‘You mean, Belle?’
‘As if that’s a proper name! She’s smoking pot. Monday morning I’m ringing up social and reporting her.’
In the flat below Jenny closed the window and turned to smile at Steve. Her head was still spinning and she felt a bit like she was walking on air, but it was a good feeling. ‘Thanks,’ she said.
He was a bit doped himself, but managed to grin back at her. ‘For what? I thought you rescued me.’
‘I did. But then you rescued me back again.’
‘Yep. You listened.’
Jenny opened the front door and looked outside. The sun was shining, her front door seemed far away, but she felt more confident than she had for months. She took the first step.
‘Come and see me again,’ Steve called.
‘I will,’ she replied, and knew that she actually meant it.
Series Two is here!
The shot rang out...
See what happens next!
Series Two begins where Series One
It’s Christmas Eve and the celebrations end abruptly. The thief who has been terrorising the elderly and the disabled is back. Jasmine Close is in chaos as the Police and Armed Response Support Unit arrive in force.
Victoria’s marriage is in meltdown and the secret she carries is tearing her apart. Brett is back from Europe, but surely, for the sake of her daughter, Gemma, she must send him away?
Miles is in full on stalking mode. Sonia is restless, Tammy is in danger, Annabel and Jack are still loved-up and Steve and Mary are facing serious charges.
Melanie is back in Steve’s life and her Aunt Sharon seems to have forgiven him, or has she?
Kim and Andrew have moved into the street along with their children. They both have emotional baggage, but are hoping for a happy future.
Gail is homeless and facing stark choices. Can the New Year bring her a change in fortunes?