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Small World

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For my first attempt at posting a fan fiction on here, I tried desperately to come up with an original idea but when I found myself seriously considering a story involving a Home and Away fan getting transported into his television set(which possibly sounds more interesting than it was.or possibly not)I abandoned that idea and, worryingly, thought up this entire story in one afternoon.Whether or not that's a good thing I'll let someone else judge.So it's ended up being one of those "in continuity" pieces that tells you what happened between A and B.

Story Title: Small World

Type of story: Short/Medium length fic

Main Characters: Sally, Cassie

BTTB rating: G/T

Genre: Hard to say really but if pushed I'd describe it as a Friendship Story.

Does story include spoilers: None that I can think of.

Any warnings: I don't think there's anything here that anyone would find objectionable and what there is is very mild.

Summary: What Sally Did Next basically, set a few weeks after her departure from the Bay.Ending's kind of pre-determined but hopefully there'll be a few items of interest along the way.


Sally stood on the beach and looked out over the ocean.A little over three years ago, the water had covered the area where she now stood.There was no trace now of the disaster, the damage to the resort having been completely repaired.But she had seen first hand the effect it had had on at least one person.Thousands had died in that disaster, two hundred and fifty in Phuket alone.And among them had been a little girl from Australia named Amber Copeland.Her niece.

For most of her life, until the birth of her daughter, Sally had had no blood relatives in her life.Pippa and Tom and Michael and the rest of them had been as real and as close to her as any family could ever have been but when she looked at her daughter and at her brother and saw those dark eyes and hands and everything else that was so like hers she knew that there was a connection between them, something deeper and undefinable.She often thought of that little girl and wondered if she had had those same dark eyes.She had never even seen a photograph of her.Miles had lost almost all his personal belongings during his time on the streets.

Sally clutched a single white rose.She raised her arm and flung it far, far into the ocean, into the waters that had claimed the lives of that young girl and her mother.“Rest in peace,”she whispered.

Someone had once said that hotels were like a country of their own.While staying there, you were completely cut off from the outside world and if you never left the building then you could be at any hotel in any country in the world because there was no difference between them.These last few weeks Sally had seen the truth of that.The pool behind the hotel seemed almost identical to the one in Singapore and neither of them seemed any different from the hotels in Australia.Patong, the largest resort on the island of Phuket, had slowly reinvented itself as a haven for foreign travellers who enjoyed the climate and the illusion of being somewhere exotic without once getting any idea about what Thailand was actually like.

In the few short hours since Sally had headed down to the beach, the other residents of the hotel had begun stirring.The pool area was beginning to fill up and soon people would be venturing down to the beach. Among those on loungers by the pool were Sally’s two daughters-one fostered, one biological, neither of whom she had given birth to and both of whom were unquestionably hers.Pippa was wearing her little pink bathing costume and a floppy hat and Sally was pleased to see that at least someone had had the sense to daub her with sun cream before taking her out into the heat.And as for Cassie…It had finally sunk home to Sally that she wasn’t as young as she used to be when she realised that the clothes Cassie normally wore looked to her like little more than glorified underwear.However, since her pregnancy had started showing she had adopted a slightly more modest dress style.The skirt she was wearing wasn’t exactly long but at least she was actually wearing one and her vest top did at least stretch to covering her abdomen.

Cassie smiled as she saw Sally approaching.“Hi, Sal, where’ve you been?”

“Just down the beach for a walk.”Sally didn’t actually have any objections to Cassie knowing what she’d been doing but she didn’t want to dampen the younger woman’s mood.“I like it best when it’s quiet.”

“I know what you mean.Almost feels like being back home.”

The comment was so similar to Sally’s own thoughts that it once again brought her earlier ponderings to the surface.She forced herself to focus on the conversation.“So, you got any plans for today?”

“Oh, sun, sea, sand.I think I’ll find something to occupy myself.You?”

“I thought I might have a wander into town, take in some of the sights.”

“Are you taking Pippa with you or do you want me to watch her?”

“Oh, no, that’s all right.The hotel’s running a swimming session for the youngsters.I’ve enrolled her in that.Give her a chance to hang around children here own age instead of being stuck with us two old fogies.”

“Cool.Well, I guess I’ll catch you later then.”Cassie picked up her towel and headed off in the direction of the beach.

Sun, sea, sand.All the best ingredients for a holiday.Was that what this was then, a holiday?Ever since Sally had left her job at Summer Bay High, she was aware she’d been lacking purpose.Tom had told her that she would go out into the world and make him proud of her.Everything had seemed so simple when she’d first made the decision to leave Summer Bay.Go out into the world.Make him proud.But after all this time she was beginning to have doubts.Sitting by a pool, drinking cocktails and getting a suntan?Was that really what she was meant to do?If Tom was here, would he really be proud of her?

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Thank you to everyone for your kind comments and to everyone else who didn't leave a comment but took the trouble to read this.So, after a bit longer than I hoped, here we go with...


Sally looked out of the café window.The streets were largely empty with most of the tourists down on the beach and most of the locals at work.Occasionally a car rumbled past on the uneven roads, many of them hire cars from tourists taking a trip down to the next resort, others locals going about their business.She sipped quietly at the local tea she had bought.It was surprisingly pleasant, she thought, and probably better than the little sachets in their hotel suite.

Sally glanced round as she realised there was someone standing next to her.The waitress was a pleasant faced Thai woman of around the same age as Sally.She held a pot of tea in her hand.“Do you want a refill, miss?”

“Oh, yes, please.”Sally glanced around the café.Aside from two old men on the other side of the room, she was the only customer.“Do you want to sit down for a bit?It’s not exactly busy in here.”

The waitress looked around, as though not certain she should be doing this.“All right, miss.Just for a bit.” Taking the other seat at the table, she looked at Sally curiously.“You are…American?”

Sally smiled slightly.Over the past few weeks she had got used to people lumping all English speakers in together.“Australian.I’m staying at the hotel at the top of the hill, with my two daughters.”

“Ah.We do not get many people from the hotel down here.You have plenty of places to get food or drink inside, yes?”

“Well, yes, I suppose so.But I like to get out, you know?Meet people?”

“Ah, yes.We are glad to meet you.”The waitress seemed to be struggling to make conversation.“How old are your daughters?”

“Well, Pippa will be four in a few months and Cassie’s eighteen.”She noticed the look of confusion in the other woman’s face.“She’s not actually mine.Foster daughter?”She wasn’t sure if the term translated well but the waitress gave a polite nod anyway.“Do you have any children?”

“Yes, miss.I have a little boy.He is five now.Going to be big strong boy, like his father.”

“His father?”

The woman’s eyes misted over briefly.“He died when Kasem was only two.They called it, ah…chest infection?All happened very quickly.”

“I’m sorry.I know how hard it can be on your own.”

“It’s all right, miss.Kasem will go to college.Get good job.Work for government.That is where all the money is, yes?”The waitress glanced over to where a large Thai woman was standing in the doorway of the kitchen, her arms folded and a disapproving expression on her face.“I am sorry.I must get back to work. Enjoy your tea.”

Sally drained her second cup and got to her feet.As she made for the door, she took a hundred baht note from her pocket and pushed it into the waitress’ hand.“Here.A little custom where I come from.If we’re happy with the service, we leave a tip.”

The waitress smiled after her as she left.“Ah.Thank you, miss.”

“Is this seat taken?”

Cassie opened her eyes at the voice, lowering her sunglasses to get a better look at the young man gesturing to the lounger next to her.Tall, dark haired and about her age, he had a cocky look about him that she wanted to dislike but somehow wasn’t able to.“Doesn’t seem to be,”she shot back.

“I thought you might be saving it for your husband.”He spoke with a cultured English accent.

“Husband?Do I look old enough to be married?”

“Well, you look as though there’s some man in your life.Either that or you’ve been eating a lot of pies recently.”

Despite his rude words, Cassie still found herself liking the young man.And she couldn’t help noticing he was rather good-looking.“I’m pregnant, yes.But I’m not with the father anymore.”

“Shame.”His tone implied he didn’t think it was a shame at all.He sat down on the empty lounger and offered his hand.“Scott.Scott Larson.”

“Cassie Turner.”She shook his hand.“So, are you here on holiday?”

“Yep.It’s my gap year.Last chance to go travelling, at least for a while.I’m starting at university in the autumn.”

“What, Oxford, Cambridge?”Cassie didn’t know much about England but she’d heard they were prestigious universities.

“No, Derby.”

“Where’s that?”

“Derbyshire, surprisingly enough.”Scott gestured vaguely.“It’s kind of in the middle there.You’d probably know it if you saw it.What about you?”

“I got accepted at college but I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to take it, at least for a while.The baby, you know.”And a few other reasons as well, Cassie thought.

Scott gave a nod of understanding.“So, are you staying at the hotel?”

“Since yesterday, yes.”

“Me too.Guess we’ll be seeing a bit of each other.”

Looking at his handsome face and pleasant eyes, Cassie found the prospect rather appealing.But at the back of her mind there was one question that she couldn’t shake:What if he knew?

Sally made her way through the crowd of parents who’d come to collect their children from the class.Her conversation with the waitress had caused her to lose track of time.She had hoped to catch the end of the lesson and see how Pippa was getting on but they were already out of the pool.She glanced around at the faces and to her relief spotted the woman in charge of the children’s activities.“Achara!”she called out.

Achara turned at the shout and smiled.“Miss Fletcher, nice to see you.Pippa has been very good.”

“Thanks for keeping an eye on her for me.”

“Oh, it wasn’t me.The swimming instructor has been looking after her.She seemed quite taken with him.” Achara turned her head and called out.“Pippa!Look who’s here!”

Sally saw Pippa come running towards her.The girl didn’t seem to be at all put out at being temporarily abandoned, a broad smile on her face.Sally bent down by the girl and ruffled her hair.“Hello, you.Did you have a nice swim?”

“Yes.Harry said I was one of the best he’d ever seen.”

“That was nice of him.Where is Harry?”

“Miss Fletcher?”It was Achara who spoke.“Can I introduce you to Harry Baker, our swimming teacher?”

Sally straightened up to greet the man who had come to stand by Achara…and froze.As she saw his face, the name that went with it automatically flashed through her mind and it was all she could do to stop herself saying it out loud.


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Sorry, everyone, I just couldn't resist the temptation to slip that one under the wire.Not a lot happens in the next chapter, I'm afraid, but it's all important stuff, honestly.


The man Achara had introduced as Harry Baker held out his hand.“Hey there, er, Miss Fletcher, was it?”

Sally had still not got over the shock.The face, the voice, even the attitude…there was no doubt about it. The man she was talking to was Vinnie Patterson, her one-time boyfriend and husband to her best friend. She remembered what Leah had told her, how his death had been faked so he could go into Witness Protection.That would explain why he was apparently pretending to be someone else.“Sally,”she managed at last, grasping his hand briefly,“Call me Sally.”

“Sally.Yeah.Well, you call me Harry.”He glanced down at Pippa, ruffling her hair.“That’s what this little swimming star’s been calling me.Top of the class.”

“Well, we grew up near the sea,”Sally explained,“Place called Summer Bay.Do you know it?”

“Summer Bay?”Vinnie attempted to say the name as though he hadn’t heard it before.Perhaps to someone who didn’t know him as well as Sally it sounded convincing.“No, no, can’t say I’m familiar with it.I mean, hey, Australia’s a big place.Just because the two of us both come from there, that doesn’t mean we know each other.Which we don’t.Obviously.”

Sally had seen Vinnie trying to talk his way out of enough sticky situations to recognise how nervous he was.And she had a feeling that just this once it was actually important that she help him, that she make it clear to Achara and anyone else who was listening that they didn’t know each other.“Well, yeah, that’s right.Harry.”It felt very odd calling him that but Sally knew she couldn’t do anything to contradict what anyone thought they knew about him.“So, shall I bring Pippa to you tomorrow?”

It was Achara who answered.“I’m afraid Harry only gives swimming lessons three times a week.But we have plenty of other activities to keep our young guests happy.”

“All right, well, we’ll talk it over and let you know.Say goodbye, Pippa.”

Pippa gave Vinnie a little wave.“Bye bye, Harry.”

Vinnie gave the raised hand a squeeze.“See ya, sport.Be good for your mummy, right?”His gaze wandered up to meet Sally’s.“See you soon.”

As soon as they got back to their suite, Pippa dived into the bathroom, eager to wash her hands so she could have dinner as soon as possible.Sally noticed Cassie was in the living area already, seated on the couch. “Hey there, stranger!”she called,“Good day sunbathing?”

“Oh, yeah, good.”Cassie sounded strangely distracted.

Sally walked down the steps towards the couch.“Something wrong?”

Cassie turned to face her.“Sal, I met a guy.”

“Oooh, didn’t take you long.”Sally saw from the hurt look that flickered across Cassie’s eyes that making jokes wasn’t the best way to handle the situation.She sat at the other end of the sofa and smiled gently.“So what’s he like?”

“His name’s Scott, he’s English, he’s really nice, really good looking…”

“Not seeing what the problem is so far…”

“And absolutely nothing can happen.”

Sally understood what Cassie’s problem was but she knew that Cassie needed to voice her concerns herself.“Why’s that then?”

Cassie gave a deep sigh, obviously thinking the answer should be obvious.“Sally, I’m HIV positive.I can’t exactly keep that from him and once he finds out he’s going to decide I’m too much trouble and start looking somewhere else.”

“Are you going to sleep with him?”

The expression on Cassie’s face suggested that was the last thing she’d expected to hear.“Sally, there are some questions a mother just shouldn’t ask.”

“No, I’m serious.You’ve met this nice guy.He’s only going to be here a few days probably, we haven’t decided how long we’re going to stay.Chances are you’ll hang out for a couple of days, have fun, swap numbers, promise to write and then never see each other again.I’m not saying you have to hide what’s happened, Cassie, but you don’t have to blurt it out to a guy as soon as you meet him either.Just relax, have fun, see what happens.”

Cassie nodded, looking a bit more cheerful.“Yeah, okay.Have fun.I think I still remember how to do that.”

Sally smiled.“Anyway, he noticed you looked like a beached whale and still wanted to chat with you.Must be pretty broad minded.”

Cassie gave Sally a look of mock outrage and gave her a playful punch on the arm.Sally was glad that she seemed to have cheered up.Now if only her own problem could be solved with a simple pep-talk…

It was night down on the beach.Sally stood on the balcony, looking out across the waves.Cassie and Pippa were in the room behind her, relaxing after dinner.And somewhere on the other side of that sea was everyone else she knew, everyone that she could have spoken to about what had happened.She didn’t want to burden Cassie with the situation but who else could she talk to?She could ring Alf or Miles and tell them what had happened but they’d only worry and they wouldn’t be able to do anything.Perhaps she should call Peter, tell him she knew where Vinnie was, that his cover had been blown?But Vinnie could do that himself if it was necessary, he didn’t need her getting involved.Or Leah…Sally put that thought out of her mind straightaway.Leah was only just coming to terms with what had happened to Dan.The news that Sally had run into her other husband would open up too many wounds that had barely begun to heal.

So caught up with her thoughts was Sally that she barely heard the trilling of the telephone in their suite until Cassie called out to her.“Sal!Someone wanting to speak to you!”

Absently, Sally went back into the room and took the receiver from her.“Hello?”she asked.And in response, she heard the voice of the person who she really needed to speak to and yet up until that moment she hadn’t realised how obvious it was.

“Sal, meet me on the beach in ten minutes.”

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I love the way this is written, it makes very pleasant reading. I particulary liked the scene in the restaurant where Sally is talking to the waitress, I totally warmed to that character. :)

I'm very glad you liked that scene because it was actually the one I was least confident about writing.I actually ended up rewriting a large chunk of it because I wasn't at all happy with my first pass, something I hardly ever do, so I'm pleased someone thought it was all right.And thanks to everyone else who's been posting their encouragement on here.

This story seems to have been afflicted with one of my unfortunate characteristics-no matter how carefully I plan a story out the later installments always end up twice as long as the early ones.And it's only Chapter 4.Watch out for the final chapter that's about five pages long.

So, here comes the juggernaut...


The beach was flooded with light from the hotel and from the security lamp that had been set up for the benefit of any guests wanting to take a late night swim.But there was only one person on the beach when Sally arrived, standing by the lamp so she could see him clearly.Even though she had seen him that afternoon, some small part of her mind still couldn’t quite accept the fact that he was here, now, at the same time as her.Then he turned to face her and she once again felt that rush of recognition that she’d felt by the pool.“Vinnie!My god, it is you!What are you doing here?Leah told me that you’d gone into Witness Protection but…how did you end up in Phuket of all places?”

“Leah told you about that, huh?”Vinnie gave a slight shrug at the revelation.“Thought she probably would.If she was gonna tell anybody it would be you.”He changed tack.“I heard about Flynn.I’m sorry.He was a top bloke.”

Sally smiled and for a moment she forgot about how crazy the whole situation was.She was just standing on a beach talking to an old friend.“Yes.He was.He gave me so much.Made me feel good about myself at a time when I really wasn’t feeling good at all.Gave me a wonderful daughter.”

“Yeah, she’s a beauty.Couldn’t believe it when I realised that was little Pippa in my class.”

“If it wasn’t for Leah, we’d never have had her.”

“Yeah, that’s her all over.I remember how guilty she felt when she was pregnant with VJ and you found out you couldn’t have children.”

Going over the conversation in her head, there was something that suddenly occurred to Sally.“Wait a minute, how did you find out about Flynn…and Pippa?Did you get copies of the Summer Bay Gazette delivered to your safe house or something?”

“Nah.Detective Baker kept me updated on everything.I kind of lost touch after he died though.”

Again it took a moment for Sally to realise what he had just said.“No, wait, Peter’s not dead.We thought he was but it turned out his death had been faked by the Witness Protection people.”

Now it was Vinnie’s turn to have to think about it.“Oh.Right.Guess they do a lot of that, huh?”

“So…you didn’t answer my question.How did you end up in Thailand?”

“Well, like I said, Detective Baker was keeping an eye on me.He moved me out to Western Australia, arranged a new identity for me, helped me find work.Kept me up to date on what was going on in the Bay, let me know how Leah and VJ were doing.Then one day I got a call from a new detective.He told me Detective Baker was dead, that the Witness Protection people were overstretched and didn’t have anyone to cover my case.So he gave me a one shot only deal.They’d arrange passage for me to anywhere in the world, sort me out a job and a place to stay but after that I was on my own.Sort of a severance deal.”

“And you chose Thailand?”Sally looked a bit nonplussed.“I’d have thought you’d have rather gone to Las Vegas or somewhere.”

“Well, I kind of lost my taste for the get-rich-quick schemes after that last business.I remembered my cousin Mav was raving about this place so I thought I’d give it a try.You?”

“My brother came here.”

“Hang on, back up, your brother?Since when did you have a brother?”

“Since birth apparently.We’re twins.I only found out about him a few months ago, we were separated when we were very young.His name’s Miles.”

“Gosh, it’s never simple with us, is it?And what, you’re here on holiday?”

“Not exactly.I don’t…”Sally sighed, the memory of her confusion on that very beach barely twelve hours previous rushing back to her.“I don’t really know what I’m doing out here.I told everyone I was going travelling, it sounded so grand at the time.But the way I left, it really felt like I wasn’t going back.And suddenly I’m out here in the big wide world and I don’t have a clue what I’m supposed to do.”

“Wait a minute, you’re saying Sally Fletcher’s left Summer Bay?”Vinnie paused and for a moment it seemed he’d forgotten Sally was there.“Sally Fletcher’s left Summer Bay.Sally Fletcher’s left Summer Bay.Sorry, ’scuse me for a minute, it’s just my whole world came crashing down around my ears.So who else has left?Stewie?Irene?”

“No, they’re still there.”Sally thought for a moment.“The Diner fell down though.”

“What?It only seems like five minutes ago that the last one burnt down.I dunno, you leave a place and it all falls apart.”

Sally smiled at the tirade.“I’ve missed you, Vinnie.”And to her surprise she realised she meant it.There had been times when she’d found him irritating at best yet here they were, two old friends together.Maybe she’d softened in her old age.

Vinnie looked uncertain about broaching the next subject.“And, ah, Leah?Is she happy, being with Dan and everything?”

“Dan?”Sally looked at him in horror.“My god, Vinnie, you mean you don’t know?”

Cassie hurried to answer the door as the person outside knocked again.“Okay, I’m coming!What’s the matter, Sal, did you forget your key?”She pulled the door open but it wasn’t Sally standing outside.It was Scott.

“Delivery for Suite 415,”he announced, glancing at the door number as though checking he was in the right place,“Well, actually, no, there’s no delivery.It’s just me.”

Cassie stood there with her arms folded.“Scott, how did you know this was my room?”

“Hey, who says I’ve come here to see you?Maybe I’ve just been wandering around the hotel knocking on doors at random and seeing if anyone interesting answers.Guess I lucked out here, huh?”He looked as though he was expecting a response.Cassie was pretty determined not to give him one.He sighed.“Which would sound less creepy?If I said I’d followed you here or if I said I’d sneaked into reception and looked at the book?”

“Well they both sound worryingly like you’re stalking me

“Then it’s a good thing that I’m going to say I noticed the number on your key when we were down on the beach.”

Cassie sighed.“Look, Scott, I’m looking after my little sister here so if you want me to come out with you…”

“No, actually, I was planning to come in and ravish you on the sofa.”Once again, Cassie made sure not to give him a response.“Or we could just sit?I heard the in-house movie tonight is Die Hard.Or is it Die Hard 2?How do you tell them apart?”

“Bruce Willis’ age.”

“Right.Must remember that.So, has anyone ever warned you about inviting strange guys into your suite or am I in luck?”

With a show of reluctance, Cassie stood to one side and gestured for him to come in.“I ought to warn you that my mum’s only gone down the beach for a walk so if you’re planning on trying anything you’re going to be in for a whole world of embarassment.”

Scott settled himself on the sofa and picked up the television remote.“Thought never crossed my mind.”

Cassie took a deep breath, remembering Sally’s words.Relax, have fun, see what happens.She hoped she could remember how to do that.

Sally and Vinnie had sat on the wall that separated the beach from the hotel grounds and she had told him everything, about Dan, about how he and Leah had been planning to move to America and about how he had died before she could join him.And then somehow she had found herself telling him about her near death experience, about how she had seen Tom and how he had told her that her returning to life would mean the books having to be balanced and about how it had been not long after that that they had received the news that Dan had been killed.The only people she had told about that part were Pippa and Alf-and Leah of course but she hadn’t believed her.Perhaps being out here, seemingly in another world, it hadn’t seemed so important to keep it a secret.

When she had finished speaking, Vinnie looked at her.“Wow, Sal.That’s really profound.”

“You believe me then?”

“Hey, I know you better than to think you’d make something like that up.”He paused again before asking the one thing she hadn’t told him.“So how’s Leah managing?”

“She’ll cope, I know she will but I can tell she’s upset.I don’t know if you want to hear this but she really did love Dan.”

Vinnie held up his hand to signal his assent.“Hey, Sal, you’re preaching to the converted.I saw them together.”

This was news to Sally.“What?When?”

“Oh, Leah didn’t tell you about that then?I went back to the Bay once, just after Leah found out I was alive.On VJ’s birthday.I saw them together, Leah and Dan.I knew they’d be happy together.Couldn’t face telling them that, of course.I left Leah a note, wishing them the best.”

“I’m sure she appreciated having your blessing.”

Vinnie stared at her hard for a moment, as though just realising something.“That’s why you came out here, isn’t it?Because Tom told you you would.”

“Yeah.When I first decided to leave Summer Bay, it just seemed so right, so natural.He told me I’d come out here and make him proud.But how am I doing that?By sitting by a pool drinking sangria?By going into cafés and giving guilt money to virtual strangers?I’m starting to think I’m best off packing it all up and going back home.”

“Wow.You really haven’t changed, have you?”

Sally caught the implied criticism in his comment and it annoyed her.“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, what did you think was going to happen, Sal?That as soon as you left Summer Bay you’d be elected World President and immediately put an end to war, poverty and global warming?”

“You think I’m being unrealistic?”

“Sally, anyone that knows you knows you’re going to make a difference.Maybe not to everyone and maybe not all the time but that doesn’t matter.The important thing is that when an opportunity comes along you grab it, yeah?”

Sally found herself being reminded of the conversation she’d had with Cassie earlier that day.“So you’re saying I should relax, have fun and see what happens?”

“I guess so.”

“That’s good advice.I should probably take it.”Sally got to her feet.“I should probably get going.Cassie and Pippa will be wondering where I am.”She wondered how to broach something that had been on her mind ever since that conversation with Leah after Dan died.“There is one thing that’s been puzzling me though.You married Leah right?”

“Yep.You were there.We danced at the reception.”

“Right.And you’re not dead.I mean, there’s a death certificate and everything but you’re here.So…are you still married to her or not?”

“You’re asking me?It was not understanding the law that got me into this mess in the first place, remember?”

“Good point.”Sally realised there was one last thing they hadn’t cleared up.“So…am I meant to call you Vinnie or Harry?”

“When there’s other people around, it’s Harry.When it’s just the two of us…It’s been a while since I’ve been the V-Man so…Vinnie.”

“All right.See you around, Vinnie.”

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Well we seem to have slipped off the front page so I thought I'd better post again.I thought this chapter was going to be shorter but I've looked at it and, no, it isn't.

I've also taken the liberty of correcting a spelling mistake in the last chapter.If you didn't notice it, good.If you did, hopefully you'll agree it was the worst place possible to have a mistake...


When Sally came in from breakfast the next morning, it was to the sight of Cassie, once more wearing as few clothes as modesty would permit for a young woman in her condition, hurriedly gathering together her beach things.To her amusement, she realised Cassie seemed a lot more flustered than she had the previous day and she had a feeling she knew why.“You heading out somewhere?”she asked in a mock casual tone.

“I’m meeting Scott on the beach,”Cassie explained.

“Hmm, yesterday, last night, today.If this goes on much longer I’ll come back to find you’ve eloped.”

“I’m not going to marry him, Sal.But he’s, I dunno, fun.”

“Well he’s certainly put a smile on your face.I was beginning to forget what that looked like.”

“It’s like…I should find him really annoying but for some reason things seem a lot better when he’s around.”

“Yeah, I know some people like that.I’d quite like to meet him some time.”

Cassie had finally worked out a way to balance the bags and towels she was taking with her and looked as though she wanted to head out the door.“Yeah, later maybe, but I’m really going to be late if I don’t go now.Do you need me to drop Pippa off anywhere?”

“No, I’m keeping her with me today.Think we’ll go down to the beach.We might see you there.”She noticed a moment of panic in Cassie’s eyes.“If you like, I’ll pretend we don’t know you.”

“No, it’s not a problem, I just thought you were trying to steer clear of the touristy side of things.”

“Well, I was.But then a friend gave me some good advice.I think I need to learn to just take things as they come.”


Until Pippa gave the shout, Sally hadn’t given the man standing on the beach a second glance.But sure enough, it was Vinnie.Pippa had already run over to him and he’d bent down to talk to her.“Well, well, if it isn’t my star swimming pupil.How’s your training for the Olympics coming on?You ready to represent the Aussies yet?”

Smiling, Sally ambled over to the pair.“Morning, Harry,”she greeted him, using the name for Pippa’s sake,“Not got any swimming classes today?”

“No, that’s just a sideline.The hotel mainly employs me as a life guard.I think they’re under the impression that guests drowning would be bad for business.”

“Mmm, I can see how they’d get that idea.”

“We’re going to build a sand castle,”Pippa announced proudly,“Can you help?”

Sally cut in.“Now come on, Pip, Harry’s working, you know that.”

Vinnie glanced around.“Well, things are a bit quiet at the moment.So long as I keep one eye on the folks in the water I’m sure I can answer my true calling as a children’s entertainer.”

Sally gave in.“All right, looks like we’re all going to be building a sand castle.”She gave Vinnie a wry look.“And I’m not really sure who’s going to enjoy it the most.”

Cassie started as Scott came running out of the water towards where she was sitting.Either by accident or design, he seemed to have contrived to splash water all over her.“Watch it!”she protested.

Scott grinned.“I dunno, I’d have thought a beach babe like you would be used to a little water by now.”

“Yeah, but I prefer not to go near it when I’m fully dressed.”

“Should have brought your swimming cossie along.”

“I would have done but unfortunately it doesn’t fit at the moment.”

“Ah, the perils of being fashion conscious.”Scott sat down beside her.“So what is the preferred beach activity for the trendy pregnant woman?”

“I dunno, just sitting and soaking it all up I guess.”

“Yeah, that’s one thing.Or there’s something else we could try.”

And before she knew what was happening, he was kissing her.And it took her a few seconds more to realise she was kissing him back.

Sally had tried to contribute to the architectural endeavour going on in front of her but it soon became clear that Vinnie and Pippa were managing perfectly well without her.So in the end she had withdrawn a couple of feet and sat watching them.As the pair were putting the finishing touches to their construction she heard Vinnie say,“You going to be all right here for a moment, Pip?I just want to have a word with your mummy.”

Pippa gave a nod of assent and Vinnie went over to join Sally.“Something up?”she asked.

Vinnie shook his head.“I just realised, I never asked how any of the old crowd were.I mean, what’s Stewie up to these days?”

“Same as ever.Oh-he just found out Colleen’s his half-sister.”

“What?”Vinnie looked flabberghasted.“How did that happen?”

“Apparently Mr.Stewart Senior did a few things he shouldn’t have back in those days.”

“Well, I know she was good to Leah and everything but I really wouldn’t want Colleen as a sister.”

“Mmm.I think Mr.Stewart feels the same way.”

“What about Mr.Fisher?”

Sally smiled at the memory.“You know that book he wrote when Byron died?Well apparently it was a big hit in England-topped the children’s chart for weeks.He was over there visiting Marilyn when one of the top newspaper editors recognised him and offered him a job as their literary critic.”

“Really?He must be in his element!Alex?”

Sally floundered for a moment, wondering whether to tell Vinnie about the last time she’d seen Alex, when she and Brad had found out he was smuggling drugs.Best not.Alex had been his friend, after all.“I’m not sure, he and Leah had a bit of a falling out.Last I heard he was in Hong Kong.”

“You hear anything from Will and Gypsy these days?”

“Every now and then.They seem happy enough.Gypsy’s started working at a children’s home now that Lily’s at school.”


The shout was so similar to Pippa’s earlier that for a moment Sally thought it was her daughter that had spoke.Then she noticed the boy running down the beach towards them.He was obviously a local, about five or six.Sally and Vinnie both got to their feet.The boy stopped in front of them and, standing in front of Vinnie, he clasped his palms together in front of him and gave a formal bow.“Sawat-dii khrap, Harry.”

Vinnie repeated the gesture.“Sawat-dii khrap, Jaidee.”Then he grabbed the boy playfully around the neck and ruffled his hair.“So, how’s school going?You being a good boy for your teachers?”

“Yes, Harry!”the boy replied, sounding as though he was in pain but clearly loving every minute of it.

It was at that moment that it finally dawned on Sally-children liked Vinnie.Not just this boy but Pippa as well.She wasn’t sure why she was surprised, remembering how well he’d got on with Jesse’s daughter, Rachel, when they’d all lived together.She suddenly realised that Vinnie had turned the boy round to face her.“Jaidee, this is a friend of mine, Sally.”

The boy, Jaidee, once more gave Sally the bow he had given Vinnie.“Sawat-dii khrap, Sally.”

Remembering how Vinnie had responded, Sally gave him a bow in return and repeated the greeting. “Sawat-dii khrap, Jaidee.”To her surprise, the boy burst out in a fit of giggles.

Vinnie leaned over and spoke in a voice that made it clear he was addressing her but wanted Jaidee to overhear.“It’s ‘Sawat-dii ka’ if you’re a girl.”

“Oh.”With as much dignity as she could muster in the circumstances, Sally gave the bow again.“Sawat-dii ka, Jaidee.”

“Jaidee’s parents work as cleaners at one of the hotels,”Vinnie explained,“He comes down here when they’re not at school.They live in the same apartment block as me so they know I’ll keep an eye on him.” He put an arm round Jaidee’s shoulder and led him over to where Pippa was still constructing her sand castle with great concentration.“Come on, little fella, let’s see how Pippa’s getting on.”

Sally smiled at the scene for a moment then went over to join them.

Cassie felt Scott’s hand in hers as they walked along the beach.The kiss between them had been perfect and although she still had a few niggling doubts about what the future held she had decided to follow Sally’s advice and just enjoy the moment.For now, she was just an ordinary teenage girl spending time with a guy she’d met on holiday.

“Isn’t that your mum over there?”Scott asked suddenly.

Cassie followed his gaze and was surprised to see Sally and Pippa with a man and a boy that she didn’t know.“Foster mum,”she clarified.

“Do you want to go and talk to them?”

Cassie remembered that that morning she’d been worried about Scott finding out more about her.She was surprised to realise it didn’t matter to her anymore.“Well, she’s been asking for an introduction for some time.Come on.”She dragged him over to the others.

Sally was the first to notice their approach and clambered to her feet.“Come to join us, have you?”she asked.

“Everyone, this is Scott,”Cassie explained,“Scott, that’s Sally, Pippa and er…”

Sally supplied the remaining introductions.“This is Harry, Pippa’s swimming coach, and his friend Jaidee.”

“You must be Cassie.”Vinnie held out his hand.“Pippa’s told me a lot about you.”

“Well, I hope she’s kept some things to herself.”Cassie looked at him curiously.“You know, you remind me of someone.”

Sally had a feeling she knew what Cassie was referring to-the photo Irene kept on her sideboard.(Sally had never quite got to the bottom of why it was there but she’d heard that Leah found it too painful to have on display but didn’t want it hidden in a drawer, so she and Irene had come to an arrangement.)She stepped in quickly.“Yeah, I think he must just have one of those faces.I thought the same when I first met him.”

Jaidee stepped forward and once more pressed his hands together and gave a formal bow.“Sawat-dii khrap, Cassie.”

Cassie had even less of an idea as to how to respond than Sally.“Er…likewise.”

“Shall we join you?”asked Scott.

Sally glanced at her watch.“Actually, can you keep an eye on Pippa for a bit?There’s a phone call I really need to make.”

Sally heard the click on the other end of the line that indicated someone was answering, followed by a familiar voice.“Hello?”

“Mr.Stewart?It’s me.”

She was pleased at the undisguised delight in his voice, much the same as she felt hearing him.“Sal, love! Where are you?”

“Still in Phuket.Not quite ready to move on yet.”

“And the girls?They’re all right?”

“Yeah, I left them down on the beach.Cassie’s got some boy running round after her.I think even Pippa’s found a friend.”

“That figures.And what about you?Any new man on the horizon?”

“You know me, Mr.Stewart.Footloose and fancy free.”

“Whoa, love, what’s all this ‘Mr.Stewart’?Remember ‘Alf’?”

Sally was surprised at the comment.She remembered their last conversation before they left the Bay but she had assumed it was just the emotion of the moment.“Come on, Mr.Stewart.What would that make me if I suddenly started calling you ‘Alf’?”

“Well, love, I reckon that would make you a friend.”

That really did bring Sally up short.Given the amount of time she’d known him and the way she looked up to him, calling him Mr.Stewart had always seemed natural.But it was true you didn’t normally refer to friends by their surnames.Was that what they were?Friends?She was surprised to find she didn’t know. She’d never had to put a label on it before.“Let me work on that one,”she said at last and quickly changed the subject.“So, have you heard from anyone back in Summer Bay?What’s going on?”

“Search me, love.I spoke to Martha the other day and she just said ‘Nothing to report.’”

“Yeah, Miles told me the same thing.”

“Do we believe them?”

“Not for one moment.No doubt they’ll let us know when it’s all over.”

“Mmm.So, anything interesting happening with you?”

Sally recognised the irony but knew there was only one thing she could say.“Nothing to report.”

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Slipped down again so I thought I'd better update.

A warning to any under-nines reading this:This chapter and the next two are edging slightly more towards a T-rating.Although if you watch Home and Away(and if you don't, how did you find this page?), it's nothing you haven't seen before.


“You joining us today?”Sally asked the following morning as she and Pippa were getting ready to go out.

Cassie shook her head.“No, I’m meeting Scott.”

“Oh, well, maybe we’ll see you down the beach again.”

“Actually, we’re not going down the beach.He’s coming here.We thought we’d spend some time on our own.”

The comment made Sally concerned.When she had encouraged Cassie to spend time with Scott, she had thought that the company of someone her own age might help her realise she could still have something approaching a normal life.But things seemed to have moved more quickly than she had expected and she had a worrying feeling that the very scenario Cassie had been trying to avoid might be inevitable.She didn’t say any of that to Cassie, of course-experience had taught her that offering her advice was a pointless exercise.She was always determined to make her own mistakes.In the end, all she said was,“He seems nice.”

“So does Harry.”

It took Sally a moment to realise the significance of Cassie’s remark.“What?No, trust me, that’s not going to happen, I know from experience that that’s not going to work.I mean, yes, he’s nice but he’s more like a kind of goofy brother than anything else.”

Cassie still didn’t seem convinced.“All right, Sal, whatever you say.”

For a moment, Sally was tempted to tell her about her past relationship with Vinnie but she’d made a promise to him and to herself that she wouldn’t tell anyone who he was.So all she did was give Cassie an indulgant smile before taking Pippa’s hand and heading towards the beach.

Sally and Pippa had once again met up with Vinnie and Jaidee.Ever the children’s entertainer, Vinnie had quickly organised the two youngsters into a game of catch.Once he’d made sure they understood the rules, he walked over to where Sally was standing.His expression suggested he was about to ask something indelicate.“So…Cassie’s your foster daughter, right?And she’s pregnant?”

“That’s right,”Sally confirmed.

“So…does that mean you’re going to be a grandmother?”

If Sally had been eating anything at that moment, she would probably have choked on it.As it was, it took her a few seconds to recover the power of speech.“Well, I suppose that’s one way of looking at it.I’ll try not to think about it too often, though.”

Vinnie gave a mischievous smile before glancing back at where Pippa and Jaidee seemed quite happy throwing a ball to one another.“Do you remember when we had that pregnancy scare?”

“Mmm.There have been times when I’ve wished I had been pregnant.”She noticed the shocked look on Vinnie’s face.“No, I don’t mean I wish we’d had a family together.It’s just at the time I didn’t realise I wasn’t going to have that many more chances to be pregnant.I mean, I love Pippa to bits but I wanted to feel a life growing inside me, you know?And I always imagined myself having a whole tribe of children.”

“Well, it’s probably for the best-at least as far as you and me are concerned.I wouldn’t have made a very good father.”

Sally was astonished.After everything she’d seen over the last few days, how could he believe that? “Vinnie, you would make a great father!And if VJ has inherited even half of what’s good about you then he’s a very lucky boy.”

Vinnie looked surprised and rather pleased at the compliment.“Wow.I was always under the impression you thought I was an irresponsible jerk.”

“I was always under the impression you thought I was a stuck-up prig.”She noticed he didn’t contradict her.But then she hadn’t contradicted him.“Maybe we’ve both grown since then.”

Scott had settled on the couch while Cassie was pouring out some juice for them.“Your mother and sister not here then?”he asked.

“No, they’re down the beach again.”

“We can go and see them if you like?”

“I’m quite happy it just being the two of us.”

“That’s good.”Scott took the drink from her as she sat beside him.“If you don’t mind me asking…how did you end up in foster care?I mean, what happened to your parents?”

It took Cassie a moment to dredge up the memories.In a way, it seemed almost like it had happened to a different person.Most of the time, she felt as though her life had begun the day she’d moved to Summer Bay and met Sally and Flynn and Ric.“My dad died when I was only a baby.A car crash.My mum was left bringing me up on my own.She tried her best but she couldn’t cope.When I was four, she dumped me on my dad’s family and just disappeared.We never saw her again.My gran brought me up but then she died when I was fifteen.That’s when Sally and her husband took me in.”

Scott looked at her as though seeing her for the first time.“You’ve really been through the wars, haven’t you?”

Cassie shook her head.“You know what they say.What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

“It must be true.Because you’re one of the strongest people I’ve ever met.”

He kissed her then, softly at first but growing more and more passionate.She felt his hand on her leg and had a fairly good idea where it was going next.And that was when she realised she couldn’t put it off any longer.She pulled back.“Scott, wait.”

He looked at her, confused.“What’s the matter?I thought you wanted…”

“I do, Scott, really.But, there’s something you need to know first.”She wished there was a way to soften the news but all she could do was say it.“Scott…I’m HIV positive.”

She’d never seen anyone move so fast.One second he was sitting next to her, the next he was on his feet, backing away.“What..?And you just..?What the hell have you been doing to me?”

Cassie got up as well, holding her hands out placatingly.“Scott, I’m sorry, maybe I should have told you earlier but I didn’t expect things to move so fast between us…”

“What was this?Some sort of game?Hey, you’ve got an STD but you can still trick some poor sucker into bed?”

“I didn’t go to bed with you, Scott, I wouldn’t, not without telling you.”

“Everything we’ve been doing and you didn’t think to tell me I could catch HIV off you?”

“I know you’re angry with me, Scott, but you must believe me I’d never have done anything that would have risked infecting you.”

She took a step towards him, but he waved her away angrily.“Don’t come near me, okay?Just leave me alone.”

She didn’t bother to watch him go.The sound of the door slamming behind her was enough.

When Sally came back to the room, she could see Cassie sat hunched up on the sofa, the occasional sob coming from her direction.She glanced at Pippa.“Why don’t you go and tidy your room for a bit, okay, hon?I just need to talk to Cassie.”Once her daughter had left the room, she cautiously approached the sofa. “Cassie?Are you all right?”

Cassie turned a tear-streaked face towards her.“I told Scott I was HIV positive.”

Sally sat down.“He didn’t take the news very well, I take it?”

“It was horrible, Sal.He looked at me as if I was…dirty.”

“I’m sorry.Maybe I shouldn’t have encouraged you to spend time with him.”

“No, I was right the first time.There’s no way I’m going to have a normal relationship, a normal life, with this hanging over me.”

“Hey, now, I don’t want to hear you talking like that.”Sally brushed a strand of hair away from the younger woman’s face.“Because one of these days you’re going to meet a man who’s going to be able to look past this virus and see the beautiful and wonderful young woman that you are.And he’s going to make you just as happy as you deserve to be.”

“But not Scott.”

Sally sighed.“I don’t know.I suppose this has come as a shock to him.He was expecting a nice, uncomplicated holiday romance and now it’s become something a lot more difficult.Maybe, when he’s had a chance to think things through, he’ll come back.And if he doesn’t, then he doesn’t deserve you anyway.”

Cassie smiled at that but almost immediately it was replaced by a look of worry.For a moment, Sally thought she was shaking.Then she realised the whole room was shaking.Vibrations surged through the whole building, rattling everything.The two women clung to each other as the shaking became more and more violent until, just as it seemed they could stand no more, it reached its apex and began to subside, slowly settling down to nothing.And then there was silence, broken only by Pippa’s wails of fear drafting through from the next room.

Cassie was the first to speak.“Was…was that an earthquake?”

It was about twenty minutes later that they heard the pounding on the door.Sally flung it open to reveal Vinnie standing there.“Vin…”She remembered that Cassie was still in the room and quickly changed her greeting.“Harry!What are you doing here?”

“The earthquake…”

“Yeah, we felt it.”

“No, you don’t understand.My apartment building’s collapsed.Sally, there are people still in there.”

Sally found it difficult to understand what he was saying.“No, I mean…it was nothing.We felt shaking, sure, but it wasn’t even strong enough to knock things off the shelves.”

Vinnie shook his head.“It’s in one of the older parts of town.It was damaged in the tsunami.It’s not an area tourists go to very often so it was low on the list of priorities.They just shored up the damage.The earthquake was enough to make the whole building give way completely.There’s rescue teams down there but they’re short on manpower.I said I’d come back here and see if I can get some of the guests to help out.”

“Well, yeah, if you think we can help, of course we’ll come.”

Cassie had been listening to the conversation from the living area.Now she stepped forward to chip in. “What about Pippa, Sal?She’s still pretty shook up.”

It was Vinnie that answered.“I spoke to Achara.She said she’ll look after any children that need to be left here.”

“Okay,”Sally agreed,“We’ll drop her off.”

“Thanks.I need to see if I can gather any more people together.I’ll see you in reception.”

He hurried off back down the corridor, leaving Sally and Cassie alone.For a moment, neither of them spoke.Then Cassie said what they were both thinking.“Do…we actually know what we’re doing?”

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In the end, Vinnie had managed to gather together about a dozen or so holidaymakers who were willing to help out.Sally and Cassie found themselves near the head of the group as he led them through the streets of Patong, away from the tourist shops and the cafes and the beach and anywhere else that had been set up to cater to visitors.Finally, they rounded a corner…and then they saw it.

In the middle of the street, where all other evidence suggested there should be a building, there was rubble.Nothing more than a large pile of bricks and concrete and wood, mixed in with the occasional remains of a broken window.The collapse had been so complete that there was nothing left to indicate what its former use had been.If Sally hadn’t known better, she would have sworn that rubble was all it had ever been, a heap of discarded material, no use to anyone.Various emergencies vehicle were parked around and climbing all over the pile were people, some dressed in clothes that identified them as rescue workers, others just ordinary locals, no more qualified than the holidaymakers, who had decided to pitch in.They were digging through the rubble, most of them with their bare hands, calling out at regular intervals and occasionally receiving a moan in reply.

Vinnie turned and addressed the crowd he had brought with him.“All right, you can see what’s going on. We need to clear this whole lot and see if there’s anyone inside.Now, it needs to be cleared carefully, okay? Don’t go flinging stuff about so you hit each other or bury something else still further.Now, we’ve got clearance sites here and here where you can leave stuff.If you’re not sure what you’re doing, ask me or one of the rescue workers and if one of us gives you an instruction I want you to do it, understand?Thanks for your help, people.Let’s get to it.”

As the crowd moved forward around them, Cassie caught Sally’s arm.“Sal…I can’t do this.”

“Look, I know this is a pretty frightening situation…”

“No, it’s not that, I want to help but…what if I cut myself?There’s gonna be people here with open wounds and stuff and after what happened with Aden…I’m gonna be as big a risk to the folks in here as anything.”

Sally could see the logic in Cassie’s thinking and part of her wanted to agree.But she knew there was another open wound around here;Cassie had still not recovered from her argument with Scott earlier and it was just bad luck that she’d immediately been thrust into another situation that reminded her that her life had changed.She looked around for a moment.“I don’t see any gloves about.Just…do the best you can but if you do cut yourself just get up and walk away.Get straight out of here, don’t let anyone stop you.”

“Won’t that look a bit suss?”

“What, a pregnant woman who’s just been carrying rocks about?I don’t think anyone will object to you calling time.”

Cassie nodded, pleased with the thinking.“All right.”

“Let’s get to it then.”

Later, when Sally tried to recall what happened afterwards, she found only the vaguest of impressions, as though part of her mind had blotted it out.She wasn’t sure whether it was minutes or hours but it seemed to be an endless task of shifting lumps of brick and concrete, only to find more bricks and concrete under them, holding no more promise of survivors than the last.At one point, her searching uncovered a man’s hand protruding from the wreckage.She called to one of the rescue workers, who came over and touched the hand, as though feeling for a pulse.Then he shook his head and gestured for her to continue digging somewhere else.

It was a call from Vinnie that broke the cycle.“Sally!We’re found Jaidee!”

Sally started at the comment.She remembered Vinnie saying that Jaidee’s family lived in the same apartment building as him but until that point she hadn’t made the connection that he might be among those that had been there.She hurried over to find people clearing the wreckage away from where Jaidee was lying.He had a gash on his forehead and was unmoving but miraculously there didn’t seem to be any other injuries.

Vinnie was giving him a check over.“Pulse steady, no bones broken.”He gestured to the remains of a book case.“It looks like that fell across him.Must have protected him when the ceiling fell in.That head injury could be nasty though.Sal, help me get him to the hospital.”

Vinnie lifted up Jaidee and carried him in the direction of a jeep that seemed to be his own vehicle.Sally followed and noticed that Cassie fell into step behind her.Despite her pep-talk, she was still keen for any excuse to leave the scene before she put anyone in danger.

Vinnie didn’t query Cassie’s presence as she clambered into the back of the jeep.He waited until Sally settled in the passenger seat then passed Jaidee to her, letting her cradle him on her lap.“Try and keep him steady.This could be a bumpy ride.”

For anyone raised in a city, the streets of Patong did indeed seem bumpy.But Sally had been raised with the coastal roads of Summer Bay and in comparison they didn’t seem all that different.Vinnie drove the jeep at a steady pace, going as fast as he could without risking causing Jaidee any further injury.

“Isn’t the hospital over that way?”Cassie asked, pointing towards the street they’d just driven past.

“Sure,”Vinnie confirmed,“If you’ve got medical insurance.I know a couple of European folk who’ve set up a hospital two miles out of town.Not exactly state of the art but at least you don’t need a certificate to get in.”

Vinnie’s jeep wasn’t the only vehicle transporting wounded to the hospital, as became obvious when they arrived to find a virtual gridlock of parked cars outside.Inside, Sally and Cassie followed Vinnie as he carried Jaidee through the brick-lined corridors.All around them were side rooms where the staff were tending to the influx of patients.

“Dafne!We need some help over here!”Vinnie called as they approached the trauma wing.

A woman in her thirties wearing a white coat came over and briefly examined Jaidee.“What happened?” she asked.She spoke with a French accent.

“The building collapse,”Vinnie explained,“We just fished him out of the rubble.He’s been unconscious ever since.”

Dafne gestured to a couple of porters.“Bay Three.Quickly.”

One of the porters took Jaidee from Vinnie while the other one fetched a bed trolley.Hurriedly they moved the boy into the ward.

“Have you had many people in from the collapse?”Sally asked.

“Eight so far,”Dafne confirmed,“Along with a few from other, more minor incidents during the earthquake.We’ve nearly used up our blood supply.”

Vinnie began rolling up his sleeve.“Just point me in the right direction.You’ve got my details on file?”

“Uh-huh.We know your blood type.”

“I’m A negative,”put in Sally,“If that helps.”

“It does, yes.Just follow Harry.”She turned to Cassie.“And you?”

Cassie looked flustered.“I…I don’t know.”

“Well, it doesn’t matter.We can do a cross match as well.”

There was a panicked look in Cassie’s eyes.“I can’t…Sal, tell them I can’t!”And then she was gone, running back down the corridor before anyone could say another word.

Sally found both Vinnie and Dafne looking at her, waiting for an explanation.She tried desperately to think up some sort of excuse but all she could think of was the truth.“Cassie’s HIV positive.”

And as the words left her lips, she found herself praying Cassie would forgive her.

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I was planning to post again tomorrow but I managed to get this chapter done quicker than expected so here you go:


Of all the people for her to find outside the hotel, it would have to be him.He was sitting on the wall with his back to her and for a moment Cassie thought about sneaking past him into the building, going up to the suite to recover from the long walk back from the hospital.But she knew that would only be delaying the inevitable.“Scott?”she called out.

He was up in a second, turning towards her.As she approached, he seemed to take an involuntary step back, putting distance between them.And for some reason that action annoyed her.“Don’t worry,”she snapped,“You can’t catch it from breathing the same air as me.”

“I know that.”There was a slightly pained tone in his voice, as though this was a conversation he didn’t want to have under these or any circumstances.“Where have you been?”

“There was a building collapse in town.That boy we saw on the beach, Jaidee, he was hurt.We took him to hospital.”

“Yes, I heard about that.I went down there to see if there was anything I could do to help but they’d pretty much finished up.”He shifted uncomfortably.“I should be going.”And he headed towards the hotel.

“Is that all you’ve got to say to me?”Cassie demanded angrily,“I mean, you had plenty to say before, didn’t you?”

He turned back to her, equally angry.“Well, what do you expect me to say, Cassie?‘You’re HIV positive, oh, that’s great’?I mean, for goodness sake, how did you get it anyway?”

Cassie wanted to ignore the question but that would make it seem like she had something to hide.“There was a guy.Someone I loved and trusted.Turned out he was infected and by the time he found out he’d already infected me.”

“The baby…”

“Yes, he’s the father.”

“No, I mean, is it all right?”

Cassie had heard the question so many times her answer was almost automatic.“The biggest risk is during the birth but there’s ways around that.”


It was only one word.But it was the first kind thing he had said since she had told him and when she caught his gaze she could tell that he meant it.She tried to think of something else to say but before she could do so he had already turned and gone back into the hotel.

Vinnie had barely said a word since Sally’s revelation.The two of them had gone to a side room to donate the blood that the underequipped hospital needed, then returned to the corridor to wait.Dafne had gone back into the ward to carry on treating her patients, leaving the two of them alone.“I know you want to ask,” Sally said at last.

“Ask what?”

“How Cassie became infected.”

Vinnie shrugged.“Not any of my business.”

“But you want to know anyway.”

“Look, Sally, if you feel you have to explain…”

“I’m not ashamed of her, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“Hey, I wasn’t thinking anything of the sort.”Vinnie sighed.“All right, Sally.Get it off your chest.”

It was the first time Sally had been called upon to explain what had happened to someone who hadn’t known Cassie and Henk and it took her a moment to think of the words.“There was a man.Someone a lot older than her, heck, he was a fair bit older than me.He had a bit of a past.”

“You mean he used to sleep around?”

“That and more.By all accounts, a few years earlier he was pretty messed up.Cassie fell for him, of course. He’s the father of her child.They’d been together for a while, on and off, when he found out he was positive.And by then she was too.”

Vinnie gave her one of those annoyingly insightful looks she had grown so accustomed to over the past few days.“Are…are you blaming yourself?”

“Well, who else am I supposed to blame?She’s my daughter, I’m supposed to protect her.I knew what kind of man he was or had been.I should have kept them apart.”

“Short of locking her in her room, it doesn’t sound like there’s much you could have done.”

“But I didn’t have to make it so easy for them.I let him stay at the caravan park, Cassie had practically moved in with him.Every instinct I had told me it was wrong but I didn’t want to alienate her.Great job-when she found out, she was too scared to tell me.I practically had to force it out of her.”

“You didn’t want to lose her.”

“Yeah.And now, I could lose her anyway if she gets sick.”

Before Vinnie could think of an answer, Dafne came out of the ward and headed towards them.They both got to their feet.“How is he?”asked Vinnie.

“He’s a very lucky boy,”Dafne replied,“He only has a mild concussion.We will keep him in overnight for observation but he should be up and about very soon.”

“Have you heard anything more from the site?Have they found his parents?”

“Yes.”Dafne waited a moment before anticipating the next question.“There was nothing we could do for them.”

Sally pushed open the door of the suite cautiously.Achara had told her that Cassie had already picked up Pippa so she knew she had returned to the hotel.“Cass?”she called out,“Are you here?”

“Yeah.”The voice was listless, devoid of life.

Sally went further into the room.She could see Cassie’s back as she sat on the sofa.“Where’s Pip?”

“Having a lie down.I think today took it out of her.”

Sally reached the sofa and took a seat.She watched Cassie carefully.The girl’s face was almost completely expressionless, her body lacking in energy.It was as though the events of the day had completely sapped away all the self-confidence that she’d gained in the last few weeks.“And what about you?”Sally asked, “How are you feeling?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.Sorry I freaked out at the hospital.”

“It’s okay.You were in a difficult position, I’m sorry.”Sally took a deep breath before telling her the rest. “I told Harry and Dafne you were HIV positive.I know I should have made something up…”

“I don’t mind.It seems everyone’s going to find out sooner or later.”

“I, um, also told Harry he could stay here until he got something else sorted.His home’s gone too, remember?”

“Yeah, of course.Where’s he gonna sleep?”

“He offered to take the couch but I’ll have Pippa sleep in with me.He can have her room.”

“Might as well have her sleep in with me.No-one else is going to.”Cassie suddenly seemed to remember something.“How’s Jaidee?”

“He’s going to be fine.But his parents died.”

For the first time, there was a flicker of emotion in Cassie’s eyes.“Poor kid.”

“Cassie, are you sure you’re all right?”

“Fine, Sal.I’m just going to go and have a lie down.”

As Sally watched her go, the irony struck her.A few days ago, Cassie had been loving their stay here while she had been uncertain about her place in the world.Now it was Cassie that was lost.And she didn’t have a clue what she was going to do about it.

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Once again, thank you to everyone who's been reading this and/or posting comments(I noticed we were upgraded to orange with the last chapter which is very flattering).

Public service announcement:There is one very brief moment here that might overstep the mark for a T-rating.I don't expect anyone will notice it but I thought I'd better cover myself.


Vinnie was sitting alone in the corridor when Sally arrived at the hospital.“Harry?”she asked but he didn’t seem to notice her.She doublechecked they were alone before trying again.“Vinnie?”

He glanced round at that.“Hi, Sal.”He blinked as if registering her presence.“How did you get here?Have you walked all the way from the hotel?”

“No, I took the bus.”

“There isn’t a bus to here.”

“No but there’s one to the beach at Karon.I just persuaded them to let me off near here.”She sat down beside him.“How’s Jaidee this morning?”

“Fine.They’re ready to let him go.”

“So why the glum face?”

“Dafne’s been ringing around, trying to locate his family and guess what?He doesn’t have any.His grandparents are dead, both his parents were only childs.”

“So…what’s going to happen to him?”

“Dafne’s got in touch with an orphanage not far from here.They’ve agreed to take him.We were in there just now talking to him.I ended up volunteering to take him there.I thought he could do with having a friendly face along.”

“Do you think he could use two friendly faces?”

Vinnie smiled at that.“Yeah, I reckon he’d like that.”

In the end, there was four of them in Jaidee’s support group.Sally had insisted on stopping by the hotel to ask Cassie to come and even though she hadn’t been particularly enthusiastic she’d agreed.That had meant bringing Pippa along as well.

As the group entered the building, a Thai woman came over to meet them.Vinnie held out his hand.“Are you Mai?Dafne sent us.”

“Yes, yes, that’s right.”Mai glanced at Jaidee and Pippa in confusion.“I understood there was only one child?”

“Oh no, she’s mine,”Sally explained hastily, putting a protective arm around Pippa.

“This is Jaidee,”Vinnie clarified,“I’m Harry Baker, his neighbour, and that’s my friend, Sally Fletcher, and her daughters Cassie and Pippa.”He knelt down by Jaidee.“Now, Jaidee, this is Mai.You remember we told you about her?About how she’s going to be looking after you from now on?”

Jaidee stepped forward nervously and gave the formal bow with palms pressed together that Sally and Cassie had seen him give when they first met.“Sawat-dii khrap, Mai.”

Mai repeated the bow.“Sawat-dii ka, Jaidee.”Then she took his hand.“Come on.I’ll introduce you to the other children.”She looked at Sally.“We have some younger children out in the garden.Perhaps Pippa would like to wait with them while we talk?”

“What do you think, Pip?”Sally smiled as her daughter nodded enthusiastically.“Yes?All right.Which way is it, Mai?”

“Just down the end of the hall and out through the door.”

“I can take her, Sally,”Cassie offered,“Then I’ll keep an eye on them.”

“Is that all right with you, Mai?”Sally waited for the nod of confirmation.“All right, Cass.We’ll see you both later.”

Sally and Vinnie waited in the doorway as Mai showed Jaidee into the classroom where several children of the same age were waiting.After a while, she came out to join them.“The children have been given the afternoon off from lessons to help him settle in.He seems fine but I think it might be best if you wait here for a while, just until we’re sure.”

“Yeah, course,”Vinnie agreed.

“If you come to the staff room, I can make you both a cup of tea.”

Vinnie followed her away from the door but Sally remained there, looking at the children.“Mai, how many children have you got here?”

“Fifty.Aged between two and fourteen.We don’t have many staff so there are times when it can be hard giving all of them the attention they need.”

“I know.I spent some time in a place like this.”

“Really?”Vinnie asked,“I didn’t know that.”

“After my parents died-at least, I thought they were my parents at the time-and my gran couldn’t cope.I was one of the lucky ones, Tom and Pippa came along and fostered me.I don’t think I’d realised until they came along just how badly I needed someone to love me.”

Cassie was sitting in the garden behind the orphanage while the younger children ran around and played all about her.She barely gave them a glance, thinking of the last few days.Scott had wanted nothing to do with her once he found out the truth and she couldn’t even help people that needed it because of what was in her blood.She wasn’t a person anymore, she was a condition.The poster girl for one of those information campaigns warning girls of the consequences of unprotected sex.Pregnant and HIV positive.Two for the price of one.

“Cassie?”She looked up at her name and found Pippa standing in front of her.There was another girl with her;Cassie vaguely remembered that her name was Mekhala and she and Pippa had been playing together earlier.Pippa held something out to her.“We made you this because you’re sad.”

It was a small selection of wild flowers twisted together into a necklace, like a daisy chain.It had clearly been made with a child in mind and was much too small to fit over Cassie’s head.It wasn’t really all that much to look at.But when Cassie looked at it, she didn’t see any of that.She saw that two little girls, including one who didn’t even know her, had spent time and effort making it purely because they thought she mattered enough that they wanted to cheer her up.

She took the chain from Pippa’s hand and placed it around her wrist like a bracelet.“Thank you.”Then she grabbed hold of Pippa and Mekhala and drew them both into a tight hug.“Thank you so much.”

“So how many of you do work here?”Sally asked, nursing her cup of tea.

“Four of us,”Mai replied.

“Four of you among fifty?”Vinnie thought this over.“That’s not too bad.I’ve handled a dozen or so children in lifesaving classes.”

“Oh, we can keep an eye on them all.It’s the education that’s the real problem.”

“Don’t they go to school?”Sally asked.

“There aren’t any near enough.We only have one teacher here.With children of so many different ages, at so many different levels of ability, it’s hard for her to accommodate them all.”

“If you had another teacher here, would that help?”

“Yes, it would half her workload, allow us to have smaller classes better suited to the children’s needs. But who would want to come here?”

Sally remembered what Vinnie had said to her when they’d first spoken-the important thing is that when an opportunity comes along you grab it.And an idea began to form in her mind.

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Sally took a deep breath before crossing the suite to where Cassie was sitting.Given the girl’s fragile mental state over the past few days, she was unsure how she was going to take the news.“Cassie, you know Mai?”

“The woman who runs the orphanage?”

“That’s right.Well, I was talking to her earlier, while you were out in the garden.About how she was having a hard time running the place, how she could use some more help, especially from a trained teacher. And, well, to cut a long story short, I ended up volunteering.”

“Volunteering for what?”

“To teach at the orphanage.For the foreseeable future really, which means my staying here.I mean, just because I’m here doesn’t mean you have to stay.You can keep travelling if you want, although, of course, I’d be very happy if you wanted to stay with me.It’s just this is something that I really want to do.And Mai’s said that Pippa can stay with the younger children while I’m working so I don’t even need to worry about a childminder.”

“Guess I’ll be looking after her then.”

Sally looked at her, confused.“What?”

Cassie smiled, the first smile Sally had seen her give since she’d run out of the hospital.“You’re not the only one who had a chat with Mai.When I was with Pippa and the others, I realised that looking after them, that was something I could do.Things have been getting so complicated lately, I think I could do with being around people who say exactly what they’re thinking.Anyway”-she patted her own unborn child-“it’ll be practise for when this one comes along.”

Sally smiled back at her, delighted at how everything was slotting into place.“So…we’re really going to do this then?”

“Looks like it.”Cassie became serious again.“Sally…if something happens to me…”

“Nothing’s going to happen to you,”Sally insisted.

“Yeah, but if it does…you’ll make sure this baby’s all right, won’t you?I don’t want him or her ending up somewhere like that.”

Sally took her hand.“I will always be here for you and your baby.But nothing’s going to happen.You know what your counsellor said.”

“Yeah, I know.I could live for years or decades with this condition, get to see this one graduate from college, get married, make me a grandmother…Or my immune system could pack up, the drugs stop working and I’m dead in a couple of years.There’s no timetable.It’s all just a minefield.”

Sally could feel the tears in her eyes as she looked at a young woman who should be guaranteed her whole life ahead of her.She blinked them away, trying to stay strong for Cassie.“It’s not fair what’s happened to you.”

“It wasn’t fair that Flynn got cancer.It wasn’t fair that Dan fell off a cliff because he did the right thing.At least I’ve only got myself to blame.”

“This wasn’t your fault…”

“Yes it was.How many times have you warned me that I’ve been getting into something that’s going to bring me hurt?And how many times have you been right?You all told me to stay away from Henk, you, Brad, Rachel, but I thought I knew best as usual.So stupid.And then when I told you, you were so nice to me, when I’d been so rude to you.Why did you do that?”

“I figured the last thing you needed was me saying ‘I told you so.’You loved him.And I think, for all his faults, he did genuinely love you.I don’t blame you for what happened, Cassie.I never have.”

And then the floodgates opened.It wasn’t until that moment, when the tears started streaming down her face, that Sally realised just how much fear and guilt Cassie had been holding in.She put her arms around her and Cassie buried her face in her shoulder.“I’m sorry, Sally,”she sobbed,“I’m so sorry.”

“How is she?”Vinnie asked when Sally came back into the living area.

“Cried out.But I think it’s done her good.She’d been bottling it all up for a while now.I think she’s finally made peace with it all.”

“So…it seems we’re going to be neighbours again.”

“Yeah, the holiday’s lasting a bit longer than we thought.Mai’s arranging us somewhere to stay closer to the orphanage so you’ll have the suite to yourself in a few days.”

“Right, yeah.Suppose I’d better start looking for somewhere else to live.”

“Well, if you want, I can put in a word for you at the orphanage as well.”

Vinnie shook his head.“Nah, I already know what my calling is.I’m a life guard.Might not be the most glamourous or well-paid job-unless you’re David Hasselhoff-but walking up and down the beach, yelling out ‘Stay between the flags!’ and rescuing the odd tourist who gets out of their depth…I think it’s pretty worthwhile.”

Sally smiled at him.“Still happy being the…H-Man, eh?I thought your true calling was as a children’s entertainer?”

“Oh, yeah, that’s me.Harry the Clown, available for birthdays, weddings, bar mitzahs…What do they have here?”

Sally thought for a moment.“Upasampada.It’s like a temporary ordination as a Buddhist monk or nun.”

“How do you know so much?”

“I guess I just read a lot.”

“Anyway, I’ll be visiting Jaidee so you’ll still see me around quite a bit.In fact, if your kids need swimming lessons, I might be able to talk the hotel into letting you use the pool out of season.As well as lending you the free services of a pretty damn fine instructor.”

Sally was genuinely pleased by the offer.“Thanks, Vinnie.We’d all be very grateful.”

“I’m glad you said that.’Cos…I’ve kinda got a favour I wanted to ask you.”

Sally dialled the number and switched the phone to speaker before sitting down.A few seconds later, she heard the voice on the other end.“Hello?”

“Leah?It’s me.”

“Hey, Sal!”There was a cheery note in her old friend’s voice despite everything.“How are things going?”

“Fine.The Phuket stopover looks like being more of a stop, though.”

“Yeah, Miles told me.Didn’t think it’d take you long to want to get your hands dirty.”

“You know me too well.How’s everything back in the Bay?”

“Well, Miles is settling in well at the school, the Den’s up and running, oh”-and here Sally heard a note of distaste creeping into her voice-“and Jack and Martha are back together.”

“You sound as though you disapprove.”

“Well…I want them to be happy, of course, but it’s just so soon after Sam.When they told me Vinnie was dead, it took so much effort for me to get back out there, to open myself up to loving someone else.He was everything to me, Sal.And now Dan’s gone too, I don’t think I could ever put myself through that again.”

“Now, come on, Leah.I know it’s hard but I don’t think either Vinnie or Dan would want you to shut yourself away for the rest of your life, afraid of the world, would they?”

“No.If they knew they’d probably be dragging me out of the house and insisting I have a good time.”

“And that time you had with them, you wouldn’t give that up just because it meant losing the hurt, would you?”

“No.Never.”Leah’s voice had faltered slightly but then she composed herself.“Why is it you always know the right thing to say?”

“Same reason you do.I know you too well.”

“Look, Sal, I’ve got to pick VJ up so I have to go.But we’ll talk again soon, okay?”

“Okay.Bye, Leah.”Sally ended the call, then looked over at the corner of the room.

Vinnie was there.That had been his request:to hear one last time the voice of the woman that he loved, who had been his wife and perhaps in a way still was.And when he heard the pain she was going through, he had wanted so much to call out to her, to tell her that he loved her and always would.But he knew that wasn’t fair on her.They had both made their choices a long time ago and he wasn’t part of her life anymore.

He realised Sally was waiting for a response.“Thanks,”he said at last, then disappeared into his room.

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