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Burning Bridges

Guest Red Ranger 1

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I swear I'm addicted to this forum, at least it's been a week and a half since my last fiction finished.A few characters and pairings that don't turn up very often so I hope you like it.

Story Title: Burning Bridges

Type of story: Medium/long fic

Main Characters: Geoff, Claudia, Jai, Annie, Lachie, Ruby and others

BTTB rating: G/T

Genre: Drama(Relationship-based)

Does story include spoilers: No

Any warnings: Sexual content:Very mild.Violence:Mild.Language:None.

Summary: Geoff and Claudia are back together but Lachie isn't happy with the arrangement.Jai and Annie are still having problems and end up being dragged into things.


“Is he still there?”

Geoff glanced over at the farm gate.“Yeah.”He saw Claudia fidgeting and gave her that protective look.“I can tell him to go away if you like.”

Claudia shook her head.She wanted to take him up on his offer but that was what the old her would have done.She’d vowed to stand on her own two feet and she was going to stick to it.“No, I’ll deal with him.”

She left Geoff to carry on with his work, making her way over to where Lachie was standing.He grinned at her as she came close to him.“How you doing?”

Claudia stopped a few feet away from the gate.Lachie had never actually come onto the farm but she wasn’t going to take any chances.“I’m fine,”she told him simply, hugging herself in an unconscious gesture of protection.

“You want to come round my place tonight?”

The question was vague, vague enough for her not to shut him down completely.“Why?”

“Just thought we could hang out.”

She shook her head.“Lachie, we’re not together anymore.We’re never going to be.”

“But you came back here.”

“I came back for Geoff,”she reminded him,“Not for you.”

“He’s not the father.”

“I know that.And I’ve told you, I’m not going to stop you seeing this baby.You’re always going to be the father.But Geoff’s my boyfriend.So if this isn’t about the baby…I need to get back to work.”She turned her back on him, walking back up the path to where she and Geoff had been busy weeding.She didn’t look back, not once, until she’d reached Geoff.Then she asked quietly,“Is he still there?”

Geoff’s eyes were fixed on the gate.“He’s going.”

Claudia breathed a sigh of relief and rested her head on his shoulder.“I wish he wouldn’t come here.”

“I’ve already told you I’ll have a word with him, tell him to stay away.Or I could have a word with Martha, tell her about him pestering you…”

“We can’t do that, Geoff.He’s the baby’s father, if he wants to be involved in this pregnancy we can’t stop him.”She paused before adding,“It would be better if you were the father.”

She saw the faraway look in his eyes and regretted the words instantly, regretted the memories she’d brought to his mind.“I’m not,”he said simply.

“No.”She still felt guilty about all those weeks when she’d lied to him about him being the father, judging him by Lachie’s standards instead of his own, thinking he wouldn’t want anything to do with her if she was carrying someone else’s child.Things had been so difficult between them after that, until one day when he’d rung her out of the blue.Not for any reason, just to chat.And as the calls became more and more frequent and they found themselves sharing more and more of their lives with each other…suddenly she realised that being back in Summer Bay with him was what she wanted more than anything else.She slapped him affectionately on the arm, dragging him out of his introspective mood.“Come on, let’s get on with this work.”

“How’s yours?”Jai asked, for what felt like the hundredth time.

Annie nodded politely, gesturing to her half-finished meal.“It’s good, thanks.”

Jai wished she were lying.At least then he could blame the cooking.Inviting her round so he could cook her a meal had seemed like a great idea at the time, a way for them to reconnect.Things had been better between them since their experiences out on the trek but they still weren’t quite right.Which is why Jai had asked her for dinner.

And why they were sat there, eating their meals in silence.

“Do you want to do something when we’ve finished?”he asked.

The look Annie gave him was worryingly similar to a rabbit caught in the headlights.“Like what?”

“I dunno, we could go down the beach or the surf club.Or we could stay here and watch a DVD.”

“I’ve got that assignment to do.”

“So have I,”Jai responded,“Maybe we could do it together.”

Annie gave him a smile, the same smile she used to give him.“We’d probably have trouble concentrating.”Then it was gone and she was shovelling the last of her food into her mouth, pushing her plate away from her and getting to her feet almost before she’d swallowed it.“I’d better go.”She hesitated, as though unsure whether to do or say anything else, then just gave him a nod.“See you later.”

Jai had a couple of seconds to think of something he could say to stop her leaving.He didn’t manage it.So she left.

He picked up their empty plates from the table and carried them into the kitchen, only just suppressing the urge to throw them into the sink.He loved her.Still.And he thought that maybe she loved him.But try as he might, he didn’t seem to be able to get back what they once had.

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Thanks for the comment, hope you like this update.


Ruby’s gaze was drawn instantly to the new arrival at the Diner.“Uh-oh.”

Xavier looked in the direction she was staring but all he could see was Jai standing there.“What?”

Ruby rolled her eyes.“Think about it, Xav.Jai had that big dinner planned for Annie.He’d got everything organised, he’d been working on it for days.And yet, less than an hour later, he’s here, in the Diner, on his own.”

She saw everything click into place in Xavier’s mind.“Uh-oh,”he echoed before following her over to where their friend was still standing hesitantly.

“Jai, what happened?”Ruby asked.

He seemed to be trying to avoid her gaze.“Nothing.”

“She meant about the date with Annie,”Xavier prompted.

“Yeah.Like I said, nothing.”

“She didn’t turn up?”Ruby asked.

“She turned up, she sat down, she ate the food without saying anything, then she left before dessert.”Jai saw the looks they were giving him and sighed.“Pudding dessert.”

“Wow.”Ruby shook her head.“I was sure that was going to work.”

“So was I, hence my coming up with it.”

“So what’s Plan B?”

Jai shrugged.“Who says there’s a Plan B?”

“Come on, man,”Xavier encouraged him,“You can’t just give up.”

“You and Annie are meant to be together,”Ruby insisted.

Jai looked at her angrily.“Not everything that you want to happen is ‘meant to be’, Ruby.Sometimes things don’t work out and we don’t get what we want.”He saw her looking crestfallen and felt slightly guilty.He gestured towards the door.“I’m going to go get a juice somewhere else.”

“You feeling all right?”Geoff asked when they got home.

Claudia nodded.“I don’t think I’m going to be able to carry on working much longer though.Baby seems to be trying to make it as difficult as possible.”She gently rubbed her stomach, which seemed to have enlarged considerably while she’d been away.

“At least Lachie didn’t come back,”Geoff offered.Claudia didn’t answer, just sitting down on the couch instead.He took one of the chairs near her.“Look, I know you don’t want to ask him to stay away but he can’t keep turning up like this.”

“He’s not dangerous, Geoff, not to me anyway.He’s just…”

“Annoying?”Geoff suggested.

“Pretty much sums it up, yeah.”

Annie came down the stairs and stopped when she saw them both sitting there.“You’re still here then?”she asked Claudia, in that disinterested tone of voice that was the closest she ever came to being deliberately rude.

Claudia did her best to put on a smile.“’Fraid so.”

Annie looked as though she was about to sit down without saying anything else but Geoff suddenly marched across the room and took hold of her arm.“Can I have a word with you?”he asked as he practically marched her into the kitchen and then spun her round to face him.“What was that all about?”

Annie glared at him mutinously.“What’s she doing back here?Don’t you remember how much she upset you before?”

“That’s no reason for us to turn our backs on her.”

“I don’t want anything bad to happen to her but…she was all right where she was and we were all right without her.And then you ask her to come back!Last time she was here, you were hiding in your room because you didn’t want to see her.”

“I know but…I like being with her.”

“If someone lets you down and you know they’re not going to change, then you should just stay away from them.”

Geoff looked at her curiously.“Is this to do with you and Jai?Look, Annie, just because you can’t get past all those arguments you had…”

“This is not about me and Jai!It’s about you always choosing girlfriends that are wrong for you, that are wrong for us.”She shook her head angrily.“Why can’t things just be normal for a while?”

“Are you happy on your own?”


Geoff sensed the truth in Annie’s words but he knew it wasn’t the whole truth.“As happy as you were with Jai?”She didn’t answer, looking away slightly.“Because being with Claudia makes me happy, Annie. And I was kinda hoping that would make you happy.”She still didn’t answer.Instead she looked at him sulkily.“Guess I was wrong.”

He went back into the living room, leaving her alone.

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Annie waited patiently in the lounge until Geoff and Claudia came out of their room, laughing about something.They stopped as they saw her, taking in the fact she was in her work clothes.“Are you going somewhere?”Geoff asked.

“To the farm with you,”Annie answered,“Martha did say we could go there whenever we want.”

Geoff paused for a moment before stepping forward, moving Annie slightly away from Claudia.“Well, are you gonna be polite?”

Annie shrugged.“It was our farm, we’ve got more right to be there…”

“Claudia works there and she’s with me.”

Annie rolled her eyes and nodded.“Fine, I’ll be nice.”

Geoff accepted the promise and turned away, putting his arm round Claudia as he did so.“All right, let’s get going.”

Annie was going to keep her promise but she hadn’t said anything about actually speaking to anyone while on the farm.She’d found an area as far away from the main plotting area as possible, down near the gateway, which Martha had wanted cleared for cultivation, and busied herself there, removing the bracken and undergrowth that had moved into the neglected area.

Her isolation didn’t last forever though.Claudia came over, a glass of water in her hand.“We wondered if you might want this.”

Annie remembered her promise.And besides, she was thirsty.She took the glass from her.“Thanks.”She stood there, sipping it in silence.

“Annie, do we have a problem?”

Annie shrugged.“It’s up to Geoff who he chooses to be with.”

“But you’d rather it wasn’t me, right?”

“You lied to him.”Annie still remembered her promise but keeping quiet wasn’t in her nature.“More than once.”

“Yes, I did.I did the wrong thing and he forgave me.”

“But what if you do it again?”

Claudia sighed.“How can I prove to you that I’m being honest, Annie?I can only tell you…”She broke off, her gaze flickering to the other side of the gate and she groaned in frustration.“Oh no, not now…”

Lachie’s car had pulled up in the track outside and its owner was clambering out, leaning against the gate post.“Can we talk, babe?”

“If it’s about us getting back together again, then no.”Claudia turned and walked back up the path to where Geoff and Martha were waiting.

Apparently unaffected by the comment, Lachie glanced at Annie, who was still hovering by the gate. “Guess that’s her way of telling me, huh?”

“I guess it was a bit rude,”Annie conceeded, not really making eye contact with him.

“Something wrong?”

“I’m not sure I should be talking to you.You did hit my brother.”

“Yeah, well, I’m sorry about that but he did sleep with Claudia while she was with me.If someone slept with your boyfriend, wouldn’t you want to hit her?”

“I might think about it but I wouldn’t do it.And I haven’t got a boyfriend at the moment, anyway.”

Lachie grinned at her.“What, a pretty girl like you?”

Annie was astonished to find herself blushing at the comment.“Shut up,”she told him, half-heartedly.She was still trying to avoid his gaze but it felt as though there was a different reason now…

“Look, I know Claudia and I aren’t together anymore.I just want to know what’s going on with my baby. That’s not asking much, is it?”

“I suppose not…”

“Maybe I could give you a call some time, ask you what’s going on?”

Annie hesitated for a moment.He held out a piece of paper and a pen and she took them from him, scribbling on the paper before handing it back.“That’s my mobile number.”She glanced back up towards the house, where Geoff was gesturing to her in an agitated manner.“I’d better go.”

Lachie nodded and grinned at her again.“Speak to you soon, gorgeous!”

As Annie made her way up the path, she was surprised to find that she suddenly felt very warm.

Jai tried to ignore the persistent hammering at the door but it was no use.He pulled it open in annoyance, intending to have a go at whoever was standing there, but before he could get any words out Ruby had pushed past him into the house.“Do you want Annie back?”she asked.

Jai had the sudden feeling of having wandered into a conversation halfway through and not understanding what it was about.“What?”

“Simple question, yes or no.Do you want Annie back?”

“Well, I’d like it if we sorted things out but she doesn’t want…”

“Good.”She nodded firmly.“Then you need me to sort you out.”

He sighed.“So, any advice, Auntie Ruby?”

“You need to do something to win her over.Some big gesture.”

Jai looked puzzled.“I thought girls liked small, intimate and thoughtful.”

Ruby patted him on the arm sympathetically.“We do, Jai.We’re complicated creatures.Once you work out how to make a gesture that’s both big and small, you’ll be able to write a best selling book on understanding women.”

“So…basically I’m stuffed either way?”

“With me on your case?Trust me, we are going to come up with an idea that Annie isn’t going to be able to resist.”

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Thanks for the encouragement, hope you like this.


Annie heard the knock at the back door and hurried to see who it was.And there was Jai, standing with a large box of chocolates tucked under his arm and an even larger bunch of flowers in the opposite hand. “Can I come in?”

Annie couldn’t help smiling at the sight.“Jai, what are you doing?”

“Just thought I’d surprise you.Um, these are for you, by the way.”

“Oh, right.”Annie took the flowers from him and sniffed at them.“They smell nice.”

“And…I brought this.”Jai handed her the chocolates, freeing up the hand in which he was holding a DVD case.

Annie examined the title.“I love that movie!”

“Yeah, Ruby lent it to me.I thought we could watch it together?”

Annie was suddenly on her guard, sensing the reason for the show he was putting on.“Why?”

“I just thought it might be fun.”

“Jai…are you expecting me to kiss you while we’re watching this film?”

Jai rolled his eyes.“Would that be so bad?”

“Not if we were going out.But we’re not so we shouldn’t.”

“Annie, I still like you,”Jai insisted sincerely,“And I think you still like me, don’t you?”

“I…”Annie faltered slightly.“I do kind of.”

“So why can’t we get back together?”

“Because…”Annie wasn’t expecting the words, didn’t know where they came from, but suddenly they were tumbling out of her mouth.“You and I are still young, we don’t really know who we want to be with. Maybe there are other people out there that we like more.”

Jai started, catching the subtext to her comment that she’d almost missed herself.“Have you met someone else?”

“No…”Annie tried to sound certain but slight doubts were playing through her mind.“If I did, would that be such a bad thing?”

Jai shook his head in resignation.“Hope you enjoy the chocolates.Don’t forget to put the flowers in water before they die.”

She tried to think of something else to say…but he was already gone.

“It was horrible,”Annie sighed,“He just stood there looking so…sad.”

“Well, guys tend to get like that when you break their heart,”Lachie told her.

He’d arrived at the farm about an hour earlier, wondering if Claudia was about and if Annie had had a chance to talk to her.Annie had explained to him that she and Geoff had had to go into town to get some supplies, leaving her on her own to continue with her self-appointed clearing duty.Lachie had offered to help her and after some initial trepidation she’d agreed.

“I do not break boys’ hearts,”Annie protested.

“That’s what you think.There’s probably a trail of them left in your wake, while you sweep through them, unaware of their very existence.”

Annie felt herself beginning to blush again and looked down at her feet.“I don’t think you know me.”

“No, but I’d like to.”He paused before asking,“Anything to report with Claudia and the baby?”

“Not much.I mean, she’s still pregnant.Baby’s starting to kick, she let me feel it the other day.”

“That’s more than she lets me do.”

“Maybe if you ask her…”

“Yeah, maybe.Anything else?”

“Um, she and Geoff are still going to the antenatal classes…”

Lachie started.“When did that start?”

“About two weeks ago.”

He drove his trowel into the ground angrily, sitting there brooding, squatted on his haunches.“Why didn’t she ask me?”

“I guess Geoff’s her boyfriend…”

“And I’m the father!I’m being pushed out by all this.”

“Well, if you were never going to marry her, maybe you shouldn’t have slept with her?”

Lachie stared at her in a combination of anger and bewilderment.“Are you for real?”

Annie sighed.“Sorry.People tell me I talk too much sometimes.”

Lachie seemed to control himself.“Okay, it’s just…no-one expects to break up until it happens.Did you expect to break up with Jai?”

“No.He’s the only boyfriend I’ve ever had, I wasn’t expecting anything like that to happen at all.”

“Well, maybe I’ll take you out some time.”

She looked away from him again, shaking her head.“Yeah, very funny.”

He didn’t say anything, just sat there in silence, until she felt brave enough to look back at him.“Who says I was joking?”he asked.

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Thanks for the comment, here you go.


“So, I hear Jai’s DVD session was a washout?”Ruby asked.

Annie nodded.“I guess it was flattering that he made the effort but…”

“No good?I thought it sounded like a good game plan.”

“It would have been…if Jai was what I wanted.”

Ruby looked at her confused.“He’s not?I thought you two made a good couple.”

“We did but…there are other guys out there.”

Ruby felt a stirring of curiosity at the comment.“Annie, are you interested in someone else?”

Annie seemed to avoid her gaze for a moment before asking,“You’ve been out with older guys, right?”

“Well, I went out with Pat and he was older.It’s not something I’ve made a habit of.I guess, if there’s a spark or chemistry there then it doesn’t matter how old you are.”

“It’s just, there’s this guy who’s a bit older than us but the way he’s been looking at me lately, I think maybe he’s interested in me.”

Despite her efforts to get Jai and Annie back together, Ruby couldn’t help smiling.Maybe Annie was right, maybe an older guy would do her good.“And what, you’re going weak at the knees for him?”

“Well, he’s quite nice to look at and he’s always been kind, to me at least…”

“Sounds pretty good from where I’m sitting.”

Annie sighed.“It’s Lachie.”

It took Ruby a moment to register the name.“Lachie?Claudia’s Lachie?”

“They’re not together anymore,”Annie reminded her.

“Yeah and with good reason from what I hear.Didn’t Geoff say he used to treat her badly?”

“Well…maybe that’s just because they’re not right for each other.”

“Oh, what, and you and him are?”Ruby was unable to keep the sarcasm out of her voice.

Annie looked at her, hurt.“I thought you were my friend!”

“I am, Annie, that’s why I don’t want you doing anything you regret.”

“What you mean is you think I’m just some silly kid who an older guy wouldn’t be interested in.”

“No, Annie, that’s not what I’m saying, loads of guys would be interested in you, just not him.”

Annie obviously hadn’t been listening to the comment.“I should have known you wouldn’t understand.” She got to her feet and stormed out of the Diner, almost colliding with Claudia as she did so.

Claudia watched Annie’s exit for a moment then noticed Ruby sitting there.“Is she all right?”

“We just had a row about something,”Ruby replied, trying to dismiss it.

“Ruby…is this something that me and Geoff should be worrying about?”

Ruby wrestled with her conscience for a moment, trying to decide if what Annie had told her was in confidence, before explaining,“It’s about you ex, Lachie…”

Claudia knocked hard on the door until Lachie answered it.“You only had to knock once, babe.”

Claudia had gone round there fuelled by a sudden rush of adrenaline but now she was face to face with him she suspected that anger wasn’t really the way to go.“Is anything going on between you and Geoff’s sister?”

Lachie shrugged.“We’ve spoken a few times.Smart in some ways, a bit dim in others.But then, as you should know, I’ve never looked for brains in a girl.”

“Are you interested in her?”

He smiled slightly.“Why, are you jealous?”

“I was just thinking…”

“Because if you are, you’ve got no right to be.I mean, you’re the one that’s shacked up with Campbell. Last time I checked, I was free to spend time with whoever I liked.”

“Is this because she’s Geoff’s sister?Are you trying to make trouble for us?”

“Well, if I did that’d be a bonus.After all, if you felt like coming back and keeping me company, I wouldn’t need Annie, would I?”

“What if I tell her you said that?”

Lachie laughed.“Yeah, feel free to tell her all you like about Big Bad Lachie.You just can’t handle the fact that someone else likes me, can you?”

“And do you like her?”Claudia asked pointedly.

“She’s good for a laugh.Might even be nice to look at if she made a bit of effort.”

“Look, Lachie, Annie, she’s…she’s not like that, she’s, well, innocent.”

“If that’s your way of asking me to stay away from her, dream on.Because she’s going to let me do whatever I like to her.And there isn’t a damn thing you or Campbell can do to stop it.”

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Lachie was the last person that Geoff had expected to find standing on his doorstep and for a moment he just stood there, gaping at him.“Claudia’s not here,”he said at last.

“That’s okay, I’m not here to see her.”

“Well, I don’t think we’ve got anything to say…”

At that moment, Annie came bounding down the stairs.Geoff noticed she was wearing her best clothes: Not her Sunday clothes, her going out with her friends clothes.“Was that the door..?”She stopped at the sight of their guest, blushing slightly.“Oh.Hi, Lachie.”

Lachie grinned at her.“Hey there, kid.You’re looking as gorgeous as ever.”

Geoff looked at Annie with more than a touch of concern.She actually seemed to be enjoying Lachie’s attention.More than enjoying it, in fact, she seemed to be positively glowing, looking at him in that coy manner that girls used when…No, surely not...“Are you going out?”

“Yes, we are,”Lachie told him before Annie could answer,“Don’t wait up for us.”

It took a great deal of effort for Geoff to control his temper at the sight of his sister taking the hand of the boy that had caused him so much trouble and sidling up to him as though she enjoyed his company.“Annie, can I talk to Lachie for a moment?”he asked.

Annie rolled her eyes.“You’re not gonna go all heavy brother, are you?”

“Please, Annie,”he insisted forcefully.

“Why don’t you wait for me at the end of the path?”Lachie suggested,“I won’t be long.”He patted her on the shoulder in an affectionate manner.

Geoff waited until he was certain Annie was out of earshot before asking,“What are you doing?”

“I’m taking your sister out, what does it look like?”

“Is this some way of getting back at me?”

“You’re saying that if a guy’s interested in your sister it must be because of you?I’ll have to share that one with her.”

“No, I…Lachie, she’s my sister.”

“Yeah and Claudia’s carrying my child but that doesn’t seem to stop you sleeping with her.”

Any doubts Geoff had about Lachie’s intentions flew out the window.“So this is about me and her?” Lachie was silent.“Look, if you hurt Annie…”

“Oh, what?You think Annie’ll be pleased if you put me in hospital again?Or Claudia?You can’t lay a finger on me, Campbell, and you know it.”

Annie and Lachie had sat on the wall at the edge of the beach, facing the sea.Annie tucked into her meal with a certain amount of enthusiasm but a degree of bemusement as well.“When you suggested we go out, I wasn’t expecting fish and chips on the beach.”

“Anything wrong with that?”

“No, I just didn’t realise you were a cheap date.”

“Well, if you want flashy, I can do flashy,”Lachie snapped,“I just thought you might enjoy it.”

Annie stared at him in shock.“I was joking.”

“Yeah.”He seemed calm again now.“Yeah, me too.”

Annie nodded, dismissing the sudden outburst from her mind.“And I mean I am enjoying it.I’d rather have something simple rather than a fancy restaurant or something.I mean, I would feel totally out of place in one of those things.”

“You’d look like a princess,”he told her.

She shook her head.“Why do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Keep making out that I look like nice.”

“Well, I took you out, didn’t I?I think you look nice.”

“So…you’re not still interested in Claudia then?It’s just she seemed to think…”

“Claudia’s with Geoff,”Lachie acknowledged,“All I care about is getting to see my baby.And spending time with you, of course.”

Annie could feel herself blushing again.“Well, I guess you’re quite nice to spend time with too.”

“Glad you think so.”He leaned forward and pressed his lips against hers, just for a second.

She was certain she’d gone red after that.“That was nice,”she commented.

He kissed her again, not just a peck this time, an intimate kiss.She surrendered herself to it, responding to him, all doubts about his intentions drifting away.

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Thanks for the encouragement, hope you enjoy the update.


Ruby stood in the doorway for a moment, watching Jai sitting on the sofa, feet up on the table, his gaze fixed on the TV set.It wouldn’t have been too bad if the TV had actually been turned on.“Any good?”she asked.

Jai looked round from the blank screen.“Bit dull.”

She wandered into the house and sat down beside him, copying his posture.“You still missing Annie?”

“If this is another of your brilliant ideas about how to get her back…”

“No, no, it’s…Have you heard?”

“Heard what?”

“She’s going out with Lachie Caldwell.”

Jai stared at her in astonishment.“Lachie?The eighteen-year-old meathead who was giving Geoff a hard time?”

“That’s the one.”

“No wonder she decided I wasn’t her type.”He lapsed into silence.

Ruby waited a few seconds before asking,“Do you still care about her?”

Jai paused as though uncertain whether it was safe or not to answer.“Course I do,”he said at last.

“Me too.”


“So…I don’t think Lachie’s right for her.I mean, not just because I think you are, I don’t think…I don’t think he’s the sort of person she should be hanging around with.I think he could get her into trouble.”

Jai eyed her warily, sensing that he was about to be subjected to one of Ruby’s brilliant ideas after all.“So what do you think we should do?”

“Well, I think, as her friends, it’s our duty to save her from herself.”

“Do you think I should be worried?”Geoff asked.It was the question he’d been asking himself all night and he hadn’t stopped now that they’d gone to the farm.

“I don’t know,”Claudia replied,“It depends what you’re worrying about.”

“Well, that Lachie might…do something.”

“I don’t think he’d hurt Annie.Not the way you mean anyway.”

“He hurt me,”Geoff pointed out.

“Yeah but you’re a guy,”Claudia replied,“Trust me, I was with him for four years and he didn’t raise a hand to me once.If a girl had gone into you the way Lachie did, you wouldn’t have had a go back, would you?”

“No,”Geoff conceeded,“But you do think he might hurt her in another way.”

Claudia sighed.“Sometimes he can be great.He can be sweet and charming.But he’s got this whole other side to him, this bad temper, this way of turning on the people around him when things aren’t going his way.”

“So you think I should stop Annie seeing him?”

“I’m not sure you can.I think you just have to hope she realises for herself.”

“That’s easier said than done.”

“Excuse me!”They both turned at the shout and saw a man who seemed to be somewhere in his late 40s with a wide-brimmed hat standing over by the gate, waving to them.

The pair wandered over to him and it wasn’t until they were nearly there that Claudia recognised him as her old neighbour.“Mr. Nettles!”

The man squinted at her slightly before giving a smile of recognition.“Claudia Hammond!What, are you doing a bit of moonlighting now?”

“Yeah, I kind of work here.You remember Geoff Campbell?His grandfather used to own this place.”

“Oh, yeah, of course.Good to see you again, Geoff.”

“What can we do for you, Mr.Nettles?”asked Geoff.

“Well, my old land rover got a puncture about a quarter of a mile down the road.I was wondering if you’ve got a repair kit.”

Geoff nodded.“I think there’s one in the barn, I’ll go and have a word with Martha.”

As Geoff wandered off, Mr.Nettles looked back at Claudia.“I was sorry to hear about your mother.”

Claudia looked at him in confusion.“My mother?”

“Did I get it wrong?I was sure I heard…”

“I haven’t spoken to my parents in nearly two months.Is something wrong?”

“Well, I’m not really sure of the details myself but…last I heard, she was in hospital.Must have been there nearly a week now.”

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Given that it's taken me a while to update this, I ended up writing it in a bit of a rush.Hope it doesn't show...


It had been agony waiting for Geoff to finish the repairs to Mr.Nettles’ car so they could be on their way. Every conceivable thought had been running through Claudia’s mind on the way there, everything that could be wrong, every reason why she didn’t know about it.She’d dashed through the double doors into reception, Geoff just behind her, and arrived almost breathless at the desk.“I’m looking for Mary Hammond, is she here?”

Nurse Julie glanced at her chart.“Are you a relative?”

Claudia nodded.“I’m her daughter.”

“All right.It’s Room 12, just down the corridor there.”

Claudia and Geoff went the way they’d been directed.Claudia led the way into the room, seeing the woman lying in the bed, her face turned away from them.“Mum?”she asked cautiously.

She saw her mother turn her head slowly, as though she found the movement difficult.There was something strange about her appearance, as though only part of her face was moving, only one of her eyes focusing on her daughter.Claudia thought that she wasn’t going to recognise her.Then she saw the light of realisation in her mother’s eye…just before she turned away from her again.

“What are you doing here?”demanded a voice behind them.They turned to see Claudia’s father there, an angry look on his face.He bustled them out of the room.“Your mother doesn’t need to see you, not when you look like that.”

Claudia placed her hands defensively over her pregnancy bump.She’d known Leo Hammond for far too long to try arguing with him.Once he made his mind up, it was almost impossible to change it.“What’s wrong with her?”

Leo seemed reluctant to answer for a moment.“She’s had a stroke,”he replied at last,“She can’t move her right side, the doctors aren’t certain when or if she’ll recover.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“So you could come and see the results of your handiwork?Don’t you realise it’s the stress of what you’ve done that drove her to this?”

“Mr.Hammond, you can’t blame Claudia,”Geoff protested.

“And I’ve heard enough from you,”Leo snapped,“You’re the one that got her into this state.I thought you were a good Christian boy, the sort of person who would be good for her.”

“Geoff isn’t even,”Claudia began but Geoff interrupted her.

“Mr.Hammond, I care about your daughter and I’m not going to apologise for that.”

“You should apologise for bringing shame upon you both…”

“You should apologise for turning your back on your daughter.And on your grandchild!”

Leo’s expression was unchanged as he turned back to Claudia.“Until you’ve learnt the error of your ways, you’re not welcome here.”

“What do you expect me to do?”Claudia asked as he walked away from her,“I’m sorry if I’ve disappointed you but I’m pregnant, Dad.There’s nothing you or I can do about that.”

Leo had paused in the doorway to listen to her and for a moment she thought he was going to say something.Then he closed the door between them.Geoff gently placed a hand on Claudia’s arm to comfort her and she buried her face in his shoulder, tears rolling down her cheeks.

Annie had a smile on her face as she walked along the path by the beach.A smile that probably wouldn’t have been there if she’d looked round and seen the two heads bobbing round the side of a wall, a few yards behind her.

“Remind me why we’re following her again?”Jai asked.

“Because we need to save her from herself,”Ruby replied.

“If she finds out, she’s going to kill us.”

“Jai, your should-be-girlfriend and my best friend is going out with one of the biggest creeps in the area. She needs us to keep an eye on her.”Ruby rolled her eyes at Jai’s expression.“Come on, think of us as, like, Cagney and Lacey.”

“Weren’t they both women?”

“Okay, Dempsey and Makepeace.”

“Weren’t they sleeping together?And since when were you born in the ’80s?”

Ruby shrugged.“You’ll be surprised what Charlie had in her video collection.I think they were her idols. There!”

Jai glanced around and saw Annie had changed direction towards the road where Lachie was waiting, leaning against his car.He winced slightly as he saw the pair kiss each other, a simple greeting but one that made it pretty clear they were a couple.Then he helped her into the car before getting in himself and driving off.

Jai glared at his friend.“Good one, Ruby, how are you planning to follow them now?”

Ruby got out her phone.“Well, I’ll call for a cab.”

“And tell them what?Follow that car, the one that left fifteen minutes ago?”

“Well…they’re heading for Yabbee Creek, we’ll just go there.”

“And what, just wander around looking for them?”

Ruby shrugged.“You got a better idea?”

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Sorry, taken me a couple of days to get around to updating.Hope you like it.


Geoff had let Claudia go into the house first, as though sensing she needed a few moments to gather her thoughts.It wasn’t until she’d taken her seat on the couch that he sat down beside her.“Are you all right?”he asked awkwardly.

She nodded.“I’m not sure why I thought it would be any different.They didn’t want anything to do with me before but…I thought, with Mum being ill, maybe she’d actually want me there…”

“Maybe she does, she’s just too stubborn to admit it.”

“You can’t know that.”

“No but…I know Annie and I fell out with Pop and both him and me were too stubborn to make it up.But I think we came to understand each other in the end.So maybe your folks will as well.”

She sighed.“Maybe.I guess I’m lucky that my cousin’s still speaking to me.”

“Different generation.People our age are more understanding.”He paused.“At least, they’re supposed to be.People keep telling me I’m the exception.”

Claudia suddenly remembered something.“Why did you stop me?”

Geoff looked at her, puzzled.“When?”

“At the hospital, I was going to tell Dad that you weren’t the father and you interrupted.”

Geoff sighed.“Because it doesn’t make any difference.I’m your boyfriend and I’m on your side.I don’t want him thinking that I’m all right and you’re not just because I didn’t get you pregnant.Especially when I could have done.”

She nodded and leaned her head against his shoulder.“I’m so glad that I met you.”

“Maybe you could mention that to Annie sometime.”

“This is stupid,”Jai complained when they’d been walking around town for nearly an hour.

“You said that ten minutes ago,”Ruby reminded him,“In fact you’ve been saying it every ten minutes for the last half hour.”

“And I was right.”

“Do you want to find Annie or don’t you?”

“I do I guess but…well, how long do we do this before we accept she’s not here?Lachie could have just driven through the town.”

“Jai, there’s not a lot there once you get past this town.”

“We’re still no closer to finding…”

“She’s there.”

Jai looked in the direction Ruby was indicating but could see no sign of Annie.“Where?”

Ruby pointed him towards a car park.“That’s Lachie’s car, isn’t it?”

Jai squinted at the building just beyond.“Isn’t…isn’t that a bar?”

Ruby didn’t answer but from her expression he could tell she was thinking the same thing.She grabbed his hand and led him over there.

When they reached the entrance, they took a glance inside and caught sight of Annie, sitting at one of the tables, looking slightly out of place.They made to step through the doorway but a rather burly looking barman blocked their way.“Can I see some ID?”

Jai looked at him with a trace of annoyance.“We haven’t got ID, we’re school kids, now can we just..?”

The barman moved slightly to stop Jai walking past him.“We don’t have underage drinking in here.”

“Well, what about her?”Ruby asked, gesturing towards Annie,“She’s sixteen.”

The barman followed her gaze.“The guy she’s with?”

“Eighteen,”Ruby conceeded.

The barman nodded.“Well, if she’s with him and she sticks to the orange juice, she can stay.Are you two with them?”

The two friends looked at each other for a moment before Jai admitted,“No.”

“Well, then.Make sure you bring your mummy with you next time.”

Ruby sighed, defeated.“Come on, Jai, let’s go.”

Annie shifted in her seat uncomfortably.The drunken atmosphere and loud music weren’t exactly what she was used to.“Do you come here often?”she asked.

Lachie nodded.“Best bar in the district.”

“I…haven’t really been to bars all that much.”She smiled weakly.“Or…at all really.”

“Don’t you like it?”

“No, no, it’s fine,”Annie assured him, even though she wasn’t all that keen on the place,“I’m just not sure I fit in here.”

“You’re the prettiest girl in the place.”

“That’s kinda the problem.You know…the girl part.”

Lachie shrugged.“Hey, dressed up like that, you look bags older.”

“You sure?”

“Would I lie to you?”He leaned forward and kissed her gently.He put a hand on her shoulder and squeezed it lightly.“Wow, you are tense, aren’t you?”

Annie gave an awkward smile.“Sorry.”

“No, it’s okay.I know how to loosen you up.”He quickly glanced over to make sure the burly barman wasn’t looking then poured a small quantity of his own, alcoholic drink into Annie’s orange juice.“Don’t tell anyone.”

Annie looked at her glass uncertainly.“You want me to..?”

“Drink up!”he replied encouragingly,“It’ll make the evening go a lot easier.”

Cautiously, Annie lifted the glass to her lips and started to drink.

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Geoff wasn’t happy to be disturbed by a knocking on the door at that hour.He was even less happy when he opened it to find Annie leaning slightly against Lachie, looking as though she wasn’t entirely conscious. “Just returning her home,”Lachie said casually.

Geoff caught Annie as Lachie pushed her towards him, looking at his sister’s inebriated state.“Have… have you been drinking?”

“We got chucked out,”Annie complained drowsily.

“Yeah, babe, we did,”Lachie confirmed,“Soon as the barman realised you were on the good stuff.Good job we found that liquor store, eh?”

Annie nodded.“Good stuff,”she repeated.

Geoff looked at Lachie accusingly.“I trusted you to look after her!”

“So what’s the problem?I brought her home and she had a good time while she was out.Just because you don’t know what that means doesn’t me I can’t teach her.”

“I think you should leave now,”Geoff told him coldly.

“Already on my way.”

“No, wait, wait, wait!”Annie pulled away from Geoff’s grip, staggering towards Lachie.“Need to say goodbye.”

Geoff watched with a slight measure of distaste as she drunkenly kissed him, leaving it a few seconds before pulling her away.Lachie gave him one last cheeky grin before leaving.

Geoff turned Annie round to face him, looking her straight in the eye even though he had a feeling he was out of focus to her.“Annie, I don’t want you behaving like this.”

Annie shook her head.“You don’t get to tell me what to do, you’re not my dad.”She seemed to notice Claudia hovering awkwardly in the background for the first time.“You’re not anyone’s dad, despite what she told you.”She pulled away from Geoff’s grip and headed up the stairs, at least having the presence of mind to take them carefully.

Geoff made to move after her but Claudia stepped in his way.“What are you going to say to her?”

“Well…that I don’t want her talking like that and I don’t want her spending time with Lachie.”

“You can’t force her to like me.And you can’t force her to stop liking him.”

“So what am I supposed to do?Just stand back and do nothing?”

“He’s trying to get a reaction from you.”

“I know.And if it was just about him winding me up, I’d ignore him.But this is Annie we’re talking about you.I can’t let him go on messing her about.”

“He won’t…”

“He won’t hurt her, I know.But you saw the state she’s in.Am I supposed to just let her carry on getting like that?”

Claudia shrugged helplessly.“I’m not sure you can do anything else.”

“Hey, Annie,”Ruby greeted her friend the next day, enthusiastically taking a seat next to her in the playground.Jai hovered nearby, looking less comfortable about being there.

Annie winced slightly.“Not so loud.I’ve got a bit of a headache.”

“Is this to do with last night?”Jai asked.

“What do you mean, last night?”

Ruby shot Jai an annoyed look.She’d been hoping to keep that one to herself.“We saw you at that bar with Lachie,”she admitted.

Annie looked at them both, horrified.“Were you spying on me?”

“We were just looking out for you.”

“What’s the big deal?You two have both got drunk in the past.”

“Not with someone like Lachie,”Jai pointed out.

“He’s not good news, Annie,”Ruby added.

Annie looked at her in annoyance.“So you can be all over Xavier in public but I have to behave?”

“I don’t mean that…”

“You’re both just jealous!”

“Of Lachie?”Jai repeated,“Do me a favour.”

“You keep trying to get back with me and I chose him.And you”-she looked at Ruby-“you’re just used to being the popular one and now that an older guy likes me…”

“Annie, this isn’t like you,”Ruby protested.

Annie got to her feet, hefting her bag.“Well maybe it is now.And maybe I like it.”

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