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Burning Bridges

Guest Red Ranger 1

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Annie could feel the tears rolling down her cheeks.She’d held them in until lunchtime, until she could find a quiet spot down by the beach where no-one would notice.The things that Ruby and Jai had said to her, the things she’d said to them…She didn’t want to fight with them but she’d felt so pleased when Lachie had taken an interest in her.It was like she’d spent so long in other people’s shadows and now finally she was the one in the spotlight.Why couldn’t they just be happy for her?

“Ann?”She started at Lachie’s voice, wiping her arm across her eyes in a desperate attempt to get rid of all evidence of tears.It was a hopeless effort and he noticed as soon as he sat down beside her.“You’ve been crying.”

“It’s nothing,”she claimed.

“Has someone upset you?Was it Geoff?Did he give you a hard time about last night?”

“No, it…”She paused, uncertain if she should say anything.“It was Ruby and Jai.”

“Your friends?What did they do?”

“They…they saw us at the bar last night.They told me they didn’t like it.”

“What, they don’t like drinking?”

“It’s not that, I’ve seen both of them drink heaps of times, it’s…I think they don’t like me drinking.They think I’ve changed.And they don’t like the new me.”

“What’s not to like?”Lachie asked,“You’re fun, you’re gorgeous…”

Annie smiled at that.“Maybe they’re not used to me being fun or gorgeous.”

“Well, that’s their problem, isn’t it?I mean, those things happen, you get older, you change, you drift apart…”

“But I don’t want to lose them!”Annie protested.

Lachie shifted tack slightly.“Okay, well, maybe just give them time.When they get to know the new you, they’ll see you’re still a great person.Just like I do.”

Annie smiled and kissed him.She’d intended only a light kiss but Lachie stopped her from pulling away, holding her close to him and continuing to kiss her.She felt a slight thrill of pleasure run through her body and when the kiss finally broke her smile was even broader.“You want to walk me back to school?”

Lachie helped her to her feet.“Sure.”

Annie had wanted Lachie to meet her after school but he’d told her he had something to do.He’d parked just out of sight of the school gate, making sure Annie didn’t see him.Eventually he caught sight of Ruby and Jai and slowly began to follow them.

He’d kept at a distance, allowing traffic to pass him, until he saw the pair split off.Then he’d chosen his target and steered the car alongside.

Jai stopped, seeming to sense Lachie’s interest.The older boy got out of the car.“I had Annie crying on my shoulder at lunchtime.”

Jai looked at him, annoyed.“What did you do to her?”

“Help her have fun.You got a problem with that?”

“Depends on your definition of fun.”

Lachie chuckled slightly at Jai’s bravado.“You think you could do better?”

“I’m better for Annie than you are.”

“You really think she’d pick a kid like you over me?”

“Well, if you don’t, why are you so scared then?”

Lachie took a step forward, putting himself almost nose to nose with Jai, who he was pleased to see flinched back.“I’ve got plans for me and Annie and you and your little friend making her all teary doesn’t fit into them.”

Jai looked at him in disgust.“You don’t care about her at all, do you?”

“Wanna know what I care about?Getting my own way.And if you get in my way, you’re going to see how much I care.So unless you’re telling Annie how much you like the fact she’s going out with me, you don’t talk to her.”

Jai waited until Lachie and his car were well out of sight before gulping hard.

Geoff had offered to go with Claudia, pointing out that it had been his idea in the first place, but she’d told him she wanted to go alone and he’d accepted that.She could use his support but on the other hand his presence could just make things more volatile.Besides, hiding behind her boyfriend was something the old her would have done.She had to learn to stand on her own two feet.

“I was wondering how my mother is,”she told the nurse on reception.

Julie looked at her with a touch of recognition.“It’s Claudia, isn’t it?You were here yesterday.”

She nodded.“I just want to speak with her, I want to…”

“Claudia.”There was a gentle sympathy in Julie’s voice.“I’m afraid you can’t.”

“Did my dad ask you to keep me away?Look, if I can just speak to her…”

Claudia moved towards the room where her mother had been but Julie stepped in front of her.“Claudia… she’s not there.”

“She’s gone home?”

“No…She had a second stroke last night, a more severe one.”

“You’ve moved her to…intensive care or something?”

Julie shook her head.“I’m sorry, Claudia, but…your mother died in the early hours of the morning.”

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Incredibly busy day yesterday so this is the first chance I've had to update.Hope you like.


“She’s not going to listen,”Jai insisted.

Ruby rolled her eyes.It had taken the best part of a week to even persuade Jai to go this far.“She needs to know.”

“Not as much as I need to avoid getting my head kicked in.If Lachie founds out we blabbed to her…”

“Don’t you think Annie’s worth it?”

Jai sighed.“Why do you have to keep on doing that?The whole emotional blackmail?”He gave her a look of resignation before following her over to where Annie was sitting.

Annie looked up at them, seemingly surprised to see them.After all, since their argument they’d barely spoken.“Is something the matter?”

“Have you seen Lachie recently?”Ruby asked.

“We’ve been out most nights.Why?”

“Did he tell you what he said to Jai?”


“Last week.”Ruby poked Jai in the ribs, indicating for him to continue the story.

“He told me to stay away from you,”Jai said at last,“Me and Ruby.He was angry that we’d got you upset.”

“And what, that’s supposed to stop me liking him?”Annie asked.

“No…”Jai struggled with the words, it was hard to explain.“Annie, the guy doesn’t care about you.He just doesn’t want a girlfriend who cries all over him.Practically threatened me.”

“But he didn’t actually threaten you?”

“He…he said that if I got in his way, he’d show me how much he cared.That if we didn’t say nice things about him he didn’t want us speaking to you.”Jai could tell Annie wasn’t convinced.“It sounds a bit vague, I know, but it was the way he said it.”

“You know what I think?”Annie asked,“I think Lachie was right.You’re just trying to cause trouble and maybe if you can’t say anything nice then you shouldn’t talk to me.”

Annie hefted her bag and walked away but Ruby ran after her.“Look, Annie, I know it doesn’t sound much.But you can’t trust this guy.”

“I trust him enough to go to his house.”

Ruby looked worried.“Alone?The two of you have been there alone?”

“A couple of times.I’m going over there tonight.”

“Annie…there’s only one reason a guy wants you alone in the house and that’s because he’s after something.”

Annie shrugged.“Well, Jai was after it as well, remember?”

“That’s not the same, Lachie’s used to that sort of relationship.Annie, I’m just worried about what you’re getting yourself into here.”

“Well, don’t,”Annie insisted,“Because I know how to handle myself.”

Leo Hammond was the only person in the front pew, as chief mourner.Claudia had taken her seat in the pew behind him, Geoff by her side.She’d managed to find a black outfit for the occasion but it still made her pregnancy seem obvious.Her father had barely acknowledged her.

The minister had made a short speech about how Mary had been a constant friend to all of them, a loyal member of their congregation, a loving wife to her husband.When it had come to assessing her relationship with her daughter, he’d seemed to falter slightly, before noting that she’d always wanted the best for her.It was a nice speech, and Claudia had felt the tears beginning to roll down her cheeks again, although she suspected he made similar speechs about most of his congregation with only minimal alterations.

They’d trooped out to the churchyard after the service, standing around the open grave as the coffin was slowly lowered into it.Claudia had stood at her father’s side throughout.He didn’t seem to object but he didn’t seem to be in any mood to start a conversation.

“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life.”

Leo reached into the tin of soil that the undertaker’s assistant was offering him, threw a handful onto the coffin, then walked away without a word.Claudia hastily threw a handful of her own after it then hurried to catch him up.“Dad!Dad, wait!”

Leo turned to face her.There was no anger in his expression but no warmth either.“I don’t think we have anything to say to each other.”

“Mum’s just died, Dad.If we don’t have anything to say to each other now…”

“If she’d known that you were going to be here, looking like that, she’d be so ashamed.”

“I’m having a baby, Dad.This is Mum’s grandchild, your grandchild.Are you really telling me you want nothing to do with either of us?I’m already not going to be able to make things up with Mum, don’t tell me there’s no way back for us.”

“You made your choice, Claudia.You chose to be with Geoff Campbell, to ignore what we’ve taught you. I’d be a hypocrite if I said everything was all right just because your mother had died.”

Geoff had come up quietly behind Claudia during the conversation, standing about a foot behind her.“Is everything all right?”he asked.

Claudia turned to him and nodded.She took his hand.“Let’s go home, Geoff.”

Geoff paused, looking at Leo.“I’m sorry for your loss, Mr.Hammond.”

“And I don’t even know why you’re here.”

“I came to support Claudia.That’s what you do with the people you love, support them.”He noticed Claudia look at him suddenly and realised what he’d just said.He gave her an embarrassed smile and was relieved when she smiled back.

They passed Lachie on their way back to the car.Claudia had spotted him towards the back of the group of mourners but she hadn’t felt like getting into anything.Fortunately he seemed to feel the same.He just walked past her.

Leo nodded approvingly at the young man approaching him, Claudia’s old boyfriend.He’d been with her four years and never led her into trouble, while Geoff Campbell had led her from the path they’d set out for her straightaway.“It was good of you to come, Lachlan.”

Lachie accepted Leo’s outstretched hand eagerly.“I wouldn’t have stayed away, Mr.Hammond.You and Mrs.Hammond were always good to me.”

Leo glanced at the departing backs of his daughter and her boyfriend.“You know, I wish she were still with you.”

“Don’t worry, Mr.Hammond.They’ll all get what’s coming to them.”

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Annie wished she could see herself.She’d had a quick look in the mirror before leaving the house but she’d been out of the door as soon as the taxi arrived, before Geoff could ask her where she was going.She smoothed her dress down and knocked on the door.

Lachie opened it, looking her swiftly up and down.“You look great,”he told her.

She smiled.“You think so?”

“Oh yeah.Like some sort of supermodel.”He put his arms round her and kissed her.“So do you want to eat or..?”

Annie sniffed the air.“Is that tandoori chicken?”

“Um, yeah, it just arrived.”

Annie broke free from his grip and ran over to the table, excitedly peeling the lid off one of the foil cartons.“Oh, I love this.Have you got the knives and forks?”

For some reason, Lachie was looking at her in irritation.“I’ll just get them,”he said in a slightly testy voice.

Geoff and Claudia were eating as well, shooting each other quick sideways looks every now and then. Neither of them had mentioned what Geoff had said in the churchyard since they got home.Maybe it didn’t need to be mentioned.

“Are you okay?”Geoff asked at last,“After what your father said?”

Claudia shrugged.“I don’t know why I expected any different.He’d said he didn’t want anything to do with me enough times before.I just though with Mum dying, it might give him a different perspective.”

“Maybe he’ll come round eventually?”Geoff suggested.

“Maybe.”Claudia’s tone suggested she wasn’t entirely convinced.

“I kind of feel sorry for him.He’s all on his own on that farm, he could have a daughter and a grandchild if he’d only put his pride away.”

“You sound like you know how that feels?”

“Well…there’s been times when I’ve had a lot in common with your father.When I’ve let pride get between me and the people I care about.When we first moved here, Annie was having trouble adjusting and she ended up stealing something.And I called her a sinner and said she’d brought shame on herself.Irene gave me a good talking to for that one.”

“But you forgave her, you made up?”

Geoff looked surprised at the question.“Well, yeah, she’s my sister.”

“I’m not sure my father would do that.”Claudia saw his sympathetic expression.“It’s okay.I’m all right here now.It…it kind of feels like home.”

Annie had wanted to clear up after the meal but Lachie had taken her by the arm and led her to the sofa. And then he’d kissed her.She didn’t mind, she enjoyed it.It felt good, knowing that someone like him liked someone like her.She felt grown up.

Lachie’s hands drifted down her front and began unbuttoning her blouse.She started at the unfamiliar sensations and pulled away slightly.“What are you doing?”

“What do you think?”he whispered.

He started kissing her again, he began lowering her onto the sofa.She could feel his hands travelling up her skirt now, feeling her…She gave a gasp of shock, pushing his hand away.“I…I don’t…”

“We can go to the bedroom if you like…”

“No, I…I don’t…”

He continued to rain down kisses upon her, continued to touch her.“If you liked me, you would.”

She pushed him away from her, scrambling into an upright position, staring at him in shock.“If you liked me, you’d stop.”

He sat there, staring at her, but making no move towards her to her relief.There was a kind of cold fury in his expression.“Fine.Go then.”

She gasped in astonishment.“Lachie!”

“Well, if you’re not going to make it worth my while, after all I’ve put up with...”

She was confused.“After all you’ve..?”

“Do you really think I’ve enjoyed listening to your pathetic whining?‘Oh, my friends aren’t talking to me, Lachie, my brother’s spending all his time with his new girlfriend, I really need to study for that test.’You really are just a pathetic kid, aren’t you?”

“I…I thought you liked me…”

“Shame, you’re not that bad to look at.And it would have really been one over on Campbell if I could have told him I’d bagged his little sister.”He suddenly grabbed her by the arm and hauled her to her feet. “What are you still here for?”He dragged her towards the door and threw her out, slamming it behind her.

Ruby had considered letting someone else answer the hammering at the door but she had a feeling it was something she needed to attend to herself.“Okay, I’m coming!”she called out.

She opened the door…and there was Annie, tears streaming down her face.She collapsed into Ruby’s arms, sobbing on her shoulder.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know where else to go.”

Ruby had sat Annie down in the living room and got her a mug of tea.She smiled at her friend.While she didn’t like seeing her upset, she did at least seem a bit more like the old Annie.“It’s okay.But why couldn’t you just go home?”

“I didn’t want Geoff to see me like this.You were right about Lachie.So was Jai.And Geoff and Claudia.I don’t know why I thought I liked someone like that.”

Ruby was beginning to feel worried.“What did he do?”

“He wanted to take things further.”

“He didn’t…he didn’t try to force you, did he?”

Annie shook her head.“Not really but…When I said no, he was so horrible to me.He said that if I didn’t, then he didn’t want me there.That I was no use to him.I thought he liked me not…not what he could do to me.”

“Annie…are you sure that was all?”

Annie looked at her puzzled.“Yes.”

“What I mean is…are you sure that’s the end of it?Are you sure you’re safe?”

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Thanks for the comment, hope you enjoy this.


Geoff and Claudia stood in the bedroom doorway, not quite sure if what they were seeing was real.The table was beautifully laid out for breakfast, places set for them with Irene’s best crockery, a vase with a small number of flowers in the centre.And, most astonishingly of all, Annie was standing next to it, smiling.

“What’s all this?”Geoff asked cautiously.

“I just thought I’d do something nice for you,”Annie replied,“I know I haven’t been exactly supportive of the two of you since you got back together…”

“I know you were just trying to look out for Geoff,”Claudia accepted.

Annie looked at her.“I’m sorry about your mother.”

Claudia evaded her gaze slightly, a hint of tears in her eyes.“Thank you.”

“And I’ve broken up with Lachie.”

Geoff shot her a worried look.“Did…did anything happen?”

“Don’t worry, it’s all sorted.”Annie gestured to their seats.“Sit down and I’ll dish up.”She scampered through into the kitchen.

Claudia indicated for Geoff to stay back and he nodded his acceptance.She followed Annie through, wondering how much of the girl’s newfound jollity was genuine and how much of it was forced. “Something did happen, didn’t it?”

Annie paused for a moment, seeming uncertain how much to give away.“I found out you were right,”she replied at last,“Lachie’s not a very nice person.”

“You realised that quicker than I did.”

“Well…I guess I had something to compare him to.Like you do now.And if I’d found out I was pregnant by him, I suppose I might have let someone like Geoff think he was the father.”

“There’s no chance that you are?”

Annie blanched slightly.“No, that…didn’t happen.I think we both know you did the wrong thing with Geoff but I get that you’re sorry and he’s forgiven you.So I do as well and I’m sorry if I’ve made things difficult for the two of you.”She smiled and turned Claudia towards the doorway.“Now sit down before Geoff complains we’re taking too long.”

“Jai, maybe we shouldn’t be here,”Ruby protested as she ran to keep up with her friend.

“You’re the one that told me I should be proactive,”Jai reminded her.

“This isn’t proactive, it’s suicidal!”Ruby was beginning to regret telling Jai about what had happened between Annie and Lachie the previous night.She’d thought it would reassure him to know that things between them were well and truly over.She hadn’t expected to find herself following him onto the first bus to Reefton Lakes and making a beeline for Lachie’s house.

She’d been clinging onto the hope that maybe Lachie was at work but the sight of him outside his house dispelled them.Any last ditch hopes of calming Jai down vanished when he began storming towards his rival.“I want a word with you, Caldwell.”

Lachie looked at him dismissively.“Get going, kid, we’ve got nothing to say.”

“I want to talk about how you treated Annie.”

“Look, forget about the whole pistols at dawn stuff.She’s all yours.I don’t want her.”

“This isn’t about you going out with her.This is about you upsetting her.”

Lachie sneered at him.“Aww, you want to defend her honour.How sweet.”

“I’m glad she’s seen through you,”Jai snapped,“Because she is way too good for you.And you had no right making her feel that small.”

“Annie Campbell is a pathetic little kid, just like you,”Lachie retorted,“And I am just glad that I no longer have to put up with her annoying, stupid little face whining on about what’s going on in that empty head of hers.”

Blind fury building up inside him, Jai balled his hand into a fist and lashed out, striking Lachie in the face. He wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.For Lachie to shrug it off and laugh at him probably.Which was slightly preferable to Lachie giving an angry shout and hitting him back with his significantly larger fist.

He was not expecting Lachie to end up sprawled on the floor in front of him.

Jai tried not to look too amused.“Um…are you all right?”

Lachie stared up at him, unable to believe what had just happened, dabbing at his face with his hand.“I think you broke my nose!”

Aware that Jai’s face was about to develop into a smirk, Ruby grabbed hold of his arm and began dragging him away from the scene.“I, ah, think we’re done here…”

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Thank you for the comments.


“So…was there something you wanted?”Annie asked nervously as she sat Jai’s drink down in front of him. Part of her had been pleased when he’d turned up at the house, the other part nervous.She’d said a lot of things to him recently and she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to take some of them back.

“I just wanted to make sure that you were okay.”

Annie avoided his gaze.“Why wouldn’t I be?”

“Ruby told me what happened last night.Between you and Lachie.”

She sighed.“So are you here to say ‘I told you so’?”

“I’m just worried about you.”

She looked back at him and could see he was telling the truth.“You did tell me so, though.I should have listened.Everyone told me Lachie was no good…”

“You like to look for the best in people.That’s not a bad thing.I mean, you made friends with me when I didn’t have many of those so…”

“Yeah, well…I guess we all make mistakes.”She smiled slightly and was pleased when he returned the smile.

“You’re a good person, Annie, and Lachie had no right treating you like that.And if he didn’t realise what a great person you are, then he deserves to be on his own.”

“Are you going to tell him that?”

“I…kinda already did.”

Annie’s eyes widened in astonishment.“You didn’t.”

“I went round there this morning and told him what I thought about what he did.”

“On your own?”

“No, Ruby came along as back-up.”

That didn’t make Annie feel any less astonished.“Wow, I…don’t think anyone’s ever done anything like that for me before.”

Jai paused nervously for a moment before asking,“Annie, do you remember before all this happened?”

She looked at him cautiously.“What?”

“I was…trying to ask you out.”

Annie sighed.“Jai, I like you.And I guess I kinda still love you.But…things didn’t work out between us.”

“Yeah, I know.But that doesn’t mean we should just give up.Maybe we should give it a try, see what happens?”

“What…what do you think?”

“Dinner and a movie?”

Annie was surprised at the offer.“Like, a restaurant and a cinema?”

“No…more like round my place for takeout and a DVD.”He shrugged.“I don’t get that much pocket money.”

She smiled.“I think that could be nice.”

Claudia wasn’t sure why she’d gone there, what she expected to find, what she expected to say.Any plans went out of the window as soon as she got there anyway.Lachie was outside the house, loading a large number of bags into the back of a ute.“Are you going somewhere?”she asked.

“You always were quick,”he replied sarkily.


“Anywhere.I’ve had enough of this place.Got a mate down the coast who’s going to put me up for a bit, see where I go from there.”

She thought she’d feel something, have some reaction to someone who’d been a part of her life for so long going away.But she felt nothing.“Good,”she said at last.

He didn’t seem affected by her pronouncement.“Pretend all you like.We both know you’ll be lost without me.”

“I would have been once,”she admitted,“For a long time I thought the way you treated me was all I deserved.But then I met people like Geoff and Annie, who didn’t make me feel small just to make themselves feel better.And I realised that I don’t need you anymore.”

He smirked.“Don’t get used to it.I’ll be back once that baby’s born.I’m gonna be in your life forever.”

She shook her head.“No you’re not.”

“You’re not gonna get between me and this baby…”

“I won’t have to.You’ll do that yourself.”It was one of the rare occasions she’d seen him stunned into silence.“If you carry on behaving like this, then it won’t be long before this baby sees through you.Just like I did.Just like Annie did.And like us, it won’t want anything to do with you.”She sighed, wondering if her words had had any affect on him.“Goodbye, Lachie.”

She didn’t look back.

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Last chapter, slightly on the short side, hope you like it.


“Are you sure he’s gone?”Geoff asked.

Claudia nodded.“Lachie might do a lot of things but he wouldn’t play games.He’s gone.”

“But he’s coming back though?”

“He said so.I guess all boys like the idea of being fathers, right?Even the ones that can’t handle the reality.”

“Well, maybe it’ll be the making of him?”Geoff suggested,“Maybe he’ll get his act together?”

Claudia smiled.“Do you always think the best of people?”

“No.I guess I just hope that Lachie turns out all right for the baby’s sake.Be better if the father actually learns to act like a decent human being.”

“Be better if the father was already one.”She sighed.“Guess it’s too late for that one though.”

“Do you know what happened between him and Annie?”

“No.I just know she’s out of it.”

“But do you think she’s all right?”

She smiled.“I think she will be.”

Annie lent her head on Jai’s shoulder as they watched the last few minutes of the movie, the discarded takeaway boxes in front of them.The evening had none of the sophistication of Lachie’s dates but the shine of having an older boy interested in her had faded somewhat.At that moment, she was right where she wanted to be.

“I guess we’d better clear up,”Jai commented as the credits rolled.

“I guess so,”Annie agreed reluctantly as she helped him gather up the boxes and cutlery and carry them through into the kitchen.She paused.“Then what?”

“Then…”-Jai checked his watch-“I guess I’d better walk you home.”

“So…you didn’t want to do anything else?”

“Like what?”

“Like this.”Annie put her arms round his neck and gently kissed him.

Jai grinned.“Well, okay, that’s rather nice too.”

Annie paused, wondering how to phrase the next bit.“Lachie…Lachie wanted me to do things.I mean, to go further than that.”

Jai looked at her concerned.“You didn’t, right?”

“No, I…I didn’t want to do that with him.But it got me thinking and…if I was going to do that with someone, I’d want it to be you.”

He smiled.“That’s nice to know.”

She looked nervous for a moment before nodding towards the stairs.“So…do you want to?”

Jai let out a long breath.“Okay.I’m a sixteen year old boy.Which means I want to…about 98% of the time. But…I guess now isn’t one of those times because…I think we should wait until it happens naturally, rather than because we feel like we need to prove something.”He paused before adding,“So long as that doesn’t take too long.”

She smiled and looked at him in a way he’d never seen her look before.“I don’t think it will.”Then she was the old sweet innocent Annie, looking at him coyly.“So…what do we do now?”

He smiled back at her and took her hand.“Now I walk you home.”


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