DISCLAIMER: All the characters used within this story are the property of Shed Productions. I am using them solely to explore my creative ability.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This fic is an idea I dreamed up that I thought I'd kick off with a Roisin character (nervous look over his shoulder at Joanna), no idea who'll enter the picture and no idea of where it is going

Normal Mothers
By Richard

Part One

Roisin was fit to drop at the end of her children's birthday party. The tables were piled up with half eaten jellies, half drunk glasses of coke, plates piled up to the ceiling and her ears full of happy squealing children who had had a good time. In these innocent years, that meant they'd played every noisy game they could think of and had worn themselves out. She had thrown herself into the party as was her natural exuberant style in half way going back to her own childhood, except that she had to have four pairs of eyes in her head in spotting the overexcited child that had gone into hysterics and she had nipped in to comfort the child and settled her down in a quiet bedroom. Her own two daughters, Siobhan and Mary, had smiles over their faces and were happy in the moment of such a good party that they knew their mum was so good at organising.

"Oh yes, you're Mary's mum", one of the other mothers came to the door to fetch their exhausted child.

"Can't I please please please stay a bit longer with Siobhan and Mary," wheedled the happy and exhausted child. "I'm having such a good time with them"

Smiling yet another happy but exhausted child had her coat put on her and led to the car, still clutching a 'lucky bag' and a balloon and a telltale thumb stuck in her mouth to flake out exhausted in the back seat within minutes. It had got to the point where, take away the adrenaline, nature took its course.

"Thanks for such a great party, mum. We love you" and they both flung their arms round her shoulders as she crouched to meet them. "but why couldn't dad come and join in."

"Never mind about that, my babies." Roisin said kissing Mary on her forehead. "Aiden had an important job to go out on" Roisin covered up for Aiden. She led the daughters to the sitting room where they were curled up on the settee, tired out and watching cartoons and going very quiet.

Roisin was more physically tired than she knew she could be but in despair, looked at the piles of washing up looking accusingly at her and prodding her overactive guilt complex to wash them up and try and tidy things up a bit. Besides, Aiden was due home in an hour's time and she knew he couldn't stand an untidy house, children's party or otherwise.

All the bones in her body protested at the last demand placed on her but she went into automatic pilot clearing things up as best she could before she tottered through and slumped in front of the television. She didn't mind the cartoons to take her mind off things. She had worked herself up for the party for the last few weeks wanting so much for it to go well. Right at the very last minute, Aiden had dropped it on her that he had been asked by his workmates to go to the football match and couldn't make the party which threw her into a total tizzy. Still with the sort of drive that made her a good mum and held down a job, the show must go on.

The lights were on low and pretty soon, Roisin's eyelids were drooping down and a pleasant warm feeling overtook her and she was curled up on the settee next to her children.

The peace and calm of the sleeping dreaming house was rudely shattered by the loudly knocking front door and a swaying Aiden, with football scarf round his neck yelling that 'his' team had won and wasn't it wonderful.

"Aiden," said Roisin in disapproval, her voice pitched well down, "you can't wake the children, especially on their birthday when they've been missing you."

Aiden tried to focus his eyes on the domestic scene, having been pitched from another world of singing along with his football mates on the train back from London and swigging back the cans of lager when nothing existed outside the football match which seemed all important. His mind had a cloudy feeling of self righteousness that his right to go out and have a drink with the lads on such an important football match cut across everything and, besides, he'd never felt comfortable with birthday parties and Roisin was so good at things like that. Fortunately for all concerned, the combined effect of the days drinking finally kicked in and he wobbled sideways holding onto the staircase and gradually slid down to slump on the floor.

"Come on to bed, my babies." whispered Roisin. "I'll read you a story in bed."

"but what about dad." Mary piped up, being worried in case dad should come to any harm. "Is he ill?"

"No Mary. He's just been enjoying himself too much. I'll look after him when you're asleep. Don't make too much noise as he likes a bit of peace and quiet the next day. let's all tiptoe upstairs."

And very lightfootedly, even Mary who was known to clomp around, the rest of the house tiptoed round the aftermath of Aiden's football match. Even at that young age they somehow knew what to do.

Roisin read their favourite story Cinderella from the dog eared storybook in her lilting Irish accent that was their comforter last thing at night. They clamoured for mum to please, please, please read them another page with their most winning smiles which Roisin could not resist and she agreed just this one night to read the extra page but not another night while Siobhan and Mary smiled to themselves that they had got another ten minutes longer. Towards the end Roisin's eyes were drooping and she seemed to speak sometimes as if in a dream till she got to the bottom of the page,

"Come on, my babies, time for sleep" and she tucked them into bed, turned the light off and tiptoed out of the room.

She was looking at Aiden's body, slumped at the bottom of the stairs wondering why Cinderella had all the luck. She saw that he was comfortably crashed out from the drink so she tiptoed to bed quietly.

The next day, Aiden was in his 'not talking 'mood which was so noticeable from his booming Irish voice that was such an audible presence of home life. Roisin's strong Irish accent matched his and in fact what drew them together was their similarity in the first place that way. More recently, Aiden had taken to going moody and quiet if something didn't please him. Roisin was reduced to asking Aiden if there was something wrong and she had to drag it out of him. There was a more understandable element of a quiet Aiden that he was hungover and wanted peace and quiet.

"Aiden love" called out Roisin's carrying voice" I'm taking the children to dance class."

Roisin could just hear Aiden's mumbled response so she bustled the children into her little Ford car making sure that they had all their dance clothes packed into their little pink cases. They were a matter of pride to the little girls who had a desire to be on the stage. Siobhan was the bossy one, getting Mary reluctantly out of her bed on a Sunday morning switching off the children's TV and putting the tinkling taped music onto a little cassette player in the kitchen. Mary always trailed along after her big sister in a lot of things but she was happy to follow her sister's lead and looked so cute trying to keep up with her more energetic sister.

"Can we go to McDonalds this week after the dancing class. Please." And both switched on their winning smiles that Roisin always fell hook line and sinker for.

Roisin ushered the two excited children into the bedlam of the cramped changing room and there was a sudden hush when they had all poured through the double swing doors and Roisin could relax a bit. She felt herself lucky to have enrolled them in the class and was very impressed with the dance teacher, a small blond haired woman called Cassie Tyler who made up for her lack of size in the extrovert energy she radiated energy. She made Roisin feel that she was fluttery and nervous in comparison but the younger woman smiled kindly on her to reassure her.

There was an interval where all Roisin's drive to keep on going to keep ahead of her demands could 'let go' Aiden was fond of telling her how hard he worked to provide for the family, conveniently forgetting her daytime paid part time job and unpaid "chief cook and bottle washer" job the rest of her time. She adored trailing after her two lively daughters and less so enthusiastically in clearing up for Aiden but Saturday morning was her time of peace. She trailed after the other mothers to the old fashioned club across the road of the dance school.

Roisin was a bit shy amongst the gaggle of mothers whose topic of conversation was about how brilliant their child was though she could understand how focussed each mother was on their offspring.

"Of course my granddaughter Emma was just made to be a dancer, It's in the blood you see" bragged the oldest woman there, a Mrs Hollamby whose stock in trade was to talk longer and louder than the others. Roisin instantly felt that there was no future in being a deaf mute to nod her head occasionally and the feelings felt all wrong. There was no need to act this way in having to impress all the time unless she is having to cover up.

"Morning Roisin," the pleasant Scottish tone of Helen Stewart broke into her thoughts and banished her shyness. Along with her a few paces back was her friend Nikki Wade who was keeping her company who in her quieter way, also welcomed Roisin and made up their little crowd amongst the noisier clumps of mothers talking away. They found a corner with tables and chairs near a window that overlooked the front door of the dance studio.

"Guess you sometimes get a bit fed up of other mothers going on about their children, sometimes." smiled Nikki.

"It's only natural that your own child is the most gifted in the universe, isn't it right, Helen." Roisin's words received a nod in agreement at this one, Helen having seen off her own excited child, Lauren into the studio and whom she could imagine going through the energetic routine set for her.

"I used to go to ballet school when I was little, not like you, Nikki, going off to camp as a girl guide." Helen finished jokingly.

"Well, with all the natural grace anyone can see in me, I happened to decide that getting dolled up in leotards and ballet shoes wasn't my flavour," smiled Nikki, "not that my mother didn't fight it tooth and nail. All that 'All your school friends are going to ballet school' type of argument didn't make it with me. But I don't mind being a 'ballet dancer's roadie' for you, Helen"

Roisin's memories were stirred by this to recall the years she had put into dancing and picking up singing along the way which went fine till she met Aiden and had to get married. Roisin blushed at that point remembering her parent's disapproval and the hastily arranged marriage. Appearances triumphed with the photo album of her in her white wedding dress and a rather slimmer Aiden crammed into grey top hat and tails. From then on, it was a change of pace to bringing up children till she landed her present job.

The idle chit chat helped soothe the time by and Roisin was listening to the cross banter between Nikki and Helen which wavered into a dream till she jerked awake when she was in danger of falling off her chair.

"You look tired Roisin," Nikki asked concerned. "I'll get you a coffee from behind the bar. We've just got time till the class is over."

Roisin reflected that it was rare that anyone offered to help her with anything at home, rather the other way round.

Roisin drank the coffee gratefully conscious that she had to mentally get back into gear for the rest of the day's grind. She was also conscious that it was only weekends that she had the company she needed and that she was going to be propelled back to family life. This was, to quote Aiden, that they "kept themselves to themselves" which was Aiden's idea but thoughts creeping into her mind was that this was not her idea.

"Time to go" Helen said and they made their way back to the dance studio when the enthusiastic but tired children poured out clamouring for their mothers.

"Miss Tyler said I'm the best dancer in the class" Siobhan bounced over to Roisin.

"That's not fair, what about me" piped up her little sister whom Siobhan generously replied that she was nearly the best only because she was younger.

Roisin helped them into their coats and out of their ballet shoes like the other mothers who were doing the same in the confined space.

"Could you give us a bit of space," protested Helen to Mrs Hollamby was complaining noisily about everyone getting in her way before barging her way out through the double doors past a not too pleased Nikki.

When the crowd had thinned out, Cassie made her way over to Roisin.

"Your children told me that you were a famous dancer once."

Roisin protested that her children had made more of that than there was. It was something that she had done before she had got married. Cassie told her that a talent worked at when you are young doesn't get forgotten that easily. She looked at Roisin with a new respect suspecting that her children weren't that far wide of the mark.

"It must go in your family, Mrs Connor. Your two take to dancing like a duck to water"

Roisin smiled a brilliant smile. Of course the compliment to her children meant the world to her but Cassie's words came at a time when her self worth could do with a boost which otherwise really only came from herself only. Thanking Cassie profusely, she said that now she came to think of it, dancing was something that meant the world to her once.

".........meant the world to her at one time in the past but now its over, dead or something that could mean something to her again if the drive were rekindled........" The question hung in the air in Roisin's mind and the question popped its way into the back of Cassie's mind. This was something different from the run of the mill mother who wanted her child taught dance because it was the expected thing and she had many mothers to clamour for her time.

Aiden staggered out of bed with a particularly thick head after the night before and made himself a cup of coffee. The strong sunlight made his eyes water but he went out into the front garden and took in the sunny summers day. Opposite, he could see the Di Barker's car parked outside her house. Fairly soon, he saw the side door open and Di carefully manoeuvred her mother out in a wheelchair. Her mother had a blanket over her knees and an old fashioned hat on her head. Di waved and smiled at Aiden and returned to carefully inching her mother into the passenger seat, folding up the wheelchair to go in the boot and set off for the regular as clockwork weekly journey to the supermarket.

Aiden smiled approvingly that that was the way a mother and daughter should be. She always had a smile on her face and always came up smiling in her duty to her mother. So self sacrificing as she was still fairly young but, instead of putting her mother in a nursing home and selfishly going out on the town every night, chose to dedicate her life to her mother. Would that all families were that way. He was taught by his family in the traditional virtues which you did not deviate from by one millimetre. Go off the beaten track and God would smite you down.

He reflected on Roisin and thought that despite the momentary lapse when he was young and ardent that caused them to have a "shotgun marriage" they had a good traditional family with good traditional virtues. Of course what he would have wanted was a son that he could take to football matches but that was denied him when Mary came along the scene with yet another daughter and no one to hand on the Connor name to. He couldn't bring himself to say how disappointed he was.

He thought of Roisin and that she seemed a bit distant these days and restless. He wasn't really happy at her working part time though these days he reluctantly had to agree you couldn't really manage on a single wage like his father had when he was growing up. He was worried that Roisin might come into contact with people that would give her strange ideas and she would go off in some mad direction. At least he had his football to keep him interested outside work.

Roisin's been a long time at the dance class. He started feeling uncomfortable........

Saturday and Sunday afternoons at the Connor's house were pretty similar. Aiden had the television on watching "Match of the day" which left Roisin in the kitchen cooking a traditional family dinner or catching up with the housework in between running after Siobhan and Mary's latest game when they switched from being intent on their colouring books. The latest thing was when Siobhan bossed the ever patient Mary into showing off the latest dance steps for Mummy.

"Watch this, children, this is what I used to do when I was young" Roisin said, her enthusiasm fired and, having fairly hard shoes dusted off a fragment of a tap dancing routine on the kitchen tiles that came out of her past without thinking.

"Roisin, you're making a noise right in the final five minutes of extra time." complained Aiden from round the corner.

"Does Daddy have to spoil things" complained Siobhan.

Roisin went into automatic excuse mode for Aiden being the breadwinner etc. and being a good provider when she started to have a double take on this and that her own words weren't ringing true to herself let alone anyone else. It didn't occur yet that perhaps she should say anything back for her motto was 'anything to keep the peace'.

Dinner at the table was the moment when Roisin's anxiety level shot up as she buzzed backward and forth with plates, knives and forks and serving the dinner nice and hot out of the oven, making sure that the dinner was up to the exacting standard set by Aiden, whose 'mother knew how to cook'. And all this was for the children's good as well. Aiden made sure everyone sat at the table till dinner was finished despite the fact that Mary especially was shuffling with impatience to 'get down from the table'. The children need discipline and rules to live by which Roisin half agreed with.

The children got their chance to watch their choice of TV later on as long as it was not too loud while Aiden dug his nose into the Daily Mail. After Roisin had put the children to bed with a bedtime story and once it was quiet, was when Aiden and Roisin made love with half an ear listening out in case one or both the children woke up with a "mummy, can you do this". Such was life from when Roisin had got married, anything before that being a distant ghostly memory.

In another house, Helen and Nikki were chatting quietly before settling off to sleep. Lauren had finally tired herself out with some writing idea she had in mind that she had to do. She inherited Helen's stubbornness in finishing off a job she'd started. At the back of their minds they foresaw with dread a real battle of wills with a teenage Lauren.

"I really feel sorry for Roisin," Nikki said quietly. "You can see that she's run off her feet all week and what should be a place you can put your feet up is somewhere to conk out asleep in the corner. I think she's married with the ring on her finger but she'll talk about anything under the sun than home. It's as if the class and us are her escape. You wonder how things are like at home."

"I can't see there's anything we can do till she comes to us. You know that one, Nikki. Anyway, Lauren thank God right now sleeps like a log, that's one good thing."

Roisin was swept into the next week on her endless merry go round with her daytime typing job at the local secondary school which she could handle more easily after the ups and downs of her 'other' job. The bastard of a headmaster Mr Fenner had finally realised that Babs, the long suffering typist really needed help with all the increasing paperwork that had come the schools way and Mark Waddle the young new Chairman of the School of Governors had pinned Mr Fenner down as effectively as a butterfly in a butterfly collection. If all the notices came out with the action to be done and dusted three days before the paperwork was issued for teachers and everyone alike, then Me Fenner ought to get off his backside, dig deep into the school budget and get another typist. Enter Roisin.

When she had first started, Babs looked over the top of her specs with a long suffering expression at Roisin.

"Don't even begin to ask why Fenner wants the work done the way he wants. He doesn't want a secretary but a couple of nursemaids."

"But what about what Mr Fenner told us to do" asked Roisin anxiously. "I don't want to get into trouble on my first day."

"Don't worry Roisin," smiled Babs. "Just forget about his instructions, Come over here and we'll sort the work out between us. It might sound unchristian of me the way I talk about him but the more that incompetent idiot stays out of our way, the better we'll get along."

Babs went on to say that she was used to calling her bosses "Mr" but would only do it if he deserved her respect. She had strong Christian principles but the one about swearing was beginning to crumble but 'thy shalt not bear false witness' was fine as every criticism she had of him was the truth and she was brought up to tell the truth.

That way, they had now just about ploughed their way through all the file of letters to be done as the week went on. Instead of Roisin rattling through her work as if her life depended on it, she was able to start to ease up.

As she went over to the kitchen to brew a pot of tea for herself and Babs, her mind floated to a problem that she had had in mind. Siobhan and Mary had started to make friends with Lauren from the dance class and wanted Lauren to 'stopover' on Friday night and Roisin was nervous of asking Aiden about this even though it fell to her to settle them down for the night. And this was right before the dance class the next day

This was starting to loom large in her mind that Babs politely pointed out that she was missing out a whole page of typing as her mind was so off the job in hand.

"Is there anything bothering you," Babs asked but Roisin shook her head and, totally unconvincingly assured her with her mask of a smile that everything was fine. Babs knew better but thought it best not to ask. She liked the Irishwoman who was very obliging and good company and appreciated that in the past, there were bitter territorial wars that could make work the least of anyone's problems.

Roisin rushed out when the bell rang, thanking her good luck that she could zoom home from her secondary school and get back just before the familiar shapes of Siobhan and Mary came pottering up the close where they lived. Siobhan and Mary had been keyed up with excitement for days thinking it was guaranteed that Lauren would "sleepover" on Friday night when Roisin knew all too well that it wasn't.

"Mum, you've forgotten to put the dinner on" Siobhan's bossy tones cut through Roisin's mind, far away from what she was doing that 'automatic pilot' let her down for once.

When Aiden came home from work in an average mood, Roisin was so worked up that she blurted it out to Aiden straightaway. Aiden fresh from work, just said "no" automatically without really thinking what he was saying.

"Indeed they won't." Aiden's voice trumpeted round the front room. If he had had that flexibility, he could have backed away from the situation and either changed his mind there and then or "bought time" to think over but that would have been a sign of weakness in his mind.

"But Aiden, the children" pleaded Roisin, really upset while Siobhan and Mary were rooted to the spot in shock.

Aiden then dragged out the line that he didn't know the parents and if they or Lauren were "suitable" which, to a cynical onlooker would have interpreted a died in the wool Catholic, both parents and child but unfortunately there was none.

Siobhan and Mary started to cry their eyes out at this point and Roisin took them upstairs out of the way to their bedroom while Aiden stood irresolutely where he was downstairs. The thought did not strike him that, as he had caused the upset by laying the law down, he ought to go upstairs and explain it, or be able to talk about it and come out of the suit of armour called "stern parent" and face them as Aiden, that was too modern. Besides Roisin was good at that sort of thing, better than he was, so he left her to it, tied into a decision she did not believe in.

"Aiden is a cruel man" she said for the first time in her life as the vow of silence was broken.

After she had settled them with great difficulty down for the night with a promise that she would 'make it up to them', Aiden saddled her with the job of phoning Helen, Lauren's mum, that Siobhan and Mary had 'a family matter' that night but would 'sort something out some other day'. Roisin never forgave Aiden for dumping on her like that.

"What do you make of that, Nikki," Helen asked Nikki quizzically.

"That must be the biggest pile of bollocks I've ever heard, Helen....... You didn't hear that Lauren did you." Nikki diverted her remark to a grinning Lauren whom Nikki had overlooked.

"So parents never swear do they, Nikki" taunted Lauren. "I've not heard that one before, my friends would that one really cool"

"All right, all right," Nikki said, "So we are the Queens of Cool for one day. You really shouldn't ........" and Nikki tailed off, her innate sense of honesty choking off the remark about not swearing. "You've heard the rest of the bad news, Lauren." she said more seriously ruffling the child's hair. "I'm really sorry but this one's out of our hands. I don't understand why any more than you do. No promises but Helen and I'll get to the bottom of this one, I don't know how else to make up for this one but we'll try. We know you're really disappointed about the sleepover and so are we for you." she said to the disappointed child. Nikki's plain 'look you straight in the eyes' manner told Lauren that Nikki was telling her the unvarnished truth as it was so she swallowed the bad news bravely.

There were two contrasting households on Saturday morning. Nikki and Helen got a rather down in the mouth Lauren for ballet class. They wanted to grab the chance to talk to Roisin in the usual break in the dance class but a chill feeling was coming over Nikki that perhaps Roisin was avoiding them and that the nature of her relationship with Helen, and unconventional family, had come 'out'. For herself, she'd outface anyone, anytime but it upset her if Lauren would begin to start to go through the sort of subtle ostracism that she'd gone through when she was young. Helen had not had that direct experience herself but her imagination was tending that way. No way would anyone diminish their child in their eyes or would anyone else do it for her. They both had fierce loyalties for each other and on top, a protective quality for Lauren that knew no limits. These secret fears, they bottled down.

"Come on, Lauren, we'll be late" Helen said as lightly as she could.

The Connor household was a totally different scene which the tense atmosphere could be felt.

"Children these days expect everything, Roisin." Aiden tried to justify himself." You can't let them rule the house. When I was growing up.........." and at this point Roisin mentally disconnected herself from the words which washed over her.

Roisin was terrified that Siobhan and Mary wouldn't want to go to the dance class and Aiden would get at her for not being able to 'make them go' even though he took no part himself. with a feeling that she was walking on egg shells, she drove off to dance class away from the house. Her heart wasn't in it as it normally was but she put what there was of her into it.

In a break, Lauren saw how embarrassed Siobhan and Mary were and wouldn't look them in the eye. They were outside on the grass and Lauren's friendly manner gave Siobhan the courage to tell Lauren the truth. She told Lauren how she felt sometimes that she had to be this different average schoolgirl at school and someone else at home with the friction between Aiden and Roisin which had been getting worse. Lauren had grown up known nothing else but she was starting to be aware how singular her situation was with Helen and Nikki.

"I've got a mum and a dad who don't love each other. You're lucky with two mummies." said Siobhan and Lauren realised, of course she was aware of it but it was nice that an outsider told her.

"Never mind, your mummy is lovely. She's got a smile that's friends with everyone."

Siobhan took courage with both hands and explained why the 'sleepover' had fallen through and Lauren's Helen type logic explained in one flash the way Roisin had behaved.

Cassie was her usual bustling self. Having a classful of lively girls practising their dance steps, sometimes at the wrong time demanded all her concentration. Normally, she was only able to give parents a fraction of her time with her larger than life personality, in contrast to someone so small. Nevertheless, she was struck with such a contrast in Roisin's normal vivacious manner to the visibly miserable and dejected person who dragged herself through the door that her heart went out to her. This was not Roisin's style. Christ, back to the dance class....

Roisin had shot out of the dance studio when she had dropped the children off and unlike her, headed into the centre of town round the shops. She didn't know which way she was going and kept being jostled by the relentless Saturday morning shoppers and passing by the many clothes shops which she might have looked at another day if she was feeling any better. It got to her the story she had made up to Helen about why her daughter who had never done her any harm, couldn't stay over. She felt for the girl and her own two daughters when her instinct would be to say yes, and that she would have looked after them just fine. Tears rolled down her cheeks at the thought.

When she focussed her eyes on the surroundings, right in front was the dance supplies shops with the display of colourful of theatrical costumes of every size and fancy and seemed ready for the actors to take shape inside the outfits and recall her past dancing experience when she was carefree and happy. She knew she could not deny her past this way as she had tried to do. it seemed an eternity that she stood inside the old fashioned shop with assistants trying to catch her eye. Suddenly, she saw the time and realised she had to race back through the unhelpful crowds.

"Now we've decided that me, Lauren and Mary want to drag you old people round the shops or somewhere to eat. You were all horrible at not letting Lauren stay over so you've got some making up to do." Siobhan bounced up to Nikki and Helen as they came out of the club a bit late and the children were all half way through changing.

Nikki had real problems in stopping a huge grin spreading all over her face when she realised that the children had taken matters into their own hands. Lauren inherited some of Helen's bossiness but Siobhan was something else but this fitted her scheme of things exactly.

"You don't mind us....." started Helen nervously but Lauren cut in on this backing up Siobhan.

"Want to come with us, Roisin?" Helen asked with no trace of pretence.

Roisin shook her head gratefully but assured them it wasn't for the want of willingness but that she was really upset and drained. She wanted a sit down and she couldn't keep up with the children though she thought Helen and Nikki would be given a run for it.

Cassie had overheard the conversation and she suggested Roisin stopped with her as her lessons had finished. With her children in someone else's good hands for a change, something in Roisin told her that the dance hall with Cassie was the best place for her to be right now.

Cassie was tired after a few hours of extrovert energy leading her dance class but not enough to not notice the distress for anyone to see on Roisin's face.

"What's happened, Mrs Connor, you looked terrible." Cassie said with real concern on her face, dragging a wooden school type chair from the side. "You're always so happy when you come here, I've noticed that from when you started here"

The kind words from Cassie made her cry in earnest and Cassie instinctively put an arm round her shoulder till the tears subsided a bit. It really upset her that Roisin's normal vivacity was so driven out of her. Roisin for her part was more aware of her out of the background and she never knew how much she needed to be comforted, so used she was to doing the comforting and propping up. Her self consciousness was blown away and crying on Cassie's shoulder seemed the right thing to do. In bits and pieces, she told her story and Cassie made the instantaneous connection that it was her overworked shoulders that held up the family.

"It's a bloody shame as you've got two lovely daughters. I've got to be fair but they're special-just like you"

Roisin blushed at the unexpected remark and a bit of her started to talk about Siobhan and Mary, how much they meant to her when Cassie cut in .

"But what about yourself, you never talk about yourself, you should do."

Roisin swallowed a lump in her throat seeing those blue eyes of Cassie looking intently at her. It was like dragging a tooth out to finally pull out of her unspoken hopes and dreams, and not just her dancing.

"After this," Cassie said with a slight smile on her face, "I can't keep calling you Mrs Connor. Not very often that I end up hugging some parent."

"I'm Roisin," she said blushing slightly at the way Cassie put it though, truth to herself, she did not know why she was blushing. Cassie struggled a bit to understand how her name as spelt translated into "Rosheen" and Roisin said that she had had a lifetime doing the translation for English people. While chatting, Roisin noticed the absence of a ring on her finger and said as a matter of fact that she hadn't got a husband or a partner.

"I'm not the marrying sort." Cassie said with a broad smile on her face." and still less so if your Aiden is anything to go by."

A bit of Roisin thought that 'your' attached to 'Aiden' didn't quite go and, after talking to Cassie, whose she really was right now, apart from her children.

Presently, Cassie asked her about her own dancing that they had talked about last week and Roisin spoke self deprecatingly that she was very rusty and it was a long time ago. Nonsense, dared Cassie, you'll be stiff to begin with but you'll pick it up again, just try for me.

Put that way, Roisin took off her coat and shoes and tried out some ballet moves that came right out of her unconscious and, right there with it, the desire to be on stage again and that she was made for it. Cassie's eyes opened wide to see the grace of her movements that expressed more than she ever thought with hardly a wobble.

"You're really great, Roisin. far better than even your children said." Cassie said, involuntarily clapping her hands.

The applause from Cassie gave Roisin an indescribable feeling of warmth and gratitude to the woman who in a short time, gave more to her than Aiden had in years and feeling good about herself was like a glass of champagne going straight to her head. It was even enough for Roisin to ask Cassie to do a turn and the practised moves of the shape in green leotard and black leggings didn't make her feel disgraced.

Both of them were oblivious to the sounds of returning children and Helen and Nikki who quietly sneaked in. Cassie was able to grab Roisin's phone number, works and home, that they 'must do something more and that Cassie had something on her mind she wanted to talk about to her.'

While Roisin had switched back like lightning into 'parent mode', she gave an emphatic yes, she couldn't let this one go and make the same mistake twice. That and the look in Roisin's eyes reassured Cassie that she would hear, not that she was sure what would come of it but that it was something. The planet was about to move out of orbit.

Cassie was slumped in an armchair on a lazy Sunday afternoon. This was her time of rest when she was reflecting over her life over a glass of wine. One side of her was the well spoken dance teacher adept at dealing with parents and children alike and her natural bossiness given free and fair rein by the need to organise her dance class. Hidden from that was the 'out' lesbian that she had been when she became a teenager, the side that she and her sister and parents were on the "opposite side" of the approval fence from. From being the elder, brighter more attractive daughter that couldn't do wrong, her sister steadily disapproved of her and only met in those "lets pretend to be happy families" scenes that her parents still seemed obliged to stage at intervals. Only thing was, Cassie wasn't in charge of the script.

She'd been on her own for some time and for a time, she pretended that her work could fill the gap, until yesterday.

It was at that point that Roisin who used to be Mrs Connor came into her mind. She had always seen her as if a bit out of focus, in the background like all the parents, pleasant and less than pleasant that she smiled to, said a quick hello to and dealt with all their queries before starting the next class. Some were frustrated dancers themselves wanting to fulfil themselves through their children. By total accident, she found out that Roisin was the real thing. She hadn't danced in years but her practised eye told her straight off that she had a rare talent. It wasn't just her eye that was telling her that with her attraction for older women that she'd always had, she wanted Roisin to come into her life in more ways than one. When she thought of the sudden smile that lit up her face and the soft lilting tone of her Irish accent, she saw Roisin (only the other day it was Mrs Connor) in a new way. Besides that, she couldn't help remembering when she was comforting her. What seemed the impulsive natural thing to do seemed all too natural. And the way she blushed at her.

Trouble was, her husband. No matter how badly treated she is, that doesn't mean she'll turn to another woman, will it?

She helped herself to another stiff drink to soothe the strains of a busy week.

At the Connor's household, Siobhan knew well enough not to mention going round town with Lauren, Nikki and Helen. Helen and Nikki took it in turns to hold hands with them and naturally treated them the same as Lauren. Mum was lovely but Siobhan didn't have to watch each word she said like she did round the house and look after Mary who wasn't yet old enough to know. They were both such friendly relaxed people (even if they were old) that they could say as they liked. Now it was back home, creep upstairs and do last minute homework. Funny thing was that when Siobhan went to speak to mum, it was as if she was half listening to something in her head as well as her.

"Wake up mum, you haven't heard a single word I've said." she complained.

"I'm sorry, my baby." Roisin smiled, "I was just thinking of some happy thoughts"

Siobhan let it go. At least mum had something to smile at which was a change.

Aiden was fairly pleased with himself. He had put his foot down last night and the children had accepted it even though Roisin had got all emotional about it. He had trouble in understanding what she was on about these days. She wasn't the woman he'd married and taken away from that theatrical life she'd been leading. She had known she ought to settle down, have children and bring them up for him. The children had accepted his discipline last night. One day, they'll thank him for setting standards in this modern treacherous world. It takes the man as master of the house to keep things in order. Ah well, up for another week's work, thank the Lord for it.

Roisin was equally pleased with herself. She'd had the feeling that no matter how deep she'd buried her dreams, they were coming to the surface again . She'd been passionate that her daughters would learn to dance and experience the pleasures that she'd once had but that she would also do it for herself. She couldn't believe that the dance teacher, call her Cassie had unlocked that dream for herself too. Not only that but in that brief period, there were feelings she couldn't put a name too and that having her attention on her own suddenly meant a lot. She couldn't think clearer than that but she thought she should trust to it. She was so grateful that somehow she hadn't blown a nice friendship with Nikki and Helen. Somehow her children had unravelled a tangled ball of guilt and embarrassment that only the other day, she had been made so miserable by. She loved her children for that but she felt more distanced from Aiden forever. Both of them seemed happy at night time but what made them happy was poles apart from each other.

"You seem to have had a good weekend from the looks of things" Babs said with a slight smile as she brewed up tea for the two of them.

"Oh yes, it's like I'm finding myself again." Roisin said with a smile.

"I hate to say, Roisin," Babs replied looking over her glasses at her" But you've lost a page of Fenner's academic mission statement. Between you and me, a page added on or left out won't make any more or less sense but it will only give him ammunition against us. Even if the parents won't suffer as they won't have a clue what this all says.", Babs finished with a smile to soften the gentle criticism.

Roisin offered profuse apologies wondering if she ought to explain things to her but she couldn't put it into words what it was. Babs only smiled forgivingly, sensing that Roisin was under pressure from the moment she started and if she had found some happiness in her life, who was she to put the dampers on things? She was too tactful to ask questions, thinking that Roisin would explain in her own good time.

Three hours later on Roisin suddenly emerged from a period of silence to tell Babs that she was going to get back into dancing, that she had suddenly discovered that she had missed this for a number of years without knowing it and that this was what she wanted to do with her life.

"But how does your husband feel about this all." Babs tactfully asked,

"Aiden doesn't know this. There's a lot that Aiden doesn't know." And this statement was left to hang in mid air.

Babs thought there was more than met the eye here but whatever there was would come out sooner or later.

Cassie had figured out Monday evening that what was the problem was that she was overstretched in being able to run all the classes. She had some assistants to help but the latest had got her final certificates and had gone off to dancing school leaving a vacancy which she'd tried to plug herself. Result, she was skimping the business side and she was beginning to make mistakes, she was run off her feet and come Sunday afternoon, she was knackered. What was at the back of her mind was Roisin. A bit of her was asking is this just a straight professional matter and the reply to that was, hell no. This was not the way she was starting to feel but it would put her and Roisin closer together. Would Roisin be interested in this one? Only way she would find out would be to ring up. Leafing through the phone book found the one "A Connor". Now all it took was one phone call but who would answer the phone? At that point, Cassie got nervous. After the second or third attempt, she pressed the buttons, crossed fingers and prayed the right person would answer.

"Is that Miss Tyler" Cassie heard at the other end-that meant Aiden was around, shit. "I'd be very interested in what you said and I'll think it over and we'll have a talk about it at the next class".

Roisin at the other end was very jumpy in Cassie appearing from out of the blue on the phone and hoped she sounded like she was taking a business call. With part regret, part relief, she wasn't on the phone very long and raced back to the kitchen to finish off the ironing while the football match played on from the sitting room. Fortunately, Aiden was absorbed with this and didn't overhear, any other programme and he'd be asking questions. Mer mind started to think lightning speed how she could get time after the dance class to talk over with Cassie which in one flash of thinking, she wanted.

Cassie was a bit peeved at reverting to the "Miss Tyler" but the other part of her reasoned why Roisin reacted the way she did. Bit like when she lived at home when she had a caller she didn't want her parents to hear. anyway, roll on next Sunday.

"What's wrong, sis." Mary peeked under her fringe at Siobhan. "Mummy and daddy aren't happy these days and sometimes I feel it's my fault. I would love daddy if he noticed me more, sometimes I feel it's my fault." and tears started to roll down Mary's face.

They were upstairs in their bedroom and Siobhan went to comfort Mary. She was a tiny little thing that Siobhan was always protective of. If she was in the playground and one or two of the nastier girls in the playground started to pick on her, Siobhan made straight for them and the bullies backed off straight away. Siobhan seemed to have a tougher shell and had started to figure out the tensions that had been growing in their family. She wondered a bit how come Lauren seemed to have two mums but no dad and though some of the girls giggled about situations like this, because Lauren was such a straight ahead girl and a good friend, she accepted it. Besides Helen and Nikki had given them such a good time when they looked after her, it was like having two Roisins and that couldn't be bad. Early on, Siobhan was starting to pick her own path of what she thought was right and what she thought was wrong. Aiden had spent many hours offering his religious philosophising on a Sunday afternoon but it was wrapped in woolly words so much that it didn't make sense to her. She could remember once last Saturday, Nikki physically brought herself down to her height and explained some things plainly and simply on her level so she understood.

It hurt her that Mary was blaming herself for what was her own fault. She told her again and again that she was the best sister in the world and even if daddy didn't love her, mummy did and so did she and she wasn't to worry. Siobhan comforted the little girl and watched over herself till she fell back asleep, still clutching her favourite fluffy toy.

Earlier in the evening, Helen and Nikki's house was at peace with itself. Lauren had a think to herself and decided to plonk herself down on Nikki's lap after they had had dinner and settled down to watch the TV.

"Don't I get a look in tonight, Lauren" asked Helen in a mock disappointed fashion, raising her eyebrow.

Nikki was grinning to herself though in truth there was no question of favouritism. She had grown up with both of them, and that would give her a solid anchor through life. They were watching TV but the programmes inevitably tended to go to the 'teenage soaps' that were universal among children.

The phone in the hall rang and Helen volunteered to get it. She was sometime on the phone and then when she came back with a slight smile on her face.

"How do you fancy another Saturday with us......" Lauren looked blank at this point"......and Siobhan and Mary" finished Helen and Lauren was off jumping round the room with pleasure.

Helen popped back and said OK to a very nervous Roisin who had sneaked out to make the call asking if Helen and Nikki would take her children round town for an hour while she had 'some business with Miss Tyler'.

"What do you make of this, Nikki? you don't suppose that our Roisin is falling for the very attractive dance teacher? A bit late in life to start but better late than never" Helen asked Nikki in bed later on.

Nikki grinned impishly at this though she shook her head. Roisin was from a traditional Irish, traditional value family though her naturally affectionate personality, especially where children were concerned softened the rigidities down and made her pleasant company.

"Don't suppose the club is exactly the place to ask Roisin next week, is it? You don't talk over that sort of thing amongst the Mrs Hollambys of this world, you know playing matchmaker and making sure Roisin aims the Cupid's bow straight or is it the other way round." Nikki smiled to herself.

Roisin put down the phone, her hand shaking with the feeling that she had jumped off the top board as it took her a lot of nerve to finally phone Helen and Nikki up so that her children would be looked after while she talked to Cassie about what?? She didn't know what she was letting herself in for and she was sure Aiden wouldn't agree to this one. She was heading for a confrontation with Aiden, she knew it and was scared. She composed herself with the automatic smile and took Siobhan and Mary up to bed. More than any other thing, she wanted to be able to put up Lauren for the night and be able to decide that. After all, she did all the work.

One evening after work, Roisin made one last effort to tell Aiden how she felt and move him into the twentieth century let alone the twenty first. Siobhan and Mary had been kept back after school for choir practice,

"When we were growing up in Ireland, Aiden, the world was a different place. You've got a rosy image in your mind of your mother polishing the front step, slaving over the hearth and being the perfect housewife for your father. He was master of the house while she hung out the washing. It was simple for them when it came to children. We were given orders and, at all costs, the house had to look perfect for when your father came home from work . Back then, the man of the house wouldn't get involved with the children's problems, the wife was at home all day while the man was at work, breaking his back in the shipyards...."

"And wasn't that the way things should be, Roisin darling. The world had standards then, you knew where you were and things worked......." Aiden replied passionately, sounding like a younger version of the Reverent Paisley, a comparison not lost on Roisin.

"But half the shipyards back home got closed, my brother tells me that one. You're living in a vision of the past where in Ireland things are changing....."

"But you can keep those standards in your head and the way you raise the children....."

"the way I raise the children and despite what you do to ruin things. You don't know how to play with the children......."

"They get good standards from me...."

"They get preached at, that's not raising children..."

"That was what my father, God rest his soul, did...."

"And that isn't enough these days. And I don't think it ever was enough, not with my father coming in stinking drunk and falling about and what were the Ten Commandments going to mean like that.......?"

Time after time, Roisin tried different angles to explain things as simply as she could, yes there were standards but you had to live up to them. They'll learn them from the way you behave and with gentleness and love that Mary is needing. Roisin tried to argue that he was already losing Siobhan who was going her own way and she was the only person holding things in.

"There are good parents around. Take Helen from the dancing school and her daughter Lauren who the children like a lot."

"And I say we don't know them........"

"I know them, Aiden. And as I do all the running around, talking to them, I've decided that Lauren can stay the night this Friday as they're good friends and because I say so."

The pitch of determination for the first time had Aiden at a disadvantage. What could he say?

After that Aiden more or less acted like a tortoise retreating into his shell. Nothing Roisin could say could reach him. Two plus two equals four from the rules he had been taught. He never thought to question why not start with one or three or make up your own rules. Roisin when she was dancing in her earlier life had started to break away from these rules but the years of her marriage had taken her back to square one, With Aiden around, she was half way to repeating her own background but with her life changing irrevocably, everything was up for grabs.

When Siobhan and Mary came home, everything was nice smiles but the atmosphere told a different story. Roisin was longing for the weekend with Nikki's and Helen's company and talking to Cassie about what????

Babs was mildly curious as to Roisin's cheerfulness mixed with forgetfulness all week as it built up to the weekend but not that she had some compulsion to be 'ahead of the news' like some people.

"Doing something nice this weekend," Babs asked gently.

"Just having a friend's daughter to stay Friday night." Roisin said hastily." She'd been doing me a kindness and I wanted to make it up to her." and Roisin started talking hastily so that Babs was sure that there was more to it than that.

Roisin saw the hours plod their way along till she grabbed her handbag and virtually danced out of the office.

Nikki and Helen were happy to have a night off but were a bit nervous about going to Roisin's house because of the huge void in their mind that comprised Aiden, the shadowy phantom in the background.

"Hi Roisin, I've come out with a friend with me for a quiet drink at a local pub so I'll leave you, Lauren." Helen said, arranging her words into as conventional a form as possible, for Roisin's sake." Kiss you good night and be good for Roisin. See you at dance class."

Lauren bustled along with her overnight bag straight upstairs with Siobhan and Mary where the three of them 'organised' things for the night keeping the 'old people' at bay, of course till Roisin came to read them a special goodnight story. Aiden kept himself out of the way. Helen and Nikki went uncertainly out into the car feeling like an umbilical chord had been cut and totally not used to being able to just go out as they pleased. They had resisted the natural urge to tell Lauren to phone up if there was a problem as they were sure Roisin would sort things out.

The next day, Roisin woke up excited that this would be a special Saturday and would take all the children to the dance class. Aiden next to her was in a deep slumber so Roisin crept out and started getting things ready. She peeked into the children's bedroom but got dismissed with a 'mummy can't come in here. We're having a private chat with Lauren and grown ups aren't allowed in here.' Thankful that Aiden didn't hear this one as her would get the wrong end of the stick, Roisin popped out, smiling to herself that they were getting on so well.

Nikki and Helen noticed straight off that Lauren had enjoyed herself over at, would they call it Roisin's house last night? Once over at the club, they noticed that Roisin was in high spirits but nervous at the same time but they knew better than to bring this out into the open. She also kept looking out the window at the dance school for some unexplained reason. Anyway, they'd got three lively children that they thought they'd take to the pictures as a night of 'staying up' at Roisin's plus dance class equals a 'chill out' entertainment for the afternoon.

"Time to go, you guys" Nikki called out as she checked her watch causing Roisin to spill her drink, "We'll meet you and the kids three hours later, back at the dance class. that isn't too long is it." Nikki said repressing a smile.

Roisin assured Nikki that that would be fine almost too emphatically.

Roisin looked into the dance class studio, and as the last of the children trickled out of the room, they faded out of focus and sharply in focus, centre stage was Cassie wearing her usual dance gear, showing her off at her best and with a slight smile on her face framed by her floppy short blond hair. With a deep breath, Roisin stepped forward into her future.

Roisin started very nervously apologising about being very formal and abrupt on the phone but Aiden was in the background and you know what it is.

"You don't need to apologise, Roache." Cassie said, her blue eyes looking straight at her. "I understand"

The thought hit Roisin that nobody had called her Roache before and it seemed like something special between the two of them. Roisin started to say that it oughtn't to matter what Aiden thinks of who phones her when Cassie jumped in.

"Do you really want to talk about Aiden right now or do you want to talk about me and you?"

Roisin told Cassie that the last thing she wanted to do was to talk about Aiden except that she was going through a rough time right now and that he was the reason for it. The thought came into her mind right now fully formed, crystal clear which up till then had been going fuzzily at the back of her mind.

She told Cassie that she lived in such a closed off world apart from Helen and Nikki who were so kind to her but didn't really understand how things were with her. Cassie smiled to herself that they were very sharp, very perceptive and knew things that Roisin didn't know about herself yet.

"Tell me about yourself, Roache. I spend my time having quick chats with parents while I'm up to my ears with things to do that you're the first person I've wanted to talk to in ages."

Roisin started to chat away about herself and Cassie had a clearer picture of the Roisin in her dancing years which in turn made Roisin want to go back to where she belonged and the dance class was right in the middle of it. Cassie, in her mind, was the sum of her friends she had then but had let go. She said that she had not had many boyfriends when she was young till she met Aiden.

"I remember you saying that you aren't the marrying sort, Cassie."

At that point, Cassie was really not sure what to say apart from saying that men were not exactly the centre of her life at which point Roisin said she could understand that one as she had a dance school and male dancers or parents taking their daughters to dance classes were usually female and this was what she'd grown up with all her life. Roisin couldn't put this into words but said that she'd been in the theatrical world once and that changes you.

"I mean I'm a lesbian, Roache." Cassie said thinking that Roisin would either run a mile or, hope against hope, stay. At which point, Roisin blushed and was totally stuck for words.

" I know you're background is as traditional as it could get. Everything about you says it."

Roisin dredged back in her memory and, yes, she had seen it before but at some distance in her dancing years. It had the same impact at one remove as she supposed it was like at a women's prison, same sort of thing but without the prison bars. She used to watch a TV women's prison drama series on a Tuesday night when it coincided with Aiden's drinking night out with his football fan buddies till he changed his nights out and put paid to watching the series.

"Have you got anyone special, Cassie." and Cassie nodded her head firmly, yes, she now had someone special.

Roisin's face dropped at that point as she was sure it couldn't be her but Cassie looked her straight in the eye when she said.

"I mean the only person right now special to me, Roache is you."

After all the build up of the last week, the ups and downs of her recent life, to cross that bridge and find herself in Cassie's arms and kissing her seemed the natural thing to do after all, why else was she so excited about coming to dance class this day? And it seemed so different from the Saturday night with Aiden. For someone so larger than life as Cassie, she was surprisingly gentle. For her part, Cassie had seemed bold and the pushy one, she was surprised to find that Roisin was not as she had seemed and bolder than she had thought.

The sunlight streamed in through the back studio windows and the distant traffic sounds faded away in their ears to nothing as time stood still. Everything was bathed in a golden glow at that moment while they clung together and Cassie was amazed that Roisin, the traditional Irish housewife wasn't pulling away in shock, horror as Cassie had feared. Still more so when Roisin took Cassie by the hand to find somewhere more private and as she spoke those words, it was as if they were in a dream but they were waking.

That was the easy part for Cassie as her flat was only just yards down the street by her studio and, nervously walking there hand in hand, crossing over the threshold was going to change their lives and it did.

"Yaaay, we're going to McDonalds." yelled out Siobhan as the five of them went clattering down the High Street in favour of the usual garish red and yellow shape.

"All these bloody keep fit videos." panted Helen to Nikki" They don't think of the obvious fact for mothers that chasing after lively children burns the weight off you so I could stuff my face full of cream cakes and not think twice......not that you need to worry, Nikki anyway."

"Is Siobhan always like this when she's out?" Lauren asked Mary.

"Sis is quiet at home as she has to be for daddy round the house."

Lauren understood this and why this was having stayed the night on Friday. She was used to being relaxed round mum and Nikki and everything out in the open, disagreements and everything. Roisin's house came as a shock even though she got on great with Roisin who was naturally motherly and welcoming. There was this edgy atmosphere of having to keep quiet as, though Aiden was out of sight, he could come bursting in if he was angry. She made a mental note to talk to Mum and Nikki later on.

"All right you unhealthy children," Nikki's carrying voice cut through the hubbub, "who's having what."

While Helen escorted the children to a side table, all plastic and littered with the previous occupants litter, Nikki struggled to get her order in with all the rest of competing hubbub.

Outside it was starting to get dark and Nikki thought while they were eating, as they were late for meeting Roisin, she ought to phone her on her mobile. On the other end, a muffled Irish voice said that there was no problems that she was quite happy stopping with Cassie till they came back. The conversation was cut shorter than Roisin was in the habit of doing and Nikki, grinning to herself, was pretty sure of the reason. While the children were stuffing their faces full of french fries and Big Macs, all was well.

"Did you like Lord of the Rings, Mary" Helen asked the little child who had sat up round eyes, clutching a fluffy toy and looking scared while the Black Horses crept up to the hiding hobbits.

"Why isn't there a happy ending, Siobhan, I thought you said there was. Now I'll have nightmares."

Lauren kindly reassured Mary that all came right in the end as the original book had only been half filmed. Nikki had told her this and Lauren believed her, having seen Nikki's well thumbed copy of the book in her overflowing bookshelves.

"Is mum all right," Siobhan asked. "We've been gone a long time and grown ups can't talk that long, not even mum."

Nikki reassured her that she'd just phoned, mum was fine, we don't have to gulp the food down and make our way up to the dance class in our own time.

"Good," Lauren asked, "Does that mean we can have a cheeseburger each. please" and three pairs of beaming angelic smiles were turned on them.

Helen and Nikki, knowing they had walked into that one, knew that the children had them cold.

Nikki and Helen enjoyed the rare chance to see a film that wasn't the 'made to measure' children's film though part of them enjoyed going back to their own childhood's. It would be nice for them to go on their own without thinking to see a film they both liked the look of, so Lord of the Rings was a good compromise.

They enjoyed taking Roisin's children around as they were delightful but both were conscious that the gulf between Roisin and Aiden was so wide as to leave its marks on them. If Roisin was going to seek happiness elsewhere, that was none of their business and certainly not if it was in the arms of a certain Miss Tyler. While they were expert at working their way through 'normal society, a little bit of backup wouldn't come amiss.

Lauren looked away at her mother and Nikki, Helen wearing her favourite black leather jacket blue jeans and Nikki looking elegant in her black trousers and long black coat. At that moment, Lauren felt glad she had them and felt secure with both of them looking after them. Siobhan and Mary were lost in the moment of going round town with their best friend and two kindly thoughtful grown ups, even if they had trouble following the 'grownupspeak' they talked to each other. Just for once, they weren't hustled to move out of McDonalds by clockwatching adults who had some mysterious thing they had to be back for.

Helen figured out it was time they ought to make a move and eventually they slowly back to the dance class up the dark side streets, a very tired out Mary trailing a bit.

Helen phoned Roisin that they were on their way.

"I'm sorry, Roisin that we've been a bit late but the children have been fine. Did you get sorted out what you needed to do with Cassie?" Helen finished, without thinking, then hearing Cassie giggling in the background.

"Oh fine, everything's fine here, just fine" Roisin answered a touch over emphatically and suspiciously.

Helen concealed a smile with great difficulty and Nikki lost the battle altogether and had to pretend something from work had come into her mind that amused her but 'you wouldn't understand' to the children. Presently, they rounded the corner and the familiar doors of the dance studio came closer, flanked by the warm welcoming sight of curtained windows lit from the inside, in contrast to the dark streets.

Cassie's dimly lit bedroom felt like the centre of the universe right now to Roisin as they lay there exhausted at peace with themselves amidst the jumbled up quilt and trail of clothes.

"Roisin Connor, when I first clapped eyes on you I really didn't know you were going to be my all time dream lover," smiled Cassie up at Roisin, her head on Roisin's shoulder." I was so nervous my first time."

"You, Cassie Tyler, nervous the Queen of the dance class." joked Roisin.

"Well I was fourteen at the time" and Roisin smiled at that one.

Roisin was totally at peace with herself which was a foreign, long buried feeling and, for once in her life, she was not conscious of the mental 'umbilical chord' that connected itself to her children, what she should be doing next. All she was conscious of was the feel of Cassie next to her and endlessly stroking that curl of fair hair that flicked past her ear. She was amazed that she wasn't going through the panic zone that she feared at the back of her mind that blocked off from the genuine pleasure for herself that was part of her guilt complex. All there was in her world was Cassie and her.

Cassie, for her part, had been mentally prepared to have to coax a guilt ridden Roisin into bed and doing what came naturally and fearful that Roisin would back out at the moment she was that close to making love. To have a Roisin who made it that hard to keep up with her was a surprise of a lifetime, not that she was complaining.

They settled down comfortably snuggled up next to each other and let the world go by outside the front door. Anything outside was distant sounds as background in the peace there was around them. The slight sound of the wind outside soothed the afternoon away.

Roisin was starting to say that having a female lover must be very isolating- Cassie held back from hanging the verbal tag 'lesbian' round Roisin's neck that early - as surely you must feel you're the only woman in the world that feels that way.

"Come on. Roisin, love." Cassie smilingly broke in. "You've got the best support group going for you, Nikki and Helen."

"But I thought they were best friends," Roisin interrupted, taken by surprise. "I never thought."

Cassie explained how she admired them for effortlessly floating along through life, smiling to herself as they trooped off to the respectable band of mothers who assembled at the club, in perfect disguise and the way no one even questioned, not even you when you had quite definitely started to fancy me. Cassie told her that whatever problems she'll have in changing her lifestyle, they are ideal for helping them along. In fact she didn't put it past those two madams for gently smoothing the way along to the two of them getting off with each other.

Roisin smiled to herself at the countless little things in conversation over the two weeks that she'd systematically succeeded in overlooking and burst out laughing that the one thing Mrs Hollamby with all her grandiose opinions so volubly expressed never so much succeeded in dreaming of.

" And as Nikki and Helen have been so kind and helpful to us," Cassie said smiling as they moved so Cassie was on top of her, Roisin proved to herself and to Cassie that what happened earlier on wasn't a one off.

Right at the worst possible time, Roisin's mobile phone buzzed and bleeped its jangled interruption and Cassie gave way to a mental flash of irritation as to how come some idiot mistimes it. The sight of Roisin's shapeliness from the rear took the edge off things a bit and a huge sigh of relief when it was only Nikki asking if she was in a hurry to move off as the children wanted to stay for more McDonalds. Cassie smiled broadly when Roisin mumbled her way through explaining that things were fine with her and that she was 'keeping Cassie company' which to her ears announced to Nikki loud and clear Roisin's 'coming out'. What 'made up' for Cassie for the interruption was that Roisin was coming back to her and definitely wanted to make up for lost time in the most direct way possible.

Some time later, they were dressed and Cassie was asking when they could go out next.

"It's not as easy as that, Cassie. I've got to get a baby-sitter and there's Aiden to consider...."

"You mean you're worrying about that nobbing waste of space is thinking?" Cassie gave was to a flash of irritation that in the past she regretted.

Roisin tried to explain patiently that she'd lived a typical housewife/ mother role for years. She'd looked after the house and the children and she was always around for them while Aiden worked. He'd gone out for a drink with 'the lads' when he'd suddenly decided to and she had stayed in. Her social life had been about non existent. Things had changed when she'd got her job which worked around school hours and running the children to the dance lessons was the first real break she's had.

"Going out on a date with you, Cassie, is what I want but it's something I'll have to work out, for the kids and saying something to Aiden, not for any feelings but what trouble he'll make."

Cassie dare not press the point as it looked to her that the marriage bollocks with Aiden was on the rocks anyway without her on top but Roisin was scared to make the break. Roisin's arm round her shoulders and was the only way she could say what she felt.

"Do you know what we forgot, Roache, you helping me out with the dance classes. I can't believe it." Cassie burst out laughing at her spectacular memory lapse which Roisin joined in with.

Presently the mobile rang again from Nikki that they were on the way up asking if she got everything sorted out with Cassie and reassuring her that the children are fine.

Roisin's overemphatic reassurances and the aftermath of the last conversation set Cassie off falling about in hysterics.

Helen and Nikki trailed into the dance studio with the three tired out children trailing after them, Mary sucking her thumb and looking worn out.

"Did you have a good time, children," Roisin scooping them in her arms. "and you Lauren," Roisin asked in her all inclusive way. I can't thank you enough, Nikki and Helen, for looking after the children."

"Why do you grownups have a good time," Siobhan said in Roisin and Cassie's direction ,"Just sitting around chatting"

"Just a bit of woman talk, that's all she needs." Cassie tried to say as casually as she could. " I bet there are times you don't let your mum into your bedroom, don't you. And it's the same for us."

Nikki and Helen wanted to turn the other way at this point as the situation was as clear to them as if it were illuminated with neon signs. However, Nikki calmly reassured everyone it was fun taking the children round town and she was worried about Roisin as she was clearly tired out last weekend and they were only too glad to give Roisin a break. At which point, Cassie thought, well done Nikki, for that nice diplomatic touch which she was sure was totally genuine and how she felt.

"Cassie and I were talking about me taking over a class of hers as she needs some help." Roisin came to the rescue. "We need to sort out dates and times at some time."

To which Siobhan said that as long as Roisin didn't try to teach them and show them up that was fine.

"Mum, I wanted to talk to you and Nikki about Roisin's house," Lauren asked them when she was changed ready for bed and there was nothing on TV to watch. "There's something that worries me."

"Not all families are the same, Lauren. Different families do things different ways........." Helen started till she saw Lauren's direct questioning gaze. "Sorry, I'm bullshitting. You said it in talking about Roisin's house. You left out Aiden and that tells a lot to us. You tell us, Lauren, we're listening."

"Roisin's a very nice woman but she's lonely. I'm not used to two grown ups living apart from each other. She needs a good friend, I'm glad she's got you two but you're only around Saturdays and then we go back to our school friends and our own lives."

"I'm glad you get on so well with Siobhan and Mary." Nikki said with a smile on her face.

Lauren explained that Mary is so little and cute that she feels very protective of her and Siobhan is just happy go lucky and good fun.....except when they're at home when they retreat into their shells. Thoughtfully and hesitantly, Lauren got the idea that there wasn't much love in Roisin's life, oh yes she loves her children and anyone else's but not the same as you and Nikki.

"Are you suggesting we go matchmaking, Lauren?" Nikki asked with a trace of a smile and then, seeing on Lauren's face her disappointment at the touch of flippancy, Nikki promised that they were good friends of Roisin and would look out for her in any way that seemed right.

Lauren smiled at that, having felt she had got to say what had been on her mind and Mum and Nikki had between them, risen to the occasion as usual.

"Tuck me into bed....whoever." Lauren said, totally undecided who she wanted but happy with who would come up with her.

Part 2

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