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 Two

Roisin felt that she was an actress in some grotesque play that Sunday. It all started from when she got home with her two tired out children from dance class and Aiden came bounding over to tell her that the periodic nightmare was coming back, having Aiden's mother over on the Sunday tomorrow. She was totally taken aback by this but was caught in a moment when she wasn't feeling as assertive as she should have been. She had the feeling at the back of her mind that the time would come when she would have to start to unravel the habits of her lifestyle for earnest but not yet.

"Make sure the house is tidy, Roisin. you know how house proud Mum is." called Aiden.

Roisin was just so far from telling him, why don't you give me a hand but backed off. With no great enthusiasm, she did the usual chores she would otherwise have done but it jarred her to hear the word 'house proud'. She liked things tidy but realised that her house ought to feel comfortable and people friendly and not some showhouse, the immaculate order achieved by neurotic scrubbing and cleaning, accompanied by edgy arguments and lived in where you felt mentally cramped. However Aiden had regaled her with stories all her married life that that is how her mother lived and no one could compare with his mother. In the past, she had let this flow of words go over her but she was not sure just how much she would tolerate, after all, she had a job of work to do as well. After an evening of cleaning, she went to bed knackered and Siobhan and Mary felt likewise from their day out. She couldn't remember saying much to Aiden who was full of himself all evening.

Sunday morning, the living nightmare was getting into gear with Aiden shouting at the children to tidy their rooms to questioning looks from them. Roisin in her more relaxed way sort of half and half did it with them. Siobhan looked at mum and decided this was something they would go along with. Roisin was then panicked into getting an extra special dinner just for Aiden's mum, going further than she would normally go so that as Aiden put it, she wouldn't want to appear to be a bad mother or housewife. Roisin came that bit closer to losing it but said that she knew how good she was and to just lighten it a bit, a comment that went unheard.

Presently there came by taxi, an elderly grandmotherly figure who had a kiss for 'her Aiden' first who beamed back at her and told Roisin with razor sharp clarity that he was a mother's boy but she hadn't the time to think this through properly.

"Excuse me while I see to the dinner" and she scuttled through to the one room where she wouldn't be interrupted and she prodded at the potatoes and checked how the joint was cooking. She had a sinkful of serving dishes that were tucked away in the furthest recesses of her kitchen that she dried to perfection.

The normally boisterous Siobhan came through in ultra correct mode with Mary looking to her to set a lead and Aiden's mother went on about how good it was to see such quiet polite children, it's all due to the way they were brought up and what a good father Aiden is. Roisin overheard this and with an effort of will reasoned that she was dependent on the distorted impression that Aiden kept feeding her with and no wonder she came out with such rubbish.

In the end, she came forward with the dinner on the nearly perfectly set dinner table. Aiden proudly did his piece in carving the joint while Roisin scuttled round and served everyone with dinner, asking nervously if they had had enough. Siobhan and Mary kept their heads down and got stuck into the dinner and said nothing which wasn't their normal style. Roisin was now deep in the nightmare as she was in close proximity with Aiden and his mother at dinner table where she had nowhere to run.

Roisin kept quiet too, indeed she had no choice as Aiden and his mother held forth and didn't give her a chance of a look in.

"In such wicked modern times, it's nice to see a perfect family like you have Aiden, a perfect wife and perfect children, all living in harmony."

"Well, it's what I've worked hard for, all my life." Aiden replied and went on to say that traditional values can still be instilled even in these days.

As the conversation went on, Roisin, deprived of speech, was able to detach her thoughts and see that she wanted her children to be good and everything but she expected them to have minds and thoughts of their own and she couldn't manage things like she was a Naval Captain but showing love and being there for them which Aiden wasn't. Aiden being a mummy's boy had lost the plot as he hadn't got that flexibility and just narrow mindedly repeated last generation's failures. His philosophising was as good as a chocolate fireguard. What above all rankled and stood out most was his 'keeping up appearances' which she had no time for.

A perfect wife, she thought and her mind flicked back to the wonders of her day with Cassie. At one time, she might have felt guilty but not any more. She wanted a different identity. She made a mental note that she had to phone Cassie on her mobile later on, having exchanged numbers yesterday and spoken to her quickly the night before.

Eventually, she got her release and everyone 'got down' from the table when Aiden said so, again playing to the gallery to his mother. Roisin took the advantage to clear the table and get stuck into the washing up where, working on automatic pilot, she cleared her way through the mountain of pots. Siobhan and Mary, still feeling tired, made polite excuses and went off to their bedroom. It's as if I've been invaded she felt, while Aiden and her mother were in full flow of conversation.

Right at the end of the day, Aiden made Roisin's heart nearly stop when he asked her if she would stop for the night and she was much relieved when she wouldn't dream of imposing as he had to get up for work the next day. Siobhan looked closely at her mother who wasn't giving anything away in her facial expression but just knew what she was thinking but likewise, kept her face straight. Aiden was clearly disappointed but volunteered to drive his mother to the railway station instead.

"Goodbye, grandma. It's been lovely to have you" came the insincere farewells as Aiden proudly helped his mother open the front door and set off into the car.

At this point, Siobhan and Mary switched on the TV being just in time to watch their favourite programme that they had been fearful they would miss with the long drawn out delay of the ceremony of "Grandma's leaving the house."

Roisin ran upstairs, grabbed her mobile and feverishly pressed the buttons that came up "Cassie" and started to pour her heart out.

Cassie had woken up late on a Sunday morning bleary eyed. She could feel a hole in the bed where Roisin was the other day and she was hyperconscious of this and that, perhaps, life as an independent single woman was not all it cracked up to be.

She could remember Roisin as she last saw her, halfway back to being responsible parent with Siobhan and Mary in tow but that she would phone Cassie up as soon as she could. One look in her eye told her Roisin meant it. It wasn't too safe to phone Roisin in case Aiden picked up the phone. Her first thought was, why in hell did it matter what Aiden thought and above all, she is Miss Tyler in charge of the dance school phoning a parent as she had a right to but this was Roisin's way that she was Cassie phoning up her lover.

Late at night, the phone jangled through her thoughts and a panicking Roisin told her briefly that she had Aiden's mother coming round, oh Christ. Cassie crushed the thought that Roisin was running back to respectable land, not the tone she spoke in. She later found a bottle of vodka stashed away which she had gone through the bottom of and flopped into bed, the room rotating round her, hence the lie in on Sunday.

The rest of Sunday was a lie about the place, watch a few soaps she ordinarily wouldn't have bothered with but the endless bickering of couples on Eastenders rapidly got on her nerves. The sky gradually got darker and Cassie made a cup of black coffee to clear her head when the phone rang again.

"Cassie, I have had it up to here." Roisin's voice pitched low but the heartfelt tones rang loud and clear. "This is the end of the line with me and Aiden and the beginning for me and you if we want it."

After that bolt out of the blue, Cassie suggested that she should talk to Nikki and Helen and come upfront and could they arrange a sleepover and find some reason to come over to her place. The conversation seemed to Cassie almost dreamlike as too good to be true but when she pinched herself, it was all real.

"Seeing you can't come soon enough for me. Gotta go now, Cassie" Roisin said and the way she said it she reran in her mind later time after time.

On the other end of the phone, Roisin's hand was shaking. She had struggled on, year after year, with a situation that was not working. She had never done anything about it as there seemed no alternative till it struck her that Cassie is the alternative. She had grown up in a traditional society where she was expected to 'put up with a bad job' but times were changing and so was she.

Helen was just sticking some last minute clothes in the washing machine ready for tomorrow when the phone rang. Curious, as none of them received many phone calls on a Sunday night, she was surprised to receive a phone call from an agitated Roisin wanting to talk to her or Nikki for personal advice perhaps after work when Helen mentioned that she had reason to be up near the school she worked on Monday lunchtime and what about that quiet cafe down the road one lunchtime. Roisin was delighted that things fell into place that quickly and thanked her over and over again.

"Don't mention it, Roisin. I'll be looking forward to it and if there is any way I can help, I will."

Helen had remembered what Lauren had said the night before and she had a gut feeling that Roisin really could do with help and she was the best one there to give the help.

Babs felt comfortable in the secure lifestyle she had had. It had been a shock to lose her husband Peter when she did but she had looked after him up to the bitter end and any sadness she felt was comforted that there was nothing left unsaid or undone and that he had met his Maker with a clear conscience and of the deep love they had shared. She had had to become more outgoing and the job she had kept her anchored through the worst of it. She had welcomed the arrival of Roisin who was younger and mired in the responsibilities she had had before her children flew the nest. Her ready smile and helpfulness made her in Babs book someone she could work in a relaxed fashion, essential with that total idiot who pretended to run the school, Fenner, rampaged round like a total hooligan. Many a time, she had to seek the advice of the local vicar when unkind or uncharitable thoughts came to her, which was most of the time at work. he said that this was part of God's plan to try her and she kept thinking that, yes it certainly did, but strained her power of forgiveness.

Recently, Roisin had become more visibly under strain but she could not talk about it except from the periodic half dropped comments. The sheer absence of talk about her husband Aiden,, which she might have expected, spoke volumes to her. She was relieved when she had become more excited towards the end of the week that she was getting more happiness in her life. Monday morning, she was up and down throughout the day and got visibly nervous just before lunchtime. Eventually in a rush, Roisin asked if she would cover her for a long lunch. Something in her manner made Babs say, yes straightaway. The "Bless you" and sudden quick grateful smile, like sunlight across her face as if on still waters, made Babs feel that she had done the right thing and God would smile down on her for whatever purpose Roisin had for the favour.

Helen was sitting comfortably in a quiet part of the cafe sipping a cup of coffee when a slightly dishevelled Roisin stumbled in. She waved briefly and zoomed over to Helen's table.

"You might be wondering why I've suddenly wanted to talk to you for advice, Helen." Roisin started in straight away as if talking while her nerve was up. "It's that something's happened in my life that you could help me on, being a mother."

Helen was fractionally shifting her 'guess the puzzle' to mundane mother and children's matters when Roisin continued in a hesitant way of talking about her and Nikki being such good friends and that it was about relationships.

Helen saw the way the conversation was leading and said straight out that she and Nikki were partners, lovers and, keeping it as light as she could, was interested why the sudden questions along these lines.

"It's not what you think, Helen." Roisin was profusely apologetic. The last thing she was wanting to convey that she was a 'disgusted of Tonbridge Wells' who had just 'found out' about Nikki and Helen, in fact quite the opposite. "It's just that......"

Helen put two and two together and started calmly explaining her life that, yes Nikki was gay all her life but that she had had boyfriends and at one point was engaged to be married. Then Nikki came into her life and she fell for her. It was the hardest thing in her life to go through a change in her identity and be pulled different ways, especially with a disapproving father who was a minister. Looking back on it, she was glad to have found Nikki as she had, she had no regrets as she could not imagine living with someone else. Having a daughter to bring up had gone fine, so far, so good.

Roisin's whole body language relaxed visibly at this and tentatively said that her marriage to Aiden was on the rocks, it had been limping along for years and recently she has met someone else who she is sure she is meant for.

"Yes, that's what I found about Nikki," Helen said reflectively. "but what of you, if you don't mind me asking?"

The kindness and concern on Helen's face and their easy going friendship over the weeks gave Roisin the last spur to spill the beans.

"It's Cassie Tyler. I'm totally in love with her"

Helen gave her a quick hug to congratulate her and the pent up dam had burst and Roisin talked to Helen how much Cassie meant to her and how she was sure Cassie felt the same. Both of them were sufficiently conscious to keep their voices low and keep half an eye on the rest of the cafe but not enough to stop them talking.

"I suppose that pretty soon, you'll be telling Aiden and separating from him. from what you've not said all these weeks, this seems a foregone conclusion"

The natural way Helen spoke, put the mental jigsaw pieces together in her mind in one quick shuffle and she started to panic as a rush of thoughts about telling the children, confronting Aiden, his mother like some ancient warhorse, custody, possible moving house made her go into a blind panic and visibly sweat.

"You can only manage things step at a time, Roisin" Helen placed her hand on Roisin's arm. "Never fear, Nikki and I will be with you every step of the way. And Lauren knows at least half of what you've told me. And the other half won't come as any great surprise. Trust me" and Helen looked intensely into her eyes.

A visible weight had lifted off Roisin's shoulders now that, besides Cassie, a close friend also knew and was supportive of her. For her part, Helen felt so sympathetically for her friend who she knew was carrying enough of the world's worries on her shoulders and was well prepared for what Roisin was going to say. She was highly conscious that she needed to be as sensitive and attuned to Roisin so that the size of the steps ahead wouldn't frighten her on the one hand, or that she was unprepared on the other. What she had to do should be made achievable with a great effort.

They were casually chatting about Cassie and Helen gently floated the thought that Cassie should not be after a casual fling with a married woman with two children, advice to break up a marriage wasn't lightly given by her. In passing, Helen mentioned that Nikki was very close to her older brother Chris who was a solicitor and she might need that before long. Chris and his partner, Gemma and their children were part of their family and in close touch.

"Think it over, Roisin and, remember Nikki and I are with you every step of the way."

Roisin looked at her watch and thought, Christ, she promised Babs she'd be back in ten minutes, she'd have to rush but Helen offered to drop her back outside the school.

"You've taken a load off my mind, Helen. bless you." Roisin smiled that quick smile that made Helen think she'd done the right thing. The last Helen saw of Roisin was her hurrying her way past the school gates to the big double doors. Amongst everything, Roisin was cheered up by having a childminder for the next time she could see Cassie which with all her heart she wanted to be soon.

Aiden was where he felt most comfortable, out with the lads. He was tired of all his attempts to be the man of the house not getting the support from Roisin that he felt he should get so he told Roisin when he got home that he was going out to the pub, take it or leave it. For a change Roisin didn't fuss the way she had done in the past, even when the children were sleeping over some place he couldn't remember where Roisin had said. He was always a bit wobbly on these sort of details. he felt an inward glow and felt satisfied he'd put his foot down with Roisin in his right when he decided to 'go out with the lads' though he was vaguely disappointed that there wasn't an argument that he'd come out on top. You would have thought she would have been lonely and wanting his company but, no, she accepted that she would stop in. Well bugger it, once he was out of the house, he was a free agent and he wasn't going to come home when she wanted.

He was waylaid by his mates as soon as he entered the pub and was soon part of a loud talking gang intent on putting the pints away. Aiden had a reputation with them of being the philosopher amongst them. No matter how small the matter was, Aiden had some all inclusive proverb that summed things up and related to the 'good old days'. Everyone listened to him and he could hold an audience unlike that Roisin never gave him the admiration that was his due, especially these days.

With the alcohol to blur inhibitions, it also made things seem much more definite and simple and he felt at times like these that he could conquer the world. Be it how to put their football team at the top of the premier, what was wrong with the modern world, illegal immigrants and how to send them home, 'the lads' had an answer. See, when you look at things this way, things are all so simple.

Aiden was also a generous man and in his role of centre of attention, if one of them was a bit short of money, Aiden would lend him money and they all said 'good old Aiden'. The other side of their home life was never mentioned, not if they had wives, partners and children at home as that was the great unmentionable.

The talk got louder and louder as the evening wore on, glasses clinked, empties piled up and time went on as if it didn't exist. All got churned up together in a kaleidoscope of bright lights and another round.

Presently, Aiden staggered out towards the gents to go for a piss and as he stood up, he stared upwards into the bright light shining down on him but the alcohol and the light only offered him a blurred feeling of enlightenment. Flashbacks came into his mind that he only got married as he'd got Roisin pregnant and because of his mother wanting to keep the Connor family name respectable, he'd found himself at the front of the church pew, dressed up in a suit mouthing "I do". Another chunk in the kaleidoscope was the rows he was starting to have more with Roisin where once, she'd back down. It must be the undesirable influence of the women in the dance school, perhaps that Helen for instance. Because Miss Tyler's dance school had a high reputation amongst the parents, he couldn't say no when the children first started.

Anyway, he was supposed to forget about such things and he came staggering out, asking whose round it was to push himself further on the alcohol Oblivion Express Train..

In another room, all was silent and peaceful as Cassie and Roisin lay together.

"I can't believe, Roisin, that you fixed up a night like this so quick. When you phoned me up out of the blue to spend the night with you, I couldn't believe my, sorry make that our luck."

Roisin was in seventh heaven as she lay intimately draped round Cassie. For the one split second, she thought of the emotional wall that ran down the length of the double bed when Aiden was there in contrast to the desire for physical closeness that both Cassie and Roisin shared. It was the tenderness between them that still surprised Roisin when she recalled the larger than life dance teacher she saw at the dance studio.

"Cassie, how far do you want things to go between us?" Roisin asked with a trace of anxiety in her voice.

"You mean, you're not satisfied Roisin, Some women take so much pleasing." Cassie said jokingly about to move on top of Roisin.

"It's not that, it's living together." Roisin replied with the feeling of diving off a top board.

Cassie was equally stunned. She had been used to a 'go with the flow' feeling with a woman who had lasted longer than any other lover but Cassie in one flash took that to mean also parent to Siobhan and Mary. That was the scary thing. She'd gone once with Roisin and the children to the bowling rink and enjoyed herself far more than she had thought and Siobhan and Mary were nice kids. Nevertheless, they saw her as Miss Tyler, dance teacher and not Roisin's partner and would be parent.

"I know how much I'm asking of you but you know that me and the kids come together in the end. you know that."

"I'm nervous, Roisin. I've not been used to that amount of responsibility in my personal life, work's different. Young, free unattached and very available, that's me up till now. I'm nervous of messing up. It's a lot to take on"

"We've always got Helen and Nikki to help out. I've talked to Helen, remember." Roisin said eagerly.

Cassie answered Roisin's unspoken thought by reminding her that while Nikki and Helen may be doing an awful lot for them, once they are together, then they'll have the freedom to help them back, especially as being in the same situation. She knew Roisin's easily developed sense of guilt and her desire to do favours in return and that she loved to help anyway.

There was a feeling of the gradual crossing of the waters and a life to be that was just being born. Roisin confessed to being equally nervous and both looked into a future that felt like riding a raft down a swift flowing river with calm still peaceful waters in the distant horizon but rapids ahead and who knows what would come up. For Roisin, the final break with Aiden was something she half feared as well as so much wanted and, once done, couldn't be undone.

"Roisin, love, hope you've not changed your mind and think you can't take the pace." Cassie teased.

"I'll show you, Cassie Tyler what I'm made of" Roisin and Cassie was more than pleased to be shown.

Nikki went ahead and took Siohban up to bed first as she was really tired giving Lauren a chance to 'mother' Mary while Helen pottered around downstairs.

"You know we really like having you and Mary round." Nikki said quietly. "Lauren's great but sometimes she wishes she weren't an only child. Still we were lucky to have the one chance with Lauren."

Siobhan smiled all over at that remark, knowing how unpretentiously sincere Nikki was. She was happy there but one question that had been at the back of her mind when she asked Nikki if Helen and her really loved each other and, without a blink, Nikki replied, as simply as possible, as much as any other loving couple did. Nikki for her part was nervous in explaining that one to someone else's child, the first time she had to deal with that one outside her family and was pleased that the words chose themselves. She could see that Siobhan accepted this one but Nikki was dismayed when Siobhan burst into tears.

Instantly Nikki put her arms round her to comfort her and Siobhan cried her eyes out, clinging to her.

She got it out that things at home were worse and worse and she found it harder and harder to deal with the chilly atmosphere and rows now. She wanted it to all go away, for her mummy to be stronger and why does dad have to preach, get drunk and be nasty all the time.

"I'd be lying to you if I said that this is all natural and part of life, it shouldn't be." Nikki said, tears trickling down her face. "Things should be different."

Siobhan explained that she kept up this happy go lucky front to cover up her own unhappiness and said straight out that she would be happy in a house like hers with two mummies if it meant that everyone was happy. Lauren's happy and no matter how some of the other girls at school giggle about women like that, at which point, she stumbled a bit, she would sooner be happy than normal.

Nikki's heart went out to the girl seeing a bit of her own childhood, thinking deliverance might come earlier than she thought. She tucked the bedclothes tight round her and stayed awhile while the exhausted girl dropped off to sleep. She delicately tiptoed out of the room and turned out the light.

"Mary, you'll have to share the room with Lauren tonight," Nikki said and two smiling faces showed the answer.

Back at the pub, the talk got louder and the thoughts sodden in alcohol. The crowd had no idea of this, they were having a good time.

"Aiden, look at that good looking barmaid, she fancies you."

Aiden could see that the woman in the low cut black top was giving him the eye but protested that he had a wife at home, one of the best, he slurred drunkenly.

"That's not what you said earlier, Aiden. Roisin's the spoilsport that would keep you tied to the house all the time while you slave your guts out. Why don't you stop out for the night? You never know, you might be lucky"

Aiden's mind switched promptly and on another drunken suggestion, staggered over to the pub phonebox, somehow pressed the right buttons and slurred down the phone that he was stopping out the night with the lads and would come back the next day. He barely heard a mumbled voice in reply and put the phone down.

"That's showing her," he shouted triumphantly. "Now who's for another round" to the roaring, out of focus crowd.

A couple of minutes earlier, Roisin jumped with a start.

"My God, Aiden. I can't remember when he's likely to come back." Roisin panicked, getting out of the bed where Cassie lay. She started looking for where she put her bra and blouse in the tumble of clothes there was on the floor.

Cassie groaned to herself that Aiden nobbing Connor, the world's biggest nobbing obstacle was getting in the way of the best night she'd had for ages.

"Why don't you tell Aiden, hi I'm gay, I've a lover who's ten times better than you."

"I can't, Cassie, not tonight, soon when things are ready."

"There'll never be the perfect time, Roisin, you're stalling."

Just at that minute when they were both getting worked up, the jagged shrill voice of the phone made them both jump.

"I'd better answer the phone, Cassie." Roisin said miserably. Cassie turned over in bed, sick at the thought of what must be bad news.

To Roisin's disbelieving ears, she heard a blare of party noises and a clearly drunken slurred Aiden shouting that he was staying out with the lads and click, the phone was put down.

Cassie was astonished to see Roisin, only wearing an unbuttoned blouse, collapse into a chair in a fit of the giggles and was unable to stop herself.

"What in hell has happened now, Roisin." she said starting to smile as it must be good news though how that could be, escaped her understanding.

"It's Aiden he's......" "been found to be a bigamist"....."no Cassie, he's very kindly told us that he's staying out for the night...."

"....leaving us to enjoy ourselves..." Cassie said, falling about laughing.

In contrast to the tension before the phone call, they were both doubled up with laughter for ages so hysterically funny the phone call seemed to them and that, for once, Aiden had made things easier for them.

"Our first argument," Roisin said, "and you know what the best thing for arguments, you...." "......kiss and make up" Cassie finished for them. The way they were starting to finish each other's sentences off reminded Roisin of these two women on this women's prison drama she's started watching till Aiden put a stop to that one. That was the last she thought of Aiden for the rest of that night.

Roisin looked at the house numbers of Nikki and Helen's house and, as promised, the display of flowers in the front garden marked out their house. She lay back in the car seat for a few seconds, smiling to herself and feeling the brilliant sunshine reflect her own 'all right with the world' feeling even though she was pretty knackered with not much sleep.

"Coming darling." Cassie smiled at her as they made their way to the front door and were greeted by Helen's usual outgoing hospitality.

"I can't thank you enough for putting up my children again." Roisin said effusively.

Helen once again told her to think nothing of it, they're no trouble and smiled to herself, sensing the closeness between the two of them.

"From what Helen told me, you two are thinking of moving in together," came Nikki's voice from the back of Roisin as she brought in two mugs of coffee.

Roisin and Cassie exchanged questioning glances till Roisin nodded her head and thought, yes, that's what I meant to think only I hadn't quite realised that. The day she had spent with Cassie had made things more certain in her mind.

They chatted over a cup of coffee in a front room totally unremarkable except the overflow of Nikki's books and a CD collection which Cassie's eyes took in as pretty distinctive. it was so normal and cosy.

"The sleeping beauties haven't woken yet," Nikki explained smiling. When they stopped over, they ended up chattering for some time after they had gone to sleep and Helen and Nikki calmly tolerated the bleary eyed children who tottered downstairs as long as it wasn't a school night.

Roisin and Cassie were really dead tired out and that, plus the relaxing atmosphere in the house, meant that Roisin could feel her eyes shutting occasionally while Cassie leant her head on Roisin's shoulder and snuggled up next to her.

"Looks like it will be the dead in charge of the dead" smiled Helen at Nikki "and no guesses why they both look so wrecked."

A little later three children with quilts wrapped round them. Siobhan and Mary flopped themselves down on the settee with Roisin and Cassie and started sucking their thumbs.

"You don't mind, Miss Tyler" Siobhan asked politely before the thumb went back in her mouth.

"Course I don't," laughed Cassie "and you call me Cassie out of school.". And she put her arms round the child and gave her an affectionate hug and was nearly swamped by the voluminous quilt that nearly covered her face. She was used to being Miss Dance Teacher but having Roisin's child go up to her and plonk herself on her lap brought out a mothering instinct that she had spent years denying she had. Mary had similarly collared Roisin while Lauren took the advantage to waylay Helen while she was sitting down sipping a mug of coffee. Helen had to move fast to plonk the mug onto a sidetable or that would have gone flying.

Nikki smiled at the domesticated scene which made her feel happy at the wholeness and completion of the scene. She was used to it with just her, Helen and Lauren but was touched that the others wanted to share their world, or the sort of world that they represented. She could see the grins that Roisin and Cassie shared.

"Would you like to have two mummies, sis, like Lauren has" piped Mary out of nowhere.

"You mean like Mum and Cassie?" Siobhan asked.

Cassie blushed a delicate shade of pink which she never did, her image being brash and devil may care. Lauren smiled and she was aware straight off just what the situation was now. She dared not say anything as she didn't know if she would mess things up and thought mum or Nikki would be better to speak.

"Cassie is the best friend I could have in my life right now and if it is all right by Cassie, I want to have her more and more into my life." Roisin said loudly. Inside she was sweating as this was the first stab she had had of broaching the great unmentionable to her children. With vast relief, she realised that the floor wasn't swallowed up at her feet. "Of course, you won't see any less of Helen, Nikki and Lauren", she hastily added sensing the danger in time and, of course, this was meant. Nobody drew attention to the fact that Aiden didn't get a mention nor did anyone pick up on it.

Underneath the piled up quilts, Cassie gave Roisin's hand a squeeze in appreciation in having the nerve to coming out with the truth as close as she dared. For the first time, she had the feeling that the children belonged with her, not just Roisin. When she had a flashback of her as she was only a few months ago as a free single woman, this would have been the last way she would have foreseen her life going. All that didn't matter right now. Both of them had Nikki and Helen as the example both of them needed right now as what was possible, besides that they were friends in a million.

Suddenly, there was a deafening knock at the front door that made everyone jump and shattered the feeling of calm and restfulness.

Nikki went to answer the front door, grim faced, halfway suspecting who it was and that she should confront the shadowy figure at the back of Roisin's life and that it spelt trouble.

"Where the hell is my wife, Roisin Connor?" a swaying Aiden yelled.

"Who the bloody hell are you, and what do you mean kicking up such a row" stormed Nikki, taking instant dislike to the guy who had been out on the piss last night, suddenly woke up and wanted Roisin to jump to it.

Aiden barged past and into the front room and started yelling at Roisin to come home. He'd returned home and it was Roisin's place to cook the family dinner. The children shrank away and clung to Roisin and Cassie.

Helen's Scottish temper blew a fuse straight away and launched into a tirade that no one comes to their house drunk and abusive, Roisin was their friend and what in the name of humanity did he think to upset the children one of who is mine. she knew that all he was really concerned was his dinner and she hated the total dishonesty of him. She went into the sort of verbal attack mode that didn't waste any sound and fury but very precisely exposed what a hash he had made of his role as husband and father and blew his arguments out of the water. She could see him flinch at the attack and also realised he was letting down appearances and so he promptly backtracked in a flash and weaselled his way out of the situation that he was afraid nothing had happened to his wife and children, conveniently forgetting his drinking binge and the barmaid from last night.

Nikki watched with silent contempt at the hypocrisies flowing from his mouth and his attempt to smarm and blarney his way out of the situation. Lauren was torn between, thank God he'll be out of his house and pity for Roisin and her children being dragged back home. Besides, he had seen the invisible parent at work when she had stayed over and felt for Siobhan and Mary's visible feelings of panic. Cassie felt bitterly that Roisin should go back to an impossible situation but unless Roisin broke from him, there was nothing she could do. Her instinct was to give Aiden a piece of her mind but she felt she couldn't do so as it wasn't her house but it was Helen's.

In a last gesture which Aiden thought was him being magnanimous, Aiden thanked Helen for looking after his children and to pass on his thanks to her husband, oh yes and her friends with her.

Roisin shepherded her children out of the door who were clinging to her clothes and said she'd be in touch. She looked in Cassie's direction in particular, smiled briefly and was gone.

"The sooner you and Roisin get together, the better" Lauren said baldly to Cassie, which Nikki and Helen silently echoed.

Cassie asked her if it was so obvious what there was between them and Lauren gave her a pitying look that only children reserve for grown ups who stumble along thinking that the situation is well hidden only the children have sussed things out years ago and are waiting impatiently for the grown ups to spit it out and not waffle.

"Siobhan was half way up for it and now I think she's certain. Mary used to think Aiden was special because he wasn't around but now he's blown it with her."

Helen and Nikki were exchanging 'our pride and joy of a daughter' look with radiant smiles on their faces and Cassie now had the gut feeling that big changes were hanging in the air just waiting to happen. it was as if a half open door had been frustratingly been jammed just needed that last final push to burst open.

"Can I stay here for a bit. I've got a feeling that this situation will suddenly blow. I'll look after Lauren if you want."

Lauren thanked Cassie very graciously but said she wanted to go upstairs to bed but if she wanted anything, she would ask Cassie.

"You've let yourself in for that one, Cassie." Helen smiled. "She means it like she means everything."

Suddenly Nikki started to giggle and ask Helen where was her husband and started to call husband, husband up the stairs and opening the cubby hole door under the staircase pretending to look for him. Lauren's laughing voice could be heard asking the grown ups not to be so silly. Helen and Cassie fell about laughing though they knew that this was a nervous reaction to the threatening situation that must be developing a few miles away.

Roisin felt as if she were suddenly pitched into a cold dark living nightmare from the warmth and light and cosy security of Helen and Nikki's house. Aiden had arrived in a taxi and made a grab at Roisin's handbag to get the car keys.

"You can't drive, Aiden. I can smell the drink on you. You'll get pulled up for sure."

Siobhan and Mary started crying and pleading to dad not to drive. Eventually, he slumped into the passenger seat while Roisin steered the car homewards. In reality, this gave Aiden the chance to go on at Roisin asking where she had been and to abuse her and criticising her driving. Roisin swerved past a car that she nearly hit at right angles while Siobhan and Mary clung terrified to each other. Roisin was frightened while she was driving feeling totally unsafe and she was still more frightened at the thought of getting to the house which was rapidly ceasing to be a home.

It was dark and drizzling and Roisin shepherded the children into the house, her arms round them while Aiden reeled in after them, tripped over the front doorstep and nearly went headlong. She'd seen him drunk before but never as aggressive as this. Her instinct was to put the children to bed upstairs and try and deal with things downstairs as best she could.

"You settle to bed, my babies. I'll look after Aiden." Roisin said with a flash of a smile that fooled no one. Siobhan took Mary into her bed and clung onto her with a helpless feeling that mum might not be able to deal with this one and they certainly couldn't.

Downstairs Aiden was playing a game of demanding that he be fed and anything she suggested he refused and his slurred voice told her that his mother could knock up a meal anytime. This was his way at getting her to say where she'd been but he couldn't say this. Roisin felt that he was just playing games with her head and pleaded for him to calm down. He picked up a can of Tennant's Extra Strength lager he'd brought along with him and started glugging from this. Roisin looked at this situation as if it were not real to her, pinch herself and she'd awake. The light was off in the kitchen and she could hear the bleak sound of rain hitting the kitchen windows.

Suddenly he had the impulse to say goodnight to the children, after all he was their father but Roisin pleaded with him not to do so as he was in no fit state, She trailed after him as he stumbled up the stairs and could see the shock in the child's eyes.

In a split second, she was the child flashbacked thirty years or so when her own father came in drunk and she vowed it would never happen to her again but it was, through Siobhan.

"You're drunk, Aiden. Not in front of the children. It should never happen."

"I've worked hard to give these children standards........" started Aiden in a slurred voice waving the can of lager around.

"And every word you've said you are living a lie, Aiden. You have nothing to give them. For gods sake let them get to sleep." Roisin was really frantic at this point and Siobhan and Mary picked up on her feelings.

Next thing, she found herself on the floor not knowing how she got there or the sudden pain on her face where Aiden hit her. This is not real, she thought.

"You're no good to me, Roisin." slurred Aiden and he lumbered off downstairs nearly falling down the stairs.

Siobhan jumped straight out of bed to put her arms round Roisin while she was shaking with the shock of it all.

"You've got to phone Helen and Nikki. We need help, mum. They'll come, I know it."

Feverishly Roisin stabbed at the buttons on the phone and gabbled out briefly what had happened before she could hear the sounds of Aiden clumping and bashing round in the front room. What he was doing, she dreaded to think but her instinct was to lie low till rescue came.

It was bitterly cold and spitting down with rain but Helen and Nikki had a brief discussion outside Roisin's house. Blank eyeless windows, unlit from within stared out and there wasn't a sound.

"What in hell do we do next? " Helen queried. "Anything could have happened since Roisin phoned. What do we say."

Nikki suggested that they were just passing by. It didn't convince her but they were just going to have to think on their feet and be ready for anything. The knock on the door was delivered with more confidence than she felt.

Amazingly enough, the door opened and Roisin's face peeped round the door. Besides the mark on her face, she had clearly gone through an emotional wringer. The whole operation took place soundlessly that Roisin and the children emerged with suitcases and quilts and plastic bags and no sound of Aiden. Nikki was on tenterhooks wondering if he was going to suddenly erupt from a sideroom but not a squeak.

"Looks like we've got everything." Helen said in a deliberately matter of face way and suggested that Nikki drove Roisin's car as she was in no fit state and Roisin and the children poured into Helen's car. The rain was still teeming down and steaming up the windows as they looked back at as they drove away from what was a dead home and Aiden somewhere in the middle of it. The journey home was silent as Roisin was beyond speaking, while Siobhan and Mary were similarly knocked out. The whole thing seemed unreal. They would catch up with everything emotionally the next morning. Nikki and Helen were going through the total surprise at everything going off so low key after psyching themselves for a battle royal.

While the children finally settled to bed, Cassie and Roisin made do on cushions downstairs and there wasn't a murmur of surprise that the two of them cuddled up against each other with quilts over them. The children knew mum was safe and Cassie would look after her.

Nikki looked down at the couple, so at peace with each other and smiled to herself. It reminded her nostalgically of when she and Helen first got together. She didn't think the house could take as many people in it but that was no problem. She hoped that that was finally the end of the day. She felt suddenly knackered with the day it had been and there was nothing for it to turn in for where Helen was waiting. The dim landing light which she left on created a glow of peace, outlining the sleeping bodies below and just the slight sounds of rain tapping against the window to soothe everyone to sleep.

Nikki woke up early and realised she'd left her ciggies downstairs. Carefully folding the clean white quilt back she tiptoed out of the room, trying to avoid the creaking floorboards. Treading lightly down the stairs, she grinned at the rather tangled double quilt on the living room floor where Cassie and Roisin had improvised their bed. They looked as if they were wrapped round each other and the top of Roisin's dark hair could be seen and her arm round Roisin's shoulders judging by the shape. The sunlight cast rays through the living room window. All was piece and serenity as Nikki found the packet next to the kettle and she delicately crept into the toilet for an early morning smoke and back to bed to a Helen who was always overful of the "up in the morning" spirit and defied the rest of the world who said 'slumber on'

Presently, there was the loud thumping of childish feet upstairs and Siobhan, followed by Lauren and a trailing Mary hurled themselves downstairs and thump, right on top of a sleeping Roisin and Cassie.

"Mum, it's time for a pillow fight, you grown ups against the children." yelled Siobhan.

Cassie groaned and was going to turn over in bed and go back to sleep till she caught Roisin's eye and realising, this was the shape of the future, armed herself with a pillow. This was new to her but dredging childhood memories from her subconscious threw herself into the game but taking care not to injure any of the children accidentally. Pretty soon Cassie had both Mary and Siobhan sat on top of her, squashing her but she laughed and remembered what it was like to play. Lauren sat back a bit, pleased that her little plan worked and she then flung herself against Roisin who was so pleased that Cassie responded so well and treasured this moments of simplicity and innocence.

"Does this mean that we are going to have two mummies like Lauren has Nikki and Helen," Mary asked as she plonked herself on Cassie's lap and curled up next to her.

This was one of those moments that hung in mid air and was going to be grasped with both hands or hesitation would lead to lost chances. Roisin exchanged side glances with Cassie and plunged in and said an emphatic yes.

"And two of us to read bedtime stories" "yes" and Lauren told them how nice Cassie was last night at doing that which Cassie smiled gratefully at the graceful compliment.

And they ran through the other things that meant to them, putting plasters on, playing games, taking them to the park and when Cassie and Roisin were totally suckered asked for double portions of McDonalds on dance lessons, said with winning smiles.

"Well sometimes but not too much or you'll be bursting out of your clothes - or your skin." Cassie teased.

"An exploding Mary.....yuuuck" Siobhan said with mock disgust at which point the children started for what was for them a fascinating discussion about how much McDonalds they could each eat without exploding.

"Looks like me and you are together, Cassie love, whether we like it or not." smiled Roisin.

"Well why didn't you tell us before, mum, you're mean keeping a secret.....and Cassie" Siobhan said. "Do we call you Cassie, I mean out of dance class?"

"Cassie is just fine." Cassie said with total warmth and sincerity as she tried to brush her hair straight from the haystack it had become. She and Roisin couldn't believe her ears that blink once and all the barriers that seemed

insurmountable had melted away as if by magic.

"We're not going to lose Lauren ...and Nikki and Helen." Siobhan said in sudden fear.

"Of course not," both chimed in together. They explained that they owed them so much and they all need good friends, in fact quite the opposite.

"Mum, your face is bruised. It's time you went to hospital. come on, I'm the doctor and Cassie, you're my nurse and Mary and Lauren, you can be nurses also." Cassie trailed good naturedly after the determined childish hand clutching onto her.

Helen looked at all this silently from above smiling with satisfaction at the scene below and that Cassie and Roisin had finally come home. she went into the loo.

"Nikki, who's been smoking here," she said in an accusing voice at which point Nikki said, oh shit, she'll have to smoke out the window next time and it can't possibly be morning, she did love her lie ins but that's had it now with an awake Helen on the loose.

Roisin was leaning back in a comfortable garden chair in the back garden amongst the abundant greenery.

It seemed like a ghastly intrusion into the lovely day outside but Cassie had to ask Roisin what had happened last night. In her mind in that second, Roisin was transported from the sunlit peace and calm to the cold and dark and fear.

"By the time I'd phoned you, I'd been frightened out of my skin by Aiden drunk and aggressive and he'd hit me. What was worse was the sight of him swaying around incoherent in front of the children. That brought back childhood nightmares when I was Mary and no child should have to go through that. In those days you took it and the family suffered behind closed doors." Roisin started crying at that point and Cassie put her arms around her. Nikki's face was edged with horror and sympathy for her.

Roisin fought for control at that point. She had to tell it like it was to bring the nightmare to the surface and hopefully exorcise it and move on.

"I stayed upstairs for a bit but in the end I had to go down and see what sort of a mess had gone and he'd knocked things all over the place. Then he started crying and saying that he really loved me and asked me to remember the way things had been back in Ireland and for the sake of the children, we ought to move back to Ireland and start a new life together, that's where things had gone wrong. He kept on talking and talking as if he was trying to hypnotise me and, now I see it more clearly, using every emotional trick in the book. I had this clear vision of you, Cassie in front of me in my mind, and I had to tell him finally that it's over, He asked me why and I told him that he was unliveable with and I had someone who I was in love with."

"Did he ask for any details." Nikki said quietly. "That was very brave of you." She had felt all through Roisin's story as if someone had walked over her grave.

"He kept on asking me and asking me. In the end he lost his temper and made a lunge for me. He missed and, as he was sprawled on the floor, I noticed a love bite on the side of his neck."

Roisin then explained that this had broken the spell Aiden had been trying to weave round her. How many times had he done this before on 'lads night out', she asked him. The argument ran on interminably with accusations and unconvincing denials. Finally Roisin told him she was getting a lift for herself and her children and his things. She advised him not to make a disturbance as did he want the world to know about the other side of 'respectable' Aiden Connor. That was the reason you never heard a sound when you called to pick us up, Roisin told Nikki.

"What is he likely to do now." Cassie asked.

"He'll go back to his mother. For all his fine words, he's been pulling away from me for some time but he couldn't say it straight or try and make things better. And anyway, I've got Cassie now." smiled Roisin broadly giving the other woman a big hug.

Roisin had been talking with her eyes half closed as if not seeing the real world. Her eyes opened wide and the sunshine came back into her world and the smiling fair haired woman who was in the here and now and the future. She was emotionally back home and safe at last.

They strolled back into the living room where Helen had brought the children downstairs where she had been playing some sort of game. Cassie was studying Nikki closely as the thought crossed her mind that she was going into unknown territory as second mum, she needed to see how Nikki did it. While she was bold and brash by nature, it interested her to see the tranquil serenity and wide open eyes that she faced the outside world. Outside her dance class, Cassie had said things to shock, including her sexuality while Nikki just faced the world with that level gaze and just was, a mannerism that Lauren was picking up on. She admired Nikki and figured out that in the painful business of growing up, Nikki was further along the line than she was. In a similar way, she felt comfortable with Helen's more boisterous outgoing nature and figured them as close friends and people she could learn off.

Upstairs Roisin had looked picked up a well thumbed book of Nikki's called "Steppenwolf" by Hermann Hesse and a page fell open and she read "It was curious and mysterious to know, when I was with Maria again, that she had held Hermine in her arms just as she had held me: that she had felt, kissed, tasted and tested her limbs, her hair and skin the same way as mine. New, indirect and complicated relations rose above me, new possibilities in love and life." She had talked to Nikki earlier on who smiled and said that the book was as a whole about self discovery in general, there was a bit more than that passage in the book. Looking at the preface, Roisin found it intriguing that a book was written by a German guy in the 1920s and what he wrote about, she had experienced with Cassie. She was intrigued with the way that it was written in an unembarrassed curiously modern way, in a period set decades back in time . More to the point, the openness and understanding was far removed from her own constrained traditional Irish background that she had left far behind with Aiden.

Cassie looked around in contemplation around her flat. She mentally said farewell to the free single life where she could come and go as she pleased. Once she had left home, she didn't have parents disapproving of her lifestyle and having to discreetly sneak her girlfriend of the moment in while her parents were out. Coming back to get pissed with a crowd of people in outside her dance class existence was going to be part of her past, her "used to do that" thing to reminisce about. But did the self centred life really suit what she was really about? Not when she remembered the feelings of isolation, boredom and non attachment, though she had denied them at the time. Especially not now Roisin came into her life.

She smiled at her mother's repeated words that "one day, Cassie, you'll want to settle down, get married and have children. You don't know it, Cassie, but mark my words, it will come to you in time." How she had laughed at her mother with a derisive 'as if'. Well, she had to smile to herself that she was now doing something like her mother predicted but events shuffled out of order and not quite what her mother had in mind.

Nothing for it now but to pack everything up in packing cases and carrier bags, to scoop up all the remnants of her past life and to drive it over to Roisin's house where her future life was going to start. When the flat was empty of her personal things and personality, it would be ready for the next 'single and free' man or woman to take over.

It was hard work but only a few hours work had all her belongings ready in the transit van she had hired for the day, to drop the key in on the landlord and thank him for putting up with her wayward life and turn the back on her past.

Roisin and the children were waiting for her

Roisin, Cassie Siobhan and Mary had been really reluctant to head for home as the atmosphere was so welcoming and soothed the trauma of the previous night away. As the day wore on, Roisin was increasingly nagged by the thought of what Aiden had been up to, let loose in her house, funny that Aiden by that one word, was labelled a stranger and, when Cassie moved in, it would be 'theirs.' Helen and Nikki had been marvellous throughout the day and both Roisin and Cassie made a mental note for "foursome out for a drink" when they could. The children were at their best and playful and scampering around the place.

Nikki could see Roisin fidgeting and suggested that Roisin was obviously nervous and suggested why. The last thing she wanted to do was drive them away as Lauren was kept busy and entertained with Siobhan and Mary. Nikki was quite able to carry on with jobs and be the host and friend.

Soon they were off in Roisin's car while the afternoon sun shone low over the trees, heading for home.

"You'll be OK to help out with Saturday dance classes, Roisin," Cassie asked quietly and Roisin nodded. How absurdly easy it was now to make simple decisions like these that Roisin had now broken up with Aiden. Cassie was chatting business stuff to Roisin to lighten things for the moment of truth in facing what had happened to her, no their, home.

As they pulled up outside their house and paused a second before getting out of the car, they could see Di Barker waving from the window and came out of her front door headed in their direction.

"Roisin, Aiden left me a message that he had to go over suddenly to his mother's because there was a problem in the family. Poor man, he looked so upset. I hoped everything is all right?"

Di's wide eyes were looking searchingly at Roisin to enlarge on it so that she could do her Marge Proops routine and offer advice. She waited a full three minutes before catching sight of Cassie and asked, "Is she your friend or your sister. I don't think we've met before."

Roisin thought in a flash, typical Aiden, put on a nice appearance in front of the neighbours and what a cover up so no one knows and his reputation is intact. What should I have expected differently, she thought bitterly to herself but in a way that distanced him from her, the last real thought she had of him.

" Cassie, meet Di Barker. Cassie's come over to help.........The front door's open, excuse me Di but I'd better see what is going on."

Cassie was mightily relieved that Roisin wasn't going to be foolish enough to expect her to hold up a convincing Irish accent for more than two seconds. Also seeing the front door ajar, she used this to rush off with Roisin and the children up to the house.

The atmosphere of the house was chill and strangely unwelcoming when Roisin crossed the threshold and then she had a shock.

Inside the living room, things were turned upside down, the TV on its side, all sort of familiar ornaments piled onto the floor. Empty cans of lager were littered around in the front room. This wasn't the house as she knew it.

"Jesus Christ, Roisin." Cassie said with horror. "What the hell's happened here"

Siobhan and Mary started crying at this point and both Roisin and Cassie instinctively went in their direction to comfort them, Cassie not even thinking should she leave that sort of thing to Roisin. Something in the children's eyes expressed a 'thank you' to Cassie who, in turn, felt tender and protective towards them, even at a moment like this.

"We'd better see the worst, you guys and we'd better get clearing up.....if that's all right with you," Cassie pitched it casually so as not to seem too pushy or insensitive and the others silently agreed.

Roisin took the risk of turning the lights on and drawing the curtains to make it look less bare. The kitchen was less disturbed but this was foreign territory to Aiden. Going upstairs, Roisin went to the bedroom she had slept in and that was the worst. A few pictures of Roisin and Aiden had been savagely hurled across the room and broken glass was everywhere - that said it all. Looking in the wardrobes, Aiden had cleared everything of his out and her own clothes were strewn in a pile on the floor. Roisin started to cry at that point and Cassie put her arms round her and only later on did she think for a second what the children might have thought if things were different.

"Mum, we can clear all this up. You don't have to do this all your own....and Cassie will help, won't you, Cassie" and a pair of eyes were trained in her direction.

"Bet your life on it, Siobhan," Cassie said in joking easy tones but the children knew this was for real. "We'd better check your bedrooms, children," Cassie added.

With a breath of relief, the bedroom had been untouched though whether this was for regard for the children or whether Aiden was too drunk to notice, Roisin cynically debated within herself.

"You're in charge, Roache." Cassie said diplomatically and hastily added ".........and the children and me as well. Where do we start?"

The farthest reaches of the house were scoured for cloths, cleaning stuff while Cassie volunteered to give Siobhan a hand to straighten the TV and the little girl was touched that Cassie 'came down' to her level. By some miracle, the TV was undamaged, it was switched on and the inconsequential sounds of children's TV made things sound normal. Mary, though she was little, helped to tidy up the bedroom that was to be Roisin's and Cassie's though at one point, she tried to tidy up a big quilt and got tangled up in it.

"Never mind, my baby." Roisin rescued her and kissed her on the top of her head.

"Cup of coffee, Roache," Cassie shouted up the stairs and put a mug of steaming hot coffee on the top of the staircase before diving down to give the kitchen a quick once over.

Aiden's rampaging around, fortunately had broken not much more than fragile ornaments and pictures. Roisin found the smashed wedding pictures of herself and Aiden and after clearing up the class, laid the photo frames face downwards. There seemed no point in putting them out on display as what was the point?

"We've done so well, everyone" Roisin beamed at the tidied up house. "like a real family". And the words hung in the air when she had said something that was permanent and lasting.

"I'm tired out," Cassie said.

"It's time the two mums went to bed" Siobhan said in her best Roisin impersonation, speaking very severely. Mary joined in saying in a concerned voice that they looked tired out and you'll feel so much better in the morning with a good nights sleep.

Roisin was about to protest when Siobhan insisted and that she and Mary for one night would look after the house and get themselves to bed.

Cassie looked at the slight smirk on Siobhan's face and knew that this display of bossiness was kindly meant and their way of thanking her and Roisin.

"Come on, Roache. Got to please the children sometimes." Cassie said as Siobhan was physically propelling Roisin out the door.

"All right, my babies but one night only" Roisin said, half smiling. "But I think we can get undressed by ourselves."

Siobhan told them they would be up in ten minutes to tuck them up in bed and don't worry about them.

When they were upstairs, the phone rang and Mary answered the phone and told a concerned Helen that everything was fine and both the mummies are in bed as they are old and get easily tired and she and Siobhan are looking after the house and not to worry. Mary was thanked for them being good to them and that Helen was sure everything was just fine.

"I can't believe it, Cassie. Tucked up in bed by my, sorry our, children, read a bedtime story by them so sweetly and the light turned off so they can play 'grown ups' and watch TV. Have we got to be a bit careful and not make it too obvious." Roisin finished in a worried tone.

"Roisin Connor, those two bright children know bloody well what we're going to get up to." grinned Cassie broadly. "Why do you think they made a point of saying what long film they are going to watch and why is the TV on a bit loud. After these last few days, we might as well start out the way we mean to continue. Now if we untuck the bed a bit and make a bit more space instead of being crammed in like sardines......".

"All right, Nikki, I've been fidgeting these last few hours wondering how Cassie and Roisin have got on. Even Lauren could see how much Roisin was starting to worry about her house and what they were going to find and that was why they suddenly shot off."

"Even Lauren", sniffed Lauren disdainfully," I though of it long before you two slow people."

"All right." grinned Helen at the rebuke, "lets cut out the crap and I'll phone up and see how they're going on" .

Helen picked up the phone and her grin became wider as she heard Mary's childish voice sounding so poised and mature and in charge of the house. She'd been a cute little thing in Siobhan's boisterous but protective shadow that for her to come out of herself was an experience, something Helen had not seen before.

"Good news, everyone. Everything sounds fine with Aiden out of the way. And you'll never believe it, Nikki but those two children are playing grown ups and chaperone to Cassie's and Roisin's first night together under their own roof."

While Nikki fell about laughing at that one, Lauren said in a very composed and sophisticated tone. "Oh good. So our little plan worked."

"So that's what you three were plotting together, Lauren.....well done anyway. You all definitely did the right thing. "Helen looked down on her child in a mixture of gentle amusement, pride and real respect. The child's growing up, she thought, and I can see both me and Nikki in her but she's her own person too and that's all we really wanted from the day she came into our world.

"You won't be long, Cassie", Roisin asked.

"All I've got to do is to pick up a transit van and pack my stuff into it and bring it all home, Roache........."

"And say goodbye to a part of your life." Roisin realised exactly what she was doing. Cassie looked her in the eye and knew what she was thinking. She put it like she was moving on from her past to be with her. She had no regrets though a bit of her was nervous at taking on responsibilities but the major half of her felt that that was where her life belonged.

"I'll be back soon, hon." Cassie smiled and kissed her.

Roisin and the children waved her off as she got behind the wheel of a white Ford Transit that seemed to swallow her petite shape up but she drove off confidently. Roisin realised that her 'go getting' nature was the long missing presence that pulled her family together.

She thought back to when she first enrolled her children at dance class and she came, nervous and unsure, into this hall where Miss Tyler seemed to radiate confidence around her. She had that rather strained polite smile for the more pushy, busybody parents who wanted the best for their child and the more nervous unsure parents who stumbled with the complexities of the timetable. At that stage, she hung back not daring to speak to her. She thought of her then as no more than a dance teacher who was a much younger, more fashionably dressed version than the female dragons of her childhood who were exacting and sergeant majorish in their approach. The dancing had given her a measure of confidence as she grew up at the expense of the old style teachers who, in and out of school, demanded unthinking conformity. When she was young, she accepted it all without protest until she began to dance as a living and was caught up for a while in a more free thinking unconventional world. Well, she had gone back to her teenage years in a new way by falling in love with that same dance teacher who now she saw with such different eyes. She was Cassie who had softened her manner and was more patient and gentle and whom the children warmed to. Cassie's initial uncertainty with the children made her more human and fallible and attractive because of that but she had to admire the way she found her way through those uncertainties.

The loud sound of the phone jangled its way through her reminiscences.

"Mrs Connor here," and the latest female dragon, Aiden's mother came on the line "what have you done to my son in the way you've treated him" And Roisin was subjected to a tirade of abuse and, how could she treat her children, to deprive her children of a father who had done so much for the family. Now I know where Aiden gets his personality from, Roisin thought, and it's time to stand up to her.

"Now look here, we're not talking the same language or the same marriage, Mrs Connor. There is so much you don't know I could talk all night but one thing, have you asked your precious son about getting drunk and smashing up the house before he left and the love bite on his neck? Now if you excuse me, I've got work to do." And with that, she put the phone down.

"Was that was Grandma, mum ? Don't worry as Cassie will be home soon and will make it all better" said Mary and took her by the hand.

Roisin felt such a burst of affection for Cassie and their children that tears came to her eyes and, no, it wasn't tears of sadness but of happiness.

They took it in turns to peep out the window till at last the white van came up the road and gradually stopped instead of Cassie's normal dramatic screech of tyres stop due to the breakables in the back.

Her carrying voice called out that she was home and then she picked up on Roisin being more tense than she expected and Roisin told Cassie of the phone call.

Cassie suppressed the first impulse to eff and blind Aiden and his mother. This is going to be the first round of a nasty battle between them and the family as she automatically slipped into the habit of thinking.

"I don't know, Roache. This is going to be nasty as it is and when they find out about me, it could get worse. "

She nearly talked about Aiden's mother freaking out that two out dykes were bringing up her grandchildren only she realised that Roisin wasn't going to jump for joy at being described that way let alone in relation to Aiden and her mother. She managed to stop herself in time and softened the whole thing.

"Didn't you say Nikki has a brother who's a solicitor. I think we're going to need one to figure out where we stand on this one. If he's anything like Nikki, then he is going to be what we need- and Nikki and Helen as well. Don't worry, hon, we're not on our own. Come on, give me a hand to pack my stuff."

Cassie's soothing but practical words brought her off the sudden blinding peak of panic that had overtaken her and, yes, it was going to be hard but not impossible.

Roisin reached out for the more immediate attraction of helping Cassie with her cases and planning out where they were going to fit in their bedroom. Both drew a smile of satisfaction to see the transformed room complete with Cassie's own styles added in. It felt like home now.

Part 3

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