The Storm Before The Calm by D Donovan

Meredith and Sam were sitting on the sofa laughing at the antics of Jenny, their five-month old baby. They’d bought her a bouncing chair last week and she was jiggling herself up and down and chuckling.
The Storm Before The Calm
The Storm Before The Calm by D Donovan
It was nearly seven-thirty. Meredith yawned. It would soon be time for bed. She was a weather presenter with Channel 7 news on their breakfast show and started work at five in the morning. Having only been back at work for a week and a half after six-months maternity leave she was finding it difficult to get into a routine; not to mention tiring looking after Jenny and the house too, but she loved her job. She’d never even considered giving it up to stay home with her daughter. “Do you still want to go to the gym on Saturday morning?” Sam asked, breaking through her thoughts. “Mmmm, yes,” Meredith said, preoccupied with watching their daughter. “I just thought that now you’re back at work you might want to spend more time with Jenny for the first week or two.” She reflected upon what Sam said before deciding that as much as she loved spending time with her daughter she really needed some time with her friends too. She’d barely seen her friends since Christmas, apart from them visiting in February when Jenny was born and the odd flying visit from some of them from time to time. No, she thought, I really need some time away from home, family and work for a change. “As lovely as it would be to spend time with this little darling,” Meredith said as she leaned over to tickle under Jenny’s chin, “I still need some time with my friends, space to do my own thing. After all, I do have her to myself every afternoon. Besides, I’m meeting Alice there. It’s all arranged and then we’re going shopping. I’m so looking forward to having a good old gossip with her. There’s never enough time when we’re at work to chat.” “Oh, I just wondered,” Sam said, disappointed with Meredith’s answer. “The guys from work are having a five-a side tournament on Saturday; a team building thing and I said I’d try to be there. Would you swap weeks with me and you could go the following two weeks or maybe meet Alice in the afternoon instead?” “Aaah, so you have ulterior motives,” Meredith smiled, turning to look at Sam as she spoke. “The answer’s still no I’m afraid. It’s all arranged and you know Alice; she’ll have something else planned with her boys later in the day. How about asking Chloe if she wants some overtime?” Chloe was their child minder and house keeper. She was studying for her post graduate degree and the job fitted in perfectly with her university commitments, allowing her to study part of the time she was at work. She was the daughter of Meredith’s mum’s friend so Meredith had known her for a long time and was happy to trust her with Jenny. “I asked Chloe this morning but she has a night out on Friday so she’s not able to help,” Sam replied. “Mmm, it’s a pity our parents are so far away. They’d jump at the chance to look after her. Looks like you’ll just have to miss out.” “Please, Meredith, it would mean a lot to me,” Sam pleaded “It means a lot to me too. You’re forgetting I haven’t been out much since Jenny was born and I’ve hardly spent any time with my friends.” Sam looked dejectedly at Meredith but she wasn’t about to change her mind. “I just thought you might want more time with Jenny,” Sam replied, hoping Meredith might feel a little guilty but he should have known better. “I would have thought you would want more time with her too.” Meredith was starting to get annoyed. They’d agreed that they would have alternate weekends to spend time with their friends once she was back to work but Sam seemed to be struggling with his side of the bargain already. She sat there fuming in silence and would have become really annoyed if he had tried to persuade her to change her mind again but Sam decided to leave it for the moment. Meredith was clearly tired and grumpy in his opinion and he thought he might have more luck if he tried again earlier in the evening tomorrow. Sam’s mobile phone rang breaking the silence that had settled after their brief conversation. Meredith could hear Sam’s side of the conversation and realised it was John, Sam’s best mate. Sam seemed to be making arrangements to meet him. He ended the call after telling John he would meet him there and turned to Meredith. “That was John. He’s down the pub just now and looking for some company. No-one else is in. I said I’d go down there. You don’t mind, do you?” Sam enquired, getting up from the sofa and heading for the hallway to collect his jacket. “You’ll need to put Jenny to bed first. Won’t it be a little late by then?” Sam stopped mid-stride. He’d just assumed Meredith would agree. I’ve been doing the bedtimes for over a week now. Surely she could do just one night, he thought, feeling a little annoyed that he was even having to ask before he could go out. “Couldn’t you do the bed time routine tonight? I’d really like to get out of the house for a while.” Sam tried to keep his annoyance hidden. “Sam, we agreed our routine. You know I’m up at half past three in the morning. I’m already yawning so much that I’m in danger of breaking my jaw and it’s only just left half seven. By the time I get Jenny fed and asleep it will be after nine. Five or six hours sleep just isn’t enough. You’ll have to call him back and cancel.” “Just this once, Meredith, that’s all I’m asking,” Sam pleaded. “Sorry, Sam, but it’s just not on. I need my sleep. I’m finding the routine of work and family difficult enough as it is without ending up exhausted all day. In fact, I’m just about to start readying myself for bed. I’ll be down to say goodnight to Jenny in five minutes.” Meredith stood as she spoke and passed Sam on her way to the door. That should sort him out, she thought as she headed upstairs. She knew he’d just taken it for granted that she would say yes but she wasn’t about to back down. ‘Just this once’ could quickly turn into once a week and before I know it I’ll be doing all the bath times, she fumed as she headed for the bathroom. Five minutes later Meredith returned to the lounge. Picking Jenny up to have a last cuddle before she turned in for the night, she turned to Sam and asked, “Any ideas what you’d like for dinner tomorrow?” “No,” was all Sam said. Meredith glanced at him and took in the sullen look on his face. “You’re not sulking because you can’t meet John, are you?” “No, of course not,” retorted Sam, even though he knew he was. Meredith could have had one late night, surely, he thought, but knew that if he said it out loud he would sound like the unreasonable one. He had helped Meredith work out their rota after all but hadn’t realised at the time that she would stick to it so rigidly. Meredith had a quick game of peek-a-boo with Jenny before placung her back in the chair. “I’m off to bed then,” she announced, leaning over to give Sam a goodnight kiss. Sam gave her a little peck on the cheek. Meredith picked up on his reluctance even to do that much. “You are in a huff, aren’t you?” Meredith said, putting her hands on her hips as she stood upright. “No, honestly, I’m not. It’s just a bit frustrating is all,” Sam replied, hoping the statement would cover up his annoyance with Meredith. “Yeah, it is a bit,” Meredith agreed, “but we both knew that having a family would mean giving up some of our freedom. Anyway, I’m off to bed. Goodnight.” “Night,” Sam called after her as she disappeared out the door. As he sat there griping to himself about how unreasonable Meredith was being an idea sprung to his mind. He phoned John, hoping he would hear his mobile over the noise in the pub. John answered after a couple of rings. “Hi mate, it’s me” Sam said quietly into the phone. “Listen, something’s come up. I won’t make it for an hour or so. Will you still be there?” “Sure. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon. I’ll see you in an hour or so then.” “No worries.” Sam hung up. Now all he had to do was get Jenny bathed, fed and sleeping by nine and he could get out for a few pints after all. Picking Jenny up, he headed for the main bathroom. Half an hour later, Jenny was ready for bed and Sam was trying to feed her. Jenny was playing up, spitting out the milk and chewing on the teat of the bottle. It was about an hour before her normal feeding time and she was making it clear she wasn’t hungry yet. A few minutes later Sam put her on the floor to play with the toys she’d thrown around earlier, deciding to wait another fifteen minutes or so before trying again. That would still give him plenty of time, he figured. The second time Sam tried feeding Jenny she was much more obliging and even fell asleep when there was still about a quarter of the milk left in her bottle. Carrying her gently upstairs, he made sure she was settled before heading down again, grabbing his jacket and closing the front door quietly behind him. Chapter 2 Meredith woke up when Jenny started crying. She listened for the sound of Sam’s footsteps coming up the stairs. When it became obvious that Sam wasn’t on his way she pulled herself out of bed and headed for Jenny’s room, thinking that Sam had probably fallen asleep on the sofa. Picking up her sobbing daughter, she hummed softly as she carried her downstairs in search of Sam. There was no sign of Sam in the lounge or the kitchen. Meredith went to the bottom of the stairs and called out his name thinking he’d maybe just gone to the bathroom but she was met with silence. Jenny had quietened down but was now wide awake and making gurgling noises. Putting Jenny on the floor in the lounge and fetching her mobile phone from her bag in the hall, she called Sam and listened as the phone rang out then went to voice mail. Leaving an irritated message to let him know Jenny was wide awake and that she assumed he’d gone to the pub after all, she ended the call with an annoyed stab of her finger. “Well, that will be that then. I guess I’m going to have to do bedtime after all,” she muttered to herself as she vowed to have serious words with Sam tomorrow about him shirking his duties. For the next half hour Meredith played with Jenny until the baby finally began to yawn and rub her eyes with chubby fists. Jenny hungrily gulped down a half bottle of milk and Meredith spent another ten minutes or so singing to Jenny until she relaxed fully and closed her eyes. Taking the sleeping baby to her room, she laid her gently in the cot, careful not to wake her for fear of having to stay up another hour playing baby games. When Meredith finally climbed back into bed she felt wide awake. Picking up her laptop, she checked her face book and twitter accounts and ended up wishing she hadn’t bothered. There were a few not very pleasant comments about her appearance from some of her followers. One said her hair was always untidy, another commented that her clothes always looked a size too small and yet another mentioned that her tummy wasn’t as flat as it used to be. Worst of all was the one who said she looked as though someone had just dragged her into the broom cupboard for a quickie before she went on air. She closed the laptop with a sigh. Her tummy was a little more pronounced than it had been before having Jenny but she knew she wasn’t any heavier. As for her hair, it was so thick that it was very difficult to manage. Using massive amounts of hair gel to flatten it down simply meant it moved in clumps rather than strands. She was also very careful about the clothes she wore, making sure she was always smart, or so she’d thought. Clearly her dress sense left little to be desired according to at least one person. Meredith turned onto her side, closed her eyes and hoped sleep would banish all thoughts of the negative comments from her mind, but it wasn’t to be. She tossed and turned for another hour or so with thoughts of how she would approach the topic of Sam’s absence, whether she had any larger sized clothes and if there was a way to tame her unruly hair all running through her mind in a jumble. Eventually she fell asleep sometime after eleven when exhaustion took over. The insistent beeping of the alarm annoyed Meredith awake at three thirty in the morning. Reaching out, she hit the snooze button and rolled over. Sam was lying beside her on his back, snoring gently. She caught a waft of stale beer and toothpaste. Quickly turning away from the assault on her senses, she closed her eyes for what seemed like a second but when the alarm broke through her consciousness again it was four o’clock. Knowing she would have to rush and that she would feel out of sorts for the rest of the day she groaned as she pulled herself out of bed and headed for the en-suite. All I need is to be late less than a fortnight after being back at work, she moaned. Deciding not to wash her hair to save time, she was showered and dressed by four-fifteen, choosing a black skirt that had always felt a bit loose on her and a black and white vertically striped blouse which she hoped would have a slimming effect. Spending several minutes in the bathroom overdoing the hair gel and brushing her hair furiously in an effort to tame it, she finally checked her overall look in the mirrored wardrobe door. Satisfied that her hair was flat and didn’t look untidy, she quietly left the room and headed downstairs. If I leave now instead of making coffee, she thought, I should make it to work in plenty of time to go to the canteen; maybe even have time for a spot of breakfast. Decision made, she headed out to her car a little more relaxed, knowing that she wasn’t going to be late after all. It was raining quite heavily as she stepped outside. Jogging the few metres to the car, she quickly clambered in, started up the engine and put the windscreen wipers on full speed. The drive to work was uneventful as usual with hardly any traffic on the roads due to the early hour of the day. Arriving at work with twenty minutes to spare she reached into her glove compartment to retrieve the spare umbrella only to find it wasn’t there. Thinking back to the last time she’d used it, she remembered it was to go from the car to the house. “Duh,” she said as she hit herself on the forehead with the palm of her hand when she realised she’d forgotten to put it back in the car. She stepped out of the car, hurriedly slammed the door shut behind her and locking it. Running across the car park, she tried to shield her head with her handbag. Once inside the building she shook droplets of rain from her clothes and headed for the canteen, grateful to be somewhere dry and warm. The weather was cold for July and the high winds that had been around the last few days made it feel even colder. The canteen was quiet at that time of the morning. After buying a cup of strong black coffee, she opted for a seat near the door hoping it would give her an extra minute or two to gather her wits. Taking a sip of coffee and then another, she willed it to make her feel human again but all she felt was tired and washed out. Her thoughts turned to Sam ducking out last night. She felt her annoyance with him rise again, but she also felt fear. If Sam continued to shirk his responsibilities on a regular basis she wasn’t sure how she would cope – or stop him. Checking her wrist-watch she realised she had only five minutes left. Picking up her bag, she gulping down the last of her coffee and headed to her office to pick up her charts and maps before going to her dressing room. Anna, the stylist, would be along shortly to do her hair and make-up. Anna was a likeable woman, older (Meredith guessed her age at late fifties) and with a soft, gentle voice that always soothed Meredith in the morning as she told tales about the latest exploits of her grandchildren. At five-fifteen Anna arrived and began the arduous task of sorting out Meredith’s hair. As she lifted the first strand to clamp between the straighteners she hurriedly dropped it again, shook her hand in the air and then rubbed her fingers on the apron she always wore. “What have you put in your hair this morning?” she exclaimed, screwing up her face to show her displeasure. Meredith using copious amounts of hair gel was nothing unusual. Anna had tried to dissuade her from doing so on many occasions but today was just too much. “I overslept this morning so didn’t have time to wash it. I just had to gel it down. You know what it’s like,” Meredith explained. “I’ll have to scrape it off the straighteners by the time I’m finished. No time for washing and drying it now. We’ll just have to hope for the best,” Anna said with a sigh as she picked up a clump of hair and began the morning ritual of teasing it into submission. By the time Anna had finished Meredith still had fifteen minutes before she needed to be on set. It meant she had time to run over the weather forecast once more, but first she went to survey her appearance in the full length mirror, checking that she was at least ‘tidy’. She twisted at her skirt and pulled at her blouse. It didn’t make any difference. She still felt dumpy; her clothes had failed to have had the desired effect. Going back to the small desk, she sat down, picked up her papers, sighed and began to read but the words blurred. Her brain was having difficulty taking anything in. She felt frazzled, as though she had been on the go for twenty-four hours straight. Sam’s disappearing act last night hadn’t helped. His reneging on their agreement really had her rattled. If Sam was determined to start behaving like a single man again there wasn’t a lot Meredith would be able to do about it. She could hardly lock him in the house. There had been more arguments between Meredith and Sam since Jenny came along, particularly when she’d given them a few sleepless nights but they both knew the problem and had talked it through. Sam had been attentive at first and wanted to do as much as he could for both Meredith and Jenny, which Meredith had been very grateful for, but it seemed the novelty of it all was wearing thin for him now. Taking a deep breath in before exhaling sharply, she pushed thoughts of Sam from her mind. She needed to focus all her attention on work right now. There were a couple of million viewers depending on her to make a good job of explaining the weather patterns for the next few days and she would be on air in five minutes. Just before she headed to the set she had a final check in the mirror. As usual Anna had excelled in making Meredith’s unruly hair look sleek and shiny, just as she always did, but Meredith still pulled at it a few times trying to make it sit perfectly. After a few seconds of hair tweaking she began pulling at her skirt and blouse again in an effort to hide the curves she’d gained since having Jenny. Normally she wore skirts with no waistbands to hide her slightly protruding tummy but the skirt she’d chosen this morning had a high waist band and, if anything, accentuated the small bulge instead of hiding it. The skirt moved easily around her waist as she twisted it from side to side, trying to make it sit neatly. Not too small at all, she thought as she looked in the mirror and sighed once more before making her way to the studio. Chapter 3 Meredith rounded the corner and slipped into her place. The camera lights were still at red, letting her know that she wasn’t on air yet. Jim, the jack of all trades, came over and hooked her up with her earpiece before handing her the clicker she used to switch screens. All set and ready to go, she waited on Joanna, the early morning news presenter, to wind up the latest news cast and introduce Meredith. Taking a deep breath as she heard her countdown begin, she smiled and began to speak into the camera. “Thank you Joanna. I’m afraid you’re correct; the rain is with us all day, right across the country. Throughout the day there’s not much change but by late afternoon and into the evening there will be high winds and even some stormy conditions in the north. There are a few weather warnings in place for this evening so check your local news for the areas affected. Overnight the rain continues and unfortunately stays with us again tomorrow. The winds will have died down a bit by then but it will still be very blustery. Along with the rain this will make conditions quite unpleasant, so take care if you’re driving in those high winds. And that’s all from me for now. Back to you Joanna.” “Thank you, Meredith.” Joanna turned back to her screen, allowing Meredith to slip quietly away when the camera light turned red again. It was time for another coffee, she decided, as she headed for her dressing room to change out of her killer heels. She couldn’t walk properly in high heels; never had been able to master it. It was even worse now since she’d had over a year of wearing sensible shoes all the time. Her feet and legs instantly felt much better when she removed the shoes. She slipped on her comfortable, but tatty, old pumps before heading along the corridor and entering the canteen through the automatic double doors. The canteen was buzzing, a change from earlier although there were usually plenty of people around because the building never closed. They even made some dramas and documentaries in the studios. Meredith bumped into the odd well known actor or actress now and again but never really had time to chat for long. Making her way to the counter, she scanned the tables as she went for Alice. Spotting her at a table way off in the corner, Meredith began waving to attract her friend’s attention. Alice was a news presenter which meant their paths didn’t often cross at work. On top of that she hadn’t seen so much of Alice since Jenny was born so she was really looking forward to their get together on Saturday. Alice eventually noticed Meredith waving and patted the empty seat beside her by way of a greeting. A double shot latte in hand, Meredith made her way toward the table, set down her coffee and flopped into the seat opposite Alice. “It’s so good to see you,” Meredith said with a smile. The two women had been friends since Meredith first joined the news team at Channel 7. It had been Alice’s job to show Meredith around, introduce her to everyone and follow that through by always helping whenever Meredith had been at a loss. They’d become very firm friends over the years and Meredith was truly glad to see her. “You too.” Alice grinned. “Where have you been all week?” “Oh, you know second week back and still trying to find my feet again so there wasn’t much time for coffee breaks.” “Yeah, I know the feeling. It’s Wednesday already and this is the first day I’ve managed to have a coffee break this week. Anyway, enough about that. Tell me all about that beautiful baby of yours. How are you coping?” “Well, up until last week it was fine but working and having a family is not easy, especially when I have to be up at three-thirty. Jenny is an absolute delight though; she makes it all worthwhile.” “Hmmm, you do look a bit tired but apart from that you’re looking great. You’ve nearly got rid of your tummy already; almost back to your normal size. You should be very proud.” Meredith wasn’t sure what to make of her friends comments. She knew Alice would never be deliberately cruel but it definitely sounded like a back handed compliment. “How’s your lot anyway,” Meredith asked in an effort to change the subject. She didn’t really feel up to taking any more criticism about her appearance. “Oh the usual. Boys will be boys. The three of them are at school now. I thought that would give me more time to myself but it seems to work the opposite way. I’m tied down to their timetable now. The joys,” Alice moaned. “You wouldn’t be without them,” Meredith laughed. “No, you’re right, I wouldn’t, but it doesn’t stop me feeling a bit overwhelmed sometimes.” “I’m beginning to understand what you mean.” Meredith laughed again as she rose from her seat. “Anyway, I’d better get back. I’ve hardly worked at all this morning. I slept in and then it just seems like one thing after another. Will you be here at the same time tomorrow?” “I’ll do my best but you know how it is. If some new story breaks...” Alice shrugged and smiled up at Meredith. “Okay, hopefully see you tomorrow.” As Meredith was walking back along the corridor, head down and lost in thoughts about her weight she collided with Celia, knocking the papers Celia had been carrying on the floor. “Oh, excuse me,” Meredith apologised and bent to help Celia pick them up. “I’m really sorry. I don’t know what’s wrong with me today. I’ve got my head in the clouds.” “Among your feet more like, from what I could see. You okay?” Celia asked, furrowing her brow and looking Meredith straight in the eye. “I’m fine. Just a hectic week, you know how it is.” “Yeah, it’s bad enough without adding a baby in to the mix. How is she; the baby I mean?” “Oh, an absolute angel, although she has her moments.” “You’re looking well, if a bit tired. That hair of yours is so lovely and thick, although it must be difficult to manage,” Celia commented while reaching out and pulling at the ends of Meredith’s hair. Meredith couldn’t believe what she was hearing. What is it with everybody criticising my appearance today? she raged. It’s not as if they’re all perfect. “I like it the way it is. Sorry, I have to run,” Meredith snapped as she took off along the corridor, leaving Celia with a puzzled frown. It wasn’t like Meredith to snap at anyone. Celia decided it must just be the stress of new parenthood. Besides, Celia had no time to run after her to find out what she was so upset about. She had to get going to her interview with Gary Maters, the latest soap heart throb. Chapter 4 Safely back in her dressing room with the door firmly shut, Meredith stood in front of the full length mirror again, pulling at her clothes and trying to straighten out her long black hair. She removed her heavy-rimmed, black glasses, even though she knew it was pointless. Her eyesight was poor and her contact lens trial had been a disaster. She’d felt as though she had golf balls in her eyes all day, every day. The optician had said she would get used to them but after a month of blood shot, streaming eyes that any self-respecting zombie would have been proud of, she’d given up. Looking at herself in the mirror without her glasses on was useless. All she could see was a blurred shape with no features, although she did look thinner. Putting her glasses back on, she checked the time on her wristwatch. Shit, two minutes to go, she thought and ran out the door, heading along the corridor at a half run. She should have been in place by now. As she slipped into her spot, she realised she’d forgotten to change her shoes and was still wearing her old, comfortable pumps. Oh well, too late now. Hopefully the camera woman won’t do any full length shots, she silently prayed. “Thanks again Joanna. Sorry, but no better news for you. I wish I could brighten it up but I don’t control the weather. I just tell it like it is,” Meredith joked with the breakfast show presenter before turning to the camera. “Sorry to be the badder of bear news, I mean the bearer of bad news, excuse me.” Meredith felt heat rising in her cheeks and was grateful for the extra layer of powder the stylist had applied. “The rain is with us all day, light across the countly – I mean right – across – the – country. Sorry folks, think I’ve got my mum’s teeth in today.” Meredith tried to make light of her mistakes but only become even more flustered. What am I on about? she thought. My mum’s teeth!!! Good grief, what will the viewer’s think? Taking a deep breath, she started again, smiling directly at the camera. “The rain will be with us all day and most of tomorrow. By this evening there will be high winds and even some stormy sonditions in the North, or conditions even.” Meredith couldn’t believe this was happening. She’d made the odd mistake in the past but not fluffing every sentence. Her tongue felt as though it was double the size it should be and she was having difficulty forming words. She took another deep breath, held it for a moment and started over. “There are a few weather warnings in place for this evening, particularly in the North of England and Southern Scotland so check your local news for the areas affected. Tomorrow the winds will have died down a bit but it will still be very blustery and, along with the rain, driving conditions will be hazardous, so don’t drive unless you have to and if you do have to, take care. And that’s all from me for now. Back to you Joanna.” Meredith flew off set as soon as the camera light turned red, feeling very embarrassed and relieved at the same time. That was a dreadful experience; she was thinking as she wondered for the hundredth time what on earth was wrong with her today. Reaching her dressing room, she stepped inside, slamming the door shut behind her before sitting down, putting her head in her hands and staying like that for the next five minutes. She wondered what the comments on face book and twitter would be tonight, not to mention the ribbing she would probably get from her colleagues. That was the worst about being well known. Every mistake became public knowledge. Even her mum would probably phone tonight to ask if she was okay. Once she’d calmed down a bit she lifted her head just as someone knocked on the door. She rose to answer it, trying to compose herself when the person on the other side of the door called her name. “Are you in there, Meredith?” “Oh lord, it’s Amanda. Just what I don’t need right now.” Meredith muttered quietly. Amanda was Meredith’s supervisor and a hard task master, although always fair. Meredith opened the door, knowing she was about to be quizzed about her performance. “Hi, Amanda. Come in.” “Thanks Meredith. I suppose you’ve an idea why I’m here.” “My bungling through that last forecast, I presume,” Meredith said, putting her head down and staring at the floor. All I need now is a bollocking from the boss. Great, she thought. “Just wanted to know you were okay. It’s not like you. You’re usually so professional.” Amanda looked at Meredith quizzically, clearly expecting some sort of explanation. “I’m sorry. It’s just been a difficult couple of weeks getting back in to the swing of things after such a long time away. I’ll be fine.” “I hope so, but I’ve asked Deborah to do the seven o’clock slot and to remain on standby until nine. It’ll give her a little experience and you a little break. Go get yourself a coffee or something and chill out for the next hour. I’ll try to drop by again just before the seven thirty slot to see how you’re doing.” With that Amanda walked out the door, leaving Meredith panicking as well as furious. Deborah was fairly new and learning the ropes, but Meredith disliked her intensely. At the last Christmas party, Meredith had been forced to tell Deborah to back off when she’d taken a shine to Sam and didn’t seem the slightest bit bothered that he was married. Sam had been clueless as to what Deborah was up to, or so he’d said. He’d thought she was just being friendly, but hanging round his neck every time Meredith’s back was turned wasn’t being friendly in Meredith’s book. It was flirting and very disrespectful. She’d reprimanded Sam for allowing it to happen. He was all blonde, floppy curls, bright blue eyes and gorgeous and Meredith wondered why he wouldn’t have understood what was going on when the same thing must have happened to him loads of times over the years. She suspected he’d been enjoying the attention and was just as annoyed at him as she’d been at Deborah. Since then she’d avoided Deborah as much as possible and intended to continue doing so. Meredith flopped down into the chair and let her head fall backwards, letting out a sigh through pursed lips. This day was going from bad to worse and she doubted that another coffee would help. The double shot latte had been a mistake. Her nerves were jangling, although she suspected that was as much from embarrassment at making such a mess of things and anger at Deborah stealing her job out from under her as it was the coffee. Okay, so Deborah wasn’t exactly stealing her job, but she would certainly gloat on this for a while, making a point of mentioning it every time she spoke to Meredith for the next few months. Meredith groaned and went back to studying herself in the mirror. Deborah’s hair wasn’t untameable; it was long, red and curly, and she had that young woman’s voluptuous type of figure where everything looked ripe. Her curves were curves, not lumps and bumps that had to be hidden underneath carefully chosen clothes. Meredith couldn’t hope to compete, but until this moment she hadn’t thought she would have to. Sitting back down whilst still pulling at the ends of her hair, she decided that instead of feeling sorry for herself a little action was required. She pulled her mobile from her jacket pocket and phoned Chloe. Chloe answered after the second ring. “Hi Meredith, she’s fine. She’s sleeping just now. She seemed a little tired this morning,” Chloe said, assuming that Meredith was just phoning to check on Jenny as usual. “That’s great Chloe but I also wanted to ask if you could possibly do a couple of hour’s overtime today? I need to go to the hairdressers and get a bit of shopping. Would that be okay?” “Sure, no problem. I hadn’t any other plans so I might as well earn a little extra. What time can I expect you?” “Around three okay?” “No probs.” “Thanks Chloe, you’re a star. See you around three but any problems just call.” “Okay, see you then.” Meredith ended the call and then phoned Mairi, the hairdresser, hoping she would be able to fit her in at short notice. Mairi said they’d had a cancellation at quarter to one if that was any good. Meredith said that would be fine, even though she knew she would have to rush a bit to make it on time. She didn’t finish work until twelve-thirty and taking the car would take even longer as she would have to find a parking space in town. She’d decided to wear her heels if she was going to be trying on clothes because they tended to smooth out her lumps and bumps a little, but didn’t relish the thought of hurrying into town in them. In the end she decided to take the heels in her handbag and wear the pumps to walk into town. Chapter 5 The rest of the morning went as planned. Meredith was back on air at seven thirty. The broadcast went smoothly with no further incidents. The eight, eight-thirty and nine o’clock slots likewise presented no problems, but Meredith was glad to be done with that side of things. For the next couple of hours, she immersed herself in charts and maps. It was her favourite part of the job. The clock eventually rolled around to twelve thirty. Gathering up her things, she made her usual checks to ensure she hadn’t left anything behind, like her mobile phone or car keys. It’s been a long, stressful day so far, she thought as she headed for the main door. A little pampering might be just what I need. Meredith was relieved when she exited the building into the fresh air but the rain was still pouring down. She thought once more about taking the car but the hassle of finding a parking space dissuaded her. She figured that her hair being soaked wasn’t so bad since she was going to the hairdressers anyway and she could buy an umbrella in town for the walk back to the car park. She made it to the salon at exactly twelve forty-five. Ten minutes later she was seated in front of the mirrors, hair soaking wet and waiting for Mairi to make an appearance. A couple of minutes later Mairi breezed through from the back shop looking like a million dollars as usual. Meredith wondered how Mairi managed to maintain her look throughout the day. She always looked as fresh at the end of the day as she did at the beginning. “Hi Meredith, so what’s the emergency? You were only here a couple of weeks ago,” Mairi said. “I just fancy a change.” Meredith looked at Mairi in the mirror. “Don’t tell me you want to cut it short!” Mairi looked horrified. “No, no, nothing so drastic. I thought maybe some layers to make it look a bit thinner. What do you think?” “Layers will probably make your hair look thicker, Meredith. I know it sounds odd but people with thin hair get layers - not people with hair like yours. How about we give you some intense conditioning treatment and maybe try a side parting instead of the middle?” “No, I definitely want layers,” Meredith said assertively. After thinking about it all morning, she’d decided to take control of her own look and stop letting everyone tell her what to do. “Really Meredith, it won’t work out.” Mairi stared at her in the mirror, willing her to change her mind. “That’s what I want.” Meredith reiterated determinedly. “Okay, it’s your hair,” Mairi sighed as she picked up the comb to make a start. An hour later Meredith surveyed herself in the salon mirror. She felt like she’d spent the whole day looking at herself in mirrors. At least this time I’m reasonably pleased with what I see, she thought. Her hair definitely looked a thinner. She wondered why Mairi had told her it would look the opposite. “It does look thinner, Mairi?” Meredith said, a question in her tone as she turned her head from side to side to get a better look. “That’s because I’ve flattened it down and teased it into submission. It will be okay if you have an hour or so to spend on it every morning,” Mairi said as she shrugged her shoulders. “But with your job and a baby to look after I don’t know where you’ll find the time.” “It will be fine. Thanks Mairi. I really like it. How much do I owe you?” After paying her bill and leaving a tip for the young woman who’d washed her hair, Meredith stepped out of the salon and was hit on the right side of her face with a gale force wind and torrential rain. She’d warned the nation about the rain and high winds but had forgotten all about it, having been so busy thinking about all the other problems she had at the moment. Not exactly the best day to get a fancy new hair-do, she muttered under her breath. Turning left toward the shops she wanted to visit, she felt the wind lift her hair skyward. A young boy walking past in the opposite direction, holding on to his younger sibling’s pushchair, stared at Meredith as she passed. The child in the pushchair also stared, then their mother joined in. People could be so rude Meredith thought. Just because she was on the telly everyone thought they could just stare at her, unabashed. Unknown to Meredith, her hair was spiralling upward with the wind, making her look like Medusa with long black snakes climbing out of her head. The baby in the pushchair started to cry. Meredith tutted to herself at the family’s rudeness and hurried on by, ducking into the first ladies dress shop she came to for some shelter from the wind. Once inside Meredith took a deep breath and patted at her hair, hoping her new look hadn’t been ruined by the wind and rain. She began to browse the rails of clothes the shop had on offer. The variety was good but she decided that most of them just wouldn’t suit her figure. Choosing a few items; a skirt, a couple of tops, a blouse and a couple of shift dresses in different colours, she headed to the changing rooms. At least this shop has individual cubicles, she noted as she walked through the entryway to the well-lit changing area. She wasn’t so keen on those communal ones at the best of times and particularly not the way she was feeling today. Ensconcing herself in a cubicle, she pulled the badly fitting curtain across, turned to look in the mirror and inhaled sharply at the sight before her. Her hair was triangular shaped. The shorter layers stuck out all around her head. The longer lengths were straggly and curly, sticking out below the rest as though they were badly done extensions. She rummaged in her bag for a hairbrush. Pulling it out she began to aggressively brush her hair in short, sharp strokes, making small noises of protest as the brush tugged on the tangles the wind had caused, but all she succeeded in doing was frizzing the ends and emphasising the Chinese ‘coolie hat’ effect. After ten minutes of desperate effort to tame the frizzy mess, Meredith gave up. She’d just have to find a wash room, dampen it down a bit and hope for the best until she got home. Checking the time for what seemed like the millionth time that day, she realised the time spent trying to sort out her hair meant she only had about forty-five minutes left to choose some new clothes if she wanted to make it home in time to let Chloe away. All the items she’d chosen were a size larger than she normally wore. It quickly became clear that they were of little use. The skirt was falling down, the shoulder seams on the tops were half way down her arms and one of the shift dresses made her look as though she was still pregnant. The plain navy shift dress looked better but was still too large. Taking her heels from her bag, she slipped them on, shifting her body from side to side as she twisted to look at herself from behind before finally deciding to purchase the dress, thinking that it might look better when she was being filmed since, apparently, being filmed made people look about fourteen pounds heavier than they actually were. Decision made, Meredith headed for the check-out, picking up an umbrella from a stand on the way. She paid using her credit card and asked the assistant if they had a wash room. The assistant looked apologetic when she said they didn’t. Meredith’s heart sank at the thought of going outside looking like a dark haired Myrtle Snow from ‘The Coven’. Putting her card back in her purse, she lifted the bag containing her new dress and turned toward the door. Through the window she could see the rain and wind had not subsided any. If anything the wind was worse, stopping people from being able to walk completely upright. She wasn’t looking forward to walking back to the Channel 7 car park. Wondering fleetingly if she might have time to pop in to the little coffee shop a few doors down to use their washroom, she checked her watch. Seeing that she had less than half an hour left to get home, she decided there was nothing else for it but to brave the elements. Putting the umbrella up in the doorway, she stepped outside. The umbrella immediately turned outside in. She turned it to face the wind and it popped back into shape. Holding it to the right side of her face, she began to walk, fighting to hold the umbrella in place. Chapter 6 As Meredith battled her way back to the Channel 7 building the wind seemed to drive the rain directly into her face. The umbrella had turned outside in so many times that the spokes were now broken beyond repair. She’d given up on it, depositing it in a bin on her way. Even when she turned corners and expected the wind to hit her side on, it seemed to turn with her. By the time she reached her car, yanked open the door and scrambled inside, she was soaked to the skin. Slamming the door shut quickly, she started the engine, put the heater on full and sat with her head back against the headrest for a few minutes trying to catch her breath. She felt as though she’d just run a marathon. Once she felt a little more composed she reached behind and pulled the car rug from the back seat, using it to dry her hair as best she could. When most of the water had stopped running down her face, she pulled the rear view mirror towards her and was once again confronted with what she perceived to be a ghastly sight. Her hair was tangled beyond recognition and she’d just had a hurricane force make-over. Bird’s nests and Alice Cooper rolled into one sprang to mind. She pulled out her hair brush again. Brushing a little more gently than last time, she pushed the wet hair from her face. When she’d managed to pull her hair into some sort of shape, she took the baby wipes from the glove compartment and removed as much make-up as she could. She gave herself a five minute make-over before checking the time once more. “Ten minutes left to get home,” she said aloud. Knowing it was impossible, she pulled her mobile from her bag and caalled Chloe again. Thankfully Chloe was fine about staying another ten minutes. Meredith finally relaxed a little when she ended the call. Putting the car into gear, she was relieved to begin the journey home. The traffic was reasonable despite the hellish weather. Everyone seemed to be driving according to the conditions of the road so Meredith ended up being only five minutes late. As she turned into the driveway of her two storey detached new build, she could see the tree at the side of the house swaying. She wondered if the winds were likely to send it crashing into the side bedroom window but then dismissed the thought, telling herself that the winds were not strong enough for that. She should know; it was her job after all. As she stepped out of the car, a gust of wind caught the car door and threw it open. She scrabbled to catch it, fighting with it for a few seconds before finally managing to close it with a firm thud. Realising that she’d left her bag on the passenger seat, she ended up having the same fight with the passenger side door, all the while being buffeted around and soaked through once more. Her new hair-do was not standing up well to the elements. Finally, having retrieved all her belongings and locking the car, she headed for the front door, trying to hold on to her skirt, hair and bag for fear of losing any one of them. She made it inside and stood breathing heavily in the hallway for a second before calling out to Chloe to let her know she was home. “Hi, Meredith, I was just making… Oh.” Chloe stopped mid-sentence as she popped her head round the lounge door. Meredith’s hair was a sight with bits sticking out everywhere. The freshly applied mascara on her eyes had run, as had all the foundation on her face giving her a beige, striped, zebra effect. Even her nose had a smudge of mascara on it just to complete the look. Meredith was so busy fussing with bags that she failed to notice Chloe’s expression as she walked toward the lounge door. “Where’s Jenny?” Meredith asked. “Uuhmm, right here.” Chloe had Jenny balanced on her left hip and turned herself so that Jenny was no longer hidden behind the door frame. Meredith looked up and broke into a wide grin. “Where’s my best girl?” she said, reaching both hands out to take Jenny from Chloe. Jenny’s bottom lip started to quiver. She buried her head in Chloe’s neck. “Hey, what’s wrong, princess?” Meredith reached out, tickling under Jenny’s chin, but the baby buried her head deeper in Chloe’s shoulder and clung even tighter. “What’s up with her?” Meredith asked Chloe “There wasn’t anything wrong with her a minute ago. I think maybe it’s your new hair style,” Chloe said, trying to be diplomatic. “I’m not sure she recognises you.” “It’s not so different really.” Meredith patted her hair as she spoke. “It is a bit windy out there mind you.” “Maybe once you’ve given it a brush or something,” Chloe suggested. “Yeah, but not before I’ve had a cuddle from my favourite person in the whole world.” Meredith reached out again, catching hold of Jenny under the arms and pulling her away from Chloe. Jenny began to cry, little whimpers at first until Meredith turned her around to look at her face. Jenny closed her eyes, squirming and wriggling before letting out an almighty wail and turning to Chloe with outstretched arms, begging Chloe to take her back to safety. Meredith was upset by Jenny’s reaction. She’d read about this sort of thing in some of the parenting magazines she’d bought; how children bonded more with their carer than their parent. She tried to talk to Jenny quietly, cajoling her, cuddling her and stroking her cheek, but Jenny’s reaction was to wail even louder. The wailing intermittently stopped as Jenny tried to catch her breath through heartbroken sobs that almost had Meredith in tears as well. “Why don’t you go put your shopping away and get out of your wet clothes. I can wait another ten minutes or so. I was just making Jenny an afternoon snack anyway. I think she’s hungry,” Chloe said, reaching out for Jenny as she spoke. Meredith reluctantly handed Jenny over, where upon the child immediately buried her head in Chloe’s shoulder again, sobbing quietly. Chloe retreated with Jenny, muttering gently to her. Meredith headed for the stairs feeling totally rejected. This had turned out to be a terrible day. Even Jenny doesn’t want to know me, she thought miserably as she trudged upstairs to her bedroom. Walking into the room, Meredith caught sight of herself in the mirrored doors. “Oh for heaven’s sake,” she exclaimed to the image that confronted her. “No wonder Jenny was wailing. I feel like wailing too. Maybe I should have listened to Mairi. The beautifully styled hair was gone, as was most of the make-up she’d hastily applied in the car. She was unrecognisable, even to herself. Her face was red, blotchy and covered in bits of mascara, eye-liner and old foundation. The mascara had run onto her nose and cheeks, all around her eyes and there was even a black slash at one corner of her mouth. She dropped her bags on the floor with a thud and headed for the bathroom. Meredith twisted on the hot tap, splashed some the warm water on her face and rubbed vigorously. Another quick look in the mirror revealed that the mascara was now even more smudged. Pulling her eye make-up remover pads from the bathroom cabinet, she rubbed furiously at the errant mascara until all traces were gone then decided a quick five-minute shower and hair wash was in order. She stripped off hurriedly and stepped under the warm spray, wishing she had time to enjoy it but she couldn’t expect Chloe to stay any longer. Five-minutes later, Meredith walked into the bedroom wrapped in a big fluffy towel with another around her wet hair. She put on a pair of comfortable jeans and a bright pink T-shirt before brushing her hair. Deciding to leave it wet as it looked much thinner that way, she checked her image in the mirror one last time. Satisfied with her vastly improved look, she headed down stairs. Jenny was in the kitchen, sitting in her high chair eating some pureed apples when Meredith walked in. The baby immediately reached her arms out and grinned from ear to ear, clearly pleased to see her mum. “Well hey, you’ve changed your tune,” Meredith said as she walked over and lifted her up. “What was up with you earlier? Did mummy frighten you?” Chloe looked at Meredith from where she was seated at the kitchen table but didn’t say anything. Meredith caught Chloe’s look and laughed. “It’s okay Chloe. I gave myself a fright when I looked in the mirror, never mind anyone else.” “Sorry, I didn’t want to say anything. What happened to you?” “The weather, a new hair-do that the hairdresser advised me not to have done but I didn’t listen, and a horrible day at work.” Meredith laughed half-heartedly. It really had been a crap day. “Oh well,” Chloe replied, “we all get days like that. I’ll be off now if that’s okay.” “Of course, and thanks for everything Chloe. I don’t know what I’d do without you.” “It’s what you pay me for. See you later Meredith,” Chloe smiled as she put on her coat and headed for the door. Chapter 7 Meredith spent the next five-minutes talking to Jenny as she walked around the kitchen making herself a cup of herbal tea and feeding Jenny the apples at the same time. She’d had enough coffee for one day. Bringing Jenny’s favourite shape sorter toy through from the lounge once Jenny was finished eating, she placed it on the high chair table and put the baby back in the seat. Sitting down to enjoy her tea, she wrapped her hands around the cup, took a sip and allowed its warmth to heat her fingers. She hadn’t realised she’d become so cold. When the tea had worked its magic and she was finished telling Jenny all about the terrible day she’d had, Meredith cleared away her cup and Jenny’s dishes, clattering them into the dishwasher. She decided to make a start on dinner to take her mind off the stressful day. She thought she would give Sam a laugh later when she told him about her having frightened the life out of Jenny. Turning on the radio she began to hum along to the tune that was playing as she gathered the items she needed for dinner. Jenny seemed happy and content for the moment and Meredith hoped she’d stay that way until dinner was ready. At five-thirty, Meredith heard Sam come in the front door just as the timer on the oven buzzed to let her know the casserole she’d prepared earlier was ready. “We’re in here,” she called to Sam from the kitchen. A moment later the kitchen door opened and Sam stepped through already grinning but the grin froze on his face as he looked at Meredith’s hair. “You’ve had a haircut,” was all he said, still staring. “I did but then I got soaked and blown about in the wind so I had to wash it when I got home but there wasn’t really time to dry it so it doesn’t look quite right.” Meredith explained. “Oh, right, I see,” Sam stammered. Unknown to Meredith, the shorter layers in her hair had dried and were once again sticking straight out. “It’s not that bad, although I did give Jenny quite a fright when I first got home,” Meredith laughed as told Sam about Jenny’s reaction. Sam managed to recover himself, laughing along with her as he walked over and lifted Jenny from the high chair to give her a cuddle. “Don’t you like mummy’s new hair-do either?” he said as he swayed her gently in the air. Jenny chuckled. “Yeah, it is funny, isn’t it?” he added. Meredith was leaning against the sink as Sam spoke. She turned to look at him with daggers in her eyes. What the hell is he on about? she fumed silently. He hasn’t even seen it properly done and now he’s making fun of me - and using our daughter as a co-conspirator. She banged the knife she’d been holding down into the sink and turned to face him. “You haven’t even seen my hair when it’s properly done. And if you wouldn’t mind I don’t like the idea of you ganging up against me with my daughter.” Meredith put her hands on her hips and scowled, looking directly at him. “Hey, I was only having a little joke and you have to admit it’s not the greatest hairstyle you’ve ever had.” Sam was still unaware that Meredith didn’t know quite how her hair looked at that moment. “Why don’t you have any make-up on either,” he asked, only just noticing its absence. “Do I have to wear make-up all the time,” Meredith almost shouted. She took it as yet another criticism. “You are supposed to love me for who I am, not what I look like?” Meredith threw down the tea towel she’d tucked round her waist while she’d been cooking and slammed the casserole dish she’d just taken out of the oven onto the middle of the table. “Of course I do. What’s got into you today?” Sam was beginning to panic. Meredith was normally very placid and didn’t take offense so easily. Things weren’t looking good for the conversation he’d hoped to have with her about his Saturday morning five-a-side tournament. “You criticising me. Would you just stop it, please?” Meredith retorted in an angry tone. “Dinner’s ready,” she said slightly more quietly, realising that Jenny was starting to whimper again. She’d upset Jenny enough for one day. Meredith and Sam sat down in their usual places with Jenny in the middle in her high chair. They’d decided it was best that Jenny get used to eating with them as soon as possible. Normally Meredith enjoyed the interaction with Jenny at meal times but tonight she wished Jenny was old enough to feed herself. They ate their meal in silence, neither one willing to speak first and both fuming at what they perceived to be the others unreasonableness. When Jenny was finished, Meredith picked her up, leaving her own meal unfinished, and went through to the lounge without saying a word. Sam was left to finish his meal on his own. Putting Jenny down on the carpet in front of the sofa, Meredith placed her daughter’s building blocks within her reach. Jenny immediately started throwing them around then began to whimper when she threw the last one beyond her reach. Meredith gathered the blocks together and gave them back to Jenny who started throwing them around again. Meredith was grateful for the distraction of having to keep gathering up the blocks. It took her mind of the totally crappy day she’d had. It didn’t seem to be getting any better and she still had to talk to Sam about last night. Sam sat alone in the kitchen wondering what had just happened. He decided to stay where he was for five minutes to give Meredith a chance to calm down. It wasn’t like Meredith to get upset over something so trivial. He always told her the truth when she asked for his opinion on clothes, hair-cuts or anything else. She didn’t normally take it so badly. Maybe it’s just the stress of going back to work. After all, it is only her second week back, he reasoned. Hearing Jenny and Meredith laughing in the lounge, he decided to venture through, taking the giggling as a sign that Meredith’s mood had lightened. He hated it when they fought and wanted the argument to be over. Sam liked a quiet life. “Meredith, are you okay?” he asked. “I’m fine,” came the huffy reply. “Obviously you’re not fine. You don’t usually over react like that. What’s up?” Sam said gently. “So it’s my fault. Well that figures. It couldn’t be that the remarks you made were very hurtful. It’s me that’s being oversensitive.” Meredith’s voice rose in anger. How dare he, she seethed. He was the one doing all the criticising and now it’s my fault when I made it clear I’m not going to stand for it. “Okay, you’re clearly not ready to talk yet so I’ll just leave you to it,” Sam said, exasperated. I’m going to the den to read the paper.” “Please yourself,” Meredith replied to his retreating back, but she felt tears pricking the backs of her eyes. Jenny had stopped what she was doing and was watching them both intently. Meredith picked her up, deciding to put her in the baby bouncer that she loved so much. Jenny began to giggle as Meredith gently bounced her up and down. Meredith couldn’t help but laugh. Jenny’s eyes were sparkling with delight. If only other things could be fixed as simply as that, Meredith thought. Sam tried to read the newspaper but his mind was elsewhere. He was having to re-read sentences several times and force himself to focus. Finally, he gave in and went through to try talking to Meredith again. “Do you want to tell me what’s up,” he asked Meredith tentatively as he walked in the room. “You criticising everything about me is what’s up,” Meredith growled at him. Jenny picked up on the atmosphere and began to whimper. Meredith bounced her again but Jenny wasn’t so easily distracted this time. She started squirming in the seat and holding her hands out for Meredith to lift her. Meredith was preoccupied with her thoughts and didn’t notice Jenny’s hands out in anticipation. “I wasn’t criticising you. I only said I liked your hair better the other way. What’s wrong with that?” Sam tried to sound soothing. “So what if you do? That doesn’t mean you can’t find something nice to say about it now. Maybe if you can’t think of anything nice you should just keep quiet. Don’t you think I get criticised enough because I’m in the public eye without me having to come home and have you start in on me as well?” Meredith was fuming. Sam just didn’t get it, in her opinion. She wondered how he would feel if he had just walked in the door from work and she started telling him his suit was shabby or his hair was a mess. Jenny chose that moment to start crying. Meredith tried bouncing the chair but with no effect. The crying became louder until she was once again sobbing. No amount of soothing talk or bouncing would console her. “Here, let me try,” Sam offered. “So now I can’t even play with my own baby properly? She’s upset because I’m upset. It won’t make any difference if you bounce her.” Meredith spun around to look at Sam as she spoke. Her eyes appeared to turn black, the anger she was feeling evident in her expression. “That’s not what I meant. You’re obviously upset and I was trying to alleviate some stress for you.” “I’m upset because of your remarks. If you want to alleviate my stress you could apologise for starters.” Jenny wailed even louder as Meredith’s voice rose. “I’ve nothing to apologise for,” Sam said defiantly. He was damned if he was going to apologise for telling the truth. “Fine,” Meredith retorted, standing up and picking up Jenny. “We’ll go elsewhere to play,” she said as she marched up the stairs with Jenny in her arms still sobbing. “And you can sit there by yourself because I don’t feel like your company this evening,” she called over her shoulder as she exited the lounge. “Fine. I’m off down the pub then. At least I’ll find someone sensible to talk to there.” Sam rose from the seat and threw the newspaper onto the coffee table before storming through the lounge to the hallway. Grabbing his jacket from the coat stand, he thumped out the front door and slammed it behind him hard enough that it shook the frame and the concrete surrounding it. Little bits of plaster rained down on him as he stormed down the steps. Chapter 8 Jenny was by this time crying loud enough to wake the dead. Meredith spent the next ten minutes trying to calm her down. When she eventually managed it Jenny’s little face was red and puffy. She took the baby downstairs, deposited her in the high chair and set about clearing the dishes. Meredith looked at the casserole in the middle of the table, barely touched. It had gone all gloopy and no longer looked very appetising but she’d lost most of her appetite anyway. She’d never really had such a row with Sam. They’d disagreed about things, certainly, but raised voices were uncommon in their relationship. The tears were pricking at her eyes again but she held them back. She didn’t want to upset Jenny any further by standing in the kitchen bawling her eyes out. She looked at the clock. Ten past seven already. It looked as though she was going to have to do Jenny’s bedtime routine again as it was unlikely that Sam would be back within the next hour. Meredith set about getting Jenny ready for bed around eight. When Jenny was safely tucked up in her cot, fast asleep, Meredith made her way to her bedroom. The clock on the bedside table told her it had just gone nine. Sam still hadn’t come home. Meredith finally crawled into her own bed exhausted at ten o’clock after she’d tidied the kitchen and lounge. She’d been on the go for eighteen hours with very little sleep last night; tonight didn’t look to promising either. As she lay down, still furious with Sam, her mind turned over the evening’s events. Sam had walked out, yet again forgetting that he had responsibilities. Despite her tiredness, it still took her until after eleven before she finally fell asleep. Sam still wasn’t home. The shrill beeping of the alarm at three thirty woke Meredith from a deep sleep. She groggily reached over to press the snooze button. As she lay for a minute, yesterday evenings events came flooding back to her. She turned over to see Sam sleeping soundly. At least he came home, she thought, but she was determined to have words with him later about shirking his responsibility toward Jenny. He seemed to think he could threaten her into submission by making it clear he could walk out any time. Well, two could play that game, she thought as she dragged herself out from under the quilt and quietly headed for the kitchen. Freshly made coffee in hand, Meredith went into the lounge and turned on the early morning news. She sat there for her usual half hour, not really taking anything in, just sipping her coffee until she began to feel some energy creep in, bringing her to life. She headed for the shower in the main bathroom to begin preparing for the day ahead. Looking in the bathroom mirror, she tried to decide what to do with the worst hair cut in the world. She could see what Mairi meant now and wished she had listened to her advice. Layers had made the top look even thicker and the longer ends straggly and lifeless. Deciding to put her hair up in the hope it would hide the disaster altogether, she began to pin it in place. Once she was satisfied with her hair she went in search of something to wear, finally deciding on the size bigger dress she’d bought the day before. It felt as though she was wearing. She tried a belt around her waist which helped the overall look. Satisfied she looked reasonable, she began to apply her make-up much more heavily than usual, thinking that, although it looked a bit clownish in the cold light of day, it might look better on camera. Wasn’t that what they did in theatres so that their faces were better defined for the audience, she thought. One last look in the mirror and she decided she was good to go, or as good as it was going to get today. She slipped quietly out the front door and into her car. The journey to work was uneventful as usual and Meredith arrived at the Channel 7 building with plenty of time to visit the canteen for a spot of breakfast. As she was walking along the corridor, looking forward to another life giving coffee and some oatmeal with syrup she noticed Amanda heading toward her. Amanda came closer, nodded in acknowledgement, then carried on her way. Meredith let out a sigh of relief. She knew Amanda kept up with feedback from the public and had been half expecting her to say something about the comments on face book and twitter the other day but thankfully she seemed to have other things on her mind. There was no queue when she finally reached the canteen. Meredith was grateful for the quiet space to think for ten minutes. Finding a seat, she set her tray on the table, taking a sip of coffee before she was even properly sitting down. She hadn’t bothered to look at Facebook and twitter last night; wasn’t very keen to either. It would only be more whinging and complaints, she decided, and she’d had enough of that. Even Sam has joined in, she thought, fuming as she ran over last night’s events in her head. He had been so insensitive. She made up her mind that he would have to apologise sincerely for his comments. “Who stole your scone?” came a voice from beside Meredith’s seat. She looked up to find Alice standing there. “It’s not been the best of weeks,” Meredith said, but smiled at her friend nonetheless. She was glad to see Alice. A friendly face amidst the chaos was very welcome. “What’s up? You have a gorgeous husband, an even more gorgeous baby and a great job. Nothing else is that important surely? You look as though you’ve had a frown on your face all your life.” Alice was looking at Meredith with concern as she sat down in the chair opposite. Meredith took a deep breath and let the words tumble out. She told Alice about the negative feedback and the comment from one follower who’d said she looked like she’d been dragged into the broom cupboard. Alice laughed at that one. “Hey, come on. You know that’s part and parcel of being in the public eye. There’s always people out there who make themselves feel superior by making negative comments about us. What they think doesn’t matter. You don’t even know these people. It’s not like you to take things so personally,” Alice said. “My ‘gorgeous husband’ also criticised me when he came home last night,” Meredith complained as she made air quotes. “I had a haircut which was a disaster by the time I got home with all the wind and rain and he just had to mention it. He said he liked it better the other way even though he hadn’t even seen it properly done. You’d think he would have realised the weather had something to do with it.” “Do you like it?” Alice asked. “No. It’s horrible. The hairdresser warned me it wouldn’t have the desired effect. I should have listened. All I wanted was for it to look a bit thinner. Now it just looks thicker on top with straggly ends.” Meredith began to smile as she spoke but then reverted back to frowning. “He still didn’t have to be so cruel. But on top of that he’s been acting like a prat. He tried the other day to get me to give up my gym time on Saturday with you. Then he tried to get me to do the bed time routine with Jenny even though he knows I need to be in bed by eight. When I refused both his requests he went in the huff and barely spoke to me. Then he sneaked out later on after he’d put Jenny to bed. Jenny woke up and needless to say, so did I. I didn’t get to sleep until after eleven so I was really tired yesterday and screwed up my forecast with a few million people watching. Then to top it all we had a row last night. He stormed out, leaving me to deal with Jenny’s bedtime again. That’s supposed to be his job when I have work the next day so I’m shattered again because I didn’t get to bed at my usual time. He just absolved himself of his duties as though Jenny was somehow more my responsibility than his. He seems to think he can just come and go as he pleases, the way he always did before she was born.” “Well, I’ll grant you, you have a valid grievance there but I’m not so sure about the haircut comment. You said yourself you don’t even like it.” “I know, and normally I wouldn’t bother. I would have agreed with him and had a laugh about it. I just don’t know what’s wrong with me just now. I hate to say it but I feel really trapped. What can I do if Sam just walks out? I have a baby now. It’s not as if I can just walk out and leave her to fend for herself if he’s not there.” “Firstly, you’re too busy worrying about what other people think; other people you don’t even know! You know, Meredith, lots of people go through this. You’ve had a lot of changes in your life lately. A new baby can really knock your confidence, not to mention the trapped feeling every new mother experiences. It isn’t just you. It suddenly becomes clear that all is not equal. Men do tend to think the responsibility for child care lies mainly with us. I went through the same thing with Tom. But you need to talk to him. Not talking won’t solve it. And remember, if he doesn’t see the light, you can always threaten to go to your mum and dads with Jenny. You might be worrying about losing him but he could lose both of you if he doesn’t wise up. You may need to gently remind him of that.” Alice advised. “I don’t want to break up with Sam! I love him!” Meredith’s voice rose to a squeak. The thought of losing Sam was unbearable. “You won’t have to. Just make him aware that two can play his game. He’ll come round soon enough.” “It doesn’t seem right; threatening to leave him at the first real sign of trouble,” Meredith grumbled. “Maybe not, but that’s what he’s implying he’ll do if you don’t give in.” “It does seem as though that’s what he’s doing, doesn’t it? But I can’t believe he would do that. I think maybe he doesn’t realise it,” Meredith spoke her thoughts aloud. “I’ve also just realised that this has been more about the way I’ve been feeling about myself than what other people think anyway. If I was my normal, confident self I wouldn’t have paid any attention to those stupid remarks. I never did before. I think Sam has picked up on the fact that I’m not feeling myself. Maybe he thinks he might be able to get round me in ways he knows would normally never work. Thanks for listening to me, Alice. It’s funny how saying things out loud can give them more clarity. You’re a good friend.” Meredith smiled across at her. “How are things with you anyway?” she asked. “Oh great, you know, the boys getting bigger all the time; Tom spending half his life taking them to all their different clubs; Tom and I finding it really difficult to spend time alone. We thought it would get easier as they got older but the opposite is true so we’ve booked a fantastic holiday to Florida. Just for the two of us. Thank heaven for Tom’s mum and dad. The boys love going there. His mum and dad spoil them rotten. Tom and I will have a couple of weeks not worrying about anything. I’m really looking forward to it.” “Oh you lucky thing. How fantastic. Well I hope you both have a wonderful time. You’ll come back all suntanned and refreshed.” “I certainly hope so, although we are hoping to spend a bit more time in the bedroom than on the sun loungers,” Alice grinned wickedly. “When are you going?” “Two weeks on Sunday. It was one of those last minute deals. I just can’t wait, but right now I better get going or I’ll miss my slot and pandemonium will ensue.” Alice rose from the seat, gathering up her clipboard and bag. “You take care and don’t listen to what anyone says. You look great, you always do.” “You too,” said Meredith as she stood to leave. “It’s time I wasn’t here either. I’ll walk with you.” The two women left the canteen together, chatting amiably as they walked until their paths took them separate ways. Chapter 9 Meredith closed the door of her dressing room and looked at herself in the mirror. She still wasn’t happy with the dress. The belt seemed to make it look like a sack tied in the middle but without the belt it really did look like a tent. Sighing, she decided there wasn’t much she could do about it now. It would just have to do. Looking at her watch she was pleased to see she had an hour before she was on air again and decided to spend that time with her maps and charts. The morning’s first forecast went off without a hitch, apart from having to tell the viewers they were in for a bit more rain. At least it wasn’t going to be so stormy today. There was even the possibility of a little sunshine later. Meredith thought if the sun did come out by the time she finished work she would take Jenny out to the garden for a while until Sam came home. Then she would have to speak to him. She was quite prepared to apologise for snapping at him, but she also wanted to make it clear that Jenny was as much his responsibility as hers. As she thought about what Alice said, she decided that threatening to walk out on him wasn’t such a good idea. If Sam was playing some sort of mind game she didn’t think it would help matters for her to do the same. Despite being even more tired than yesterday, Meredith managed to make it through the day without any major problems. She was in her office just finishing up for the day when Amanda came in. “Hi, Meredith. I just thought I’d stop by to see how you are doing. Sorry I didn’t make it back yesterday. Is everything going okay?” “Its fine, thanks. No problems to speak of.” “Nothing I need to worry about then?” Meredith felt herself flush with embarrassment. She should have known Amanda wouldn’t have missed a thing. “No, nothing to worry about. I think it’s just getting back into the swing of things after being away so long.” Meredith wasn’t about to go into any great detail about her personal life. “I noticed there have been a few comments about how you look today. I must say you do look different somehow and I’m not sure it’s for the better. Are you tired maybe?” Meredith gave up. She wasn’t going to fool Amanda with lame excuses. Taking a deep breath, she told Amanda about the disastrous haircut and that she had decided to take some of the viewer’s advice. She explained the comments she’d read on Twitter and Facebook the other day, but quickly added that she hadn’t even looked at it today because she didn’t want to read anything else that was negative. When she told Amanda about the remark concerning the broom cupboard, Amanda surprised her by laughing heartily. Meredith felt a bit aggrieved that Amanda wasn’t taking it very seriously. “Meredith, don’t change the way you are. You make me laugh, you really do. There’s nothing wrong with you. I’m not so keen on your current attempts to change, though. You know not to listen to that nonsense. Being in the public eye means there will always be unkind people saying stupid things. You should take no notice. I look after that side of things and I’d soon enough tell you if I thought there was something wrong. Now get off home to that lovely baby of yours and relax for the rest of the day.” Meredith laughed along with her this time as she realised how dumb she’d sounded. “Thanks Amanda; I can always count on you to tell it like it is,” she said, gathering up her possessions and following her out the door. “Have a good evening. See you tomorrow.” “You too, Meredith. See you.” Amanda strode away along the corridor in the opposite direction. Meredith was glad another day was over, even though it had been a little better than yesterday, but her impending talk with Sam had been on her mind all day. It had been difficult for her to take pleasure in her job the way she normally did. On her way to the car park she looked up at the sky. It was still a little overcast and dull. She felt a spit of rain and was disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to take Jenny into the garden if it didn’t brighten up soon. Fearing being caught in another downpour like yesterday, and frightening Jenny again, made her hurry to her car. While driving the few miles home, Meredith thought about the events of the last couple of days and began to reprimand herself for being so stupid. She’d been putting up with negative comments from the public for years and never let it bother her before. Now she’d let it really get to her so much that she’d scared the wits out of Jenny and fallen out with Sam too, all because some silly viewer had nothing better to do than pick fault with people. She swung into the driveway and parked the car. Chloe stepped out the door with Jenny balanced on her hip. As soon as Jenny caught sight of Meredith she grinned from ear to ear and reached out with both of her chubby little arms. Meredith ran the last few feet to take Jenny from Chloe. “You’re talking to me today then, are you?” she said. Jenny just giggled, buried her head in Meredith’s shoulder, then lifted her head again and giggled once more. “She’s been a bit grumpy all day,” Chloe told Meredith. “She didn’t want to settle for her afternoon nap and I couldn’t get her to finish her lunch so she might be extra hungry come dinner time.” “Yeah, Sam and I had a bit of a falling out last night. I think it really upset her. I don’t think she’s ever seen us argue before. She’ll be fine I’m sure but I’ll keep an eye on her just in case she’s coming down with something. Is that you ready for the off?” Meredith asked as she saw Chloe reach for her coat from the hall stand. “Yeah, I’m off to see that new band ‘Bad Half’ down at the Metro tomorrow with my mates so I need to do some extra studying tonight.” “Okay, see you tomorrow,” Meredith said as she walked in the house. Chloe headed down the driveway, waving as she went. She rounded the wall at the end of the front garden, leaving Meredith with a very happy Jenny in her arms. “Okay little one, since you’re in a better mood now, why don’t you and I go find some fun games to play.” Meredith kissed Jenny on the nose as she closed the front door behind her. They spent the next hour playing together in the house. The weather still wasn’t warm enough for spending time in the garden. Jenny eventually fell asleep so Meredith did a little housework while she had the chance, even though she would have preferred to join Jenny for an afternoon nap. Jenny was still sleeping by the time Meredith had finished, giving her some much needed relaxation time. She switched on the T.V. and tuned in to some afternoon soap opera, not really worrying whether it was good or bad; just grateful to have nothing else to do for the moment. Come five-thirty, Meredith was so engrossed in the peek a boo game she and Jenny were playing that she didn’t hear Sam come in. The first she knew of his arrival was when he walked into the lounge and caught Jenny’s infectious laugh. “I see you two are in fine form tonight,” he commented. Meredith spun around at the sound of his voice. “We’ve been sitting here playing for the last hour since Jenny woke up. And we’ve had loads of fun, haven’t we?” Meredith caught the look of relief on Sam’s face as she spoke. He obviously hadn’t been sure of the reception he would get. “We need to have a chat, though.” Meredith smiled at him. “Yeah, I think we do.” “Now’s as good a time as any,” said Meredith as she headed for the kitchen, depositing Jenny in the chair. “Have you made any decisions about what’s for supper tonight?” Sam asked. “Not yet. I thought I’d wait until you were home.” “How about something quick and easy, then we can chat over dinner? Pasta? I’ll make it.” “Great. I’ll sort out Jenny’s meal while you’re doing that,” Meredith said. Chapter 10 Sam and Meredith chatted about their work as they prepared the meals. Meredith finally told Sam what had happened with the petty comments from some viewers. Sam was sympathetic but still couldn’t understand why Meredith had reacted the way she did. When they were all finally seated with Jenny playing happily in her high chair, Sam asked Meredith why she’d taken it all so much to heart. He knew she was used to stupid things being written about her in the press as well as snide comments from the public. “I think it’s just all been a bit much,” Meredith began to explain. “Something Alice said today made me realise that this having a family thing is not so easy. I’ve felt that you’re leaving me with most of the responsibility.” “What…” Sam began but Meredith waved a hand at him before asking him to hear her out. “Last night when you decided to walk out and go to the pub. Why did you not come home in time to give Jenny her bath and put her to bed?” “You were not the best of company last night,” Sam retorted, angry that he seemed to be getting the blame. “I know that, but neither were you in my opinion. I didn’t decide to up sticks, go to the pub and leave everything to you, though. You are responsible for Jenny’s bath time, not me. I’ve been really tired all day yesterday and today because I had to stay up late. After the day I had yesterday I could have done without it. But that’s not really the point. Why did you think you could just walk out and abandon Jenny like that? It’s very worrying, you know. It makes me wonder if she would ever see you much should anything happen between me and you. She’s yours too. I felt really trapped last night, a feeling that’s been meandering around somewhere inside me since Jenny was born.” Meredith paused to think about what she wanted to say next. “It’s not just your attitude,” she continued. “I expect every mother feels that way when they realise the enormity of the responsibility they have for their baby. Just having to sort Jenny out before I can go anywhere takes a bit of getting used to so I’m not saying this is all down to you, but you walking out like that just wasn’t right. I am sorry for taking your innocent remarks last night so badly, really I am. I know you weren’t criticising me. It was just the way I was feeling, but part of that is because there seems to be this unwritten rule between us that I am Jenny’s primary carer and that’s not how I want it to be. We need to share the responsibility equally. If you have a job to do concerning Jenny, then you shouldn’t just walk out and leave me to do it. That’s like saying you’re only doing these things because you’ve chosen to and you can choose not to whenever you please because it’s really my job, not yours. The fact is, you’re her father and it’s your job just as much as it is mine. It’s as though you think you’re somehow being generous by looking after her whereas anything I do with her is just my job and you’re entitled to expect it of me. Well, I’m entitled to expect it of you also.” Sam was quiet for a few moments. Meredith knew to let him take time to think. Sam always took his time when he wanted to think about things. The deliberate way he considered things, weighing up the pros and cons first, was one of the things she’d first loved about him. “I hadn’t really looked at it like that, but you’re right,” Sam finally said, breaking the silence. “I do somehow seem to think that Jenny is mostly your responsibility. I could make excuses, like you’re so capable, but it’s not that. I don’t know why I’ve just assumed these things. I’m sorry too,” he said as he reached across the table and covered her hand with his. “I’ll need to try a little brain shift; remember that I’m a dad now, and believe me I couldn’t be happier. Can we call a truce? I promise I’ll make it up to you. I certainly don’t want you feeling trapped, although I admit I’ve had the same kind of feelings myself. This parenthood thing isn’t easy.” Sam gave a little laugh and looked at Meredith. Meredith put her arms round his neck and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Thanks, Sam, for being so understanding. I hate fighting with you.” “Me too,” said Sam as he hugged her back. “How about I make us a cuppa and we can play with Jenny in the lounge until her bath time?” “Good idea, but if you can manage to settle her down a little earlier and you fancy coming to bed early yourself we could seal our deal,” Meredith said with a grin. “I think I’ll go run her bath now,” Sam grinned back. “She might object,” Meredith said as they both turned to Jenny who chose that moment to start giggling for no apparent reason. Sam and Meredith joined in the laughter. They were still chuckling as they walked through to the lounge. Meredith sat Jenny on the floor in front of the sofa before flopping down herself. The three of them spent the next hour throwing things around, although Sam and Meredith spent most of the time picking up the things Jenny had thrown out of her reach. Jenny gurgled and giggled happily, enjoying all the attention. Sam decided to take Jenny for her bath at seven-thirty, a half hour earlier than usual. Meredith smiled at him. She’d chosen to stay up a bit later tonight, even though she was very tired but she needed some closeness with Sam. It will be as good a tonic as sleep, she thought. She knew the usual half hour of laughter coming from the bathroom would be cut short, and sure enough, Sam was back with Jenny freshly bathed within fifteen minutes. Surprisingly, Jenny took her last bottle without any fuss, falling asleep just as she finished it. Meredith had thought she wouldn’t be hungry yet but then realised it had been a stressful few days for Jenny as well. Sam carried Jenny carefully to her bedroom, closely followed by Meredith. Once Jenny was tucked in Sam and Meredith stood over the cot for a few minutes gazing at her, whispering about how lucky they felt to have such a beautiful, healthy and happy baby before heading to their own bedroom. Their sex life hadn’t been so great since Jenny was born so this was a welcome treat. Meredith woke to the shrill beeping of her alarm feeling remarkably refreshed given her lack of sleep over the last three nights. Rolling out of bed and stepping over her discarded pyjamas that lay on the floor, she took her robe from behind the door. She smiled to herself as she ran through their love making last night, enjoying the experience over again in her mind. Creeping downstairs she began her normal routine, coffee first before anything else. As she sat in the kitchen watching the sunrise, she was delighted to see that it was a beautiful morning, just as she’d told her viewers it would be. She decided to wear her favourite blue, pastel coloured skirt and top to work that day. Stuff it if the viewers don’t like it; I do and that’s what matters. Taking herself back upstairs, she showered and dressed, deciding to put her hair up again and keep it that way until the layers grew out. Then she would make an appointment with Mairi to have it evened up. Thankfully, she liked her hair up anyway. It showed of her lovely, wide, blue eyes. She picked up her make up bag and then thought better of it. Anna was just going to have to do her make-up from scratch today. Heading out the door to her car for, she began the journey to work. Arriving at work with even more time to spare than normal, Meredith headed straight for the canteen but to her disappointment Alice didn’t put in an appearance. She’d wanted to thank her for the advice yesterday. Hoping she would catch up with her later in the day, she headed for her dressing room. Meredith was so engrossed in preparing her forecast that Anna, the stylist, was in the room and standing beside her before she noticed. They chatted about what the weather would be like for the next few days and Anna was pleased to hear the sun would be shining, whilst also remarking that Meredith seemed much less stressed this morning. “That’s you, good to go,” Anna said after about fifteen minutes. “Thanks, Anna,” Meredith smiled and headed for the door without even bothering to check her appearance in the full length mirror first. She made her way along the corridor and into position, waiting patiently for Joanna to introduce her. The light on the camera in front of her finally turned green and she began to speak. “Good morning everyone. I hope you’re all enjoying the lovely morning. There’s more of the same to come over the next few days. The storm has been pushed further south by the jet stream. As you can see it’s now missing the south coast altogether. This has allowed an area of high pressure to settle right above us and it will remain there at least until Sunday. If you were planning a barbeque, this weekend would be a good time. Temperatures should reach the around twenty-eight and in some places may even reach thirty so hot, hot, hot, with plenty of sunshine everywhere. I for one will be out enjoying the garden this afternoon. That’s all from me for now. Hope you have a good day whatever you’re doing. Back to you Joanna.” “Thanks Meredith. The thought of a few days of sunshine has certainly cheered me up and you’re looking very summery in that lovely outfit. See you later.”

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