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Returning Tides

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Cassandra Young; registered psychologist MSc, BSc, PMT, OTT and quite possible FML today too closed her office with a snap before leaning heavily against the wood of her door with a sigh. Through the door she heard her last appointment of the morning continue to grumble on about the uselessness of the NHS. Cassie bit her lip and tried to think only about the teachings of unconditional positive regard while an inner part of her brain gnashed her teeth.

Grumpy old bat was plain rude even if her son wasn’t talking to her anymore.

Normally Cassie didn’t let those sort of clients get to her but she wasn’t having a good day and she was feeling a mite more sensitive than she might usually. Things had started badly when she’d woken up late and they hadn’t improved as the day went on. She’d woken late because there’d been some kind of electric surge in the night which had killed her phone so the alarm hadn’t come on. As if she needed another reminder that she was nose diving into her thirties and still renting shitty flats with no prospect of saving enough for a deposit. At this rate she’d have to start considering Ros’s suggestion that they pool resources and buy together.

A cool wind blew around her ankles as she thought this, drawing her thoughts back to the mornings dramas. She’d been rushing to get into her tights because she was late and then she’d laddered her only decent pair so she’d had to change her outfit last minute which she hated doing. She was one of nature’s planners. The fuse had gone in the kettle too when she finally fell down the stairs which meant no proper brew either before work.

Cassie hated being late, she hated rushing. Sat in rush hour traffic always made her nervous and she’d only got through it today by tearfully ringing Ros on the hands free. Ros was her best and oldest friend, they’d met in first year of uni at an LGBT tea party at the students union and clicked instantly. Ros had talked to Cassie all the way through the journey and then she’d made Cassie promise to call her later tonight. Cassie had dutifully promised.

It hadn’t been much better when she’d finally got into work. It quickly became apparent that Caleb, Cassies assistant, had been in his own traffic nightmare when someone rear ended him just coming off the motorway. Cassie had first checked that he wasn’t hurt and then allowed herself a moments pity party.

Caleb was a god send when he was in and a nightmare when he wasn’t. He had his own appointments to keep and with clients already trickling in Cassie had been forced to double barrel appointments all morning on the proviso Siobhan would ring and cancel the excess afternoon sessions.

She’d just now finished ploughing through the back log with just enough time to yam a quick sarnie before the next appointment.

Sitting heavily in her chair Cassie smiled at the picture of her and Ros at the finish line of their last fun run. Ros had her arm slung carelessly over Cassies shoulder and they were laughing. Ros had that picture as her home screen on her phone. Dragging herself from this pleasant memory Cassie opened her lunch box and chewed a corner of her ham sandwich as she ran a cursory eye down the list of afternoon appointments in front of her.

14:30: DC Mount, RTW interview.

In a mindless reflex muscles she wasn’t usually aware of having in Cassies stomach seemed to tighten in mutinous rebellion against her professionalism. God, was that really today? Suddenly Cassie didn’t want the sandwich. Cassie could have sworn that she’d only booked the interview over the phone with the woman two days ago.

Constable Mount; the blonde goddess that Cassie had noticed first when she escorted two children to the 1:1 clinics on a Thursday morning about two months ago. Cassie had always had an eye for people who stood out; always took an interest in others. It was partly why she’d fallen into this profession in the first place.

She’d certainly noticed Constable Patience Mount when she walked past her in the corridor that was for sure. Who wouldn’t?

The kids looked adorable too even to a woman like Cassie who tended to avoid children on the whole. The little black girl had been clutching Mounts hand with her teddy poking out of her bouncing rucksack when Cassie had first seen them while the older girl with the match stick arms trailed behind them both chewing strands of her hair.

Mount had adopted the pair apparently after a traumatic loss of their remaining family. The woman was almost definitely a local hero and, if Siobhan on the front desk was to be believed and she usually was, just so happened to be gay as Christmas.

Cassie licked her suddenly dry lips as all the days exertions and rush seemed to crawl over her in a wave of grime. Sweat painted it’s oily trails along her skin, her hair had long fallen out of her induced sleek look and returned to its natural curl. All at once Cassie wished she’d thought to do something nicer with her hair this morning even with time constraints. She cursed the loss of those bloody tights; the original outfit had been much more flattering.

There was a small Art Deco mirror on the opposite wall beside the door and, with only a small internal argument with herself, Cassie stood up and slunk across the room to face it. The thing had been bolted quite high up and she needed to stand on tippee toes to see her reflection but she managed it in the end. The result was depressingly familiar; pale face, faint smudges of red bags under her eyes, wide nose, the tip of her top front teeth teased the opening of her lips. She had a spot coming up near her ear too.

It was hardly Liz Taylor material was it. She hadn’t even bothered to wear lippy.

With a sigh Cassie did the best job she could with her fingers as a comb to fix her hair and she ran a hopeful thumb beneath her eyes to catch any panda smears that may have started up. Then she looked at her reflection again.

Well... Failing a shock visit from Gok Wan there wasn’t much else she could do to help her cause. Although... Cassie remembered belatedly that she’d left a pair of heels from when she’d stayed over at Ros’s last weekend in the car. Now that was a tragedy. Mount was nearly six foot tall and Cassie wouldn’t have minded being a smidgeon taller in this meeting even if she’d spend it in the main hidden behind the desk. Besides, Ros always said the heels made her arse look the bells when she wore them which was sweet for a friend to say so Cassie could only imagine what someone like Mount might think.

Cassie wavered reflectively but with a sigh gave up on the idea of retrieving the desired footwear covertly as practicalities overcame day dreams. She doubted she’d be able to sneak out and get them without being spotted anyway and didn’t much fancy trying to lie her was past the all seeing eyes of Siobhan. Cassie looked down mournfully at her currently Clark’s clad feet. Sensible shoes. Ros had been with her when she’d bought them. Ros had bought them in fact as a graduation present.

They were brown and thick leather and comfy on long days. They had sensible harmonics in every stitch. Ros had said it would make her look like a proper professional in them. Cassie had loved them when she’d put them on for the first time, she’d loved her sensible shoes.

She didn’t like them now though. Sensible was... well, sensible, but what she wouldn’t have given at this moment to be a little less sensible. Sensible girls never picked up girls like Mount. Didn’t seem to keep the other sort either.

It had been... Cassie started trying to work out how long it had been since she’d last slept with a woman and then abruptly stopped when she ran out of fingers to count the months. Had the last one really been that girl in Perth on holiday last year?

And that hadn’t been much to write home about either. Ros had taken the piss for ages when she found out too. Well she’d been more annoyed than amused about it actually, Ros always got annoyed when Cassie pulled. Cassie had chosen not to judge her friend too harshly about that because Ros was quite protective of her; she’d never liked any of the girls Cassie went out on dates with either. Ros had been single since they’d been in second year. She said she didn’t mind it much, was fine being on her own as long as she had a good friend like Cassie about the place.

Cassie disregarded this thought airily.

Mount. That was the real food for thought here wasn’t it? Apparently the woman had one hell of a reputation according to Siobhan. How exactly Siobhan knew so much about the delectable detective was anyone’s guess but Cassie hadn’t pondered it too hard. It was just how Siobhan operated. The woman knew everyone’s business, sometimes she even knew it before the person in question did which was off putting to say the least. She knew a lot about Constable Mount though. Apparently she played mahjong with the woman’s auntie or something like that.

Cassie reflected that small town living had its own curses.

Mind you, perhaps it wasn’t such a feat that Siobhan knew so much. Even Ros had heard of Mount apparently or at least had heard enough to disapprove of her. Ros said those type of women were bad for the everyone else; just pushed the stigma lesbians were predators. Cassie didn’t think she’d mind being Mounts prey.

Perhaps this day wouldn’t end as crap as it had started.

Cassie had already decided not to tell Ros what she planned to do at the end of the session. Ros would call her an idiot and she’d probably be right too.

But it was hardly like she could be blamed for having a crush on the woman was it? Any dyke with a pulse within 20 miles must have harboured a tiny thought about this woman. A woman who looked like That. With a reputation like That. The same woman who had apparently turned over a new leaf by adopting not one but two troubled children? Well, Cassie was only human wasn’t she?

Cassie could only wonder if the good officer would live up to her reputation. God, she hoped so.

And the kids weren’t even the tip of the ice berg for Cassie. They were just window dressing for the main event.

Cassie had read the woman’s file. Extensively. What a file. What a life! Abused, enslaved, tortured even. Her name had been in all the local newspapers; she’d saved hundreds of innocent lives. Brought down some kind of huge crime ring and somehow she’d been nearly killed in the process. How could Cassie not want to know more about her? She was a psychologist for Christ sake! It was the kind of opportunity that came round once in a blue moon.

And the woman would be waiting right now, just outside Cassies door. To speak to Cassie. It was a thrill to think it even if Cassie understood that the woman was mandatorily obliged to attend this meeting in order to return to work.

Still... One more time Cassie ran her fingers through her hair convulsively. In the set of drawers beside her she pulled out her perfume and spritzed above her ears so that the smell might stick around for a while. Did Mount liked perfume? Alas it didn’t say much about that type of thing in her file. Only the traumatic history but hell, even people with bad histories liked nice smells surely.

With one final run of fingers through her hair Cassie assumed as sophisticated and professional an air as she could. Then she stepped to the door and opened it to peek outside.

The waiting room was filled with knee cracking low set, heavily padded blue chairs and one coffee table that was heaving under the weight of last years gossip. On the end, built into the wood, was a set of brightly coloured wires curved round one another in spiralling loops and zigzags with thickly shaped wooden beads threaded onto them. The counselling service was run out the back of a GP service but at this unpopular time the waiting area wasn’t as full as usual.

In one corner sat a ripe old man, his flat cap turned down as he snoozed away his remaining wait, in another corner was a harassed looking mother who was distractedly rocking a squabbling baby that was making enough noise to make up for the lack of other patrons.

In the middle of these two parties sat Constable Mount like a bobbing Switzerland fixed between the young and old. She cut an intriguing figure, not quite seeming to belong somewhere so ordinary; like someone had dropped her from some other life Cassie hadn’t seen outside of tv shows.

Cassie watched her discretely for a second from the anonymous position of the door. The woman sat straight backed, knees pressed together all the way down to her trainers. Her clothes were non-descript enough Cassie supposed; just blue jeans and a white shirt with a grey jumper and yet the woman seemed to have that rare talent for making even the simplest ensemble look good. She looked good.

Mount shifted just a little as the baby gave an ear splitting scream that made everyone wince and her face caught the artificial light from above. Cassie swallowed convulsively.

God. What kind of witch craft had blessed this woman with a face that would have been better suited to some kind of Italian masters sketches? Those ridiculous high cheekbones, those full lips, those eyes. Cassie could quite understand how this woman had developed her reputation. It was more than her looks, she had an aura about her. If Cassie was Mount Cassie reflected dolefully, she’d probably also do her very best to never be vertical again.

“Patience Mount?’ Cassie was proud that her voice didn’t sound any different to her usual. Her heart did speed up a little though when Mounts head flicked up from where she’d apparently been studying her knees with some interest and unfolded herself gracefully from her chair. Tall. Cassie had always had a thing for tall women. ‘Just through here”. Cassie mumbled, retreating back into the safety of her office.

The walk across the room seemed to take much longer with Mount following from behind. Cassie could feel the woman’s eyes on her back and every step seemed magnified in its awkwardness as she because keenly over aware of every limbs movements. She’d never have the same grace as Mount and Cassie resented that a little bit.

By the time Cassie had rounded her way back behind the security of her desk Mount was closing the door quietly and eyeing the room warily; taking in the chair near the wall and the one closer to the desk looking uncertain.

“Sit anywhere you like.” Cassie prompted, wincing internally as she heard her voice too loud in her own ears. Mount nodded without speaking and chose, to Cassies slight disappointment, the chair furthest away from the desk.

She sat down heavily, Cassie observed her with interest, like someone fortifying themselves before completing an unwelcome task. Well, that wasn’t unusual in itself. Lots of people came to the clinic for all manner of reasons and not all of them came without a level of coercion. Mount had a reason to attend today.

She wanted to return to work and needed Cassie to sign her form off at the request of her superior. She hadn’t sought this external parties input and from their short phone call two days previously Mount wasn’t entirely motivated to engage in counselling.

For a few minutes no one spoke. Cassie watched the woman sit very still as she waited for Mount to open the dialogue. This was her meeting after all and Cassie was here to listen, not direct. When the silence had spread out for another five minutes however the air was definitely beginning to crust at the edges a bit and Cassie decided she’d better be the first to breach the gap.

“So Patience,’ Cassie coughed politely to indicate they were about to begin. ‘Do you mind if I call you Patience?”

“Whatever you like.” Mounts voice was calm and emotionless. She kept her gaze fixed on her lap and Cassie realised with a pang of disappointment that the woman wasn’t going to be as easy as she’d hoped.

“I’d like to call you by whatever name makes you feel most comfortable.”

“Patience is fine ms Young.”

“Oh feel free to call me Cassie.” Cassie trilled breezily. Mount pursed her lips.

“Cassie.” She corrected tonelessly.

“It’s lovely weather we’ve been having isn’t it?” Cassie plumped for a bland opener and then recalled the torrential rain that had hit Poplar over the last week.

“Lovely.” Mount agreed neutrally although she checked her watch slyly as she spoke.

“So Patience,’ bright and breezy that was the thing. Cassie just had to show Mount this could be a positive experience and then perhaps if that worked they could move on to... other topics. ‘We’re here today to discuss your well being currently. How would you say you’re feeling?”

“I thought that was what you’re supposed to tell me?” Mount spoke with just a little bit of challenge. It surprised Cassie.

“Oh no.’ Cassie laughed, ‘of course that’s not what I’m supposed to do. This is just a conversation between us in a safe space to talk about anything that might be bothering you.”

“Anything?’ Mount seemed to be considering this for a moment. ‘Well,’ She began slowly, ‘I mean if it’s anything then I’ve recently had my mop broken. Other than that though I can’t really think of any more issues. This might be a shorter conversation that I thought.”

“A mop?” Cassie repeated, non plussed.

“It was a good brand.’ Mount sighed in mock sadness, ‘I like cleaning implements that do a good job.”

“Err, right,’ Cassie cleared her throat importantly and then leaned forward across the desk to look at Mount who looked away. ‘So... How do you think you’re coping in the aftermath of events Patience? Your inspector is keen to gauge your mental state before allowing you back to work.”

“Fine.’ Mount chewed the inside of her cheek as she spoke to her knees. ‘Feel free to write that down.’ She nodded at the desk emphatically. ‘Fine. With a capital F if you don’t mind. Keen to get on with things, getting back to work all that good stuff.”

“Your works important to you I take it?”

“I’m only in it for the uniform.” Mounts knee jostled as though she was fighting the urge to move it up and down.

“I’m sorry?” Cassie blinked. Mount chewed harder on her cheek.

“Yes.’ Mount sounded strained, almost embarrassed. ‘My job matters to me.”

“Then let’s just go through a few questions shall we, can’t have you brave boys in blue running around without support can we?” Cassie hummed at her own joke.

“No.’ Mount answered quietly, clenching her hands tightly on her lap, ‘apparently not.”

“Shall we do a run down of the basics. How have you been sleeping recently Patience?”

“Eight hours a night regular, same as always.” Mounts answer was swift as though she’d been expecting it. It sounded too rehearsed to Cassies ears.

“Eight hours with two children, are you a magician?” Cassie risked an indulgent smile, trying to tease the woman out of herself. It didn’t seem to work; Mount merely frowned.

“I wasn’t aware my home life was included in the assessment for work.” She asked it stiltedly, a strain of protective mother appearing in her voice intriguingly. Cassie had understood that Mount hadn’t taken on the girls until fairly recently.

“We like to be thorough.” Cassie breezed. Tapping her pen loudly on the desk top.

“Do you?’ Mounts eyebrow raised and her mouth twitched just for a second, the hint of a double entendre peaking out behind her words before she seemed to remember herself and shrugged self consciously. ‘We muddle along together; me and my girls. Sleeps not really a problem in my house. It’s the getting up that’s the issue; the trick is to use the crow bar when the alarms been turned off more than six times.”

Cassies brain stuttered as the woman met her gaze fully for the first time. The eyes looked almost accusatory at her questions and Cassie blushed, unusually intimidated by the frank expression aimed at her. To hide her discomfort she fiddled with the papers on her desk.

“Norfolk constabulary takes the welfare of its officers very seriously. I noted that Detective Inspector Ursula has requested this return to Work meeting on your behalf to ensure you’re ready and well. No one wants to rush you back to active duty before you feel ready for it after all.”

“I’m hardly rushed.’ Mount spoke through gritted teeth. ‘It’s been nearly seven weeks. I’m ready to get back to real life.”

“You were initially prescribed ten weeks as I understand it.” Cassie pointed out gently.

“Ten weeks is too long.’ Mounts feet moved as though trying to prove their mistresses need to move about. ‘I’m used to being busy.”

“How have you been coping physically with the results of your experiences? The loss of your finger?” Cassie slid a slow eye down Mounts torso, taking in the gently rising slopes of her chest to the woman’s lap where her left hand covered her right protectively. The knuckles flexed as their owner took in the fact she was being watched.

“Occupational health have already signed me off. It doesn’t affect my ability to perform my duties.” Mount said stiffly, her voice flatter now, more firm.

“I realise this but I’m asking from a psychological stand point.’ Cassie said as gently as she could manage. ‘Sometimes individuals... who have suffered a loss of limb-“

“One finger.’ Mount interrupted irritably as though she’d had this conversation one too many times of late. ‘It was only one finger, it can hardly be considered a limb. Nub. Loss of nub. At the very most.”

“Well nub or not’ Cassie tried not to smirk at the stupid name, ‘the circumstances of the loss... Given the traumatic experiences you’ve suffered I’m concerned you may be experiencing psychosomatic symptoms Patience.”

“Psychosomatic? Sounds like a spare car part.” Mounts shoulders relaxed just a little but the smile was gone like she was easing into the conversation now. Cassie decided to take this as a good sign.

“Phantom limb pain can affect many amputees; electric shocks, burning sensations, numbness, excessive pins and needles in the hand?”

“Nope.’ Mount smacked her lips defiantly on this one word as though relishing the saying of it. ‘Just the loss of a burgeoning glove modelling career to mourn I’m afraid.”

“Glove modelling?” Cassie was momentarily confused once more.

“Ah,’ Mount shrugged again, ‘it’s not really a loss. You know what it’s like; once you’ve tried on one glove they’re much of a muchness.”

“You’re playing with me.” If there was one thing you could say about Cassie it was that she had a knack for pointing out the obvious when it turned up in front of her.

“I may never play the harp again either,’ Mount winked conspiratorially. It was a fleeting movement but she had definitely just winked, the vision made Cassies brain melt again even as the woman went on, ‘but everyone has their cross to bear I suppose.”

“You play the harp?” Cassie couldn’t seem to get on top of things.

“I’ve been told I’m good at strumming.” Mount replied smiling a thin smile.

“You have a sense of humour.”

“Not at all,’ Mount winked again and Cassie wondered if Mount had realised it was distracting her. ‘I really have been told that by more than one person.”

“Well,’ with a mental kick up her own arse Cassie forced herself to focus. ‘I think we should move on to the experiences you’ve been through.”

“So soon?” Mount was looking back at her hands again, the moment of humour drifting away.

“You don’t want to talk about what’s happened to you?”

“No I don’t mind, just had a few more finger jokes stored up to use that’s all.” Mounts lips twitched but she kept her eyes on her lap. The fingers flexed.

“How do you think that you’ve been affected by overall events?” Cassie had once been called a dog with her inexplicable trait of not losing her original train of thought. She didn’t much feel like she’d deserved that at this moment.

“I haven’t.” Mount answered shortly. Her good hand twitched over her bad one again, Cassie noted she held her index and ring finger keeping the middle tightly encased and hidden.

“I confess I struggle to believe you can be coping without any issues considering what you’ve been through.” Cassie felt finally back in control, Mount swallowed for a moment still not looking Cassie in the eye. She’d been stabbed too Cassie knew; it was surely impossible for someone to walk away from things like that without emotional scars.

Mount leaned back in her chair and aimed a lazy raised eyebrow at Cassie.

“Do you?” She drawled.

“How have you been sleeping?” Cassie tried again to move on, to gain a realistic answer.

“I just told you eight hours a night.” Mounts sounded weary now. Almost like a tired person who definitely wasn’t having eight hours might sound when quizzed Cassie thought smugly.

“Are you experiencing any bad dreams at all, absences or fatigue in the day time? Changes in diet?”

“I eat like a horse and I don’t dream.” Again Mount was too dogmatic to be believed easily.

“Never?” Cassie drummed her fingers on the desk. Everyone dreamed.

“Well,’ Mount took a deep breath as she thought this through in her head. ‘Nothing to do with all that. I had a dream last night where I was making sandwiches.”

“Sandwiches?”

“Ham and pickle,’ Mount nodded encouragingly, ‘I hate pickles too. It was terrible but somehow I’ve gotten over it.”

“You seem to be dealing with events very well. Would you say your humour helps you?”

“Me? I think so although I haven’t taken up any stints in front of brick walls yet but yeah... I’ve been through worse. I know how to deal with these things.” Mount glared at her hands as though daring them or Cassie to disagree.

“You were raised in an...’ Cassie paused flicking through a mental thesaurus of options for this, ‘alternative environment to most I understand.”

“If that’s what my file says.” Mount was flat again. The eyes empty.

“Is the information incorrect in any way?”

“No. It’s probably right, it just doesn’t have any relevance to me now.”

“Not relevant.’ Cassie wanted to laugh but repressed the urge. ‘I understand the man who assaulted you was the same man who was involved in the running of your-“

“You can say the word cult.’ Mount interrupted again sharply, ‘I’ve heard it before.”

“Cult.” Cassie finished with a shiver of revulsion.

“That’s right. He was.”

“That must have brought back some painful memories for you.”

“Not that I’ve noticed.” Mount airily picked at some invisible lint on her jeans, her voice held no inflection whatsoever.

“I’m afraid I don’t believe you Patience.” Cassie felt it was time to pull out her more forthright attitude and in a way it did work. Mount looked up briefly.

“That’s a shame Cassie. It really is.”

“How has this affected your personal relationships? It’s important at times like this that you have a strong support system around you.”

“What do you mean personal relationships.” Mount asked suspiciously like she felt as though she was being trapped into something.

“I mean people close to you.” Cassie qualified patiently watching Mount as closely as she dared.

“I have... my girls and my mother and my friends. I’m fine.” Fine, there was that word again.

Some people who said it actually were fine. In certain circumstances however those letters tended to spell out fucked up, insecure, neurotic and emotional. Cassie could guess which camp Mount would prefer to be in.

“Your mother?’ This brought Cassie up short and she momentarily cursed Calebs crap case management. How could he forget to put that into the file? ‘I apologise Patience I thought I’d read that your mother had passed away.”

“Adoptive mother and her partner.”

“You’re close.” This wasn’t posed as a question because it didn’t seem to Cassie that Mount enjoyed questions very much.

“Very; she’s in the midst of planning her wedding at the moment.’ Mounts eyes softened a few shades. ‘She loves a project; it’s the teacher in her.”

“A wedding?’ Cassie felt emboldened by the slight thawing of Mounts demeanour and pressed her advantage for more information. ‘That’s a big change, how have you coped with that emotionally?”

“Emotionally?” Mount became immediately blank, too blank to be believable. She was a cop, cops were good at blank looks.

“It must be difficult seeing your mother marry someone so late in your life.” Cassie cursed herself for pressing to quick. Ros would have been better at this than her, she was good at cracking hard shells.

“Not really, I’d get her in the divorce after all.” Mounts retort sounded forced, the face pointed towards Cassie remained stoic.

“Are you concerned about divorce?” Cassie smiled cajolingly and a tiny line appeared in Mounts smooth forehead in apparent confusion.

“No. As long as my mother’s happy.” Mount continued to frown as she spoke as though Cassies question was absurd.

“You don’t feel your own happiness comes into play in these circumstances?” Cassie could sense the woman’s interest draining from the room.

“Not particularly.’ Mount sniffed a shade irritably. ‘She’s not marrying me is she, I just want them to be happy. Besides she’s much more optimistic since she’s been getting laid.”

“Right’ Cassie felt it was probably worth doing a bit of digging at this point. When in Rome. ‘And what about significant others for you?” Cassie felt a stab of guilt even as she asked. It was a question she’d usually ask a client but she wasn’t usually as interested with the answer, for a heartbeat she worried she was preying on the woman but she shook it off quickly. Mount didn’t seem to be interested in having many emotions, Cassie wouldn’t mind emotionless entanglements. It suited her.

“Not... Not at the moment.” Mount fidgeted in her chair like the subject made her uncomfortable which didn’t quite tally up with the reputation Cassie had heard about so much. Maybe she really hated any sort of link to partners?

“At the moment? It must be lonely for you raising your girls without anyone there to lend a hand.”

“Or even a nub.” Mount muttered absentmindedly at her hand and then realised she’d spoken out loud. She finally looked back up as though catching herself. ‘I don’t... I’m not wanting to date at the minute that’s all. I just want to focus on the girls.”

“You seem very proud of them.” Cassie tried for a different way in, noting that family seemed to be the woman’s weak spot.

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Mounts jaw tensed slightly, defiantly braced for some sort of remonstration perhaps.

“It’s a lot of responsibility being a parent,’ Cassies sister hardly had a second to herself and her youngest boy was nearly eight. Cassie could only imagine the pressures of two kids with difficult histories. ‘How do you feel you’ll juggle those responsibilities with work?”

“What are you thinking I’m going to do? Nail the kids to the wall while I’m out?” Mounts lips twitched again, a slight sarcastic drawl entering her tone as she finally released her hands from each other and folded her arms tightly over her chest. A defensive stance.

“I was just suggesting that the hours can be changeable within CID.” Cassie responded quickly, sensing her window of opportunity shrinking by the minute now.

“My friend recently started living with us so she’s helping with childcare and my mother’s partner lives a street over and works at the youngest school. The eldest is sixteen and she knows how to babysit. We’ll work it out.” Mounts voice was clipped as though she resented sharing even the tiniest personal detail to a stranger.

“You sound very certain.” Cassie observed carefully.

“I’m very certain. I’m ready to go back to work and would appreciate your support to do so.”

“I’m still concerned about how you might be coping emotionally. You seem quite closed off.” Understatement really but Cassie doubted she’d get much more and she couldn’t really see a reason to prolong Mounts sickness. A person who wanted to work and offered reasonable explanations could hardly be denied.

“I wouldn’t say that,’ Mount looked down at her lap, her eyes tight. ‘I’m just not willing to let the bad guy win.”

“I’d still like you to feel free to stay in touch.’ Cassie hesitated as she looked down at her desk. There were two cards there one with her number on it and one without it. ‘We run a free fortnightly support group for survivors of abuse at Poplar community centre on a Thursday evening six to eight. You would be more than welcome to join us if you wanted to.”

“Group survivors?’ Mounts entire body showed a general distrust of the label. ‘What does that include; do you teach each other how to build rafts out of leg hair in quiet moments?”

“It’s an open and safe space to speak with others who may offer you insight in recovery.” Cassie said a trite defensively. The group was a positive one and she disliked people who mocked the brave souls who attended. Mount looked back at her hands reflectively.

“I’m not really a big sharer.” She said as though the words were being dragged from her and Cassie nodded understandingly.

“It might take some time to be ready for disclosing personal traumas in group settings but if you ever felt that you needed it we could arrange 1:1 counselling sessions that might suit you better at this stage.”

“1:1? Like they put the perps on suicide watch in the cells?” Mounts eyes narrowed again.

“Not quite, I would be more than willing to help you if you wanted to talk about things.” Cassie was a firm believer in the power of conversation. Quite frankly if more people had the skills in place to talk about their feelings there would be less issues in the world.

“What if I don’t like talking about things?” Mount queried, her fingers twitching again where they were firmly tucked beneath her armpits and Cassies features softened.

“We can work on techniques designed to help with anxiety, have you ever heard of mindfulness Patience?”

“Oh that, yeah I’ve seen the fliers in the office. I never was very good at colouring in.’ Mounts eyes dimmed. ‘Never had the practice growing up.”

“Well... The offers there if you want it and here-‘ With shaking fingers Cassie made a split second decision and passed over the card with her number scrawled on it. She held her breath as she watched Mount take it dubiously with her good hand. Long hand, long fingers. Pianist fingers. ‘Feel free to contact me on that number.’ Cassie swallowed nervously, ‘I’m up most hours.”

Mount gazed down at the card as though she’d never seen one before nodding slowly and standing up. Cassie hastened to follow even as she registered that Mount was nearly a foot taller than her so she had to tilt her face upwards to look the blonde in the eye. To her disappointment Mount didn’t meet it.

“Thank you, I’ll bear that offer in mind. Does this mean I can return to work?”

“I can’t see why not. You seem very well.” Cassie let a little bit of enthusiasm leak out of her at this. Well wasn’t the right word for this woman but she was powerless to fit another to her.

“Excellent, thank you, I appreciate your help Cassie... But I need to go home now, unnail the girls from the wall and so on.” Mount really did smile now, pulling Cassies card more firmly into the curve of her palm.

Cassie found she couldn’t take her eyes off the woman as she nodded politely once more and turned to walk away. Those legs! For a moment Cassie let herself half imagine what could happen if this woman rang her number at two in the morning. What might Cassie say to her, what Mount might say to Cassie...

Buoyed by this tittilating picture Cassie bid the Constable on her way and breezed through her next three appointments. None of those captured her in quite the same way; one new widower, one girl with emerging personality disorder dragged to the clinic by a belligerent mother and one gentleman suffering from depression and anxiety.

After she was done with them Cassie was left with her daily paperwork to sort through. Reports waited for no woman and Ros often teased Cassie just how long the work took her. Ros would probably be on her way home by this time. Cassie made a mental note to call her when she got in like she’d said she would.

True to form and Ros’s ridicule Cassie was running late by the time she locked her office and stepped out into the now dim waiting area some five hours after Mount had left the building. Cassie didn’t usually give the empty waiting room much notice when she rushed through it and didn’t know why she kicked her heels so much today.

Maybe a part of her already suspected what she might find. Maybe the sensible side of her that actually quite liked Clark slip ons did have its uses.

It was surely that side of her than noticed the nearly empty bin. It was surely that part of her that noticed the thin stripe of orange that she recognised immediately because she had spent a good two hours debating the colour with Ros before she’d ordered her cards from Vista print.

The bin was usually emptied just after lunch and the only thing at the bottom was a small balled up wad of card. White card. With an orange stripe.

Cassie paused when she noticed it and then hesitated before walking over to kneel awkwardly down to the level of the bin. It was awkward because the thick strap of her work bag unbalanced her so that the carpet bit into her knees. Her hands shook as she lifted up the wad and unfolded it.

Her eyes stung in humiliation as she read her own name and number discarded carelessly.

It seemed that Patience Mount would not be calling her after-all.