Penny and Sarah
They were in a waiting area of some sort, with torn flyers adorning poorly painted walls and cracked windows. There was a reception area to their left where people stood, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. Penny could hear voices coming from a hall just in front of them, and she wondered why anyone would meet in a place like this. However, she was more interested in the weird-looking man scolding her mum and tried to interrupt but remembered her promise and kept quiet.
‘This is no place for a minor!’ he yelled at Sarah.
‘Both my daughters are minors,’ Sarah pointed out, ‘but you requested for Daisy.’
‘Huh!’ the man snorted. ‘As a character witness! From what I hear, the older one has seen more action than my ex-wife.’
Sarah grimaced in pain. ‘Look, I couldn’t do what you asked. I failed. I’ll accept the consequences. I only ask that they don’t find out.’
He looked at Penny again, who folded her brows in anger.
‘This might go south fast. Are you sure you want the little one present when it does?’ Aaron asked with genuine concern.
‘She didn’t want to leave my side,’ Sarah confessed with a trembling voice.
‘You should have insisted,’ he said, wiping his brow nervously. ‘It’s not good for children to witness such things.’
‘Let me speak with her first,’ Sarah pleaded, and he nodded and walked towards the hall.
‘Baby,’ she said, hugging Penny tightly. ‘Please stay out here in the waiting room. You can help yourself with some cookies and tea. Be sure to add enough milk. I don’t want you jumping off the walls tonight.’
Penny stiffened. ‘Is it bad, mum?’ She fished through her jacket for the cell phone her dad got her. ‘I can call dad. He will come for us,’ she continued, trying to keep her voice level and her hands from shaking.
‘No baby, please don’t call daddy. I don’t want him to come here, but hold on to it, ok?’ Sarah said, leading her to the reception area.
It was less than ideal, but anything was better than Penny going in with her. She found a secluded corner where she felt Penny could sit, undetected. ‘Please, don’t move from here, baby. Promise me.’
Penny felt her eyes water. ‘Mum?’
‘I’ll be right in there,’ Sarah assured her before planting a kiss on her forehead and heading to the hall. Penny looked on in anxiety. She looked at her phone. Any sign of trouble, and she was going to call her dad.
The hall was the most decent part of the building. It had high-rise windows with marble floors and wooden chairs neatly arranged in a circle but, Sarah wasn’t interested in the scenery. Her focus was on two men in suits, sitting on opposite sides, each sitting by their attorneys. If their attorneys were here, they had made up their minds on her fate, Sarah thought. Her ex-husbands were going to bury her.
Aaron sat in the middle of the circle, looking around like he was assessing everyone’s mood. His eyes rested on Sarah for a moment like he thought she was a fool for not doing what he asked before he cleared his throat. ‘I need to thank everyone here for honoring our arrangement. It shows your commitment to finding an amicable solution to this..’
‘We are done talking, Aaron. Where’s Wallace?’ asked one of the men. He had a strong chin, with a muscular build derived from spending hours in the gym. Aaron feigned surprise, ‘Mr. Brooks, Dr. Wallace is on trial here. He doesn’t have to be here.’
‘Cut the crap, Aaron. She didn’t bring her daughter either. Are you playing us?’ the man called Mr. Brooks asked again, impatiently.
Aaron heaved a heavy sigh like he was bracing for the inevitable. ‘Sarah couldn’t get them here, Mr. Brooks,’ Aaron announced with a sad tone. ‘But, I have thought of another solution that will benefit all parties.’
‘No more solutions,’ the other gentleman cut in with a stern voice. Sarah had her head down in shame.
‘Am I missing something here?’ Aaron asked curiously, shifting his gaze from one man to the other.
Mr. Brooks laughed. ‘Aaron, don’t be stupid. Now that we know what we know, it’s only logical that we push for what we wanted from the start.’
Aaron looked at Sarah with pity. ‘As I told you from the start, she doesn’t have your money, and she is willing to keep on working for you to pay back what she stole. What else will you have her do? ‘
‘Get us our money. If Sarah can’t provide it, Wallace can,’ Gareth pointed out coldly, turning to his lawyer, who nodded and retrieved her phone.
Sarah gave Gareth a stern look like he just triggered her demons.
Bastards, Aaron thought. It had always been about Wallace and his money. Did she know this was their plan? ‘Dr. Wallace doesn’t owe you anything,’ Aaron said flatly.
‘He does now,’ Brooks stated, looking at Sarah. ‘I hear she stays with him. What the devil did you do to get him to accept you back into his life?’
‘They have a child together,’ Gareth said, answering Brooks’ question.
‘Really?’ Brooks asked with genuine surprise. She could hear a hint of jealousy in his voice. ‘Well, he has more motivation to pay up then.’
‘Why did you call for this mediation when you already knew what you wanted?’ Aaron accused, leaping out of his seat.
‘We wouldn’t have if we knew she was back with him,’ Gareth stated, putting his phone away, ‘and this ends when Wallace clears her debts. We can either settle this on or off the court. Wallace either pays with his career or his money. It’s her choice. You either stand with us on this and get a huge paycheck or stand disgraced, and the police will never use you to mediate on their behalf again.’
Aaron looked defeated as he slumped back into his chair. He couldn’t have another failed mediation in his records, and this was already biting the dust. They didn’t want her repentance because they wanted payback. He was hard on Sarah. He made her do her community service at places of their choosing. They ridiculed her, but she endured with the hope that she would finally get the chance to be free of her past and win her family’s love and trust back. That was the plan but not theirs. They were buying time and waiting for the doctor to show up.
‘It’s evident that Dr. Wallace won’t be coming to the meeting. What do we do now?’ Aaron asked Gareth sternly. The greed in his eyes appalled him.
‘Well, we will press charges. In the end, Wallace will pay that money to get her out of trouble,’ Gareth reasoned, looking down on Sarah, who had her eyes shut like she was making decisions of her own.
‘You will press charges because she failed to bring Wallace here? What about the community service she’s performed? The deal we made?’ Aaron asked, trying to corner him.
‘Next time, put it in writing,’ Gareth said cynically.
Aaron looked mortified. ‘I trusted you, Gareth. You came to me! Why? You should have gone to court.’
‘Because you have a reputation to save, Aaron,’ Gareth reminded him. ‘You asked us to give her a month to get Wallace on board. We did that, but she didn’t hold up her end of the bargain, so not our fault. You still have a few hours to convince her to get Wallace here and settle this dirty business, or we are going to bring both of you down.’
Sarah had had enough. People always used her to get to Christopher. It had to stop.
‘That’s enough, Gareth,’ Sarah said boldly, gazing at him with pure disdain. ‘To think that I tried to get him here, but I am glad I failed. I will turn myself in and plead guilty to all your charges like I wanted to do in the beginning.’
‘Please do that. I’m sure Wallace will want to settle out of court. This kind of publicity is bad for business.’ Gareth said without emotion.
‘I’ll deny ever knowing him,’ Sarah said, desperately.
‘You know, Sarah. We don’t just have proof that you know him but that you know him well. The press will have a fill day with this one,’ Gareth mocked. She was very protective of Wallace. He was going to use that to haunt her.
‘Aaron,’ Sarah said, turning to the mediator and putting her hands out. ‘I’m ready to go to jail now.’
Aaron looked at her outstretched fists. ‘Sarah, please think this through. If you go to jail, Dr. Wallace will not escape the negative publicity this will bring. Just ask him to come, and we will work out a deal somehow.’
‘Yes, because it will benefit you too,’ Sarah accused. ‘Everyone is always after Christopher. He doesn’t deserve this. I will do everything in my power to ensure he never gets involved.’
Aaron sighed as he looked at his handcuffs like they were strange to him. ‘What about the wee one?’
Sarah blinked her tears away. She was finally doing what was right. ‘Please cover the cuffs. I don’t want her to see them.’
He tried again.
‘Sarah, please. I agree this mediation benefits me too but think about it. If we settle things here, it will not get to the press, neither will it get to court. You can go home to your family. Just give him a call,’ Aaron whispered into her ear.
‘I don’t want Christopher involved in this,’ Sarah said in a shaky voice. ‘ and we both know it’s not just their charges I have to ponder on. The others may try this too. Turning myself in is the best thing I can do to protect him. I’m the culprit. He shouldn’t have to pay for my sins.’
Aaron’s shoulders dropped because this was the end of his career. He should have picked a lighter case, but it was a cold one, and she was willing to cooperate. He didn’t think Gareth and Brooks would play him like this. Still, he had to do his job.
He handcuffed her slowly.
‘I’m happy. My kids will finally get the happiness they deserve,’ Sarah said to Aaron, even though she didn’t believe it herself. Penny would be badly affected, and Christopher would never forgive her for letting it happen.
‘So Sarah, you have settled for moving in with your kind,’ Mr. Brooks mocked. Aaron led her out of the hall, with his shawl over her palms, concealing her handcuffs.
She didn’t respond because she was scanning the reception area for Penny, who jumped out of her chair when she saw her.
‘Mum!’ she cried, running to her.
Sarah fought back her tears. ‘Mum, what’s going on?’ Penny asked when Sarah couldn’t hug her. Sarah crouched to her level. ‘Sweetheart, Mr. Aaron will ask a friend to take you home now. I have to go somewhere I can’t take you. Please tell daddy I will call him when I can, ok?’
Penny saw two men in suits emerging from the hall and looking disdainfully at her mother. ‘Mum?’ Penny called out in panic.
‘Your mother is going to jail,’ Gareth announced, daring Sarah to lie.
Aaron and Sarah sent murderous looks Gareth’s way.
‘No! My mother hasn’t done anything wrong!’ Penny cried, hugging Sarah tightly.
Sarah held her shoulders. ‘Penny, be strong. Don’t worry. Everything will be all right.’
‘No, mum. I won’t let them take you!’ Penny continued. ‘I’ll call dad. He will make everything ok.’
‘Yes, call your father. He’s the one we want!’ Gareth spat at Penny.
Sarah lunged at Gareth and held on to his collars. ‘Don’t you dare talk to my daughter!’
And just like that, there was pandemonium everywhere. Everyone was yelling and screaming so loudly that no one but Aaron noticed the change in the atmosphere.
‘Quiet!’ he said decisively. ‘Can you hear that?’
‘Hear what? I hear nothing!’ Mr. Brooks said, looking at Aaron like he had lost his marbles.
‘Exactly,’ Aaron agreed. ‘Something’s not right.’
‘Mummy, I’m scared!’ Penny whispered, looking at her mum, who looked fearfully back.
‘Aaron,’ Sarah uttered before the bomb went off, shaking the already unstable building to its core.