CHAPTER ONE: ALONE AGAIN
1st November 2015
“Hi Jane it’s Ava Green. We need to remove two-year-old Jayden Goodwin right away. Put the feelers out for a short-term foster carer, and send me some police backup ASAP please. There’s evidence of drug taking and neglect, both physical and emotional.”
“Sure thing Ava stand by and I’ll send over Detective Samuels. Oh, and Ava good call.”
“Thanks talk to you soon Jane.”
I hang up the phone and suddenly I start feeling anxious. Detective Samuels gives me the creeps. His ego is taller than Big Ben. I’ve never met a man who thinks so highly of himself and so little of others. I turn my attention back to two-year-old Jayden, he’s covered in dirt and wearing a nappy that’s so soiled it’s half hanging off his tiny thin body. I crouch down to Jayden’s level and look him in the eye.
“Okay baby, listen to me you’re going to go away for a while okay? Is that all right with you?”
“Will there be juice and food? I want toys and hugs. I hug mama, but she pushes me. It hurts.”
Holding onto the edge of my skirt he waves an empty juice beaker. Jayden stares up at me with pleading big brown eyes. With my own wet eyes I take in his curly black hair, caramel skin, chubby cheeks and long lashes. Damn, how anyone can neglect a child this beautiful is beyond me.
“Yes baby lots of food, toys, hugs and no one will hurt you again. I promise.”
Jayden rewards me with a toothy smile.
“Open up. Police.”
I hear a commotion coming from the living room. I hoist Jayden onto my hip then leave his dingy bedroom to head toward the door.
“What have you done? Why are the police at my fucking door?”
Jade Goodwin Jayden’s mum screams obscene language. Jade looks me up and down with a look that could kill. I push past her with Jayden and open the door. Detective Samuels barges in, his henchmen in uniform head toward the living room behind him.
“Ms. Green, we meet again.”
He gives me a nod.
I greet him through gritted teeth and watch him head off in the direction of the living room. From the door I hear his deep booming voice.
“Everybody freeze. You’re all under arrest for the possession of class B drugs.”
Racing to the living room I watch Jade and her gang freeze in a state of shock. Not one of them protests as they’re cuffed, and walk toward to the London Metropolitan Police van. As Jade walks by with her hands cuffed behind her back she stops and spits at me. She misses in her high as a kite state thank God.
“Bitch. You’re welcome to the boy! He’s a burden anyway. I’m not putting my life on hold for no baby.”
I ignore her and cover Jayden’s precious ears. I head toward his bedroom to pack a few things. This is the best decision I’ve made in a while. This young girl is no fit mother. I have a love— hate relationship with my job. Some days it’s great and I feel like I’m helping some of the most deprived people in society. London is a great city and in many ways a land of opportunity. On the other hand, it has its dark side within some of its inner-city areas. Some days it’s an emotional struggle to get through the day, especially when I’m faced with decisions that play on my emotional state like today. After ten years of working as a Child Protection Social Worker I still can’t take a decision to remove a child lightly. Some of my co-workers are the most job-hardened people I know. I empathise maybe a bit too much, but in this line of work you need to be human.
I peer around the dingy flat. I’m alarmed by the strong smell of weed, the dirt, grime and evidence of hard-core drug binging. I pack a few of Jayden’s clothes in a flimsy plastic bag and grab his stuffed toy. What a day I can’t wait until it’s over.
Later that evening as the rain beats down on my window, after a long day of paperwork and making calls, I curl up on my sofa with a bottle of red wine and turn on a chick flick DVD. I mull over life and how one person’s junk can be another person’s treasure. Jayden’s such a beautiful boy he’s been placed with a loving interracial foster family, who are having difficulty conceiving a child of their own. They are over the moon to have him. I’m thankful to find a couple reflecting his racial ethnicity at such short notice. He could be there for months while I organise his long-term care.
I long to be a mother too. That was the plan until he messed it up Carl Jones, my ex. After four years together he finally asked me to marry him. I was over the moon and accepted with no reservations. Then I caught the bastard cheating. He had to go. No second chances and no wedding. I poured my soul into that relationship. We made plans and life was good it’s beyond me why two months before our wedding day I caught him in bed with another woman, not just any bed but our bed.
That was January 2015 ten months ago. I faced Valentine’s Day on my own and now I face Christmas on my own too. The thought scares me. I don’t want to be alone at such a special time, one of my favourite times of year—but I can’t bring myself to trust another man so soon.
At thirty- five years old I thought by now my life would have been in order. I have a job I enjoy although it is stressful, great girlfriends Marie and Tasha, plus all the clothes and shoes I can ever ask for. The one man I thought was true, honest and made for me let me down.
The breakup of our engagement completely blew everything out of the water. I lost my whole sense of being. One minute I was about to become a wife, the next I came crashing down to earth and single life with a bump. Ten months later I’m still recovering.
Unable to focus on the chick flick movie playing out in front of me I pour myself another glass of wine, and then mull over the day’s events. Detective Jerome Samuels, hmm that man he’s extremely handsome, six-foot-two, athletically built, smooth caramel skin and brown eyes. He reminds me of Denzel Washington. Knowing him he probably fancies himself as him too. The tough ball-breaking cop in control of everything and everyone in most of his movies. The only thing is his egotistical personality cancels out his charming looks. That’s Detective Samuels’ problem.
Detective Samuels is the main muscle of the police support my department receives on most of the child protection cases we work on. I’ve worked closely with him over the last year. His nature is forceful and brash. He always makes sure he gets what he wants, small talk and building personal working relationships are not his thing. It’s strictly business at all times.
I glance at the clock 11:30p.m. already and one bottle of red wine is polished off. This has been my routine most evenings, alone with a bottle of wine, a chick flick and my thoughts on the dreaded Christmas coming up in a month’s time. I jump at the buzz of my phone and glance down it’s Tasha.
“Hey yourself. How you been it’s been a while, how are things?”
“Ah ya know ticking along. Just work, work, work!”
“Hmm same here.”
“Any news from Carl?”
“Carl? Pshh no way. He has no reason to call me and even if he did I wouldn’t bother to pick up. I’m over that.”
I lie through gritted teeth to my dear friend and hope she buys the story.”
“Damn, well I guess good riddance to bad rubbish. What are your plans for Christmas?”
“I honestly don’t know Tasha the thought of it makes me feel overwhelmed. On my own, with no one to celebrate with or cook for.”
“No luck with online or speed dating?”
“Getting a date is not the problem, it’s finding someone I want to go on a second date with!” Tasha and I cackle over the phone.
“I swear Tasha I’m dreading a lonely Christmas so much, I’m thinking of placing an advert for some kind of Christmas quality time only. A no strings attached kinda thing.”
I laugh at my own joke, but Tasha is silent on the other end.
“Really? You know to me that don’t sound too bad. Think about it. You’d get what you want, someone to enjoy Christmas with and have fun. No pressure for anything more if you don’t feel ready for that yet.”
I pause and think about what my dear friend has just said. She has a point. I’m clearly not ready to fully trust a man again after Carl. A relationship is not exactly what I’m after, the thought of having someone who understands and maybe feels how I do about a lonely Christmas gets me thinking.
“Hmm it was just a joke but now you put it that way, do you think there might honestly be someone out there in the same situation as I am?”
“You never know.”
I raise an eyebrow on the other end of the line at Tasha’s response.
“What would you class the advert as Ava? It’s not for a date—what’s it for?’’
I pause again and think about my response.
“A contract just for Christmas love!”
I blurt out before I can stop myself. We cackle again down the phone. In the back of my mind I wonder if this could work. For the past seven months almost every week via online or speed dating I’ve managed to find a date. I’m successful, attractive— well so I’m told, five-foot-five, curves in the right places, milk chocolate skin, large light brown eyes and jet black wild naturally curly bob length hair. I’m a catch in the eyes of the male species. The success of my dates has been another story. Either too short, too full of themselves, no connection, or just plain boring. I want someone to excite me, romance me, wine me, dine me and make me feel like a woman should—even if it is just for Christmas.
Detective Jerome Samuels loves his job working with the Child Protection unit of Hackney Council. Hackney is one of London’s most notorious inner city crime areas. Over the years, he has seen an increase in the number of child protection cases he has been called upon to work. The protection of some of the most vulnerable people in society is something he takes seriously. As a father himself he holds great pride in the role he plays in his twenty-year-old son Javan’s life.
The life of a detective is hard work with long hours. Often there’s limited time for dating. At forty-five years old Jerome is happily divorced from Javan’s mother. Five years post divorce he still has no significant other in his life. He blames his job, his love of freedom and need to be his own man. However, he often finds himself lonely or a loose end when it comes to social functions he has a plus one for.
Jerome flops down on his sofa with a TV dinner for one, a beer and his newspaper, after yet another twelve-hour day at the office. He feels a sense of satisfaction that he could assist on the case of young Jayden Goodwin earlier that afternoon.
Flicking through the newspaper he glances over the personal ads column. He can’t remember the last time he had a real date. “Nah forget it Samuels work is more important” he says out loud to himself. Women are complex beings to him. His ten-year marriage showed him just how complex they could be, as well as how much it takes to sustain a relationship and marriage. He has a constant internal battle with the need for female company and a fear of it at the same time. He uses his work as a distraction.
Closing the paper his mind wonders to Ava Green, the “pretty social worker” as his co-workers refer to her as in their banter. There’s something about Ava that makes him take note of her. It’s not just her pretty face and delicate features it’s the way she never seems to look him in the eye. As well as how dismissive she comes across toward him. It intrigues him as nine times out of ten when he swaggers into Ava’s office, full of her female co-workers the women fall over themselves to talk with him. Not Ava.
He opens the paper to the personal ads page again. Maybe one date won’t hurt he tells himself. It has been an age since you wined and dined a woman. Scanning the pages he makes a note of when the personal ads for women seeking men are placed. He decides he’ll keep an eye on the page, just in case there is a potential date out there for him. After all Christmas is just eight weeks away. Jerome has had his fair share of lonely Christmases five years post divorce.