Tom sat at his computer and heard his mobile ring. He looked at the mobile screen it was his best mate Paul. “Hi mate, what’s happening, when we gonna meet up” It had been four weeks since they last saw each other. “How about tonight after work. Red Lion in the high street? “You’re on” Tom sat wondering what Paul wanted, he’d been a bit quiet over the last few weeks, still no problem, it would be great to see him and have a few beers. Paul pulled his car into the large car park of the Red Lion pub in Forest Gate East London. He saw that Tom was already there, his car was parked up close to the wall, typical Policeman he thought, no one could pinch it from there. He walked into the pub and saw Tom sitting by a table by the front window. “Got you a pint mate, it’s that cheap cooking lager, not the strong stuff cos I know we’re both driving, what can we have? Two maybe? “You should know, you’re the bloody copper!” “Yeh I know maybe just the one then, can’t be too careful, not like the old days when we didn’t give a fuck, let them catch us, I remember us saying, but that was twenty years ago, so what’s up, why the phone call?” “It’s about Stella” “You have got to be fucking kidding me, Stella? What about her?” “I need to find her Tom; I need to find out if she’s OK” Tom took a deep breath and sat back in his chair, his face changed from friendly to angry.“Listen to me, she’s gone and good riddance as far as I’m concerned, she left you seven years ago, she almost destroyed you, do you remember, almost bloody killed you she did” “Yes I remember” “Well then, why now, why suddenly try to find her now after all these years?” It was Pauls turn to look angry. “Because I need to know if she’s alright that’s all!” “Do I need to remind you of what happened? Eh, seven years ago she left you, for no reason, just up and fucking left you, just said it was over and fucked off one day. Who picked up the pieces? Me, I picked up the fucking pieces, when you decided to drink a bottle of scotch a day to get over it, when you decided to take a lorry load of the Columbian marching powder, when you were so high one day and went to work that they fired you on the spot, fucking primary school teacher, drunk and high trying to teach fucking six year olds, that bitch did those things to you and you want to see if she’s ok, you want your fucking brains tested!” “OK, OK, I know, it was tough, but I just need to find her to make sure she’s OK” “Why the fuck do you keep saying that, why would you think that she’s not Ok and why would you give a fuck anyway?” Paul got up and went to the bar; he ordered another two pints, got them and returned to the table. “Look Tom, it’s not what you think, I know you hate Stella for what happened but that’s not the real story, honest, she’s not the villain here”“Are you listening to yourself? You have got to be kidding me, I saw you a few hours after she left, I saw the fucking state you were in, I saw the fucking mess you were, laying on the floor crying your fucking eyes out, fuck me mate I thought you’d got all this out of your system” “I had, up until a few days ago” “And? What happened a few days ago?” “Look, it’s gonna sound a bit weird, will you just listen until I finish?” “OK go on” “That day she left, that day she told me it was over and she had to leave, well I never really told anyone what happened that day” “So? Doesn’t matter the bitch left you that’s all that matters” “No, No, shut up and listen, it was a Saturday, she was up before me, she’d already packed her bags and put them in her car, she was waiting for me downstairs. She broke down and cried, well, we both did. She said that she had to go, she couldn’t be with me anymore, she was afraid of commitment. She said that she loved me but realised that one day she would let me down so best go now rather than in a few years’ time, she left me and I’ve never seen her since” “I know all this bollocks mate, don’t forget, I was there over the next few days putting you together again, I’ve heard all this before, she fucked off and left you” “There’s one thing that I’ve never told anyone about that day, no one. When she was at the door ready to leave, we were both crying, I made her a promise, I told her that no matter what happens, no matter how many years go by, if she was ever in trouble or needed help I would be there for her, all she needed to do was contact me and I would be there, I made her promise also that she would let me know if she needed me, then she left” “So? What’s your point?”“For the past four days, I’ve had a vivid dream, Stella is in that dream, she wants me to find her, she’s in trouble Paul, I know she is, she’s trying to let me know” “Bollocks, why doesn’t she just pick up the fucking phone or come to the house, she knows where you live” “I don’t know mate, I just know she’s in trouble, I can’t explain it, I just know, every time I close my eyes, I see her, she’s trying to tell me something, I need to find her, well, you’re the copper, I need you to find her for me!”Tom sat in his car and watched as Paul drove out of the car park. He couldn’t help thinking what a fucking idiot his mate Paul was. But he was his best mate and he’d promised to do what he could for him. He was no Private Investigator, but he was a Detective at Forest Gate Police Station and he did have access to certain records.The main thing he could do was check if Stella had any criminal record at all. It was unlikely, although he hated Stella with a passion for what she’d done to Paul, she was no criminal. She was a lovely looking girl, when Paul had first introduced her to him, his first impressions were very positive. Slim, attractive, long brown hair, beautiful smile, great tits, which was always a tick in the box as far as he was concerned. But there was always something, something he couldn’t put his finger on, something beneath the lovely exterior that worried him. She looked needy. Something told him that she would be hard work for Paul. Paul was a larger than life type character, complete extrovert, loved the social life, something told him that she would hold him back, she was shy, hated going out, rarely spoke to anyone, didn’t try to fit in or make friends with the other guys wives or girlfriends. They were like chalk and cheese!Paul had given him her National Insurance number, there were a few checks he could do with this, but he would have to be careful, it was not something he was comfortable with. But there were a couple of people that owed him a favour and now was the time to call them in!Oh well, no time like the present, he drove off towards the station, it was just before 8.00pm.Paul was pleased that Tom had agreed to help him; he was sitting indoors in his two bed flat in Plaistow East London, the same flat that he and Stella had shared for almost five years.He thought back to when they first met, he was a primary school teacher at a local school. Stella was working there as a classroom assistant. The attraction was instant and within a few days they were going out together.She was so very shy, it took her months to open up and tell him her background, then one night over a couple bottles of wine, she told him about her upbringing.Stella had it tough, her parents had died when she was only eight years old, car accident, there were no other relatives so she was put into a children’s home in Gravesend in Kent. She had been abused in the home by one of the male staff. She resented being there and was by her own admission difficult to control. She told him stories of being drugged to calm her down and to make sure she did what she was told. She stayed there until she was fourteen and was then fostered by an elderly couple, but being a typical teenager they fought a lot, something she always regretted. At the age of 18, she left and got her own flat, sharing with a friend. At 19 she met a guy and moved in with him, he, unfortunately, was very useful with his hands and not in a good way. He would beat her for no reason; if she said the wrong thing at the wrong time she was liable to get a punch or a kick. Twice she’d been in hospital saying that she’d tripped over or fallen down the stairs, but she had no one to protect her or look after her. He left her after three years, probably the best thing that could have happened.When he met her she was 23 and living alone in a studio flat in Bow. After just three months she moved in with him at his flat in Plaistow.The years of living with a violent man had taken its toll; she was a frightened little thing back then, shy, and no confidence, all of that had been beaten out of over the past few years. She was scared of everything, especially commitment. Because of her upbringing she assumed that everything and everyone would one day let her down and leave. Her parents, her carers, foster parents and her man had all let her down. She didn’t believe in happiness.He remembered one evening, they were watching a good family film that had a happy ending, she got up afterwards and simply said “well that was a load of nonsense, people aren’t like that in real life” he spent the next hour trying to persuade her that life wasn’t all bad, it could be really good, you just had to work at it. But no matter how hard he tried she was having none of it, they ended up having a blazing row and he decided not to mention it again.Even with all her quirky mood swings he loved her, without doubt she was the love of his life, he thought eventually he would change her and she would become the woman that he always knew she could be.They were together for over four years and then one day she just left. It tore him apart, he lost his job, his career, he almost lost his mind. But he never forgot the promise he made her as she left. No matter where she was, no matter how many years passed, if she ever needed him he would be there. He sat back in his chair and fell asleep.In his dream he was walking, walking along a country lane, it was a bright sunny day. In the distance was a woman, standing at the side of the road, she was shouting but no words were coming out of her mouth and no noise either. It was Stella. He started to run towards her, the closer he got the fainter she became, until as he reached her she was gone.He woke up in a sweat.“She’s trying to tell me something, she needs me, I’m sure of it!”He said it to himself over and over again.Tom was at his desk at the Police station, he had entered Stella’s full name into the computer. It was as he thought, she had no criminal record. He was now waiting for a call from one of his mates on the Central National Database (CND); he had given him her National Insurance Number and date of birth. This would tell him where she was living now, where she worked, even how much she earned per year.His phone rang, he listened to the person on the other end of the line giving him information, Tom said very little apart from “Thank You” then hung up.He dialled Paul’s number.“Hi mate, I’m coming over, I’ve got some news, can’t talk now, I’ll be with you in twenty minutes!” Paul didn’t have to wait for the knock on the door; he was already waiting with the door open when Paul arrived.Paul walked straight passed him and went into Tom’s kitchen, Tom went running after him.“Well?”Paul ignored him and got out two whiskey tumblers from the cupboard. He then passed Tom again and went into the living room where he filled the glasses each with a large measure of the amber liquid.“Well, what’s going on?”Paul walked over to Tom and handed him a glass.“Take this and sit down, we need to talk”Tom did as he was told and sat down.“Ok, I’m sitting down, what’s the story, have you found her?”“Take a drink Tom and then I’ll start”Once again Tom did as he was told.“I’ve got a mate that works in the NCIS, I asked him to run Stella’s National Insurance number and date of birth; he rang me with some details about half an hour ago. I then came straight over here”“Come on mate, out with it, why all the dramatics?”“It’s bad news Tom, Stella died five days ago”Tom sat back in his chair and emptied the contents of his glass; although the whiskey hit his throat hard he made no reaction. He sat there for a while looking at the ceiling.“I’m sorry mate, didn’t really know how to tell you, so just came out with it, thought you should know straightaway, you ok?”Paul stood up and took Toms glass, he poured another large scotch and gave Tom back his glass.“I know it’s a shock mate, drink this, but a bit slower this time!”Tom still said nothing, just took the glass and had a sip.“I’m staying here tonight mate, if that’s ok, thought you could do with the company”Tom sat up and wiped his eyes, his voice was trembling.“Are you absolutely sure mate, there’s no doubt that it’s my Stella?”“Positive, Stella Ramsey, same N.I. number, same date of birth, it’s her mate”“Can you give me the details, you know, how it happened, where?”“According to the records, she was living in a place called Little Common, near Bexhill in Sussex. Working for a Letting Agency. The death certificate shows cause of death as Road Traffic Accident, the date of death was 26th February, five days ago”“Bloody hell, that’s only about an hour or so drive away, all these years without her and she was so close all the time”“I know mate, but she always knew where you were, if she wanted you she would have got in touch, so don’t you go feeling that you could have changed things because you couldn’t have. Stella moved on, she made it clear, she wanted to go and she did, now you’ve got to do the same, put all this behind you and get on with your life, it’s just a chapter that’s now closed mate”“You do know what this means though don’t you?”“Yeh, it means that you’ve got to get over this and move on, that’s what it means!”“No you tosser, Stella died five days ago right? Well that’s exactly when the dreams started, in the dreams she’s trying to tell me something, I still need to find out what that is”Paul looked up in despair.“Tom, let it go, she’s gone, there is no way you’re ever going to find out now, is there?”“I can’t let it go, every time I close my eyes she’s there, I made her a promise, I intend to keep it”“How you gonna do that”“Well if Stella died five days ago then it’s likely that the funeral hasn’t taken place yet, I’ll find out when and where it is and I’m going!”Paul sat back in his chair and finished his whiskey.“OK, if it will give you some closure on this thing, then I’ll find out the details, but I’m coming with you!”They were on their way to Stella’s funeral. It was at St. Margaret’s Church in Bexhill on Sea.It was a slow drive down the A21, the traffic was a nightmare at that time of day, but they had given themselves plenty of time and arrived at the Church with half an hour to spare.They were standing solemnly outside the Church waiting for people to arrive. The funeral was scheduled for 2pm, it was now 1.45pm.A young man walked towards them, black suit, white shirt, black tie, he smiled as he approached them. Tom was the first to speak.“You here for Stella’s funeral?”“Yes, I am, I used to work with her at the agency”“Oh, Ok, I’m just an old friend of hers”“Don’t think they’ll be many here, Stella kept pretty much to herself, you know how she was, a bit quiet”Paul interrupted.“We only heard the sad news a couple of days ago, car accident was it?”“Yeh, three car pile up, her car was in the middle, got hit back and front, no chance!”A hearse pulled into the churchyard and stopped at the front of the church. Two men got out and walked to the back of the car, they were joined by two other men who had arrived in another black limousine. The four of them removed the coffin and walked silently into the church.Paul looked at Tom.“Bloody hell, is this all there is, those four blokes are from the funeral parlour, looks like it’s just us two and the young guy”Tom didn’t answer; he was wiping a tear away from his eye.“I’m sorry mate; I know how much she meant to you”The three of them followed the coffin into the church.Inside the church were three other people, an elderly couple and women in her mid-fifties. They were all dressed in black.Paul and Tom took a seat at the back of the church, Paul looked across at the elderly couple and smiled, they nodded back.“Wonder who they are Tom, any ideas?”“No, work colleagues perhaps, neighbours?”The service lasted about ten minutes, they sang a hymn at the start and then again at the end, the vicar said a few words, but not much, something about a tragic end to such a young life.The coffin was carried out of the church and into the graveyard. The six of them stood round the grave and the vicar said a few more words as the coffin was lowered into the grave.Tom walked forward and threw a handful of dirt into the grave. Paul was going to, then stopped himself, it would only be hypocritical, he still hated Stella for what she did to Tom.They walked away from the grave and Tom went over to the elderly couple.“Did you know Stella well?”The old lady stopped and spoke to Tom.“We fostered her when she was a teenager for a couple of years, she was a bit of a tearaway back then, not her fault of course, poor thing, it was just the way she’d been brought up in that dreadful children’s home. All sorts of stories have come out about it over the last few years, a few have gone to prison you know!”The old man interrupted.“They ought to bloody hang em, that’s what I say!”Tom nodded in agreement.“I was Stella’s boyfriend for a while a few years back, she told me about you, she was very fond of you both, she regretted the way she behaved back then, she would be pleased that you came, I’m sure”The old lady fought back her tears.“That’s very nice of you to say so, thank you”Tom returned to Paul who was chatting with the young lad.“Tom, this is Brian, he worked in the letting agency with Stella for the last couple of years”“Hi Brian, did you get to know Stella well?”“You’re joking, no one could get close to Stella, she kept herself to herself, very quiet, no one at work really liked her, they always thought she was a bit rude, but I used to say she was just shy”Tom smiled.“I know exactly what you mean, yep she was a shy one that’s for sure, did she have a house or flat local”“About eight mile up the road In Little Common, she and Jennifer rented the flat above the agency”“Was Jennifer her flat mate?”The young lad looked puzzled.“No, Jennifer is Stella’s daughter; don’t know why she’s not here today, probably bit too young for it, god knows what will happen to her now, probably have to go into care!”Tom and Paul were both stunned. Tom was the first to speak.“Stella had a daughter? How old is she?”“She’s seven!”Tom and Paul stood outside the church in stunned silence, both knowing what the other was thinking. Tom turned to Brian.“So where is she now, Jennifer, whose looking after her?”“Oh social services are looking after her, the woman in charge was at the funeral, she was sitting with the old couple!”Tom looked frantically around him; he caught a glimpse of the woman just about to get into a car at the far end of the church yard.“Excuse me, excuse me, wait up a second please!”Tom was running and shouting and heading in the woman’s direction. She turned round and stood by her car. Tom reached her, he was out of breath.“My names Tom, I’m sorry to stop you but just heard about Stella’s daughter. Is she OK?”“Hi I’m Sue, yes she’s fine, a bit upset, naturally, but she’s Ok, do you know Jennifer? We’ve been trying to trace any relatives that Stella might have but no luck so far, were you a friend?”“This may sound crazy, but I think I may be Jennifer’s father!”The woman took a deep intake of breath.“Well if you are, that certainly changes a few things; perhaps you should come back with me to the office and have a chat!”Tom walked back to Paul and they followed the woman cars back to her office. Paul was the first to speak.“So you think Stella was pregnant when she left you?”“Yeh, it all makes sense now don’t you see, Stella left me BECAUSE she was pregnant. Because of the way she was brought up she thought that everyone and everything she loved would eventually leave. Just like HER parents had done years before. She could only rely on herself, the reason she didn’t get close to anyone was because she was always scared they would let her down, because that’s all she knew. She wanted to keep her child safe from disappointment and the only way she thought she could do that was to keep her as close as she could. That way no one could hurt them”“So what are you going to do now?”“I’m going to get my daughter back, that’s what Stella has been trying to tell me, she doesn’t want Jennifer to go through what she did, she wants her to come and live with me!”“I knew you were going to say that, it’s a big commitment mate, it’s a whole new life, you do know that don’t you?”“Listen, she’s my daughter, I just know it, besides I made Stella a promise, I intend to keep it!”They pulled into a car park in Bexhill just off of the sea front. They followed the woman into her office.Tom and Paul sat down and Tom started to tell his story about Stella to Sue.Sue sat and listened, then gave Tom some facts.“It is never easy Tom, they’ll be checks, tests, a mountain of paperwork, but if she is yours and you want her, and she wants you, then we should be OK, would you like to see her?”Tom lowered his head and started to cry. Paul put his arm around him.“It’s Ok mate, let’s go and see your girl!”The two of them stood up and followed Sue into another part of the building; they entered a room full of toys and books. There were six children in the room playing.One of them, a young girl, stood up and walked over to Tom; she took his hand and led him to a small table where they both sat down. She picked up a rag doll, kissed it and gave it to Tom. She smiled.“You must be Jennifer; you are so much like your Mum!”The two of them hugged. Now it was Pauls turn to cry!Tom spent four months going through all the necessary procedures to take custody of Jennifer, during that time he visited her every day after work.The first night Jennifer came home to his two bedroom flat in Plaistow, he read her a bedtime story, kissed her on the cheek and wished her goodnight.He went to bed soon after, completed exhausted. He had the same dream as he always did since Stella died. He saw her standing beside the road, calling him but no words or noise was heard, as he got close to her she didn’t fade away this time, he was standing right beside her, she looked him in the eyes and this time he could hear her words.“Thank You”Tom never had that dream again.
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