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Snapshots - A Holidays Sequel
[WIP - Modern/NC17]

Part Five

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Winter

Part 1

As the twins had been early, and thus rather small, they had spent a short time in the Special Care Baby Unit, but it was not long before Elizabeth was allowed to take her babies home. She had spent as much time with them as she could, and William had used the privilege of being the boss to give himself plenty of time off work. Still, it was with some excitement that Elizabeth climbed out of the car, unfastened the two baby seats and handing one to William, proceeded slowly towards the house.

Sam and Ally were waiting for them. They had been in and out of the hospital to see their new baby brother and sister, neither of them being able to resist their curiosity, although at school they had put on rather different faces.

"God, babies, what a nightmare," Ally had moaned extravagantly to her friends. "I'm never going to do that sort of thing."

"Absolutely," they agreed, smoothing their hands over their perfectly flat tummies.

"Yeah, they're cool, the twins," Sam had said to his friends. "And I took my Mum to the hospital and waited around for ages, you know? It was pretty scary, but everything was OK in the end."

"Wow," sighed several girls, thinking that he really must be quite brave.

"You OK, Mum?" Sam asked, as she walked up the path.

"I'm fine, thanks, sweetheart," Elizabeth said as she entered the house. She looked down at the occupant of the little baby seat. "So, Oliver, here you are at home. And here's Sam and Ally."

"Hey, Olly," Sam said, dropping to his knees and peering at the baby.

"Oh, no, we're not calling them by short names," Elizabeth said. "Oliver and Harriet, no shortenings."

"OK," Sam said, with a very cheeky grin as he peered into the second baby seat which William had carried into the house. "Hey, Hat!"

"Sam!" Elizabeth laughed. "Ally, can you give me a hand?"

"Yeah, sure," Ally replied as Elizabeth passed her a bag full of baby gear.

"So, here we are," William said, sighing contentedly. "All home, at last."

For the next few weeks there seemed to be no routine whatsoever. If one twin was awake, the other was asleep. If Oliver wanted feeding, Harriet needed changing. Elizabeth was in a daze, so tired at times that she could hardly string a coherent sentence together. Someone was in need of her attention at every point in the available 24 hours in a day, or so it seemed sometimes. Then suddenly, after being unable to imagine that life could be anything other than chaotic and exhausting, the twins seemed to click into a pattern and for the first time in about a month, Elizabeth and William managed five hours of unbroken sleep.

Early the next morning, William carried a grumbling Oliver through to Elizabeth.

"I think he's hungry," William said. "But then, he's just had the longest sleep of his life so far, so it's probably fair enough for him to wake up at... what is it? ... half past 5."

"Pass him over," Elizabeth sighed, sitting up to take him.

"I'll make us some tea," William said. "Would you like anything else?"

"Bit of toast would be nice," Elizabeth replied, smiling as she settled down to feed Oliver.

Thus began their quiet early morning ritual, when Oliver woke William, who went to make breakfast, then Harriet woke as he came back upstairs with the tray. For an hour or so, when the outside world was still barely stirring, William and Elizabeth had a little time to get to know their new babies.

By the time Sam and Ally were making their way downstairs for breakfast, in varying states of readiness for school, Oliver and Harriet had been fed, changed, and tucked back into their cots. Elizabeth was downstairs organising breakfasts for the two teens, insisting that they should eat something, not that this was ever a problem with Sam, signing homework diaries, checking that they had PE kit, and generally sorting them out before they left for school.

By the end of an afternoon, the twins seemed to be grizzly no matter what Elizabeth did. If the weather was fine, she took them out for a walk in their pram, which settled them and also did her waistline the world of good, the amount of walking she was doing. She would often walk down to meet Sam and Ally on the way home from school, being careful not to make it all the way to school, but rather, making sure that she bumped into them casually. If she didn't meet them, but was at home when they arrived, the appearance of a different person to coo and play with the twins seemed to change their mood. Sam would often sit and talk nonsense to them, although Elizabeth suspected it was partly an excuse to sit and watch children's TV for half an hour and avoid homework. Ally's years of experience with the Fitzwilliam crew meant that she had quite a knack for distracting babies, and could quite often amuse them for a little while when she got home.

"How've they been today?" William asked as he came home from work one tea time when both Sam and Ally had stayed behind after school.

"Not bad, until about an hour ago," Elizabeth said, handing Harriet to him. "If I walk up and down this floor once more, I'll wear a groove in it!"

"What's the matter, baby girl?" William crooned at Harriet.

"Nothing's the matter," Elizabeth sighed. "I just don't remember being this tired before."

"You didn't have two new ones and two older ones before," William said. "Let me get some help."

"I don't want help," Elizabeth said, not wanting to open up an old discussion. "I can manage."

"I know you can manage," William said patiently. "You're fantastic at managing, you always have been, all your life. But just let me find someone to do the day-to-day stuff? A housekeeper?"

"I can't have a housekeeper!" Elizabeth said. "I don't know how!"

The truth was that she felt the gulf between her background and William's at moments like these, moments when he casually agreed to engage professional decorators, or arranged for a gardener to come and cut the lawn and keep the borders tidy, or suggested getting a housekeeper. She had never had to deal with staff in her life, and he seemed to take it in his stride.

"How about if it was just a few hours a day?" William suggested. "And how about if it was someone we know?"

And so it was that Mrs Reynolds came down to Richmond, organised a very reliable cleaning lady, sorted out weekly deliveries of groceries, and quietly and unobtrusively helped in the smooth running of the household.

~ * ~

Whilst William and Elizabeth had been absorbed in dealing with Oliver and Harriet, Sam and Ally had been getting on with their own lives. Sam was still seeing Laura, which had led to some taunting from Ally.

"I never would've guessed that you would be so staid," she teased him one rare morning when they walked to school together.

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"You know exactly what I mean," she retorted. "A one-girl boy, you? For this long, too? I thought..."

"You thought what?" Sam said angrily, knowing what she was hinting at. She had hurled enough insults his way when they were fighting to make him well aware of her viewpoint. Now that they had been thrown into the same school environment, Ally had been very astute in establishing the gulf between them in terms of background. "That because I used to go to a rubbish school, in your terms, I'd be rubbish too?"

"Well, you know what they say," Ally said slyly. "Every posh girl fancies a bit of rough once in a while."

Sam was left speechless as she ran off to join her friends.

He spent the rest of the day pondering on what she had said. Half of his thoughts told him that Ally was being a bitch for the sake of it, as he knew full well that she could, but nagging doubts still assailed him. She seemed to know that he sometimes felt out of place, that he simply wasn't classy enough. Academically he was sound, he knew, and he had gained his place in the football team, and won a place in the rowing squad after much hard work. He had friends, and he was happy, but he knew without even having to think about it that there was a certain elite to which he would never gain access. They would forever look down on him because of his background. Most of the time, it didn't bother him, but every now and then a sharp comment would bring him up short.

Laura found him on his own next day at lunchtime. Towards the end of the week their lessons and after school activities meant they hardly saw each other, so this Friday she was looking forward to talking to him. Laura knew a good thing when she saw one, and knew what she had found in Sam. The fact that she had fallen out with Ally and Camilla hadn't really bothered her. She had begun to be alarmed at some of the things they had suggested doing, so being ostracised by them for going out with a boy in their year had been quite a relief.

"Hiya Sam," she said, putting her tray down next to his, and taking her seat.

"Hiya." He brightened momentarily at her arrival, then sank into gloom again.

"What's up?"

"Nothing."

"Fibber."

"You sound just like my Aunty Mary," Sam said grumpily, crossing his arms and slumping onto the table.

"Sorry," Laura said quietly, and began to eat her lunch. She had spent enough time with him to realise that he would talk to her when he was good and ready, and pushing him would only slow the process.

"Do you want to go to the pictures tonight?" Sam asked suddenly.

"Yes!" Laura said brightly. "What's on?"

"No idea." Sam said. "Just wanted to make sure you'd want to go with me."

"Why wouldn't I?"

"No idea," Sam repeated. He knew he was being awkward but couldn't stop himself.

Laura concentrated on her lunch. She didn't know what had angered him, or what to say to sooth him, so she kept quiet. The bell went for afternoon lessons, and she put her knife and fork neatly on her plate.

"I'll see you later, then?" she asked uncertainly, as she picked up her tray.

"Yeah," Sam muttered, his chin resting on his arms. He hated himself even as he said it, and avoided looking at Laura as she walked away from him, knowing that he had hurt her. Laura glanced back at him as she left the dining room, tears in her eyes as she wondered whether the moment she had been dreading was about to arrive. Sam was going to finish with her.

Stomping angrily home alone that afternoon, Sam was startled when Ally ran to catch up with him.

"Hi, Sam!" she said brightly, as if the previous morning's conversation had never happened.

"Hi."

"Are you going out tonight?"

"I don't know," Sam replied. "Probably."

"Good, because I am," Ally said. "So, you'll wait for me, won't you?"

Since their social lives had begun to diverge over the summer, Ally had persuaded Sam a few times to wait for her, so that they could return home together, and that way fewer questions were asked. By the time he realised that Ally was using him as cover for things he would really rather not think about, it was too late for him to get out of the arrangement. "You wouldn't want me to tell your Mum that you've been lying to her, would you?" Ally had whispered to him. He had felt trapped.

"I don't know," he said sullenly.

"Of course you will," Ally said. "You'll come back from walking Laura home, and you'll wait for me on the corner."

"Listen, you really have to watch yourself, you know?" Sam said sharply.

"What? Don't tell me what I have to do," Ally retorted, surprised at his comment.

"I'm not telling you what you have to do, I'm just saying you have to be bloody careful."

"Yeah yeah yeah," Ally sighed, gazing into the distance.

"Look, just cut that crap, ok? You're on the verge of getting me into serious trouble..."

"Oh hark at goody two shoes!"

"Oh, just shut up, will you? I couldn't give a stuff what you do. You've got me into enough trouble, just do what you like. But I'm not covering for you any more." He knew that he had probably ruined things with Laura because of his attitude at lunchtime, and felt like blaming it on Ally.

"Sam? No, don't be mad, Sam. Come on. You're my brother, I need you. Come on Sam," she wheedled. "Please, just this once. Say I was with you."

Sam looked at her, pleading. He knew that she was acting, and acting very well at that. But he hadn't got it in his heart to turn her down, despite knowing that he was playing a very risky game.

"OK," he said. "This once. And this is the last time. But just make sure you're back at the same time as me, OK? Otherwise it makes it bloody difficult."

"I'll be on the corner where you and Laura kiss kiss kiss."

"Shut up," Sam retorted, unsure if he would ever kiss Laura again.

"Oh, touchy," Ally replied. "Just be on the corner at 11, OK?"

She turned on her heel and walked away from him, just as he saw Laura dawdling slowly up the hill ahead of him. He called out to her impulsively, and when he saw the smile on her face as she turned and saw that it was him, all his earlier doubts vanished. He ran up the hill, kissed her and smiled broadly.

"Will you go to the pictures with me?" he asked. "Even though I'm stupid?"

"You're not stupid, Sam," she said happily. "And yes, I'll go to the pictures with you."

Part 2

When Laura asked him later why he agreed to Ally's schemes and manipulations, Sam didn't really have an answer. A nagging doubt filled his heart as he knew that Elizabeth in particular relied on him to be honest, as did William. They were both so tired with the twins that they let the teenagers run their own lives to an extent that Sam knew was dangerous. He felt as if he was being sensible - he was very fond of Laura, and she of him, but they had not as yet gone further than kissing and fumbling, and right now he was OK with that. However, he had guessed that Ally was playing a dangerous game. He didn't know who she was out with, certainly not boys from school, not sixth formers although Ally made it plain she was only interested in older boys. The guys Sam had seen driving the cars she got out of were not school boys. No teenager had the money to buy the kind of car that delivered Ally to the end of the street.

He was waiting at 11, as agreed, when a very giddy Ally stumbled out of a flash sports car.

"Bye!" she giggled, waving as the car roared off.

"Come on," Sam said sharply. He knew she had been drinking, and wondered how on earth they were going to pull this one off.

"Lights are off," Ally whispered loudly as they approached the house.

Sam hoped that this meant they could get to their rooms without being quizzed. He opened the front door, and they slipped inside. He went straight upstairs, assuming that William and Elizabeth were already in bed. Ally went to the kitchen, where she spent a long time gazing into the fridge.

"What are you doing?"

Ally jumped out of her skin, and dropped the carton of milk she was holding.

"Oh!" she giggled, seeing William in the doorway in his pyjamas. "You made me jump!"

"What have you been doing?" he asked sharply.

From the way she was swaying about and was unable to focus, it was clear that she had been drinking. Suddenly her face changed, and turning round quickly, she was sick in the sink.

"What's going on?" Elizabeth asked sleepily, appearing behind William.

"This young lady has been drinking, and has just been sick," William said sternly. "You can clear up your own mess, and we will talk about this in the morning."

He turned sharply on his heel, and departed, leaving Elizabeth to help a tearful Ally to clear up and get to bed.

"You were hard on her," Elizabeth said as she climbed into bed later.

"I won't tolerate her breaking the rules," William said. "We trust them both. I won't have them messing us about. We don't need it."

"No, of course," Elizabeth said soothingly. "Come on, let's sleep. We can deal with this in the morning."

In the morning, Sam was as lively and as hungry as he ever was, while Ally was distinctly green around the gills.

"So," William said sternly. "I want an explanation."

Neither child replied.

"Sam, where were you last night?"

"Umm, at the pictures..." he said hesitantly, unwilling to lie but knowing that he would be digging a hole for Ally to climb out of.

"Ally?"

"At the pictures," she mumbled, not meeting her father's eye.

"What did you see?"

Silence.

"I won't have you lying to me," William said. "You didn't get that drunk at the pictures. How could you, Ally? Drinking? You're 15 years old!"

"Everybody else is doing it!" she blurted, giving herself away.

"I don't see Sam hung over this morning!" William said angrily.

"Yeah, but he's a wuss," she muttered.

"You're grounded," William said.

"That's not fair!" Ally wailed. "You're not grounding him, are you?"

"Sam didn't throw up in the sink last night," William said. "When he does, I'll ground him too."

Ally howled and stormed out of the kitchen, knocking a chair over as she went.

"Get back here and pick that up!" William shouted.

"Pick it up yourself!" she yelled, before running upstairs and flinging herself onto her bed, clutching at her throbbing head.

"I'll go and have a shower," Sam said, quietly sliding out of the kitchen. He knew well enough when it was time to make himself scarce.

"What have I done wrong?" William said despairingly to Elizabeth in the kitchen later that night, after another stern talk to Ally, when she had been told in no uncertain terms that she had to alter her behaviour.

"Nothing," Elizabeth said, stirring the onions that were frying gently. "All teenagers rebel."

"I don't see Sam rebelling."

"Not yet," Elizabeth said. "And at least its only drink. It could be worse. It could be drugs, or sex."

"Oh, God, don't even mention sex, I don't want to think about it."

"They're both pretty well informed," Elizabeth said. "And I think the existence of the twins, and the bags under our eyes, is a pretty good contraceptive."

William laughed, and put his arms around her, kissing her on the back of her neck.

"In fact, poor old Sam has had the perils of teenage sex drilled into him all his life, he'll probably still be a virgin when he's 25!"

"I don't think so!" laughed William. "Good looking boy like Sam?"

"Well, like you say, I don't want to think about it," Elizabeth said. "Let's be thankful they're both here, under our roof, not out there doing drugs and sleeping around."

"She worries me," William said tiredly, sitting down at the table as he watched Elizabeth continue cooking. He had always found it soothing to be in the kitchen when she cooked, no matter how simple the meal she was making.

"That's what girls do to their fathers," Elizabeth said. "Somehow, boys don't seem to fight their mothers as much."

"I fear she has the worst of me and the worst of her mother," William said. "She's as stubborn as I can be, and it sounds awful to say it but she has a malicious streak, just like her mother."

"No..." Elizabeth began.

"You saw the look in her eyes at breakfast," William continued. "And when she agreed to mend her ways, there was a calculation going on. And I don't know how to bring out the best in her, and suppress the worst."

"You can't suppress anything," Elizabeth said. "We have to let her work some things out for herself."

"I thought that's what we were doing when we trusted them," William sighed.

For the next two weeks, Ally behaved impeccably around the house. She saved her moaning for her conversations with friends on her mobile, which William had at first threatened to confiscate, and had then relented. As the end of term approached, she was well aware that there would be plenty of parties to go to, and she was determined to earn the brownie points to get her grounding lifted.

On the Saturday before school broke up for Christmas, William and Elizabeth were in the living room, reading the newspapers and relaxing after having put Oliver and Harriet to bed, when Ally appeared, dressed up as if to go out.

"Where are you going?" William asked.

"To the party," Ally said. "Sam's gone, so I can go too, can't I?"

"Wait just one moment," William said. "You're going to the same party that Sam's going to? The end of term bash at school?"

"Mm hmm," Ally said, doing her best to look sweet and innocent.

"But you don't like hanging around with Sam and the boys in your year."

"But some girls from my year will be there," Ally said. "Besides, you told me I had to mend my ways. I'm mending them, OK?"

She turned to leave.

"I'll take you."

"What?"

"It's dark and cold," William said. "I'll give you a lift."

Ally was about to protest, then thought better of it.

"OK, Dad, that would be lovely, thank you."

William followed Ally's directions to the hall where the party was being held. She stood on the doorstep to wave him off, then the moment he was out of sight, whipped out her mobile phone.

"Hi, yeah, its me. Listen, my Dad insisted on dropping me off at this stupid party.... Yeah I'm still in Richmond.... Well, I couldn't help it, I thought I wasn't going to get out at all! Will you come and pick me up? ..... Yeah, OK, I'll wait at the corner."

She glanced round, saw that no-one had seen her arrive or would notice her leave, and began walking towards the main road.

Elizabeth was half asleep on the sofa when she heard the front door opening, and looked up to see Sam walk in.

"Hi, sweetheart, good party?"

"Yeah, where's William?"

"Settling Oliver, he's a bit grumbly tonight."

Sam walked over and kissed Elizabeth on the cheek.

"Want a cup of tea?"

"That would be lovely," Elizabeth said. "Where's Ally? Didn't she come home with you?"

"Ally? No idea," Sam replied innocently. "Has she been out tonight?"

"She's been at the party with you."

"No she hasn't. I haven't seen her all night."

Elizabeth sat up, fully awake now.

"What do you mean, you haven't seen her? You've been at the party, haven't you? Who was there?"

"All the usual crowd," Sam said. "Jamie, Louise, Marco, Laura of course..."

"What about Ally?"

"She wasn't there, she wouldn't be seen dead with us, Mum, I thought you knew that."

"Hey, Sam, good party?" William asked, returning downstairs having managed to get Oliver to go to sleep.

"Ally wasn't at the party," Elizabeth said, before Sam could answer.

"Of course she was, I took her there," William said, momentarily non-plussed before the reality of the situation began to sink in. "Hang on, what do you mean, she wasn't there? Didn't you see her, Sam?"

"No, she doesn't hang out with us," Sam said. "You knew that."

"She said girls from your year would be there."

"Yeah," Sam said slightly sarcastically. "Normal girls from our year were there, Louise, Laura, girls from the rowing club. Ally and Camilla would rather chew broken glass than admit they knew them."

"So where was she?" William asked.

Sam shrugged.

"Are you sure you didn't see her? Were you in the party all night?"

"Yes, I was in the party all night, Laura and I don't ... well, anyway, yes I was there all night and I didn't see Ally. Sorry," Sam finished lamely. He had no idea what he should say for the best, knowing that he had already said enough to mean that Ally would want to kill him, but he was astute enough to know that she was in serious trouble, and no amount of covering from him could save her this time.

"She said she was going to the party with you," William said. "I dropped her off at the door."

"I didn't see her come in," Sam replied. "I don't think she was there at all." It was now beginning to dawn on him that this was turning into a serious incident, and that far from covering for her, honesty was the best policy for him and for Ally.

"Sam, are you sure you don't know where she is?" Elizabeth said.

"Look, I swear, I don't know," Sam insisted.

"Who might she be with?" William asked. "Who are her friends?"

"I don't know," Sam said. "Honest. She doesn't hang out with people from school."

"Oh God," William sighed, sinking onto the sofa. "Where is she?"

He put his head into his hands and groaned. Thoughts of the worst kind were running through his mind as he tried to work out what to do next. Sam stood silently by, with no idea about what to do for the best. The phone rang, shattering the silence, and William pounced on it.

"Darcy! Yes, yes, that's me... Yes, I'm her father.. ... Where? OK, I'll be there, half an hour."

He put the phone down and turned to Elizabeth and Sam, who were now sitting side by side on the sofa.

"Ally's been picked up by the police, unconscious in a gutter in Leicester Square. I'm going to get her."

He had never sounded, nor felt, quite so weary in all his life.

part six

December

Driving into and out of London on a Saturday night shortly before Christmas meant driving down streets decked with lights, past houses with Christmas trees in their bay windows, and finally into the West End with its gaudy decorations which would be captured on photographs to be shown to families and friends all over the world. William barely noticed any of this as he drove towards Charing Cross, trying not to hit drunks stumbling merrily across the road in front of him as he negotiated the one way system around Trafalgar Square.

He collected Ally from Charing Cross police station having agreed to return with her one morning later that week. By the time they got home, it was just after one in the morning, and the house was silent.

"Try not to make too much noise," he muttered to Ally as he unlocked the front door. He had been tight-lipped all the way home, unable to bring himself to speak to her in case once started, he unleashed a torrent of fury. Ally had barely noticed his silence, as her main thought had been getting home without being sick. However, she had been so ill in the police station that she thought that there couldn't be much left to bring up.

Ally went straight upstairs, glad to be heading for her bed and the chance to lie down and be still. William tip-toed into the living room, and couldn't help smiling at the scene in front of him. Elizabeth was fast asleep on the sofa, and Sam was dozing in the chair, with Harriet asleep on his chest. Sam stirred as William came into the room.

"Oh, I was snoozing!" he yawned. "Where's Ally?"

"She's gone to bed," William said.

"Is she OK?" Sam asked.

"I don't know," William replied, an edge of sadness in his voice. "Was Harriet not sleeping?"

"She started to cry just after you'd gone," Sam said, not wanting to tell William that it was the slam of the door as he had left that had woken her. "Mum was tired, so I settled her."

"You've got a knack with them, Sam," William said, smiling. "Come on, I'll take her up, and you should go to bed too."

William took Harriet, and Sam got up and stretched. He leaned over Elizabeth and gently shook her shoulder.

"Mum, William's home," Sam said quietly. "We're all going to bed."

"Oh, goodness!" Elizabeth said, waking up quickly. "I didn't mean to fall asleep."

She sat up and smiled wearily at William.

"Where is she? Is she OK?"

"In bed, and yes, she's as OK as a 15 year old can be when she's been found in a drunken state and collected from the Police by her father."

"What are we going to do?" Elizabeth sighed, voicing the one thought that had been going round and round in her mind as she had fallen asleep on the sofa.

"I don't know," William said, cuddling Harriet as she snuffled in her sleep. "But it's gone one in the morning, and I can't think straight, so let's deal with this in the morning, shall we?"

"Yes," yawned Elizabeth. "Up you go, Sam."

"Night night," Sam said, heading for the stairs. He turned to see William and Elizabeth embrace, gently holding Harriet between them as they hugged each other. He was glad that his Mum had William to lean on, but wished at the same time that she didn't need to lean on anyone at all.

When Ally got up the next morning, her head was thumping and the house was silent. She slid out of bed and gingerly made her way downstairs, glad that at least she didn't feel sick any more. She found Elizabeth in the kitchen, preparing lunch and talking to the twins who were in their baby-seats.

"Morning!" Elizabeth said, far too brightly for Ally's head.

"Morning," Ally mumbled.

"Would you like some juice?"

"Yes please."

"Breakfast?"

"No thanks." The thought of food made Ally's stomach gurgle and feel most uncomfortable.

Elizabeth poured a glass of orange juice and put it on the table.

"Actually...." Ally said, looking very pale and feeling that if she even smelt the juice, she would be sick.

Elizabeth handed her a glass of water and a packet of painkillers.

"Where's everyone else?" Ally asked.

"William is in his study," Elizabeth said. "Sam's having lunch at Laura's."

"Oh."

"And we're having lunch once you and your Dad have had a bit of a talk."

William had heard voices from his study, and came into the kitchen to see Ally sitting at the table, forcing down water and tablets. His anger of the previous night had subsided and been replaced with despair and frustration. He had spent much of a sleepless night wondering what he was going to do about Ally, and had not managed to produce any answers. His one aim now was to avoid a shouting match and any scenes.

"You're up," he said bluntly.

Ally looked at him and nodded. She was feeling too ill to care what he did to her, and certainly hadn't got the spirit to argue with him.

"So, are you going to tell us what happened last night?" William asked, deciding that there was no point beating about the bush. "I'd like to know how you ended up in the West End at midnight, for one thing, and who you were with for another."

"Friends," Ally said.

"Friends who take you up west and then leave you?" William asked. "What were you on last night? Booze, or other stuff?"

"No other stuff," Ally said, half-convincingly, knowing that she hadn't taken anything but not altogether certain that her drink had not been spiked.

"So, what did you do?" William continued. "Full story, please."

He and Elizabeth sat down at the table opposite Ally, and waited for her to talk.

"I met some friends, that's all," she said eventually.

William waited, wondering whether the silence would force her into saying more, but Ally stared stubbornly at the table whilst fiddling with a drinks coaster. Eventually he broke the silence.

"Alice, you know as well as I do that last night wasn't as simple as meeting some friends. Now, I want to know what you did, and why I had to come and fetch you, from a police station, in the middle of the night."

"I just went out," Ally said. "That's all. Everyone does it."

William was fast losing patience with her, and Elizabeth could tell that he was on the verge of becoming extremely angry. She put her hand on his, and gave it a little squeeze.

"Ally, we just want to know what happened," Elizabeth said. "We got quite a fright last night, wondering where you were, then getting a phone call from the police."

Ally shrugged and continued to play with the coaster.

"Right, let's put our cards on the table," William said, trying to keep his voice level. "This is what we know. Two weeks ago you came home worse for wear. You promised to behave yourself, and you were allowed out last night. You said you were going to a party with Sam. You didn't go. You sneaked off. You've lied, you've broken your promise to us, and now you've got yourself in trouble with the police. I have to go back to the station with you later this week to find out whether you're going to be charged with anything. Now, either you start explaining yourself right now this minute, or I start thinking that the police can charge you with whatever they like, and I won't argue with them."

"Who cares," Ally muttered.

"You'll care, when it comes to University places," William said sharply. "Who are they going to give a place to? The girl with 4 good A levels, or the girl with 4 good A levels and a police record? And you want to go travelling, don't you? How are you going to get a visa for America with a record? You think anyone will give you a job during your gap year? Think again, madam, and think hard."

Ally stayed silent. She didn't know what to say about where she'd been and who she had been with. It had been fun going around with Cam and the older men she knew, but waking up that morning and realising that they had all left her alone in Leicester Square to be picked up by the police had frightened her. Perhaps they weren't such good friends after all. She was too busy trying to work out what was going on in her own mind to even contemplate having to start talking about it with William.

"Right, go up to your room, and bring me your mobile phone."

"Why?" she asked, startled.

"Because I'm confiscating it," William replied matter of factly.

"You can't do that!" she wailed, making her head begin to throb again.

"I can, and I will," William said. "You can't be trusted to behave yourself, so I'm making sure you can't hatch any more sneaky little plans to go behind our backs."

Ally sat and stared at him sullenly, until he rose from the table.

"Where are you going?" she asked.

"You seem incapable of following simple instructions," he replied. "So I'm going into your room to look for your phone."

"I'll get it," she said hurriedly, and pushed past him. He followed her upstairs and waited until she handed him the phone.

"No doubt you've got homework. Go and do it. Come down when you're called for, or when you feel like talking, whichever one comes first."

William returned to Elizabeth who was sitting in the kitchen, staring despondently into space.

"What are we going to do?" he asked despairingly.

"Give her a bit of space, and maybe she'll talk to us later," Elizabeth said. "And if she doesn't talk today, I think the trip back to face the police might be a bit of a wake up call."

"Maybe," William said, sighing. "Perhaps they can get her to see sense, if we can't."

The rest of Sunday passed quietly, but when Sam returned home from Laura's he could feel the tension in the air. He had an early night, as did Ally, both of them for their different reasons wanting to keep away from potential arguments. Elizabeth and William, exhausted by the events of the weekend, were not far behind them.

"What am I going to do?" William sighed, sounding drained as he cuddled Elizabeth in bed.

"You mean what are we going to do," Elizabeth reminded him. "I can't help feeling I've let Ally down."

"You?" William said, startled. "No, you haven't let her down, how could you? This is all down to me."

"Don't be silly," Elizabeth said. "You can't blame yourself for everything that happens."

"Can't I?" he asked, bitterly. "Well, something clearly isn't right, and I need to sort it out."

"We need to think about it together."

Elizabeth leaned over and kissed him. She still felt sometimes that he had to be reminded that he was part of a family now, that he had someone to lean on. He was no longer on his own.

"You're right, of course," he replied, returning her kiss. "What would I do without you?"

"You'd be sleeping through the night, instead of getting up to deal with babies," Elizabeth said, hearing Oliver start to cry.

"True," William answered, swinging his legs out from under the duvet to go and see to his baby son. "But I wouldn't have it any other way."

On Monday morning at breakfast time, William had an announcement to make.

"I'm taking you to school every day, and I'm picking you up every day," he told Ally.

"No!" Ally shouted.

"Oh yes," William said. "No arguing."

"Have you any idea how embarrassing that is?" she wailed.

"More embarrassing than being found face down and covered in vomit in the centre of London?" William retorted sharply.

"It wasn't like that!"

"It wasn't far off," William said. "Now, get your bag, and get in the car."

"What about him?" Ally asked, looking at Sam. "Does he have to go in the car too?"

"I've got a name," Sam snapped.

"Enough!" William roared, making Harriet cry. "Now look what you've done!"

"I didn't do it!" Ally yelled. "You were the one who shouted!"

"Out!" Elizabeth said firmly, pushing William towards the door. "Get out, all of you. And if you dare make this much noise tonight, I'm not letting you back in the house."

The door slammed and Elizabeth plodded upstairs to comfort Harriet who was howling loudly. Elizabeth had envisioned many aspects of family life in the run up to marrying William, but this hadn't been one of them.

On Tuesday, Sam went to school alone. William and Ally travelled into London for Ally's appointment at the police station. They were led into a small bare room, where they sat on hard plastic chairs. A police sergeant faced them.

"Now," he said sternly. "We take public order offences very seriously. And we have a few choices for this type of offence. I can charge you, which means a court appearance, a fine, and a criminal record if you're found guilty. I could caution you, which also means having a record. And I'm sure a bright girl like you understands what it means to have a criminal record, and at such a young age."

He looked at Ally, who was staring at him pale faced and aghast. Until this moment, she hadn't really taken seriously the possibility of being charged and having a record. Now, in the bleak surroundings of the station, she understood that this wasn't a game any more. She nodded to show that she was listening.

"Or, I can give you a reprimand," the sergeant continued. "This means you won't have a criminal record, but if you do this sort of thing again, you'll certainly get one next time."

"What do I have to do?" Ally whispered.

"Behave yourself," the sergeant replied. "Hang out with good kids, not the sort who left you alone and ill on Saturday night. Listen to your Dad. Be sensible."

Ally nodded, scared but relieved.

"You haven't got a track record of previous bad behaviour, so if you promise me that this won't happen again, I won't caution you. Not this time. OK?"

"OK, she nodded.

"But if I find out that you've broken your promise, I'll throw the book at you."

"OK," Ally muttered.

"Right, off you go," he said, watching as Ally sprang from her chair eager to escape, and William stood up wearily. "Goodbye sir."

"Goodbye," William said, shaking hands with him. "And thanks."

"You're welcome. And don't worry, you're not the first father in this situation and you certainly won't be the last."

William managed a small wry laugh as he followed Ally out into the fresh air.

On the drive back to Richmond and school, he glanced at her a few times but she stared resolutely out of the window. He felt he had failed as a father, and didn't know where to begin to put things right. He didn't want to start a conversation in the car, knowing that it would be curtailed by their arrival at school, but promised himself that he would make some time just for Ally later that evening. He pulled up outside school, and she picked up her bag.

"I'll pick you up tonight," he said. "Have a good day."

"See you later," Ally replied as she got out of the car. William watched her as she went into Reception to sign in late, then drove away. He spent the rest of the day thinking about what he might say to her later, while Ally spent the rest of the morning avoiding answering questions about where she had been. She surprised Sam at lunchtime by walking over to where he sat and asking if she could sit with him.

"Yeah, if you want," he said.

"Where's everyone else?" she asked. "Laura, your friends?"

"Laura's off 'cos she's not very well," he replied.

"Poor Laura," Ally said, then responded to Sam's quizzical look. "Don't look at me like that, I'm not being sarcastic."

"For once."

"Look," Ally said, taking a deep breath. "I'm trying to be nice. I know I probably deserve it if you tell me to get lost, but I was actually trying to be nice."

"OK," Sam said, somewhat stunned. "How was it this morning?"

"Have you told anyone?" she asked, horrified.

"No, of course not!"

"Good. Well, it was horrible, actually," Ally said. "We had to sit on a bench while all these lowlifes walked in and out, staring at us, then we had to go into this smelly little room where I got a lecture."

"Are you going to have to go to court or anything like that?" Sam asked.

"No," Ally sighed, relieved. "I just got told off and made to promise not to do it again."

"Which will last until the next time you get a chance to go out and get sloshed again," Sam retorted uncharitably.

"I won't!"

"Yeah right."

"No, really, I won't," Ally said, tears springing into her eyes. "You have no idea how horrible it's all been, no idea..."

She jumped up from the table and ran to hide in the toilets. She spent the rest of the day keeping her head down in lessons, trying not to let anyone see that she had been crying.

As promised, William picked Ally up from school and drove straight home with her.

"Come into the kitchen," he said, once they got home.

"Where's Elizabeth?"

"Taken the twins to the clinic for their check-up," William said, switching the kettle on. "I'll make some tea, then we'll go in the study and talk, OK?"

"OK," Ally replied nervously. She watched him make the tea, then followed him to his study. He closed the door as she sat down, then he sat down opposite her.

"Well, I've given this some thought," William said slowly. "I'd prefer not to repeat the weekend, or this morning, so we have to work something out. And I wondered .... do you want to talk to someone?"

"Like who?" Ally asked, puzzled.

"Like a counsellor, or a therapist or..."

"You think I'm nuts!" she said accusingly.

"No, we don't think you're nuts. But sometimes it can be helpful to talk to someone who isn't family."

"You want to send me to a psychiatrist or something. You think there's something wrong with me," Ally said, choking back the sobs that she had managed to keep at bay since lunchtime.

"No, we don't think there's anything wrong with you," William said patiently. "But we're worried that you're not happy, and you don't seem to be able to talk to us..."

His voice trailed off, and he looked at the unhappy girl in front of him, who was staring at the floor, blinking back tears, and twisting her school tie so tightly round her fingers that it threatened to cut off the blood supply. "You seemed to like Elizabeth, and I felt that when you didn't feel like talking to me, you could talk to her. And I know its been hard, with the twins arriving, and everyone's tired, and we've all had to get used to new routines."

He paused, feeling that he was talking too much and not giving her a chance. She carried on staring at the floor.

"I'm just trying to find ways for you to be happy," he said quietly. "I took you out of boarding school because I thought you'd be happier, and you did seem to be, for a while. I'm just wondering where I went wrong. Give me some clues, Ally."

"I don't know," Ally whispered. She didn't know how to express her feelings, that despite appearances she was deeply scared and lonely, that what she longed for was to be hugged tightly and told exactly what she could and couldn't do. The sudden freedom after years of restrictions had gone to her head, but she had no idea how to control the spiral of behaviour in which she had found herself.

"Do you want to tell me about what happened last weekend?" he asked. "Then we can put it behind us."

"Cam's got this cousin, older than us. She knows these blokes, and they started taking us out," Ally said, thinking that she could at least tell this story, rather than talk about her feelings. Once she had started speaking, it was a relief to pour it all out. "Last weekend they said they'd take us up west as a treat before Christmas, and we went to a club. I felt sick and said I wanted some fresh air. Cam and one of the others came outside with me, but then all I can remember is the police coming. I don't think I had too much to drink, and I didn't take any drugs, I'm not that stupid. But I felt really ill."

"And what happened to your friends?"

"I don't know," Ally admitted. "Looks like they left me once they saw the police, doesn't it? Not much good as friends then, are they?"

"No, they're not," William agreed, glad that she had come to the conclusion by herself.

"And that's all," she said. "Sorry, Daddy."

"Really?" William asked, wondering where this suddenly honest and contrite child had appeared from.

"Really, honestly!" Ally insisted. "And I'm not saying that just to get my phone back."

William couldn't help laughing.

"Now you're laughing at me," Ally said. "First you think I'm crazy, now you're laughing."

"I don't think you're crazy, and I'm not laughing at you," William said apologetically.

"And I'm never going to drink again."

"Now, I am allowed to laugh at that," William said. "Everyone says that at least once in their life."

"Even you?"

"Even me," he smiled. "So, what are we going to do about all this? You still have to deal with Cam at school..."

"No, I don't," Ally interrupted. "I told her she was a cow for running off and I never wanted to speak to her again."

"Well, that's one way of dealing with it," William conceded. "And the rest? Someone to talk to? Or just sometimes being able to talk to me and Elizabeth?"

"I do like Elizabeth, you know," Ally said. "Of course I do. But I don't want to bother her, when she's got the twins and everything."

"She knows a good counsellor, someone who specialises in teenagers...."

"You've already talked about this?"

"Of course," William said. "Elizabeth is my wife, I talk to her about everything. And she worries about you as much as I do. You can't have imagined that we wouldn't talk about your recent escapades?"

"S'pose so," Ally muttered. "I'm never going to be allowed out ever again, am I?"

"Maybe once you turn 18, I'll think about escorting you to a dance or two," William said, making Ally look up sharply to see the little smile on his face.

"You're teasing me."

"A little," he admitted. "Think about what I've said for a while. And if you want to talk to me, or anyone else, just say so, OK?"

"OK."

They heard the front door slam, and smiled shakily at each other.

"That'll be Sam," Ally said. "He's the only one who can slam a door quite like that."

"You getting on OK with Sam?"

"Yeah," Ally replied. "He's not bad, as little brothers go."

William laughed, and relaxed a little. For the first time in days he allowed himself to believe that things might not be so bad, after all.

"Well, I've got homework," Ally said, interrupting his thoughts.

"You'd better get going, then," William replied. "And just let me know when you feel like talking, to me, or to anyone else."

"Thanks, Daddy," Ally said, getting up and walking over to him to give him a quick hug. "And can I have my phone back now?"

"Don't push your luck!" William laughed, realising from Ally's cheeky smirk that she was teasing him. "Go on, homework!"

He sighed as she left the study to make her way up to her room. Maybe Christmas would be all right, after all.

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