Tidying the bedroom she now shared with her boyfriend, Cassie marvelled at how her life had changed. It was still strange, waking up snuggled in soft sheets in a proper bed as opposed to one rejected by the army in the middle ages, to a bright and cheery room bigger than twelve square feet that Cassie could freely walk out of once she had got out of bed at any time she pleased. She hadn’t realised how much she had missed the freedom to rise when she wanted, instead of when the electric lights rudely woke her from a usually restless night at seven o’clock in the morning, every morning, without fail.
She moved straight into Matthew’s from walking out of the prison. What was the point in waiting? It wasn’t as if they didn’t know each other, this wasn’t some whirlwind romance they’d entered into impulsively. In Matt’s arms, Cassie really was home. She was safe, it was where she belonged. She knew that now. She’d known it the second she’d first seen him, as he’d walked through her cell door on her second day inside. Her first instinct had been to run to him, to pull his arms around her and to hold him close, and not because he was a friendly face in an unfriendly place. She couldn’t really explain it. It was natural, like he was the other part of her. Cassie vaguely remembered reading an ancient myth once, saying that each Sim was originally created with two heads, four arms and four legs, and one of the gods had split them in two and moved them around so that everyone was wandering the planet searching for their literal other half. That was how she felt with Matt. She’d found another part of herself, in him.
Straightening out her things on her beside table, Cassie’s gaze fell on the pictures of Ivy on the shelf between the windows.
Cassie started, the doorbell startling her. Looking at the clock she cursed under her breath, she hadn’t realised just how much of the day had slipped by. How time flies when you’re doing housework!
Quickly smoothing down her hair in the mirror, she hurried through to open the door to see a very excited Maria hopping about outside.
‘Cassie, hi! You’ll never guess what! Dad’s just heard from the publisher, he says your book is still on the top ten list! Three more weeks and that’s a record! Can you believe it?’
Upon leaving prison Cassie had pondered over her promise to Kym. She’d given her word that she’d make it known just what prison was like, but how? So many people had tried over the years and had clearly failed, given Cassie’s own preconceptions. She’d been speaking to Maria about it, thinking aloud; even though she’d not gone back to the Stanislav’s she had stayed very close to them both, and had often babysat Maria after school before she had become old enough to take care of herself. Maria, remembering how Cassie had told her about her newfound love for reading after sharing a cell with the world’s biggest bookworm, had exclaimed ‘well why don’t you just write a book? You can do it!’
Before she’d known where she was Maria had pestered Eric to find Cassie a publisher and a computer, and she was sat scratching her head trying to write a draft. While Eric had been more than prepared to buy Cassie a state of the art machine she had refused; Eric had done so much for her already, so the least she could do was buy her own computer!
Lacking in confidence at first, Cassie had sent an initial draft out to the publisher Eric had sent her the details of, supported one hundred percent by Matthew. The response had been positive although there had been suggestions for improvement, which Cassie had welcomed. She wasn’t a natural writer, despite her love of books.
It had taken some time, but the first copies of ‘The Truth Behind Bars’ by Cassandra Ocean, Cassie’s assumed name, had flown off the shelves. Critics had lapped up Cassie’s ‘sincere, but endearing’ views of her time in prison and had loved her honesty with her own situation. She’d written about having Ivy with Matthew, Alicia’s antics, the stories behind the women she’d met, changing names of course. She had been blown away with its reception, and was already starting a follow up, a fictional dramatic novel called ‘Through The Bars’ that was highly anticipated.
Cassie actually made very little money from her success. Ninety percent of the profits had been donated to setting up a half way house in Sunset Valley, for women who were due to come out of prison but had nowhere to live. She had originally been going to give away all of the money but had felt guilty not contributing to the household, not happy with Matthew having to keep the three mouths fed and clothed.
Inviting Maria inside, the pair walked through to the living room where a light, tinkling music was playing. Maria applauded as she strolled past the toddler sat by the xylophone.
‘Keep it up, Tristan! I’ll come play with you later, okay?’
The toddler beamed up at his surrogate big sister, before going back to playing with more gusto than ever. He did love impressing Maria!
Cassie had discovered she was pregnant shortly after her book was released. She hadn’t been sure how to react. Still sore about losing Ivy, who was truly lost in the social system, she didn’t want to simply replace one baby with another, even unintentionally. She was also terrified of forgetting her.
It was Matthew who put her troubled mind at ease. When she’d broken the news of her pregnancy his face had lit up, and he placed a loving hand on her slightly swollen stomach, telling her that he was going to be there for her every step of the way.
‘It kills me that I couldn’t be there for you and Ivy, Cass. It kills me that we lost her. This little one is not going to replace her; we’ll always love her and we won’t stop trying to find her, not for one minute. But when he or she is old enough, we can tell him or her all about their big sister, and they can love her too.’
She’d welled up at his smiling face, knowing then that everything would be alright. She had Matt by her side, their family was about to get a little bigger!
The baby eventually came in the dead of night, Cassie waking up to searing labour pains.
Baby Tristan was born at half past four in the morning, weighing seven pounds five ounces. Any doubts that may have been lingering in Cassie’s mind were eradicated as soon as she looked into his big, staring eyes and a rush of love flowed through her. This little one needed her. While there was no possible way she would ever forget about Ivy, Tristan needed to be nurtured and protected. He needed his mother to be there for him.
As he grew older and his personality developed Tristan became friendlier and frankly cuter every day, so Cassie thought with her unbiased attitude! He simply doted on his teddy bears, and would happily sit cuddling them or playing them tunes on the xylophone or showing them which block was which on the block tray, after learning himself of course! He did have a tendency to knock things over, not as Maria had done in her youth by deliberately throwing things either for attention or for her own amusement, just out of sheer clumsiness. No matter how careful he was, Tristan always seemed to be spilling his food all over himself and whichever teddy was dining with him that mealtime, accidentally hitting the xylophone too hard and knocking the keys off, sending blocks scattering under the sofa or running to show his parents a picture and dropping the still-wet paper on the floor, leaving a painty mark on the carpet.
Still, he was only a toddler, and it wasn’t as if Cassie or Matthew could stay cross at their beloved son for long! While he was still a toddler he slept in his parents’ room, but they were saving up to build a second floor so that he could have his own bedroom once he started school and needed space of his own. Matthew’s house fit into one room of Eric’s mansion, although it seemed palatial compared to Cassie’s dingy digs from both Mrs. Appleby’s and the prison!
With Tristan’s birthday approaching, Maria had come over to help plan the small party Cassie and Matthew were having for him. The two girls were quickly side tracked, however…
Ironically, the gaming system Cassie and Matthew owned used to belong to Maria. She’d barely had it out of the box and never played it, so she’d given it to them as a house warming present. When round at her former nanny’s the two oddly seemed to always end up playing on it! Maria was excited for when Tristan was old enough to play with her; she doted on Tristan as if he were really her little brother and was forever buying him little presents and treats and taking him out to the park in order to give Cassie some time to write. Maria may have been spoiled by her father, but she was far from being ruined, Cassie had never met a teenager with so big a heart. Aside from Matthew, back in the day!
‘Hello, little man! Ah, I see you two ladies are really focused on the plans!’ Matt joked as he walked through the door, home from a long day at the Military Base where he worked as a Flight Officer. The experience he had gained whilst working in the prison service had meant he did not begin in an entry level position, and he had already gained a few promotions.
‘Actually, Matt, we so have been focused! We’re just taking a well earned break!’ Maria bent the truth smoothly. Their planning in this session had mainly consisted of ‘revising’ the things they had already decided on before turning to Super Smash Simbros Brawl.
‘Oh really? So what’s been organised so far?’
‘Guest list! Hah, take that Maria!’ Cassie whooped as she landed a near-fatal blow on her counterpart’s avatar.
‘So? Who’s coming, then?’
‘Eric, of course, your mates from work, and Sue!’
Cassie had been a little nervous, walking back through the doors of the Blue Swan after being away for so long. She hadn’t contacted Sue while she’d been in prison; Cassie had been a little embarrassed to find herself there in the first place, and hadn’t wanted her friend to judge or be disappointed with her for falling into such a terrible mess. With Matt in tow for moral support, she had decided to go and see if she could salvage their friendship after she had settled at her boyfriend’s; the pub was only a couple of streets away from her new address now.
Sue had been wielding a blowtorch when they walked in, adding the finishing touches to a fancy cocktail. She’d nearly set fire to the bar when she saw Cassie!
‘Well, well, well! Cassie Rivers, as I live and breathe! Where have you been, Missy? I thought you’d fallen off the edge of the earth!’
Her good-humoured tone had eased Cassie’s worries and she’d quickly filled Sue in on what had happened to her, followed by an invitation to dinner out at the Bistro to talk properly and to catch up. A concerned Sue had accepted the offer.
‘Jesus, Cassie! I can’t believe it! When you vanished off the face of the earth I thought you’d eloped with James or something. I never imagined that something like that would have happened to you!’
Cassie attempted a laugh. ‘To be honest Sue, I’m not sure I believed it either. It wasn’t that long ago that I was in there, but it feels now like some weird dream.’
Taking a deep sip of her drink, Sue pondered over her next words. ‘You know, Cass, I was pretty pissed off when you just stopped calling me. Wherever you were, I figured that our friendship was worth at least one call, just to stop me worrying you know? I do understand now why you didn’t, but… Well. I really did worry, you know.’
‘I know. I’m sorry,’ said Cassie, playing with her food. ‘I really am.’
‘Still, you’ve been through a hell of a lot. Let’s just put it behind us and move on. Top up? You need to tell me all about Matthew! Where did he crop up from again?’
Cassie grinned and held out her glass. Maybe Sue really was the friendliest person in the world!