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“OK, I give up, how did you do it?”
Kelly leaned against the wall next to her, her eyebrows lifted high as she watched a small boy be questioned by a woman with red hair; his eyes fixed wide on the large camera near his face.
Beth grinned as she adjusted the shirt that she was wearing. “You know that reporter from week? Well, it turns out that her cousin is a cameraman and she gave him a call.”
Kelly chucked as she took a sip of the tea she was nursing in her hands. “Oh Jeffy boy is not going to like this.” As the young boy finished, Kelly picked herself up. “Beth, it looks like you’re up.”
Taking a deep breath, she passed her own cup to Kelly and made her way forward. Forcing a smile on her face despite her anxiety, she made her way to the reporter’s side. The woman offered a reassuring smile. “Are you ready?”
She gave a swift nod. The woman beamed as she looked into the camera. “Why is it so important to keep this establishment open?”
A microphone was quickly placed in front of her and she became keenly aware of the cameraman moving the lens. Taking a deep breath, Beth answered. “It’s important to keep this place open as it’s been a part of the community for such a long time. I went here myself when I was younger and my little sister, Jamie, goes here now. It’s a really good place for kids to meet friends as well as make sure they learn new skills.” And keep out of trouble, she added mentally.
The reporter nodded as she spoke into the microphone. “How do you think people will react if this centre is shut down?”
“They’ll be devastated. So many kids, and parents, rely on this place. It’s a safe area where kids can be themselves. For some of them, this is the only chance they get to play and just be kids.” She could feel herself begin to trip over her words and fought not to blush.
The reporter nodded again before glancing over her shoulder at the cameraman. The light dimmed on top of the lens and he adjusted it on his shoulder. Beth blew out a breath of relief. “Was that alright?”
The red head laughed lightly. “Yes, that’s fine. We’ve had a lot worse than that.”
Relieved, she felt the beginnings of a smile begin to form. “So where’s next?”
“We’ll interview Mr Daniels.”
She grimaced in sympathy. “Good luck.”
Later on that night the group were all huddled together in Beth’s house. Jamie was sat on her princess chair next to Beth while Edna and Joan had found the hidden biscuits and were happily munching their way through the packet.
Kelly was just bringing through the last of the drinks when the news started. Giving a little squeal of excitement she hurried into the room and quickly placed the mugs down. “It’s starting!”
Linda grabbed the remote and turned the volume up as Beth finished plaiting Jamie’s hair, the little girl bouncing up at the excitement in the room. Spinning on her bright pink socks, she looked up at Beth with wide eyes. “Is this to do with that lady who spoke to you earlier?”
“Yep, hopefully this will stop nasty Mr Daniels from shutting down the centre.” At the councillor’s name Jamie pulled a face which Beth quickly matched.
“Ssh!” Rolling her eyes at Joan, she sat back and waited.
Ten minutes later the story came on. Sitting up straighter, Beth watched as familiar faces came onto the screen before her own interview came on. She felt herself redden at the loud cheers in the room before the footage cut to a large building. Mr Daniels was just walking out of the door when the reporter hurried forward. “Mr Daniels, is it true that you are planning on having a betting franchise take over the local youth centre?”
The microphone was thrust into his face and his initially wide eyes narrowed. Ignoring her, he strode down the street. After a few more minutes of watching it was apparent he wasn’t going to answer.
Slumping back into the chair, Beth felt her heart sink as the report ended and the female news anchor continued onto the next story.
The room was silent and after a long pause, Linda lifted the remote and turned the TV off. Beth couldn’t bring herself to speak. There were so many thoughts running around her head yet she kept them unvoiced.
After a long pause, Linda cleared her throat nervously. “So, what now?”
Beth closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. She could feel a headache coming on and she was swiftly running out of ideas.
“Well, I still think we should chain ourselves to the building.” Edna muttered and Beth couldn’t help the huff of laughter that escaped her.
“Yeah, maybe…” Sighing, she was about to suggest that they call it a night when a gasp made her open her eyes. Kelly was on her feet and thrusting her mobile at her chest. “Look!” When Beth continued to look at her blankly, she nudged the device at her again. “Look!”
Curious, Beth picked up the phone and looked at the screen. Shocked she leant forward, cradling the phone in her hands. “But, how?”
“I’ve got no idea.”
Joan’s loud voice cut across. “Can someone please fill us in?”
Kelly rambled as Beth continued to stare at the website. “It’s the e-petition, loads of people have started signing it- there’s been about fifty in the past few minutes.”
“And it’s still growing.” Beth finished.
“What?” She felt a presence at her side as Linda leant over her shoulder. “That’s incredible!”
‘Don’t let them shut it down’, ‘Don’t let the fat cats win!’, ‘The Jones’ in Salford are with you 100%’
Beth felt her hope returning with each word of encouragement and the strain that had been plaguing her began to fade.
Kelly sank into the seat next to her. “I can’t believe we got so many people to pay attention!”
“Not Mr Daniels though…”
“Maybe that’s where we’ve been going wrong.” Looking at the other women in the room, she met their curious gazes. “Maybe instead of trying to get him to pay attention to us we need to give him no choice but to deal with us.”
Kelly tilted her head slightly. “What are you thinking?”
“Ladies, I may just have a plan…”
Edna stood up and clapped her hands happily. “I’ll get the chains!”
It was nine o’clock on a Monday morning when they walked into Mr Daniels’ office. Each of them was carrying blankets and large bags and as the secretary looked up at the sudden mass of people in the usually quiet foyer, Beth flashed a sweet smile and strolled up to the counter. “We’re here to see Mr Daniels.”
The woman’s eyes looked her up and down. “May I ask who is here to see him?”
“Of course, my name is Beth Carlson and these lovely ladies are here with me.”
She saw the secretary glance over at the others and the small waves they gave her out of the corner of her eye. Turning her attention back to Beth, she quickly typed on her computer. “Do you have an appointment?”
She hummed low in her throat. “I’m afraid Mr Daniels is very busy. If you would like to make an appointment I am sure he’d be more than happy to speak to you.”
Beth’s smile remained fixed. “I’m sure he would. Would it be alright if we waited?”
“Of course but I very much doubt that he will able to see you today.”
“We’ll see.” Looking at the others she nudged her head in the direction of the foyer. “Come on, ladies.”
As the others strode forward, they each made sure to keep their chins held high as they sauntered past the reception. Joan’s shoes squeaked against the shiny floor and she seemed to savour twisting her foot with each step as she made her way across the lightly painted room. Beth caught a flicker of annoyance in the secretary’s face and barely managed to stop herself from smirking.
Once they had all reached the area by the far wall, they dropped the bundles under their arms and opened their bags. Camping chairs were quickly assembled and Joan and Edna dropped into them with a sigh. As Beth and Kelly distributed blankets, Linda rustled around in her backpack and brought out a thermos and a packet of biscuits before turning to the two oldest members. “Ladies, would you like a drink?”
“We’d love one.” Joan shifted herself deeper into the dark green material. “And I wouldn’t mind a biscuit either.”
Time went on and as Beth watched the hands on the clock turn, she became aware of their growing audience. Dragging her attention to Kelly, she saw the blonde with a heavy frown as she spoke to a couple of men in suits. “Yeah, we’ve been waiting here for a couple of hours now. Oh, you have an appointment? Could you let him know that we’re here? Thanks, he must not know that we’re waiting for him otherwise he would have come out and seen us, right?”
Beth chuckled quietly to herself as she poured herself another cup of tea. The foyer once more dropped into silence, only disturbed by the clatter of Joan’s knitting needles and Linda turning another page in her book. Risking a glance at the secretary she saw that her shoulders were hunched and she was typing into her keyboard with gusto. Seeming to sense eyes on her, she looked up and glared when she saw Beth raise her hand and give a small wave. Her lips thinned before she yanked up the receiver and made a call.
Five minutes later, Mr Daniels made his way through the doors, his arms crossed across his chest. “Miss Carlton, I hear that you’ve been waiting for me.”
“Ah,” Beth looked up and flashed him a smile. “Mr Daniels, I would have emailed but it appears that I can’t get your email address.” Pulling herself out of the chair, she held out a piece of paper which he gingerly took. “On there you will find a screen print of our e-petition which, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, has raised over 2,000 signatures from people who want the centre to stay open.
“Now, let me tell you this: I promise you that until you find a way to keep that centre open I will be here every day until you find a solution. We will all quite happily continue to let people know how the council is unwilling to invest in the kids in its area and how making sure that they stay off the streets and out of trouble isn’t a priority. This isn’t going to go away, Mr Daniels- we aren’t going to go away.”
His jaw was tight as she spoke and there was a heavy silence after she finished. His voice was tight. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Beth gave a small nod before grabbing the bag that Kelly handed her and watching as he walked away. “Oh, and Mr Daniels?” He paused, his body tense. “It’s Carlson.”
He said nothing as he walked away.
Oh she’d really done it now. As Beth allowed herself to be pulled to the youth centre the sinking feeling in her stomach continued. Had she pushed him too far? What if he took her actions out on the centre?
“Beth, let’s go!”
Shaking herself out of her thoughts, she half jogged as she tried to keep up with her sister. As the large building came into sight, Jamie ran off to join the others, leaving Beth to look at Abby sheepishly.
“How did you do it?”
Confused, the rampant apologies that she’d been planning faded away. “What are you talking about?”
Abby’s face was filled with joy as she half-dragged her to the door and to a new notice. Beth’s eyes skimmed over it. “Due to re-evaluation, valuable asset…” Her mouth fell open and she looked up at Abby who was nodding frantically before wrapping her in a tight hug.
“You did it! They’re keeping us open!”
“But, how, I mean…”
“We still have to finance a lot of it ourselves and we’ll have to do a lot of fundraising but the building stays open!”
Beth stared at the piece of paper some more before a wave of relief almost caused her legs to buckle and a deep sigh to escape her. Everything was going to be alright.
Abby pulled back and wiped a tear from her eye. “Thank you, I don’t know what we would have done without you and the others.”
“Anytime- you know that,” A mischievous smile came across her face. “Now you said something about fundraising?”
Abby slapped her arm.
About the author
Mary Lou Fletcher has been writing for as long as she can remember- one of her earliest memories of writing is sitting in a chair for three days scribbling out a story about a couple of runaways who find somewhere they belong. Mary’s main focus is to write about life- or more specifically, human emotion and how we interact with the world around us.
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