From the author: The day of the multi-agency meeting occurs. This is chapter nine of a larger work, which deals with a disabled young woman in a rural community and the people she comes to know once she leaves home. This will update fortnightly
The room was too hot. That was the first thing that struck Alice; the room was far too hot and someone had pulled tables together like a children’s picnic, all over lapped and ill fitting.
The next thing was that Jenny was sat further along at one table, very carefully not looking at her, and Raymond was there looking just like the barnacle she’d seen at the beach. Her stomach dropped and the kick of adrenaline started thudding in her temples, thick in her throat.
“Dad, what’s going on?” Alice asked in a low whisper, looking at him. He settled in beside her and held her hand, eyes flicking over the other people sat around.
“This’ll be over soon, don’t worry about it,” he said in turn and her heart yanked, banging against her ribs.
“You knew they were going to be here?” she hissed, glaring at him.
“I knew Jenny had got a letter, because she helped you get the house,” he said, rubbing his thumb over her knuckes. “We’ll just have to get this over with.”
“What’s going on?” Alice asked, hand shaking as she reached for some water. “This doesn’t feel good. This feels like a fucking trap.”
“I think we have everyone here?” Barry announced, settling the room like a Sunday preacher as people quietened down, “This is a Multi-Agency Meeting in relation to Alice McMorran and the concerns raised in relation to her as a vulnerable person.”
“I’m not a vulnerable person,” Alice said and Barry frowned at her.
“You’ll have a chance to speak in a moment, Alice, I just have to run through why we are here with everyone.”
“Asshole,” she muttered, glancing to her dad. He was eyeing Raymond, seeing the glaring frown Raymond was sending out to everyone else. Not matching it, but almost there.
“There have been concerns raised about the relationship between Alice and Raymond Stevenson, who is in attendance. There have been concerns raised with the department directly and through a third party contact, which I’ve interviewed and felt did not require to attend the meeting.” Barry paused for breath and Alice quietly wished he’d choke on it. “Today we have myself representing the social work department, we have Alice, we have her father Michael, we have her sister Jenny, we have Dr Spence from Riverview Practice and we have Mr Diamond from the college. For anyone who has not attended one of these meetings before, I’ll read out the matters of concern and then we’ll hear from each person before the floor is opened for discussion. If there are any questions about someone’s comments you may raise your hand to ask these and I’ll come to you when I’m able. I’ll begin with the reported concerns, if everyone can turn to page three of the paperwork?”
The gathered bodies shuffled through their papers and settled to a list that discussed exploitation and vulnerability.
“The concerns raised within service is that Mr Stevenson, who is known locally to be living a chaotic lifestyle and dealing with his own issues of substance abuse in the form of alcohol dependency, has become very closely attached to Alice including frequent trips to her accommodation, spending leisure time with her and being openly seen with her in local facilities where he is felt to be domineering and possessive towards her. This latter point leads into the third party reported concern which involved an incident at the leisure center gym, where Mr Stevenson was seen to become agitated and aggressive with a member of the public who was chatting with Alice.”
“Well that’s a lie,” Alice said and Barry shot her a sideways look. Her dad squeezed her hand and she looked over to him, shaking her head. “It’s false though.”
“You can give your comments once we reach you, Alice,” Barry said and she glared at him. Raymond gave her a tiny shake of his head and she felt tears start to threaten at the back of her throat, sharp as thorns. This was some bullshit.
“I spoke to the member of the public in relation to this who confirmed there was an altercation in the gym but that he didn’t wish to take the matter further as he felt it would worsen the situation for Alice. He confirmed Mr Stevenson was threatening and abusive to him to such an extent that he hasn’t returned to the gym since. There is obviously the risk that this behaviour could escalate into something more significant, including but not restricted to sexual exploitation, and the matter of access to money and potential coercive control has to be considered. I think that’s the full set of matters addressed. Jenny, would you like to speak first?”
Alice held her breath for a long beat, heart plummeting into her stomach as Jenny’s eyes met hers for one brief moment before she looked to Barry and nodded.
“Yes, I think it’s shocking matters have been able to develop to the stage they are now.” She paused to let the words ripple out and Alice squeezed her dad’s hand, white knuckled. “Raymond’s been known as the town drunk for years now and it’s terrible that he’s been allowed to creep in on my sister with no one doing anything. I know my dad has a blind spot on him because they used to be pals but for everyone else to be seeing it and not doing a thing about it is abysmal. I never would have helped Alice get her own house if I thought this would be allowed to happen.”
“Nothing’s happened though,” Alice said and heard Barry sigh at her.
“If you wish to interject then you will have to raise your hand, Alice.”
“Fine,” she said, putting her hand up and staring at him till he nodded in acquiescence. “Nothing’s happened, I don’t know why everyone’s acting like there’s been some big incident when nothing’s gone on.”
“You’ll have an opportunity to say-”
“Oh come on, Alice, why do you think he’s sniffing round you?” Jenny spoke over Barry, finally facing Alice to lean forward, “A recently bereaved disabled girl, out in the world on her own for the first time and some old drunk becomes her best friend? It’s not bloody Disney.”
“It’s not like that, you haven’t even been here to see what’s going on,” Alice replied, bristling at the tone this was taking. “And even if he had thoughts like that there’s no danger, so-”
“If we can get back on track, please,” Barry interjected, leaning forward in turn.
“Fucking fine,” Alice said, shaking her father’s hand off when he tried to squeeze her shoulder.
“Is there anything else you wish to say, Jenny?”
“Yes, get the old weirdo away from my sister like you’re meant to.”
“Jenny,” Michael admonished and she huffed a wavering sigh, reaching into her handbag for a tissue.
“No, Dad, I won’t sit here and pretend it’s fine like you are,” she said, dabbing at her eyes. “You’ve ignored it long enough, it needs something done about it.”
“Well I think we’ll hear from Mr Stevenson now, if you wish to speak?” Barry asked, glancing over at Raymond.
“Oh I don’t know if it’s my place to speak here,” Raymond said, a low growl of a thing rumbling from his chest, “Seems like we’ve already decided.”
“You have an opportunity to say anything you would like to, provided it is constructive to the meeting,” Barry said, ever patient.
“I’m not interested in the girl that way. Never have been, I saw and her pearl clutching sister come up at the same time as my pair did. Much as that seems to have slipped some minds sat round this table.” He glowered over at Michael for a beat then carried on. “I became friends with the lass because I thought she was going to throw herself in the fucking ocean, as it happens. Saw her down at the edge of the surf, face all red and wheelchair sat in the sand. No one else was about and she looked miserable as sin so we started talking.”
“It seems a bit of a reach to think she might be having a mental health crisis,” Barry said and Raymond turned to him, lips in a pale, thin line across his face.
“Does it, aye? Seems odd a lass that’s just watched her mother die might be feeling distraught? I know you Barry Green, much as you may not like it. You were about ages with Andrew Miller when he was coming up weren’t you, school time together?”
“I hardly see how that’s relevant, if we could just-”
“Do you mind on what happened to him?” Raymond pushed, a wicked twist of a smile now tugging at his mouth.
“I don’t see how that’s pertinent.”
“You don’t, do you? Course you don’t, not your preferred sort of thing I bet. He died. To be proper, he went into a diabetic coma after he didn’t take his insulin on account of his mother dying in an accident. He led down on his bed and let himself die and no one knew about it till he was fucking soup, rotted into the bed sheets, because no one checked on him!” He was near shouting now, red in the face and jabbing the table with his finger. “I knew that lad, I was skipper on a boat with him. When he didn’t show for going out I put it down to him needing to grieve and let him be. Let him be dead is all it was, they didn’t look for a body until the flies made the window black.” He sat back from the table, shaking his head at them. “I’m disgusted by the lot of you. I’m disgusted no one was thinking of this lass until some little shit stain in the gym complained that I stopped him trying to bully her and instead of trying to ask me what happened you drag us into a kangaroo court where you get her family to bully her.”
“That’s not what we’re trying to do here,” Barry said and Raymond barked a laugh at him.
“Aye, that’s why she knew her sister was going to be here? Look at her face, this is an ambush. Have the balls to call it what it is.”
“I think we’d best hear from Dr Spence now? You’ve been invited as Alice’s primary carer,” Barry said, turning to the older woman with a sense of urgency.
“I have very little to add to this discussion,” Dr Spence said, steel grey hair bobbing as she shook her head. “Alice is a competent and practical woman who is traversing her additional physical needs with a level of enthusiasm that must be difficult to maintain. We have discussed anger issues previously but that’s been largely tied to her own trauma and establishing her new normal. Transition periods like living independently can of course lead to resurgences of such matters but she hasn’t felt the need to come and discuss those with me.”
“Has she discussed anything else with you, like sexual health matters?” Jenny said, sneering at Raymond’s shocked laugh.
“Jenny you know that’s bullshit,” Alice said and Barry held a hand up to stop her.
“It is relevant to what we’re here to discuss now, Alice,” he said and she straightened her back up, the thud of her heart echoing in the flashes of white she was getting at the edges of her vision.
“It’s not relevant because I’m not interested in him,” she continued.
“You say that, doesn’t change that he’ll try and convince you,” Jenny said and Alice saw red, leaning over the table as far as she could to hiss at her sister.
“You know that’s not an issue, Jenny!”
“It’s a significant concern for those around you, Alice,” Barry said, holding both hands up between them now.
“Oh you think you’re too smart to be sweet talked into it by someone, do you? It’s absolutely text book behaviour, Alice,” Jenny countered.
“It’s not something Alice has raised with me,” Dr Spence interjected, and Jenny laughed,
“Of course not, he probably doesn’t even want to wear a rubber with her.”
“That’s not going to fucking happen!” Alice said, breathless with her fury. “And you goddamn know it!”
“And what makes you so sure?”
“Because I’m not interested in him,” Alice said, clenching her fists to try and get rid of the energy she could feel pulsing through her now.
“Easy, lass,” Raymond said, leaning in a bit too.
“Fuck off, alcy. Alice just because you’re not interested now doesn’t mean he won’t try and croon you round.”
“Jenny you know that’s not going to happen, I’m not interested.”
“Like you won’t fall for it,” Jenny laughed.
“I’m not interested in him because I’m not interested in fucking men!” The shout was out before she could stop it, as were the tears, and she felt herself rocking back into her chair. Oh fuck no,. Oh god, goddamnit, no.
The room was silent for a stretched beat, agonisingly long as she felt her heart thrum in time with her fury, and she covered her face in her hands.
“You don’t know that,” Jenny said, sniffing primly.
“Oh what the fuck?” Alice asked, hands coming down far enough to see her sister’s face.
“You’ve never been with a guy, you don’t know that’s true. You just think you like women better.”
“Don’t come with that pish, when’d you become Catholic?” Raymond said leering from Jenny. “It’s obvious she’s head over wheels for the gym instructor, has been for an age I’d bet.”
“I came out to you first,” Alice said, a fresh wave of anger cresting up, “I told you before I told mum and dad.”
“Of course you thought you were then, you were still getting over all of that.” Jenny waved a hand at Alice’s chair and Alice let out a hollow laugh as Michael stood up.
“You be quiet now, Jenny, that’s enough,” he said, punctuating with a jab to the table.
“If we could take a moment to refocus,” Barry began and was interrupted by the slam of a notebook closing.
“I think we might need to recess this meeting,” Dr Spence said, putting her pen down and looking round the tables as she packed her things away. “This is a disgusting situation to have been allowed to develop, I have just witnessed a young woman have to out herself to be listened to and that is, simply put, shocking. Mr Green I’ll be filing an appropriate letter with your senior officer, they’re in Inverness I presume?”
“I hardly think that’s necessary, if we have an opportunity to reconsider,” Barry said and she held a hand up to him.
“Don’t. If you can’t confirm I’ll simply write to the head of social service for the Highland Council. This is sheer incompetence and I will not stomach to sit by and watch it happen. Alice, should you need any assistance following this please book an emergency appointment with me, and let Iona on the desk know I’ve authorised you having a same day booking.” She glanced over at Raymond, who was sat with a face dark as a storm. “Raymond, I’m sorry this has happened, I know you’ve been working hard and this is an ugly situation. Please do come and see me as necessary.”
“Aye, doc,” Raymond said, nodding to her.
“I’m getting out of here too,” Alice said, following the doctor’s lead and starting to wheel out.