Cassie was worried about James; even though their town was still a medium risk area his mental health felt like a high risk area. She bit into the tender flakes of haddock; Friday evening fish and chips was one of her Covid comforts; the pandemic had come down to appreciating the simple things. Five of them, plus Sam’s dog, sat well spaced out in the staff canteen of the MPJ building; few staff had used the canteen since March, but this week it had been well used. Sam had honed his cooking skills catering for the small group of fellow homeless folk sheltering at MPJ and it had been his idea to provide meals this half term for children entitled to free school meals and at risk of hunger every holiday. James had been reluctant to agree, but the MPJ bosses had seen a further opportunity to be seen as part of the community and not fat cats. James had been reassured that he would not have to meet any real children. He had the perfect excuse to steer clear of the whole operation as he was still frantically busy coordinating who was coming in to work at the offices and who was working from home. There was still an international company to run in the midst of pandemic uncertainty that seemed never ending.
But it was not work stress that was taking its toll on James. Though their homeless project could not be described as wildly successful, he had proved the homeless could be housed in empty or near empty office blocks. But an office block was not home; the man who had lost his home to divorce and lived with his mother during lock down wanted his own comfortable place. Cassie didn’t blame him, she was thankful to be working at home and thankful she had her own house. She had no intention of sharing it, at least not with James. If there had been a spark earlier, when they could only talk on line, she now knew a relationship was not what she wanted; there was a limit to how much she could help him, it was up to him to work out how to move on. As for Cassie herself, Covid had been a positive experience, discovering new strengths, making new contacts, happy to have James and Sam as friends. Doubts about her actual job, what she really wanted to do with her life, were now put aside as she helped with the homeless. Being Sam’s assistant cook for the children’s meals had made her feel she was really contributing to society, part of the Covid Community.
When they had finished eating and debriefing the week’s project it was time for Sam to walk the dog and for Cassie to cycle home, not quite so pleasant now the clocks had gone back. They stepped outside into a dark, wet and windy evening. She wheeled her bike to the park with Sam and despite the weather they were so busy talking they reached the other side of the park without her mounting her bike. He had important news. While James was now in a bad place Sam was in a far better place. Cassie had no idea what the dark years had been like after his wife left and took their little boy, but he was determined to make the future positive.
‘It’s strange that Covid has made it easier getting in touch. I suppose his mother knows there is no chance of us meeting up, no chance of me getting up to the wilds of Scotland. Well I guess she reasons that if he finds out how little his real father has to offer, he will appreciate his stepfather.’
‘But you have got a lot to offer, sounds like her second husband only knows about deer and salmon fishing, he can’t help with on line science lessons like you can.’
‘Yes I really think my son might be taking after me, he knows enough to understand what an excellent job I had, or should have had. But I’m glad I was up front with him about what happened; I think it appeals to his teenage rebellious streak that he has a father who has to sell the Big Issue and run a dog walking business.’
‘Socialist leanings perhaps, young people can see how Covid has revealed terrible inequalities and it’s not his fault if he’s been given everything and has never had to worry about food or money.’
‘As long as he doesn’t try and do anything stupid like run away. I told him to knuckle down and study now, not use Covid as an excuse, if he wants to get somewhere. The world is going to need scientists more than ever.’