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Unsuitable

By:Samantha Towle

nd I didn't want him coming to this place.

I wouldn't let anyone visit me. Not even Cece.

So, I haven't seen or spoken to anyone I love in eighteen months.

My heart pounding, I continue to follow Officer Roman. I wait while she unlocks the gate, and then she takes me through, heading toward the reception area.

I haven't seen this part of the prison since I arrived here.

I look out through the window. My heart pounds with equal measures of nerves and excitement.

I'm getting out of here. I'm getting my life back.

The life that was stolen from me.

Officer Kendall hands me a plastic carrier bag. "The things you came in with," she tells me.

Opening the bag, I look inside.

My old phone that no longer works, a used lip gloss, my purse. I pick my purse out and open it. Inside is a twenty pound note.

I have twenty pounds to my name.

Sigh.

I spy my old house keys in the bottom of the carrier bag. I touch my fingers to them. The keys to my old home. The home I no longer have.

Tears prick my eyes. I blink them back.

"You okay, Daisy?" Officer Roman asks me.

Swallowing past my emotions, I nod my head and drop my purse back into the carrier bag.

"You know where you're going from here?" she asks me.

"Yep." I look at her. "I go straight to London Probation Service to see my probation officer … " I stall, trying to recall his name.

"Toby Willis," she fills in for me. "Toby will determine the terms of your release and give you details of the hostel where you'll be staying."

"You mean, I'm not staying at the Ritz?"

I give her a look of mock-horror, and she laughs.

"Come on, comedian, let's get you out of here."

The officer inside the reception room buzzes us through. I follow behind Officer Roman as she leads me to the door that will take me out of here.

I watch, my heart hammering in my chest, as the final door opens.

I'm free.

I take in a deep breath. A lungful of free air.

I know it sounds stupid, but the air just feels better out here. Cleaner, fresher. Better than the air I was breathing behind those high walls that kept me prisoner for so long.

I take my first step toward freedom.

"I don't want to see you in here ever again." Officer Roman's voice comes from behind me.

I glance back at her. "You won't ever see me again; that's a promise."

A smile works its way onto her hard mouth. "Good. And good luck, Daisy. I hope everything works out for you."

Yeah, me, too.

I give her a nod and then face forward. Another deep breath, and I step out onto the street.

The door closes behind me with a clunk. I hear the lock turn, shutting me out.

For a moment, I panic.

I literally don't know what to do. I've spent so long being told what to do that I feel like I don't know my own thoughts in this moment.

I look up and down the street. People are milling around.

A figure across the street catches my eye, and I can't help the smile that breaks out on my face.

Cece.

"Ce?" I say, suddenly choked with emotion at the sight of her.

"Mayday!" She smiles big.

Hearing her call me by the nickname that Jesse gave me when he was little fills me with an ache so deep that I fear it'll never leave.

Cece pushes off the car she was leaning against and comes bounding toward me. Her dark brown waves, now streaked with purple, are dancing around her face, her big brown eyes wide with happiness.

The wind is knocked out of me as Cece collides with me, wrapping her arms tight around me, hugging me hard.

She smells like home.

God, I've missed her.

"I missed you," she whispers.

I hear the emotion in her voice. It makes my chest constrict and my eyes sting.

Dropping the carrier bag to the ground, I hug her back. "I missed you, too, Ce." I swallow back tears. "What are you doing here?"

"Nice to see you, too." She chuckles.

"I mean"-I lean back to look into her face-"I thought you'd be at work."

"Monday's my day off now. But, even if it weren't, did you really think I wouldn't be here, waiting for you?" She smiles warmly. "It's been too long. I hate that you wouldn't let me come visit you." A frown puckers her brow.

I exhale a breath. "I know, but it was better that way, Ce. I didn't want you seeing me while I was in that place."

And I couldn't spend my time counting down the days to her visits. I needed to just focus on counting down the days to my release.

"And you knew I didn't agree. It didn't matter to me-"

"I know," I cut her off. My voice comes out sharp, so I soften it. "But I needed it to be that way."

She stares at me for a long moment. "Yeah, well, you leave again, and I'm coming with. You got me?"

I give her a tight smile. "I got you. But I'm not going anywhere."

And I mean that. I'm never falling prey to anyone ever again.

She smiles. "You look good," she tells me. "You sure you've been in prison and not just at a fitness camp?" She gives a comical tilt of her head.

"Funny." I give her a light jab to the shoulder. "I used the gym every day. Not much else to do in there." Well, apart from reading, watching TV, and doing the cleaning job I had.

"Well, you totally have the whole Lara Croft thing going on now." She reaches over my shoulder, giving my ponytail a tug.

"I love the purple." I gesture to her hair.

"It was blue last week." She grins.

Cece is always changing her hair color. It comes with the territory. She's a hairdresser-or I should say, hairstylist. She works at this really cool upscale salon in London.

Releasing her hands from my arms, she grabs my hand. "Come, let's get you out of here."

I scoop my carrier bag up from the ground and let her lead me across the road, toward her car.

I've just buckled up in the passenger seat when she turns to me, biting her lip, with a nervous look in her eyes.

"I did something … that I hope you'll be cool with."

"Depends. The last surprise someone gave me landed me in prison." I give her a deadpan look.

Her lips lift into a half-smile. "How long are you going to play that card?"

"Forever. I think I've earned it."

"True." She nods.

"So, this thing?"

"I got us a place."

My eyes widen in surprise. "You moved out of your mum and dad's?"

"It was time. And you need somewhere to live. My gran left me a good chunk of money when she died, so I put it to good use and invested it in an apartment."

Shame covers me. "I'm sorry I wasn't there for the funeral."

She waves me off. "I know you would have been there if you could. Anyway, I got us this apartment in Sutton. It's nice. Three bedrooms. Not far from where Jesse is living, so you can be close to him."

"Three bedrooms?" I stare at her.

"Yeah, a bedroom for you, one for me, and one for Jesse when he comes back home."

A lump forms in my throat.

I can't believe what she's done for me.

She got this apartment to help me. She knows this is what I need to get Jesse back. It's not like I can apply for custody of Jesse without a stable home. I was expecting to be in a hostel to start with until I got on my feet, and it would have taken me ages to sort out a place.

"Have you … " I bite my lip. "Have you seen Jesse recently?"

She exhales, and I know the answer. "I went to see him yesterday."

Jesse has been living in a group home since I was put in prison.

I know what those places are like. I've been worried sick about him every moment I've been away from him, praying to God to keep him safe until I could get back to him.

Cece promised to check in on him regularly, and she's kept me updated on his progress.

"How is he?"

"He's doing okay."

"Did you … " I swallow past the ache. I know full well the answer to my question, yet I have to ask it anyway. "He knew I was getting out today?"

"Yeah." Her voice is quieter now. "He's jus

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