“Jack’s making good progress with her. We both are.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” she lies. “I hope the girl sorts herself out.” She taps her fingers on her paperwork and I wonder what it is now it’s obviously not my official written notice. “You haven’t been home this weekend, I take it that you’re helping Jack with Carrie?”
She smiles. “You really do take your work seriously, Michael.” The smile disappears as she flips open her file. “Which is why it pains me to say that the official quarter’s budget has been released. It’s another cut, I’m afraid. I only got the memo this morning.”
I raise my eyebrows. “Another cut? But they slashed it to bits last quarter.”
She sighs. “And they’re slashing it again. Donations aren’t what they once were and you know what the state of services is like around here. At this rate we won’t get any funding at all by the end of this financial year.”
It’s not that I haven’t seen the cuts to services. In a rural community like this they affect all of us. I’ve seen the local police cutbacks, I’ve watched smaller charity organisations fold under the pressure or merge with other branches. I’ve been at local school fundraisers, giving my time to fund things that should never have to be funded with private donations.
“We knew it was coming,” she says.
I shake my head. “I didn’t think we’d get hit with cutbacks twice in a row.”
She shrugs. “Yeah, well, me neither.” She hands the file across my desk and my mouth drops open as I see the scale of the deficit and the proposals in place to handle our existing commitments.
“No,” I say. “It can’t be.”
“It can be, and it is,” she says. “Two months tops with each of our cases from here on in, fortnightly sessions instead of weekly. I’m going to have to let a few members of the team go. I’ll break it to them after our morning catch up and call a team meeting later in the week to announce all this officially.”
“Fortnightly sessions for two months isn’t going to do anything to help these kids,” I tell her, like she doesn’t already know.
“My hands are tied,” she says. “All our hands are tied, we’re just going to have to do our best.”
But my best will never be good enough, not under these conditions.
My career is turning to dust before my eyes, not because of any dubious choices I’ve made this weekend, but because our whole funding infrastructure is going to the dogs.
“I’m sorry, Michael,” she says again. “I know how much this job means to you, I know how much you care about your service users.”
She means kids. Kids without prospects. Kids who need us.
Kids who have been let down by the system.
Kids who’ve never known anyone to be on their side.
“We can’t work like this,” I tell her but she shrugs again.
“It’s not my call,” she says. “Please keep this to yourself until after the official announcement.”
Luckily, I’m good at keeping confidences.
I try to think of ways to reverse the funding decision right up until my first meeting.
But I have nothing.
Pam’s right, we can only do our best.
But my best isn’t going to be enough any longer. It’s going to be nowhere close.JackIt’s the same old office with the same old team in it. The same old faces asking me about my weekend out of politeness.
I give them the same old bland answers and wonder how I didn’t realise my life was so flat and dull before Carrie Wells came tumbling into it.
I normally struggle to give too much of my time to this business, but right now, with that delicious girl waiting at home for me, I’m struggling to give it any time at all.
I’ve never been so pleased to jump back in my car at the end of the work day. I’ve also never been so pleased to pull up onto my driveway to find Mike’s old car already parked in my space.
I’m grinning as I step through the front door, whistling a stupid tune as I head straight through to the kitchen.
“Someone’s happy,” Carrie says, but it seems like I’m the only one. She gestures at Mike, head resting on his palm as he flips through the local newspaper.
He looks like he’s had a pig of a day, but as I step closer it looks like it’s even more than that.
He’s on the job pages.
My mouth dries up. Surely Pam Clowes didn’t grill him that fucking hard about Carrie being here. Surely the prick didn’t fess up to fuck knows what.
“What’s going on?” I ask and it takes him a moment to meet my eyes. “What did you tell them?”
“Nothing,” he says. “None of this is about Carrie, it’s about the quarterly budget.”
I take a seat. “But they cut it last time round, they said it would hold for at least another six months.”