The squaddies all moved back to their camp and sighed as they collapsed on their beds. It had been another long day on the field and it was only three days away before they went home as trained soldiers. Steel Smith sighed as he looked over at the one friend he had made in the few months they'd been slaving their arses off here and smiled. "It's nearly over, pal."

"I know. We get to go home and spend some quality time with my family."

"Are you sure your family is happy with me staying with them until I get back on my feet?"

"When I explained the situation they were more than happy. My mother is an angel when it comes to people who need attention."

"The situation" being that Steel's parents had both been killed in a car crash during his time in training and it had hit him bad at first but their leading trainer had took him aside and made him realise that it was what his parents had of wanted. Steel secretly knew that all his parents had been thinking about during that short moment in the car was their next fix of either heroin or crack. The reason he had come here in the first place was to get away from them and live his life. Instead without him, they hadn't needed to worry about anyone else so they'd got shot into oblivion and then had decided to go driving. This resulting in them missing a turn and going flying over a bridge straight into the lake underneath and had been too zoned to care. It wasn't the lives that had been lost that upset Steel, it was the simple guilt that if he'd been at home they wouldn't have risked getting into that car because they knew that he'd go berserk at them. It had been kind of Derek to take him aside and let him explain that no matter what happened, Steel was going to move on and simply remember the good times with them. Steel didn't have the heart to say there wasn't any.

"Your mother sounds wonderful." He commented as he laid down on his bed and looked at the bunk that was over him.

"I suppose she is. Bad news that it's my cousins birthday on Saturday so we'll be going to my grandmothers for this silly tea party tradition that she's always had and you're being dragged along to save me from killing myself or at least to balance out the fact I'll be the only boy because all my cousins are female."

"Can I not get an invite?" Jones hooted from the other side of the camp and Derek just glared at him.

"My cousins are all intelligent women and wouldn't touch you with a bargepole, Jonesy." He called over before looking over at Steel. "Trust me though, it'll be fun and exactly what we need. It's Dia's eighteenth so we'll be probably asked to go round the old town which is probably going to be entertaining because she loves to dance and sing."

"Sounds like fun." Steel forced out not wanting to admit to Derek that he never did really well with parties and clubbing because he'd never done either and the idea of playing happy families with his family was also scaring the hell out of him but he'd just grin and bear it because he could see that Derek was excited about seeing his family again.

If only his family had felt the same about him but then again, maybe going out with him and his family would make him happy again. He'd just have to see. Wouldn't he?

It was a week before her eighteenth birthday and Claudia was wishing that she hadn't decided to do anything for it because she was tired. Her years at school had finally come to an end and it would be the first of August also meaning that to her and the rest of her friends, summer had finally arrived because there were no exams to stress about or any homework. It was all going to be relaxation and they'd hit the small coastal beach as often as they could depending if any of them could be bothered to drive the hour journey.

Flopping down her bed, she crossed her arm over her eyes as she tried to rest in the dark for a few moments. She knew that any time soon her younger sister would come bursting through the doors in either happiness or floods of tears because her stupid boyfriend had texted her saying that he had something rather important that he needed to share with her. Leigh was already starting to stress that this meant that he was going to end it with her and she'd decided that she was going to get in there first because there was no way it was going around school next year that she, Leigh Sampson, had been finished by a guy. That would destroy her reputation in five easy seconds and she couldn't have that happening.

There was nothing similar between the two sisters in the slightest. Claudia was tall, chubby and had long ginger hair to her waist that she always had pinned half up, half down. She had sparkling summer green eyes and she would always wear a light coat of make-up to add to the effect but never too much so that she would get spots. That was one thing Claudia loved about herself, her lack of spots. Never in her whole eighteen years of life had she had a single blemish to her beautiful soft rosy cheeks. Her wardrobe was a big thing to her. Sure she had styled jeans and tight tops that revealed her amazing bust but that didn't make her any more of a girly girl. It was just clothes she felt comfortable in.

Leigh was completely different. She was still tall but she was stick thin and Claudia secretly knew that the girl was starting to consider anorexia to help her get into her dream career of modelling. Her hair was jet black and she had dark brown eyes that looked cold and menacing. Her make-up was always professionally applied and she had a wardrobe that any other teenager would envy because it was all designer labels and she looked simply breathtaking in whatever it was she wore.

It was a given that the stunning Leigh always had a new boyfriend on her arm whereas Claudia had always struggled to even think about a boy. Everyone put it down to the fact Leigh was stick thin whereas Claudia was a little plumper. Claudia was cute whereas Leigh was sexy. Her grandmother often teased that all Claudia needed to do was think about chocolate and the weight was immediately added to her hips. Claudia didn't really care much about her weight but she did wish it hadn't hindered her ways with the boys.

"That miserable little cretin, he phones me and says that he needs to come over and talk because it's completely urgent and do you want to know what he tells me?" Leigh screeched the minute she walked into Claudia's room and threw herself down on the bed next to her sister. "He tells me that last night he might have got a little drunk at his friend's house where his ex was. One drink led to another and they got talking but before long the dirty little slag has got her tongue shoved so down his throat she can almost feel his tonsils."

"Thanks for that detail, Leigh, I sure am sleeping peacefully tonight." Claudia commented sarcastically as she heaved herself up off the bed and quickly sorted out her fringe before turning to walk out.

"You didn't let me finish."

Stopping Claudia turned round and looked over at the middle sister, her arms crossing over her chest. "Feel free to continue."

"He then tells me that he thinks he's in love with her and that I've just simply been the rebound girl that he was using to make her jealous. How amazing is that!"

"I beg your pardon?"

"Guys are using me to make their girlfriends jealous. Isn't this beautiful news?" Leigh jumped off the bed and ran over to take hold of her sister's arms. "Girls look at boys with me and think "what has she got that I haven't got?" and that's because I am awesome and pretty and girls want to be like me."

"So let me get this straight. Your boyfriend tells you that he is using you to make his girlfriend jealous and the only thing you are focusing on is the fact that the girl got jealous." Claudia clarified but noticed that her sister's face didn't change expression and she could see that nothing at hit home. "You're unbearable."

"I don't get why you're making a big deal. Girls get used all the time. You should only really care if I was sleeping with him." Claudia raised her hands into the air.

"That's where I draw the line. I don't want to hear anymore. I'm going downstairs to make some tea for Ava. Is there anything I can get for you "oh miss I am so perfect?"

"I really do fancy some celery. I'll come downstairs with you, if that's okay?"

"As long as you stay silent and if you must talk, it can't be about boys." Leigh's face fell but she quickly smiled as she linked arms with her sister before they both started to skip down the stairs. On the bottom step, Leigh looked over at Claudia and smiled.

"You realise the only reason you are bitter about me talking about boys is because you've never had a boyfriend."

"Leigh..." Claudia warned as she turned into the kitchen.

"I wasn't technically downstairs by that point but now that topic is dried up and we'll talk about what Ava wants for tea." Leigh said moving into the playroom and picking Ava up, checking out the finger painting that she had made.

Ava Williamson was only three years old but the two older girls doted on her. Their mother had died from complications during childbirth after having their younger brother and then a week later, their brother died too. Richard Williamson became an empty shell without his wife and worked all hours at the office and didn't stop after making his first million. The girls got all the way to the age of twelve before ever spending any lone time with their father and that had only happened because he wanted to bring home the new woman that he had met during his hours at work and he believed that it was time to admit that he'd met someone new since his first wife. Tara Jones was an elegantly beautiful woman and the two girls had just simply smiled at her before enjoying their meal together. Leigh had taken to the woman a lot more than Claudia had but Claudia felt as if the woman wanted to take over what Claudia had been doing quite easily over the last couple of years.

When they'd got married and then Ava arrived, Leigh was ecstatic to no longer be the youngest and she doted on the young girl. Claudia had took a while longer but when Ava's first word had been "Dia", Claudia had simply melted and ever since then she'd been so close to her baby sister and didn't have any stupid rules about looking after her.

The door shut and Tara walked into the house carrying three carrier bags. "Oh good, I caught you before you started cooking dinner. Your dad wants to have an early take out night because he is away for a meeting on Friday and we know that's normally take out night."

"How long is he gone?" Claudia asked innocently helping Tara empty out the bags and put them away in their consecutive cupboards.

"He said something about Sunday night." Tara then froze and looked over at the oldest daughter, whose hands had tightened on the jar of sauce she was holding but there was a fake smile on her face as she looked over at Tara.

"I'm sure he'll have a great time."

"Oh, Dia. It's your eighteenth. He should know better than to organise a meeting."

"Dad has never managed to remember my birthday without serious prompting. At times I'm just another helping hand in his house."

"Dia..." Tara started as the young woman left the kitchen and headed upstairs. She waited patiently for the quiet click of the door before music started to blast out and she groaned realising that her husband had completely mucked up this time.


That night when Richard came in and pressed a kiss to his wife's lips he immediately sensed that something was bothering her so he sat down. He also knew something was up when Leigh walked in, looked him and immediately walked out again. "Okay what have I done?"

"You have a business meeting this weekend."

"And they're upset about that? God... How many business trips do I make a year?" He chuckled just thinking that he'd never be able to understand women when Tara continued.

"How many of these other business trips have happened on the same week as your oldest daughter's eighteenth?" Richard slowly turned to look at Tara and felt all the colour rush out of his face as he ran his hands over them. What had he done?

"Is she upset?"

"You know Dia, she doesn't let anyone know how she is feeling especially not when she is hurting."

"Thanks." He grumbled sighing. "Suppose I'd best go see her." He mumbled pulling himself up off the couch and moving up to her room where he could hear her typing on her laptop. She was probably blogging away about how much of a lame arse her old man was and he didn't blame her.

"Don't hate me, Dia." He whispered as he stepped into the bedroom and sat on her bed, his legs crossing as he looked over at his oldest daughter. He'd always loved Claudia the most secretly. He knew he shouldn't have favourites but Claudia was the daughter that had made life liveable after Maria's death and she'd been the one to make sure that Leigh was fed, she did the housework and even more importantly, she'd been the one to look after him when he'd come in from his once a month bender town at the local pub. Yet it was her he always forgot whenever it came to things like this and he realised that this made him a selfish bastard but he did see Claudia as the self-reliant daughter who didn't need anyone whereas it was obvious that Leigh always needed someone around, hence the chain of short term relationships.

"I don't hate you, dad." She commented closing her laptop and looking over at him, a beautiful smile spreading across her lips and it pained him to know that the smile was actually a forced one and he could feel the sadness.

"I'd hate me."

"It's a good thing that I'm me and you're you then, isn't it?" She whispered wrapping her arms around her knees before perching her chin on them.

"Claudia, I'll cancel the meeting."

"No don't." She smiled at him and took hold of his hand. "We'll do something on the Monday and besides Saturday is totally booked up what with Grandma Mia's silly house party and Louella taking me round town."

"Now that does sound like a hectic day." He smiled as he moved over and took her into his arms, his lips pressing a small kiss to her brow. "How am I so lucky to have such a beautiful, caring daughter?"

"I don't know." She said smiling as she hugged him back and realised Richard realised that no matter what, Claudia would always be the unselfish daughter that concentrated on him because she didn't have anything else to focus about.

"Oh talking about Grandma Mia's silly house party. Your cousin Derek is coming home from army training and apparently he has a friend coming with him so he's been invited by your grandmother."

"Another guy for Leigh to drool over."

"Leave your sister alone." He laughed but knew that she was right and he just wished that one day some guy would give some attention to the nicer one of the two – bad father moment, again – and just kissed her forehead again before pinching her chin. "Can you come tell Tara you don't hate me so we can get some food?"

Claudia laughed as she nodded, "Okay dad."