Hi everyone. Welcome to the new story. I really hope you enjoy it. The basic idea for this one is that Charlie and Joey start off knowing each other as children. It flits between time frames so we'll see Charlie and Joey as kids, teenagers and adults. And it has a real mix of characters from present day to days gone by. I really hope you like it. Love, IJKS xxx

Chapter One

January 1991 (Age 9)

Nine year old Charlie Buckton had hardly ever felt so scared before as she stepped into the play area of the children's home she had been forced to move into. She missed her Dad and was desperate to be with him but the social worker had insisted that he wasn't capable of taking care of her.

"Hey, it's a new girl!" said a bullish looking seven year old, striding up to her.

She was followed by a little gang of five other children, their ages mixed.

"Um… hi," Charlie managed.

One of them pinched her. It hurt. She touched her arm and tried not to show how upset she was. She frowned at the sea of faces and wondered why the social worker had thought she was better off in a place like this.

"Search her bag," the main girl instructed.

The others moved forward and yanked her little bag out of her hands.

"Hey!" Charlie protested.

At the same time, a voice from across the room said the same thing. The gang turned and looked behind them.

"Hey!" the voice said again.

Charlie watched as a girl of around her age, pretty with dark hair and brown eyes that made her look hard as nails approached. She was immediately frightened.

"Leave her alone," the girl demanded.

"Sorry, Joey," the main girl said, nudging another one who hastily gave Charlie her bag back. "We didn't realise she was your friend."

"Well, she is," the girl lied.

She and Charlie had never laid eye on each other before now.

"So leave her alone," the girl instructed.

The gang nodded, dropped her bag and hurried away, leaving Charlie and Joey to stand, face to face.

"Thank you," Charlie managed.

Joey smiled. Her eyes went from serious to soulful all of a sudden.

"It's cool," she said. "They like to pick on the newbies."

Charlie nodded. She didn't know what else to say.

"I'm Joey. Joey Collins."

They shook hands and spontaneously hugged.

"I'm Charlie Buckton," Charlie told her.

"What are you in for?" Joey asked.

"My Dad kept going out without me," Charlie admitted.

It wasn't something she liked to talk about but there was something that made Charlie trust this girl.

"What about you?" she asked.

"Mum drinks too much," Joey replied. "Would you like to hang out?"

Charlie beamed at her.

"I'd love to," she said.

June 2012 (Age 30)

Charlie groaned as she heard her watch beeping, demanding that she wake up. Sitting up, she glanced at the man beside her and wished she could remember his name. Clicking off the alarm, she slipped out of bed and fumbled about to try and find the clothes she had so carelessly discarded the night before.

"You going already?" he bed partner mumbled, sitting up against the pillows and yawning.

"Yeah, got to go to work," Charlie explained, cringing as she pulled on dirty underwear and tried to find her dress.

"What do you do again?" he asked.

He stretched, revealing a well-muscled chest. The words 'blood and sand' were tattooed across it.

"I'm a cop," she told him.

He smirked at her.

"You know, I'm not sure people like you should be doing things like you did last night," he said.

She smirked right back at him.

"What I do out of uniform is really nobody's business," she said, grateful to find a mirror on the wall so she could attempt to put her long, dark hair in some semblance of order.

"See you later, Charlie," he said when she turned to leave.

"See you…"

She tried and failed to pretend she wasn't searching for his name.

"Brax," he told her. "My name's Brax."

"I totally knew that!" Charlie lied, sailing out of the room.

Arriving at work, any hope Charlie had of sneaking in undetected was immediately thwarted. She walked straight into a big meeting.

"Nice of you to show up, Senior," Detective Nick Parrish remarked.

Folding his arms over his expensive suit, he looked distinctly unimpressed with her.

"Sorry," Charlie apologised. "Although, I'm not technically late."

"You're also not in uniform," Nick pointed out.

"Sorry," Charlie repeated. "I have a spare in my locker. I'll get right into it."

"She's used to being a dirty stop out," a fellow colleague, Constable Angelo Rosetta remarked, eliciting a laugh from a few people.

She elbowed him, knowing he was only trying to have fun, apologised to Nick again and headed on past the meeting and into the locker room, where she was glad she had thought to put a clean uniform and thankfully, fresh underwear. Spending the night with a random stranger wasn't something she usually did but she always liked to prepare for any eventuality.

January 1991 (Age 9)

"You don't really need to give me a tour," Charlie said.

She followed Joey round the large building anyway, grateful to have a friend.

"My Dad's going to come back for me really soon," she explained. "This is just a mistake."

Joey nodded as they walked back through the hallway and into the playroom. She hopped up onto a low cupboard. Charlie came to sit beside her.

"I said that when I first came here," she said.

"When was that?"

"When I was five," Joey told her.

Charlie eyed her with some horror.

"How… how old are you now?" she asked, fearing that her own assessment of her age was correct.

"Nine," Joey told her.

"Haven't you seen your Mum in all that time?"

"She's visited a couple of times," Joey said. "But no, not really. I think she forgot me."

Charlie looked miserable. Joey put her arm around her.

"I'm sure your Dad won't forget you though," she said brightly. "Mum… well, she never liked me that much to begin with."

"What about your Dad?" Charlie asked.

"I never met him," Joey replied. "What about your Mum?"

"She died," Charlie said. "We were a happy family but Mum died and then Dad kept going out and leaving me. And I tried to be so good and stuff but then I hurt myself and I cried and a neighbour came round and…"

She burst into tears. Joey hugged her a little tighter.

"Don't worry, Charlie," she said. "I'll look after you."

Charlie was surprised to find herself feeling comforted.

June 2012 (Age 30)

"So, was he worth getting pulled up by Nick for?" Angelo asked Charlie as they headed to lunch together with another colleague, Constable Georgie Watson.

Charlie just shrugged. She wasn't entirely sure why she had gone off with that guy last night but it had seemed like a good idea at the time. And of course it had, in the drunken haze of too much beer.

"What was his name again?" Watson asked.

"Hell if I know!" Charlie laughed.

She frowned, trying to think but no, it was gone. She wasn't much interested in seeing him again.

"Hi, Ailsa," Watson greeted politely as they entered the Diner together.

It was a local hangout and the best place to eat in town. When Charlie had first arrived in Summer Bay as a teenager, the Bayside Diner was one of the first haunts she had been introduced to by her foster siblings, Sophie Simpson and Sally Fletcher. Sophie had been just a little older than her and become somewhat of an idol and Sally was younger and very sweet. Other foster siblings had come and gone under the happy house run by Pippa and Michael Ross but a few had stuck around and those were the ones that meant the most to Charlie.

"Hello," Ailsa Stewart greeted warmly from behind the counter.

She and her husband, Alf, were somewhat Summer Bay stalwarts and had always been friendly and kind. Ailsa ran the Diner with two other partners, Bobby Marshall and Leah Patterson.

Bobby was married to her second husband, Greg, who had come to find his son, Sam, whom Bobby had fostered. Bobby had once been the foster child of Pippa and her former husband, Tom, who had died of a heart attack at the wheel of his car, several years before she had met and married Michael.

Leah had moved to Summer Bay more recently and was married to a funny, young man called Vinnie. They had a son called VJ, which stood for Vinnie Junior and, still a baby, Charlie found him particularly adorable.

"What can I get you?" Ailsa asked, approaching their table.

The police officers all made their orders and she bustled into the kitchen to get them made.

"So, when are you going to wake up and realise I'm the guy for you?" Angelo asked with a grin that made Charlie guffaw.

"Maybe never?" she suggested.

Watson snorted. Angelo pretended to look hurt. He had hit on her so many times over the years that Charlie thought he'd probably die of shock if she actually said yes. Well, she had said yes once but that was mistake Charlie was not intending to repeat again. The truth was, Angelo meant a lot to her and the fact that he was a colleague and her housemate was an extra complication. She had always struggled to get close to people and had put relationships on the back burner ever since her first taste of heartbreak. It wasn't a feeling she wanted to revisit any time soon.

January 1992 (Age 10)

"I really thought he was going to come this year," Charlie said sadly.

She was sat in Joey's room at the home where her friend had been trying desperately to cheer her up. It was a tenth birthday and she had got a mere card from her father.

"Maybe he tried," Joey said, trying to cheer the situation up. "But maybe he was working on some big exciting case and he just couldn't get away."

Charlie smiled at her friend's efforts. Over the past year, the pair of them had become the very best of friends. They told each other everything and eagerly spent every possible second in each other's company. With Joey having been at the children's home for so long, she had earned her own room, while Charlie shared with three other girls. It was an impressive feat, considering not many of the staff seemed to like her.

"Maybe," Charlie sighed.

Despite how let down she felt, she still aspired to be a police officer like her father. She hoped one day that she would succeed and make Detective like he had then perhaps she could make him proud enough to remember her.

"Anyway, I got you something," Joey said.

Charlie looked surprised as Joey turned and dug around in a drawer. She presented her with an object, badly wrapped in magazine pages.

"It's… it's a bit dumb," Joey said shyly. "And I didn't have enough to buy you something so I made it instead. I hope… I hope you like it."

Charlie eagerly ripped open the packaging and found herself thrilled to be looking an original Joey Collins painting of the two of them in a home-made frame decorated with glitter and shells.

"I love it!" she exclaimed, pulling Joey into her arms.

Joey smiled and clung onto her, relieved that she had been pleased with the gift. But then, Charlie wasn't exactly the type to laugh in her face or anything if she had genuinely hated it. Over the last year, Joey had developed quite the crush on her friend. She thought she was the most beautiful and wonderful person on the planet.

"And I got something else too," Joey said.

She opened the cupboard beneath the drawer and presented Charlie with a slice of cake that had been on the pudding menu that evening for dinner.

"Do I want to ask how you got this?" Charlie wondered.

Joey had a bit of reputation for rehoming things.

"Best not," Joey grinned.

She then presented her with a small candle and put it on the cake, lighting it with a match.

"Where did you get those?" Charlie wondered.

Matches were naturally prohibited items.

"Smokers can be really careless," Joey told her. "Especially when they're staff and not meant to be sneaking out."

She gave her usual, cheeky grin. Charlie hugged her again. When they parted, Joey sang happy birthday. She already knew what Charlie was wishing as she blew the candle out.

Next time… Adult Charlie enjoys a family meal while young Charlie and Joey spend Christmas together…