The journey took Krystal back to her childhood. She had made this trip daily to St Thomas's, all on her own, on the bus. She knew when the abbey would come into sight, and she pointed it out to Robbie.

'See the big ruin' castle?'

Robbie was hungry, but slightly distracted by the excitement of being on a bus. Krystal held his hand tightly. She had promised him food when they got off at the other end, but she did not know where she would get it. Perhaps she could borrow money from Fats for a bag of crisps, not to mention the return bus fare.

'I wen' ter school 'ere,' she told Robbie, while he wiped his fingers on the dirty windows, making abstract patterns. 'An' you'll go to school 'ere too.'

When they rehoused her, because of her pregnancy, they were almost certain to give her another Fields house; nobody wanted to buy them, they were so run down. But Krystal saw this as a good thing, because in spite of their dilapidation it would put Robbie and the baby in the catchment area for St Thomas's. Anyway, Fats' parents would almost certainly give her enough money for a washing machine once she had their grandchild. They might even get a television.

The bus rolled down a slope towards Pagford, and Krystal caught a glimpse of the glittering river, briefly visible before the road sank too low. She had been disappointed, when she joined the rowing team, that they did not train on the Orr, but on the dirty old canal in Yarvil.

''Ere we are,' Krystal told Robbie, as the bus turned slowly into the flower-decked square.

Fats had forgotten that waiting in front of the Black Canon meant standing opposite Mollison and Lowe's and the Copper Kettle. There was more than an hour to go until midday, when the cafe opened on Sundays, but Fats did not know how early Andrew had to arrive for work. He had no desire to see his oldest friend this morning, so he skulked down the side of the pub out of sight, and only emerged when the bus arrived.

It pulled away, revealing Krystal and a small dirty-looking boy.

Nonplussed, Fats loped towards them.

''E's my brother,' said Krystal aggressively, in response to something she had seen in Fats' face.

Fats made another mental adjustment to what gritty and authentic life meant. He had been fleetingly taken with the idea of knocking Krystal up (and showing Cubby what real men were able to achieve casually, without effort) but this little boy clinging to his sister's hand and leg disconcerted him.

Fats wished that he had not agreed to meet her. She was making him ridiculous. He would rather have gone back to that stinking, squalid house of hers, now that he saw her in the Square.

''Ave yeh got any money?' Krystal demanded.

'What?' said Fats. His wits were slow with tiredness. He could not remember now why he had wanted to sit up all night; his tongue was throbbing with all the cigarettes he had smoked.

'Money,' repeated Krystal. 'E's 'ungry an' I've lost a fiver. Pay yeh back.'

Fats stuck a hand in his jeans pocket and touched a crumpled bank note. Somehow he did not want to look too flush in front of Krystal, so he ferreted deeper for change, and finally came up with a small amount of silver and coppers.

They went to the tiny newsagent's two streets from the Square, and Fats hung around outside while Krystal bought Robbie crisps and a packet of Rolos. None of them said a word, not even Robbie, who seemed fearful of Fats. At last, when Krystal had handed her brother the crisps, she said to Fats, 'Where'll we go?'

Surely, he thought, she could not mean that they were going to shag. Not with the boy there. He had had some idea of taking her to the Cubby Hole: it was private, and it would be a final desecration of his and Andrew's friendship; he owed nothing to anyone, any more. But he baulked at the idea of fucking in front of a three-year-old.

''E'll be all right,' said Krystal. ''E's got chocolates now. No, later,' she said to Robbie, who was whining for the Rolos still in her hand. 'When you've 'ad the crisps.'

They walked off down the road in the direction of the old stone bridge.

''E'll be all right,' Krystal repeated. ''E does as 'e's told. Dontcha?' she said loudly to Robbie.

'Wan' chocolates,' he said.

'Yeah, in a minute.'

She could tell that Fats needed cajoling today. She had known, on the bus, that bringing Robbie, however necessary, would be difficult.

'Whatcha bin up ter?' she asked.

'Party last night,' said Fats.

'Yeah? Who wuz there?'

He yawned widely, and she had to wait for an answer.

'Arf Price. Sukhvinder Jawanda. Gaia Bawden.'

'Does she live in Pagford?' asked Krystal sharply.

'Yeah, in Hope Street,' said Fats.

He knew, because Andrew had let it slip, where she lived. Andrew had never said that he liked her, but Fats had watched him watching Gaia almost constantly in the few classes they shared. He had noticed Andrew's extreme self-consciousness around her, and whenever she was mentioned.

Krystal, though, was thinking about Gaia's mother: the only social worker she had ever liked, the only one who had got through to her mother. She lived in Hope Street, the same as Nana Cath. She was probably there right now. What if ...

But Kay had left them. Mattie was their social worker again. Anyway, you weren't supposed to bother them at home. Shane Tully had once followed his social worker to her house, and he'd got a restraining order for his pains. But then, Shane had earlier tried to heave a brick through the woman's car window ...

And, Krystal reasoned, squinting as the road turned, and the river dazzled her eyes with thousands of blinding white spots of light, Kay was still the keeper of folders, the score-keeper and the judge. She had seemed all right, but none of her solutions would keep Krystal and Robbie together ...

'We could go down there,' she suggested to Fats, pointing at the overgrown stretch of bank, a little way along from the bridge. 'An' Robbie could wait up there, on the bench.'

She would be able to keep an eye on him from there, she thought, and she would make sure he didn't see anything. Not that it was anything he had not seen before, in the days that Terri brought strangers home ...

But, exhausted as he was, Fats was revolted. He could not do it in the grass, under the eye of a small boy.

'Nah,' he said, trying to sound offhand.

''E won' bother,' said Krystal. ''E's got 'is Rolos. 'E won' even know,' she said, although she thought that was a lie. Robbie knew too much. There had been trouble at nursery when he'd mimicked doing it doggy-style on another child.

Krystal's mother, Fats remembered, was a prostitute. He hated the idea of what she was suggesting, but was that not inauthenticity?

'Whassamatter?' Krystal asked him aggressively.

'Nothing,' he said.

Dane Tully would do it. Pikey Pritchard would do it. Cubby, not in a million years.

Krystal walked Robbie to the bench. Fats bent to peer over the back of it, down to the overgrown patch of weeds and bushes, and thought that the kid might not see anything, but that he would be as quick as he could, in any case.

''Ere y'are,' Krystal told Robbie, pulling out the long tube of Rolos while he reached for them excitedly. 'Yeh can 'ave all of 'em if yeh jus' sit 'ere fer a minute, all righ'? Yeh jus' sit 'ere, Robbie, an' I'll be in them bushes. D'yeh understand, Robbie?'

'Yeah,' he said happily, his cheeks already full of chocolate and toffee.

Krystal slipped and slid down the bank towards the patch of undergrowth, hoping that Fats was not going to make any difficulties about doing it without a condom.