Disclaimers: This is a work of original fiction, please don't use any of it without my permission. British setting, British spelling, punctuation and word usage.
Strong language and some quite graphic sex. If you're too young, living in the wrong place at the wrong the time or are easily shocked, then step away.
Any resemblance to anyone living, dead or redecorating is purely coincidental.
Synopsis: the fourth part of the Kit and Isabel series; you might like to read Hen night, Wedding reception and Honeymoon first, just so everything makes sense.
Kit finds herself in a situation she never expected, feelings things, both good and bad, that she never expected either.
Please feel free to email me at Ceri.Lloyd@bodleian.ox.ac.uk
Thanks to Sally who has done her fine tooth comb trick despite being ill. That's above and beyond the call of duty, girl!
If we're in a club, Isabel will dance with any woman who asks her. The way she figures it, if they've got up the nerve to ask, then it would be rude to say no. If they get a bit frisky, she'll point to where I'm standing or sitting and I have to look all hard and butch. I've found that I don't mind because when she looks that way, I know it's me she's going home with, me that she'll curl around in bed until we both fall asleep.
Jesus, that sounds emetic. It's going to get a little worse for a moment. Everyday I fall for her more and that astounds me because I've known her for so long and it never occurred to me to be in love with her before. Perhaps I can put it down to an overdeveloped sense of romantic self preservation: being in love with your straight best friend is a self-destructive cliché of epic proportions. That way lies nothing but heartache and unreciprocated longing whilst said best friend runs through a succession of hopelessly unsuitable and undeserving men. Better to nip that sort of behaviour in its post-pubescent bud. I congratulated myself on my perspicacity. But then what if your straight best friend turns out to not be so straight after all?
I don't know if Izzie is gay, bisexual or if it's just me. It wouldn't be the first case of a hitherto and subsequently heterosexual female falling for another woman. To be honest, I don't want to dwell on it too much for fear of it being like crystal: beautiful to look at, fragile to touch. I don't want the whole thing to come crashing down around my ears to lacerate me to ribbons. So you see it's not that much of a fairytale ending. Everyday there's a tiny but insistent voice that nips away at me, telling me that it's only a matter of time until I come home and find her stuff all packed up and she tells me, gently and sadly, that she's changed her mind. I try to ignore the voice, and some days are more successful than others, but I am always deluged with relief when I walk into the flat to find Isabel banging around the kitchen singing tunelessly at full volume. She hugs me and I try not to cling because there's very little that more unattractive than blatant neediness.
The thing is Izzie has done nothing to make me feel like this. She drops down into my lap, her arms around my neck, and she buries her face in my shoulder like there's nowhere in the world she'd rather be. My insecurity is nothing new; I think it's woven into my DNA, a twisted chromosomal double X present from my mother, a woman who has undervalued herself her entire life. The stupid thing is, in all the years Iz and I have been friends, I've never been insecure about it. So really I should try to get to the point and admit to what's bothering me.
Isabel left her husband for me.
When it comes to deals, you can't get much bigger than that.
Twelve months in the preparation, it took only two months to unravel. And I am the villain of the piece. It was bad enough that I'm a woman; what made it worse was that I was the girl who chose words over numbers. The only maths I cared about was the counted stresses over fourteen lines, the sextet after the turn. I chose Petrarchan sonnets over early transcendental functions, which to Isabel's maths teacher mother was worse than choosing girls over boys. I'd long ago given up trying to make a good impression on her. However, I'd always liked Izzie's father; I felt that with a different wife, someone quieter and more adoring, he might've had a chance to develop the wry and self deprecating humour I'd caught glimpses of when he spent time with Isabel and me. But he's spent thirty years married to a force of nature and like with all forces of nature, she casts a massive rain shadow in which any living thing would have trouble thriving. It must be hard to live in a household of women, especially three with such strong, not to say overpowering, personalities. Over the years I've watched him diminish. Apparently, he's a powerful man in his own right, hard to imagine as that might be. There was one time I did see the potential in him, however: escorting Isabel down the aisle, paternal pride coming off him in waves.
Weapons grade guilt is another family heirloom, passed down the maternal line like mitochondrial DNA. It doesn't take much to make it dirty bomb-up in my face. I might've been able to keep it under control when it came to Mrs. McFarland, but when it came to her husband, the image of his morning suited chest puffing out, his face bright pink with happiness, makes the stuff slosh around like liquid landfill. I am tainted and toxic. I can't even start to think how much the wedding cost him; I feel despicable enough as it is. I pissed all over his pride and joy as if it meant nothing. When could being in love ever excuse hurting other people?
I've tried to justify it, and sometimes I've done such a good job I've almost convinced myself. Isabel was trapped in a loveless marriage - well, loveless for her. Mr. McFarland's face wasn't the only one I remember from the wedding: Mark Fisher's expression of love and elation when he saw his bride had made me like him at the time, and despise myself now. Despite Izzie's protestations that she should never have married him, I can't wipe that look from my memory. Combine it with the father of the bride and I'm done for. There are times I've almost begged her to go back to him just to ease the abject remorse I feel.
Izzie doesn't act like a woman stricken with guilt. She acts like a woman who is finally free to be herself, and the relief has made her giddy. It's as if she'd been stuck on the same road for so long she didn't think about it anymore, only to be presented with an unexpected detour to somewhere much more interesting and congenial. She's not a girl to let opportunity pass her by, she grabs it with both hands and sees where it takes her. Her energy and enthusiasm are endearing and entertaining; sometimes they're even infectious.
I was slouched on the sofa watching the 6.30 news. It was either that or Hollyoaks, and I do have some standards. I can never tell the girls apart, they're all so young and blonde and pretty in that wannabe footballer's girlfriend way that does nothing for me. The men are all boys with strangely adenoidal voices and accents that aren't Scouse or Manc but geographically must be somewhere in between. Given the choice, I'd rather be depressed by roadside car bombs and encroaching sea levels. Not that I was concentrating on the news; it was on and I was staring morosely at the TV. Izzie came in to join me, as she always does, but rather than flop down next to me on the sofa, she put her hands on my shoulders and straddled my lap. I made a show of protesting.
"Iz, I'm trying to watch the news"
She made a show of pouting. Fuck, she's gorgeous when she does that. She has glorious full lips, and when she pouts, she sticks the bottom one out. All I ever want to do is catch it between my teeth and tug on it. Resisting was an effort. She cocked her head to one side.
"What's Mary Nightingale got that I haven't?"
"Besides a career in broadcasting - ?"
She ground her hips into my lap, eliciting a barely concealed groan from me. Judging by the smile on her face, the game was up. She was starting to unbutton my shirt when the phone rang.
She reached out to grab the handset. I sighed and was doing up a button when her hand stopped me.
"O no you don't, Anstruther"
Cordless phone in hand, she repositioned herself.
"Hello? O hi"
She mouthed the word Rosie at me. I couldn't help my eyes rolling. Rosie is one of the few friends who are still talking to Iz; she squares her conscience by never acknowledging my existence if she can possibly help it. If I answer the phone, there is always a long pause before a stony voice curtly inquires if Isabel Fisher is there. Heavy emphasis on Fisher. I make matters worse by cheerfully yelling Darling, it's Rosie. It's juvenile, I know, but it amuses me. If I'm going to be treated as if I'm Satan, I might as well act the part. I attempted to flip Izzie off me; she, however, had other ideas.
"No, just watching the news"
She placed the index and middle fingers of her free hand on my lips, winking at me before she thrust her hips forward provocatively, tucking the phone into the crook of her neck and letting her fingers run down to my chest to work on opening my shirt. I tried to push her hands away but she wagged her finger at me.
"Yeah, that sounds fab. I've heard really good things about it. Chrissie at work was raving about it - "
My shirt was undone to the waist, Izzie chatting away as if everything was perfectly normal when in fact she'd slipped a hand into the gap and let it close over my breast. I looked at the hand and then up at Iz, who was watching me, her green eyes bright and amused, her fingers circling the hardening nipple.
"How about going there for lunch one day next week?"
A yelp escaped my mouth when those fingers suddenly tweaked a nipple already painfully erect.
"I think it was a dog on the TV"
Bitch. I mouthed as much but all she did was raise a blonde eyebrow at me and move so that her thigh was tucked between mine. Bracing herself against the back of the sofa, she rocked into me, her face and eyes getting hotter with each thrust, urgency written in every gesture, every move. I could no longer pretend that I was unaffected by it. Her thigh was pushing bone, flesh and three layers of material into my crotch with an unrelenting rhythm and pressure. A burst of wetness soaked my knickers and was making for the linen of my trousers. Izzie was leaning so closely into me the silk of her blouse rubbed the bare skin of my stomach and chest. She was finding it harder and harder to concentrate on what Rosie was saying, her own replies had become distracted and monosyllabic. Finally she gave in.
"Sorry, Rose, I need to go - something's about to boil over"
She shut off the phone and flung it to the floor before descending on my mouth and literally taking my breath away. It was a fierce kiss, all tongues and teeth and locking jaws. My legs opened further to let her in. She broke the kiss, letting her forehead rest on mine, her voice a growl as she grabbed the front of my shirt.
"Take your clothes off, I want to fuck you"
It was an order you wouldn't argue with. Isabel topping me was, and still is, guaranteed to send a very definite message to the nerve receptors in my groin, and she knew this by the hitch in my breathing and the colour that flooded my cheeks. Needing no second bidding, I shrugged the shirt off my shoulders and started to unzip my trousers but couldn't take them off with her pinning me to the sofa. She released me and I stood facing her, slowly stripping off my trousers while she watched with an expression that can only be described as avaricious. A hand on one hip, the other hip thrust forward, I tried to reassert myself, not that I really wanted to, but it was part of the game. I was still in my bra and knickers. Isabel's voice was husky.
"Take it all off"
Bra unhooked and thrown to the floor, knickers edged down and stepped out of, I resumed my cocky stance. Hard to maintain when you're naked and a very beautiful, fully dressed woman is looking at you as if she wants to eat you alive. I trembled and pretended not to. But Isabel misses nothing.
O God, when she talks to me like that, her voice at least an octave lower than her normal register, and cracking at the edges with need, there's nothing I won't do for her. I turned my back to her and dropped to my knees.
That was it; she was on me, wrapping her arms around me from behind, her hands squeezing my breasts, her teeth biting into the nape of my neck. She tipped me forward so that I was on all fours in front of her, pushing my legs open so she could slide her fingers between them.
"Fuck, you're so wet"
I wanted to ask her if she was really surprised but I was too busy breathing hard. She ran a palm up my back to grip my hair as the other covered my cunt, pushing the heel of her hand up until it was against my clit. Deep intake of breath from me, a breath that came out as a sob. She drew the hand back down so that her finger tips were now sliding back and forth with the same rhythm and pressure as her thigh before. The fingers in my hair sometimes stroked, sometimes pulled before releasing completely to strafe a line of fire down the skin of my back, to slip under me and do the same to my belly. Isabel's dexterity was mind blowing; my mind was shot away. I was beyond the reach of thought, lost completely in sensation.
I reverted to the animal that lurks around inside us all; aware of nothing but my surroundings and the stimuli that bombarded me: the roughness of the carpet under my knees and elbows; the soap opera voices, clear and direct, as if they were talking to me alone, before fading to background noise; Isabel's scent, the clean, man made flowers of her perfume blended with something sharp, urgent and pheromonal that made the blood spicy in my mouth as I bit down hard on my bottom lip. I was infatuated with my own taste and smell.
Ah, but then I was beyond even that level of animalistic awareness. The sound that came out of my mouth was a strangulated cry choked off at the last second. Isabel was as good as her word: three fingers plunged into me and robbed me of thought, breath and, momentarily, eyesight. My arms lost the little strength they had in supporting me and I ended up with my forehead pressed to the floor. I could hear Izzie humming her pleasure as she withdrew her fingers only to slam them back in, laughing with delight at my ragged sobs. I was opening up for her, I could feel myself expanding with each searing thrust, unable to decide if I wanted her to go deep or wide. She made the decision for me, manoeuvring her hand so her little finger joined the others. The breath caught deep in my chest, bending my diaphragm and held there for an impossibly long time. Aeons passed, civilisations rose and fell into barbarism, tectonic plates shifted continents in the time it took for that breath to be expelled. Suns and galaxies, a whole universe of stars span around the pivotal point that was her hand buried inside me.
But it didn't stop there. There was another pressure bearing down on me: her wet thumb softly, slowly pushing into my anus. Fuck. Now the stars were in my head, behind my eyes, supernova and comets. I created my own gravity, pulling her hand in. My voice found me again, although all I could do was say the same word over and over. Please.
When the climax hit, it overwhelmed me, propelling me face down on the carpet. Izzie gently withdrew her fingers before stretching herself out full length on my prone body, knowing I adore the feel of her weight on me. Her voice was warm breath in my ear.
"I've wanted to do that to you all day"
I pressed my burning cheek into the carpet, slowly opening an eye so I could look at her. She was grinning at me.
"I was in a terminally dull meeting this afternoon and couldn't stop thinking about you. I had to leave at one point and go to the ladies to - erm - relieve myself"
"No, it's true. You hungry, baby?"
"Hmm, but don't get up just yet. I like having you there"
We were quiet for a while, the residents of Emmerdale bickering and fighting in the background. Fingers twisted in my hair, lips brushed my ear.
"I love you"
I sighed with contentment.
"I love you too, you do know that, don't you?"
"Yes, darling, I know"
That night I lay in the dark of the bedroom, Izzie beside me, gently snoring. Her hand was curled into a loose fist against my chest and I was stroking her hair, thinking about when I bought the flat. It was the most grown up thing I'd ever done, but even then it never occurred to me that I'd do anything other than live there alone. I'd never met anyone I wanted to share my life with enough to ask them to move in. Don't get me wrong, I've been in proper relationships, starting with Amy in my first year at university. Nineteen and naîve, I believed it would last forever and thought Amy felt the same way until after six months she left me for a thirty five year old bus driver called Trudy. I was shattered. Isabel came down on the train from Manchester to Southampton to hold me as I cried myself empty.
After graduation, the two of us drifted home and got decent jobs: Izzie in the finance department of an internationally renowned publishing house, me as an assistant to a small but upcoming literary agent. I had a number of girlfriends, some I tried hard with, others not so hard. Most of them were jealous of Isabel, one going as far as announcing I might as well fuck the woman the amount of time I spend with her. Izzie in turn thought that none of them were good enough for me. I was inclined to agree with her. Recently I'd just about given up on relationships, settling instead for easy sex, very rarely in my own flat. The last in that line was Isabel's sister, Rachel.
Sleeping with two beautiful sisters is like a story out of a jazz mag; a bloke's wet dream. But all I've ever felt was ashamed. I do sometimes wonder how things would've turned out if, rather than ignoring me for three weeks after fucking me, Rachel had acted more like the girlfriend she was convinced she was. Would it be Rachel in bed with me? Would Izzie still be with Mark? What if is a pointless game at the best of times, but is one that's likely to preoccupy you at three in the morning when you're already sleepless. What would Rachel have been like as a girlfriend? A nightmare, I told myself as I turned over; Izzie sensed the movement in her sleep and turned with me, her hand resting on my stomach as she snuggled closer. If I was insecure about her, how would I have been with Rachel, who spent half the time acting as if I didn't exist and the other half being possessive? A mess, that's what I would've been. I told myself I'd had a narrow escape as I took Izzie's hand and held it against my chest.
Rachel has a habit of appearing in my life when I'm least expecting her, and she looks enough like her sister for me to judge one against the other. I can't help it. Increasingly it's Isabel that comes out on top, which is how it should be. The last time Rachel did her appearing trick was when I'd gone to Homebase to pick up some screws. Iz won't come to DIY shops with me because, according to her, they are too redolent of testosterone and that's something she's put behind her.
"So next time a fuse goes, it's me that has to sort it out?"
"Well, you are the man of the house after all"
I let it go, but only because of the smile on her face and the way she kissed me.
To be honest, I didn't want her there if she hated it. My love of DIY stores is something I keep from her: a guilty secret. It's entirely possible that I like them for the same reason she hates them. There's something clean and honest about the smell of freshly cut plywood sheets, the rows and rows of multicoloured tins of pretentiously named paint, the unabashed symbolism of power tools and tool belts. My favourite section is where they display the handles; all the handles you could ever need: for doors, kitchen cabinets and dressing table drawers. Completely absorbed in some brushed chrome cupboard handles that wouldn't have looked out of place in a 1950's space rocket, I nearly smacked my head on the display board when I heard a voice directly behind me.
I didn't have to look to know who it was.
When I did turn around, I was confronted with emerald McFarland eyes; eyes that have always been able to see right into me, from mother through to both daughters. It was rarely a comfortable feeling. That day was no exception. Rachel was leaning on the bar of a shopping trolley loaded with decorating supplies: several tins of a deep red paint called something like Century Red, a roller, paint tray and several thin brushes, the sort you use for edging the light switches and window frames. I found myself frowning; to my knowledge, Rachel lived in Kensal Green. Surely there must be branches of Homebase nearer to home than this one.
She asked the question I was forming. I shook my head.
"Just browsing, you?"
"Painting the living room"
It was a scintillating exchange, I'm sure you'll agree; anyone who overheard us would never have picked up on the underlying tension, but it was there. It hadn't escaped my notice that a McFarland was breaking a family taboo: speaking to Kit "Home Wrecker" Anstruther. But then, Rachel has always been her own woman, even when she was a girl. She was never easily persuaded or dissuaded of anything. Taciturn and solid in comparison to her mercurial and talkative sister, she is actually far harder to predict than Izzie. I've never known where I am with Rachel; sleeping with her hadn't made that any easier.
I remember when I met Rachel McFarland. It was the day I met Izzie, not a day I'm likely to forget. I was sitting in my tutor group room, alone at a double desk. There were a couple of kids from my middle school in the group, but none that I really liked or got on with. The way things were shaping up, it was going to be a long and lonely three years. Then the loud thud of a school bag hitting the desk next to me hauled me out of my melodramatic self pity, and startled, I looked up into the most incredible eyes I'd ever seen: clear and shiny and intensely green.
"Anyone sitting here?"
I took in the rest of the girl who was smiling down at me. Blonde hair was hanging in two plaits at the sides of her head, and at thirteen she had already grown into the classical beauty of regular and symmetrical features. This was a girl who would have no problems being popular.
"Wouldn't you rather sit with someone you know?"
She looked at me as if I was a moron.
"Why would I want to do that?"
Years later she admitted she picked me because my hair was short and dark rather than long and blonde, and I looked like a ridiculously pretty boy, which was why everyone else was avoiding me. Without any more ado, she slipped into the empty seat.
"My name's Isabel, everyone calls me Izzie or Iz"
"Cool name. Is it short for anything?"
"You are so not a Catherine"
And that was me done for.
It turned out that Izzie and I were also in the same class for English, French, History and Art.
"Who have you got for Maths?"
"Erm - Mrs. McFarland"
She fell silent. I paid no attention as I was busy writing in the periods I had Maths on my weekly timetable. Double period last thing Friday: ouch. When Iz spoke again, she was trying to sound nonchalant.
"You any good at it?"
"Maths? No, I'm rubbish. Dad reckons I'm virtually innumerate"
She suddenly blurted out.
"Please don't hate me"
That surprised me.
"Why would I hate you?"
"Mrs. McFarland's my mum"
"O I see"
Not that I did, well, not until later. Then I saw why she was afraid, but by then I was too far gone to ever consider hating her.
Rachel was waiting for Izzie when we left school that afternoon. Two years older, she was a fifth year, and an older, broader version of her sister. Good at games, Rachel played under sixteen's netball for the county, goal attack; she was captain of the school team. I didn't know that at the time; all I saw was an unsmiling fifteen year old who grunted at Isabel and completely ignored me. That state of affairs was to continue for the next ten years. Right up until the night of Izzie's hen night.
I was in two minds about telling Isabel I'd seen Rachel. Part of me didn't want to make a big deal out of it; after all, I'd been given an unspoken choice and I chose Izzie, but if I said nothing and she found out, it would seem like I had something to hide and it would become the big deal I was trying to avoid. Family is a flashpoint for Izzie, as incendiary as any Molotov cocktail, and likely to blow up in our faces and burn the flat down. She hasn't spoken to her mother in close to half a year, and much as I dislike Mrs. McFarland, I hate to see the rift between them.
It started the day Iz came home from visiting them, red faced and close to tears. By her expression, I could tell it was a mixture of pain, devastation and coruscating anger. I had never seen her so angry; it made me anxious and I edged around the room, trying not to draw attention to myself. I didn't want to be either the cause or on the receiving end of her ire. But then the dam burst and her fury drowned in the onslaught. She was in my arms, sobbing into my shoulder. Mrs. McFarland, it transpired had, in the heat of the moment, done that thing you should never do unless you are prepared for the opposite of what you want to happen to happen: she had made Isabel choose between me and them. And Isabel, in a fit of righteous indignation, made her choice.
"I saw Rachel in Homebase"
I'd decided that the matter of fact approach was the best one to take; make it obvious that it meant nothing to me at all. It was a fool proof tactic, I felt. It wasn't 100% successful, however. Isabel whipped round from where she was filling the kettle, water splashing the front of her trousers. She swore before jerkily mopping at herself with a tea towel. Her face was flushed but she tried to sound moderate.
"Did you talk to her?"
"Only fleetingly. She was buying paint"
She was regarding me with those killer McFarland eyes. If I was a two timing fucking liar, she'd see straight through me. Any lingering attraction, hesitation or doubt would be written all over my good for nothing face. Even though I knew I was innocent, the scrutiny was still intensely uncomfortable. But then I saw a flash of something behind the appraising stare: a hint of the pain I'd seen the morning after Isabel and I first slept together, when she caught her sister with her hand down the front of my knickers. There it was, that trace of self doubt, that lifetime hang up that Rachel was cleverer, prettier, more popular and generally better than she was. How could I possibly want her when I could have Rachel? I took the kettle from her and plugged it in before wrapping my arms around her chest from behind. She loves to be held this way, and I felt her relax a little.
"I saw some great handles for the cupboards in here, they were so space age, you'd love them. Maybe you should come with me next time"
She turned into my embrace, her voice muffled by my shoulder.
"You can't lure me into Homebase, not even with the promise of door handles"
I pretended to be disappointed but was actually relieved.
Later, I tried to show her how much she meant to me, because words seemed insufficient; and this from a woman to whom words come easily, glibly so at times. I've charmed enough women into bed to be well aware of my abilities. But this went so much further, deeper, than that. It was as if I was aware that for the first time in my life, I had something precious and I needed to do my utmost not to lose it, not to ruin things quite as spectacularly as I knew I could. The other women in my life had been dross, trash, compared to the gold thread and exquisite silk of Isabel Fisher. She is the stuff you handle with white cotton gloves.
A distinctly robust and indelicate Isabel responded to me like an unleashed hell cat, scratching her nails down my back and biting me. I wanted to tell her it was me who had something to prove to her, not the other way round, but as I said, this wasn't the time for words. And besides, it's hard not to get caught up in that sort of passion. My plans for tender lovemaking were unceremoniously swept aside by a mutual desire to fuck each other's brains out. Still, I told myself as I watched Isabel come under me, there's more than one way to show someone how much you care.
The next morning I woke early. The main bedroom isn't overlooked and so I never bother drawing the curtains. I like it when both the sun and the moon edge their way across the room. A rectangle of yellow had fallen over Izzie, turning her back golden, warm to the touch. I moved a little closer to get a better look. Although not
as pronounced as on her sister, Isabel's shoulders were spattered with freckles, and I let my fingers join the dots, lightly so as not to wake her. Instead, I watched her sleep, her eyelashes, almost too pale to see, shone in the sunlight. Her eyelids were flickering: Isabel was dreaming. A lazy smile unhurriedly grew on her face. God only knew what was going on behind those eyes of hers, but I found myself mirroring the smile and I let my hand wander a little more firmly over the contours of her shoulder, her back, her hip. She was mumbling in her sleep, making small kissing noises, and I swear I heard her say my name. Emboldened, I slid my hand round so that it stroked her stomach before covering a breast, pressing it gently but firmly. The eyelids fluttered. As she neared waking, I pushed my body into hers and kissed her shoulder. With a purr, she came to enough to speak, her voice husky.
"What time is it?"
She stretched back so her body connected more fully with mine.
"Have we got time?"
I carried on kissing her neck.
"Depends on what?"
I rolled her over onto her back and lay on top of her.
"On how quickly you come"
"Carry on like that and it won't be long"
I buried my mouth in her neck, sucking and nipping the sleep warmed skin. Izzie let her legs open wider under me.
"We should ring in sick and spend the day in bed"
"Isabel Fisher, that has to be one of your better ideas"
She ran her fingers into my hair and grinned up at me. Yielding to the pull, I bent down and kissed her.
"What were you dreaming about?"
"How do you know I was dreaming?"
"You were making kissing noises"
"I was not!"
"You were too"
"If you must know, I was dreaming about you"
"Were we doing what I hope we were doing?"
She arched an eyebrow at me and said no more.
Eventually hunger drew us out of bed and we sat in the kitchen eating warmed up leftovers, Izzie in one my T-shirts. It was on inside out, I could see the seams at the collar and sleeves. She was drinking from a mug with a picture of Bagpuss on it. Bagpuss and the mice were at odds with the contemplative, rather serious look on her face. I nervously took a sip from my own mug, Scooby Doo and Shaggy yelping with obvious cowardice and fright. I cleared my throat of the sudden constriction.
"What's up, Wiz?"
She shook her head and smiled at me. Such a warm, intimate smile. Putting down the mug, she took my hand.
"I've been thinking"
That is never a phrase that inspires confidence in me. Irrational terror, more like. It must've been written on my face, as she reached out and cupped my cheek.
"Don't look so worried, darling"
I tried to be brave.
"So - so what have you been thinking?"
"About my name. I can't really go on calling myself Fisher and I don't think I want to go back to being McFarland. Not after the way they've been about you - "
"You can't really blame them, Iz. They only want what they think is right for you"
"Yeah, staying married to a man I don't love"
"I'm just saying"
"Anyway, I don't want to be a McFarland"
She fell quiet for a moment, like she was collecting herself, getting up the nerve for something. When she spoke, she sounded hesitant.
"What if I took your name?"
"Isabel Anstruther? It has a ring to it"
"I'm serious, Kit"
Meeting her eyes, I saw that she was. She was serious and uncertain and vulnerable. It had never occurred to me that she might suffer the same insecurities as me. She'd grabbed this change in her life with such apparent conviction, I thought she hadn't questioned it at all. I would never admit it, but a large part of me had been waiting for her to wake up one morning and decide the ride, fun and exciting as it had been, was now over. Strange as it might seem, knowing that Isabel shared even an iota of my insecurity made me feel better. It made everything more real. I took both her hands in mine.
"Maybe we could choose an entirely new one that we could share"
She laughed with delight.
"What about Catherine and Isabel Bagpuss?"
"Is that with a hyphen or not?"
I used to know a girl who had a five year plan; everything was laid out to a time table so intricate, it would've shamed Mussolini. But she never factored in the unexpected: the unforeseen job opportunities, falling in or out of love. I was never as structured as her, I hardly know what I'm doing in the next five minutes, let alone the next five years, but I thought I had a good idea of the way things were going. I was settling into what could become a comfortable rut of a job I liked and a private life that occasionally bordered on the exciting but was mostly unexceptional. However, life or fate, or whatever you want to call it, never plays by the same rules as the rest of us. I can't say Isabel breezed into my life and shook it up because she was there already, but life got shaken all the same, and like a snow globe, I have to wait for the pieces to settle before I can see what the picture is. And the thrill is in that waiting.
And yes, I'm beset by enough insecurity to make Woody Allen seem sanguine and well adjusted, and I know it's not going away any time soon, but I remember the first time Isabel put her hands on my body and it was as if a switch had been thrown. I couldn't, and more importantly wouldn't, ever see her in the same way again. When she moved her clothes into my wardrobe and her toiletries into my bathroom cabinet, it was only because I'd willing made space for them. I wanted it like that because any other way was unthinkable. Waking up every morning, the snow globe clears and the picture is of Izzie curled up next to me, and every morning I'm amazed by the wonder of it.