Chapter Thirty- Eight

How we made it upstairs is beyond me … but we did. Can’t remember undressing … can’t remember lying back … can only remember the feel of her skin on mine as she lowered herself down on top of me.

The feeling was pure heaven. Skin slipped together like silk… caressing yet smooth. Hands coaxed and guided, worshipped and revered, our bodies sacrosanct. Permission to touch left fingertips awed.

Kisses elicited guttural moans, sucking at ardent lips and throats and shoulders. Breasts rubbed against each other, squirming in their need for contact. Her hand slipped between our bodies and gently pumped the mound of flesh, causing me to moan deeply inside her mouth. Hips rhythmically danced against each other and the pressure was building.

She was between my legs … the same legs that were clutching her … one leg around her waist pulling her deeper. I could feel her pubic bone chaffing my need, but I needed to feel all of her … needed her to possess what belonged to her … claim it and own it … take it with her fingers – her mouth – her tongue – her all.

My hand strayed to her arse and stroked it before pulling her in. It was firm and undulating blissfully underneath my fingertips. The whole action was rhythmic and controlled … an affirmation of the spoken ‘I love yous’ from earlier. Mouths kissed … tongues wandered and breathing became laboured. It was perfect … a perfect connection … I could almost hear the click of us slotting together.

As she kissed me, I stared at her face willing her eyes to open and allow me to see inside her, and when she did I was lost … forever lost. The love and depth I discovered there was breathtaking and I physically felt myself draw in a breath in case I needed it.

Her hand came up and cupped my face, the thumb gliding over my lip and chin, the rhythm never breaking. I opened my mouth and snatched at it, capturing it between my lips and sucked it in. Blue eyes flickered closed and then opened again to expose the desire that had been hiding just below the surface … primitive … unabashed … yearning. The same desire that cascaded throughout my body. I thought I was going to lose control.

Her thumb was replaced by her mouth and I wanted to climb inside … crawl down deep inside her and stay there. Hide up. Camp there inside her chest … claim squatter’s rights … just needed to be with her … needed to become a part of her.

Then the lips were gone and my mouth felt robbed of hers … felt cheated and exposed, until … there they were … on my neck … on my shoulders … my collarbone and then on to my breasts. My hand threaded itself into her hair, as my other hand left her backside and stroked the small of her back. The movement of her mouth on my nipple was agonisingly wonderful … short flicks and rolls, followed by sucks and holds.

I just needed her. Needed her. Needed … her … any way she wanted … any way she desired me … just craved contact … craved her.

Lips on my belly, sinking into a fully alert belly button. I felt the dip and rise of her head before she moved further down … down … down. Her nose nuzzled my pubic hair before she ventured lower, delving into a promise of forever. A firm tongue parted me and stroked along my folds, my legs widening even more to give her access. It was so gentle, so tender, so slow, as it moved downwards towards the pool of wetness that was flooding from me.

She circled … and circled ... and circled, driving me crazy with the need for her to fill me. Lap lap lap … then the circling again. I was trying to push down on her … trying to make her tongue just slip inside. The pounding in my chest was becoming unbearable; my mouth was dry and I kept on licking my lips, sucking in air in the process.

Inside. Just a little. Push. A little more. Push … and inside fully. The moan shot from my mouth completely unreserved, my fingers digging into her head and pushing her face into me. I could feel the breath hitting my skin and dispersing like ripples in water. Her fingers were digging in the tops of my thighs, trying to ground me – stop me forcing myself upwards.

She waited a little while before she pulled it out, leaving me wanting again.

‘Please … Ash … please …’ The tone was needy and unashamedly wanton, but I couldn’t stand the emptiness … the void in me the absence of her tongue had left.

Then it was inside me again and I felt the sensation rip all along my spine and travel to my fingers, which were pulling at the tangled locks of her hair. Slow pumping actions … her head was rhythmic, but my hips were frantically trying to increase the tempo. The feeling of her eating me was divine … consuming all I had to offer … and it flooded freely from deep inside to coat and captivate her.

Nothing else mattered. Just her and me … me and her. Connecting. Her inside me. That was the only thing, the only sensation I was aware of … and it was building and building and becoming hazy in its quest to fulfil and to deliver the promise of ecstasy.

Have you ever had the experience of having it all, but it not being enough? Experiencing the ultimate connection, but needing more?

That’s exactly how I was feeling. I was so close, but there was something missing, a certain something that was stopping me tipping over into the wild blue yonder. I needed more from her. I needed her … needed to touch her, take her, make her feel what I was feeling. I needed her to share this with me, become one with me, do this together.

I knew we were doing it together, but I wanted her to know everything about me. I wanted to tattoo myself inside her, spoil her for anyone else.

It took everything I had to pull her away from my wetness, pull her up towards my face, feeling her body glide over my sensitive flesh. But the feeling of her mouth covering my own, the taste of me on her lips and tongue … God …

And when I slipped my hand between her legs to glide along her folds to feel how soaked she was … I knew this was what was missing. Our joining. The previous time we had made love paled in comparison to this.

Seconds after I had found her spring of desire she discovered mine once again. And then ecstasy began.

Stoking and caressing. Slipping along and pinching the engorged nub between fingers. Movement of bodies polishing the sweat into each other; breath on skin; lips on mouths; thighs between thighs. The rhythm was getting incensed … we were getting to the place where reality was fading, and all that mattered were the senses. The taste and touch and smell and sound and sight of each other.

The sheet underneath me was gathering and twisting: we were gathering and twisting. Breathing was becoming more difficult, but I still had to kiss her just as badly as she needed to kiss me. I could feel as well as hear the catching in her throat … gargling and staccato gasping and I knew she was on the verge of plummeting off the same edge as I was.

We entered each other at the same time, fingers slipped effortlessly inside to be greeted by the cries of our cumming. Walls spasming and clasping the fingers deep inside; bodies thrusting together and names juggled in the air in long breaths expelled from deep inside … from a place I never knew existed until this moment.

Perfect. One word. Perfect. This coupling … this joining … this connection of two people who have ultimately just become one. Perfect.

My mouth was dry, my tongue rough, my skin soaked. The rest of my body was totally drained and I barely had the strength to glide my tongue over parched lips, trying to gather some moisture from within as I did.

Totally contented. I felt totally contented and whole for the first time in my life. It felt like I this is where I belonged … where we belonged.

Ash paced a gentle kiss on my mouth before half lying on top of me, her fingers still inside gently pumping, eliciting mini shocks that rippled throughout my near comatose body, her free arm up and underneath my back.

I had one arm over her shoulder and held her to me, believing that if I let go she may vanish. The fingers of my other hand slipped out and rested on her mound, gradually cooling in the night air.

And there we lay … in each other’s arms … content … connected and finally at peace.

Sleep came in his quiet wonder and claimed us, taking us down into the realms of his kingdom where I dreamed of a beautiful blue-eyed woman who lay in my arms … a beautiful woman who I knew loved me.

Loved me.

Loved … me.

And I loved her.

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Chapter Thirty-Nine

In the morning, she was gone. We barely had time to talk about anything, and all I knew was she was leaving for Manchester that afternoon taking Spencer with her.

He was wanted mainly for murder, and now they had evidence on him they were taking him back to be tried there. It didn’t stop the charges I had against him though, but that was a different case altogether and he would be tried for that one separately … and back in Norwich too.

Ash gave the impression that things were not going to be easy for a while. There were many people who wanted Spencer sent down for a very long time, but there were also people who relied on him for their bread and butter.

Dangerous times indeed. Nothing like a frightened criminal to keep you on your toes. And there were going to be many of them. Read was in a detention centre, so I really didn’t have any worries on that front. The other gang members from Norfolk had either fled or been picked up for some misdemeanour or another.

However, that didn’t stop me worrying about Ash’s safety, as she was going into the thick of things.

The kiss she had given me as I stood at the door had been so full and perfect, and I had felt myself sinking inside her. It wasn’t hard or passionate … just … just … everything. We held each other, neither of us saying anything, totally content in each other’s arms.

As she pulled back and looked down at me her eyes twinkled again, but I saw the difficultly she had in raising a smile. It came out slightly crooked and even more beautiful than usual. I wanted to beg her not to go, to stay here with me, hide up from the rest of the world and responsibilities … so I could keep her safe and warm and loved.

But once again I didn’t say anything, just nodded my head like I had accepted the situation and I was giving her permission to leave.

‘I’ll call you when I can, ok?’ She placed her fingers under my chin and raised my face to hers again. A soft kiss on my lips. ‘Ok?’

I croaked out something that resembled a yes.

‘It won’t be easy for a while, but remember …’ she leaned down and brushed her lips across my ear, ‘I love you.’ Each letter scattered itself down my spine; each syllable danced on my flesh, and once again my voice failed to make any reasonable noise, but the words were clear as day as they were written all over me.

I love you. Bolder than headlines. Stark. Naked. Exposed and willing to die for the cause.

I grabbed each of her hands and did what I had always wanted to do. I lifted them and placed them on either side of my face, just to show her … to show her … I was hers … always hers. To show her I would be forever lost in her … my heart was forever lost.

The look in her eyes… God. If I could put that into words, I would be the most gifted writer in the world – past or present. I doubt there were the words to convey what I could see there. I don’t think they have been created yet … doubt there are the letters to craft such words, or the syllables to give these words voice.

But they were spoken just the same.

A kiss ... then another … then another …

Then she was gone …

… leaving me gasping for the want of her. She left … leaving me stunned and frozen to the spot. She left … leaving me there …

… standing

… with her heart in my hands.

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Two months. Two … months. Seven phones calls in two months.

I know, I know … it was because of the case. Yes … that’s the rational thing to think. She had said it would be dangerous to keep in contact whilst the case was still going on, and said it was an ‘I’ll ring you when I can – it’s too risky for you to call me’ scenario. There were too many angry sidekicks of Spencer’s to deal with, and she wanted me to be out of the picture for a while to make sure I didn’t get anymore unwelcome visitors. As if that was going to stop Spencer form getting put away for murder anyway. But Ash had said, if they knew I was connected to her, they might try and use me to get to her, as she was the leading witness.

Evidence they had collected in his Norwich apartment had been enough, and Ash had said they doubted they would even need to call Jo to testify to what she had heard … they wanted to keep that separate for now, you know, get him for one thing then be able to get another sentence on top of that one. If they introduced the evidence about what he had done to me then the case would become muddled … and the jury might forget things.

It was only on the fourth call that Ash actually admitted the reason for her taking the case in the first place. She had started the case with another Detective at the Met, and was going to help him do some research before she passed over the reigns to him. Then she found out who Spencer actually was … to say she had been surprised when she had figured out the link between him, Norfolk, and me would be an understatement. Her primary concern was to keep me safe.

And that’s why she came.

And that’s why I was called.

And that’s how she knew me even before I had turned around.

All the things she had said all made sense to me now … me being the link … her pretending she didn’t know about the Child Protection Act ... any copper worth their salt would have known about that, never mind a Detective Inspector.

But at the time I was too fucked up to even notice these things. The reappearance of her into my life had completely thrown me for a loop. And then the way she treated me … she had been such a bitch, and obviously I was no angel …

She had done that to try and detach herself from me … from the situation, as she said she would be good for nothing if she let her feelings for me cloud her judgement. And she needed to be on the ball … Spencer was no fool. Evidence of his earlier scrapes had shown her he had no feelings for anyone. Even his own mother had pressed charges against him when he was fifteen for assault. She had put up with his temper for years, but the final time he had beat her she had said enough was enough.

So, if he would beat up his own mother, what would he be capable of to a sister he had never met? To a family he had never met? And Ash wasn’t going to take any chances with my safety, even if it meant me hating her.

I asked her why she just couldn’t tell me who he was in the beginning and be done with it. She laughed. I got offended, and then she laughed again. Then I went silent. And she started calling me all lovey dovey names and making kissing noises down the phone. I just said ‘Tell me’ after each new endearment, until she sighed and told me that if I had known I would have acted completely differently to Read and it would’ve got back to Spencer … and then he would have known … and yadda yadda yadda … and had I ever seen a cornered rat?

Yep. She was right. I was crap at acting, always had been.

God, I loved this woman.

And God … how I missed her.

                        ***********************************************************

Work had been hectic at first, especially as I had loads to catch up with after my time off. I signed Sam Read off my books and had to pass him over to some other poor unsuspecting soul, who turned out to be Gemma Jackson.

She was a little off with me at first. I’d never got back to her after the fiasco at my house between her and Ash, even though she had called a couple of times and left messages. But I used the Turner charm on her once again, without being flirty this time, and before long we were actually speaking like two women who get along rather than just want to get into each other’s underwear. Well, Gemma trying to get into mine more like it.

Gemma told me that she thought Ash and I had some kind of history, but couldn’t get a sensible answer out of either of us. The chemistry was definitely there, in spades, and at times she said she definitely felt like a gooseberry. Like any full-bloodied female, she didn’t give up hope though, especially after I had denied there was anything going on with Ash.

All the time she was talking, I kept on giving her ears a surreptitious look. They seemed bigger, although I knew they weren’t. It was the thought of Ash saying they were that made me believe they were. Not a good way to get on the right side of someone if all I could do was stare at her ears. It was something kids usually do. And like a child I wanted to laugh and point at them whilst chanting ‘Big ears … Big ears …’ Very mature, especially because I have just said we were acting like two women. Two grown women at that.

At the end of our meeting I had the distinct impression she was going to ask me out on a date again, but I pipped her at the post and told her that I was seeing someone. Her face fell a little, and I wasn’t going to tell her who it was for too many reasons. But when she uttered that single word ‘Ash?’ so softly, I just nodded and she followed suit, understanding that that was it …

After a quick hug and a muttered ‘you know where I am’ she was gone, and I felt relieved for some strange reason.

But when work started to slow down and I had the chance to think about what was going on, you know, I began to allow the feelings I had been suppressing to rise to the surface. I tried to convince myself that she hadn’t called for nearly two weeks because of the case … but why not? I knew the case was coming to a head … knew the jury were out, and things were extremely tense.

I just missed her.

I had been following the proceedings through the news … well online versions of the news, as it was classed as a more local story and hadn’t really made it to the Nationals. The Manchester Evening News Online followed the events methodically, painting a picture of a man who was caught up in greed and cruelty, him being the cruel one. I caught a snapshot of Spencer being led from court and could just make out the striking figure of Ash hovering around in the background, trying to blend in.

Her face was facing downwards but her eyes were peeking up through the front of her hair, which had fallen forward. I knew she wasn’t looking at the camera, knew that she was checking on Spencer, but I felt like she was looking at me for some strange reason. And it fascinated me. Time and time again I would go back to the My Pictures folder and hunt her out. I had edited it so it was just her … and I would stare at the screen …

Maybe just trail my finger along the curve of her face, the same face I had held in my hands just before she had left.

Or to try and capture her gaze … those blue eyes to meet mine.

God. I missed her. Missed her smile, her laugh, her voice. Missed the way her eyes twinkled when she looked at me. Missed the feel of her, the touch of her lips, her mouth, her tongue.

And I wanted to pick up the phone and call her, just to hear her voice and know she was missing me too. But I had promised … too risky and all that.

It was on the Tuesday morning that I couldn’t stand it any longer. I had finished all my paperwork and boredom had settled over me. The server for the internet had gone pear shaped so I couldn’t access any of my files, or the internet for that matter.

There was only one thing for it.

A visit to my sister, the dependable, nagging one, who had called me constantly for the last two months to tell me to get my lardy arse over to see her … or to stay with her, Craig and the kids for a while. We had only seen each other a handful of times since everything had blown up, as I said, I had kept myself busy.

Poor Jo. She knew there was something wrong as soon as she opened the door. Like usual, my sister knew me better than I knew myself.

The kids were sent to their rooms, and like sulking teenagers they stomped up the stairs to attack their CD players and vibrate the house. Two bollockings later, the volume decreasing to a mere thrum and pulse in the living room where I was sat with Jo, Craig having made excuses about tidying the shed.

Bless him. He was the epitome of a brother in law – solid, yet scared shitless of hearing anything that involved me and my relationships.

‘What’s going on, Lou?’ Just like Jo … always to the point. ‘Have you heard from Ash?’

It was bubbling away inside me, fermenting and threatening to spill over like a volcanic blast. All the emotions I had held down were clambering at the back of my throat. I kept swallowing repeatedly, hoping against hope that I could just tell her I missed Ash without all the amateur dramatics I was sure were going to follow.

And that was just from me.

Her face became more concerned as I sat silently, valiantly swallowing, clasping and unclasping my fingers around the handle of my handbag.

I nearly managed it. Honestly. I had just digested the last vestige of misery when she slipped her arm around my shoulders.

Then they were back. Over and out of my mouth in a semi wail and slamming against my sister’s chest in their fight for freedom.

She held me, shushing me, stroking my back in her tender way and letting me know without the need for words that she loved me. That she was there. That she would always be there.

I held on to her, gripped her, hung upon her like I was a frightened animal and she would save me. Again. Save me again.

It was a while before I could even contemplate telling her what was the matter, but just like Jo she sat there and held me and waited.

A feeling of peace enveloped me, a calmness I hadn’t felt for quite some time, and I just let it wash all over me before I could begin.

‘I miss her so much.’ There was no need to say whom, and Jo just pulled me closer making me feel like a teenager again. ‘I can’t even call her.’ Then I started to cry again, and splutter how unfair it was that I couldn’t see her or speak to her whenever I wanted to … how it wouldn’t hurt just to hear her voice now and again … like at bed time just to say goodnight.

Jo let me go on and on and on, and she didn’t interrupt, just held me and nodded in all the right places. But in the end even she had to ask why I hadn’t gone to find her.

‘Don’t you think I want to do just that?’ I sat back and away from her, wiping my face with the back of my hand. ‘But I can’t … the case … too risky.’

‘What case?’

Huh? Had my sister finally lost the plot after all these years?

‘What case? What case?’ My tone was incredulous to say the least. ‘The case. Spencer case…’

She interrupted my flow. ‘But that’s over. It finished in the early hours of this morning.’

The words I was going to say just sat in my mouth. And that same mouth was half open, my tongue hovering near my bottom lip forming the beginning of the word I had just been about to utter. Then it slipped back, the lips closing slowly, my face taking on a semi pout.

When I concentrate, I frown. Can’t help it. I couldn’t grasp what she was saying, so I leaned forward and frowned more. And Jo moved back … slightly, but noticeably.

It seemed like ages before the ‘What’s up, Lou?’ sounded.

I frowned more. I think I was stunned, you know, rabbit in the headlights syndrome …

Jo seemed a little uneasy, and I’m not surprised, I think if I had been in her position I would have been too. ‘So …erm … why don’t you call her?’

That kind of snapped me out of my trance a little, and I lifted my eyebrows dispelling the frown once and for all.

‘Call her? Call her?’ It didn’t sound like me. Distant and very reserved. And that was definitely not what I was feeling. ‘Oh … I can do better than that.’

I stood up sharply and snatched my handbag from the sofa. ‘Much better.’ Clipped and ready.

‘What’re you going to do, Lou?’ Jo stood up and placed her hand on my arm, and I just looked down at it and then back to her face. I don’t know what my expression said but she took her fingers off me like she had been burned. ‘Lou? Tell me.’

‘Are you sure the case is over?’

She nodded, and I didn’t even ask for any more details, just turned and headed towards the door.

‘What are you doing? Lou?’ I just kept on walking. ‘Lou! Answer me!

I stopped at the front door, turned, and looked her squarely in the face. ‘I want to find out why she couldn’t be arsed to let me know the case was over.’ I grabbed the door handle. ‘And also find out what the fuck she’s playing at.’ Door open.

‘You can call her from here if you want.’

‘I said I’m not going to call her.’ Jo’s eyebrows raised into her hairline. ‘I’m going to ask her in person. I’m going to Manchester.’

‘When?’

I smiled at her, winked and stepped through the open doorway. ‘I’ll call you when I get there.’

                        **************************************************************

Chapter Forty

Back home, changed, bag packed, in the car … and then I was on my way.

The miles were eaten up with mutterings of increasing anger, and by the time I reached Chesterfield I was livid. I couldn’t wallow in self-pity – screw that. I was fuming. How dare she? How fucking dare she lead me on and make me believe that we had a future?

‘Can’t call you … too risky,’ I mimicked in a sarcastic tone. ‘I don’t want you to be in danger.’ Same sarcasm. I can’t even tell you how many times I said that as the miles pounded underneath my tyres.

Images of the last time I had seen her danced in my head. The phone calls we had shared replayed themselves and instead of feeling the longing I had previously, the memories only fuelled my anger even more.

It wasn’t until I got to Stockport Road that I realised I didn’t know her address. The dawning realisation hit me as I saw the sign for Levenshulme and I closed my eyes and slammed my head on the headrest.

I pulled over into the car park of a local pub and just sat there wondering what I was going to do. I could have called her, but I didn’t want to alert her and give her time to think of an excuse. It would have been so much simpler if she was listed in the telephone directory. The only thing I could do was go to her parents’ house and ask.

Decision made, I pulled out of the car park and headed for Levenshulme … a place I hadn’t visited in nearly twenty years.

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Well, it certainly wasn’t hot and sticky, and promise had long since fled the nest. These days my imagination conjured up images that could be pretty frightening, and a lot of those had actually happened. The once packed streets were empty of people, just cars parked haphazardly – and I doubted children could play tiggy it and kerby, as avoiding cars would be impossible. Noise and pollution were the new black.

It was Levenshulme. Once an affluent part of Manchester, but now filled with students, ethnic minorities and a budding professional sector. The roads leading to Ash’s parents seemed so small and winding, and it dawned on me that it wasn’t because I was bigger now, because I hadn’t grown; it was because I had never driven here before.

As I turned into their road, I felt sick. Nerves sick, I think … but sick nevertheless. It was weird how the road seemed exactly the same, especially after all the changes I had noted on the way to this spot. I felt sixteen all over again … like I did the very first time I had been to Ash’s after the first time we had been separated.

After I parked the car opposite their house I just sat there and collected myself. I had been driving for nearly four hours, but it felt as if I had just left Norfolk minutes before.

I was still angry. Bloody fuming, actually. I didn’t want to knock on their door and start ranting and raving at them for something they probably knew nothing about.

So I sat and waited. Waited for a miracle to come along and make me rational … and I knew the only way I was going to find any peace was to knock.

So I did.

I got out of the car, walked up to the door and knocked. And then knocked again. Then rang the bell, and as I was just about to ring it again, the door opened.

It was Ash’s mum. Older, but still the beautiful woman I remembered … even though she looked pissed off.

‘Why don’t you take the bloody door off next time?’ And then she stopped and looked me up and down, a growing realisation appearing on her face in the shape of a smile. ‘Well I never … its little Lou Turner isn’t it? Well, not so little anymore.’

‘In the flesh, Mrs Richards.’ It was out before I could stop it.

‘Well I never … how long has it been? Twenty years?’ As she was saying it, she was peering into my face just to make sure. I should have known what was coming next, but I wasn’t thinking straight.

And after all those years it still hurt like buggery. She gripped my cheeks and gave my head a waggle and I was transported back once again to a time when I had a little bit of chubbiness to keep me safe.

‘Where are my manners? Come in, love.’ I couldn’t answer. So, I just nodded, then sighed with relief as she let go of her death grip on my cheeks.

The house was still the same, and I fully expected to see Ash come bounding down the stairs, and then remembered why I had turned up here in the first place.

‘Mrs Richards?’ She stopped in front of me and turned. ‘Could you give me Ash’s address?’ I tried to keep my voice light, you know, not let any emotion trickle through.

‘No.’ I looked at her, surprised to say the least. ‘Not until you have a cuppa with me and tell me what you’ve been up to.’ Then she walked through into the kitchen, leaving me a little gobsmacked.

I waited patiently whilst she was pouring the tea … even laughed and nodded in all the right places, but all I wanted to do was to find Ash. I went through her quick fire round with no problems until she asked ‘Are you seeing anyone?’

The teacup seemed huge and clunky as I raised it to my lips to moisten my suddenly dry mouth. She leaned forward, expectant, so I just nodded as I was swallowing, then changed it to a shake of the head.

‘Make your mind up … are you or not?’ I could spy a slight smile at the corner of her mouth. The answer I wanted to say was yes, obviously, but with things how they were, how could I? Ash had not contacted me for two weeks and then I found out the case was over …

‘I always hoped you’d become a Richards.’

I looked up from my cup and smiled at her. I remember one of her sons having a bit of a crush on me when we were kids, but that was a long time ago.

‘It would have been lovely to have you in the family, but I could tell you weren’t interested in Anthony or Stephen … even though Stephen thought you were the bee’s knees.’ She sighed and picked up her cup, and I followed suit taking a good long drink hoping to finish it so I could get away. ‘I really hoped you and Ash could’ve got together.’

The tea shot out of my mouth and nostrils like a water hose, half choking me on the way out. I coughed and spluttered, wheezing a stuttered ‘What?’ as tears streamed down my face. Mrs Richards came round the table and thumped me on the back … repeatedly, which did nothing for the coughing … just increased the tears.

With a final intake of breath, the coughing subsided, my face the colour of beetroot through embarrassment and exertion.

‘Are you okay now?’ Her face was dangling in front of my own, and all I could muster was a half-hearted nod. ‘Sorry about that … I always thought you two … ah … well … you know.’ I looked at her, wiping my eyes, but silently asking her to go on. ‘I thought you two were a couple when you were teenagers. And when you left, I thought Ash was going to pine away to nothing.’ She lifted the teapot up and gestured … I nodded as my throat was like sandpaper.

She didn’t speak whilst she was pouring, just concentrated on the job at hand. It seemed like forever to fill two small cups …

‘Everyone was really worried about her … and one day she just walked into the front room, announced she was gay, and walked out the front door. We didn’t see her for three days.’ She slipped the cup over to me and then concentrated on putting sugar in her own as if what she had just said was completely normal.

‘And?’

‘And what?’

‘What happened? Where did she go?’

Mrs Richards shrugged her shoulders, ‘She wouldn’t say. We were so worried about her, that by the time she came back, the announcement she’d made didn’t seem to matter.’ The tea she was stirring was whizzing around the cup, the spoon making a grating noise.

I didn’t know how to reply. Just sat there, cup in hand.

‘It was just good to see Ash happy again.’

‘Why? Did she come back happy?’ I felt a little annoyed at this, although I have no idea why. It was twenty years ago after all.

‘Not then … she was still a miserable little bleeder. I mean when she came back from Norfolk.’ A greying eyebrow raised itself into nearly grey hair, the smile playing around her lips. Then she took a tentative sip at her tea, and I sat and waited. Again. ‘Ah ... that’s a lovely brew, if I do say so myself.’ Another sip, and I felt like shouting at her to put the bloody cup down and tell me.

But she still had that evil streak running through her, the one I found funny when she was tormenting her sons and husband … and Ash of course. She was waiting for me to ask her, and I wasn’t backwards in coming forwards. I would play her game.

‘What do you mean, “When she came back from Norfolk”? About the case?’ I leaned forward and gave her a crooked smile whilst inside I wanted her to just tell me what I wanted to hear.

‘No. That’s not what I meant.’ She leaned towards me mirroring the same smile. Then nothing.

Bollocks.

I was getting too old for this.

‘Well. Could you tell me what you do mean then?’

‘Yes.’ Another pause.

‘Pack it in and tell me.’ Patience had gone out of the window and was replaced by definite need to know.

And just like her daughter, she threw her head back and laughed. Laughed until tears pushed themselves over her eyelids and charged willy-nilly down her face. Then I laughed right along with her. Don’t know why … just did. But like laughter in that situation, it wasn’t long until I was sobbing into the tablecloth.

Her hand was comforting on my shoulders. Smooth strokes from left to right, sandwiched between a gentle circling motion. A shushing sound was right next to my ear, and I could hear her saying my name over and over again, willing me to ‘dry those tears’.

But it had become too much. The anger. The frustration. The needing to know one way or another. And the dam burst. And I was left sobbing my desolation into white linen.

It didn’t last for long, just a short burst to alleviate the emotions whirring around inside me. Like usual. All I seemed to do was cry.

When I eventually pulled myself together enough to look up, she was sat down in the chair next to me, her face radiating motherly comfort.

‘I’m sorry, Lou. I’m an evil old bugger sometimes … ask the kids.’ I pursed my lips in an attempt to say it didn’t matter, but still didn’t trust myself enough with my voice. So I shook my head and gave her a watery smile in compensation.

Her hand covered my own and gripped it firmly before she just held it in her own. It was so warm and comforting to just sit there for a while without the burden of words. ‘When she came back from Norfolk, she seemed like the Ash we all knew … the happy Ash. It was like she had laid the ghosts to rest.’

I kept quiet. Just listened.

‘She was busy with the case … you know … the Spencer one, so we didn’t see her as much as we wanted.’ Another squeeze on my hand. ‘But when we did, she was full of what had happened in Norfolk … full of meeting you again.’

The she got up and walked over to the kitchen counter. I could hear her rummaging about in the drawers looking for something, and then she was back. A piece of paper slipped over to me, her aged fingers half covering it. ‘This is what you want. Go and ask her yourself, it’s not up to me to tell you.’

Tentative fingers tugged at the corner, until I felt it within my hand. It was her address. Heaton Chapel. If I left there right away, I would be standing on her doorstep in just over ten minutes … less if I floored it.

But I hesitated, just slightly, as I was still mesmerised by the address sitting so innocently in the palm of my hand. It took a nudge and a ‘Well … what are you waiting for?’ to kick start me.

‘Nothing. Nothing at all.’ I leaned forward and pecked her on the cheek, was just about to up and leave when I turned a grabbed her in a fierce hug. ‘Thank you … so much.’

She hugged me back and I could hear the muffled, ‘Whatever for?’

‘Everything.’

And then I was gone. Door slamming behind me, car starting and crunching into gear and one thought in my mind.

‘Heaton Chapel, here I come.’

                        *********************************************************

I didn’t give myself time to think, just tear arsed it down the A6 towards Ash’s house. It never occurred to me that she might not be there, and strangely enough, I seemed to have forgotten the fact she hadn’t called me.

When I left Ash’s mum’s, it had been drizzling with rain, and by the time I reached Heaton Chapel it was pouring down. The rain bounced off the bonnet and windscreen in kamikaze pellets. Obviously there was nowhere to park near her house and I had to squeeze into a tiny gap two roads away.

I didn’t care.

I didn’t care that the rain aimed itself straight at me and soaked me to the bone.

I didn’t care that my hair was plastered all over my face, and water was trickling into my mouth.

And the only reason I was running was so I could see Ash again … because I didn’t care about anything else.

It wasn’t until I was stood … poised ... hand over doorbell that the realisation of what I was doing hit me. Why hadn’t she called?

Then I grinned … I could always ask her.

I had to ring the bell three times before I heard the chain on the door clatter and clink, the lock shudder as it was released from its haven. I sucked in a breath and waited to meet those blue eyes once again.

But they were brown. Dark brown. And pretty. And set in an even prettier face; a face surrounded by dark brown hair and attached to a slender neck and slim body.

And those brown eyes were looking at me in wonder, trying to figure out why a complete stranger was standing on their doorstep pissed wet through … and with her mouth open. A stranger who also had her hand half poised to ring the bell again … finger erect and frozen.

‘Can I help you?’ Such a musical voice … lilting and captivating.

A muffled ‘Who is it?’ came from inside. The voice, although distant, was definitely Ash’s.

‘And you are?’ The same lilting voice, but this time more quizzical and showing signs of confusion.

‘Whoever it is … get rid of them. There’s a bed in here with your name on it.’ The brown-eyed woman looked over her shoulder, and when she turned back she was grinning.

‘No one … I’m no one.’ That was pretty easy to write, but the actual labour of saying those few words was agony. I felt like a no one … I felt like a fool. Once again I had been lured by self-promise and hope. I hadn’t even questioned what Ash’s mother had said. Just thought … ah … well you know what thought did.

I could hear footsteps coming from up stairs and saw the base of Ash’s legs appear at the top. It was my cue to leave … to go … to just fucking go and not come back.

So I did.

I turned and I heard her voice, disbelief riding along the sound waves … ‘Lou?’

And I ran. Rain pelting me. Cold penetrating rain that tried to take my breath away.

Lou … come here!’ Her voice seemed echoey, distant. I increased my speed, the chill from the rain making me shiver. The coat I had on thin and flimsy against the downpour. But I didn’t care.

Her hand grabbed my arm and pulled me to a stop, swinging me around to face her. She was soaked, wearing a cream t-shirt and holding a jacket in her hand. We were both shaking with cold, but mine was laced with anger too. ‘Lou?’ A smile was on her face … an uncertain smile. ‘Where are you going? Didn’t you hear me calling you?’

‘Get your fucking hands offme.’ It was a stuttered growl rather than a command, and I qualified this by trying to tear her fingers from my arm. ‘Why …don’t… you …go …back to your bird?’

‘What bird? I don’t understand. Lou?’

She grabbed my other arm and held me fast, and I couldn’t even thump her. All I could do was try and wound her with words. ‘Her! There! Standing in your doorway! Why didn’t you just tell me you were with someone? Why just lead me on?’

 

The image of her standing there will forever be etched into my mind, joining all the other images I had. Rain pummelled down on her, but she just stood there, staring right back at me. Her hair was a tangled mess of wetness, clinging to the side of her face, her fringe dripping water into her eyes. The pale cream t-shirt was like a second skin, transparent and heavy; the jacket on the ground by our feet. Rivulets of water raced down her face and collected at the top of her lip.

‘Wendy?’

So. That was her name. Wendy. The woman who had what I wanted. The woman I could never compete with. Ash’s woman.

Her hands became limp on my arms and her grip all but melted away. ‘Wendy?’

‘Yes Wendy, for Christ’s sake … let me go.’

‘But Wendy …’ she released me, but I didn’t go … I was caught up by the look on her face. Confusion studied there, and something else …

I swallowed deeply. Licked my lips and began. ‘ You could have just told me, Ash.’ My voice seemed controlled. Tick. ‘I would have understood.’ A big fat lie. ‘You could have called me and told me … and about the case too.’ True … she could have. But I was beginning to have doubts whether the calmness in my voice was going to carry on or this was the calm before the storm. ‘Look. I’d better go.’

Her face was still in some kind of shock and there were traces of metamorphosis underlying the wrinkled lip and raised eyebrow.

It wasn’t until I turned to go that she stopped me again. ‘But Wendy is not my girlfriend . She’s …’

‘Your shag?’ The bitterness was back again. Laced with anger.

‘Don’t be stupid.’

And like the adult I was, I gave the perfect answer. ‘Whatever.’ I felt like sobbing. The rain was making matters worse, as it was steadily increasing in pace and rhythm, making words come out spluttered and deformed. ‘ “There’s a bed here with your name on it” … ring any bells?’

‘But she’s just …’

‘No need to explain anything to me, Ash. I think I understand perfectly well what is going on.’ And the realisation hit me again, and the tears were over and the choking sobs were out and damned mad. But I couldn’t be mad. Spent too much time being mad. Spent too much time hankering after something unobtainable and now it was time to let go.

‘Come here.’ Her voice was quiet, barely a whisper. Her hands were trying to cup my face, trying to get me to look at her. But I shook her off, desolation taking control. ‘Lou. Listen.’ She pulled my hands from around my ears as I was trying to stop the sound of her excuses filtering in and down to the aching in my chest. ‘I love you … shush … listen.’ The rain was becoming even angrier now. ‘Wendy is not my girlfriend … or ever likely to be.’

My face was soaked and not just with rain.

‘She’s Stephen’s wife.’

You’re shagging your brother’s wife’

 

The laugh came loud, but stopped as suddenly as it started when she saw my face. She was pissed wet through, hair clinging to her neck and cheeks … her clothes were like she had just stepped out from underneath a waterfall.

‘You are joking, right?’ Both eyebrows drew together as she said this.

‘But you said you wanted her in bed.’ Was that a whine?

Her head shook from side to side, the grin appearing until it developed into another bout of laughter. She stopped … tried to answer … then came out louder.

‘No! I’m packing. Bed and all.’ My face said ‘huh’, so she continued. ‘Wendy is helping me pack, and you knocked as we were half way through dismantling the bed.’

‘Packing?’ Did I squeak?

‘Packing.’

She stepped closer to me, diminishing the space I had erected between us. ‘Upping sticks and moving.’ Closer still. ‘To be with my woman … my love … my everything.’

Her hands were on my face by this point, and I didn’t struggle. They felt at home there; they belonged there.

‘To be with my reason.’ Her thumb trailed itself across my lips. ‘And that’s you,’ followed by a gentle kiss on the place her thumb had just vacated. ‘You.’ Another kiss … featherlike. ‘Always you.’ And then the kiss was deep … sucking me in … blinding me to everything and everyone apart from her. The rain melted away.

When she pulled away and looked into my eyes I was lost all over again. So much love. So much …

‘Want to help me pack?’

I nodded, the ability to speak completely deserting me.

‘Here.’ A jacket was shoved in my direction. My eyes looked into blue, which were clouded with concern. ‘Put it on … you’ll catch your death …’

‘But …’

‘But nothing. Put it on … no arguments.’ The scene from over thirty years ago replayed itself in my mind. Ash … younger ... but still the same. Me … still an idiot when it came to the weather. I watched her as I pulled the jacket on loving the sight of her as I pulled the thick red material into place.

The jacket was barely on my skin before she grabbed my hand and began to pull me along, then it shifted to around my waist and she held me to her as we battled through the rain.

The front door loomed ahead of us, and I could feel her slowing down. It wasn’t until we reached the gate that she stopped, turned to me and pulled me towards her again. Impulsively, I threw my arms around her neck and planted a full kiss on her mouth.

The kiss was an affirmation. A promise of things to come. Lips, tongue and teeth … melting and mixing with a love that had grown from a seed of friendship.

We held each other … held each other … held … each other, and without words told each other that this was forever.

            **************************************************************

And finally …

Within two days, Ash and I were back in Norfolk. We discussed the possibility of moving in together but decided we would take one step at a time. Many years had passed between us, and we had to get to know each other once again.

Ash had explained to me the reason why she hadn’t told me she was moving … but it wasn’t until I got home that I realised she had called, and I was a just a moron who hadn’t checked the answer phone before I had left to go to Manchester.

Some things never change, eh?

Her family had thrown a farewell dinner at her old home and people I hadn’t seen for years turned up to say goodbye and good luck. Her parents treated me like I was one of the family, and Ash’s mum kept winking and nodding at me all evening. I felt fully accepted.

Ash’s father’s toast was ‘To the future … to new beginnings.’

And it was … for the both of us, in some weird way.

I chatted with everyone, even Wendy, although I felt like a dick head. I mean … I had made a total twat out of myself in front of my girlfriend’s sister in law.

My girlfriend.

Mine.

Sigh.

Anyway, where was I? Yeah …

I chatted with all of them, remembering things from when we were kids ... remembering Tracy the psycho bird who had been jealous of something that was none existent. By all accounts she worked on Customer Complaints at the local supermarket … had three kids and a husband who spent most of his time trying to get away from her.

Talk about sweet justice …

And that brings me to Spencer …

Spencer had been charged with pre-meditated murder and had been sentenced to fifteen years in Strangeways Prison, with recommendation for psychiatric help. But, with the British legal system being what it is, he would be unlucky if he served more than ten.

That’s why she had wanted to keep the kidnapping case separate. The evidence and crime had been committed in Norfolk, and Ash had decided to move the case there, transferring from the Met to Norfolk police for the unforeseeable future.

The case was to start in six weeks after she moved, giving her time to collect information and evidence. The only problem was we could not be outwardly seen as having a relationship because that would jeopardise the case, and the jury would think she had coerced me into giving false evidence.

So … the ray of hope was Jo, of course. She was the real witness in the case, even though it had happened to me; I was useless, as I couldn’t really remember all the facts.

And Jo never forgot anything … apart from the reason why she pissed all over me when we were kids.

But … hey … new beginnings, right?

                        **************************************************************

 

Erm … And finally?

I know … I know. I said the last bit was the end, didn’t I? Well … I couldn’t really end this story with the last shot of my sister pissing all over my back … or could I?

Nah.

I should end it with a moral, but that’s cliché. What about a summing up? Nope. I think you get the gist of it all.

I could give you some advice. How about that? You would probably tell me to bugger off, so that one is out of the window.

I should really end where I started… you know …structure and all that.

But why look back? Why live in the past if your future is so bright and beguiling? We learn from our mistakes … true, but sometimes we don’t learn quickly enough. We end up repeating the same ones over and over again like some fucked up groundhog day.

I mean … some things you learn through age and experience, like don’t bother hiding under the bed when police pass your house, whatever your brother’s girlfriend says. Or that rabbits don’t hurt as much as broken bricks at the back of the head. Even don’t fight with your mum when she has Durbac and a lit cig …

But love?

Do we ever learn not to love? Do we ever learn through being in love never to love again?

I know to some people love is the ultimate four letter word … but do we really ever stop wanting to love and be loved?

Yes. In some cases.

But throughout the heartache and the pain there’s another four-letter word waiting in the wings.

Hope.

And I think that through this four-letter word, however well hidden, we can once again achieve the ultimate four-letter word. Battered and bruised … a little shy and resentful … sometimes angry and misplaced … but it’s there all the same.

So … what else to say?

Me. Well I went through stages of wanting it all, to wanting it all to end … wanting the pain of being in love to stop. Love is an agony of want and desire and rejection – true.

But what if it’s the real deal … you know … what if she’s the one? What if the person you love loves you back?

Do you say ‘No thanks. I had some earlier’?

Or do you take love in both your hands and pull it to you… cup it … support and protect it? Do you nurture it, then watch it grow and grow and grow?

Simply … yes.

We should take what we can from life and should give back just as much, because if we don’t … what’s the point?

Ash and me … well … eventually we got there. Took us most of our lives to realise, but I wouldn’t go back to when I was a teenager. Both of us are way past all that now. Life has afforded us experience and it has made us stronger … made us aware of what we have, and to cherish every moment.

And we do.

She has been in Norfolk for eight weeks and I treasure every minute we share. It almost feels as if my life started again when she walked back into my life. In a way it did, but I still have the foundations of my beginnings to build from. That’s what makes me who I am today.

We are still living apart, as the case is underway, but we see each other as much as we can. And it is bliss.

I love her, you see?

Love her.

And she loves me right back. I know because we take the time not to just tell each other, but show it too. Little gestures and comments … looks … guiding hands and soft kisses.

But I think you’ve heard enough about me and my life for one sitting, however comfortable you might have been to start off with … so …

I will love you and leave you, for now …

Mainly because I have a gorgeous woman reading over my shoulder and she wants all of my attention.

You don’t blame me, do you?

 

The End

Thank you for getting this far. If you liked it, why don’t you drop me a line. If you didn’t... have a good day J

fingersmith@hotmail.co.uk

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