Disclaimers: As always. I try my hardest to make sure there are disclaimers. If there were none, you would be worried.
Sex: This is a tale of women falling in love and if that includes scenes that elaborate this testament to love, then of course I had to include it. I know many authors out there manage to depict the love between their characters without the need to be so … so … in your face, as it were. Well, I am not one of them. Sorry. If I could stop my fingers typing out these scenes of graphic gratification, I would. Honestly. My fingers (the naughty ones) are not crossed. They are too busy conjuring up rude words. However, if you are too young to read this –STOP! I don't want any finger pointing and accusations of leading you astray. Also, if you are in a country that 'forbids' you to read about the female connection and ladies luvvin it up with other ladies, then either move or close this now. Sounds so simple when all I have to do it type it. I'm surprised I got through a whole paragraph without swearing.
Violence: There is a mention of cruelty to animals, but I haven't gone into detail. I just couldn't. It upsets me too much. Physical violence, whether to man or beast, is not big and certainly not clever.
Thank you: to you, the reader. Without your continued support I would have stopped writing a long time ago. Also, thank you to all the great writers out there who inspire us each and every day.
Dedication: My brother, Barry. Miss you, bro. And not forgetting my fur balls. Love you, fellas.
Language: I have to admit my characters are foul mouthed little buggers, especially the narrator. I would avoid using profanity if they didn't insist that I eff and jeff all over the place. Couple that with my demonic fingers and it is a book of profanity waiting to happen.
Special Message: The Dogs Trust is a fantastic organisation who rehome poor little buggers with only the help of donations to keep them going. Their motto is they will never put a healthy dog down and make sure each dog gets a second chance at happiness. If you have read my previous work, I think you will know I am very much an animal lover. I found by including the Trust in this story then maybe I could promote all the fantastic work they do for our best friend. If you want to check them out, click Dogs Trust . Maybe you could also donate a couple of quid – that could help so much. Don't worry if you can't, as I know times are tough for people at the moment.
If you want to let me know what you think, you can reach me at email@example.com If you like it, excellent. If you don't … sorry?
If you want to check out my published work, then here you go.
L T Smith
I can remember in vivid detail the very first time I fell in love. I wasn't looking for it – never planned on falling so completely under the spell of another. Considering I had spent thirty three years without knowing how this sensation would feel, I accepted it without question, without a fight. As soon as I looked into the dark brown depths of my intended I felt as if part of my life had suddenly found meaning.
Hmmmm. Love. Loveity loveity love. Strange to think I had hidden that part of myself away from all but finally bit the bullet and opened my heart to the only man I will ever love for the rest of my life. Considering I was a fully-fledged lesbian, it seems weird writing that. Before you say anything, or even continue the train of thought that goes along the lines of either ‘I don't understand. How can she call herself a lezza and fall in love with a man?' or ‘I don't give a fuck' – one of the two – please let me explain.
Men come in many shapes and sizes and not all of them will get my heart swelling like a microwave bag of popcorn. The male species are just that. Species. They can be mice or men, bird or bee, or they can, as I found out (or knew for quite some time) be of the canine variety. Dogs, to be precise. Or ‘a' dog in particular. A loveable, brown eyed boy called Charlie.
To put things in perspective, let me go back a little bit. I need to paint the picture of how I lost my heart to a wiggling ball of black and tan fur as soon as I saw him. That's the right thing to do after all.
January 2012. New Year's day. Noon. Hangover. Every single one of my resolutions already broken, and so was my cell phone for that matter. Seems that dropping it down the toilet, fishing it out and dropping it onto a tiled floor isn't the wisest move when it comes to technology. I would like to blame someone else for my stupidness, but it was all down to me trying to text my sister from the bathroom of Dixie's nightclub to ask her to help me escape the blind date from hell. Seems I should've done it before I'd downed eight vodka and cokes, but that would be hindsight wouldn't it.
Rubbing my head and wincing, I stumbled from my bed and went to relieve my bladder. Sitting on the throne, I contemplated the mysteries of life. Do a person's fingers actually get fatter when inebriated? It seemed as if each digit spread over at least three pads on the keyboard and made a mismatch of words – if I was able to read them in the first place. Considering I was pissed and sporting the metaphorical beer goggles, I still couldn't muster up any attraction for Cherie. Don't get me wrong – Cherie wasn't a minger as such, just … just … shallow. Lazy and shallow. Stupid, lazy and shallow. A little like me, by the sounds of it. Here I am saying I stumbled out of bed at noon, had buggered up my phone because I was pissed and wanted to get away from someone because I couldn't get pissed enough to shag her. Cherie could've been my twin.
Shower time. Sigh. The feeling of grime from the club began to wash away and be replaced by more memories of the previous night. Cherie trying to cop a feel at every chance, and at every one of those chances, me dodging her tentacles like I was on a firing range on target practice day. This brought on more vigorous scrubbing and a pledge to never believe my sister when she told me the woman she worked with was a catch, and to not drink vodka and coke ever ever again.
Three o'clock saw me arriving at my sister's house feeling a little more alive and ready to do battle. But upon seeing my niece answering the door with her toothless grin and eagerness to hug my legs, I decided the roasting over the coals could wait a while longer.
‘Happy New Year, Aunty Wellie. Me needs a kiss now.' Lily scrunched her eyes, puckered her lips and waited for me to plant one on her. Instead, I grabbed underneath her armpits and pulled her up. A yelp followed by excited screams shot out her mouth as I frantically slapped kisses all over her face. ‘Gerroff!' more squeals, followed by more kisses.
‘You attacking my daughter?' Abbie's voice drifted down the hallway and I stopped trying to eat my niece and glared over the blonde bunches on her head. ‘Go play, Lils. Aunty Ellie is going to kick mummy's butt.'
‘Yes. Butt. Go. Tell grumpy chops we leave in twenty minutes.'
Whatever question Lily was going to ask next stayed put, as what they were leaving to do was more important than being man handled by her spinster aunt.
‘DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADDDDDDDDDDDYYYY!' And she was gone, although the sound of her voice was still very much present.
‘Want a cuppa?'
I glared at her. I didn't want a cuppa. I wanted an explanation. Why had Abbie thought I wanted to be set up with a woman who had more hands than a poker game and more one liners than a nineteen seventies stand-up comic – without the humour, although, granted, most of them were laughable.
‘Before you start getting all pious, Cherie would be good for you.'
‘Lily, Elles, Lily.'
A demanding voice came from the living room demanding a ‘What?'
Both Abbie and I shouted a ‘Nothing, baby' and I continued to glare at my sister.
Abbie sighed and moved closer. ‘You need company, Elles. You spend most of your time either at work or working at home. Don't you want someone special in your life?' Not like Cherie I didn't.
My shoulders sagged. I knew Abbie was only thinking about me, but I was big enough to look out for myself. If I wanted a relationship, I would get one, right? I was happy in my own little solitary world. I had my family, didn't I? My job? What else did I really need?
‘It's been, what, eighteen months since your last girlfriend. Time to move on, hon.' Move on? I hadn't wanted to go out with Tina – that, once again, had been Abbie's interference. Tina was too needy – too ready to get the movers truck outside my door after the second date. Talk about the epitome of a lesbian relationship. I'm surprised she didn't order a turkey baster and a sperm donor from eBay for an early birthday present.
‘Stop. Ok? Just stop with this, Abs. I am not a charity case who needs fixing up.' I could feel a surge of anger welling up inside me. Why couldn't people just accept I was happy being on my own? What was the big deal about being tagged to someone else? Abbie opened her mouth to speak again, but I cut her off. ‘Not everyone needs someone else to feel whole, ok?' I watched a hurt expression flit across her face and even then I couldn't stop myself. ‘I don't need this and I don't need you. I'm going.'
With that, I spun around and left my sister looking stunned. I hadn't even made it to the car before I felt a hand on my thigh tugging at my jeans.
‘Where ya goin, Aunty Wellie?' I turned and looked downwards. Big green eyes were looking pleadingly up at me. ‘Mummy said you were comin wiv us today.' I opened my mouth to say I couldn't make it, you know, make up excuses to kids who believe we are not lying to them, but I couldn't continue. ‘Me's gettin a puppy.' A puppy? I felt a spark ignite inside me and it felt foreign, almost like what people would classify as excitement. ‘Mummy said you cud help pick her.' Tears formed in the corners of her eyes and I watched as one spilt over and raced down her cheek. ‘If you dunt come me won't get one.' Aw fuck.
Twenty minutes later we were all bundled in my brother in law's car and heading to the local dog pound. Rob tried to get me chatting with bad jokes and face pulling in the mirror, but I was too busy giving my sister the silent treatment to fall for his antics. Lily didn't notice the atmosphere, as she was too excited about getting a dog. Every time Abbie tried to get eye contact, I did the teen thing and huffed my body closer to the door and stared out of the car window with a ‘fuck the world' facial expression. Sometimes I surprise myself at my ability to be a knob.
Pulling up outside the gates to the Dogs Trust, I felt the flicker of excitement turn into a full blown raging flame – stuff the melodramatics. It would be difficult to say who got out of the car more quickly, Lily or me. Abbie approached me slowly, her face trying to gauge how I would react to her after my silent treatment on the way there.
‘Look, Elles. I'm sorry, ok?' She leaned her head to one side, her lips pursing in consternation. Moving closer, she almost whispered, ‘I … I won't do it again.'
I squinted at her, my expression showing my disbelief. ‘What was that, sis?' I loved watching Abbie squirm. She tutted before starting to whisper it all over again. ‘Stop.' She did. ‘I need to actually hear you promise me you will keep your nose out of my business.'
Another tut sounded before she said, ‘I promise you, Ellie, I won't stick my nose into your life.'
I grinned stupidly. ‘That'll do for me.' Reaching forward, I grabbed hold of her and pulled her close. ‘Happy New Year, sis.'
‘And a Happy New Year to …'
‘COME ON! Me wants me puppy!' Lily was tugging on the door handle with all her might trying to get inside with or without us.
Laughing, I turned to look at Abbie and Rob but was distracted by the arrival of a four by four entering the car park. The tyres scrunched over the gravel and the car came to a stop. I don't know why I found it necessary to stare. It was just a feeling of not being able to pull my eyes away until I saw who was driving the car. Call this a totally fucked up moment.
The driver's door opened slowly, as if this was a cinematic shot on slow speed. This action was succeeded by a long jean clad thigh cupped at the calf by a brown leather boot. Then another one. I watched as the legs stretched even longer and met the ground. All the moisture seemed to evaporate from my mouth.
‘Close your gob, Ellie.' Abbie's voice seemed as if it was a million miles away and riding to me on the wisps of the wind or a distant memory.
The legs moved away from the car door and made their way over to where we were standing. Those glorious legs seemed to get bigger, and my focus moved from the thighs to the hips, from the hips to a flat jumper clothed stomach, and onwards and upwards to the gentle sway of a very female chest. I blinked, as my subconscious must've realised it was rude to stare at a woman's chest – especially if you hadn't been formally introduced. So on came the view of a slender throat, a strong jaw, a crooked smile and the tip of a straight nose. My heart was speeding up, thumping wildly inside my chest as the expectation of the whole picture seeped inside my imagination.
‘Afternoon.' Such a sweet voice. Heavenly. Angelic, yet laced with something that most definitely didn't denote harps and purity. With a snap, I shut my mouth, my teeth clanking together like castanets. I honestly believed I answered with an ‘afternoon' of my own, but I couldn't swear to it.
Then she was gone. Dark brown hair fluttered through the door and left me wanting. I hadn't seen her eyes. I needed to see her eyes for some strange reason. To me, looking into someone's eyes allowed me to see so much. It wasn't just attraction that made me do it – I was like that with everyone. Shaking my head, I grinned stupidly. Me wanting to see her eyes wasn't for some strange reason after all.
Still grinning, I turned to speak to my sister, but realised I was on my own. What the …
‘You coming?' Rob was standing in the doorway waiting for me. ‘Looks like the ladies wanted to see other kinds of puppy dog eyes.'
Amazing to think he was just a builder and not a comedian, isn't it.
Once inside, I saw the back of the mysterious woman's head just in front of my sister. She was talking quite low to one of the volunteers of the dog shelter and I could barely hear what she was saying. Believe me when I tell you I was really trying – and also attempting to see what she looked like, especially the colour of her eyes. If the rest of her body was any indication they would be perfect.
‘What is the matter with you today?' Abbie hissed. ‘How much did you drink last night?' I grunted, and my incomprehensible noise seemed to pique the interest of the mysterious long legged four by four driver in front of us. I saw her slightly turn her head and I almost got to see her face, but the woman she was talking to asked her something and grabbed her attention once again.
Then she was gone and I was left feeling as if I had missed out on something totally life changing. Weirdly enough, I was not one for being overly dramatic, although with my sister, I was not adverse to the melodrama. Nevertheless, I knew I had to see the woman in full before I would find some semblance of peace.
Ten minutes later, we were allowed through the doors and into the back where the dogs were all housed. Seeing those adorable little faces nearly made me forget my quest and act exactly like Lily. Seeing her eyes wide, mouth open in wonder and inability to speak, made me wish for the days where all it would take to make the world seem right was the smell and excited licks of a dog. For me, that had been a long long time ago. I had promised myself after Toby died I would never allow myself to be absolutely smitten with a dog again for as long as I had breath in my body. He was my first and last pet – my special boy. The lad who had taught me that getting covered in mud and other unmentionable things was one of the most special times a girl could have. My relationship with Toby was completely different to any friendships I'd ever had before. Actually, in reflection, I suppose I had been in love before but hadn't allowed myself to remember it. It had taken me too long to get rid of the images of my loveable lad's last moments on this earth to open up the wounds of losing someone that meant the world to me.
God. The trust. The absolute devotion. The allowing me to walk him slowly into the room where the vet was waiting to end his pain. I still remember the way Toby looked at me – still remember the acceptance, the understanding. It hurts to think about the feel of his fur as I ran my fingers through it, loving the heat of his skin before the coldness could take over. One injection. Toby had the time to look at me, lick my hand and lie down as if he was just having a nap. I physically felt the crack inside my chest, the pain spreading like a plague to hunt down every memory of happiness I had ever had.
Leaving him there all by himself was even harder. In my head, he wasn't dead. He was sleeping. If I left I would be leaving him alone to wake in a strange place and look for his mum. Hard. So fucking hard. It was Abbie who had taken my hand and pulled me to her. Abbie who had held me as I sobbed out my loss. Abbie who had taken me home and stayed with me until I had cried myself to sleep. She had still been there for me when I had woken and remembered what I had done. I felt as if I had murdered him. The part of my brain that told me it was the right thing to do didn't seem to work.
‘Hey, sis.' Abbie's voice was soft and brought me out of the memory of sad times. A tear had escaped without me knowing and she leant forward and brushed it away. ‘You ok?' I nodded and sniffed. ‘If you would rather we leave …'
‘Mummy! Look! She likes me.' Lily was face to face with a Jack Russell, who was frantically trying to lick her through the bars of the kennel.
How could I do that to my niece? Or the Jack Russell for that matter. The little mite was trying to get to Lily in every which way she could.
‘Nah … I'm fine.' I ruffled Lily's hair tugging gently at a bunch. ‘I'll just have a look around for a bit.' Abbie nodded before giving me a comforting smile.
For the time it had taken me to conjure memories of my little lad, I had forgotten about the woman who for a brief time had absorbed my focus. It wasn't until I walked into the far side of the kennels that the need came back. She was kneeling on the floor with her back to me. I could hear her talking to someone, her voice cooing and gentle.
Stepping to the side, I saw the object of her attention. A Border Terrier was bouncing in front of her, his tail wagging wildly, a ball stuck in his mouth. I felt something click inside my chest as I saw the life and joy in the little mass of black and tan, but it was nothing compared to how I felt when he turned his focus to me. Sparkling dark brown eyes absorbed me in one look, the tail stiffening before going crazy.
I didn't even realise I was kneeling until I felt the dog leap into my arms, the ball forgotten, and a frantic tongue wiping away the remnants of my earlier tears. A laugh shot out of my mouth making the dog even more intent to kissing me hello.
‘Hey there, fella.' More licking and mewling noises. ‘Want to play ball?'
‘Yap!' Down he went and recovered the discarded ball, bringing it straight back to me. Plunk. It hit the ground and he used his nose to bat it closer to where I was kneeling. ‘Yap!' Snatching the ball, I bounced it and laughed as the little fur ball tried to catch it.
‘Charlie! Here boy!' That voice again – the one I'd heard only twice before but seemed to know already, forced me to drag my attention from the scrambling dog. Looking over, I saw the woman's face for the first time. Fuck. Yes, fuck. She was everything I'd hoped and more besides. I felt the breath catch inside my throat and my heart speed up until I swear everyone in the room could hear it. Charlie, as I guessed, stopped his chasing and turned his head to the speaker, then to me, then to the woman again. ‘Come on fella!'
Ok. She was attractive. Granted, she had the voice of an angel. And true … those eyes, God, those eyes. Dark brown. Deep. Soulful. It was also a fact that I was finding it difficult to split my attention between both Charlie and her, but let's slow things down a minute. She wanted Charlie away from me. We were only playing ball. Only having a good time. I felt the challenge rise and I slapped my hands against my thighs repeatedly.
‘Charlie Farley! Gissit! Gis ya ball-y!' Poor boy. He continued to look from me to her, his ball wedged firmly in his mouth. A flick of his tail showed me he was deciding who to go to – maybe because he was a sensitive soul who didn't want to hurt the feelings of the other, or, more than likely, he was contemplating who would throw his ball for him. Placing, delicately, his prize on the ground, he nudged it so it rolled between us. Obviously, I was up for the challenge and lurched to the side – unfortunately, so did the woman. Hands scrabbled to catch the red plastic ball and it seemed more like a scrum at a rugby match than playtime with a canine pal. My hand secured the orb and was shortly encircled by a strong grip. Sparks charged up my arm from the contact and usually I would have dropped what I was holding. But no. My ball. Mine.
Tug. Heavy breathing. Another tug, a grinding of teeth. More heavy, laboured breathing followed by an impatient woof from behind us. With a huge surge of strength, I yanked the ball towards me totally believing I would secure it. However, all I managed to do was tug the woman with it and be floored by the complete weight of her body on top of mine whilst smacking my head on the ground in the process.
Opening my eyes, I was momentarily silenced by the look of the woman now sprawled on top of me. Brown eyes widened in shock, her mouth moving in apology. Seeing her so closely was totally breath taking – not to mention the weight of her pressing on my chest, making it ache.
‘Yappp!' Charlie was next to us, his head trying to poke between our stunned faces and get anyone's attention. Considering he was the reason we were fighting in the first place, and were too absorbed in trying to read the other's expression, he was getting antsy.
‘Ellie! What the fuck are you doing?' Abbie's voice came from the doorway. I tried to squirm free, but I still wouldn't let go of the ball and neither would she. ‘You fighting?' Dark hair whipped over my face as the woman turned to greet my sister.
I watched in rapt fascination as the stoic expression changed into a wonderful smile for my sister. ‘Good afternoon. You two related?' Nice start considering she was pinning me to the floor. And why wasn't Abbie kicking my attacker's ass to 2013?
‘She's my sister.' For fuck's sake Abbie! Get her off me! ‘You know Ellie then?' I felt the woman's laugh bubble up before it burst out in to the air.
‘Seems like we are getting to know each other.' I squirmed as if to remind her I was still imprisoned under her. Brown eyes turned my way and she flashed the most beautiful smile at me. ‘Hi there, Ellie. Good to meet you.' Did I see her eyes twinkle? I gritted my teeth and was just about to give her a mouthful of unladylike epithets. ‘Can I have my ball back?' What was this? Some fucked up childhood re-enactment? Was I the evil old woman who lived next door who wouldn't give a kid her ball back after it had crashed through my petunias?
‘Your ball back?' Abbie moved into the room and stood next to us. ‘Hello there, little fella.' Charlie licked her hand and then turned his attention back to the scrappers. ‘I think she means your ball back, don't you?' She ruffled the fur behind Charlie's ears before directing her attention to us again. ‘Would either of you like to tell me what is going on?'
Momentarily, I relaxed, and in doing so I released my vice like grip on the ball. My jailor didn't waste any time and manoeuvred the spherical object of my attention away in one fluid movement. Then she was off me like she had bounced off my body like she would a trampoline.
Shaking her body, the woman turned to Abbie and stuck out her ball free hand – the one that wasn't a thief – and announced, ‘Emily Carson. Carson Property Developments.' So, she has a name and a business – who cares?
‘Abigail Culligan.' Looks as if my sister did. ‘And this one trying to get up is my sister, Ellie McSmelly.' Emily Carson's face scrunched in thought as she processed the nickname my sister thought highly hilarious.
‘Ellie Anderson, actually.' Did I always sound so fucked off and distant? Maybe I sounded like that because I had lost the ball and also the attention of a little brown eyed boy. Then I felt a scratching sensation on the calf of my leg and noticed that Charlie was trying to get my focus. I scratched the top of his head.
‘Lovely to meet you, Abigail and … Ellie .' Did she deliberately pause on my name to make me even more annoyed? ‘This is Charlie. The dog I am hoping to adopt.'
‘So, it's not final then?' Why was I being such a bitch? A totally hot woman was standing in front of me, the same woman I had needed to see up close and personal, and I was being a total twat just because she was hoping to adopt the dog I had met minutes before. I needed to get a grip.
‘I said …' Maybe the grip I had been hoping to get wasn't quite ready to be gripped. ‘You haven't adopted Charlie yet? It's not final?'
‘What do you mean by that? It's not final? I came here today to meet him and then you came and interrupted our time.'
I could feel a flame of anger welling up inside me. ‘Sorry. I didn't see the notice on the door.' I marched over to the doorway, swung the door back and pretended to examine it. ‘Nope. Nothing there.'
‘Ellie?' The concern in Abbie's voice should have given me a warning. I wasn't acting like myself. Maybe it was the effects of the vodka and cokes from the previous night. Come to think of it, I didn't feel well. My stomach was kicking off and doing a line dance to my throat. I knew it was the matter of moments before we all were greeted to the remnants of anything I had eaten or drunk in the last few hours.
‘Ex-cuse … me.' And I was gone - flying down the corridor in the search of the nearest toilet. Thankfully, my stomach waited until my mouth was situated within target range before it gave it the big heave ho and treated me to a rendition of Psychedelic Pizza artwork with a backing track.
By the time I had thrown up, cried about throwing up, washed my face and rinsed my mouth out, I felt a little better. Embarrassed, but better. Why had I wrestled with Emily Carson? Why had I almost challenged her to the ownership of Charlie? Charlie was a dog in need of a good home, lots of love and attention not two women fighting over his ball on the floor to his kennel. I should go and apologise for my actions – profess my stupidity on not feeling too good before shaking Emily's hand and wishing her well with her life with the gorgeous Charlie. That's what people do when they are grown up isn't it?
Walking back into the room where I had last seen Abbie, Emily and Charlie, I was greeted by silence. Where had everybody gone? So, I made my way back to where I had last seen Lily and Rob. No one there. Actually, it was rather quiet for a dog pound – no whimpers, no staff around. It was like a canine Marie Celeste.
Then I heard a squeal followed shortly by excited yaps. I made my way down the corridor and exited through a doorway marked as ‘Yard'. Not surprisingly, there stood Abbie, Rob and Emily happily chatting away whilst Lily played with two dogs off the lead. One was the Jack Russell I had seen her trying to kiss through the bars and the other was the main man himself, Charlie. Lily was throwing the red ball for the dogs to chase. Funny how Emily didn't have a problem with other people touching her balls – and that didn't sound right.
Watching Charlie playing with the other dog and my niece, I felt that glow all over again. Why was I so smitten with the little chap? There were plenty of dogs in need of a loving home, so why him? And why now? I hadn't intended on adopting a pooch when I had slipped into the back of the car earlier, so why was I contemplating fighting Emily Carson for Charlie?
At that precise moment, brown eyes spotted me. An excited yelp issued from his mouth and he sprinted over to where I was standing, the ball forgotten. Kneeling down, I cupped his head and scratched behind his ears making him grin and pant. ‘You like that, Buddy? Yeah … its good isn't it.' As soon as I spoke, Charlie moved away as if to go back to Emily, but then came back to me, before moving towards Emily again. It was a totally Skippy moment and I felt myself wanting to say ‘Is Billy down the well, Skip?' Instead I took the hint and followed him to where the adults were congregating. Time to be nice.
Conjuring a friendly smile from the depths, I stuck out my hand. ‘Hello. My name is Ellie Anderson. Nice to meet you at last.' Emily hesitated as if she was contemplating the action I held behind the gesture. Did she think I would pull her over and pin her to the ground? Actually, was I? ‘Seems like we got off on the wrong foot. Sorry about that. I have no idea why I did what I did.' Part of that statement was true. I wasn't exactly sure why I had wrestled with the woman standing in front of me apart from I wanted to get the ball thus keeping Charlie with me.
I watched in fascination as her sombre expression changed into something truly breath taking. Emily Carson had to be the most beautiful women I'd ever seen in all of my thirty three years. Her hand slipped into mine and I felt the shock once again, the same kind of shock I had experienced when her hand had covered mine in the ball fight. Instead of releasing our hold, we just held on a little bit longer than we should have.
‘Erm … no worries. Nice to finally get to meet you.' Brown eyes met mine and there was a question hiding in the depths. Maybe she as wondering why there had been a spark between us – or even why I was still gripping onto her hand.
With that thought, I pulled my hand away sharply and shoved it in my pocket. I wanted to stop staring at Emily, but I couldn't seem to tear my eyes away. It wasn't just because she was beautiful, it was something else, but I couldn't put my finger on what that ‘something else' was.
A small cough came from the side of me enabling me to snap out of my fascinated staring at the stunning woman and turn my attention towards Abbie. ‘Something in your throat?' I watched her bite her lip and swallow the swear word back before she grinned fakely in my direction.
‘We were just telling Emily about your landscaping business.' I wanted to say ‘And?', but held it back. I was trying to make an effort to be nice after all. ‘She has just bought Miller's Farm House and wants to sort out the gardens.' Instead of being happy that my sister was trying to pimp my business, I felt a deep urge to throttle her. She was doing it again – trying to fix me up with any available woman she could, even if they were straight.
‘Yes. I need to get it all safe for Charlie.' Talk about a double slap. My sister trying to fix me up with Emily and Emily rubbing it in about being Charlie's new mummy. Where did that leave me? Hankering after two things that would never be mine, that's where. ‘Here's my card.' And as if by magic, a neat little business card with ‘Carson Property Developers' stamped across the centre was between the tips of my fingers.
‘Oh … erm … right.' I went to return the gesture, but she held her hand up.
‘No need. Your sister has already given me one.' Yes. I bet she has. And a run-down of my life to date if I knew Abbie. ‘I've heard of your business before. All good.' I smiled and nodded, as I didn't trust myself to speak at that moment. ‘I'd love it if you could come to my place and have a look at my grounds.' Was she bragging? Just because I had only one acre didn't mean it wasn't prime land – or enough land to keep one pup very happy.
‘Sure.' Another smile to seal the deal. ‘Let me know when.'
‘Tomorrow too soon?' Shit. Yes.
‘Great. I'll see you there about one.' I'll call in the morning and cancel. Yep. My wonderful plan.
‘Could we make it a little later? Say three? I'm coming to see Charlie at twelve.' Go on. Rub it in.
I nodded and turned to look at the chap in question. He was seated next to Lily lapping up all the attention she could give to two dogs at once. It was as if he knew I was looking at him, as he turned and wagged his tail before yapping just the once as if to say ‘What?' Bless his furry paws.
‘Looks like he wants a walk.' Emily stepped in front of me blocking my view of Charlie. ‘Nice to meet you, Ellie. See you tomorrow.' And she was gone, taking the lad I had fallen for with her.
The car journey back to Abbie's was filled with the excited chatter of Lily. They were adopting Poppy the Jack Russell, although Lily wanted to call her Jessie J, something that would NOT be happening. With the Dogs Trust it wasn't just a case of saying ‘Yep. I want that one.' You had to show you were capable of looking after a pet and one of the main qualifiers was the need for a suitable home and garden. I grinned at this. A safe garden. A garden the dog could have freedom in but also not be able to escape from. Another grin. Emily Carson was looking to me to make her garden safe enough for a home visit so she could give Charlie her home and not mine. For a fleeting moment, I felt a little more powerful.
Abbie, Rob and Lily had to make a commitment to Poppy. They had to go to the Trust every day to bond with Poppy and for her to know them. Thankfully, their garden was safe and their house was dog proof. They were also very keen to adopt Poppy – another plus. I liked the way the Trust operated. They just didn't allow anyone to take a dog … the person had to be right and the dog had to be happy. This rule applied to everyone. Everyone.
‘Do you like Poppy, Aunty Wellie?'
‘She's an angel, Lil.'
‘No she aint. She's a dog.'
Kids. Gotta love ‘em.
After eating, Rob decided the football was in fact calling his name and scuttled off to the living room taking a sleepy Lily with him. She loved to curl up next to him on the sofa when he was watching TV, although I doubted she would get much sleep with all his shouting ‘Are you blind?' at the ref.
I helped Abbie clear away the pots and was the drier to her washing up. I knew she wanted to talk about something and I knew what that ‘something' was going to be.
‘Emily's nice isn't she?' I continued to dry. ‘She has a good reputation as a developer.' I slipped another dry plate onto the stack. ‘And she's gay.' Smash. ‘Watch my plates, sis.'
Kneeling down, I started to collect the pieces to what used to be one of Abbie's dinner plates. Without looking up, I asked, ‘And I suppose that just came up in conversation did it?'
Abbie joined me, dustpan and brush in hand. ‘Not really, no. It was many things that told me her preference to the Sapphic side.' She paused in her talk whilst she chased a stubborn slither of pot around the tile. ‘Her key ring for one – Stonewall. The sticker in the back window of her car – Stonewall. The ring on her pinkie finger …'
‘Was that Stonewall too?'
Abbie stood and smacked me at the back of the head. ‘Git. No.' I rubbed the spot and stood too, but she moved away to throw the pieces away. ‘And the way she stared at you constantly when she thought you weren't looking.'
My heart banged dramatically inside my chest. It seemed as if it was auditioning for a new play called Hope. ‘That means nothing, Abbie. People look at each other all of the time.'
A laugh shot out of Abbie's mouth. ‘True. But not in the panting “I want you” kind of way.'
‘You can “pfffft” all you want. It was totally obvious. Emily Carson wants you badly.' Green met green and I knew that Abbie wasn't pulling my leg. She might have been having a bout of wishful thinking, but at that precise moment she believed every word that came out of her own mouth.
‘I have to go. See you soon, ok?' Abbie tilted her head and looked at me. ‘Before you start match making, you promised me, remember?' Abbie sighed and nodded. ‘And I really have to go. By all accounts I have to look over Miller's Farm tomorrow.'
Before I left, I wished Rob a quiet goodbye, as Lily was flat on her back and snoring on the sofa next to him. I had just opened the door to my pickup when Abbie came behind me, her hands slipping around my waist and turning me around to give me a hug. Her soft voice whispered in my ear, ‘I know how much it hurt today. And how much you still miss Toby. We all do, sis.' A lump swelled inside my chest and I nodded against her shoulder. ‘One day, eh?'
A sniff, another nod and a croaked, ‘Yes. One day, eh?'
Upon arriving home, I went straight to the walk in closet in my bedroom. On the shelf above the racks were boxes full of memories – memories I wanted to forget, yet memories I wanted close to me. Boxes marked ‘Mum and Dad', boxes marked ‘Family', and a box marked ‘Toby'.
Pulling the last box down, I took it to the front room and settled myself on the beanbag, the box balancing on my thigh. Lifting the lid, I was greeted by big brown eyes and a toothy grin and I felt the tears well up ready to fall pitifully into the world. Gently, I lifted the picture closer and looked into my lad's eyes. If I tried hard enough, I could just make out my reflection in his pupils – younger, happier and smitten right back. Carefully, I laid the picture to the side of me and selected another. This time Toby was nine months old and racing around the garden chasing a cat that had decided my back garden was the perfect place to sunbathe. Not on Toby's watch it wasn't. A thick snorting laugh shot out of my mouth followed by a sob.
Each picture was like the pleasure pain theory. It hurt so much to see him yet it soothed my soul to know that I had once had someone so special to share my world with. Glossy prints of the best thirteen years of my life – every stage a reminder of what I had and what I had lost. It had been five years since I had said my farewell to him and five years since I had last looked at his picture. I felt guilty, almost like I had abandoned his memory, but it had hurt so much to look – hurt so much to remember.
Two hours later, I slipped all the photographs back into the box and closed the lid. Instead of putting it back on the shelf, I laid it on the coffee table. It was time to move on … time to bring Toby out of the dark and me along with him. I would buy a photo album, buy some frames. I wanted to see him again. Time, as they said, is a great healer, and although the pain never truly goes away, it does get easier to deal with. My Dad had always said that pets are here to show us how to love, and although it seems cruel that they are taken from us so soon, their love carries on. It is something we should treasure and not hide from. Pity he couldn't live by his own words isn't it.
I had decided that I wasn't going to hide anymore. Tomorrow I would go and see Charlie again. I know Emily wanted to be his mum, but I think, maybe, I could be that too.
You could say I was underhand about going to the Dog's Trust at nine o'clock the next morning when I knew Emily was going at twelve. Who cares? Not me. As soon as I had looked into Charlie's eyes I'd felt something click into place, something I thought I would never feel again. If it turned out the Trust decided Emily was a better option, then so be it. I would take the rejection well. I think.
The woman who let me in explained how Charlie had someone else interested in adoption and she didn't want me to get my hopes up. I smiled and explained I just wanted to see him, as I had seen him the previous day but had to leave before I had the chance to discuss me adopting him myself. A little mischievous side of me nearly dropped hints about seeing Emily yesterday and how she didn't seem to connect with the pooch. But, nah … that wasn't my style. Everything had to be fair and square.
Who am I kidding? It wasn't to do with being fair and square. I couldn't do that to Emily. God help me, I liked her. Was attracted to her. I mean, how many women had I known that had made me react the way I had to her? I'd never felt a shock when touching someone. Never needed to look at the colour of someone's eyes before then. And seeing her with Charlie … sigh. I felt guilty being at the kennel, but I also wanted to see the little man again. Just the once. Just to see if the connection I had with him was the same.
Approaching his kennel, I felt the same excitement well up. I'd brought my own ball for him to chase bought first thing that morning from the pet store. To say Charlie was so happy to see me would be an understatement. He was dozing in his basket when I arrived, his back to the bars, but he lifted his head and inquisitively sniffed the air. It didn't even seem he turned, got up and came to me – everything seemed as if it were one fluid movement.
‘Yap!' He was on his hind legs, his tail flapping wildly.
‘Want to play?'
Charlie lifted his head back and made a mini howling noise, his paws scrabbling at the cage.
The woman who had brought me to his pen laughed. ‘Seems as if you two will be ok to be left. You can play in the yard.'
Playing ball is such a simple thing to do. All you need is a ball and willing participants. It can last for as little or as long as you want – your call. Some people may think that throwing a ball, having it brought back, and then throwing it again is a waste of their time. These same people think that the half an hour could be better spent, even if it is used for sorting out the niggling things that life can throw at you. Not me. Half an hour throwing the ball for Charlie was the best use of my time. Watching him chase it, pin it, growl at it as he pretended it was his prisoner, then trot back grinning for me to throw it again – that, to me, was fulfilling. Seeing him nudge it with his nose when I pretended not to see it; hear his impatient yap; be jumped on and thoroughly licked with happiness – definitely not a waste of time. And in this short thirty minutes I knew, without the shadow of a doubt, I was in love.
Saying goodbye to him was hard, but I had to go as Emily would be arriving in just over an hour and a half. I wanted to speak to the volunteers about his adoption, wanted to find out why someone would give up on such a gem as Charlie. I left him with a squeaky toy and the promise of visiting him the next day.
After speaking to Sharon, Charlie's key worker, about why he was at the Trust, I realised that some people should be shot. I couldn't help the tears that came when I found out about the neglect, the beatings, the abandonment Charlie had suffered through the hands of someone who probably classed him or herself as superior to a dog. Charlie had been found scavenging through bins at the beginning of October the previous year. He was painfully underweight, had injuries to his back leg and open wounds, probably caused by being tethered, around his neck. Injuries like this should have made him wary of humans, should have made him fearful of trusting another person, but no. When the call came through by a concerned party about a dog looking like it needed help, members of the Trust had gone to save him. Instead of running, or cowering, Charlie had wagged his tail and limped over to them, curling himself into a ball around Sharon's feet. It was if he knew they were there to help him. Obviously, he needed medical attention – surgery on his back leg showed a fracture and a ruptured cruciate, eighteen stitches were needed near his right ear, twenty eight around his neck. They also found a wound at the back of his neck that suggested the owner had cut out the microchip that identified him to them. I want to use a very bad word here starting with a C, but I think you have already thought of it. Because of these injuries, Charlie's adoption had been on hold until he was feeling better, feeling more secure about the world around him. Even though people could meet him now, it would still be another month before he would be ready to go home with his new mummy because of all he had been through.
Sharon gave me a form to fill in, once again informing me that someone else was interested in Charlie. The image of Emily's smiling face flittered into my head and I felt guilty all over again. It didn't stop me filling in the form; didn't stop me taking the small photograph of Charlie and slipping it carefully inside my purse.
All day, I thought of Charlie. Thought of the way he trusted, the way his tail wagged, the way he loved humans. How could this be? How could a dog, who had so obviously been mistreated, open himself up for anything? Countless times I slipped his photograph from my purse and stared at his sparkling eyes, his grinning mouth; read the text at the side that introduced Charlie to the world ‘Loveable, friendly, playful.'
At three o'clock I pulled into the driveway of Miller's Farm. Seeing Emily dressed in cargo pants and a sweatshirt made my heart flip flop inside my chest. She was half way up a ladder and sanding the window sill to one of the upstairs windows with an electric sander, her ears covered with ear muffs. As she stretched, her sweatshirt lifted and exposed a very muscled back. I could tell she was strong by the way she manoeuvred herself, the sander doing her bidding. Watching her made a myriad of emotions flit through me. She was so beautiful, so captivating, so positively breath taking. Yet she was going to take Charlie away from me. Or me her. Guilt flitted through me. Here I was, her potential employee, stabbing her in the back when she wasn't looking. Why was I doing that? Why was I contemplating sneakily taking something away from her when she, in fact, had seen Charlie first?
Reaching for my purse, I pulled out the picture once again. God. That face. Those eyes. I felt the grin spread like butter and nodded at the picture.
‘BANG BANG BANG!' Fuck!
‘When were you going to tell me you were planning on trying to steal my dog?' What the fuck? ‘Sneaking over to the Trust. I know. They fucking told me.' I was glad my doors were locked as by the look on her face, I would be the next victim of her electric sander.
‘Charlie is not YOUR dog.' I watched her grit her teeth, tip her head to the side, clutch the sander more firmly as if she wanted to batter me around the head with it.
‘By the way – your mobile doesn't work.' Huh? Why bring that up now? ‘So I'll tell you to your face – get the fuck off my land and away from my dog.' And there's the answer. And as an aside, Emily Carson looked magnificent when she was mad. The smile sneaked up from nowhere. I didn't do it to piss her off; it just came to reflect how I was feeling. Even when Emily was threatening me, hating me, I just felt so good being with her. ‘Go on. Look fucking smug. But I'm telling you now, Charlie is my dog.'
‘But I …'
‘But you nothing. Go!' Instead of me going, she did. Spun on her heel and marched off inside her house leaving me staring after her. I had two choices. One, go. Two, go after her.
I chose the latter.
I didn't knock. Didn't announce I was there, just went inside and looked for her. She was easy to find, as she was in what was going to be her living room, her hands resting on the mantelpiece, her head bowed. I knew she was crying even before I reached her. Strong shoulders were shaking and soft noises were escaping from the confines of her hair.
Gently, I laid my hand on her back and braced myself for a bollocking, but it didn't come. Emily turned and wrapped her arms around me, her sobs nestling into my shoulder. I felt so protective of her, like I could stop her crying and make her feel better somehow. The only thing I could think of to stop this was to promise I wouldn't see Charlie again. I wanted to – God – I wanted to promise her that, but I couldn't. Not yet. So, I continued to hold her, stroke my hand up and down her back, comfort her with shushing sounds and small kisses intermittently placed on the top of her head. Her fingers dug into my back holding me in place until the time came when the crying eased.
‘I'm sorry. I … don't usually get angry.' A loud hiccough broke free from her, making her chest heave. ‘Or cry like this.' I said nothing. Emily pulled away and I saw the absolute anguish on her face. Her eyes were puffy and her cheeks were streaked, as the tears had cut through what I imagine to be paint dust on her skin. ‘Why, Ellie?' Brown eyes searched my own hoping to seek out the answer. ‘Why did you do it?'
I shrugged and pulled away from her. I felt embarrassed and not just about my actions. If Emily and I were ever going to salvage anything, be it friendship, a working relationship, or something more special, I had to explain.
Turning away from her, I found the strength to start my story. ‘His name was Toby. A Border Terrier. He was my best friend at a time when I really needed one.' I walked over to the other side of the room and pretended to be interested in an old table, my fingers running over the distressed wood. ‘When I first got him, I was fifteen years old. I'd wanted a dog for years, but my parents had always said no.' My story went on and I spilled each and every detail about my connection to Toby, why he was so damned important to me – so bloody special. ‘He stood by me when others didn't. Showed me that it didn't matter who I chose to love, he still loved me exactly the same.' I moved my head so I could see her. Emily was still in the same spot I had left her, her expression unreadable. I let out a huge breath. ‘When I was twenty, I came out. Told my parents I was gay and expected to move on from there. Abbie didn't care, I was still Ellie. My parents …' I clicked my tongue, ‘weren't so understanding.'
‘Oh Ellie. I'm so sorry.'
I shrugged. The time for that was well past its sell by date. ‘I haven't spoken to them in nearly thirteen years.' This wasn't about them, though. This was about the ‘why' – although maybe a little part of it was the reason, who knows? ‘Abbie and Rob took me in. Gave Toby and me a home. Got me on my feet again.' Weirdly enough, I didn't care about the rejection from my parents as much now. Too much had happened in my life to worry about their insensitivity and inability to love me no matter what. Unlike Toby. ‘I lost Toby to cancer five years ago. Well, euthanasia. It was the hardest decision I've ever had to make.' I was finding it difficult to keep talking. My throat seemed to have swollen and words were becoming trapped. Internally, I was begging myself not to start crying – not in front of Emily. It seemed of late I had opened the water works and I couldn't seem to completely shut off the flow.
Emily had moved closer to me, her face full of concern. Her hand kept reaching towards mine but stopping. It didn't take a genius to work out why I had fallen so hard for Charlie, although I knew he was not Toby, would never replace my lad. Charlie would always be Charlie and even if he did look his predecessor, there were so many differences between them both. Toby never liked red balls for a start. At that thought, I snorted a laugh that immediately turned into a sob. It was so hard to hold in the emotion, and I'm sure people who have never had a pet will be wondering what all the fuss is about.
Her arms slipped around me and it was her turn to be the comforter. 2012 was turning into the year of crying, as that was all that seemed to have happened to me since yesterday. But being held by Emily was something I knew I would never tire from. It seemed as if I slotted right into the circle of her protection and by being there, nothing and no one could hurt me.
She let me cry and didn't say a word. When the tears finally turned into gasping, she led me to the kitchen and plonked me down on one of the dining chairs. Emily moved away from me and I felt the loss of it immediately. The sound of a kettle being filled, the click of the switch, and she was back, pulling a chair closer to me.
Lifting my head I looked deeply into her eyes. It wasn't pity I saw there, but understanding. Her hand stretched out and she caught my fingers with hers, her thumb stroking the back of my thumb. I knew she was thinking something over, could tell by the way she nibbled her bottom lip, the way her eyebrows dipped.
‘Look.' She straightened her back but didn't release the hold of my hand. ‘We can both see Charlie.' I didn't understand. ‘They always say that it isn't a person who chooses a dog, but the other way around.' I still didn't get it. Call me thick - I do on a regular basis. ‘After the month is up, we will see who Charlie has bonded with the most, ok?' What?
‘I don't understand.'
A delightful giggle came from her mouth. ‘We will let Charlie decide who he wants to live with. But …' she leaned closer, ‘we will see him together. No sneaking off to get extra time with him, ok?'
I nodded. At least it was a start. It may turn out that after a month I was still no better off, but at least I would have a friend that loved the same dog I did. It seemed like a plan.
Two hours later I was pulling up outside my house. I'd looked over the work Emily wanted doing, and it wasn't as bad as we first believed. I should have it completed by the time D-Day would arrive. Although her house still needed some renovation, most of the larger jobs were already done. New central heating, new windows, roofing tiles replaced, plumbing ready and working. It was a case of cosmetic surgery. She would be working inside, as I would be working out. And because I was with her, it would be easier for us to visit the Dogs Trust. Together. Now that made me smile.
I couldn't start work at her place immediately, as I was still finishing off a couple of jobs I had lined up, but they would be finished by the Friday. I did have some other people waiting but I organised a couple of blokes I used on occasion to start them for me. All in all, it was all working out as planned. By Friday night I would be all hers.
Sleep was a weird bugger. It was elusive, yet when I did catch the proverbial forty winks my dreams were vivid. I would like to say they were full of me and Emily having a wonderful time – maybe walking Charlie or seated in a restaurant chatting and laughing. But no. They were the horrible ones. The ones that make you wake up in a sweat and thank God they weren't real just before you questioned if they were actually dreams. Images from years ago filtered into my head. The look of hatred from my mother, the disappointment from my father, the leaving my home and hearing the yells behind me. Not good. I can still remember the look Toby gave me as we bundled ourselves into my car and drove away. It was almost a question. Then the same look at the vets.
Enough. I couldn't take the dreams anymore. All I wanted was to put that chapter of my life behind me and move on. So, I got up, dressed and went to work earlier than usual. Thankfully, the work I was finishing off was for two new homes that had just been finished, so I wasn't disturbing anyone. I spent the morning planting hebe: Andersonii , Ellie and Mauve Queen being the main ones. I know … Ellie and Andersonii – I couldn't help it if they named the plants after me, could I? But I had to admit, I was definitely NOT the Queen of Mauve.
Before I knew it, it was noon. Time to go and pick up Emily. It was easier that way then we both knew we arrived at the kennels at the same time. And no. We didn't have trust issues. Maybe we were a little wary of the other, but nothing to do with not trusting each other. I had learned my lesson the day before and there was no way I wanted to see Emily cry again.
The feeling of excitement started even before I pulled into her road. I felt a tugging, wanting sensation deep in my stomach that seemed to claw at the lining in a vain attempt to be freed into the world and left to do as it liked. Initially, I put this down to going to see Charlie. But – I would be lying to say that was the only reason. Actually, I know it wasn't the only reason as soon as I spotted Emily waiting for me at the end of her driveway. That clawing sensation jumped from my stomach and into my throat. It created a bubbling sensation that made me want to laugh like an idiot and jump up and down with joy. When Emily caught my eye, she gave me that gorgeous grin of hers and I couldn't help returning it. God, she was beautiful. Seeing her standing there, the wind making her hair dance, those alluring brown eyes, that smile … Jesus. Could my poor heart take it?
‘Hey you. You're early.'
‘And you are waiting.' She thought about it before a laugh hit the air like music.
Soon enough, she was seated next to me and I slapped the pickup into gear and began our journey to the main man.
Sharon greeted us both, her face saying everything her mouth didn't. Charlie was already waiting for us, his lead hanging from his mouth and a manic tail giving us greeting. We decided to walk him in the woods as the weather was dry and we wouldn't end up looking like the beast from the swamp by the time we got back. It was weird us both wanting to hold his lead and trying to pass it over to the other, but we stopped arsing about and decided to take turns. How civilised we were becoming. It seemed like Charlie knew he was the focus and loved every minute of it. As I clicked on his lead, I noticed the irregular growth of his hair near his neck. Pushing the fur aside, I saw the scars from his stitches. Amazingly, he let me do it – let me examine the evidence of man's cruelty against our fellow creatures.
‘Poor baby. I wish I knew who had done this to him.' Emily didn't answer, so I turned to repeat it believing she hadn't heard me. Her face was contorted in anger and she just shook her head and looked away. ‘Here. You take him first.' I knew she needed to walk him just so she could lavish love on him, bathe him in the goodness that can come far more easily than hatred.
The walk was wonderful. Nippy, but wonderful all the same. Charlie was interested in everything – every tree, blade of grass, squirrel. I have to admit, I felt sorry for the squirrel at one point. The sound of Charlie whining and yelping must've frightened the crap out of it. And me too, as he always waited until I was submerged into my own little world before he kicked off.
Twenty five minutes into the walk, Emily held the lead out to me. ‘Your turn.' The smile she bestowed on me was blinding and I felt like a teenager, as my need to scuff my trainer amongst the fallen leaves became so strong.
Reaching for the lead, I once again felt the spark race from her to me. Why was this happening? Did I have something wrong with me? Had my time with power tools finally made me electric? Or her for that matter. She did use them more than I did after all.
‘Did you feel that?' Her voice was almost a whisper, almost reverent. ‘Every time you touch my hand it seems as if a spark races through me.' I felt the blush rise from my throat and shimmer along my neck. I couldn't understand why I felt embarrassed. It wasn't as if it was anything to do with me that we were like eels just about to fight, was it?
‘Erm.' Nice save, Anderson. Three letter word. Good job I wasn't playing Scrabble. ‘Yes.' Come on! More! ‘I did.' Fantastic. Bravo. And the award for the most inspiring speech goes to …
And that was it. I grinned inanely, showing my teeth like a village idiot, and walked away in the way people do when they pretend they are being pulled by their dog.
Back at the centre, I unclipped Charlie's lead and let him run around the yard for a while before taking him back to his kennel. I felt bad leaving him there, but he seemed happy enough to climb on his basket and chew on his Woofer (Honestly. That's what they're called. And if you want to know what's in them – think of a bull's … nah … I can't say it. Every time I think of it my stomach roils and I feel the need to brush my teeth, use mouthwash, shower and then do it all over again). So, with a promise to return the next day, we left.
The journey back to Emily's was quiet, as we were both in our own little worlds. It wasn't uncomfortable, far from it. It was as if we had done this a thousand times and were used to the contented silence.
Pulling up outside her house, I felt the need to say something magnificent, say something profound and lasting.
‘See you tomorrow. Same time.' Wow. I outdid myself on that one. I bet she didn't sleep a wink that night trying to work out the message hiding behind my carefully chosen words.
I got home at gone seven and was knackered. The afternoon stint lasted longer than I'd anticipated, and considering I'd been up and about earlier than the crack of Hades, I was well and truly spent.
My answer phone was blinking rapidly, like it had something in its eye – lame, but hey … I was tired, ok? Three messages. Not bad. Only three. The first was from my sister asking if it was really me she'd seen pulling out of the Dogs Trust car park with a gorgeous dark haired property developer.
Second, the gorgeous property developer herself asking if we could go to see Charlie earlier the next day, as she had to pick up supplies from the DIY centre.
Sure. No problem.
Thirdly, sister again squealing, ‘It was you. I knew it. You seeing her again?'
And my final aside … What the fuck, followed by, how did she know?
Abbie answered the call on the second ring. She was out of breath, which was surprising considering she always had her mobile on a part of her anatomy.
Her usual hello was replaced by a torrent of questions, all fired at bullet speed, and all of them concerning my appearance at the Dogs Trust with Emily. I just cocked my head to the side and let her ramble on, the phone pulled away from my ear. When I heard it go quiet, I placed the receiver back.
‘Hey sis. How're you?'
‘Cut it and spill.'
‘Is that a real medical condition?'
Abbie went quiet for a millisecond and then spoke slowly as if she had suddenly realised I was in fact as stupid as she thought I was. ‘So – are – you – seeing – Emily – as – a – poten-tial girlfriend?'
I tutted, as if I had suddenly realised idiocy runs in the family. ‘Why is it you automatically assume I want to cop off with a woman when you see me with one?'
‘No I don't. You are never with a woman. That's the problem.'
‘We both want to adopt Charlie – you know, the Border.' Sparkling brown eyes danced in front of my face until I realised they weren't Charlie's but Emily's as I dropped her off. I coughed and straightened up. ‘So we decided to both see him at the same time and see who he prefers.'
‘R-iiig-hhht.' The word she always used that way when she didn't believe a word I was saying. I wasn't about to defend myself, as I had nothing to defend. I was telling the truth as I knew it. ‘And it wouldn't hurt for you to get more acquainted with Ms Carson would it?' I heard a snigger from behind her and knew my brother-in-law was listening to our conversation. I could imagine Abbie pulling faces and mouthing words to him.
‘The relationship between Emily and I is purely business.' Even when I said it, I didn't believe it myself. No wonder Abbie started laughing. ‘I haven't got time for this, Abs. You promised you wouldn't stir the shit. Bye.' I heard her mutter a ‘But she' before I clicked end call.
‘But she' what? God! Sometimes my sister did my head in. Actually, more often than not, I did my own head in. Why did I care what Emily thought or said? The only thing between us was Charlie, and to me, that was the most important thing of all.
Thirty minutes later I was showered and heating up soup, as I couldn't be arsed cooking anything proper to eat. I wanted to get to bed and try and catch up on missed sleep. It wasn't until I was half way through my evening ‘meal' that I remembered I hadn't called Emily back. Part of me was excited about hearing her voice again, whereas the more sensible and impossible side decided to text instead. Then I remembered my buggered up mobile phone. I'd been so busy trying to undercut Emily on seeing Charlie, I'd forgotten to get a new one. I would've tried to fix it, but thinking about putting my phone next to my face after it had swam about in the bog at the nightclub … nah … it had to be a new one or a threat of an SDI to the face.
It took me another hour before I had plucked up the courage to call her back. Stupid, I know. It was only an ‘That's ok. I'll pick you up at eleven', so why was I being all Joan Crawford? It was times like these that I really missed my trusty piss covered mobile phone. Then the ‘Is it too late to call' when in reality it was not even nine thirty. I can't tell you how many times I picked up her business card and put it back on the table; how many times I pressed the majority of the digits and cut it off before the last one.
‘Come on you chicken shit. Call her.' I was peeing myself off now. A phone call. One. I wasn't calling the Prime Minister on Question Time on a live show, it was just Emily. ‘Right. That is it, Anderson.' Grabbing the phone I gritted my teeth together hard. Slap. My hand hit the business card on the table and I dragged it over to me as if I was catching a criminal in need of escape. I don't know why I muttered, ‘You're my bitch now', maybe because I had seen too many action films in my time. But before I could press even one number, the phone rang. Staring stupidly at the thin black object, I momentarily forgot what to do with it. It was as if my brain had farted and shot out the memory of pressing the green button for a nanosecond.
‘Erm … hello?' Not the telesales voice I had wanted, but at least I had been able to function – eventually.
‘Erm … hello. Ellie?' Shit. Shit. Crap and shit. ‘This is Emily Carson here.' I know. I know. Fuck, I know. ‘I just wondered if you'd got my message.'
‘Erm.' Was I really a retard? ‘Message?' Yes. I was. ‘Oh, your message. About tomorrow. Erm .. yes. Yes. Erm .. yes, that's fine.' I think I made it clear it was ok with the yeses. ‘Eleven ok?'
I heard her release a breath and momentarily wondered if she had been as nervous as I'd been. Nah. She was the gorgeous Emily Carson. She didn't do nervous.
‘Great. I'll see you then.' She paused. ‘And Ellie …'
‘Yes?' Another yes. Was I sycophantic?
‘Thanks for today. I had a great time with … with Charlie.'
And she was gone even before I had the chance to recover. Was it me, or did she pause before she said Charlie? Was she going to say something else, like she had a great time with me? Nah. No way. How could she have a great time with me? I was just … me . Not very special – not very special at all.
With that thought, I went to bed. Being on the phone with Emily had been terrifying yet wonderful, almost like when you fancy someone but are too scared to say anything to them, but just love being the focus of their attention even for a little while.
However, the ‘not very special thing' would not let go, and once again, I had a very disturbed night's sleep. At this rate I would have circles under my eyes to rival Chi Chi the panda. No wonder they were on the verge of extinction if my complexion was any indication.
The next day started pretty much the same as the previous day apart from the voice of my sister inside my head trilling ‘it wouldn't hurt for you to get more acquainted with Ms Carson would it?' I would like to say no it wouldn't, but I didn't want to take any chances – you know, put myself out there for a rebuff. And anyway, it was true what I'd said to Abbie. The relationship between Emily and I was purely for the sake of Charlie. It had taken me five years to even consider letting something inside my heart again and there was no room for anything else – especially my rival.
We took Charlie for another walk, staying to our allotted forty five to fifty minutes, as he couldn't have longer because his leg was still mending. Conversation was light between us, mainly sticking to things that were non-committal or impersonal. The weather (us Brits can talk about the weather for hours and never get bored), the up and coming Olympics, even the Queen's Diamond Jubilee were treated to our ramblings. Of course there were times where I wanted to ask her more about herself, but a scared little part of me was worried I would become too interested in her. I know. I'm weird.
Charlie was full of beans and treated us both to his licks and excitement. Watching him with Emily made me long for something more than what I had, although the concept was elusive, the feeling was strangely profound. It seemed so right to be walking through the woods on a cold January day with a beautiful woman and a gorgeous dog. The sound of our feet wading through the leaves was comforting and made it seem almost familiar.
We played with Charlie upon our return, throwing the ball, watching him skitter all over the yard trying to catch it and bring it back. It was funny to see him decide who to give it to, but he was very much the gentleman and made sure we both got our turns.
Today was harder to leave him. It hurt more to put him back in his kennel and say ‘See you tomorrow, little chap.' But, it had to be done.
Pulling up outside her house, I expected her to jump out and race off to the DIY centre, but she just stood there looking uncomfortable. Was she contemplating telling me she didn't want this to continue? That she'd thought it through and decided she wanted Charlie all to herself? A sickening feeling hit my gut. She wouldn't would she?
‘I was … I was thinking …' Yes, she was. She was going to freeze me out and take the furry lad as her own. I felt a wave of adrenaline rush through me and was on the verge of telling her to shove it, when she continued. ‘Have you had lunch?' Had I had lunch? ‘I, erm, have lunch here.' Good for you. ‘And was wondering if you would like to, erm, share it.'
Share her lunch? Why? I had a perfectly good lunch waiting for me back at work, so why would I want …
Clink. That is the sound of a penny dropping from a great height. It's a pity it didn't thwack me on the head as it passed.
‘Never mind. I know how busy you are.'
‘No!' Rather loud and eager sounding, but that was ok with me. She nodded with some sort of dejection in her movement. ‘No!' Ok. It was fine the first time, but now she was thinking her ‘lunch' idea was a no go. ‘Yes!' Back to being a yes woman. ‘I mean – ah fuck it – I'd love to.' Eventually! A response! There is hope for morons like me after all, especially when I was greeted to the most blinding smile I'd ever seen. ‘I forgot my lunch this morning, so that would be wonderful.' Why did I have to say that? She didn't want my fucking life story – even if it was a made up one.
‘Great.' That smile again, followed by a wonderful sensation rippling through my chest. ‘I'll let you get parked and I'll get started on lunch.' Slowly, she turned away from me, as if she was moving in slow motion. I could see the strands of her hair separate and flutter romantically around her head, and when she turned back the smile replayed itself in slow motion making her face even more stunning than usual. ‘See you in a minute.' And then she was gone, leaving me mesmerised and immobile, my hand aching to reach out and touch her but too stunned to move.
It wasn't until I was seated at her dining room table that I remembered she'd said she wanted to go to the DIY centre. Was I keeping her back? Did she ask me out of politeness? Watching her make our sandwiches with such grace and precision, it didn't look as if she was eager to dash off anytime soon. For once my mouth decided not to drop me, or her, in it, as I guiltily held on to the time I had with her.
Flash. A light bulb. A huge fuck off light bulb shot off in and above my noggin. I must've looked like a Sim with one of those green plumbobs above my head. Was she working me? Was I the Sim led by her commands? My actions a mere click of the mouse and I was doing what she asked of me? Or was I going all RADA on my own ass? It was one of two things. She was either buttering me up to lay the bombshell about Charlie on me or … or … she actually wanted me to be there with her eating tuna salad sandwiches.
‘Here you go.' A plate slipped in front of me, shortly followed by a cold glass of juice. I looked up into warm brown eyes that mimicked the smile on her lips. I felt the breath wheeze from me and knew my answer. ‘I hope you like granary bread.' A musical laugh broke out of her mouth. ‘Considering we have spent all morning together, I don't really know that much about you.' True. And I really didn't know much about her except she was a property developer and wanted my dog. ‘Any dressing?'
I shook my head and opened my mouth to allow nothing to come out. So I shook my head again and blushed furiously. For something to do, I took a huge bite of the sandwich and nearly choked. A strong hand slapped me on the back making the errant piece of bread shoot back out and land ungraciously on the table. Social faux pas? You bet. Especially when I continued to cough and point lamely at my mouth. More whacks, more coughing, followed by tears streaming down my face. I lifted my juice and spluttered some down, feeling the sting of it at the back of my throat. Emily looked at me with concern, her arm raised to hit me again.
‘No … than-kk –yo – who.' Jesus. I couldn't even eat a sandwich normally when she was about. Another gulp of the cooling liquid and I felt a semblance of control come over my larynx once again. Thankfully.
‘You sure you're ok?' I nodded and drank again. She looked at me as if she was trying to work out if I was lying or not. Satisfied I wasn't and also was not about to keel over on her table, she slipped into the seat next to me.
A few moments passed and I took another bite, this time smaller for obvious reasons. She waited until I had chewed and swallowed before she asked, ‘Everything ok?'
Raising the sandwich I grinned. ‘Well, it hasn't killed me yet.' Not really the wisest thing I've ever said, but at least she laughed.
Ten minutes later lunch was out of the way and it was back to me and her. As she'd been eating I had thought of so many questions I'd wanted to ask her, and, funnily enough, not one had involved Charlie.
‘How old are you?' What the …
‘Why? Has caffeine an age restriction?' Emily tilted her head to the side, looked deeply into my eyes before saying, ‘I have decaf if you're under the age limit.'
‘Sorry. I … I don't know where that came from.'
‘Yes you do. It is called human nature. That's what people do. Ask questions.' Der. I know that. But why blurt out a question you are not supposed to ask a lady? Had I pissed her off? ‘I'm thirty six, single, an only child, developed my own business from the money left to me by my parents, am very ambitious and like to get what I want.'
My mouth went dry – very dry. She was staring at me waiting for a response but I didn't know exactly what to say, although I did consider asking if the Stonewall collection she sported actually reflected her sexual preference. She missed that out in her mini autobiography. Instead I asked, and I think you'll agree it was very radical for me, ‘So, erm, what do you want?'
Emily leaned over, her face inches from mine. I could feel her breath on my face and I felt myself leaning closer to her. Dark eyes flickered down to my mouth and back to my eyes. One eyebrow rose up and I felt, as well as saw, her tongue slowly sweep across her lips.
‘Well,' the lump in my throat was worse than the chunk of sandwich. I didn't dare breathe in case I coughed in her face. ‘One thing comes to mind.' Fuck. She was going to kiss me. She was going to kiss me. And if you missed it, she was going to kiss me. ‘I want you to tell me if you would like …' Yes. I didn't care I was being sycophantic. I wanted her to kiss me. It was an unwritten promise. ‘A coffee.' Coffee? A coffee ? Do kisses come in coffee cups? And why was I suddenly wanting her to kiss me? Where had the ‘there was no room for anything else' scenario I'd had earlier? She laughed and moved back and I was left opened mouthed and feeling cheated.
I didn't want her to see how much she had affected me, so I leaned back on the chair and said, ‘Tea would be great. Milk, no sugar.' They do say pride comes before a fall, and I was definitely feeling smugly proud of myself at that very moment. Well, until the fall bit when my chair tipped me backwards and flat on my arse. It wouldn't have been so embarrassing if I'd hadn't kicked the table on the way down and tipped that over with me. At least the smashing of plates covered my swearing a little bit.
I didn't have time to consider my fall from grace as Emily was kneeling next to me, her face full of concern instead of laughter. ‘Hey. You ok?' I nodded, as I didn't trust my mouth to not come out with filth. ‘Here.' A slender hand stretched out to me, the fingers looking like they belonged to a pianist and not someone who was handy with power tools. Hesitating momentarily, I reached out and gripped her hand. Even though it always seemed to happen every time we touched, I was still surprised to feel the jolt race through me.
‘There it is again.' Emily's eyes sparked just as much as the shock of electricity and my lips quivered until they decided to slip into a grin.
‘Must be my magnetic personality.'
She paused, cocked her head to the side as she tended to do when she wanted to really look at something, before that crooked grin came into place. I felt my heart flutter and bounce against my ribcage – something I used to believe would kill a person instead of making them feel more alive than they had in years.
In one pull she had me on my feet. I wanted to pretend to fall forward and into her arms, but it would have been a little obvious. Instead, I looked sheepish and stuffed my hands in my pockets.
‘Erm … I'd better go.' Her face showed a fleeting look of disappointment and I wanted to say I'd stay.
‘I thought you wanted a cup of tea. Milk, no sugar?'
‘Sorry. Work beckons.' In fact I did need to go. Not because I had a million and one things to do, but because I didn't want anything to happen between us. I know I'm up and down like a prostitute's underwear with concerns to how I wanted mine and Emily's relationship to pad out. But, consider this. If I did allow myself to become even a little bit interested (too late, was the cry), where would that leave me when it came to Charlie? If I overstepped the mark of acquaintance, or even friend, would that jeopardise how I would feel when the month was up? ‘You have to go to the DIY store anyway, so …'
‘DIY store?' She looked confused – momentarily. Then it was as if she had transferred the plumbobs over to her head and the light definitely clicked on. ‘Oh God! Yes! The DIY store.' I didn't say a word. It was so apparent she had never intended to go to the DIY store and had completely forgotten all about saying it.
What the hell.
‘I could give you a lift there if you want? I need to get more plant pots from the gardening section.' A look of mortification passed over her face and she began to shake her head. ‘Honestly. It's no bother.'
‘I couldn't. Honestly. I've taken up so much of your …'
‘I insist. You gave me lunch, it's the least I could do.' I watched her grit her teeth together before resignedly nodding. ‘Meet you outside in a few.' I left before she could change her mind to wait in the car. I have to admit, I laughed all the way.
Considering the previous night she had indicated it was imperative she went to the store, a bag of galvanised nails was not exactly appointment changing stuff. I glimpsed at the small package and pulled the face that accompanies ‘Is that it?' but said nothing.
As I pulled into her driveway, I heard her unbuckling her seatbelt before the car stopped. My, she was in a rush to hide her shame.
‘Thanks for that, Ellie. I … erm … they didn't have my order ready. I should've called to check.' Yeah, right. ‘Same time tomorrow?'
In response, I gave her a huge grin and nodded. Emily scuttled off into the sanctuary of her home. However, I could swear I saw her watch me pull away from the living room window.
A feeling of happiness washed over me. It had been a long time since I had cared enough to look back through my rear view mirror to have a look at a gorgeous woman. And before you say it, looking doesn't mean anything, ok?
The next day I went and bought a mobile phone before I did anything. I had arrived home to find eleven messages on my answer phone, most of them from potential clients. I couldn't afford to miss jobs like that – and I couldn't afford to have my sister calling me as soon as I walked in the door to accuse me of changing the time because she had seen me with Emily the previous day. ‘What did you think I'd do? Marry you off?' was the first thing she said as I answered the phone, and the rest of the conversation wasn't much better.
Thankfully, the phone shop could use my own number, thus saving me countless headaches sorting out all my business cards and contact lists. It wasn't a surprise to find I'd loads of missed messages waiting for me as soon as I turned on my new cell. I know this is boring for you to read, but sometimes life is boring and full of mundane tasks we have to fulfil in order to keep moving forward. Let's call it a bread and butter moment. One of those times where events are used as a substantial filler.
Eleven o'clock found me turning into Emily's drive and grinning to see her waiting for me. It felt good to have someone waiting for me to arrive, although it wasn't long before I realised that it was not in the romantic ‘I need you' sense. It was just a lift – a pairing of necessity. Therefore, the grin I sported as I drove to the Dog's Trust was a little more forced than I would have preferred. Emily was chatty at first, but I think she lost the will to be companionable when my answers were monosyllabic. It wasn't as if I was a chatter box when we were together, but even I noticed my conversation lacked the spark and va va voom of a social butterfly.
Charlie was pleased to see us both, and, after his initial greeting, he ran to the door, his tail wagging with the knowledge of a good walk ahead.
The forty five minutes seemed to fly by and before I knew it we were once again saying our farewells to the little chap. A pang shot through my chest and I didn't want to leave him there. The image of Toby slipped inside my head before I had the chance to block it out – the one in the vets. An ache wove its way inside my ribcage and into my throat, collecting there to force some emotion from me. Not now. Please. Not now.
‘You ok?' Emily's hand slipped through my arm and I didn't flinch at the energy that oozed once again from her to me, from me to her.
‘I'm great.' So why did my voice seem so flat?
‘Are you …'
‘Hey sis!' Aw fuck. I should've known. ‘Fancy seeing you here at this time.' I felt my teeth grit together and I was positive Emily must've heard the clack. Abbie's grinning face made me want to throttle her, but she didn't get the hint. ‘I thought you came later than this.' As if. She knew damned well I had come earlier the previous day – I had the scars from her personal Spanish Inquisition to prove it. ‘Oh … hello Emily. I didn't see you there.' Yeah right. She didn't see the woman standing at least four inches taller than me, holding my arm, facing her?
Well, was holding my arm. I felt her grip loosen and the heat of her fingers slip away leaving a cold patch where her body had connected with mine.
‘Oh hi, Abbie. I thought I told you we were coming earl …'
‘So glad I met up with the both of you.' Did my sister cut Emily off then? Told her? My sister and Emily were having conference calls? My eyes pinned a fidgeting Abbie and I mouthed ‘You fuckster', but she laughed nervously and ignored me. ‘It's Rob's birthday next week and I am throwing a party for him this Saturday night.' And?
No, no and no.
‘I just wanted to make sure you could come, Emily.' Once again – NO! She was doing it again. She was trying to fix us up. This was the first I'd heard of Abbie throwing Rob a party – he hated parties. ‘We would love to have you there, wouldn't we Ellie?' I just glared. ‘It's nothing big,' like not even a party, ‘so you don't have to get all dolled up.' See? Not even a party. I wouldn't be surprised if she'd invited Cherie along so I would feel like a double dick head.
‘I'd love to.' Emily's voice was so warm, so happy, that when she turned to me and asked, ‘If that's ok with you, Ellie?' I couldn't say ‘Like fuck it is,' like I wanted to.
‘Of course. It will be a night to remember.' You can bet it will be too, if Abbie had anything to do with it.
‘Aunty Wellie, look! Jessie wants to say hello!' Lily was holding the lead to a very excited Jack Russell and was grinning her toothless grin. ‘Wanna walk her wiv me?'
This was not the time to tell my sister what I thought of her plans – the words I wanted to whisper through gritted teeth should never be in ear shot of a six year old.
‘Sorry, hun. Gotta go to work.' I moved over and ruffled her hair making her laugh. ‘And hello there Pop -py.' The dog whined with excitement and stood on her back legs to greet me. ‘You are a pearl aren't you?' I lowered my face to accept the kisses from the pooch, sniggering over the overzealous attention I was receiving. I could hear Abbie talking to Emily, but their words were too low for me to make out. It didn't stop me knowing my sister was up to no good, though. It seemed that is all she seemed to be doing when it came to me and my very absent love life of late.
I dropped Emily at her house and didn't even wait to be invited inside. I could feel she wanted to say something, but I didn't give her the opportunity – just spluttered something about work and needing to get going.
It was true. I was busy. Too many jobs and not enough hours in the day, especially if I was to take on the job for the woman who was canvassing for Dog Owner of the Year by Saturday morning. Sorry. That sounded bitchy, I know. But my life used to be so simple. Work. Home. Eat. Shower. Bed. Then the same the next day … and the next and … ad infinitum.
Shit. Saturday morning. I was supposed to start working for Emily Carson. She would be my employer and I would then have to socialise with her. I know taking Charlie out could be classed as socialising, but it wasn't. I said it before and I'll say it again – it was necessity.
Sigh. Who am I trying to kid? Myself? Yes. Or so it seems.
The day continued in its glory of planting and making appointments to view prospective clients. I made a booking to speak to a Mr Davies the following day at 11 and only suffered a little bit of guilt when I thought of Emily's face when I told her I wouldn't be joining her to see Charlie on her next visit. You are probably very much aware that I am lying at this precise moment, aren't you? I felt a lot of guilt, especially because it wasn't imperative that we meet at that time, although if you spoke to Mr Davies you would think it was a matter of life and death, as I had made him believe it was.
All afternoon the guilt clawed at my gut. I needed to tell Emily that I had changed our appointment, but I was delaying the inevitable. It wasn't as if I wouldn't get to see Charlie, that was a given. I couldn't not go and see him. A little voice kept on whispering ‘But you want to see her too, don't you?' I growled and thunked my spade into the ground, following it by a hefty stomp with my dirt covered boot. Being with Charlie was different. Making a commitment to him was so totally unlike making an arrangement with Emily. Wasn't it? Hopefully he would become part of my family, something Emily would never be. Yes. She was attractive, and yes, I was attracted to her. Satisfied? But I didn't want to feel she had the upper hand at the moment. If she thought I felt something for her, maybe she would use that to my disadvantage.
Surprising how time digging the cold hard soil can give a woman a sense of fucked up perspective isn't it? I was being irrational. Just because I spent time with Emily didn't mean squat unless I allowed myself to be manipulated.
Whoa. Hold them metaphorical horses a minute. Would Emily manipulate the situation? Images of her leapt into my head – her warm smile, those soulful eyes, the sound of her laugh, the way she tossed her head back to move her fringe from her face. That didn't sound like the actions of a woman on the take. And look at how she had seemed concerned earlier; how she had slipped her hand through my arm to check how I was feeling; the way she offered the lead to me and let me have my time with Charlie; the way she wanted to spend time with me …
Aw shit. Go on. Say it. I fucked up.
I called Mr Davies and tried to change the appointment, but he had other plans. It appeared that as soon as I'd hung the phone up he'd made arrangements for everything from doctor's appointments to having his hair cut. I did try, honestly. But … no. He couldn't do it at any other time than the following day when I should've been picking up Emily. I even contemplated saying I couldn't take the job on at one point, but in this day and age a person couldn't afford to turn down work – well, I couldn't.
So that, as they say, was that.
For the rest of the day I kept on taking out Emily's card and attempting to call her to explain, but I found out that in fact I was a spineless fucker who couldn't seem to get past the first three digits of her number. Eventually, I sent her a text explaining what'd happened and cringed as I pressed the send button.
Ten minutes later I received a reply stating that was ok and I was a little disappointed. One minute I am trying my damndest to distance myself, and the next I am fucked off because my gesture was taken with a pinch of salt. Go me and my lack of ability to understand myself never mind anyone else.
However, another five minutes later I received a second text asking ‘Have I upset you?' No. I've upset myself. Instead of answering straight away, I did the British thing – I made a cuppa. Instead of stewing the tea, I stewed in my own thoughts. Emily hadn't done anything wrong – obviously. So why would she think I was upset with her? I was a business woman with commitments that sometimes couldn't be avoided (or sometimes could but I made out they couldn't), so why …
The sound of my cell phone made me slop my tea over my fingers and swear out loud. I wasn't even surprised to see the name flash on the screen. ‘Abbie Home.'
Maybe it was coincidence, or maybe …
‘Why have you cancelled seeing Emily tomorrow?'
‘How did …'
‘Why? Is it because I invited her to Rob's bash?' Bash? What the fuck? ‘If you must know, I like the girl.' Girl? ‘It would be good to have her over so she can see that you come from a good home and not just go on the picture of you you've painted.' What did she …
‘If you want her to give up her claim on Charlie, then you'd better toe the line.'
Shit. I'd been bollocked by my big sister.
‘I've got a meeting with a client, if you must know.' The harrumph she uttered made me grit my teeth. ‘And why did you wait to ask her to come to Rob's bash when she was with me? It's obvious you two are forever on the fucking phone to each other.'
‘Ah … erm … we're not.'
‘Bye sis.' End of call. But before Abbie could call again I called Emily's number without even pausing to deliberate. ‘Em? Hi. Ellie Anderson.' Why had I introduced myself in full and why had I called her Em? I didn't give her a chance to get past the hello stage before I launched into another mini life story – almost a Day in the Life of. All she could get out was ‘erm' and ‘ok' followed by an ‘I see'.
Eventually I stopped my rambling and let the woman talk. ‘Did you want me to go and see Charlie on my own tomorrow then?' Huh? Hadn't she been listening to my ramblings? I thought I'd summed it up quite well. ‘I could, erm, go later. I don't have to go at eleven.' Shit. I hadn't thought of that. I'm surprised I can actually walk and talk at the same time.
‘Three?' Was I too eager? And does anyone actually give a shit?
The sound of Emily's laugh filtered down the phone and I had the urge to hug the plastic receptacle to my chest for some stupid girly reason. ‘That would be fantastic. Maybe after we've been to the Trust, you could give me some ideas of what you plan to do first when you start making my garden presentable.'
‘Sure thing.' Was I turning American on my own ass? Obviously, as I would have said ‘arse'.
Grinning, I said my goodbyes and felt positively lighter. Strange, considering I didn't exactly know why.
The night was full of dreams – wild dreams – dreams that were not nice at all. Waking up bathed in sweat, I got up and tried to do some invoices. I couldn't concentrate, as echoes of the dreams kept flitting through my head making an ache thrum inside my chest. Images of Toby were mixed with the looks from my parents as I had packed the boxes into my car thirteen years previously. Why I'd thought about them, I don't know. It had been years since I'd allowed them to infiltrate any part of my life – consciously or subconsciously. Toby I could understand, but them? No. They meant nothing to me.
I left the house before six am and got stuck in at work. Eleven o'clock came around too quickly, as I hadn't really given myself to think. The meeting with Mr Davies went smoothly enough and I bagged the job easily. It wasn't a difficult one – he just wanted a pond putting in his back garden – somewhere where he could sit with his wife when the weather became warmer. To be honest, seeing him with his wife made me regret being fucked off with him the previous day. Love oozed from them even though they had been together for over fifty years. Imagine being with the same person for all that time and loving them just as strongly as when you first met. I know I was not privy to their life in full, but it was apparent that these two were meant to be.
For a fleeting moment, I wanted that. I wanted to be content, to be happy, and to be madly in love with the same person for the majority of my life. I wanted a fish pond life.
A quarter to three saw me arriving at Emily's. Surprisingly, she was already waiting. A little part of me wanted her to say about being early again just so I could say ‘And you are waiting,' so I could hear her laugh hitting the air like music once again. However, I didn't. I just grinned idiotically before pointing to my watch. Couldn't help myself. Couldn't resist seeing if I could make her laugh. And she did, therefore making my stomach flip flop like a prized pancake.
Soon enough we were out with the little furry tyke, this time deciding to take him to the village instead of through the woods. Charlie loved all the attention he was getting from everyone who spotted him. Lots of head rubbing and shaking of paws to last him the rest of the day. When we walked past a shop where he could see his reflection, he stopped, his neck going rigid, his ears sticking out comically.
‘Woof!' His head flicked back as he must've thought the ‘other' dog had barked in response to him. ‘Woof!' A little deeper, but this time he lowered his head as if he was sussing out the situation. Tentatively, he stepped forward, his face pressing against the glass. Swipe. A very pink tongue came out and licked his reflection – then again and again. He was totally getting into it but it was apparent my lad didn't have a case of canine narcissism – he was showing us he knew it was a reflection. Bless his adorably furry paws.
I know you are probably thinking ‘WTF?' but if I have to listen to straight people telling me ‘comical' stories about their kids, I am definite I can return the favour.
The walk seemed shorter than usual, although it was the same length of time. Instead of being quiet like we normally were, I thought I would bite the bullet and ask her something more than her age. Hearing her chatter about her business, I soon released we were not dissimilar. Not once did she mention socialising, friends, even the last time she had eaten out.
The last bit burrowed itself inside my head and became insistent. ‘Ask her out for something to eat.'
‘No.' Thankfully, the answer was internal too.
‘Ask her!' A little more whispery and persistent.
‘No!' I turned and grinned at Emily. You know the ones – the ones that scream ‘Dickhead Alert!'
‘For fuck's sake! Ask her!'
‘NO!' Emily jumped. So did I, for that matter. Charlie stopped sniffing the extremely interesting blade of grass to turn and flash me a ‘What?' before eating the grass. Even my dog was telling me eating was a good thing.
‘Nothing.' I tried for innocent.
‘You shouted “No”.'
‘Did I?' I couldn't exactly admit to my inner dialogue could I? ‘I … erm … I said “oh”.' And that is better, how?
‘So. Why “oh”?' Was this a rap?
‘I was just …' my eyes flicked about me, finally landing on a woman across the street walking her dog, ‘warning you about the dog over there.' Fuck- ing lame. Lame, shameful lame. Emily looked over at the tiny Yorkshire Terrier and back at me, her face showing her confusion. ‘You can't be too careful with those dogs. They will tear your ankles off in a heartbeat.' Another glance at the miniscule dog and a snort shot out of her mouth, followed by laughter.
‘Have you seen the size of it? My ankle is bigger than its mouth.' Charlie lifted his head and sniffed the air before turning and giving the Yorkie a glare.
I was embarrassed. And when I get embarrassed you can guarantee I will do something even more stupid – like dropping my phone down the toilet.
‘Fancy grabbing a bite to eat after we take Charlie back?' Emily stopped laughing and looked at me as if she was trying to work me out. If she did, I really hoped she would let me in on it.
It seemed as if time stopped and I was the only one experiencing the stillness. Nothing around us moved apart from Emily's hair, which wisped deliciously around her face.
‘I'd love to.' Bam … time started again, then stopped when she flashed me her crooked grin. Dropping her face, she turned away from me and tugged Charlie's lead making him trot beside her. I stood for a few moments and watched her walk away, my heart hammering inside my chest once again.
It was only a pub meal, but the thought was there. After Emily had agreed, and we'd taken Charlie back, I couldn't think of anywhere half decent to go without it seeming like a date. It wasn't a date. It was food. Good food, but still only sustenance and necessity. People had to eat after all and it didn't hurt to share a meal with another human being.
Who am I kidding? Being with Emily over spaghetti carbonara was totally breath taking. Watching her expertly wind the spaghetti around her fork was becoming addictive, and it was only the attraction of her eyes, her voice, her smell, the way she tucked her hair behind her ear when she was talking that distracted me. I'm lying. It wasn't just that. It was everything about her. Even the way she wiped her mouth on her napkin or sipped at her fruit juice.
Bollocks. What was happening to me? I didn't want this … didn't need this. But I did. God, I did. I felt myself staring at her lips, feeling exposed, feeling vulnerable, feeling feelings I had never felt in the whole of my life before this moment. I ached to feel the softness of those aforementioned lips, longed to press softly, gently, tease her mouth with the tip of my tongue, allow her breath to mingle with mine before I truly tasted her.
Heat flooded my face and I clasped at my drink, pulling it up to cover half my face. ‘I'm great. Why?'
A smile slipped over her face before she softly said, ‘Nothing.'
By the time we arrived at her house it was too late to look around and give suggestions for her up and coming renovations. Instead of bidding her farewell from the car, I got out and walked her to her front door. Standing there, the only light coming from her security lamp, I felt like a teenager delivering her date home after a night out. All that was needed to seal the image was the kiss at the doorstep.
I felt awkward. I wanted to kiss her – too much. I wanted to take her into my arms and show her how much I wanted to kiss her, but … but … Charlie. Would she think I was only doing this because of him? Actually, was I only interested in her because of him?
It was like someone had sneaked up behind me and chucked a bucket of ice cold water over the moment.
‘Eleven tomorrow ok?' Had she always been this close to me? Did her eyes always seem so intense? And why didn't she answer? ‘Or three like today?'
‘What?' Whatever she'd been thinking about was suddenly replaced by the realisation she had missed what I had said. ‘Three like today?'
‘Three it is then.' I stepped back, not quite ready to break the moment. ‘Thank you for tonight. I really enjoyed it.'
Before she had time to answer, I was gone.
Lying in bed, I thought through what had transpired. Was the attraction one sided? I didn't think so. Not by the way she was looking at me as I was yearning to kiss her. Maybe it was shock? Disgust? Repulsion? The thought of ‘Fuck no – she's going to kiss me! What do I do?' As usual, I was at a loss when it came to women. Don't get me wrong – I had dated a few but none of them had made me feel the way she had earlier in the evening.
Shit. I didn't need this. I didn't want this. I just wanted to feel nothing like I usually did. Allowing a woman into my life was not conducive to my lifestyle. I wanted it to be me and my dog and that way … that way … that way what? I wouldn't have to see someone I cared about turn their back on me like my parents had? Wouldn't have to detach myself from a life I had known and change everything I had thought was part and parcel of my life?
Shit. Again. Why was I thinking about them? They meant nothing to me, as I meant nothing to them.
But. It wouldn't hurt to have a new friend to do things with. An evil grin spread over my face as the next thought popped into my head. A new friend who might want to walk MY dog with ME.
Nestling down under my duvet, I conjured up images of Charlie chasing his ball. A warm feeling spread over me and my heart seemed to lift, which was a surprise as I hadn't realised it had sunk.
Shall I say shit for the third time? Looks like it.
Why was I suddenly too aware of my bodily functions, especially that organ in my chest, just to the left of centre?
Throwing the covers off me, I decided sleep would not be coming easily after all.
Because I had gone into work so early every day, I finished the job before lunch so decided to go home and shower before going to pick up Emily. It is amazing how long I spent deciding what to wear, but as soon as I realised I was doing it, I slipped on my jeans and a jumper.
Emily was waiting at the gate, her grin contagiously glorious. Then it hit me. Why would Emily like me anyway? I wasn't anything special. Granted, I wasn't a minger, but I wasn't on the same plane as Emily Carson. She was stunning, especially when she smiled. Why on earth was she still single when it was obvious she could have anyone?
‘I hope you don't mind, but I have to get straight back after walking Charlie.' I grunted a response as I was too busy faffing about with my seat. ‘I have a friend coming around later.' That stopped me in my tracks. A friend? She hadn't mentioned ‘a friend' when we had been chatting the previous evening.
Turning, I saw her blush and look sheepishly out of the side window. Clink. Penny dropping again. That kind of friend … as in either girlfriend, ex-girlfriend or potential girlfriend. A wave of disappointment washed over me.
‘Ok. Sure thing.' I started the engine. ‘If you can't come it's …'
‘No! Erm … no … I have plenty of time.'
I didn't say anything, just nodded. Even though I'd already decided Emily was too good for me and, also, if I'd had a shot anyway, I would prefer to be one of those friends without benefits, I was still feeling gutted.
See? Life is a bitch even when you profess you didn't want anything more than you already had.
Saturday morning came around and I didn't want to go to work. It was unusual for me to feel that way, as ever since I had left home work seemed the only thing I had going for me in my life – except for Toby and Abbie.
But, I did. I had to. Emily was expecting me after all.
I turned up just after eight and felt a little disappointed not to see Emily waiting for me at the gate. She wasn't sanding her window sills either. Actually, I couldn't see her anywhere. Sighing, I moved around to the back of my pickup and started to unload my tools.
‘Good morning.' A voice came from behind me, a voice I didn't recognise. ‘You must be Ellie.' Turning, I was greeted by a woman in her thirties – a very good looking woman who was grinning at me and holding out a hand in greeting, the other one cradling a coffee cup. ‘I'm Michelle Simmons, a … friend of Emily's.' The friend, eh? The friend that had so obviously spent the night. And by the glow on her face, the friend who had a very fulfilling night full of sex. I felt a flush gather over my face as I envisioned Emily in the throes of passion with the blonde standing before me. If I hadn't felt the stab of jealousy plunge into me, I would have admitted it would have been a wonderful image. Two stunning women loving each other. ‘It is Ellie, isn't it? Ems said you would be here today.' My eyes flicked to her outstretched hand once again and I realised I had completely ignored her gesture. It wasn't her fault that she was the cat that got the cream was it?
‘Oh … yes … sorry. I was miles away there. Ellie Anderson.' I sounded almost fawning, the act of the bitter love rival deeply hidden. I know what you're thinking – one minute I want Emily and the next I don't. Couple that with the jealousy and you have me in the bag. A fucked up loner with tickets on and off herself.
A laugh spluttered out of her mouth before she grabbed my hand and started pumping it up and down. In the process, her body came closer to mine and I got the distinct waft of Emily's perfume. Could things get any worse?
‘Do you need a hand unloading? Emily's in the shower as she overslept this morning.' Michelle leaned closer and gave me a wink. ‘She hasn't got the stamina she used to have.' Looks like a yes.
‘No … I'm fine. Honestly.' I felt suddenly exposed and wanted to flee the scene. ‘There's one thing you could do, if you don't mind?' Michelle's face turned serious and she nodded and stood straight, as in mock attention. ‘Could you tell Emily I'll be back later? I have to pick up supplies.'
A frown flitted over her beautiful face before she said, ‘We were hoping you could join us for breakfast.' Fuck that!
I grinned my most charming grin. ‘Sorry again. I've already eaten.' I hadn't, but she didn't know did she. ‘I'll be back after lunch.' Before Michelle had chance to say anything, my phone sounded. ‘Got to get this, sorry.' Why was I adamant on repeatedly apologising to her? Michelle smiled and nodded at the screaming phone in my hand. I turned my face slightly away from her and clicked accept. ‘Hey baby, how're you this morning?'
‘What? You pissed?' Abbie didn't sound like she was going to play along but I didn't care.
‘I was going to wake you, but you were flat out.'
‘You are pissed. And fucking crazy. What's …'
‘Seven? That would be wonderful.'
‘You're fucking me off now. What's …'
‘Got to go. Work beckons.' I held the end call button slightly longer than I needed to so the phone would turn off completely. There was one thing in this world that I was sure about and that was my sister would call me straight back. Greeting Michelle again, I was momentarily frozen by the look on her face. It was a look of disappointment. Or did I imagine it? It was so fleeting, maybe I had. Shrugging, I said, ‘Women, eh?'
Michelle nodded, a fake grin spurting up from the depths. ‘So … erm … I'll leave you to get on with your work then.' Without another word, she was gone. The cup dangling from her hand.
When I returned at one, Michelle was nowhere to be seen, and, once again, Emily was not outside.
Instead of announcing my arrival, I unloaded the fence panels and posts I'd bought to make the perimeter safer. Still no sign of her even though I knew she was there. I didn't want to just knock on the door in case they were inside reliving the events of the previous evening. But Charlie would be waiting. We were past our usual time. He would think we had abandoned him.
The more I thought about Charlie waiting at the bars of his kennel looking for us, the more antsy I became. Why was I avoiding Emily? It wasn't as if she wasn't entitled to a love life was it? Just because she didn't want me that way shouldn't affect anything. Our relationship was a business arrangement, both with her garden and the eventual ownership of the main man himself.
After twenty minutes I decided to get a spine and knock. What could be the worst that could happen? Scrap that comment, as knowing my luck I would interrupt them getting jiggy with it on the kitchen table.
Emily's voice answered my knock and invited me inside. She was on the phone and mouthed hello before following it with a huge grin. ‘Yes. Yes. She's here now. You want to talk to her?' Huh? Who would call Emily and then want to speak to me? I think I knew even before I took the phone from her and my heart plummeted to my stomach before bouncing back up and jamming in my throat.
‘Thought I'd get you this way. What the hell are you up to now?' Abbie's voice held a hint of humour and I knew for a fact she knew damned well what I'd been up to. I just hoped she'd kept it to herself and not gobbed off to Emily. I didn't need my sister to make me look like an idiot – I was more than capable of doing that for myself. ‘Never mind.' That was a first. When Abbie wanted answers she didn't give up easily. ‘I'll see you later.' A pause. ‘You can tell me then.' A gargled noise came from my mouth but Abbie had the upper hand. ‘Or do you want me to tell Emily you pretended you have a love life?'
‘Seven will be great! Can't wait to see you!'
‘Good girl. You know I know best.'
After hanging up the phone I turned to see Emily standing in the doorway, her coat draped over her arm. ‘Ready?' Although on first look, Emily seemed her usual self – bubbly and gorgeous, but there was something missing from her smile. It wasn't vivacious, wasn't full and true and totally engaging as I had come to expect.
‘Sure.' What did you expect me to do? Ask her?
It wasn't until we were half way to the Trust did I realise why Emily was not herself. Michelle. It was obvious. Michelle was nowhere to be seen and Emily was more than likely missing her. This is the point where I started to chew my lip. Should I have invited Michelle to come with us instead of surmising everything should be exactly the same as all the other times we had gone to visit Charlie? Was I being selfish? Indifferent? Or was I just being me?
‘Are you missing Michelle?' WTF? I didn't want to talk about her girlfriend – anything (well, nearly) but.
I didn't turn to look at her when she answered. I didn't want to see the certain longing on her face. ‘Yes. I always do when she's not about.' Considering last night was the first I knew about her girlfriend I found that surprising. ‘I rarely get to see her nowadays.' Or rarely bring her up in conversation so it seems. God, I'm a bitch. ‘It's been over a year since the last time.'
‘What the fuck! Over a year?' It popped out. Couldn't stop it. But a year without seeing your other half? Doesn't that seem a little long to you?
Emily laughed aloud. ‘I understand. She's busy. Her work takes her everywhere.' But a year? ‘And now she's got Tania too so now I have to share her.' Who the fuck was Tania and what, exactly, did she mean by sharing? I surreptitiously glanced at her and saw her grinning. Was it just me that believed if you were in a relationship it should be just the two of you and you should see each other more than once a year? ‘I wonder if Charlie thinks we're not coming.' How could she talk about Charlie when her girlfriend was doing more than the hokey cokey with another woman?
‘Erm. I guess.' Looks like I was going to keep my thoughts to myself.
I think in his own furry little way, Charlie didn't think we were going to turf up at all. If you could have seen the way his eyes lit up, the way he grabbed and shook his tuggy rope and fought it all the way over to us – accompanied by mewling growls - you would have agreed with me when I said he was excited. Lots of kissing and licks followed this display and I have to admit I felt well and truly loved and welcomed. I'd known him less than a week and I felt as if my life couldn't function properly without him in it.
A voice inside my head seemed to trickle through my brain, down my spine and spread out through my body. An insistent voice saying it wasn't just Charlie that was making me feel that way. It was also the woman with the long distance, two timing girlfriend. A sigh slipped out but I tried to hide it by getting Charlie even more excited than he already was.
‘You can let him off the lead today if you feel brave enough.' Sharon was standing at the side of the door, an encouraging grin on her face. ‘His leg is getting better and a little time off the lead won't hurt him at this stage in his recovery.'
‘Really?' Emily sounded thrilled but I felt scared shitless. What if he ran off? Got hit by a car? Saw a squirrel and he thought it more interesting than us? What if his leg went? What if? ‘You ok?'
‘As much as I would like to …'
‘Come on. Take a risk. How will we know what he is capable of if we never give him a chance?' Risk or chance. The same thing but completely opposite. One sounded positive whereas the other saw me without Charlie in my life. Emily was staring at me, the concern evident. I wanted to be like her, wanted to be a chance taker, let my lad run through the grass and smell the freedom. ‘If you love something let it go.' Is that the best she could come up with? If I loved something I held it close and didn't fuck off for twelve months at a time. Maybe that was her style but it certainly wasn't mine.
‘I'd prefer if we waited a little longer, if you don't mind.' I patted Charlie's head. ‘I don't want to risk it just yet.'
Story of my life, really. Risk equals loss in my book. I'd risked telling my parents about me not being the straight, grandkid bearing daughter they had raised and look where that had got me. I risked loving Toby as much as I did and look what happened there. I'd also taken a risk by allowing Emily Carson into my life …
I want to stop there. I think I've made my point.
I dropped Emily off and went home to shower and change before what was now termed as ‘Rob's Bash'. I was going to suggest I picked her up and took her there, but I stopped myself. Asking her if she wanted a lift to my sister's opened too many doors to too many rooms that I wasn't willing to visit. Emily had a girlfriend and I was just the other woman who wanted Charlie as much (although I would say more) than she did. It was for the best. For me. I had to clarify that last bit as I would hate you to believe that Emily Carson actually viewed our relationship as having points where we could move in directions that either of us were comfortable with. I think I'm going off the point, or just maybe rambling. Again.
Moving on …
Six forty five saw me knocking on the door to Abbie's house and instead of it being opened by the toothless wonder, Lily, I found myself greeted than no other than the Queen of Sheba herself. ‘Where's Em?'
‘Hi to you too. Good to see you.' The sarcasm was lost on Abbie, so, I held up the bags with wine and nibbles. ‘I come bearing offerings from the great God Tesco.'
‘Didn't you pick her up as we arranged?'
‘We? I don't remember me being involved in the “we' part.' Excited screams came from the lounge and I would really like to say it was Rob, but it was my niece. ‘Maybe you should go and get her if you love her so much.' I pushed past Abbie before she could respond and called out to the rugrat.
Lily came bounding down the hallway, her arms outstretched and ready for me to pick her up and fling her about before lavishing her with kisses. ‘Where's Em?' Was this a conspiracy? Even my six year old niece was turning Spanish Inquisitor. ‘Me wants to see Em too.' For fuck's sake! Turning my head, I was greeted by serious green eyes and a pouting mouth. ‘You get her for me.' I opened my mouth to say no, but she placed her finger over my lips and shook her head. ‘You get her for me. Please?'
Shit. They were definitely working me over. Talk about guilt trip. Why had it suddenly become my responsibility to bring Emily to the party?
‘She's probably already on her way here, baby.' Blonde eyebrows furrowed but her gaze was constant. ‘Emily is coming here on her own, Lils.'
A cough from behind me broke Lily's staring and Abbie spoke. ‘Erm … well … maybe she is waiting for you.'
I shook my head, my lips gathering in thought before I answered. ‘I left her at her house with no mention of picking her up.' I placed Lily on the floor and she automatically gripped my leg and started hanging from my jeans. ‘Why would she be waiting for me?'
At least my sister had the grace to look embarrassed. ‘I called her about an hour ago and told her you would.'
‘What the fu …'
‘Bad word, Aunty Wellie.'
I felt my teeth clank together and the air shoot from both nostrils.
‘I did leave you a message on your mobile. Didn't you get it?' Der! Well it looks like a resounding ‘no' from here. Lily was tugging me towards the door in the hopes I would get the message and bugger off to pick up her new friend.
I wanted to be all pissy and say I hadn't heard it ring, but I knew, and so did Abbie, that I hadn't turned my mobile back on since the morning when I was pretending to be talking to a woman other than my sister. That also reminded me that Abbie had one on me.
‘What time did you say I would be there?' What else could I do? Abbie, as always, had the upper hand. Don't get me wrong, my sister would defend me to the death, but it didn't mean that she wouldn't have fun with me when she could. To spend the evening walking on egg shells was not what I wanted and if you were ever the victim of my sister's piss taking, you would've caved too.
Fifteen minutes later I was pulling up outside Emily's and wasn't surprised to see her waiting outside and on the phone. I knew she was talking to my sister even before she said she would see her in a little while. It was the grin. Part of me wondered what Abbie had said to her, but the bigger part of me didn't want to know.
‘You look beautiful.' I think the words that came out of her mouth surprised her even more than they did me. The blush spread over her face as if she had been frantically airbrushed. ‘I mean, erm … I usually only see you in your work gear.' No she didn't and she knew she didn't as the blush turned incandescent. I grinned but didn't answer. The door opened and she eased herself inside, the smell of her perfume greeting me and filling my senses. God, she smelled good. She always smelled good, but tonight it was even more intoxicating than usual.
I watched her fiddle with her seatbelt, trying to get it to slip into the slot, those strong slender fingers fumbling around the clasp. ‘Here. Let me.' Click. Not just the seatbelt, but something else too. It was as if time slowed down once again and my eyes drifted from her hands to her wrists to her arm, across her chest and up her throat. I witnessed her swallowing rapidly and wished I, too, could swallow at the moment. Then I was greeted to those soft red lips, partly separated, almost waiting. Brown eyes seemed bottomless, like hot swirling melted chocolate. ‘There. There you go.' It was agony tearing myself away from her; I could almost feel the ripping. My hands were shaking as I gripped the steering wheel. It was almost as if I had no control over my body.
For the rest of the journey we were quiet. There were so many things I wanted to say to her, but none of them were about Charlie or the work I was going to do on her land. I wanted to ask her why she put up with Michelle's infidelity, why she didn't see her for months on end, why, and this was the big one, why she made me feel so fucking much. But I kept quiet. Kept my stupid questions to myself.
Lily was waiting outside pretending to bounce her ball against the wall when we arrived. As soon as I pulled up the handbrake, she was next to Emily's side of the car and trying to open the door. ‘Me told Aunty Wellie to git you.' Aw fuck. ‘And mummy did.' Anything else, Lily? Do you want to grass me up about my swearing too? ‘She said a bad word.' Looks like a yes.
I tried the forced chortling and negation of Lily's statements. ‘Kids, eh?' More forced snorting making me seem like the village idiot. ‘I didn't say a bad word, Lils.' I stopped, didn't I? I'd only got the ‘fu' out. Emily turned to me and I could see a fleeting glimpse of disappointment flash over her face. ‘I wouldn't swear in front of a child. Honestly.' Should I have crossed my fingers on that one? A small smile appeared on Emily's face.
‘I believe you.' Thousands wouldn't, including myself. So, if she believed me, why did she still have that look of disappointment on her face? Sometimes I can be as thick as shit.
The evening went better than I thought it would. Thankfully, Abbie had invited other people too and it wasn't just a ruse to get Emily and me together. Another bonus was there was no sign of Cherie. Result! An additional surprise was that Abbie didn't try to match make – although I was expecting it all night and found myself trying to analyse everything she said or did. As for Lily – she was infatuated with Emily, and I think Emily was a little taken with my niece too if truth be known. There are not many people who would make such a fuss over a six year old, even playing dolls. I mean – dolls! Who plays with dolls now? Especially dolls that insist on having tea parties where the ‘dolls' chat about Justin Bieber, Jessie J and One Direction. I have to admit, she did well as she smiled like she meant it when she found herself performing a duet of Never Say Never with a bit of Price Tag blended in for originality.
But you know what? At one point I really hoped Abbie would push us together. I know. I know! Emily had a girlfriend and I wouldn't be the one to make her do a ‘Michelle'. That wasn't the only reason, as you well know. I didn't want this. Didn't want to get involved whether she had a bird or not. Just because she was attractive … well, if I'm truthful, beautiful, didn't mean I should pursue what was commonly known as cosmetics. That was shallow. And just because I found myself looking over at her time and time again didn't mean anything. It was the way she laughed, the way the sound of it drifted over to me and distracted me from conversing with mates of Rob's that was the problem. It didn't matter that I felt pockets of excitement race throughout my body every time she looked my way, every time she blessed me with a smile.
In the end I decided I would help tidy up. Being in the kitchen with a sink full of pots was just what I needed to ground me. Abbie and Rob took turns to remind me that I was a guest and was missing out on the party. Don't get me wrong, I didn't spend all my time at the sink. I did find myself drifting over to the door to see what was happening in the throng of it all. Even though I found myself searching out a certain pair of brown eyes, I still wouldn't allow myself to stroll down the street of attraction.
It was twelve thirty by the time the party started to draw to a close. Lily had been in bed ever since she had splattered face first onto the sofa at approximately ten o'clock. I was surprised she had lasted as long as she had considering her throat must've been caning her after all the high notes she had attempted. I knew it was down to me to take Emily home, as I had been the one to grudgingly deliver her earlier. And considering all the things I've written in the last couple of paragraphs, I was thrumming with excitement as I knew it would just be her and me. Alone. In the cab of my truck. And what rhymes with truck? Begins with ‘f'? Yep. That big old swear word that was rapidly becoming the most used word when I thought of myself alone with Emily Carson.
‘Did you have a good night?' Civilised, don't you think? Emily released a chuckle followed by a long breath.
‘Is your niece always so musical?' Now it was my turn to chuckle. I shook my head. ‘I mean … Bieber, Jessie and …. Who the hell is One Direction?' This time I laughed out loud. ‘In some screwed up way, I feel abused.' The humour was in her tone and it made me feel all warm inside.
‘Who cares?' A soft laugh escaped. I could feel the tingle of it, almost the sensation of it touching my skin.
The journey was quiet, just the sound of the truck's engine and the tyres moving along the road. But it didn't matter. No. It was safe, warm, comfortable. We didn't need to talk it was perfect just the way it was.
Pulling up outside her house I felt her absence even before she left. In a screwed up way, I wanted her to just leave as quickly as possible – almost like the removing a plaster effect. However, I knew as soon as she slammed my truck door I would feel the relentless sting of it.
Ping. The light of my cab flicked on as she opened the door. In my meanderings I had missed the sound of the seatbelt being unclipped. And why I even thought that was important is anybody's guess.
‘Thank you, Ellie. Erm … I had a wonderful time.' I nodded and grinned stupidly. ‘Wow. I didn't know it was so late.' I know. Goodnight. You've kept me out too long. ‘There's no point asking … nah … it's gone one.' Ask what? Obviously not the time as she seemed pretty set up on that front.
‘Nothing. It's ok.' That niggles me when people do that. You know when they've said something or are thinking something and half tell you but then say it's nothing.
‘It can't be nothing if you were going to say it. What?'
‘Erm … it's late.'
‘It's late? Is that what you were going to say? Doesn't seem much like a que…'
In answer, I turned the engine off. A butterfly of excitement fluttered up my throat. She was nervous about asking me in for ‘coffee'. ‘Coffee.' The hot liquid stimulant that people used as a ploy to get another person back to her place. Where had my thoughts about not wanting her to do a Michelle gone?
I felt the butterfly stagger and age before stumbling over its fluttering. Emily was involved with someone else and it didn't matter if I found her desirable or not. If I knew Emily like I thought I was beginning to know her, it was only coffee being offered. And if I knew me like I knew me, I was half disappointed and half relieved.
As she was fumbling with her keys, I stood behind her grinning sporadically. I was happy to be going in, happy that it was only a friendly nightcap, but … that's why I was grinning in stops and starts. However much I tried to convince myself I was contented with just coffee, truth be known, I was gutted all down one side.
‘Are you coming in or do you want me to bring your coffee out to you?'
‘No … Yes … I'm coming.' She grinned at me and I could see the sparkle of her eyes even though it was dark.
Emily led me through the house to the room at the back. Inside there was a sofa, a small table and not much else. The room was starkly lit, well, it was for about thirty seconds as Emily clicked on a lamp and turned off the main light that hung despondently from the ceiling. ‘Won't be a tick.' And she was gone, leaving me standing at the side of the sofa like I was frightened it would swallow me whole if I dared put my arse on it.
‘Come on, Anderson,' I whispered to myself. ‘It's coffee. Just coffee. She's got a girlfriend.' Tentatively, I lowered myself onto the sofa, sinking backwards as soon as my butt hit the cushion.
Emily's head appeared around the door. ‘Would you like something stronger? Wine? Beer?'
But it was supposed to be coffee. This was a definite swapping of the rules and I wasn't savvy in the art of ‘What to do when someone moves the goal posts'.
‘Better not. I'm driving.' Not bad. Could have been more sophisticated, but it did show I had good morals and values.
Emily tilted her head to one side, her top lip slipping inside her mouth to be nibbled gently in thought. Then it reappeared, slightly wet and glistening. ‘You could always stay here tonight.' Stay? Stay at Emily Carson's after drinking alcohol? Stay at Emily Carson's after drinking alcohol and not long after I had realised I was very attracted to her? It was friendship suicide.
‘Never mind. It was just a thought.' She grinned. ‘Coffee it is then.'
‘Wine.' What? ‘Please.'
The grin she had given me before seemed to pale in comparison to the one she gave me right at that moment and I knew I had made the right decision.
Shame I didn't feel the same way once she had gone back to the kitchen. What the fuck was I doing? It was obvious that I couldn't handle my drink – look at New Year. Yes. Where had my resolve to never drink again gone to? At least I had behaved myself in front of Cherie – no amount of alcohol could have made me climb into the sack with her. The most worrying thing was I didn't need to be under the influence of demon juice to happily climb into Emily's bed.
Michelle. Yes. The girlfriend. I had to keep focusing on that and I would be fine. I wasn't the type of girl who would have a one night stand with someone who was involved (however weirdly) with someone else.
Clink. I knew she was collecting two glasses and on her way back to the room. So, like a thirteen year old out on her first date, I scooted to the furthest corner of the sofa and waited.
‘Red ok?' I nodded and smiled coyly. I was regressing or maybe regretting my spontaneous reaction. ‘Here you go.'
I planned on sipping it, but my mouth had other ideas. I had half-finished the glass before Emily had sat down. Not good.
The room was so quiet I even wished for a clock to break up the airwaves.
‘So.' When Emily spoke, I jumped. Anyone watching through the window would think I was seated with a notorious killer instead of a wonderful and gentle woman. Actually, if someone was watching us through the window, maybe I should have been more concerned about him. ‘Tell me more about you. What do you like to do?' When? ‘You go out much? Any hobbies?' Huh? Why couldn't I think of anything to say? Emily turned her attention to her glass and gently swirled the dark red liquid. She looked a little lost in thought for a moment and I couldn't help staring at her profile. A straight nose, full red lips (not accentuated by the wine), long dark lashes … dark brown eyes looking straight into mine. ‘Anyone special in your life?'
‘I bet you have them lining up don't you.' A short laugh slipped out and she tried to drown it with a sip of wine.
‘Lining up to do what?' The wine she had sipped decided to spray itself back into the air with a pppfffffffft followed by coughing. Leaning over, I slapped her on the back. Then again. Then once more for luck.
‘Lining up to go out with you. The women. I bet you have to hit them with a stick.'
‘Me? Women lining up?' Yes. Me? Women lining up? As if. I couldn't remember the last person who had showed me any interest (Cherie is not included in this, ok?)
‘Yes. You.' Emily smiled tentatively at me before turning her face away and staring at her wine again.
It must've been no more than ten seconds before I answered but it seemed like a lot longer. If there had been a ticking clock, at least I would have had a gauge to answer to.
‘No. There are no lines, no sticks and no girlfriends. And …' I drained the rest of my wine, ‘no more wine in this glass.'
Emily laughed and shot to her feet, scooping the glass from my proffered hand. ‘Your wish is my command, oh master.' I wish.
Whilst she was gone, I began to wonder why she had asked me if I had a girlfriend. Was it just something people did? I was so out of the loop when it came to socialising I couldn't follow social etiquette. With Abbie it was different. She knew everything about my life anyway – actually, she knew more about what was going on in my life than I did. Not that it would be a full time job to keep tabs on my boring existence – a few seconds every day would be more than enough.
‘Here you go.' My wine glass hovered in front of me and I stared at the liquid trying to settle itself. I moved my attention to the slender fingers cupping the base of the glass and imagined them stroking down my jaw. ‘Here you go.' Maybe the thumb moving delicately over my lips, tantalising them with a promise of something else, something more satisfying. ‘Ellie?' Not that it would lead to anything. I would have to stop her, remind her she was already involved with someone else. ‘Are you ok?'
Snap. That was me coming back to the present day. ‘Erm. Yeah. Sorry.' I laughed, or giggled like a teenager on helium, before lifting the glass from Emily's hand. ‘I was in a world of my own for a minute there.'
‘Penny for them.'
I giggled in my helium filled cackle once again and sipped my wine, nodding in approval. ‘Nice. Smooth.' Unlike my attempt to change the subject.
Emily settled herself next to me once again, her body leaning forward, her eyes fixed on the wine in her glass. More silence. Maybe it wasn't such a great idea me coming in for wine flavoured coffee after all. It was my turn to get the conversation going this time. I could feel it.
‘What are your plans for the house?' Trust me to bring up the topic of work when I should have been charming the pants off her. ‘You keeping it or selling it on after it is finished?' A sigh slipped out of her mouth and was shortly followed by a small smile.
‘Keeping it.' It was then that I realised I already knew this. Could I fuck up any more?
‘Oh yeah. I remember now.' Actually admitting that I had forgotten that I knew she wanted to settle down, get a good garden space for Charlie, have a place for her to rest her boots was not the wisest move. It proved I was a dickhead.
Time for Plan B.
‘So. How long have you and Michelle been together?'
Emily's head shot around, brown eyes opening in surprise. What? She didn't think I would bring up the topic of her girlfriend?
‘Michelle and I?' And whomever else either of them decided to bring into their lives, yes. A short, sharp laugh shot out her mouth. ‘Michelle?' Another laugh. Why was she being so … so … weird? ‘Michelle? As in this morning Michelle?' I nodded, rapidly, not trusting my voice to help me out. ‘My best friend from uni Michelle? The one who is with Tania?' She laughed again, throwing her head back and bellowing by now. Fuck me. It was only a question. A simple ‘three years' would have sufficed. ‘You think I am with Michelle?'
Well, not at this precise moment, no, but the way Michelle had talked this morning … Wait. What exactly did she say that made me think she was in fact Emily's girlfriend? That Emily didn't have the stamina anymore? That I had, like usual, over analysed the term ‘friend'?
‘Mich-elle? She is with Tania. She has been for over a year.' But … Leaning forward, Emily placed her wine glass on the floor and then turned to me. Brown eyes intently looked into mine as she pursed her lips ready to speak. ‘I am single, Ellie. Very much so.'
Single. Sin…gle. As in not with anybody. A free agent. Up for grabs. Wait. That sounds just plain wrong. I'll change that to ‘available'. Or should I vocalise it to ‘Available?'
It was the way she was looking at me. It was the way those eyes had changed from being so serious to almost liquid that was nearly my undoing. I wanted to lean over and brush my lips over hers and tell her how absolutely beautiful she was, but I couldn't move. Time seemed to stand still and the air between us appeared to be the only barrier. Her face was getting closer to mine – was I was moving towards her or was she leaning into me? Her eyes were closing, her lips were parting, her breath was ballet stepping on my skin. My heart was beating so hard I was definite she could hear it, or see it trying to force itself from the confines of my chest and dive into her. All the moisture from my mouth evaporated and I frantically licked my lips as if I was expecting a delicious meal. Emily's tongue slipped effortlessly from her mouth and swiped along her bottom lip. She was going to kiss me. She was going to kiss me. She. Was. Going. To. Kiss. Me.
It was something inside that made me shoot to my feet and stagger to the side spilling my wine on my jeans, something that I didn't know was hiding there, or I had forgotten was lurking in the depths of my stomach. It was fear. I knew if she kissed me right then I would be completely lost, completely under her spell. I couldn't, just couldn't allow her to make me want her more than I wanted her already. I couldn't take the risk … couldn't chance it.
‘Bathroom?' Emily was sideways and leaning into the spot where I had been seated moments before. It was obvious she had stumbled forward as I had made my cowardly escape. I could see the blush on her face but she wouldn't look directly at me.
‘Upstairs, second door on the right.'
I nodded even though she couldn't see me and raced off in the direction of the stairs carrying my wine glass with me.
After closing the bathroom door, I slumped heavily against the wood. What was I doing? Why had I run? I wanted to kiss her so fucking much. Still did. Why couldn't I just let her in? She wasn't my parents, wasn't Toby, wasn't all the other people in my life who had not stuck around, although Toby couldn't help it. It was Emily. The woman I was falling for. Fuck. Falling for. It wasn't love – not yet. It couldn't be love. I just really liked her and had a case of stage fright that was all.
Looking down, I saw the glass of red wine still in my hand. With one swift movement, I finished it. The heat of the liquid flowed through me and I felt it prickle my courageous bone and inflame the blood in my veins. Moments later I was back in the living room. Emily was still seated on the sofa but stood as I walked in. I didn't think, didn't allow anything else to come between me and this moment. I also didn't give her the opportunity to move away, to apologise, to do anything but be pulled towards me, be pulled towards me and kissed.
Her lips were surprised, stiff, initially, but I was insistent. My hand slipped around her neck and pulled her face downwards and I deepened the kiss becoming lost in the softness of her mouth. Tentatively, she touched my lips with her tongue and I opened my mouth to let her inside. God. To be kissed by her. To be kissed by Emily Carson. It was all I had ever dreamed a kiss could be and then more besides. Her hands were slipping down my back and I could feel the dips and peaks of each curve as her hands made the journey. The heat of her was melting into me and I felt as if I was on fire.
It didn't take much to push her down onto the sofa. Not much effort at all to slip over her. I didn't miss a heartbeat as I cupped her perfect breast and gently squeezed it. The moan she emitted made all the moisture from my body collect in the place that had lay dormant so long. I nudged her thighs apart and guided myself between them. Her legs wrapped around me and pressed, pushing me deeper into her. I needed to feel her skin. Needed to mould my flesh against hers. Needed to connect fully, claim all of her, scoop her up and swallow her whole. My hips began to grind against the mound of her, my jeans tormenting the place I wanted her to possess.
Releasing her breast, I found the space between flesh and shirt. Cool, yet hot, skin met my touch and I moved upwards to capture her breast through the confines of her bra. An erect nipple strained against my palm and I rubbed against it luxuriating against the peak of it.
‘God! Ellie! Yes!' Her voice was low, seductive, addictive. My lips moved to her throat and suckled whilst my hand moved the cloth of her bra aside. Feeling her breast, the softness of it, the curve and bounce of it … I wanted to taste it. Wanted to move my mouth over it and claim it, devour it, become lost in it.
Leaning back, I felt the coolness of our separation. Brown eyes fluttered open only to stay hooded and pleading. Her hands cupped my ass and tried to pull me back, but I wanted more. Needed more of her.
Without preamble, I tore her shirt open, the buttons skittering in all directions. The black bra was askew, one breast exposed and waiting for my mouth. It didn't have to wait long. The feel of her, the taste, the way she responded as I feasted nearly made me cum without even taking off my clothes. But I wanted more. I wanted it all. Emily's hands dipped under my top and glided up my back sending shock waves of electricity jolting through my skin, the sensation making me buck my hips. Emily released another moan, a long guttural moan that made me buck again. Her hips met mine and the rhythm of the dance increased in tempo. I could feel it building, feel the burning need to take her, plunge my fingers into her and make her mine.
Grasping at the button of her jeans, I didn't release my hold on her breast. Pop. One button gone, the zipper was fluid, as was my hand. I shifted to allow my fingers to slip inside her panties, but found myself on the outside. The heat from her, mixed with the wetness, made me groan against her breast. ‘Emily. Please.' Why I was asking her I don't know. Maybe I thought her underwear would miraculously disappear along with the jeans that were cramping my hand. I rubbed along the crease of her making her hips jerk and her nails dig lightly into my back. Having her so open, so close, so wet and ready but not be able to take her was becoming an agony.
Using the hand I had been gripping her ass with, I began tugging at her jeans. Initially, Emily tried to help me, but then it seemed as if she stopped. It took me a few seconds to realise that the need to consummate was one sided and I lifted my head from her breast and met her eyes. She wasn't angry, she just seemed sad in some strange way. Why would she seem sad? Didn't she want this as much as I did? Hadn't she said yes? Spoken to God? Pushed back into me as I pushed into her?
I opened my mouth to ask her, but she just shook her head. But she was so wet – so ready! I knew she had wanted me just as much as I wanted her. I could still feel it on the tips of my fingers. At this realisation I pulled my hand out of her jeans and sat back, then climbed off her. It was time to leave.
‘Ellie. Please.' I felt stupid. So fucking stupid. Why I had decided to take the bull by the horns and go with the moment I didn't know.
‘Ellie. Don't go. Stay. Please.' Why? So you can try to lead me on again?
As my hand hit the door handle, hers covered it. I just stared at her fingers – her long, slender fingers. ‘You can't leave. Not now.' Turning my head I looked into her eyes. They were so dark, the pupils nearly covering the brown.
‘Why not, Emily? Want to tease me some more?' I spat out. Her lip quivered, her eyes flickered closed and opened again.
‘You don't understand – I need to …'
‘I understand perfectly,' I ground out before attempting to turn the handle once again.
‘You've been drinking. You can't drink and drive.' I don't know what hurt more – the way she led me on or the reason she didn't want me to leave. Either way it hurt. ‘Look. I'm sorry. I didn't mean for things to get out of hand. I really like you, Ellie.' I heard the sob at the end and I felt my anger ebb slightly. ‘I just don't want to be another notch, another one night stand.' Her hand lifted from mine as if she was giving me the option to decide.
Another notch? I could barely remember the last notch I'd had never mind the collection of them. As for a one night stand, that wasn't my style at all. I released the handle and let my hand fall to my side.
‘Come. I'll show you your room.' Her hand came out as a gesture to lead me and I partly lifted mine to take it but stopped. Instead, I just nodded my head in acceptance.
We didn't speak much, just the necessities of knowing where the bedroom was, a spare toothbrush, a t-shirt to sleep in and then I was on my own lying in the dark of the spare room in the house of the woman I had nearly taken on her sofa. To say sleep was difficult would be an understatement.
I was up and dressed again at six thirty and hoped to sneak out without having to meet Emily. However, she was seated at the kitchen table when I went downstairs.
As soon as I entered the room she was on her feet asking if I wanted breakfast, a coffee, anything. I smiled and declined. I just wanted to get out of there and back to the safety of my sad little life. This situation was so fucked up. Last night, before the debacle on the sofa, we had been on our way to a good solid friendship. I was supposed to be working for her, but how could I do that now? And what about Charlie? What about my little boy? We were in this together and now I'd jeopardised him too with my inability to stop my wanting her.
‘I'd better just get back. I've things to do.' I moved towards the door and had nearly made it too before she spoke again.
‘Eleven ok?' Shit. I was just going to go by myself. ‘To see Charlie?' I pursed my lips before gritting my teeth, then I felt as if I could turn and face her. Her face was open, expectant. I had to get over my embarrassment for Charlie's sake. I didn't want him to become a victim of my social faux pas.
‘Sure. I'll pick you up.' I opened the door and turned to face her once again. ‘Thanks for the bed.' And then I was gone.
I showered. I did the things a person does when they have spent the night away from home. And all the time I was doing these normal things I agonised over my actions of the previous night. Did I imagine it? Did I push too much, take the lead too strongly, expect gratification from someone who wasn't interested in me that way? No. Emily had wanted me as much as I wanted her that I am sure of. The only thing bugging me was the way she had said she didn't want to be another notch, another one night stand. What on earth did she mean by that? I did not sleep around. I had never slept around. Why had she thought I did?
My hand rummaged inside my jacket pocket and I pulled out my mobile phone. Should I call and ask her? Right. That plan was out of the window as there was no way I would be doing that. What about Abbie? Fuck no. I would have to admit that I'd got jiggy with it, or tried to, with Lily's new best friend.
Slipping the phone back into my pocket, I made my way to my truck. It was half past ten and I needed to go and pick Emily up to go and visit with Charlie. I had the feeling this was going to be an interesting day.
She was waiting at the gate for me as I pulled up. Her face looked pale and the smile she gave me was hesitant. I would like to say at this point that I felt no physical attraction to her, but that would make me out to be a liar. I felt more than a physical attraction for her and that was why I was finding this situation so difficult.
‘Hey. You're early.' I wanted to carry on with our joke about her waiting for me, but I smiled and patted the seat next to me.
The journey to the Trust was quiet with only a few comments filling the air. When we arrived, Charlie was waiting for us, his tail banging on the floor and his ball wedged in his mouth. A mewling noise slipped around the plastic orb and I felt the first spurt of happiness I'd felt all day.
‘Hello there fella.' More mewling and thumping of tail. Emily crouched beside me and tickled Charlie's ears making him like putty in her hands. A laugh shot out of her mouth and she looked at me, her face beaming.
‘Looks like someone is happy to see us.' I nodded and grinned. ‘Shall we let him off the lead today?' I felt the grin slip. More risk? Look what had happened last night when I had decided to take a leap of faith. It seemed as if Emily read my mind and placed her hand on my knee. ‘We have to take a chance sooner or later, Ellie. Might as well be now.' Was she talking about Charlie or me and her? ‘He's a good boy and he loves us. He will come back when we call him, I promise.'
To be honest, I didn't want to do it. I had only known him for ten days and I didn't think that he would respond to me as much as I felt he needed to. Come to think of it, that also meant I had only known Emily for ten days too. So why did it feel as if I had known her all my life?
‘Ok. Let's try him. But …' I grabbed her hand and pulled it to me and watched how her face went from glowing to seriously excited, ‘only for a little while.'
‘Suits me.' Then she did something I didn't think she would ever do again. She pulled me to her and hugged me hard. I felt a soft kiss land on my cheek and then the coldness of the air as she pulled away and opened Charlie's door. The next few minutes I can't actually remember.
He was perfect. Absolutely perfect. He raced after his ball, brought it back, saw a squirrel and ignored it as he was too busy showing us what an adorable well-behaved little man he was. Charlie trotted in between Emily and me as if he was trying to balance his affection. Instead of the ‘little while' off the lead, it ended up with him being off the lead for the majority of his walk. Every time I went to clip it back on, Emily said ‘Just a little while longer' and I was presented by two sets of brown eyes pleading with me to take a chance. I couldn't resist either of them.
Arriving back at the kennels, I felt the all too familiar tug inside my chest as I had to say farewell to him. My throat constricted slightly and I was more than aware that I felt the need to cry. I hated leaving him there – hated the way he would scamper into his kennel and turn, sit and look at us both with such love. How could he understand that it wasn't our choice to leave him? How could he know that I wanted to take him home with me? But, then again, so did Emily.
As soon as I clicked my seatbelt into place Emily spoke. ‘We need to talk.' Shit. ‘About last night.' Double shit. Shall I go for verbal diarrhoea? I grunted instead and started the engine. ‘Let's get lunch somewhere and talk. Neutral ground.' I grunted again. Emily released a huge sigh and pulled my hand brake back on. ‘Ellie. We need to clear the air.'
‘It's clear enough from where I'm sitting.' I unlocked the hand brake again but it was once more clicked into place. I tried again, but was stopped. ‘What?' I glared at Emily who just raised her eyebrow in a menacing way. ‘I thought you wanted to get lunch. How can we get lunch if you won't let me fucking drive there?' Yes. I know. I shouldn't have snapped and I shouldn't have sworn but … what I said was actually right wasn't it?
I expected her to look hurt, you know, do the female thing of slumping in her seat and having a face on her that could dampen any occasion, but no. She was leaning forward, her top lip snarling and the hint of murder in the once soft brown eyes. ‘Well fucking drive then.' It wasn't spoken, it was growled, and strangely enough it shot a tingle down my spine.
As soon as I pulled into the parking spot, she shot out of the car slamming the door behind her and marched off inside the pub. With a shrug, I pulled on my hand brake and grinned stupidly to myself before following her. Part of me was not looking forward to our ‘needing to talk' whereas it wouldn't hurt to clear the air – like in a good old fashioned argument. At least it would relieve some of the built up sexual tension I had been harbouring from the previous evening.
I spotted her as soon as I entered. She'd claimed a seat in the corner away from prying eyes and, hopefully, bat like ears.
Instead of making my way over, I went to the bar and got us a drink and picked up a menu that boasted ‘The Best Carvery in Town'. How original. And how trite was I being? I turned back to Emily who was glaring at me from the seat. ‘You want a carvery?' I mouthed. She glared even harder. I gave her the thumbs up before ordering two carveries from the barman who would have seemed more at home doing his homework or updating his profile on Facebook.
‘Done.' I plonked the drinks down and the slips we had to present to get our food. ‘Want to eat before you rip my head off even more. I'd hate you to get full up by chewing my ass off.' Emily opened her mouth to retort and closed it again. I slipped onto the bench seat and moved next to her.
‘I'm sorry, Ellie.' What for? Leading me on or being aggressive? ‘I've been totally out of order.' I pursed my lips and nodded knowledgeably. ‘I just … well, I like you.' Huh? Like me? God knows what she would be like if she loved me. I would probably be in Accident and Emergency by now, or six feet under.
‘If you like me, why did last night happen?' Hark at me and my ability to get to the point. It must've been a first.
‘It happened because I do like you.' Emily lifted her drink and took a gulp.
‘You leading me on, letting me … you know … and then treating me as a mistake you couldn't wait to get rid of.' God, I felt in control. It didn't come often and I wanted to soak in the situation. Well, not really. In fact I was dying a thousand deaths. I felt so exposed, but I had to know. Had to find out why.
‘I didn't want to be a statistic.'
‘A fucking what?' Yes. That came out a little bit louder than I had originally intended. Lowering my voice, although it didn't really matter because half the patrons in the pub were now looking in our direction (even the teen behind the bar had stopped Tweeting), ‘A fucking statistic? What do you mean by that?'
I watched her grit her teeth together before taking another gulp of her drink. I was happy I'd only got her a Coke as at this rate she would be too pissed to talk. ‘Michelle told me about your phone call.' Phone call? ‘The woman you were apologising to.' Apologising? ‘And when I asked you if there was anyone special you said no.'
‘But there isn't anyone special …'
I watched the sadness cloud her face and then pass as if I had dreamed it. ‘That's obvious.'
‘I have no idea what you are talking about. If you didn't want to …'
‘Too right I don't want to. I don't want to be with someone who sleeps with a woman one night and is then trying to get into another's bed the next.' Something was ringing in my head. A memory. A realisation. An epiphany. She was talking about my fake call yesterday to my sister – the same sister I could have sworn would have told Emily what I had done. Then I did something stupid. I started laughing.
Top tip! Don't laugh at a woman who wants to shove her fist down your throat to start with. It only pisses them off even more.
‘So. I'm a laughing stock now am I?' Fuck. She looked so mad. It made me laugh even more. ‘Right. That's it.' Emily stood tipping the table as she did so. My drink wobbled precariously and I tried to stop it. Instead, I knocked it towards her covering her jean clad legs. ‘Jesus! Fuck me.' Not the right thing to shout out in a public house on a Sunday lunchtime.
‘Sorry. I'm sorry.' I tried to wipe her jeans, but I only had my hands and they weren't doing very well. Emily grabbed one of my hands and peeled it back.
‘Why don't you save it for one of your conquests, Anderson.'
‘For fuck's sake!' I stood up and leaned over the table in a threatening way. ‘Apart from nearly sleeping with you last night, I haven't had sex in nearly two years!'
If you are wondering what the ‘Tink' is, it is the sound of a pin dropping somewhere in the pub.
‘Everyone is staring aren't they?' My voice was low; pity it hadn't been in the previous thing I had decided to share.
Emily's eyes darted past me and she nodded. ‘Nearly everyone. The old bloke reading the paper hasn't … oh wait … now he's looking.'
Slowly, I sat back at the table and rummaged around my pockets. ‘Here.' I held out a couple of tissues for her to take some of the Coke from her jeans.
My. Weren't we being civilised.
Sounds started to filter back into the pub's atmosphere and I knew, initially, most of the voices were discussing what they had just heard. Although lesbianism was more acceptable and common in 2012, people still found it a riveting topic of conversation.
As I wiped the table with the last of the tissues, Emily stilled my hand. Glancing up, I was met by understanding brown eyes. ‘For the record, I haven't had sex in nearly three years.' A short laugh shot out of her mouth. ‘And that was the night before I found out she was sleeping with everyone else.'
‘By the bucket.'
There was an awkward silence brought on by feeling too exposed. Quickly, I looked around for some inspiration for conversation.
‘I think our carvery tickets are a bit wet.' I held up the soggy pieces of paper and grinned at her and I was blessed by a truly wonderful smile in return. God bless food tickets. ‘You ready for “The Best Carvery in Town”?'
She nodded once, a comical smile on her face. ‘Lead on Macduff.' So I did.
Conversation over lunch was more relaxed. We actually spoke to each other instead of trying to rip each other's head off. I wanted to ask her more about the woman who had cheated on her, but I didn't think it was up to me to ask. I would wait until she wanted to talk about it. That was the thing to do after all – very much me showing my sensitive side.
‘Ellie? Can I ask you something?' It was the tone of her voice that gave away the fact that what she wanted to ask me wouldn't be good. ‘Who was on the phone yesterday morning when you were talking to Michelle?' Told you.
I watched her face twist into a look of horror before I realised she must've thought I was doing unnatural things with my sister. It was time to confess.
‘I assumed Michelle was your girlfriend and … and I didn't want to seem so … so …'
‘Single?' Sounded better than desperate like I was going to say, so I nodded.
‘Yes. Single.' Although desperate actually did fit better. ‘Also, I didn't want Michelle to think I had tickets on her girl.'
A soft smile lit across her face. ‘But I told you about Tania … what did you … no. You didn't think I was in a relationship with someone who would sleep with someone else and tell me about it did you?' Once again, I nodded. ‘Bugger.' Then she laughed. ‘Wait until I tell Michelle. She will pee her pants.' My look of mortification was easy to read and she laughed again. ‘No worries. I'll keep mum.'
After we had finished eating I drove her home with the promise to be at hers bright and early the next day. It would be the beginning of a new week and hopefully a new chapter in my life. This time, hopefully, without crossed wires and a lack of communication.
Well. A girl can hope can't she?
Nearly a week had passed since the episode in the pub and nothing else was mentioned. We still went to see Charlie every day and then both went back to Emily's for lunch before we got on with our own work. I found myself day dreaming a little too much to actually get a spark on and finish the jobs I had set out for myself each and every day. Too many times I came around from some mind fart with my head resting on the handle of my spade. Weirdly enough, it always seemed that Emily was doing something in front of me when that happened, but she never said she saw me doing it.
I wanted to bring up things. And when I say ‘things', I mean ‘things' like asking her out for a date. However, she had not indicated that she wanted to pursue anything else after the fiasco of the previous week. She knew I wasn't a Lady Killer – far from it – unless you can bore someone to death by talking about plants and dogs, then I am guilty as charged. We both knew the other was single, was attracted to each other, had nearly made the beast with two backs six days ago and thoroughly enjoyed it (well, I did until I realised I was on my own in that experience, although now I know why the fire had been dampened for her), so why nothing?
Although I wanted her – God, I wanted her – I don't think I was ready for anything to happen. That's my excuse for not bringing it up, although I wanted to bring ‘things' up. Jesus Christ. I'm confused, so God knows how you feel.
Maybe it was Charlie. No. I don't mean that he pulled me to one side and said in his doggy way, ‘Don't bother asking her out. She'll shoot you down.' It was more that if I allowed myself to become attached to Emily, to date her, then what would happen when the month was up and we had to decide who he was going to live with? Could I let myself become all loved up and then say, ‘No. Charlie is my dog. Fuck off.' I doubted it.
So, here I am digging a hole for a fence post – one of many in my life, both literal and metaphorical – and daydreaming about asking out a woman I would never ask out. Yep. I'm an idiot.
A few days later I went to see Abbie. Lily was more concerned with me arriving on my own and not have Emily with me to give me the time of day and decided to play with her pooch instead. Poppy was well-established into the household by now and had everyone in the palm of her paw. It was good to see them as a family and even better to be greeted like someone who belonged there. Yes. I was feeling a little over-sensitive for some strange reason. I wanted to cry, dip to my knees and holler, ‘My beloved family. Come to me.' I had to mentally count the days until my period to make sure I wasn't ovulating at one point.
After cadging a cuppa, I suggested taking Poppy on a walk and had to grin inwardly as Lily shouted for ‘Jessie J'. It wasn't that she had called the dog after the singer; it was the complete disregard for the name from pup in question. Actually, she ran in the opposite direction.
‘Watch this, Aunty Wellie.' Lily unclipped the lead from Poppy. ‘Sit.' Poppy sat. ‘Staaaaaaaaay.' The dog stayed as Lily backed away from her. ‘Staaaaaaaaaaaaay.' Poppy looked expectant. ‘Come here, Jessie!' Lily slapped her hands on her thighs and the pooch went to move towards her but sat back down again. ‘Jessie!' A little twitch, but the dog stayed.
‘Try using her name.'
‘Her real name.'
Lily tutted and stared hard at Poppy as if she was sending a message telepathically. A sigh broke out. ‘Poppy!' The little Jack Russell ran over and jumped up to lick Lily's hands, which were by now waving excitedly in the air.
I clapped and cheered, telling Lily how clever she was for teaching Poppy so well. The little mite just glared at me before cuddling Poppy to her. ‘I didn't. She came like this.' What was she? A new gadget? Where are the instructions? I grinned at her.
‘But she wouldn't do them for just anyone, now would she?' This made Lily even more excited than she already was and proceeded to tell Poppy to sit and stay about forty times.
By the time we got back both Poppy and Lily were beat and decided ‘they both' needed to watch TV. Rob was at work so it left Abbie and me to have a catch up session in the kitchen.
‘What's up?' I don't know how my sister does that. She wasn't even looking at me at the time.
‘Why should anything be up?' Abbie snorted and continued to brew the tea. ‘Why're you snorting?' She snorted again. ‘There's nothing up. What makes you say that?' Was I too insistent? Was that the reason why she could read me like a book? ‘Abbie?'
‘For fuck's sake, Elles. I was just inquiring how you are. But by the sounds of it …' she turned with the mugs in her hand sporting a huge grin, ‘I think you need to talk to your big, understanding sister.' The mugs hit the table. ‘Spill.'
‘There's nothing to spill.' I pulled the drink over to me and held onto it like it would act as a barrier. Abbie snorted again. ‘Have you got a cold?'
Abbie disregarded what I'd said and just looked me squarely in the eyes. ‘Look, sis, no offence, but when was the last time you came to see me in the middle of a work day?' I stared at her blankly. ‘I'll tell you when. When you lost Toby five years ago.' That couldn't be right. I came to visit all of the time. ‘Don't get me wrong, you come to see us.' See? ‘Just not when you should be working.' Abbie leaned over and took the cup from my hands and placed it on the table. ‘So. You can see I am a little concerned.' I didn't say anything. ‘How's Charlie?'
‘Good. Great. Actually, more than great.'
‘How's the arrangement between you and Emily padding out?'
‘What do you mean by that?' How could she get me to expose my thoughts so easily?
‘I actually meant about you going to see Charlie together, but I think maybe …' She cocked her head to the side and gave the impression she was reading me. ‘You've fallen for her haven't you?' I made a pfffft sound and leaned to get my drink again but she moved it away. ‘You have! You've fallen for the gorgeous Ms Carson!' Abbie threw her head back and laughed out loud – or lolled, as modern language dictates us to do – at least it was better than her snorting, although not by much.
‘No I haven't!'
‘Ellie fancies Emily!'
‘No I don't!' Even I didn't believe me.
‘You like Aunty Ems?' Even Lily had come through to witness my transformation from human to beetroot. ‘You gunna marry her?' Poppy skidded around my niece and hopped up onto my knee to stare intensely into my eyes.
Somewhere in the background I heard the doorbell chime but was too embarrassed and mortified to move. Abbie was pointing at me and laughing, just like she used to do when we were kids. And just like when we were kids I hated it.
I could hear Lily talking to someone and telling them her Aunty Wellie was going to marry Emily when I realised Abbie had stopped laughing.
‘What?' I saw the colour drain from Abbie's face and I still didn't get why. It seemed as if everything had slowed down, like when a video tape is showing each screen shot. My head took an age to turn from my sister's ashen appearance to the reappearance of Lily coming through the doorway, her mouth still moving but the words seeming to become distorted. She was holding a hand. An older hand. She was totally animated, although still slow. Her face turned towards me and I witnessed the happiness beaming from her. Lily nodded in my direction before looking up again. My eyes followed the trajectory of her gaze and I came eye to eye with my mother.
Thirteen years. That is how long it was since I had looked into her eyes. I would like to say the expression was softer, the eyes understanding, the hatred gone. But I can't. The look she gave me was enough to show me that it didn't matter how long it took, she would never forgive me for not being what she expected me to be.
It still hurt. Fuck. It more than hurt. Although I had spent the last thirteen years not expecting a hearts and flowers reunion, it was like a kick in the gut to know that it wouldn't have mattered if it had been thirty years; I was still not accepted for being me.
‘Mum? What're you doing here?' I could hear the panic in Abbie's voice. I knew she still saw our parents, my mother didn't have a grievance with the ones who conformed to her way of life, but it was still a shock to see her in my sister's kitchen holding hands with my niece.
‘Aunty Wellie is getting married to Emily.' No, Lily. Not now.
‘No, Lily. A woman can't marry another woman.' Yes they could. ‘It's unnatural.' No it isn't. Love is love. And if I wanted to marry Emily Carson I bloody well would.
‘I think I should go.'
‘Ellie?' My sister sounded pleading. ‘Don't. Stay.'
‘I'll speak to you later, sis.' Abbie tried to say something else, but I just leaned over and kissed her cheek. It is amazing how I actually could say anything considering the size of the lump in my throat.
Turning, I ruffled Lily's hair and told her I would come again at the weekend. She let go of her grandmother's hand and clung to my leg. ‘Stay. Poppy needs you.' Her grip was getting tighter. ‘And me needs you too.' I tried to peel her off, but she wasn't having any of it, so I had to shuffle away from the scene in the kitchen with my niece hanging onto me. Not the way I envisioned leaving the meeting with my mother, but what else could I do?
Thankfully, Abbie came to my rescue as I got outside and lifted Lily off me. Green eyes looked concerned as I climbed into my cab. ‘I'll call you later, Elles.' I just nodded my head and started the engine. They both watched me as I drove down the road and I missed their presence as I turned the corner and back to the emptiness of the day.
As soon as I got home I turned off my mobile. It was almost like Auden's poem, but instead of the ‘Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,' it seemed more like ‘I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong'. Too fucking right. Love doesn't last forever. It hurt. Love was a bitch. How could they just turn their back on me just because I never wanted to be with a man? Had I hurt anyone? Yes. Them, by all accounts. It didn't matter that I had done everything they had ever wanted apart from conform to the ‘norm'. I hadn't been a wild teenager, never gave them reason to ground me. I wasn't experimenting with lads behind the bike sheds or on the back seat of a crappy car. Maybe I should've, then, probably, I would have been more what they wanted. Would they have been happier if I had come home pregnant? Run away with some spotty teenager who happened to have a dick? Where had my philosophical, ‘Too much had happened in my life to worry about their insensitivity and inability to love me no matter what' gone to? It didn't really matter, did it? What had happened in between, what had happened before. I am gay. I prefer the company of women, although I hadn't actually been with a woman for so long, I was more asexual than a lesbian.
The image of my mother's face when she had seen me after thirteen years popped into my head. I was hoping that her turning her back on me would have aged her, would have eaten her up with guilt, but no. She looked just the same as she always did, maybe a little older, but nothing of note. Part of me wondered what my father looked like, but then I thought ‘Who gives a shit?' I also wondered if they were happy that they had done what they had. Probably. And once again, ‘Who gives a shit?' It was obvious they didn't care if I was happy or not – they would have preferred me to live a life of misery pretending I was something that I wasn't than accept who I am.
I'd moved from hurt to anger in the space of thirty minutes. And with anger comes more anger. How dare they? How fucking dare they try to mess up my life after all this time. Wasn't it bad enough they had kicked me out when I was twenty with no means of looking after myself? They'd totally expected me to recant my claim on a life of decadence and come scuttling home with both mine and Toby's tail between our respective legs. But, obviously, we hadn't.
I felt my lips peel back from my teeth to deliver a menacing grin. I bet my refusal to conform fucked them off big time. Images of my childhood rattled through my head. All the times my mother reprimanded me for just being a kid. Times when I wanted to share something with her and she dismissed me with a look or a wave of her hand. School productions were never attended, Parent's Evening was always met with ‘So, she could do better?' never a ‘Well done for coming top in English', just a sneer and ‘You should work harder at Maths or Science. They're more important.'
Don't get me wrong, all my childhood wasn't so bad. I had Abbie. It stills surprises me how normal she turned out to be. She never let them get to her … never let them win. No wonder she got married so young. Yes. She loves Rob, but maybe getting married so young wasn't just because they couldn't wait to get hitched. I wondered what her story was. Had my parents tried to intervene with her life like they had mine?
‘Brrrrrrrrrrriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnngggggggg!' The sound of my house phone nearly made me pee my pants. I lunged towards it but stopped before lifting it from its cradle.
Click. I listened to my voice announce that I couldn't get to the phone right now but if they would like to leave a message …
‘Hey, Ellie?' Why was Emily calling me? I'd seen her that morning. Walked Charlie with her, told her I was visiting my sister because the supplies I needed to finish the back fencing weren't ready yet. ‘I … um … how're you?' Huh? ‘I've tried your mobile but it went straight to answer phone. Can you call me back when you get this?' I could, but it didn't mean I would. ‘Or Abbie.' Bingo. ‘Ok. Speak soon.'
Abbie had called her. I knew it in my bones. I bet if I turned on my mobile it would have a missed call, maybe a couple of messages from my sister on there. I was surprised she had waited as long as she had. How long had it been since I had left her? An hour? Where was the witch whilst she was calling me? Stirring her cauldron?
Stop. Why was I having a go at Abbie? It wasn't her fault she was straight and kept in contact with our parents. I was becoming bitter – or was I already bitter and this was just an outburst, a bit like herpes?
Lifting the phone, I dialled. It only rang a couple of times before a very familiar voice answered.
‘Hey. You busy? Fancy meeting up for a bit?'
I was on the phone for less than a minute and I felt better already. I'd to get myself into gear as I now had plans. I decided on a quick shower and a fresh set of clothes. Can't be going to a pub at six in my work gear can I? And I didn't think Abbie would be too happy with me turning up stinking of work, sweat and tears. Obviously I didn't call Emily. That would have been too easy. I needed to speak to my sister, as that was why I had gone around to hers in the first place.
Glancing through the window as I moved towards the bathroom, I spotted the supplies for the back fence sticking out from the tarpaulin sheeting I had hidden them under. I half-smiled. At least I‘d fooled one person today. Fooling my sister was a completely different kettle of fish. She could spot a cover up before a person had time to blink.
Abbie was already there by the time I arrived. Lily was at home with Rob probably driving him mad with dog tricks or sing-alongs.
As I approached her, she stood and rushed towards me, scooping me into her arms and hugging me close. ‘Sorry for earlier.' I shrugged and tried to pull away. ‘No. I am. I should've put Mum in her place.' I sighed and tried to pull away again.
‘People are looking. They think we're a couple.'
‘Let them look. When they're talking about us, they are leaving some other poor bastard alone.' I laughed and pulled my head back to look at her. Abbie had one eyebrow raised and a self-satisfied smirk on her face. ‘Fancy something to eat? This place boasts the best carvery in town.' Bollocks. I'd forgotten about that when we had made the arrangements. I laughed and Abbie looked at me questioningly.
‘Nothing. Sit. I'll be hunter gatherer.'
Approaching the bar, I wasn't surprised to see the same barman waiting for me. He gave me a knowing nod and a wink before asking what he could get for me. Cheeky bastard. Couldn't he see Abbie and me were related? I shrugged it off and gave him my order. As he passed me my change, he leaned in conspiratorially and whispered, ‘I won't say a word.' I just glared in response. What a wanker.
Abbie waited until we had eaten before she brought up the subject of our parents. Instead of answering her question about how I was feeling, I dived into ‘Why did you marry Rob so young?' She cocked her head to the side and looked at me with confusion.
‘Because we love each other?'
‘I know that, but why so young? Why couldn't you just live together first?'
Abbie laughed. ‘Do I really have to explain that to you?' No. She didn't. She hadn't been allowed to just ‘live' with the man she loved; she had to conform to expectations. But that wasn't the Abbie that I knew. Abbie would've told Mum to fuck off and moved in with Rob anyway. I didn't have to ask her again, as she sighed and pushed her empty plate away. ‘It was made clear that if I lived “in sin” with Rob then I wouldn't be welcome back.' I shrugged. To me that was no big loss. ‘And that would've meant I wouldn't get to see you. Mum made it very clear that I would be a bad influence on you.'
‘But I was old enough to come and see you … old enough to make my own choices.'
Abbie leaned over and grabbed my hand and I could feel the barman's eyes on us. Pervert. ‘It doesn't matter, does it? It is all in the past. Rob and I love each other and would've got married sooner or later.'
‘No buts, Elles. It is what it is. I'm happy.' A pause. ‘Are you?' I looked at her in confusion. ‘Happy?' I opened my mouth to speak but couldn't decide whether to say yes or no. ‘You could be if you gave her a chance.'
‘I did. I have. We did … erm … nothing.'
‘What the fuck? You did … erm … nothing? Story of your life little sis.'
I bit my top lip to stop my initial retort, giving a very good impression of a bull dog in the process. ‘We nearly … then we didn't. She … I … bollocks.'
‘Have you asked her out on a date? A proper date and not “Let's go and see Charlie”?' I was sure I had. Sure of it. Near the beginning – the lunch, yes. No. It was just lunch after all. Rob's Bash! No, once again. I had to be told to go and pick her up, which is something you don't normally do when on a date.
I opened my mouth to answer and then I had this wonderful image of a certain brown eyed boy in front of my eyes. Charlie. He was the reason why I hadn't asked Emily out on a date. And why did I have to go through all the different scenarios before I was reminded of the reason why I hadn't formally asked Emily Carson out? I shook my head to dispel the thought, but Abbie took it as negation.
‘You need to …'
‘No I don't.' I whipped my hand from hers.
‘Yes. You do.' She grabbed my hand back and forcefully dragged me over the top of the table – not right over, but enough for us to be eye to eye. I looked over her shoulder and saw the barman give me the thumbs up. I wanted to send him the British two fingered salute, but I couldn't get my other hand around to be as effective as I wanted. ‘I'm really proud of you for putting your heart out there again with Charlie, but you need a woman in your life.'
That was the problem though, wasn't it? I couldn't have one without the other being taken away. If I allowed Emily into my life, Charlie would be hers or else it would be a case of what I said before … if I opted to keep Charlie, where did that leave Emily and me?
It was as if a light clicked on inside my head. Not a very bright light, but a light all the same. But wouldn't I lose her friendship too? I hadn't thought of that before now. All I had focused on was a relationship not a friendship. But I didn't want to lose her friendship. I'd just found it. Just found her. Why did I have to choose? Why couldn't I have both?
‘You know, if you and Emily did get together, then maybe both of you could have Charlie.' I heard the words coming from Abbie's mouth but found it difficult to understand them. How could we both have Charlie? I would be at my house and she would be at hers. I wanted Charlie full time.
A little voice squeaked inside my chest, ‘And you also want Emily full time too.'
‘My head hurts. Can't we just …'
‘No. You need to talk about it, Ellie. You can't keep crawling back under your anti-relationship rock. I know you've been hurt. I know losing Toby was tough … and losing Mum and Dad.'
‘I don't give a shit about those two.'
Abbie didn't comment, as it was obvious I did. ‘You need to let her in. If it is just sex, then it's just sex, but you have to start living again, baby.'
‘You ladies finished?' The barman had decided Facebook wasn't as interesting at the two women in the corner and came to clear our table. ‘Can I do anything else for you?' I really wanted to say ‘Yeah. Fuck off,' but I'm too much of a lady. ‘Would you like … some dessert?' I just glared at him until he went.
‘I want a Sundae with nuts.' Huh? We go from talking about sex to Sundaes? ‘And chocolate sauce.' Abbie let go of my hand and stood. ‘I'll be the hunter this time. You just sit and think.'
I didn't. I sat and fiddled. I sat and shuffled. I sat and leaned on and off the table until Abbie returned.
‘I'm on a diet.'
‘A little of what you fancy makes the whole world better.' Abbie sipped her drink and looked smug. ‘Why deprive yourself of life's little pleasures when to indulge now and again makes everything slot back into place.' What was she talking about? ‘I've got yours without nuts.'
‘Why? You know I love nuts.'
‘Because you are a lesbian and lesbians don't eat nuts.' Obviously, she said that just at the time the ice-creams arrived much to the delight of the barman who had decided he was now our waiter for the evening. Both Sundaes were covered in nuts. ‘Gotcha.' She picked up her spoon. ‘See? You can have both. Ice-cream and nuts.'
I just shook my head and gave her a look of sympathy. ‘You're nuts.'
‘Eat. Or I will be forced to eat it for you.'
So I did.
All night I couldn't sleep properly. Every time I closed my eyes I saw images of things I didn't want to remember. Why is it when you can't sleep you can never think of all the good stuff in your life? But then again, what good stuff?
Abbie. Lily. Rob, on occasion (joke). Charlie. And … Emily. But the last two could so easily not be the ‘good stuff'. They could so easily be the stuff that I packed away and hid at the back of my wardrobe to collect dust and if onlys.
I watched dawn break and lay there for a little while longer before dragging my ass out of bed. I had work to do at Emily's and then we would be off to the kennels to see Charlie before lunch. It was only a week before the decision about who was going to have him came and I was half excited and half shitting my pants. But, at least I would know one way or another. Unfortunately. Or fortunately. Or back again to unfortunately. I could go on, but I think you have got the gist of it by now.
Emily was already outside and trimming down a door by the time I arrived. I sat and watched her with riveted fascination as she guided the jigsaw through the wood, her goggles firmly in place, her ponytail bobbing with the effort. Once again I was blown away by her. Why did she have to be so beautiful? So wonderful? So … so … Emily?
‘Morning, you!' In my stupor of longing I hadn't even noticed the jigsaw being shut down. Emily had pushed the goggles up and was grinning at me whilst waving the power tool in the air. ‘Did you get the supplies for the back fence?'
Yes. But they were still in my back garden covered by a tarpaulin sheet.
I grinned the grin of a woman who was trying her damndest to cover her faux pas. ‘I've got to pick it up in a little while.' Emily placed the jigsaw down and made her way over to me. ‘Shouldn't take me long to collect it from B&Q.'
‘Great! Can I cadge a lift? I've got to pick up some supplies myself and it would save time if we went together.' Shiiiiiiiiiiit.
‘I could get it for you. Save even more time.' I could hear the pleading tone in my voice. It was a pity she couldn't.
‘Don't worry about me.' I opened my mouth to come out with another pile of shite but she continued. ‘Then we could go straight to see Charlie. It's on the way.' True. But that still didn't change the fact I had lied to her the previous day did it. ‘Want a cuppa?' She didn't even wait for my response as she was on her way to the house before I could form the words ‘Fucking hell.' Excuse the slip into rude vernacular although I believe you already know I tend to swear quite readily.
It was the galvanised nails scenario all over again but this time the shoe was on the other foot – actually on the other foot of the other person, that person namely being me. Emily had changed our time slot once and pretended it was because she had to collect a special delivery. Hers was a little more acceptable though. She had done so because she had wanted to invite me to lunch. I, on the other hand, had done it so I could run blabbing to my big sister about why I couldn't sort my life out into clear cut categories. At least I got ice cream.
Slowly, I made my way to the house. I thought if I walked slowly, then maybe I could think up an excuse before I got there. Unfortunately, the thinking part of my brain was elsewhere – probably at a party with other parts of my brain and discussing over cocktails and sausages on sticks what a knob I am. If I'd been invited, I would have agreed.
Looking towards the house I could see Emily at the window watching me. Her hands were leaning on the sill and she was staring intently in my direction. A butterfly took off somewhere in the region of my gut and started to tippy toe its way through my insides. I saw her body straighten and turn quickly away as if she didn't want me to see her. A grin split my face. ‘Too late, Lady.' For a split second I felt in control until I remembered that I was still a back fence hiding twat.
All the way to B&Q I tried to think of excuses. Nothing. Emily was checking her list and rattling on about hoping everything was ready so she didn't have to keep me waiting. I was beginning to pale. Why hadn't I answered with ‘Oh yeah … I picked them up yesterday and took them home. That's why I missed your call.' Because, as my brain cells had all agreed, I am a knob.
As we got out of the truck, I turned to Emily and said, ‘I'll be over at trade. Shall we meet back here?'
She shook her head and smiled that adorable smile of hers. ‘I'm going to trade too.' Shhhhhhiiit. ‘Oh wait. I need to go and check out the flooring tiles.' Thank you, God! ‘Meet you in a few.'
I raced over to the trade counter and had to wait behind a bloke who thought displaying the crack of his arse to everyone in the vicinity was standard and perfectly acceptable. In my head I was repeating the mantra ‘hurry up' before I realised I didn't actually have to queue as I had nothing to collect. I stepped back, turned and started to make my way away.
‘There you are. Finished already?' I nodded enthusiastically. Emily looked behind me and pulled a face. ‘So … where is it?'
I laughed, a little bit hysterically if you ask me, and shook my head. ‘You won't believe this …' because it's a lie, ‘they've delivered it to my place already.' Emily cocked her head to one side, her eyebrows furrowed.
‘Really?' I nodded again. ‘Do they do that without you asking?'
I opened my mouth to tell more lies but was stopped by the sound of the builder behind me. ‘Sorry about keeping you waiting, love. These lot couldn't find their dicks with both hands.' And then he scuttled off, hoisting his jeans to crack height as he went.
‘Pfft … I've always found them to be efficient.' Was my voice always that high? By the amused look on Emily's face I will take that as a no. ‘Do you need me to help you collect your stuff?' Emily grinned that half grin of hers before shaking her head. ‘Ok! I'll meet you at the truck.' I was almost running as I left her but I still heard her laugh as I went.
Fifteen minutes later, Emily appeared with a trolley full of supplies. Well, I say she appeared with it, but that isn't quite right. She was being helped by a very attractive young woman who was wearing the B&Q uniform. A spark of jealousy shot through me and I found myself almost jumping out of the cab and moving over to take over the pushing of the trolley. ‘Here let me.' It is amazing I didn't cock my leg and piss all over her.
Emily nodded and grinned then turned back to the woman to continue the conversation and I ended up loading the truck on my own. With each item, the thudding as it hit the inside of my truck became louder. But, neither of them showed they'd heard me.
‘Ok, Cathy. Lovely to see you again.' I gritted my teeth. ‘We'll get together soon, yes?' I felt my jaw crack with the pressure of my grimace. ‘Hey. You've loaded it all. Aren't you a star?' I opened my mouth to answer but Emily turned to wave at the retreating blonde. ‘She's such a lovely girl.' I mouthed the same and gestured sticking my fingers down my throat. ‘Bye Cathy!' I did the same thing as previously. Funnily enough, it didn't surprise me how petty and childish I could become. Actually, I enjoyed it. ‘All set?' Emily looked animated as I nodded. ‘Back to yours?' Huh? ‘To get the back fence?'
‘Oh yeah. The back fence.' I mumbled. Emily grinned knowingly.
It wasn't until I had collected the fence from my garden, much to the amusement of Ms Carson, that the topic of Cathy was brought up. Like vomit. Why did Emily find it so interesting to list the positive qualities about the bimbo at B&Q anyway? Just because she had qualifications growing out of her arse, a fantastic eye for property development, and was knockout gorgeous didn't mean she had it all. She worked at B&Q. B AND Q. And she wasn't so fucking gorgeous, if truth be known. I'd seen better, although I wasn't quite so bitter about it. It was when Emily said why ‘Cathy the Perfect One' worked at B&Q that I joined the conversation once again.
Her husband was the manager of the timber department. Cathy was helping him out. Did you get that? Hus-band. Hus-b-and. And this husband was a friend of Emily's from years back, as he'd worked for her on occasion. Yes. Little Miss Fancy Prancy Totally Knockout was a Breeder and not a lezza like me. I felt some sense of control come back.
‘Why did you lie to me about the fence?' Maybe the previous statement was a classic case of pride coming before a fall. ‘And why didn't you return my call last night?' A double whammy. What could I tell her? ‘Oh sorry Emily. I was having a relationship crisis and rediscovered my mother hates me more than ever?' ‘Was it the visit from your Mum?' Bloody Abbie. She'd better not have said anything else. ‘I heard you went for another carvery.' This wasn't panning out the way I wanted it to.
‘Sorry. I … well, I was upset.' Might as well be honest. ‘I'd rather not talk about it if you don't mind.' Just because I was feeling honest didn't mean I had to tell her anything. My philosophy in life – if you can, keep your mouth shut.
Twenty minutes later we were with the ball of fluff himself. I watched him with Emily. They looked so good together – playing, chasing each other, chasing the ball. I felt tearful for some reason and had to pretend I had a bit of dust in my eye to cover myself. It didn't seem two minutes until we were back in the truck and on our way back to Emily's. Time with Charlie seemed to get shorter and shorter, although we were there for exactly the same time as usual. It seemed as if the closer D-Day was, the quicker time was moving. It was usually the other way around, but not on this occasion. I should've been looking forward to it, but I wasn't. The only upside was that Charlie wouldn't have to climb back into his cage and be left again. He would have the run of either Emily's or my house.
For the rest of the day I kept catching myself looking over at Emily, well, more like daydreaming. Every time I looked at her I felt a deep yearning inside my chest. It wasn't sexual, it was so much more. It was as if I needed to be near her, needed to touch her in some capacity to feel right. I was getting the same about leaving her at night as I was when I was leaving Charlie. The only difference was she knew the reason why I was leaving – Charlie didn't. However, that didn't stop me aching for her. I felt myself moving towards her on more than one occasion, the words, ‘Would you come on a date with me?' sitting on the tip of my tongue. I wanted to be with her, see where this could take us. I wanted what we'd had after Rob's party and more … so much more. I wanted the picket fence, the fish pond life, and I wanted them with Emily Carson.
You may have gathered, I didn't ask her. Nor the next day, or the day after that. It actually happened the night before we were to collect Charlie from the Trust. The night before we were going to decide who he would be living with when we picked him up in the morning. Initially, the suggestion was going to be me asking her to come out for a meal and we could discuss what was going to happen, but when it came down to it, it all changed.
I'd finished making her garden secure – the thing she employed me to do from the outset. I could've finished it a few days previously, but I kept on dragging things out just so I could spend more time with her. I didn't want to stop coming to her house every day, and it wasn't because I enjoyed building fences or levelling her back garden. It was her. Seeing her. Watching her … talking and laughing with her. Each and every day we went to see Charlie and I felt the pull of both of them, the want to keep this going for as long as I could.
But it was over. Work was done and Charlie would be with one of us the next day making the need to see her redundant, making my presence redundant whether he came home with me or not. So, I had to make a decision. Walk away and never look back or push my spine back into place and ask her out on a date.
I would like to say I loaded up my truck, marched into her house and floored her with my charm. But, no. I did load my truck, fart about in the back for an age, scout around her garden pretending to check if it was safe and then check it all over again, all the time willing myself to just ask her out. ‘Come on, Anderson. Do it!' I hissed under my breath as I stood dancing from foot to foot at the door or my truck.
The front door to her house opened and Emily moved to just stand in the doorway and look at me, a half-smile on her face. She had streaks of dirt across her brow and some strands of hair had come lose from her pony tail to dance about in the breeze. ‘I think I need to pay you, don't you?' I'd forgotten she still owed me for the work – shows how love struck I was. ‘Come. Have a coffee and I'll settle up.'
This was my moment. This was when the charm would come out, wasn't it? This was when I asked her – poked that tongue out of mine with the words sitting on the edge … maybe not. I would just ask her. Ask her. Ask her out for a date.
‘There you are.' She hadn't even looked around but she knew when I stepped into her house. ‘Do you want a …'
‘Would you like to come out with me tonight?'
She seemed to stiffen and I wanted to run. Slowly, too slowly, she turned to look into my eyes. ‘Why?' Why? Why? What did she mean by asking why? ‘Are you asking me out on a date?' I couldn't read her expression. It seemed closed off. I wanted to say to discuss Charlie's future, but that would have been going back on what I'd set out to do. It was shit or bust.
‘Erm …' I don't think I've ever felt so vulnerable. ‘Would you say yes if I said it was?'
‘Because you don't have to say yes if you don't want to.'
A smile lit across her face before she turned back to making the coffee. I took the opportunity to pump my fist in the air whilst mouthing ‘Yes' again. By the time she turned back I had composed myself. ‘Go on then. I'll have a biscuit.'
I picked her up at seven thirty, although the time in between me leaving her and then seemed to be a lifetime. God only knew how I was going to cope not seeing her on a daily basis.
Unlike every other time I'd arrived at her house, she wasn't waiting by the gate. I parked and walked over to her door. Just as I got there it opened and I found I couldn't move. Standing in front of me was a vision. I always knew Emily was beautiful, always knew my heart raced when she was near, or even by the mere thought of her. But at this precise moment I think my heart actually froze inside my chest. Emily was beauty personified and I was total gone.
She was wearing a crisp white long sleeved shirt with the glimpse of a pendant around her throat; her hair was down and wisping around her perfect face. Lips seemed darker, fuller, even more kissable than they always did. But it was her eyes that had me, her eyes, those eyes, the dark brown orbs that seemed to swallow me whole in one glance. I could never tire of looking into those depths, as when I looked into them I could see my own happiness looking straight back. In that one look it seemed as if I had been set free from the past, set free from the manacles I'd imprisoned myself in.
‘You ready?' I still can't believe I actually uttered those two words. She nodded and stepped forward but I was blocking her path. A waft of her scent invaded my nostrils and I moved closer to her as if I was under her spell. I had to lift my head back so I could still look into her eyes. I didn't want to break contact even though I knew I should.
Emily dipped her face to mine, her breath hitting my skin, those eyes becoming even more alluring, even more mesmerising. It seemed as if she was reading my expression, soaking up my whole being in one look. Closer. Either it was her or me, or even both of us, but we were getting closer, our mouths parting as we closed the distance. Even though the kiss was inevitable, it still didn't prepare me for how I would feel once those lips touched mine. I felt a click, a lock, a fusion of one soul to another. It was soft, gentle, tender, passionate and all-consuming. The shocks of it raced throughout my body, claiming every molecule in its wake. Never in my life had I experienced a kiss that made me feel the way her kiss made me feel and I knew no one else would ever make me feel that way again. It was her. Only her. Could only ever be her. My woman. My Emily.
Cold air stung my face as we separated and I felt the loss of her immediately. Brown eyes widened as if in realisation and I knew I was mirroring her look. ‘I …' she cleared her throat ‘thought I would get that out of the way, or else I would be thinking of kissing you all evening.' I don't know about her, but I definitely knew I would be thinking of repeating the kiss for the rest of my life.
‘Good thinking.' Why couldn't I say something as smooth as her instead of ‘Good thinking'? Even if I wasn't a romantic retard in the first place, the kiss had pushed everything out of my head.
‘Shall we?' Emily was still leaning over me, her head still dipped to kiss me again. She was magnetic, magical, mesmerising and I felt the pull of her once more. Another kiss. Still comparatively chaste but also full of promise. We hadn't even touched, apart from our lips, our hands had not made contact with the other, although mine kept on lifting and dipping towards her.
As she pulled away again, it took me a few moments before I could open my eyes and look at her. It seemed as if I wanted to prolong the moment, forge it to memory. I heard a small chuckle come from her and fluttered my eyes open. ‘You look adorable.' Adorable? I was going for irresistible. ‘Come.' Her hand slipped down and captured my own before she led me to my waiting truck.
All evening I kept staring at her lips. Well, staring at her lips, her eyes, her hands and then becoming flustered and talking shite to cover myself. It was amazing to think I had tried to stop my feeling this way about her, but it had been inevitable since the very first moment I met her. I had felt a click, a connection even when she had me pinned to the floor at the Dogs Trust, but I had pushed away all thoughts of ever being with her because I was too scared of being rejected or left once again.
But it was too late for that. It had been too late from the moment I had seen her, seen Charlie. I had let them both in and believed I couldn't have one without losing the other. That wasn't so. I could have ice cream and nuts, as my sister had said, although she had coded it to fit with the moment, she knew I would realise she meant Emily and Charlie. Just because I couldn't have them with me straight away, it would come. There would be a place in the near future where I would be with Emily full time and Charlie would be ours, not hers, not mine, ours.
I think I surprised myself by the next thing I said.
‘I think Charlie should live with you.' Her fork was half way to her mouth, the food dangling precariously. ‘You're his mum.'
Clank. The fork hit her plate. ‘Elles.' Had she ever called me Elles before? She should have. Her voiced was gentle, reassuring. ‘No. I realised weeks ago that Charlie belonged with you.'
‘No, I …'
‘Yes. He is definitely your boy.'
‘But why did I keep going to see him every day?' A gentle laugh escaped her mouth. ‘Simple. So I could be with you … be with you both.' My jaw dropped open a little. To be with me? To be with us both? Apart from the scene on the sofa, had she ever shown me anything but friendship? Images of the way she looked at me, the way she spoke to me, the way she cared how I was feeling. Yes. She had. Never had she made me feel less than special, even though I hadn't realised it at the time. I was too busy being a moron. ‘Now I feel foolish.'
Another soft chuckle came from her and she fiddled with her napkin. ‘Because I've just told you I'm falling for you … can't bear to be without you.' Her eyes looked everywhere but at me, so I leaned over and turned her face with the tips of my fingers.
‘For the record, I've already fallen.' I watched her eyes brim and she tried to laugh again but it came out as a half sob. A solitary tear popped over her lid and scuttled for freedom. Using my thumb, I brushed it away before trailing it over her lip. I could feel it trembling.
Her hand came up and gripped mine. ‘You don't know how long I've waited to hear you say that.'
‘And you don't know how long I've wanted to say it.' It was true, even though I hadn't realised it. I felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders and for the first time in years I could breathe.
‘Dessert?' We hadn't even noticed the waitress standing next to us – hadn't even noticed the table had been cleared. I smiled at her before nodding at Emily.
‘I don't know about you, but I want a Sundae. With nuts. And chocolate sauce.' She furrowed her brow but still grinned in a confused way. Must have been the way I'd almost shouted my want of an ice cream.
The rest of the evening was perfect. We discussed her decision of letting me take Charlie and whatever I said she refuted. He belonged with me and that was the end of it. Anyone overhearing us may have though that neither of us wanted the little man, but that couldn't be farther from the truth.
On the journey back home I felt the butterflies set up their dance once again. So much had happened tonight and I knew the future would be full of things that were just as important. But it was what was going to happen when I walked her to her door … the kiss we were going to share before I left her once again. If it was anything like the kisses we shared before, I knew I would be floating home.
Upon stopping the car, Emily didn't wait inside the cab. She just climbed out before leaning back inside. ‘You coming in for coffee?' I felt the blood speed up in my veins and my mouth dry instantly. The last time she had invited me in for coffee … I … we … had wine. No. I didn't mean to write that. I meant to say, the last time we had kissed, had become intimate, had nearly had sex on her sofa. Was I ready for that? I mean, Abbie had said, ‘If it is just sex, then it's just sex,' but it wouldn't be just sex. It couldn't. It would be so much more. ‘I won't bite.' A part of me hoped that she did.
I gave her a grin and nodded, shutting down the engine of my truck as I did so. I wasn't even aware I could multitask. Amazing what the right woman could do for you, isn't it. Emily had moved to my side and held out her hand. As soon as I took it, I felt the familiar jolt between us and gripped hold of her fingers as she led me to her house.
Once inside, she went through to the kitchen and started filling the kettle whilst I stood in the doorway watching every move she did. I didn't want coffee. I didn't want wine. I wanted her. Her and only her. It didn't seem as if I actually moved, but one moment I was in the doorway, the next I was turning her around to face me, my arms wrapping around her neck. Staring into those eyes I knew I'd made the right decision. They were full of the same thing mine were surely showing. Want. The want for the other.
This time the kiss wasn't chaste, or soft, or tender. This time it was a claiming. This time it held no barriers. This time it would be forever.
My hands slipped into her hair and gripped, pulling her into me in the process. Her arms circled my waist before her hands pushed up my back. Our bodies were snug against the other, but it wasn't enough. I wanted more.
Breaking away from the kiss, I murmured, ‘Emily.' That was all that was needed.
‘Come.' She led me towards the stairs, stopping to claim my mouth time and time again; her hands moving over the buttons of my shirt, popping each one until the material flapped to the side. Emily pulled back and looked at me, her eyelids hooded, desire oozing out. A slender finger traced the curve of my breast and I felt a moan slip unceremoniously from my mouth. Using the palm of her hand, she cupped my breast, wrapping her fingers around the orb and squeezing with just the right amount of pressure. My nipples were already erect and ready for her, but the sensation of her holding me was almost too much for them to bear. I could feel the peak straining to touch her through the silkiness of my bra and I covered her hand with my own.
Brown eyes flicked up to meet my intense stare, our breathing ragged, her lips glistening in the half light. I had to taste them again, had to capture those desirable lips with my own before I went mad with the want of her. So I did, crushing her to me and trapping her hand between our bodies.
By the time we had reached her bedroom, my shirt was gone and I was in the process of unbuttoning hers. It seemed as if my hands were not functioning the way I wanted them too. They seemed like they were trembling - that they were out of control.
‘Here. Let me.' Emily's hands covered mine and slipped them to the side. I stepped back and watched her unbutton each white plastic disc with precision, popping them through the small slit with ease. I couldn't tear my eyes away as she slipped that crisp white shirt from her body, exposing strong shoulders, defined arms, the lace of her bra, the mound of her breasts … a taut, flat stomach.
My mouth was dry and I gulped feeling the pain of it. Tentatively, I stretched out my hand again and trailed my finger over her collar bone, my eyes following the journey. Then that finger dipped, moved down her cleavage and over her stomach. I could feel the muscles twitching, both hear and feel her breath becoming laboured. Cool metal halted my journey and I realised I was at the button of her trousers. I looked back into her eyes and saw her eyebrow lift slightly as in anticipation. Pop. Open. Then the zipper, slowly, so slowly, moved downwards. This wasn't like the time on the sofa – this was so much more. Although I wanted her, God, I wanted her, I also wanted to take my time with this. It wasn't a satiating of need like before; it wasn't a fumble. This was so much more.
Pushing the material slightly, I was surprised to see the trousers move quickly out of my way only to pool at her feet. She stepped out of them, kicking them to the side in one motion. Her shoes disappeared next, leaving her in only her bra and panties.
I stepped back, my hands reaching for hers and lifting them so I could see her completely. Emily Carson was more than beautiful, and if I ever find the words to express just how beautiful, I would be a classed as a genius.
Letting go, I removed my shirt and watched her expression change; the light from the hallway casting a shadow down one side of her face. I now knew what true desire looked like and it was addictive. Quickly, I removed my trousers and shoes and moved towards her once again. Sliding my hands over her stomach, I cupped both breasts and sighed. Her hands were behind my back unclipping my bra, the straps easily falling down my arms, the offending item joining the pool of clothes we had left in our wake. I mimicked her actions, but moved to the hem of her panties, toying with the lace before slipping the material down strong, muscular thighs. I kneeled in front of her and kissed each thigh in turn, my fingers digging slightly into her skin. Slowly, I moved upwards, encouraged by the sounds she was making, exhilarated by the way her fingers were moving through my hair.
I could smell her, the pure scent of her. It was like a drug and my mouth was watering in anticipation of the taste. Nuzzling between the vee of her thighs, I heard a moan above me. God. She smelled so fucking good I wanted to eat her. Pushing her thighs apart, I dipped my mouth to her most secret place and gently kissed her. Another moan. Another kiss. I had to dip inside, had to satisfy this hunger that was taking over me. My tongue parted her with a slight push and I could feel the wetness of her coat the tip. It was like a reflex reaction, as the taste seemed to drive me forward to bury my face completely into the heat of her and eat.
Strong fingers dipped into my hair and pushed me in harder. I could hear her saying my name over and over again as I feasted from her, my hands pulling her closer and closer, deeper and deeper. I stumbled forward as she stepped back and away from me, my eyes blinking open in surprise. Had she changed her mind? Didn't she want me as much as I wanted her?
Strong hands slipped under my arms and pulled me to my feet. Hot lips claimed mine; all expectation of taking our time removed as she growled into my mouth, turned and guided me backwards towards the bed. As soon as I was on it, she was on top of me, her hands pushing wildly at my underwear. Those gone, Emily used her knees to part me, slipping her body between my legs and pressing her mound to mine. And again - another push - another groan, her mouth capturing mine. I gripped her ass and pulled her into me, luxuriating in the contact of her whole body against me, loving the wetness from her that was mixing with my own with each movement.
I needed her inside. I needed to feel her fingers dip between my legs and part me, slip along the shaft of me, move towards my opening and fill me with her. Emily was trembling and I knew it was with desire and not fear. She was trying to slow it down, trying to make our first time perfect and slow and tender, but both of us were too far gone for that. I needed to feel the power of her arm as she plunged inside; watch her eyes full of want as she looked into my own as she fucked me hard, as she took me and made me hers.
Lifting my knees, I opened up more for her, inviting her inside. Emily pulled her face away from mine and leaned slightly back, her hands moving down my body, almost in a caress, until her fingers dipped between my legs and met the place where I needed her to be. She tilted her face slightly as if asking for permission and I answered her with a push of my hips.
Instead of entering me, she slipped over my wetness, teasing my clit on the way. One eyebrow raised, she gave me the half smile I loved so much. Lowering her head, she captured a nipple in her mouth and sucked, making me buck against her, making her fingers almost slip inside. But no. She moved them and continued to tease my clit with her thumb whilst lavishing my breast with her mouth. I pushed again hoping she would take pity on me, hoping she would enable my release. Again, she flicked her fingers near my entrance but refused to enter.
A smile crossed my face. It was time to turn the tables on her.
With one movement, she was on her back and I was straddling her. Brown eyes initially looked surprised, but not for long. Grabbing her hands, I pinned them to her sides before moving down her body whilst purposely missing her breasts. Emily groaned and tried to guide me back, but I pushed on holding more tightly to her hands.
I was back where I wanted to be, back to the apex of her and ready to finish what I'd started. Looking up, I saw Emily gazing down her body, her expression expectant. A slight blow of air from my lips hit her wetness and I felt her squirm against me. I grinned at her and lowered my face, never breaking eye contact. Once again I dipped my tongue at the crease of her, pushing it down before dragging it back. ‘ God !' Emily's eyelids fluttered but she kept her gaze upon me. A flick was accompanied by a gasp and a jerk of her hips, my name tumbling from her.
Opening my mouth, I captured her fully inside and sucked, using my tongue to tease the hard nub. I felt her hands leave mine and slip into my hair, pulling me into her. Her scent was addictive, gloriously addictive and I felt as if I was drowning. Gripping her thighs, I opened her wider and buried more deeply into her. I could feel her opening teasing me and I knew I had to be inside. Circling, slowly circling her was an agony. Emily was trying to speak but words were lost on me … lost on her.
In. Slow and sure. I waited inside her before flicking the tip of my tongue and loving the grinding of her hips into my face. The taste of her from inside was even more wonderful than previously and I wanted to eat all of her.
Out. And left wanting.
In. But this time deeper.
Out. If only to breathe momentarily.
The rhythm of my taking of her was increased by the movement of her hips, her groin, her legs pushing into the mattress.
‘More. Please, Elles. More. I need more of you.'
Two fingers replaced my tongue and I slipped them inside her, her walls hugging them in welcome. I pulled them back, slowly, before pushing them in with more force. I wanted to continue devouring her, but Emily pulled me up her body to kiss me, thus pushing my fingers deeper inside. Our bodies moved in unison, sweat coating our skin enabling our bodies to slip effortlessly against each other's. She was so wet. So fucking wet. The heat of her poured from her and I was totally under her spell as she pulsated around my fingers.
Pulling out of her, I felt her try to follow the trail of my hand but she stilled as I returned with three fingers, hovering outside her entrance. I didn't have time to ask as Emily grabbed my wrist and pushed those three digits deeply inside . ‘God! Yes!' Her hands tugged, gripped, pulled me closer whilst I took her, claimed her, made her mine. I used my hips to push my hand in more deeply and glorified in the noise she made. My arm was moving faster, deeper, the rhythm increasing, the need to feel her cumming paramount to everything else. We were so close, almost melting into the other. Her hands gripped my ass and pressed hard almost crushing my hand in the process. I didn't care. I was beyond caring about anything else but her, beyond anything else but loving her. Loving her. Lov-ing her.
‘I love you, Emily.'
No sooner as the words had left my mouth that she came, coating my hand with her innermost nectar. An almost primal scream left her lungs before it changed into words of loving me too. Seeing her, her head thrown back, the muscles on her neck straining, nearly made me join her in the blinding searing light and place of wonder. But I couldn't. I was too mesmerised by her; too mesmerised by my admission of love – of her mumbled declaration. Was it just the moment? The orgasm? Not for me, for her?
Kissing my way up her stomach, I finally stopped and captured her nipple, sucking it fully into my mouth. My fingers were still deep inside her and I could feel the aftershocks of her orgasm pulsating against my fingers. I could feel her stroking my back, my hair, the side of my face and I knew she was looking at me. Lifting my gaze, I released her nipple and rested my chin on her chest to stare adoringly back.
‘I love you so much, Ellie. So much.' It was spoken with intensity, although the volume was low. A thumb brushed over my eyebrow making me flutter my eyes. ‘I think I fell in love with you the very first time I saw you with Charlie.' I frowned and smiled. ‘I knew that someone who could love him as much as I did was a special kind of woman. A woman who loved truthfully and with everything.' Emily leaned forward and kissed my brow. ‘And I was right.' I felt the lump of emotion climb up my throat and linger as it waited for its chance to expose my fragility. How could she say that? I'd spent so long being bitter about love and life, there was no way she could've seen that from the very first moment. A laugh shot out of her mouth before she pinned me with those gorgeous eyes of hers. ‘You think you're a tough one, Anderson, but …' With one fluid movement I was on my back, my fingers pulled from inside her in the process. ‘You … are … as … soft as butter .' Her voice was a growl and I felt the expectation flood through me.
Her mouth captured mine and thoughts of anything but this moment were lost. Wrapping my legs around her, I felt myself slightly lift from the bed before being pushed back into the mattress. Her lips were on my throat trailing a blaze of kisses and nips along the skin. God . She felt good. This felt good. Everything felt wonderfully good. But I needed more. Needed her to make me hers, make me and take me, love me from the outside in, the inside out.
She didn't wait. There was no hesitation in her entry inside of me. Brown eyes locked onto mine and she was within my inner sanctum, her lips moving as if to speak but nothing came out. She was so deep inside, so deep, but her fingers were still. It seemed as if she was waiting for me to be ready for her, but I was more than ready. I'd been ready for her for too long. Emily pulled back only to plunge back inside and curl her fingers making me gasp. I wanted to hold her there, keep her imprisoned inside, know she was always going to be with me. The tempo was increasing; the urgency of each thrust a sweet agony of want. Her hair was trailing across my skin, teasing my flesh into goose bumps. Emily grabbed my hand with her free one and placed it at the side of my head. She leaned more over me, her mouth so close but impossible to reach, brown eyes focused on mine as she took me. I gripped her fingers and she used my strength to plunge deeper, take me harder, own me faster. Sweat helped the movement, lust increased the speed. I could feel my nails digging into her skin, both on her hand and her back. Emily pushed harder, plunged even more deeply than before. Our breathing was erratic, laboured; our coupling frenetic, wild, primitively perfect. We were making noises, more like grunts and half-formed words, to spur the momentum. I could feel the burn of that elusive sensation, that joyous cackle of my cumming tearing through me to peak and complete me.
I came, gasping my love for her inside her mouth, hot delirious kisses sealing our joining. I felt her tense before she came for the second time that evening and I allowed the aftershocks to charge through me, making my body quiver and spasm blissfully. Kisses slowed, but were still steeped in heat and longing. Mouths captured mouths and hands were released and free to explore the curves and slickness of satisfied bodies. I felt the wetness on my lashes as I opened my eyes to look at Emily. I don't know why the tears were there as I felt the most loved I had ever felt in my life. Happiness, I suppose. Something I knew I would be feeling all the time now I had Emily in my life.
All night we continued to make love and each time was as perfect as the first. Loving her, taking her, tasting and pleasuring her – God . I'd never felt this way about anyone in my life and I knew my feelings for her would never change. They couldn't. She was etched onto my skin, every layer. Her soul was connected to mine somehow and being without her was inconceivable. She was mine as much as I was hers. It was meant to be. Each kiss, stroke, caress, look told me so. I loved her and she loved me. That's all that mattered after all.
It was the latest I'd woken in a month and I felt so contented, so happy with my life. My head was nestled on Emily's chest and I could feel, as well as see, her steady breathing as she slept. Tracing a path from her collar bone, I took the chance to see her in the morning light. She was even more breath taking than I could comprehend and I gently kissed the curve of her breast. She mumbled something and nestled her jaw on top of my head and wrapped her arm more tightly around me, pulling me even closer than before. I could see the trace of bruises on her skin and blushed at the memory of the previous night. Emily Carson had definitely made me hers … that I can say. I hoped she felt the same way this morning.
Ping. Seed of doubt time. Would she feel the same way? Was I enough for her? Was last night all what it seemed or was it just what I wanted it to be? She had told me she loved me, yes … explained her reasons … but what if now, in the bright light of the day, she actually saw the real me? The one my parents thought was a low-life, a degenerate? A flicker of despair ignited and I had the urge to flee, but it was if she knew, as if she felt my weakness.
‘I love you, Ellie.' It was soft; it was perfect, and I felt myself relaxing into her again. Her hand slipped up my back and moved downwards and I felt a spark of want for her again. I was surprised, considering I thought we had exhausted ourselves with our lovemaking the night before. Emily shifted, her brown eyes open and looking intently into my face. Lowering her mouth, she kissed me tenderly and that same spark explode from within.
Shifting again, Emily leaned over me and deepened the kiss. It was still gentle, but it held that quality of decision.
Now she was over me, her leg thrown over mine, her mound pressing against my thigh. Slowly, she began to move, her lips still taking mine, her body covering me. Lifting my thigh, I pressed into her, moving my other leg to curl around her and increase the pressure. Our lips separated and we just stared into each other's eyes as we moved against the other. This wasn't sex. This was love. We were making love. Gently. Urgently gently. Our eyes fixed on each other's; our hearts in our throats ready to explode with our consummation. There was no need for fingers, for tongues; all we needed was each other, the pressure of one person against her lover.
When we came, we came as one. Our hearts, our minds, our everything. We didn't break eye contact, just shuddered our release into the gap separating our mouths before a kiss sealed it all.
Perfect. So perfect. Just like her.
Ten thirty saw us at the Dogs Trust, a new lead and ball in tow. Charlie was waiting for us to arrive as if he knew we would be early today, as if he knew today was the first day for the rest of his life. I wondered if he knew it felt the same for me. Probably. He was one smart lad.
As I clicked on his lead, he moved in the opposite direction from his usual walk and made his way to the front entrance, the entrance where we parked my truck. Amazingly, he knew which one was mine before I led him towards it. He didn't bat an eyelid when I opened the dog carrier I had on the back seat and happily scrambled up to take his place on his new blanket and bed.
‘Looks like someone knows his way home.' Sharon, Charlie's key worker, laughed as she said it before leaning inside the box and patting him lovingly on the head. ‘You have got two mummies now, fella.' How did she know? I turned at looked at Emily, who was smiling at me with such love on her face Sharon would have been an idiot to miss it. ‘Good to see you worked out your differences. Charlie needs all the love he can get.'
Don't worry. He would have enough love to last him a lifetime. That is one thing I am sure of.
It has been over seven months since the day we collected our little man from the Trust and each day has been an experience. Mostly good (we won't mention the digging up of my favourite plant. No. Not by Charlie – by Emily. She thought it was a weed). Emily and I are stronger than ever. Life with her is nearly perfect. The only downside to our love is living separately. But, that is soon to change. No. I'm not moving in to her house and she isn't moving into mine. We are buying our joint house complete with a huge garden and lots of potential. In other words, it needs work, something we both are not scared of. A landscape gardener and a property developer should do fine, shouldn't they?
When I started this tale I mentioned the very first time I fell in love. You now know I was lying, don't you? I'd skipped over Toby – probably just to get your attention as I didn't want this story to be full of my grief for my first and lost love. Don't get me wrong, Toby is still in here – still wedged inside my heart, but now I can bring up his memory without the agony of knowing he is gone. What I was hoping to show is progression, show love blossoming, show how I overcame my grief, my anger, my aversion of letting love inside again. My parents still hate me … that is something they need to deal with not me. If they can't accept who I am, whom I love, then do I really want, or need, them in my life? No. One thing I have learned is that we have to be who we are for ourselves and not how others want us to be. I didn't set out to be gay, didn't set out knowing I would go against their wishes or the beliefs of ignorant people. This is who I am. Ellie Anderson. Lesbian. But, being gay doesn't define me either. Does Charlie love me any less if I am gay or straight? Rich or poor? No. He loves me for who I am. Maybe one day people will take a leaf out of his book and overlook the colour of skin, age, size, intellect, religion, sexual orientation, disability or anything else that doesn't sit right for the ‘perfect people' in this big variable world we live in.
It was true that I wasn't looking for it, never intended to fall so completely under the spell of that gorgeous boy as much as I did. It is also true that I didn't fight the sensation, the emotion, when it came to him. So, why did I fight what I felt for Emily? Was it really because I believed I couldn't have one without losing the other? Or was it plain old fear of opening myself up for being hurt once again? Losing someone you love is devastating, whether it be animal or human. The grief comes in waves and takes you by surprise when you think you are doing fine. Nothing can prepare us for that. There are no classes you can attend that can help you prepare for losing them – and loss comes in many shapes and sizes. Losing the love from my parents hurt; it was like a kick in the teeth. But I couldn't, and never will, lose who I am inside. To that I will be true and I hope you will be too.
Charlie loved from the start. He trusted from the start, and look what he had endured. Beatings, injuries, abandonment. And I thought I'd had it rough. He didn't let the past encroach on what he could have; he didn't let the actions of one bastard hold him back from what he wanted. And what did he want? Love. Acceptance. A ball and someone to throw it for him. He wanted a world where he could play and be happy. Not really a lot when you think about it. Love is free and should be given as such, whether man or dog.
Looking over the events that led me to Emily, it still makes me smile to think that Abbie did match make after all, but I forgive her. Who wouldn't? She's my sister and only did what she did for my sake. If it wasn't for her going to the Trust on New Year's Day I would never have met Charlie, never have met Emily. That would mean I would still be in the same situation as I'd been in 2011 … which is a bitter and twisted old lezza with a penchant for hebes.
I'm coming to the end of my rambling now, as I have to meet with Abbie, Rob, Lils and Poppy. Emily is outside playing with Charlie. I can hear his excited woofs drifting in from outside. It is family time, a time we should cherish. And I do. Very much so. I make sure all the people in my life know how much they mean to me each and every day, whether it by my actions or words – knowing they know I love them is what truly matters.
Now I am contemplating how to finish this story. Should I just write ‘The End' and scuttle off somewhere, or should I try to pass onto you a little more of what I have learned? You guessed it …
Ice cream and nuts. You can have both and don't let anyone tell you differently. Emily is my ice cream and I am nuts about her. Sorted.
I hope you enjoyed my story. Let me know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org
And don't forget about the Dogs Trust . (insert a big smiley face here)
Once is now available, as well as Hearts and Flowers Border and Beginnings. If you're interested check out:
www.pdpublishing.com/smith.html See Right Through Me will be available 2011, and Critical will be available after that.
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