Disclaimers: Yes. There are a few. Isn't there always? Well, with me there is. Must be my upbringing.

Sex: Erm. To be honest … of course there is. 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. If I could have done it any differently, I would. I promise and am crossing my heart frantically. 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 getting jiggy with it, then either move or close this now. Sounds so simple when all I have to do it type it.

Violence: There are a couple of instances where people get a slap and other occasions where it is mentioned. Physical violence is not big and certainly not clever.

Thank you: to my beta reader. Sorry for taking so bloody long in getting this one done. You have been so patient and supportive. You are one in a million. The only excuse I can think of for my laziness is that life can be a pain in the arse sometimes and gets in the way. And work does too. Work is the ultimate four letter word. Thank you, also, to all the fantastic writers out there who inspire and entertain us. You are superstars. Also, thank you, reader. Without you, why would we write at all?

Language: I have to admit my characters are foul mouthed little buggers. I would avoid using profanity if they didn't insist that I eff and jeff all over the place. A good rinsing out with a block of soap should do it. And there am I showing my age again … A good rinsing out with hand wash. That's better.

I hope you enjoy this story and give it a go. I've been absent for so long that I have a feeling I've forgotten how to do it. Poor me and my dangling muse.

If you want to let me know what you think, let me know at fingersmith@hotmail.co.uk Please be gentle. I have the tendency to blub like a baby – especially at certain times of the month.

If you want to check out my published work, then here you go.

L T Smith


Still Life




I didn't realise it would change my life forever. Didn't realise that deciding to follow my gut instinct I would slip, effortlessly, away from everything I thought was part and parcel of my makeup – part and parcel of who I thought I was.

When I say ‘effortlessly', obviously I am lying. Nothing about what happened in the beginning of September in 2010 could be deemed to be effortless. Even breathing, as I found out, on occasion was an effort. Too much holding of said breath, and definitely a rapidity of speed and depth followed by a total cocking up on my part.

But. I digress. I'm wasting more breath waffling on about nothing but mere words and bodily functions when I should get to the point and tell you what actually happened when I decided I wanted to change something about my life. However, at the time, I didn't realise it would change as much as it did. I also found out too many things about myself in the process – not all of them for the better.

So here goes. A brief retelling of breath, change and effort. Well, I'll try to be brief, although we both know I won't succeed.


Chapter One

September 2010

I was bored. Bored bored bored. Nothing moved me to anything more than a sense of apathy about anything. Work was living up to its name and it seemed as if all I ever did was get up, go to the office, fart about on computers all day whilst talking to potential clients on the phone, come home and do bugger all for the rest of the evening until it was time to go to bed. Then, again, the next day would appear with the crowing of an impatient alarm clock. That day was the same as the previous, and I knew I was living through my personal Groundhog Day. Deep down I knew I would probably do the same thing over and over again until I keeled over, hand gripping my chest, my expression a contortion of agony, splattering my face on my flat screen as the final act of a woman whose life was shite.

It was a Wednesday. Actually, it was Wednesday 8 th September (or 08/09/10 for those who think it is cool to see the chronological progression of dates through numbers – and yes – I am a sad bastard. Pity I couldn't say it was 11:12 and 13 seconds when I had the epiphany about how crap my life was, but I didn't notice the time. Sorry for getting your hopes up.) I remember it being a Wednesday because on Wednesdays the canteen served curry for lunch. I hate curry. Hate the smell of it, and hated the fact that everyone in the office knew I hated it too so would make a beeline for sitting with me whilst grinning idiotically and offering me forkfuls of the stuff. Therefore, I was back in front of my computer before our allotted hour for lunch was over.

A good time to write some personal emails, don't you think? The grin slipped across my face as I opened Hotmail and typed in my user name and password. Too many junk mails had slipped through the filter, and I was silently hoping that the IT department had missed the ones asking if I needed a penis extension, when I spotted the mail from my friend Sophie.

Sophie and me went way back. Her grinning face (sans one front tooth) was the clearest memory I had from Primary School. To say she adopted me would be the easiest way to sum up our relationship, even though she was only three and a half weeks older than I was. I say ‘was' but in fact it should be ‘is' as both of us are very much alive. Carrying on ... It was Sophie's personal goal to make sure I was fully integrated into school politics: where to hang out, who not to make eye contact with, which dinner lady gave the biggest portions, what teacher to suck up to, which one to play up, and the blinding one – don't touch the curry. It is made from all the things they should throw away but they are too tight fisted to bin.

Leaving Primary, we advanced to High School. Moved onto makeup, bad fashion sense, acne, and boys. Well, Sophie moved through the boys like lightning whereas I was only too happy to be her excuse for staying out all night. It wasn't until we both went to college that I came to some kind of understanding. Boys just didn't tickle my proverbial fancy, although it still took me a while to understand why. No. Actually I didn't even work it out for myself. Once again it was Sophie who led me to the realisation that girls were more my bag.

Oi! Lezza! What're you doing later? Fancy meeting up at The Dog for a snifter? Text me and let me know. I've a cunning plan!!!!


I loved seeing Sophie. Loved her infectious laugh, her twinkling brown eyes, her zest for life. However, if I did go to The Dog that would mean I would have to break the monotony of my existence. Could I, or should I say ‘Dare I', break away from eating a meal for one, having a soak in the tub, and then tumbling into an empty bed at 9:30?

Slipping my phone from my bag, I noticed a message, the very same message Sophie had sent via email. My. She was eager. Three times I wrote the reply, changing my mind each time. No. Yes. No. And then a fourth and final time:

C u l8r say 7? Btr b gud. Jess x

What has happened to the English language, eh? Sometimes it would be far easier to write grammatically accurately with the correct spelling instead of wondering how on earth you can write ‘See you later about 7? Better be good. Jess x' without blowing apart a handful of neurons in the process. Weirdly enough, most of us still sign the bloody thing when it is obvious who sent it as our names appear on the other person's phone.

Yes. I know. Waffling.

Seven o'clock saw me walking into The Dog (sounds strange, but I do mean the pub and not our canine friend) and easily spotting Sophie chatting to the barman. I heard her laugh tinkle over to where I was standing and it seemed almost instinctive on her part for her to stop her flirting, turn, and bless me with a huge grin before waving her hands wildly as if I hadn't already seen her.

As I stepped up to the bar, a vodka and lime was placed in front of me. I hadn't planned on having a drink as being out of the house after dark was more than my Puritan lifestyle could handle. But, one wouldn't hurt, would it? Or two? Maybe three just to shake of the shackles of a working day and the smell of fucking curry?

By the fourth I was feeling relaxed. Actually, more like on the verge of passing out. I had worked my way through the giggly stage and was venturing towards ‘Homing Device Mode' when Sophie landed me with it.

‘How's about you and me going back to school?' And do what? Burn it down? Graffiti ‘Ms Edwards is a twat' over the Maths block windows? ‘Night school, I mean.' My face took on the look of the ‘I don't quite understand', and I thought that always made me look semi intelligent, although in reality it screamed ‘Idiot here!'

Sophie moved towards me, looking over her shoulder in a conspiratorial way as if the KGB were honing in on our conversation. ‘Art Class.'

‘What the fu ...'

‘Art. Class. As in Life drawing. As in ...' another look over her shoulder, ‘naked men.' Obviously I didn't look interested. What kind of lesbian would I be if I went to night school to see men flashing their percies around? Men who couldn't get anyone else to look at it, even if they exposed themselves to unsuspecting women in the subway? I opened my mouth to tell her as much but she spoke over me. ‘And naked women.' My mouth was still on the verge of negating what she had offered, but I didn't. I just closed it slowly. Was this the only way I was ever going to see another woman naked again for the rest of my life? I can't believe I halted turning her down, can't believe I didn't look affronted and say as much, but I didn't. ‘Look. I was joking, Jess. I thought you might want to do something together instead of you sitting at home every night all on your own.' A small smile crept over her face. ‘I know breaking up with Sam was hard, but holing yourself up won't make you feel better.'

Sam? Why on earth did she bring Samantha James into the conversation? I had broken up with her, mainly because she felt the need to cop off with anything that barely resembled a woman. Even some that at a second glance a person could be misguided into thinking it was a bloke with tits.


‘I know, honey. But you have to learn to let go.'

‘What on ...'

‘Night class. That will do it.'

‘But I wasn't ...'

‘No. You weren't the one to blame. She was a slut.' Fuck this for a game of soldiers. The alcohol was making me too slow to carry on what was appearing to be a one sided conversation. Sophie had never liked Sam, never trusted her. Funnily enough, neither had I. We had only dated for five months and in that time I think she aged me. As you may gather, I am not, or never was, a party animal. A good book and an early night swaddled in my flannelette pyjamas was what I deemed to be my haven.

‘You want another?' Sophie nodded at my half-filled glass and I shook my head. ‘Just me then.' And off she toddled to chat up the bar man again.

Lifting my drink, I paused the movement as the cool sticky glass touched my bottom lip. I had always enjoyed drawing when I was a school and, if I say so myself, I was pretty good at it. Sophie, on the other hand, seemed to give the impression she was drawing with her eyes closed. So why on earth did she want to go to night school to study art?

Looking over my shoulder, I saw my friend chatting happily to the same barman. No. It couldn't be because she wanted to see men's winkies – she could see as many as she wanted to with her looks and personality. As the thought trickled through my head, Sophie turned, flashed me one of her amazing smiles before turning back to the bar to pick up her drink.

For me. That's why. She's looking out for me again.

‘So. Are you game, Ms Taylor?' Sophie leaned over me; her face so close it surprised me for a moment. ‘Come on, Jess. Let's do it. It'll be fun.' Her smile was gentle, beckoning, and so my best friend.

‘Ok. When do we start?'

Everyone in the pub turned at Sophie's triumphant whoop, but soon immersed themselves into pub conversations which usually consisted on football, wrestling, who is shagging who, and a the price of petrol. The hug she gave me was fierce and I heard her mumbling a thank you into my ear before she ripped herself away and plonked herself on her chair.

‘I think that deserves a celebratory drink, don't you?'

Aw shit.


One week later I was standing outside Stockport College of Technology waiting for my art partner to arrive whilst tutting at the drizzle that was fucking up my hair. Granted, I was thirty minutes early – and I could've waited inside the foyer, but I was too nervous. I don't know why, as it was just a night school class on still life. That was probably it. Still Life. And by the brochure I had picked up the previous Thursday when Sophie and I had enrolled, it wasn't just oranges and nuts (although I do believe there was going to be a different selection of nuts on offer – not forgetting the bananas). What if the person comes out and I know him? Or her? What if it is Sam? Nah. She was the type to get her kit off at any given opportunity, but not in the ‘ Jack, I want you to draw me like one of your French girls. Wearing this... and only this ' kind of way. What if it is someone from work? Neil from Accounting? I felt the bile rise in my throat at the thought of the sweaty letch who always tried to cop a feel of all the young girls getting his pencil out for all to admire. What if it is Clive from Human Resources? Or Terrence from the mail room. God. What if it is James Jackson – my Boss!?

Stop right there. Why on earth would your boss strip off and let complete strangers draw him buck naked? But then again, why would complete strangers want to draw him in the first place? Shit. I was taking myself on a one way trip to Complete Mental Breakdown City. Yes, Jess. Stop. Go with the flow. Go with the ... flow ... Deep breaths – deep – breaths.

‘Evening, Dali.' I knew it was Sophie so why did I jump? More to the point ... why did I scream and hit her with my art pad? ‘Jesus, Jess. I'm not going to molest you.' The red mark on the side of her face was glowing against the greyness of the evening behind her, and I did feel bad. Pity I couldn't show it instead of gripping my chest and swooning like a 1920s silent film star. ‘Apology accepted 'preceded a muttered ‘if one was given.' I was still gripping the lapels of my raincoat. ‘Shall we?'


A sigh, you know the ones reserved for complete imbeciles, came through Sophie's pursing lips. ‘Go inside.' She paused. ‘What the fuck is wrong with you? Anyone would think I was sending you to your death at this rate.' She leaned forward. ‘You been on the sugar, Taylor?' Shaking my head, she laughed and grabbed my arm. ‘You definitely need to get out more.'

If she wanted me to get out more, why was she taking me in? Rhetorical, and stupid, I know.


It was packed inside. Well, there was about twenty people already waiting to begin, but I didn't think there would be much call for coming out in the evening to draw pictures. Shows how much I know doesn't it? The male/female ratio was pretty equal, well, especially when we both turned up. The room was pretty much what you would expect an art room to look like. Tables, chairs, pictures of people in agony on the walls ... the usual. Maybe I could put my face up there on the wall next to the three legged man and the screaming banshee. Something to consider if any of my previous revelations came into fruition.

Finding two chairs vacant next to each other, Sophie and I placed our bags on the desks, almost in ownership. To my relief, there was a table with pots, pans, vases and other miscellaneous kitchen stuff placed in the centre of the room. Even though the items were naked, I still felt I had received some kind of reprieve. No naked men … better still, no naked men that I knew.

As it approached the final few minutes, people started getting their stuff out and slapping it onto the tables in front of them. Obviously, being a lemming, I followed suit. And by placing my art materials on said desk, I finally admitted that I was looking forward to getting in tune with my more artistic side. Probably because I had spent a small fortune on gearing myself up for the occasion.

‘You got a pencil I could use?' For fuck's sake. Considering it was her idea in the first place, I couldn't believe Sophie hadn't brought a pencil. Opening up my pencil case, I selected one of the new ones – friends are friends after all. ‘And some paper?'

Turning to tell Sophie that she was a waste of time and space, I was cut short. A voice, not a loud voice, but a distinctly female and alluring voice, pulled me back to face the front. It was a pity that my open mouth didn't catch up as quickly, and close, as I was looking like a person who'd had the misfortune of being born with an IQ of under 75.

Standing at the front was a woman I can only describe as artistic. Long, tousled hair and a crisscross middle parting framed the thick glasses she wore. Her eyes seemed huge, and images of Emma Thompson playing Professor Trelawney from the Harry Potter films sprang to mind. Scooting my eyes downwards, I was not disappointed in the flowing multi-coloured cardigan and brown ankle length skirt that made a not so winning combination. One more thing: sandals. With socks. But this woman couldn't have been the same woman who had spoken, could it? That voice was sexy. Finally, why was my mouth still open and on fly catching mode?

‘If you would all like to take your places?' No. No, I don't mean no I don't want to take my place, as I was already in it. I mean no, the voice came from the side of the Barbara Hepworth on a bad day. A slight shift and … and …

‘You ok, Jess?' It may have been that my mouth had been open too long that made my tongue feel like sandpaper, or it may have been that all the moisture in my body had scooted to other, needier places.

‘Ug.' Ug? Where had my ability to speak gone? Why hadn't I turned to my friend and said, ‘Yes, Sophie. I am perfectly fine, thank you for asking. And by the way – get your own fucking pencil and paper.' But no. ‘Ug' it was and that's where it was staying.

‘Good evening, all.' There was the music again. ‘I'm Diana Sullivan, and I will be leading this course for the next twelve weeks.'

Diana Sullivan. Di-an-a Sul-li-van. What a wonderful name. What a beautifully wonderful na...

‘Oi. Dolly dreamboat. You ok?' All I could do was move my head slowly up and down in an affirmative motion. ‘Well, close your mouth then. The flies are getting antsy.' I heard the snap of my lips as they seemed to clang together. ‘And where's my paper and pencil?'

Thankfully, that seemed to snap me out of the haze that had fallen over me and, finally, I tore my eyes away from the woman, who was now standing in the place the ‘artistic woman' had stood, to rummage through my new art pad.

‘Here you go.' My voice was a mere whisper. We were in class after all. It wasn't just because I believed if I spoke any louder I would probably be told off or sent into the corner. It was almost reverent. I didn't want to disturb the flow of the woman who was still talking ahead of me. Before you say it, it was not because she was the most perfect woman I had ever seen either.

‘So ... We'll all start with a brief introduction then. Is that ok?'

Fuck. And fuck. And triple fuck. That would mean I would have to look at her and speak at the same time. I know women are renowned to have the ability to multitask, but I didn't think I was capable at that moment.

Just a minute. What the hell was happening? I had been in the room less than twenty minutes and I was going through a mid-life crisis at thirty one years of age. Was it the smell of paint? A rebellious pencil that had escaped the confines of a spanking new pencil case and lodged its tip in the part of my brain that made me become a quivering wreck? Art class was supposed to be the place where I could do something other than work and sleep; a place where I could spend time with my oldest and dearest (although badly organised) friend; the place where I could dip into the more artistic part of my psyche. It was not supposed to be where I turned into a love struck muted teenager – a teenager with the capability of being a middle aged woman looking for a good time.

In my mental meanderings I had missed the first three people who had kicked off the introductions, and only came in when it was two people away from where I was sat.

‘Hi. I'm Dave.'

Sophie mumbled, ‘Well, hello there, Dave,' followed by girlish giggling.

At this I looked up to where the teacher was standing and I felt a surge of jealousy race through me. Diana was looking at the man with such affection that I wanted to get up and slap him around the head. Now, I could understand if it was just a feeling of disappointment, but jealousy? She had not even looked in my direction since I had entered the room never mind professed her undying love.

‘I'm Diana's brother.' Leaning forward, I looked at his face. He was half man half beetroot by this stage, as all eyes in the room were on him. Just like his sister, he was handsome. Well, his sister wasn't handsome as such she ... and I think I stopped myself from going into ramble mode there. They both had dark brown hair, although hers was long, chiselled facial features, stunning blue eyes, but he had a moustache and goatee where she didn't. I think the last was obvious without my having to write that. But, some women do have a ‘tache although they don't usually trim them and have a chic styled stripe of hair on the tip of their chins, do they?

Turning back to the front, I witnessed something I would have described as a one of the most amazing things I had ever seen. Diana's smile. It may have been my overactive imagination, but I was definite I witnessed rays of light sparking out from her mouth. Or should I classify that as corny instead? Whatever it called itself, I would bet my left butt cheek I saw rays of light. It made her face have the appearance of something that came straight from a pre Raphaelite painting – so womanly, so captivating, so goddamn gorgeous. I felt myself smiling in return to the smile that wasn't even aimed at me, and even though I was having difficulty breathing, I felt wonderful. I also felt like I could just sit and stare at her all day whilst wishing I didn't have to blink.

A voice was coming from near me. A voice I recognised but couldn't quite place. It seemed as if I was under water and listening to the muffled sounds of the world above said water and not caring one bit. Then came a sensation ... a knocking sensation ... a tapping, insistent sensation on my thigh, then on my arm, and then ...



And that was the wakeup call I really didn't need. The impression of water vanished, and I was back in reality with about twenty pairs of eyes staring at me, one of which belonged to a very interested teacher and another set to a friend that was trying to glare me out.

‘Everyone is waiting for you, you dick head!' The lovely epithet was squeezed through clenched teeth, and Sophie turned and flashed the fakest smile I had ever seen her use.

‘Erm ... I ...' I was finding it difficult to breathe again, but not in the delectable way I had before when I was floating under water in an almost Millais' Ophelia way. I felt more like Lichtenstein's Drowning Girl, wishing I had the ability to splutter, ‘I don't care! I'd rather sink than call Brad for help!', or even Sophie for that matter. ‘I ... erm ...' Jesus. This was going from bad to worse to downright intolerable.

Diana walked over to where I was seated and leaned over the table. I could smell her perfume; so light and engaging, and exquisitely addictive. Lifting my face, I was met by perfect blueness. Not light blue, but a deep rich blue, the same kind of blue you see when you picture perfection. They looked as if they were made of liquid, vibrant liquid that constantly changed in reflection of the events around them. Like water. Probably the same kind of water I felt I was drowning under.

‘Hey, you. Don't worry. We can skip this part.' I doubt anyone else in the room heard her say this, but to me it seemed to seep into my skin, every word carving an imprint as it wound its way inside.

Diana lifted her face back to the waiting group and opened those perfect lips to speak.

‘Jess Taylor. Serial dick head, and paper and pencil loan shark.' The teacher's eyes met mine in a flash, green meeting blue and making a sea of aqua turned turquoise. I grinned at her and she returned the gesture amidst the sounds of laughter in the room. A slight tilt of her head and the grin turned into something I can only describe as a clicking sensation. Her brow furrowed slightly and a fleeting look of confusion scattered over her flawless face. Maybe she could hear the rapidity of my heart beat, or see it trying to thump its way through my ribcage.

A slight shake of her head, dark hair fluttering with the movement – a definite move to clear her thoughts – and the grin was back. ‘Well, hello there, Jess Taylor.' Diana pushed herself back from the table and reared to her full height, her eyes never leaving mine. ‘But I think I will reserve judgement on the serial dick head remark until after you've witnessed my attempt at your title.' More sniggers from around the room. Turning, Diana looked at Sophie. ‘And you must be the cadger.'

For the first time in a long time I saw Sophie blush at the remark. I knew it wasn't because the beautiful Art teacher held her fancy – far from it. Sophie was straighter than a laser. It was because she knew that the delectable goatee toting ‘Dave' was looking in her direction. Even I could taste the testosterone in the air – something I avidly avoided – so God knows how Soph was feeling.

‘Not a cadger per se.' Aw fuck, no. Sophie was going to try and sound like she had English degrees falling out of her arse again. The last time she had done that it was like listening to The Bluffer's Guide to Being a Twat. Everyone in the museum at that time knew she knew bugger all about the exhibition – well, everyone apart from her. ‘It appears that upon reaching this establishment, I have come to realise that the receptacle I had purchased for the storage of my equipment seems to be absent.' What the ... She was going for gold here. ‘Furthermore, I ...'

‘So you need to cadge paper and a pencil, is that right?' Diana's voice was light and amused, her right eyebrow rising to accompany her question, and she looked absolutely drop dead gorgeous. And yes. I was beginning to drool again.

Sophie went a shade darker, her mouth opened and all she managed to squeak out was a high pitched ‘Yes', followed by a cough, then a gulp, then a ‘Sophie Harrison.' Brown eyes darted over to where an amused Dave was sitting, and for the life of me I thought Soph was going to say ‘Single'. But, thankfully, the person next to her began speaking, as she had probably waited long enough for her ten seconds of embarrassment, most certainly not aware of what had preceded her except that when it should've been her turn it was delayed by a beetroot and a dick on a stick.

‘Serves you right,' I whispered to my glowing friend before I slapped the paper and pencil down in from of her and turned smugly back to my overflowing pencil case and huge pad. I was definite I heard the word ‘anal' muttered under her breath, but I just kept fiddling for the sharpest pencil I had.

‘You can sit there and look as smug as you want, git. But you've already given me paper and a pencil.' I just ignored her and carried on in my serenity.

It wasn't long before the introductions were finished and Diana was bringing the class' focus back to the front, although, to be truthful, mine had not really moved from that vicinity. However, I do pride myself on being subtle. Subtlety is my forte.

‘As if you need to be told twice,' followed by a snort, then a yelp, as I nipped Sophie's thigh - hard. Diana looked over quizzically, and, thankfully, Sophie muttered something about cramp whilst rubbing her leg in an overdramatic way as I looked on as the concerned friend.

A pause. A gathering of thoughts, and then Diana was on a roll. She explained the nature of the class and how we were there to learn how to study form. I didn't turn to my friend at this point because I knew I would be greeted by immature nodding and grinning. ‘However, we will not be drawing nudes for a few weeks. We have to get to grips with the basics first.' At this I lifted my chin higher and smiled a serene smile at the teacher before tilting my head to the right and nodding once in smugness at Sophie. Diana continued to explain our lesson objective, and how to create form we have to dabble with perspective. ‘Therefore, we will be moving around at intervals and continuing drawing the display I have assembled on the table here.' She pointed at the pots, pans, vases and other miscellaneous kitchen stuff I had noted when entering the room. ‘Picasso used a similar technique. The trick is to draw quickly, get a feel for it, then when you change perspective move back to an item you can relate to.' She paused, her eyes sweeping the class for understanding. ‘It will seem odd at first, and challenging, but the effect is impressive.'

Each drawing stage was no longer than five minutes, then Diana would tell us to get up and move one seat to the right. I was so engrossed in the activity I was startled when I heard a voice in my ear. Wait. No. That's wrong. It wasn't her voice that alerted me, or startled me for that matter. It was the sensation rippling down my spine that told me she was there. It was that clicking again, the way I held my breath in anticipation as she drew nearer. Then her voice. Or was it? Could it have been the scent of her? The warmth of her? The sheer presence of the woman behind me that made all the small hairs on my body stand to attention? Or, was it the sensation of being watched? I don't know the answer – it wasn't something I noted consciously. One thing that did stick in my mind was how much I craved the closeness.

‘Well done, Jess. That's excellent work.' Then she was gone, and I was left feeling the chill of empty air.

A snigger spurted from next to me. ‘Well done, Jess.' Jesus. Sophie sounded like she did when she tormented me at Primary School. ‘Who's the teacher's pet?'

I leaned over, looked at the splattered objects, if they could even be described as that, before turning to look into the grinning face of my friend. ‘Well, it's obviously not you. She said to draw it not kill it.'

Sophie's retort died on her lips as Diana brought everyone's attention back to the front of the room. ‘Break time.' Thoughts of running around in the playground chasing each other rushed through my head. ‘The canteen is open on the ground floor.' Maybe not, although I wouldn't have minded a bit of tumbling around in the long grass with a certain blue eyed teacher.


I should have known. I should have guessed. To think the reason why Sophie wanted to come to night school to spend ‘quality time' with me should have made bells go off inside my head like an up and coming fire engine. But no. I once again proved that being naïve was a way of life and not a phase through adolescence for me.

And the reason I came to this conclusion? Well, let me explain.

There we were, lining up for a lukewarm coffee, and who walks up to us and starts a conversation? Dave. As in Dave with goatee and chic ‘tache. I thought he wanted to push in and was beginning to close the gap between me and Babs Hepworth – shit coffee or not, I was a stickler for the British ‘We must queue' way of thinking.

‘Sophie, is it?' Huh? He remembered her? Well, she was pretty hard to forget after her blushing furiously and stammering out excuses. ‘You work at Pickards, don't you?' Huh? Again. But before Sophie could shove me out of the way to get closer, he was talking again. ‘So do I. Accounts.' I was beginning to feel like the piggy in the middle, as he was in front of me by now and Sophie was behind me. I know I'm not the tallest of people in the world, but it still didn't give them license to talk over my head. I tried to move to the side, but I couldn't shift out of the way because all the other people were thinking exactly what I had thought when Dave came up. As if I would ever be a queue jumper!

‘Now that you mention it, I think I have seen you about before.' I knew by the tone of her voice that she was lying. Spending twenty five years plus with someone gives you the edge on details like that. Because I was so near to him, all I could see was the bottom of his chin and part way up his nose. He must've been about six three, if not taller. How had I got this close? I had been able to see all details of him when he first arrived, so why was he appearing like something from a magic eye puzzle? Then I realised that we were in fact moving. Slowly, granted, but moving all the same. Dave, however, seemed to be nailed to the spot. At this rate I would be inside his stylish jacket and living under his wing for the rest of my life.

‘David!' A voice came from a way behind him, and as he turned, his chest smacked me in the face. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I sneaked around him and got myself out of the increasingly claustrophobic situation. Sophie stayed where she was, and I wish that I had too, as the voice that had called for her love interest turned out to be Diana.

‘Shit.' The reason I said shit right about there is because of what happened next. You guessed it. Dave introduced my friend to his sister and I was left looking at stale muffins and ordering a latte from a teenager who looked as if she would rather be scooping up dog mess with her bare hands than serve a bunch of luvvies on a night out. If I had just stood my ground, or even reacted to the thump in my face I, too, could have been in deep conversation with the gorgeous Ms Sullivan. But, it was not to be.

Taking my coffee, I made my way over to an empty table and thumped the cup down with enough va va voom to make it spill into the saucer. Not exactly the action of a woman who was out to create destruction, but just enough to piss me off a little bit more.

As I was cleaning the mess, I heard another cup placed delicately on the table. Part of me was hoping that I would hear the resounding thud of more cups, as that would mean Sophie had brought her new best friends back with her, but, alas, it was just the one. I was upset. Who wouldn't be? I had ‘ass'umed that Sophie had wanted to spend time with me; wanted me to have more out of life than I had been getting; cared enough about me to drag me out to do something other than read in bed before falling asleep. But it wasn't like that at all. It had been me helping her get something, or someone, she fancied, without the embarrassment of coming to class on her own.

‘I know what you're thinking. And you're wrong. I didn't come to meet Dave.' I flicked a glance in her direction and continued to wipe at the very clean saucer. ‘I know you don't believe me. But it's true.' Another flick-cum-glare. A deep sigh resonated through the space between us. ‘Ok. I overheard him telling someone about it at work … about his sister holding the class.' Obviously, I didn't answer. I just settled myself into my seat and looked at her expectantly. ‘My first thought was of you. You loved art when we were at school. I always thought you would be a designer or something.' She waited for me to say something, but I wasn't in the mood. ‘I was always so proud of you.'

I wanted to stay mad at her, I really did. But her expression told me that she was in fact telling me the truth as she knew it. It wasn't that she had praised me, even stroked my ego a little that made a small smile creep over my face. ‘So, are you going to go out with him?' It wasn't an accusation, just interest, and also a step in the right direction. For the second time that evening Sophie was blushing. I leaned closer enjoying the fact the usually confident woman seated in front of me was looking uncomfortable. ‘Are you?'

‘No.' Huh?

‘Huh? No? You must be losing your touch.'

‘I said no. He asked and I turned him down.'

Fuck me. That was a first. I had never known Sophie turn down a night out with a hunky guy. Now, don't get me wrong. Sophie wasn't a loose woman, or, to use even more clichéd expressions like: a bike or a slut/slag/manizer (if there is such a word – if men can be called womanizers … God, I'm boring myself now). She just liked to go out - with good looking men - have a laugh. You know, enjoy herself.

‘You turned him down?'

‘We've got to get back to class.'


‘Because its ti …'

‘Not about class. Why did you turn him down?'

She didn't answer. Just got up, finished off her coffee, which was probably still hot, and made her way back to the counter to drop off her cup. ‘Are you coming or what?' With that she was gone and I was left with half a cup of coffee and a thousand questions. I couldn't work her out. Actually, I couldn't work myself out. Initially, I had been mad at her for making me come to a class so she could cop off with a dishy bloke from her office, and then I was confused when she had turned him down. All I could muster was a shrug of the shoulders to counteract the fogging of my brain.

Lifting the cup and saucer, I followed in Sophie's footsteps. Five minutes later, I was back in the class, a concentrating best friend working diligently over her mishmash of blotches and distorted lines seated next to me.


It was weird. Yep. Weird. Sophie didn't mention Dave or the class after we left and went to the pub when we got kicked out at nine. We had one drink and then she feigned a yawn and said all the excitement had tuckered her out. She seemed reserved in an ‘I feel so embarrassed yet I don't know why' kind of way, and I just went along with it. I knew then and there in the car park that this wasn't over. I would let her sleep on it. Only one night, mind you. And in the famous words of Scarlett O'Hara, ‘After all, tomorrow is another day.' Yes it was.



Chapter Two

Pffft. What a wonderful word, if it can described as such. Pffffft … nearly as good as brrrrr and grrrrrr … You may be wondering why I am using such silly expressions here. Simple. Sophie. Could I get hold of her? Could I buggery. It was Saturday morning that I eventually got to grips with the slippery one herself, and that was by pure luck. I had left her countless messages both on her voicemail and through text. I had even emailed her about ten times. But nothing. I was just giving up the will to live by the time I ‘bumped' into her. Literally, I bumped into her in Tesco in the feminine hygiene aisle of all places. To say I could smell a rat would actually seem out of place here – not because of her expression when I whacked into her with my shopping trolley as I was turning into the aisle – no. Mainly because talking about smells when you are linking it to the setting that points to lady bits seems a tad coarse. I was in the process of texting her again when the collision happened, and if I'd been paying attention I could have saved myself the price of a sms – could've just told her. But no. The velocity in which I cracked into her trolley inadvertently made me press send.

‘Hey, stranger!' Sophie seemed surprised in more ways than one. ‘I've been trying to get hold of you.' Let me clarify. I wasn't the one saying this. ‘Where've you been?'

‘Bumchickawowow!' Once again, that wasn't me. Well, it was, but not. It was the sound of Sophie's phone notifying her that she had received a message. Part of me was glad she had got rid of the chickens clucking ‘message' repeatedly, whilst the other half of me was totally fucked off big time that here she stood, as bold as brass I might add, and had tried to pass it over on me for her – yes her – lack of communication.

‘Me? Me not contacting you?' Seems a little obvious me saying that, but what else could I say?

‘I've been trying to contact you since Thursday. Wanted to know your plans for tonight.'

At that, I looked into Sophie's trolley and spotted three bottles of wine and the contents for a good evening of entertaining company.

I raised my eyes again to meet hers. ‘Looks like you've already got plans.' Yes. I admit it. It did sound bitter. ‘And for your information, I've been trying to get hold of you for the last three days.' Sophie did look confused, I'll give her that. Instead of taking art classes, she would excel at Drama.

‘But … I've sent you about fifteen messages.' Yeah right. Where were they? Cyber Land just past I Don't Give a Fuck?

‘Look, Soph. I don't know what's going on and to be honest, I don't give a flying fu …'

‘Ohhh –ohhhh – your text is on fi-re!!!!' And then again and again and again, until my phone must've gone crazy.

‘I think you have a message.' I just glared at her and pulled my phone back from out of my pocket. Another text. Another. And then another. All from Sophie, and all from different times and days. Scrolling through her messages it was apparent she had received mine and was wondering why I was getting increasingly pissed off. But why hadn't she called my landline? Or answered my emails? And why couldn't I ever be satisfied? ‘I've been away – conference in Leeds. Don't you remember? I told you on Wednesday.' Nope. Not a spark. ‘I don't have your landline number on my mobile as I would've called you.' I squinted in disbelief at this. ‘I haven't. Look.' She thrust her phone my way and I pushed it back to her.

‘But you could've called my mobile.' Simple, don't you think?

‘I was on a course, Jess. We didn't finish until late – that's why I sent the texts.'

Why was I being such a twat with her? Why was I being so insecure? I had known Sophie most of my life and she had never done anything to hurt me, so what was going on? Was I going through a ‘poor me' phase? But, to quote Scarlett O'Hara again, ‘ I can't think about that right now. If I do, I'll go crazy. I'll think about that tomorrow.' Jesus. I was living my life through a Margaret Mitchell character.

‘So, what are your plans oh gorgeous one?' Sophie was waiting for me to return to the present and out of the pages of an American saga. ‘You up for coming for dinner at my place? I have a surprise.' I went to speak but she knew me too well. ‘I'm not telling you. Just be at mine at seven and dress smart but casual.' Once again, I opened my mouth. ‘Can't stop. Can't tell. Just be there or else, ok?'

With that she was gone and I was left looking at panty liners and feminine wash.


I was tempted to not go. Tempted to wait for her to call at 7:01pm and demand why I hadn't turned up before demanding an answer in return. Why smart / casual? When I usually ate at Sophie's it meant pizza from Dominos or a Chinese takeaway. So why dress up? And what was the surprise? I wouldn't have to wash up? There was only one way to find out, and that was to get my butt into gear and around to her house. Early. That would give me time to pump her for information.


I had been there for less than five minutes before the sound of the bell had interrupted my interrogation. ‘What … and who?' That's all I got out before Sophie almost skipped off bringing back memories of her in the playground just before she caused trouble. My gut was giddy and it wasn't with excitement. Anticipation? No. More like dread.

Voices filtered through the doorway of the kitchen where I was standing like a spare prick at a wedding and I felt my back straighten. I knew that voice. Not well, but I knew it. And then another, more female, voice. A man and a woman. Jeez. I should give up my life working in an office and join CSI.

‘Jess!' Sophie's high pitched voice broke through my reverie and the only thought I knew for definite was that Sophie was shitting a brick. And I hoped it came out sideways. ‘Come and say hello.'

It was when my legs decided to move me towards the doorway and into the hallway that it came to me. It was Dave. Dave and Diana. Emotions vied for prominence – anger being the initial one. Sophie had told me she had not made arrangements to meet him again. I also knew she would try to get out of it by saying ‘I didn't go out with him. He came around to my house.' What a load of bollocks. Then another emotion. Curiosity. Why had he brought his sister? Was he too scared to be alone with the man eater? Did he need a chaperone?

FUCK! His sister was here! And I was being a doddering dickhead in the cusp of the kitchen and hallway whilst there was a gorgeous woman waiting for my handshake less than five feet away. Panic shot through me. Did I look ok? Had I actually given a shit about what I looked like when I got ready to come to my supposedly best friend's house tonight? I knew I should have worn the top that accentuated my cleavage instead of the fucking crew necked jumper I was wearing. What about my ass?

‘Jess! Are you coming?' No. I'm having a fashion crisis and imagining the fashion police about to hammer down the door and arrest me for mixing cotton with wool.

Before I had a chance to run back in the kitchen and try to see my reflection in the side of the kettle, Sophie appeared looking anxious. Hissing through her teeth, she ground out, ‘What the fuck are you doing?' I opened my mouth to answer but was interrupted by the excessively close voice of Dave.

‘Hi again, Jess.' I could feel the blush eking its merry way up my throat, as it, too, wanted to say hello. ‘I think you already know my sister Diana.' Fuck, do I. And as if by magic, not the Shopkeeper as in the kid's program Mr Ben, Diana appeared.

‘Hi there.' God. That voice. A smile broke out across her face making me mirror it. Well, nearly. It was a smile, granted. But mine seemed the kind of smile that usually adorned a village idiot. ‘What a nice surprise.' Surprise? ‘When Dave said he wanted me to come to dinner with a work friend, I didn't expect to already know her … well, both of you.' Back to the smelling a rat – a big bright red one. Scrap that. Two bright red ones. Both Dave and Sophie were trying unsuccessfully to hide their glowing faces. What I couldn't understand was why? Why would they be embarrassed about having dinner? Was it because they were both uncomfortable about being alone with the other? Why didn't they knock it on the head then and not meet at all?

‘Yes. It is a surprise, isn't it?' I glared quickly at Sophie, who decided that was the best time to fuck off and sort out the wine glasses. Dave scampered after her, and if you've ever seen a six foot three man scamper, it is not the easiest, or the most elegant, way to move. He almost looked like a new born deer chasing its mother.

‘A lovely one though.' Another smile slipped effortlessly across her face making her eyes twinkle and reintroduce those adorable little rays of light I had seen from her lips when she had first smiled in class.

It was just about then the penny dropped. I'm sure the whole street could hear the clunk of the metal against tiled floors. Now, I could just say the skills I had discovered I had when believing I could work for CSI had returned thus enabling me to see the wood for the trees. But, like Sophie, it would make me a liar. It was the simple phrase Sophie yelled from inside the kitchen, which, I hasten to add, had been preceded by harassed whisperings between her and Dave. ‘Why don't you two get yourselves comfortable and more acquainted in the living room? We'll bring the drinks in.'

I should have known. She was trying to fix me up. But how on earth did she know that Diana was a lesbian? She couldn't have found out from Dave in the short space of time she spoke to him in the canteen, and I couldn't imagine Diana introducing herself as the one and only lezza teacher who wanted to get up close and personal with her absent friend. That would be too whacky even for my deluded imagination. So what gives?

‘Shall we?' Snapping out of my inner forensics (because you are well aware of my ability to crack a mystery by now), I was greeted by a confused expression. Diana was trying to read my face, and I wished her luck. If I couldn't understand what was going on inside my head, she had no chance.

‘Sure.' Lifting my hand, I slipped it under her elbow to lead her in the direction of Sophie's living room. God. I honestly couldn't tell you what happened, but I experienced the weirdest sensation I've ever had. It seemed as if a jolt of electricity raced from her and into me. Springing back, I couldn't help but notice the same expression sprinting over her beautiful face. ‘What the …' And I was so glad I didn't finish the epithet that was valiantly trying to slither through my clenched teeth.

‘Is it this room?' Diana recovered more quickly than I did, that was for sure. Her face was turned away and she was entering the spacious living room at an alarming speed. I, on the other hand, was hovering in the doorway like a prize one tit wondering why I felt the need to run. Before I had the ability to move rapidly towards the front door, Diana turned around to face me, a smile fixed solidly in place. ‘So, shall we?' Shall we what? ‘We can't start to get more acquainted if we are in different rooms, can we?' One eyebrow raised itself into the dark confines of her hair and I snorted at the comical expression on her face. Physically relaxing, I stepped through the doorway and into the room. ‘Close the door.' Close the ... huh? ‘I think we need to talk.'

Shit. Doesn't this conversation happen when you are actually dating someone and not when you have been invited to someone's house for dinner and realised that you were half of the couple who was going to be set up? Now that is what I call a long and complex question. However, I didn't say anything to her, just turned, closed the door and sidled to the sofa nearest the window. If it got too uncomfortable at least I could just jump out of it.

‘Are you thinking what I'm thinking?' I doubt it. Unless she, too, was eyeing up the pros and cons of diving head first from a ground floor window.

‘Urg!' Please. Translate that as ‘Although I think I am aware of what you may be thinking, the rational side of me disagrees.'

Diana seemed unfazed by my lack of ability to formulate a sentence and presently sat next to me on the sofa. ‘I think my brother is trying to play matchmaker.' I was going to say urg again but decided against it. I didn't want to over stimulate her brain with my witty repartee. ‘I'm sorry, Jess.' Did she actually remember my name or had someone reminded her? Dave. He did. Bollocks. Why was I finding it difficult to stay focused. And the reason why I thought the last bit was because I know for a fact she had continued to talk but I wasn't listening – obviously.

Blue eyes turned to me, the bluest eyes I think I had ever seen this up close and personal. How easy it would be to drown in those eyes. A sigh left my lungs and I know my shoulders hitched with the effort.

Just a minute. She apologised? For what? Crap. I felt my eyes widen, giving the impression that I looked surprised by what she had said. Maybe if I knew what it was I would've been. Should I just go for a grunt again?

‘So what do you think? Do you think that's silly?' Shit. I could've just gone with the ‘I'll agree with what you think' or the bloke response of ‘Absolutely', but I knew that Diana would have seen straight through it – whatever ‘it' was.

‘Can ...' Honestly. I was going to ask her to repeat her idea, but the door popped open and two smiling faces walked in carrying wine.

After much reflection, I believe I missed one of the most important conversations I could've had in my sad little life. Pity I didn't think to ask her to tell me again what she had planned. It might have stopped me making a total fool out of myself.


All through dinner Diana paid me attention. Everything I said was marvellous and even the crappiest joke she thought to be highly hilarious. It was a bit disconcerting at first, as I had never had that overwhelming feeling of being so popular. However, as time and courses went on, I was beginning to feel a semblance of what it must feel like to be high. To hear that musical laugh ring out with my rendition of too many jokes that could appear to have been gleaned from Christmas crackers was intoxicating. I was having a ball. I wish I could have said the same about my interfering hostess though. At one point in the evening I saw her glare at me and gesture sharply with her head for me to follow her into the kitchen. I just grinned and ignored her.

After dessert Sophie decided it was time to verbalise her need for me to leave the room and go with her in the pretence of getting coffee started. Her tone was clipped and there was no way she was taking no for an answer.

In the kitchen, I felt the air change from friendly to ‘Jesus Christ, Jess! What are you playing at?' in mere seconds.

‘Jesus Christ, Jess! What are you playing at?'

‘What do you mean?'

‘What do I mean?' That's what I said, isn't it? ‘You. The way you're acting. Did you slip something into your drink?'

‘What do you mean?'

‘What do I mean?' This was getting monotonous. ‘All the joke telling – the bad joke telling. What's gotten into you? Is this payback or something?' I felt the giddiness disappear. Had I make a dick out of myself? ‘Ok. I admit it. I invited Dave and Diana over so I could ... so Dave and I could fix you two up. Happy?' Turning away from me she began to slam the cups onto saucers before beginning to fill the coffee maker with water. ‘It was so obvious that Diana was playing along.' Obvious? ‘Dave said if she got wind of it she would pretend to like you to get him off her back.' Pretend to ... like me? Pretend. Pre-tend? Wasn't I worthy of being liked without the pretence?

‘I'm sorry Jess' followed by a ‘So, what do you think? Or do you think that's silly?' That must've been what Diana was saying. As soon as she had realised what her brother and Sophie were up to she had wanted an out. ‘Or do you think that's silly?'

No. I'm silly. Actually, I'm a fucking idiot. I had pushed all that to the back of my head and gone with just feeling good in someone else's company for once.

Without saying a word, I left. Left the kitchen. Left the hallway. Left the house. Left everything behind without a by your leave or a backwards glance. Quite possibly, I cried all of the way home too. How sad is that?


I could hear my mobile phone ringing from somewhere in the depths of the jeans I had thrown on the floor of my bedroom. Five, six, seven times it blasted the naff ring tone before it started on the even naffer text alert. I just pulled my duvet up and over my head, as I knew it would be Sophie trying to get hold of me. The reason why I knew this was because she had tried to call me incessantly as I had marched home in anger, tears and self-deprecation. Eventually, the phone stopped making noises to let me know there was a person who desperately wanted me to pick up and was probably trying to catch forty winks before the caller decided to call again.

There was one thing I hadn't counted on when I had willingly ignored the move into the age of mobile phones and instant communication. The old way of communicating. The very old way of making contact with someone you wanted to get in touch with. No. Not a letter. Not even one flown in tagged ungraciously on the leg of a pigeon. It was in the form of demented banging on my front door followed by shouting. Sophie shouting, to be exact. Her turn of phrase was as expected. Open up. Gunna kick your door down, followed by the thudding of someone trying to mimic either Starsky or Hutch but without success. I turned over and faced away from window even though my head had momentarily poked from under the covers of my bed when the knocking had started.

‘Do you know what fucking time it is?' Jeff from two doors down decided enough was enough and was yelling out of his bedroom window. This was not good. Jeff was a moaning bastard at the best of times but when he actually had something to moan about he was in his element. However, what he didn't know was Sophie was someone you didn't start with, especially when she was pissed off.

‘Time you fucked off! Jess! Come on! Open up!'

‘How dare you speak to me like that. I've a good mind to phone the police.'

‘Look, whoever you are, I'm not in the mood to discuss if you have a mind or not. So why don't you shut your mouth, shut your window and climb back into your sad little life. JESS! FOR GOD'S SAKE!'

Slam. Not my door again, but the sound of Jeff's window closing. That would mean only one thing. He would now be calling the police. And even though I was still fuming with Sophie I didn't want her getting dragged to the cop shop on account of me ignoring her because she told me the truth.

As I was making my way down the stairs, Sophie must've remembered I had a doorbell and started to ring it with abandon.

‘What?' I think I surprised her, me answering the door I mean. Although I don't understand why, as she had made it apparent she wasn't going anywhere until I had done just that. I saw her physically relax as her eyes met mine.

‘Baby.' Her voice was soft and motherly, the glint of tears appearing like magic. ‘Why? Why did you leave?' Instead of answering her, I turned and walked towards the kitchen. I could hear her behind me, but, like Orpheus, I didn't look back to check if she was there.

Filling up the kettle, I called over my shoulder, ‘Coffee?' before continuing to set out mugs without listening to her response. I could feel her behind me, feel her waiting for me to give her some attention, but I knew if I turned to face her I would break down in tears once again. I had made an idiot of myself in front of everyone and I was ashamed. Well, not just ashamed, deflated ... no ... that isn't right. I was totally gutted. Diana was the first woman I had felt an attraction to for so long and I had cocked it up by being a dick head. And then to top it all off, I had left without a word – not even an ‘I'll catch you later – got to dash,' as I ran screaming silently for the hills to bury my head preferably up my own arse.

Clink. Clink. The spoon hit the sides of each mug with finality and I knew that I had to face the music eventually. Lifting the mugs, I turned and offered one to Sophie. Without looking at her face, I said ‘I don't want to go to art class anymore.' Then, like a leading lady in a silent movie, I drifted towards the living room.

Plonking onto the armchair, I gathered my legs underneath me, almost as if I was trying to get my body as small as it would get. Sophie walked into the room and sat on the edge of the sofa. The ticking of the mantle clock was louder than I ever remember it being. Weirdly enough, I think it was the only time I had ever remembered being in Sophie's company and being able to hear anything else but our conversation.

A bluish light flitted across my front room and it made it seem even more surreal than it was already. The bell sounded with one sharp ring. Delicately, I placed my mug on the coffee table and made my way to the door. A solitary policeman was on my doorstep and I smiled pleasantly. ‘Good evening, Officer. Can I help you?'

‘Sorry to disturb you, ma'am, but we've had a complaint about noise coming from this address.'

‘This address, Officer? I don't understand.' Another smile, a little lean forward to just show a glimpse of cleavage, ‘My friend forgot her key and knocked a while back. Is that what you mean?' As expected, the policeman tit clocked and I made sure he knew I had seen him by tugging gently at the V of my t shirt. ‘You can come in and see if you like, although, as you can tell, I am ready for bed.' Where was this going? What was I doing?

‘Well, it would be better if I checked this out fully.'

As he made a move to come inside I said, ‘If you don't mind me asking, but did the call come from 120 – a man called Jeff Barnes?' I watched him pause as he deliberated telling me. ‘Because, Officer, ‘ I can't believe I leaned towards him again and flashed the curves of the girls. I never flashed for effect, well, for a man at any rate, ‘Mr Barnes is not a very nice man. I'm sure you've heard from him before.' I looked over my shoulder as if checking I wasn't being overheard. ‘He has the tendency to complain about anything and everything. Actually, he was quite abusive to my friend earlier.'

‘You cheeky cow. How fucking dare you blame me when you know for a fact your so called friend was ...'

‘Calm down please, Sir. There is no need for that kind of language in front of a lady.'

‘A lady! A fucking lady! You must be joking. She's a fucking ru ...' But he didn't get the chance to finish his rug muncher jibe, as the officer had stepped out and grabbed the man by the arm and spun him around. ‘Get your fucking hands off me. I pay my taxes to keep the likes of you in a job.' You would think that Jeff would have had the sense he was born with, but no. He decided that it would be ok for him to try and twat the officer who was trying to restrain him. Not a solid punch by any stretch of the imagination, but a definite swipe all the same.

Five minutes later Jeff was being taken down to the police station and I was guiltily closing the front door. However, I had other things to worry about than the bloke who constantly complained about his neighbours being carted off by the bizzies.

‘Everything ok?' Sophie was still waiting on the edge of the sofa. I just gave her a look of nonchalance. ‘Come on Jess. What's up? Why did you leave?' I couldn't help my jaw dropping. How could she even ask me why I had left? Wasn't that blatantly obvious? ‘I said I was sorry for trying to fix you up. It won't happen again.' At that point I cracked. Why? Fuck knows. But I did. A sob tore out of my chest and hit the air in front of a stunned Sophie. Then another one. And another. Tears were racing down my face and I wanted to get up and do the dramatic running from the room whilst slamming doors, but I couldn't move. I just crumpled up like a tired tissue waiting for the inevitable throwing away into a bin. Warm hands circled me; my face was placed onto a waiting chest. The comfort that brought me allowed even more tears to come from the depths. I could feel a rocking motion and all I wanted to do was be completely absorbed into it. It has been so long since I had let myself cave in, so long since I had let my guard down that it made me seem too vulnerable, but I couldn't stop it.

Minutes seemed to drag but speed up. I don't know how long Sophie held me, but she never stopped rocking, whispering, stroking my hair and back. Even though I had been angry at her for what she had said in the kitchen, there was never a point in my life where I didn't feel safe when in the presence of my best friend.

It was quiet. So quiet. So numbingly quiet that I felt as if I was in another dimension, felt as if I was looking at the situation from above. There was I, looking, and feeling, so small and insignificant, being held by my guardian.

‘You want to tell me about it?' The words seemed too loud, too deafening to be real. ‘It's not just what I did is it?' A slight shake of my head. ‘Come on, baby. Tell Aunty Soph.' A pause. ‘And if anyone has upset my girl I'll kick the shit out of them.' At this a snort of laughter shot out from my mouth followed by the harrumphing of someone who has cried for too long and too hard.

‘I like her.' My voice was small, and it didn't help that it was muffled by Sophie's chest, no wonder she asked me to repeat it. Lifting my head, I looked her in the eyes. ‘I said I like her. Diana.' Sophie's eyes widened slightly before becoming normal again. Pulling away, I leaned back onto the chair leaving Sophie kneeling at my feet. I turned away, as I felt too exposed to keep staring into the face of the woman before me. ‘And as you so delicately pointed out – she isn't, and won't ever, be interested in me.'

Once again the quiet seeped between us. I could once again hear the living room mantelpiece clock announcing every second that thrummed by.

‘She likes you too, Jess.' I huffed before rubbing my face with my hand as if trying to dispel the sticky feeling of drying tears. ‘She does. Honest. You should have seen her after you left.' Sophie's hand cupped my chin and gently turned me to face her once again. Part of me wanted to know how Diana Sullivan had acted whilst another part of me was a little fearful. What if she had said ‘Oh, right. She's gone has she?' Would that be enough? ‘Even Dave was surprised by it. Said afterwards that he had not seen Diana look so crestfallen for ages.' For ages? What did he mean by that? And how many people used the word crestfallen in this day and age? ‘Listen to me. She likes you.' Sophie made sure I was looking straight into her eyes before she continued. ‘And I'm sorry I made you feel like she didn't.'

What could I say to that?

‘You should be.' Sophie's eyes widened, but I laughed and pushed her a little harder than I intended to. The sound of her splattering on the floor, followed by the string of delectable epithets not to be used in front of minors, somehow made me feel even better than the admission of my friend's fault and the possibility of the gorgeous art teacher being interested in yours truly.

‘You could help me up – or even looked a little apologetic.' I did neither.


Chapter Three

Wednesday came around too quickly. I did and didn't want to go to class, but the ‘did' part won over. It wasn't just because I had made a dick out of myself at the weekend that had made me reticent about going to class either. It was seeing her ... seeing her and knowing that I liked her ... No. Seeing her and finding out that I was in fact just another student who she had been nice to at a dinner party. However, I did say that I caved and went along, right? The reason? It was, once again, seeing her. Just ... seeing her. And, I have to admit, I had enjoyed the class the previous week.

Sophie was late. Git. I had been hovering outside the building for twenty minutes before she finally text me to let me know she was stuck in traffic and wouldn't be in class for at least another thirty minutes. I had two choices. Stay outside and wait, or go in and grab our seats.

I was nervous. Stupidly nervous. It wasn't the ‘teenager' seeing her crush kind of nervous; it was more a case of waiting for her to announce across the classroom about me fucking off before coffee on Saturday night. I would've been so much happier walking through the door with Sophie by my side. That way Diana could've said it, but people wouldn't have been too sure who she was addressing.

Funnily enough, Diana never said a word when I went in. Actually, she didn't even acknowledge my presence. It seemed as if my legs stuttered in the doorway, almost as if they were deliberating turning me around so I could make my escape. Weirdly enough, I didn't. The little buggers decided that onwards and forwards were the way to go, and before I knew it I was seated in the seat I had been sitting the previous week.

After I unpacked my stuff I allowed my eyes to drift around the room. Two things stood out. One – Sophie was still absent. Two – so was Dave. Coincidence? Methinks not. It was just too convenient that they were both late. Definitely. And because of that I found I couldn't look at Diana. Stupid, I know, but what else was a girl to think? Two absentees and blanked as I entered the room? This woman was as far from interested as a person could be.

As we began to draw the still life arranged for the class, I decided that I would split when we had a tea break. I had convinced myself that Sophie was not coming, and the absence of Dave made my mind conjure up scenarios where brother and sister had almost come to blows because of what had happened over the weekend.

It's amazing what a mind can do isn't it? I had totally convinced myself that I would be swanning off at half time, but when it came down to it, I didn't. I was too caught up in the activity we were doing to pay any mind to what had happened previously.

I remembered that I was planning on leaving as I was queuing up in the canteen and that was only when I heard the dulcet tones of my best friend from behind me. ‘Coffee for me, ta.' I just grunted and kept my eyes on the front of the line. The Babs Hepworth wannabe was hovering to the side and I was definite she was going to make a jump for it as it neared my turn. Not on my watch she wasn't.

It was my turn, and the Babster made a move to nip in. ‘Two coffees please love,' and I almost pushed the bespeckled art student into the following week. When had I become so aggressive? To be honest, I didn't care. All that concerned me was not allowing someone to push in – that wasn't British.

I think Sophie was expecting me to crack off at her for leaving me in the lurch, but I was too busy thinking about the drawing I had created. Every time she spoke I felt her wait for me to have a go at her, and every time I didn't, she seemed more and more confused.

‘Time to get back.' With that, I cleared our cups and headed back to the room, a scurrying Sophie behind me.

Upon entering, I spotted Dave talking agitatedly with his sister in the corner of the room. Furtive glances to mine and Sophie's direction indicated we were the topic of conversation. Not good. All the feelings of wellbeing and wanting to actually be there to study the topic seemed to fade.

‘This yours, Jess?' Sophie was looking at my drawing of trinkets and I just made a noise from the back of my throat. ‘Wow. You are good.'

Opening my mouth to disagree, I was stopped by the familiar sound of Diana Sullivan's voice. ‘Excellent work, Jess. You have captured the perspective wonderfully.' All the moisture in my mouth seemed to evaporate and swallowing became a near impossibility. ‘How are you both?' At this point I chanced a glance at the enigmatic teacher, once again stunned by her beauty. Those blue eyes were firmly fixed on Sophie and the smile she sported was warm and inviting. But only at Sophie. Her voice was like nectar, coating, delicious, intoxicating. Also, only aimed at Sophie. It was then I realised something. Diana wasn't interested in me at all. Not by the sparkle in her eyes every time Sophie spoke. I was beginning to feel like a gooseberry – a gooseberry fool.

I stood and watched Diana place her hand on the top of Sophie's arm when she was speaking, the way she leaned forward as if bringing her into her confidence, the way her body turned more and more away from me nearly blocking me out of the conversation completely. Too fucking obvious even for a complete dick head like me to ignore. Diana Sullivan wanted Sophie not me. She was interested in my best friend – getting to grips with my best friend – making the beast with two backs with my – best – friend. I spent far too long gazing at her hand touching Sophie, fascinated by the circular scar I could see between her thumb and index finger.

Fuck. What was a girl to do? Back down gracefully? Slip away and hide in the corner and hope no one noticed? Make a scene? Demand that Diana Sullivan like me – the lezza – and not Sophie, who had never indicated that she could be persuaded to partake in Sapphic love. Don't get me wrong. Sophie didn't dislike lesbianism – it just wasn't her bag. She liked her men too much.

But that didn't stop Diana liking her did it?


The class seemed to drag by. Sophie's drawing was half hearted at best, and for the most part she was making faces and mouthing things to Dave across the room. I didn't want to get involved, just wanted the evening to be over so I could get out of there and get on with my sad little life.

At five to nine Diana called for the group's attention once again. I already had my bag packed and sat there with my coat on. Diana started her plenary for the lesson and pointed out our objectives once again. Just as she was finishing up, I attempted to stand.

‘Ah ... Jess. I was just about to come to you.' I looked at her with complete disinterest making her frown momentarily. ‘I would love to show the rest of the class your drawing as I think it sums up everything we were trying to achieve.'

Without saying a word, I pulled my art pad out of my bag and tossed it to the centre table. I think every pair of eyes in the room watched its transition from me to the table with avid interest. I heard a whispered ‘Jess?' from the side of me, but didn't even look at Sophie.

Diana seemed flummoxed. The confident face she usually sported at the front of class was missing and her eyes searched mine out. I could see a flicker of hurt dart across the blue making them seem lighter if only in my imagination.

‘Erm. Well. Thank you, Jess.' I nodded and waited for her to be done so I could leave.

At nine o'clock I was walking out of the door, Sophie acting like a human sticky bob. She said nothing – not a word. Well, until we got to the car park that is.

‘What the fuck is up with you?' I ignored her and continued to walk. A hand grabbed my arm and I stopped but kept facing away from her. ‘I said what the fuck is wrong with you?'

Without looking, I muttered, ‘I'm just tired, that's all.'

Sophie didn't release my arm, just allowed her fingers to dig in more. ‘Bollocks.' I tried to deny it, but she just kept repeating the word bollocks every time I started to speak. ‘Look Jess. I have known you too long to believe that. Something has crawled up your arse and died. What is it?'

At this, I turned to look at her. She wasn't angry – just confused – nearly as confused as I was feeling. ‘Honestly, Soph. I've had a crap day. I am absolutely knackered. Actually, I don't feel too good.' That bit was true. I didn't feel good. I felt sick to the stomach. ‘I'm finding coming to class a bit of a strain ... you know, mid-week. It wouldn't be so bad if it was at a weekend.' Yes. I was paving the way to stop going to class at all.

‘But, Jess.'

She looked so disappointed, I did feel bad. I wanted to not feel the way I did, wanted to not like Diana Sullivan as much as I did, and that way I could just keep going to the class where I had felt myself come alive again.

‘Can we at least talk about it... this Saturday? Girly day. Shopping, the works.' I just nodded and forced a smile from deep within. ‘Come here. Give me a hug.'

As Sophie put her arms around me I could feel the tears surge up from deep within, but I shoved them back. If I broke down now I would end up telling her everything. Tell her how I felt jealous that a woman I barely knew but had a huge attraction for was hankering after her. Tell her that even though I knew Diana had no chance with Sophie, I still couldn't stand to see her not looking at me the way she looked at my best friend.

How sad is that?


By the time I'd reached home I was in such a funk. I know. I was in a pretty bad funk by the end of the class, but this was even lower than I thought even I could go. All I could see was Diana's expression, the way she absorbed Sophie, laughed with her, touched her arm. I really wanted to hate her, even just dislike her intensely, but it wouldn't come. I had this ache in the pit of my stomach that I couldn't get rid of, and I knew it would be a long time before it would. I also knew something else. However much I loved going to class, I wouldn't be going again. Adding on to this I also knew I would not be telling Sophie. What was the point in telling her? All she would do would be to try and talk me out of it and that was not going to happen.

Now all I had to do was get through Saturday. That was something I never thought I would say when I was talking about a day out with Soph. Usually our time together was something I really looked forward to, but I knew that I would spend the day dodging questions and trying to forget that I wasn't her.


Obviously, Saturday came around – that's what time does. It doesn't fast forward or freeze because you want it to. Despite belief, it does tick by at the rate it always does, although it does depend on the state of mind a person is in for the feel of speed, velocity and anticipation. Sophie and I had made arrangement to meet for lunch before going shopping, and, because of time, I was thirty minutes early.

Or I would have been if Sophie hadn't arrived five minutes after I had. That was so unlike her. In all the years I had known her, she had never turned up that early for anything in her life. That was the alarm bell number one. Number two came in the form of her hanging up her phone in mid conversation as soon as she spotted me waving wildly at her from the table in the small bistro we had chosen. Not good. Then onto number three ... that was her voice and expression when she walked over, maybe throw in a dash of her looking furtively at the door about fifteen times in the twenty feet from where I spotted her to where I was sitting.

‘Hey hon. You're early.' Too right. And also beginning to want to leave even before I had supposed to arrive.

‘You too.' So, why did mine come out even more accusatory than hers? Maybe because I was a cynical and untrusting woman. However, it didn't stop the knowledge flooding through me that her voice had actually been a tad accusatory too. ‘What's going on?' Sophie grinned fakely and made a move to hug me, which I graciously, albeit stiffly, accepted. ‘You are up to something, Harrison. I can sense it.'

She didn't answer. Just sat down and grabbed at the drinks menu. ‘Fancy a cocktail?' Huh? A cocktail at 12:30 in the afternoon? ‘Go on. A little snifter will liven us both up.' Or numb me from the forehead down.

‘Just a cranberry juice for me, thanks.' I leaned back in my chair and watched her fidget her way through the menu. Her eyes were everywhere apart from on me. Even when the bum-chick-a –wow-wow sounded from her handbag, she made no move to drag herself from the obviously huge chore of selecting a drink that had more of a kick than a fruit juice.

‘You've got a text message.' Nothing. Not any kind of recognition of me stating the fucking obvious. So I told her again. She grunted, squirmed and looked shifty. So, I did what any normal girl would do in that situation. I called her. On her mobile. When she was less than a foot and a half away from me. ‘You'd better get that.' Sophie made a gesture to indicate she was too busy to pick up her phone and looked back at the menu, before she did a double take and saw me with my phone next to my ear. Grinning, she plucked her phone out her bag and tried to go for the sexy response.

‘Hey there, big boy. What's up?'

At this point I felt my heart hit my stomach. Actually, I was surprised that Sophie didn't hear it. However there was no mistaking that she had witnessed the blood race from my face leaving me white and slightly sweating.

‘What's up?' Sophie was still speaking to me through her phone, which I was glad about, to tell the truth, as this gave me the prime opportunity to say and do the next thing.

‘When were you going to tell me we were going to have someone else join us on our girly day?' Click. I couldn't take my eyes off Diana Sullivan as she walked into the bistro, although I wanted to glare at Sophie instead just to let her know how very pissed off I actually was.

‘Erm.' I wasn't listening. I was too interested in Diana's body language as she began the dramatic walk to where we were sitting. An outsider would assume she had been told to walk the metaphorical plank, but my money was on the fact that she, too, had no idea that I would be there. Unlike me, Diana Sullivan was too much of a lady to turn around and walk out. And I would have done it too, if Sophie hadn't gripped my wrist as I stood and told me to sit the fuck down and stop acting like a four year old. Weirdly enough, if I had toys in front of me I would've definitely thrown them out of my pram.

‘Hey.' Diana tried to sound upbeat, but I could hear the tremor in her voice as if she had announced she was shitting a brick. Then she leaned over to Sophie and kissed her on the cheek. It was like someone had reached inside my mouth, pushed a fist down my throat and squeezed my stomach into a clump. ‘Hello Jess. Good to see you again.' Yeah, I bet. ‘How're you feeling? More rested?' Fucking Sophie had been talking to her behind my back. I hate that.

‘I'm good, thanks.' And seething. ‘A little tired, but I'll live.' I tried to give a wan smile but it came out more like demented. ‘How're you?' Still lusting after the straight woman?

Diana's smile became a little more natural, and she pulled her chair out and sat down. At that moment the waitress finally turned up to take our drinks order allowing me to focus on something else for a couple of minutes.

All the way through lunch Diana fiddled with anything she could lay her hands on. The napkin, the salt and pepper pots, even the other condiment pots. To say the menu was safe would be lying. It ended up in the shape of a flower before being torn up and piled neatly on the side of her plate. I was fascinated. Not because she was expert at origami, but because I noticed what beautiful hands she had, even with the scar. I'd even forgotten that those beautiful hands would never be making me into something delicate ... never guide and mould me into a shape that could be considered creative and engaging. However, I could definitely relate to the feeling of being torn and discarded.

‘Fancy going to the mall?' The mall? Stockport didn't have a mall. A cheese and egg market, yes, but the closest ‘mall' was in the city centre. Unless Merseyway was now classed as a ‘mall'. And why was I having an internal monologue about whether my hometown had a mall when I should have been answering Sophie?

‘I'd love to.' Diana answered. Yeah. I bet you would. More time for you to get to know Sophie. I think it was time for me to make my excuses and leave the love bird (yes. Singular. Soph wasn't a man in the little boat licker like me and the deliriously misguided Ms Sullivan. Fuck. Me and my delectable turn of phrase. I'm still surprised I'm single). ‘You coming Jess?'

I bet you can imagine what shot through my head when I heard the word coming in conjunction with my name. And I also bet you followed that with something negative. If so, you are getting to know me pretty well.

‘I ...'

‘Yes. Jess would love to come to the city with us. I'll drive.' Sophie stood up quickly, as if she was making the point of taking charge. ‘I'll follow you home and you can drop your car off and we can all travel in mine.' I turned to look at Diana, the question about her car hanging from my lips.

‘I walked in.' Yes. Maybe so. But how did Sophie know that? Was it when they were arranging my embarrassment behind my back? And this made me question whether Diana was as innocent to my presence today as I once thought. What I couldn't understand is if she knew I was going to be here and she wouldn't be alone with Sophie, why did she bother turning up in the first place?

It wasn't long before I was driving back to my house being followed by Sophie and Diana. All the way there I tried to think of a valid excuse to get out of going to the ‘mall' with them, even contemplating a family crisis. Well, it was wasn't it? I mean, I was in my family and I was in some sort of social crisis.

As I pulled onto my driveway, it hit me. Not the driveway, but the realisation. Why was I acting like a spoilt brat? What if Diana liked Sophie? What if Sophie suddenly had the urge to jump over to my side of the fence and sample the delights of the lesbian world? It was out of my control and also something I had to get used to. Who was I to act all mard arsed and teenage? Obviously, I was gutted that I wasn't the reason for Diana turning up today, wasn't the focus of that addictive smile, wasn't the reason why her eyes would light up when Sophie would talk. The last bit held the clue. Sophie. And Sophie was my best friend.

Two minutes later I was buckling up in the back seat of Sophie's car, meeting her tentative smile with a wide one of my own. Relationships come and go, so do crushes, but best friends are for life. There was no way Diana Sullivan would come between us. No way. Never.


Manchester was buzzing. Actually, it was heaving. Funny expressions to explain that Manchester was busy and there were a lot of people knocking about, but who am I to dispute the English language? We spent a while roaming around the Arndale Centre – something that I would never do out of choice, but Sophie wanted to go, so we did.

Manchester is impressive on many levels – scary, yet definitely impressive. Many people who have never been above London tend to think of the city as full of factories and smoking chimneys, but it is far from that. The architecture is magnificent, although it can be imposing at times. It is so easy to get lost there – even within the Arndale Centre. Shop after shop after shop, all screaming ‘Bargain!' ‘Free!', Closing down!', ‘SALE SALE SALE!' A girl can only take so much. Unfortunately that girl wasn't Sophie. She had the ability to work through each shop like a Duracell rabbit, never tiring, never flagging, never giving either Diana or I an opportunity to wander off and sit on a bench to wish for the world to end. We had to do that standing up. The amount of times we caught the other's eye and pulled faces was untrue. More than once we set off giggling like schoolgirls. I have to admit it – it felt good to not be so angsty. Acceptance is a good thing after all. At least it gave me the opportunity to pull the stick from up my arse for a while.

It was just turning four by the time we stumbled out of one of the many exits, and the fresh air (if car fumes could be considered the twenty first century air freshener) was a tonic.

‘Damn!' Sophie stepped back as if she was about to re-enter the shopping centre. There was no way on this earth that I was going to be following her. ‘I have to go to Next. I reserved a jacket online and they will only hold it until closing.' Thankfully I didn't have to say a word. Even a bad word. It was my facial expression that indicated my reticence – you know, the one that screams ‘For fuck's sake!' . ‘Look. You two can go somewhere else whilst I pop in.' Where? More shops? ‘I know. We're right neat Mosley Street here. What about you two go to the Art Gallery and I'll meet you there?'

That would mean I would be alone with Diana. Or, I should say, that would mean Diana would be alone with me. I didn't think that would be something she would be wanting to do considering the reason she was here was to be with Sophie.

‘An excellent idea. Jess?' Huh?


‘Or you could come to Next with me. Actually, I think I need to nip in Boots too.'

‘Mosley Street it is then.' How hard could it be to be with Diana whilst Sophie ransacked a few more shops?

Sophie tried to look disappointed, but she couldn't hide the grin sneaking in. I was beginning to wonder if she wanted to get rid of me, Diana, or the both of us. I also couldn't help the sneaking suspicion that she was up to something.

With the promise to meet at the front entrance of the Gallery in one hour, we were on our way.


It had been years since I had been in Manchester Art Gallery – actually, I think the last time had been a school trip. If my memory serves me right, Sophie had been chucked out for copping off with Alan Henson in a side room where the workers were setting up an exhibition. She never did tell them how she had managed to get in there. Weirdly enough, she had spent the rest of the day in the Arndale whilst we were all making sketches of famous paintings and writing down loads of shite we could have Googled later. But, being there with Diana Sullivan was something in itself. To be there with someone who loved art, who knew about art (but still wanted to cop a feel of Sophie in the side room) was exhilarating.

Walking inside the building had the same feeling as walking into a church. The hushed tones of the people milling around, the staff acting as if Jesus was just about to make his second debut added to the ambience and I felt myself become slightly giddy.

Then I felt it. Felt her hand slip through my arm and pull me closer to her. Felt the heat of her body wing its merry way all over me like a delectable rash. Felt her breath on the side of my face as she whispered, ‘So, Ms Taylor. Where do you want to go?' At the precise point she asked me, there was only one place I wanted to go, wanted to be, but that was nowhere near the place we were now standing.

‘If you are thinking what I am thinking ... ‘ I doubt it. ‘I know exactly what you want.' I doubt you do – unless you can feel my heart racing through the tips of your fingers. ‘You are more into the masters, yes?' Well, it begins with master ... phonetically of course. ‘Hey. You ok? You look kind of flushed.' At that I was surprised, as I truly believed all the heat I had in my body was definitely in a place she couldn't see, not that I didn't want her to.

‘Just hot.' From the sly peak I stole over my shoulder, I saw her lips twitch but she didn't respond.

‘How about the Pre-Raphaelites?' I just shuffled, the contact of her still unnerving me. ‘Waterhouse? Millais? They have a wonderful collection here.' She paused and I swear I could hear her brain whirling. ‘Or 18 th century – Gainsborough, Constable, Turner...'

‘Pre-Raphaelites would be great.' Did I actually sound as bored as I thought I sounded? I had wanted to sound enthused, as, in reality, I wanted to see the Pre-Raphs, but I was still having difficulty concentrating on anything but the sensation of her hand on my arm, the slight presence of her body behind mine, not to mention the smell of her. God, she smelled so good. I couldn't name the perfume she was wearing but I doubted that it all came from a bottle. Most of the scent I was inhaling was pure Diana. This was the sensation that affected me the most – and the one that made me feel the most sadness. Being here with Diana was the closest I would ever be to actually being with her.

‘Shall we?' Diana moved from behind me and stepped into my line of vision. Considering I had been blown away the very first time I had seen her, the sensation coursing through me as I looked at her perfect face was the most powerful one I believe I had ever experienced in my life. Her brows were furrowed, as she tried to figure out why I was having difficulty answering her; blue eyes were slightly darker than I think I'd ever seen them; red lips were parted as if she had stopped in mid word. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen and I doubted the gallery held anything as exquisite. ‘Are you sure you are feeling ok, Jess? Would you like to sit down?'

From the depths I dredged up a beaming smile, God knows how I did it, but I did. Upon seeing my smile, she nodded her head, her face moving closer to mine, her smile mirroring my own. ‘Come on. We haven't got long. Impress me.'

Diana's laugh echoed through the entrance hall and we were greeted by a few dirty looks. Grabbing my hand, Diana tugged me forward in order to get us moving. However, her tug was a little over zealous and I ended up stumbling and falling straight into her.

If I thought the feeling of her being behind me was heaven, God only knows where I thought I was in her arms. Purgatory? No. However much I knew this was a fluke, an accident, an incident that should make me think I was living my own personal hell, it was far from it. Have you ever been in the arms of someone and you knew it was the only place you should ever be? Fit perfectly together like you have finally found the other half of yourself? Knew, without the shadow of a doubt, that as soon as the contact was broken you would feel as if part of yourself had been sadistically torn away?

And did Diana just inhale me? Did she breathe me in just as surely as I had breathed her inside? Did her eyes flutter as she attempted to snap herself back to the here and now?

I felt as if I was drowning in her, submerging in her, losing what little dignity I had left, for her. But I wanted this, wanted her, so much. So fucking much. And at this moment she wanted me. I could feel it, sense it, almost taste it.

‘We are closing in thirty minutes!' Bastard. And she was gone, torn apart by the announcement of time, and I was left nursing what felt like a gaping hole in my chest.

‘Come. Let's check out the Pre-Raphs then before we are hoofed out.' Diana could barely look at me and part of me was thankful for it. Otherwise she would have seen the longing on my face.

Walking up to the Pre-Raphaelite Gallery on the first floor, Diana bombarded me with snippets about the paintings and the movement. Even if I did have the heart to tell her that I knew about them already, I couldn't have conjured the words. At this moment in time I didn't care about their cause, didn't care they were rebels, didn't care that they had stepped away from the norm and wanted to show modern life – religion, morals and emigration. All I cared about was that in those few seconds Diana Sullivan had made me feel more alive than I had ever felt.

This was bad. Very very bad.


Before I knew it, we were in the Pre-Raphaelite Gallery. It is weird the way people act when they step into a gallery that houses such wonderful pieces of art work. The only way I can describe it is solitary. It doesn't matter how many people go with you; it seems as if the experience is very personal. Seeing something so sublime seems to draw you in until you think you are part of the painting, like you could step inside. The moment is yours – viewing one of the true masters seems to make you expand and absorb - make you block out everything else around you. What I'm trying to say is, as soon as we entered, Diana went one way and I went another.

Truthfully, this ‘solitary' time came to me the moment I stepped in front of Arthur Hughes' Ophelia. It was the innocence. I had never thought of Shakespeare's Ophelia as being as young as she was depicted by the artist – maybe because Arthur Hughes was so young when he painted it. She looked like a fairy or a sprite; her face radiating the sadness that accompanies unrequited love, the madness seeming to take a back seat. This is the moment where she gives up, renounces the world and Hamlet, dresses her deathbed with such clarity and knowledge of her fate – a young rejected woman who was caught in the crossfire of hatred, greed and revenge. I could empathise, although I couldn't. I wasn't the type to give it all up because I couldn't have the person I wanted. I wasn't even the type to ready myself for any kind of important action in my life, never mind arranging my watery funeral pyre. Could I empathise with the unrequited feeling, the sense of loss of father, lover, mind? Was I humiliated and used like Ophelia? Would I fade, die offstage and be forgotten like the tragic lover of the Prince of Denmark?

‘Beautiful isn't it?' I just mumbled a response. ‘Have you seen Millais's Ophelia at the Tate?' I shook my head. ‘We'll have to go sometime. You would love the Tate.' Snapping my head to look at her expression, I saw her intent gaze on the artwork. Blue eyes studied the small painting seeming to digest every brush stroke. ‘There's rue for you, and here's some for me.' Diana shook her head slightly before turning my way and flashing a wonderful smile ‘Oh, you must wear your rue with a difference.'

As I smiled back I saw something lurking behind her eyes, something sad, something that seemed impenetrable. And then it was gone and I was left wondering if I had imagined it all.

‘We are closing in five minutes.' The words uttered by the attendant seemed to bounce off the walls and hit the silence surrounding Diana and I. I felt as if I should fill the void with ramblings but I couldn't drag anything from the depths to help me out.

I felt nervous, apprehensive, expectant, yet not. The silence seemed to drag and drag and I was as useful as a chocolate teapot. I wanted to blurt out I liked her – just so she knew – no strings. Wanted to tell her that Sophie was straight and she didn't have a chance, but how could I?

‘I want to talk to you about something.' Fuck. She wanted to ask my advice on how to get to grips with Sophie. ‘The other night, when we were at Sophie's ... ‘ God. She looked embarrassed. The words she wanted to say kept jamming in her throat and she was swallowing rapidly. ‘Well, actually it's about Sophie that I wanted to talk to you.' See? I told you so. I knew she had the hots for my best friend. All the time I had been telling myself this over and over and then still falling for her smile, her eyes, her fucking scent, even getting a little excited about a trip to the Tate. I always knew I was an idiot. ‘I've been ... erm ...talking to ... erm ... Sophie since and ...' Why couldn't she look at me? Why was she actively avoiding my open-mouthed stare? Acting nervous? Fidgeting? All she had to say was she fancied Sophie and did I think she had a chance? Simple.

Yes. Simple. Something even I could have done – or not, as it happens. I could have told her at that precise moment that I found her attractive, alluring, beautifully breathtaking. But no. I was standing there waiting for her to say the words I already knew were coming and I did nothing to soften the blow for either of us and making myself stop from staring at the circular scar on her hand once again.

‘You see ... I ... erm ... wondered if you ... ‘ I could feel my head shaking from side to side, partly saying that Sophie wouldn't be interested and partly trying to negate the situation. I watched her face fall. Watched as the light drained from that beautiful face. ‘Oh. Never mind. Forget I said anything.' But how could I forget, even if she hadn't actually said anything?

And in the words of Ophelia ‘There's Rosemary. That's for remembrance.' The only thing I believe I will remember is the abject disillusionment of knowing that I came second best.


Sophie was waiting for us outside and, as expected, she was loaded with shopping bags. Funnily enough, there wasn't one from Next. I wanted to ask her where the jacket she had ordered online was, but all I really wanted to do was go home. It was time to pull myself out of the situation, time to move on and away from a one-sided relationship and at least have some kind of self-respect left.

Thirty minutes later Sophie was pulling up outside my house and I believe it was the longest half an hour of my life. Soph had tried to start a conversation, tried to invite us both out for a drink and something to eat but I just couldn't. Neither could Diana, for that matter. She declined Sophie's offer even before I did.

As I stepped out of the car, Sophie wound her window down. ‘You going to your parents' tomorrow?' My eyes flicked to Diana's before landing on my friend's. I nodded sharply. ‘Can I come? I haven't had a roast dinner for ages.' I wanted to say no for some reason.

‘Sure.' Where did that come from? I thought I was going to refuse?

‘I'll meet you there about one, if that's ok. Let me know if your mum says it isn't alright?'

‘My mum loves you, you know that.' And so does everyone else by the looks of it. The smile I attempted faded so I tried to cover it up by lurching through the open window and giving Sophie a hug. Closing my eyes, I tried to imagine a time without her in my life, past and future, and I couldn't do it. The thought made me hug her tighter and inhale her.

‘Hey. What's up?' Her voice was soft in my ear and I wanted to cry. Pulling away I noticed Diana looking uncomfortable. Maybe because I had caught her staring at me hugging Sophie, or maybe because she wanted to be the one getting to grips with my best friend. ‘I'll call you later, ok?' I stepped back from the car, pulling my handbag onto my shoulder like a nineteen forties film star. ‘Oi. Sullivan. This isn't Driving Miss Daisy. Get in the front.' A smile broke across Diana's face, but to me it didn't seem genuine.

Hark at me and my ability to read people. As if.

Five minutes later I was standing in my kitchen and wondering what the fuck I was going to do. I didn't want to lose Sophie – God no. I needed to give up going to art class, although getting that past Soph would be a problem. But how could I sit there week after week and watch Diana make the moves on someone that wasn't me? Don't get me wrong, if Sophie liked Diana in that way I would step back, understand more, give her space. Or would I? Of course I would. Wouldn't I? God. I am arguing with myself about my ability to be a bigger person.

Slamming my bag down on the table, I shortly followed the thump with my backside on the chair. Then, my head decided to flop onto my arms. And that was the way I stayed for over an hour as I allowed my options to mix, churn and fight between the other.


Chapter Four

Twelve o'clock Sunday found me pulling into my parents' driveway. As expected, my mother was over the moon when I told her Sophie was coming, although I hadn't spoken to Soph since leaving her outside the previous day. I sent her a text after tearing my head from my arms to tell her I was exhausted and was calling it a night at not even seven in the evening. It didn't make it easier when I got a text back saying she was still with Diana, followed by a kiss. I thought Diana had refused – quickly - when the offer had been put out to both of us.

You can guess I had a sleepless night.

But today was different. Today I felt a little better about the situation. Or that was what I was telling myself. I had to stop this. Stop being a whinging git and get on with life. I couldn't understand why Diana Sullivan affected me as much as she did. No one else had made me feel such intense emotions. Was it because I had never been in the situation of someone liking Sophie when I liked them too? Well, that isn't true. My ex, Sam, had fancied Sophie, but she fancied anyone and that was one of the main reasons why I had split with her. That and the fact I actually hadn't liked Samantha James in the first place and had only gone out with her to get her off my back. I know, not the right way to start a relationship.

Mum, as usual, was in the midst of steam and gorgeous smells in the kitchen. Dad, I knew, would be talking lovingly to his garden. So, after giving my Mum a kiss and cuddle, I went to find him. Initially I couldn't see him, so I called out.

‘Shhh ...' Huh?


‘Shhhhh ...' I still couldn't see him but gauged he was somewhere near his garden shed. What was he up to?

Silently, well as silently as I could, I moved in the direction I had heard the shushing coming from. I still couldn't ...

‘BAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!! Git outta it!' Fuck. As he yelled he also ran out of hiding and across the lawn. I briefly saw the ginger backside of the neighbourhood cat scrambling over the fence.

‘Bugger!' You can see I didn't share my love of profanity with my parents.

‘Bloody cat keeps crapping on my lawn.' My heart was still hammering wildly in my chest but I still had to stifle a giggle. ‘What's so funny?' Watching a seventy one year old man chase a cat across the lawn, after he had been crouching near his compost heap for God knows how long, that's what was funny.

‘Nothing, Dad.'

The angry expression he had held suddenly was replaced by a huge grin. ‘Hello sweetheart. Come here.' The customary hug was given and I was blessed with a guided tour of his garden. He explained all the preparations he had been making for the up and coming bad weather and I really did wish I understood what he was talking about. I was too fascinated at the empty pill bottles he had shoved at the tops of his plants.

‘Growing your own stash, Dad?' Well, I thought it was funny although I didn't as much when he explained it was his way of catching earwigs just before lifting one and tapping out a couple of the ugly buggers. ‘Pity you couldn't get a pill bottle the size of Mrs Walsh's cat.' I could see by his face that he was contemplating it. ‘It was a joke, Dad.'

‘I know, I know.' But it didn't stop his face from scrunching up in thought.

‘Jess!' Saved by the bell, or my Mum's call. ‘Want a cuppa?' I was surprised at this. Not because my parents never offered me a cuppa when I visited, more like I had actually got through the kitchen, been part in a covert cat scaring operation, talked drugs and earwigs and also tried to steer my Dad away from catching the ginger cat from next door in a giant empty pack of Paracetamol before the usual asking of did I want a brew. Quite a feat.

‘It's a dry old ship, Jess. I never get a brew when you're not here.' My Dad said it loud enough for Mum to give him the British salute and turn her attention back to me.

‘Ignore him, love. He gets plenty.'

‘Of earache,' was whispered loudly in my ear.

‘I heard that.' Mum turned away then turned back. ‘Well? What are you waiting for? Your cuppa's getting cold.'

God. I loved my parents. Mad as hatters and still in love after nearly forty years of marriage. I wanted that. Wanted the tennis match comments; wanted the closeness and knowing every single thing about the other and loving them all the more for it.

Diana's smile flashed in front of my eyes and I shook my head to clear the lingering image. But I couldn't quite get rid of the ache that had appeared in my chest.

‘Come on, Love. Can't keep the Lord and Master waiting.'


At ten to one the doorbell went nuts. There was only one person who would dare to do that at my parents' house and that was Sophie. My Dad answered the door and I could hear them chatting in the hallway.

As they walked in Sophie was telling my Dad that she didn't know where he could get a big jar shaped like a pill bottle.

‘Dad! You can't do that to Mrs Walsh's cat!'

Both Sophie and my Dad started laughing. ‘Told you we could get her.' At that point I knew lunch was going to be a meal to remember.

And it was. In a good way. There was no angst, no longing, no thinking about Diana Sullivan fancying Sophie, just good food, entertaining conversation and, unfortunately, lots of washing up.

Sophie packed my parents off into the front room declaring it was up to her and me to clean up. I was just thankful my mother had cooked, as if my Dad had we would have still been there at midnight.

As we worked, we chatted. It was good to have Sophie all to myself once again – just like when we were kids and she had spent nearly every Sunday at my house having lunch. Her mother didn't cook ‘a mean roast' like my mother did, and for ages I thought it meant that my mum's cooking was something magical. It wasn't until I discovered that Sophie's mum much preferred a liquid lunch at the local rather than cook for her two children that I accepted that it wasn't magical, just a cooked dinner. My parents had half adopted my friend and to them she became the second daughter they couldn't have. I didn't mind. Actually, I loved it.

‘So. What's the deal between you and the gorgeous art teacher?' Smash. Thank God it was only a mug.

Crouching down, I gathered the pieces together as well as gathering the words for my response. Sophie crouched next to me, dustpan and brush ready to collect the bits.

‘I'm waiting.'

‘There's nothing to tell.'

‘Bollocks. You both had a face on you when you came out of the gallery yesterday. It was like sharing a car with a cold front.'

‘Nothing happened.' Apart from Diana was trying to get me to help her ask you out.

‘I kinda got that. You both came back single and arsey.'

Turning away, I got a piece of newspaper and wrapped the broken pieces inside before placing it in the bin. With my back to Sophie, I answered, ‘I honestly don't understand why you are so interested, Sophie. People might think that you fancy her yourself.' Where the fuck had that come from? The little jealous spot nestled somewhere near my cantankerous butt?

Thankfully, Sophie just laughed. ‘I doubt it, Jess. I'm more into her brother.' That is the problem – well, not for me – for Diana. ‘Actually, I'm meeting Dave later tonight.' I felt her come behind me, then felt her chin rest on my shoulder. ‘I think Diana could be there too if you want me to call her.' I know she was only trying to help, but it wasn't helping at all. There was her with both brother and sister lusting after her and I had no one. Instead of a Billy No Mates, I was a Billy Birdless. Resignedly, I turned to face her.

‘No thanks, Soph.' I didn't need to be fixed up with someone who would be looking at someone else and wishing she was with them. Then it hit me. Dave. How did Diana feel about Sophie and Dave getting it on? ‘How does Diana feel about you seeing her brother?'

‘Huh? What do you mean?'

Shit. ‘Erm ... teacher thing. How does she feel about you seeing her brother and she is the teacher?'

A snort left her mouth. ‘It's not as if I'm seeing the teacher is it?' Then she paused, as she must have realised what she had said. ‘And even if I was, it's not as if we are at school, Jess.' Her face scrunched up. ‘Eww ... imagine copping off with Mr Dickson the General Studies teacher from school?' I just looked at her blankly. ‘Ok. Mrs Deagan.' At that I felt my stomach lurch. I could still remember the Design teacher who looked uncannily like a skunk – smelled a little like one too.

This was my moment to tell Sophie that I wouldn't be going back to art class. Again.

‘Do you know what is weird?' I shook my head at her question. ‘I'm loving spending time with you in class. I know I'm crap, but it is quality time with you.'

Maybe not.


It wasn't until I got home that I remembered something Sophie had said. ‘You both came back single and arsey.' It was the word ‘single' that stood out. Why would Sophie say that? One minute she was trying to fix us up, then telling me I had gone overboard on the finding out and acting like an ass. But now ... now it seemed as if she had made sure that Diana and I went off somewhere on our own yesterday. If I remember rightly, there had not been a shopping bag from Next and no jacket either. Even I, and my ability to be stupid, couldn't ignore that she had no evidence from Next to support her story. What I couldn't understand was why? Why would Sophie try to get me fixed up with a woman who obviously had no interest in me? It was weird because in the past Sophie had been over-protective when it came to my dates. She didn't like Sam (who actually did?), but Sophie had always given my girlfriends a hard time over the years. Honestly – I almost expected her to produce a clipboard with questions on the first time she met someone who I was interested in. At least it saved my Dad from having to do it.

I wanted to call Sophie and ask her, but she was seeing Dave, or maybe Dave and Diana and I was at home considering watching the omnibus of Eastenders to cheer myself up. And if you have ever considered watching the Walford based soap opera as a cheering up technique then you will understand how truly miserable I was feeling. In a way, I felt left out. They were all out and having fun and I was sat at home making Dreamtime tea at not quite eight o'clock and considering an hour and a half of gurning, shouting, slapping and hysterics – gratis Eastenders of course, although I felt I could have given them a run for their money on the ‘pity me' stakes.

Actually, watching the soap made me feel a lot better. At least my life wasn't as hateful as the lives of the characters and I am damned near certain that I would be able to name the father of my baby, not break up my friend's relationship because I didn't want to be on my own, am not addicted to booze, fags and crack (and when I say crack I mean cocaine, not a part of the anatomy). Thankfully, all the drama in my life has spaced itself over thirty one years instead of trying to cram it all into one TV program.

And it was still only half past nine. Bollocks. Furthermore, by ten o'clock I was even antsier. I needed something to relax me. So, I picked up a book. An easy read. Yeah. If I had the mind to sit and wade through pulp fiction when I could have been out making my own stories. Another Dreamtime tea; another half an hour of fidgeting and rereading the same sentence over and over again. Why was it so difficult to just chillax on a Sunday evening? I had been doing the same thing for years and it had never bothered me before.

A sigh slithered through my gritting teeth. Philosophising about my inability to wind down was not getting me anywhere. My eager eyes scanned the room for something to distract me – and then I spotted it. My art pad. The gritted teeth slowly parted to allow the smile to slip on my face. How could it hurt to have a little doodle for a while instead of going to bed and tossing and turning for God knows how long?

Decision made, I plumped for a cold drink and grabbed my pad and pencils. I don't know why I did it, but I decided to draw just one eye ... one eye framed by a shapely eyebrow and the hint of a nose. Instead of giving the impression of eyelashes, I dutifully sketched in each one as if it was the crux of the whole picture.

Before I knew it, the evening had slipped away and I was tiredly folding the cover of my pad back over. Instead of an early night I was slipping under the covers of my bed at nearly one o'clock in the morning. Amazing how absorbed I had become in drawing just a solitary eye – I hadn't even given it an inspection after I had called it a night.


Chapter Five

Monday and Tuesday sped by. I spoke to Sophie a couple of times but she didn't mention her evening out with Dave, or even ‘The Siblings', and I, for one (obviously) didn't bring it up. Work was hectic and I didn't have much time to do anything but eat, shower and sleep when I got home. I would like to say that my mind didn't drift when I was sat at my desk and that I was totally focused on my job, but if I did, I would be lying. I don't have to tell you where my head skipped off to when it wasn't sorting through the shite at the office. And even if I did, I don't want to.

Wednesday came around again and I was not looking forward to class. I lie. I was looking forward to class. Am I lying now? Ah fuck it. I was apprehensively looking forward to not looking forward to a night at class. That will do.

Work, once again, lived up to its four letters, and I found myself running around like a dick head to get to class on time. Why rush? Why not just stroll in late like Sophie was probably planning? Maybe because I am too anal to be late for anything – or something similar.

You could have knocked me down with a feather, or even something even more cliché, when I walked into class to see Sophie already there – pad out ... pencils out ... focused. As I moved closer, she turned and gave me her signature grin.

‘Evening gorgeous. You're late.' I looked at my watch and noted I was indeed five minutes early. ‘Yes. I know. But for you that is late.' Sophie patted the chair next to her. ‘Kept it warm for you.' As I pulled the chair out I noticed a Starbucks coffee cup sat on the seat. ‘Well, your coffee kept it warm for you. Thought you could do with a pick me up.' I smiled at her. ‘Why are you smiling like you are chewing wasps?'

‘Because you're being nice.' Sophie tried a mock shock but failed miserably.

‘Could you take your seats please? We are just about to start.'

Huh? I didn't recognise the voice.

‘Could you please get out your equipment ? Pads and pencils to the ready.'

Fuck. Who was it? Margaret Thatcher?

Turning, I believe I had hit the nail on the head. At the front of the class stood the epitome of a school teacher – a nineteen fifties girls' boarding school teacher who would be better off teaching PE.

‘What's going on? Where's Diana?'

‘Could we have less of the chitter chatter and more focus?' Crap. I had been transported back twenty six years and was attending my first day at school. Quickly, I moved the coffee cup and settled myself into my seat. ‘As you can tell, I am not Ms Sullivan.' A genius! We have a Mensa member teaching us mere mortals. ‘My name is Mrs Bright.' See? Mensa. All this accompanied by a childlike song ringing in my head ‘Mrs Bright had a fright in the middle of the night.' ‘Ms Sullivan had to go away and asked me to step in for tonight's session.' Why? To both? Why did Diana have to ‘suddenly' go away, and why did she have to leave the nanny from Count Duckula in her place? ‘Tonight we will be studying the form of vegetables and fruit.'

Turning, I looked at Sophie. She was intently sharpening and already extremely sharp pencil, fully focused on preparing a weapon to be used by Vlad the Impaler. I wanted to ask her what was going on because I knew she would know. Or Dave. My eyes scanned the area and spotted Dave sharpening his pencil in the same vein as Sophie. Were they making an army?

Resignedly, I, too, began to sharpen my own pencil.

Break time couldn't come quickly enough, not that the Stephen Hawkins of the art world was a bad teacher – no ... that wasn't it at all. I wanted to get the skinny on what Diana was up to. Our cups had barely hit the table before I asked, ‘So. Where's Diana?' Subtle.

‘She had to go away.' Sophie's voice skimmed over the first syllable of what Dave was saying and I knew he was about to tell me the real reason.

Fixing him with a look, I asked again. ‘So, Where's Diana, Dave ?' I watched his eyes flick to Sophie, watched him swallow nervously, then sat back and gave them both the ‘I don't believe you' look when he reiterated what my friend had said. Time trickled by and I kept on changing my focus, Sophie, Dave, Sophie, Dave and so on. Leaning forward, I spoke, quietly. ‘Why do I think there is more to this than you are telling me?'

Sophie wasn't put off by attempt at bad cop. She shrugged, picked up her cup and scrunched her lips before replying. ‘Because you're paranoid, Jess.' True, but that didn't answer my question. ‘Diana had a call last night from a friend.' The word ‘friend' was a little more stressed than it needed to be and it didn't take a rocket scientist to understand that the ‘friend' in question was an ex. Or maybe it was a current girlfriend. Involuntarily, I grimaced. ‘She had to go to London.' Now that was a long way to go for just a ‘friend' wasn't it? I looked at Sophie trying to open the small packet of biscuits she had bought, the way she tugged, pulled, and tried to tear it with her teeth before she held it out to me to open. One movement and the biscuits were free from the plastic confines and I passed them back to receive her trademark grin. Nah. London from Manchester wasn't far for a friend.

‘What do you think of Monica?' Dave's voice broke into my mental meanderings. Who the hell was Monica? ‘She knows her stuff doesn't she?' Hang on. Who's Monica? Is that whom Diana went ... ‘Granted, she's a little stricter than Diana, but she isn't like that when you get to know her.' Ah ... Mrs Bright. ‘Actually, the rest of the family think she's a little eccentric. I think she's trying to impress Diana.' Why? Please note all the unspoken questions I am thinking. ‘You wouldn't think she was our aunt would you.' Not on your nelly. Aunt? More like a front man for the conservative party.

‘She's a lovely cook.' What the fuck? ‘I couldn't believe how quickly she whipped together the meal on Sunday.' I was definitely out of the loop. I knew I should have gone to with Sophie on Sunday. ‘Not saying I wasn't fit to burst when I left your mum and dad's, Jess, but man ... you should try her Pavlova.' Chance would be a fine thing.

‘Hello, there.' Distinctively Mrs Bright. Or Monica. Or Aunty. ‘Can I join you?' Of course. Come on. Anyone else want to join and make me feel even further pushed out? Brown eyes settled on me. ‘And you must be Jessica. ‘ Huh? ‘Oh sorry ... Jess.' A hand reached out in invitation and I felt myself responding to her. A warm smile lit her lips and she semi scrunched her face in happiness. ‘I've heard so much about you. My. You are a beauty. Diana was right.' I felt the blood still in my veins and I tightened my grip. A sidelong glance told me that Sophie was shaking her head at Dave and he was gesturing the gesture of ‘I don't know.' My hand was released but it stayed in the air for a few moments more before lowering itself slowly to the table top. ‘That's one of the things I love about Diana. She has the eye.' Lifting her cup to her lips, she pursed them, blew softly into the waiting coffee and took a sip. Nobody said a word – we just waited. ‘Now, that Lauren was a beautiful woman – boy, that she was. I really thought Diana had found the one with that one.' Another sip, more shuffling from Dave and Sophie. ‘Elegant. Poised. Refined.' The three things I certainly wasn't. ‘But so ugly on the inside. ‘ A sigh escaped her. ‘Nearly broke my little Dee Dee's heart. I'm surprised she went to help her out after what she did.'

Questions all answered without saying a word.

‘Erm ... are you enjoying teaching again, Aunt Mon?' Nice try, Dave. A little late, but a nice try. Hang on a minute. Why were Dave and Sophie uncomfortable about me knowing about Lauren? What had it to do with me?

‘You are wonderful, Monica. I didn't think you could top your cooking.' Sophie – you are a lick arse.

‘Loving it. And I would do it again in a flash.' She looked at her watch and made an oohing sound. ‘Come on, kiddies ...' Yes. She called us kiddies. ‘Time to get back to the grindstone.' Then she was gone like a whirlwind. Considering she was touching sixty she could move like an eight year old.

From somewhere I conjured up a smug smile. ‘What an interesting woman.' Then I, too, left the table to return to my picture of a half-finished fruit formation.


It wasn't until bedtime that I allowed the events to enter my head. Diana had been in love with Lauren. Lauren had been bad news. Diana had her heart broken. Dave and Sophie had tried to fix us up – it would be easier both on the eye and the structure to bullet point at this stage, but I can't be arsed. I believed Diana fancied Sophie. I now know she didn't. It was obvious to anyone else but me – well – until now that is. Now that it was a little too late. Diana was in London with the woman who had broken her heart and she also believed I wasn't interested in her. She hadn't been asking for me to help her ask Sophie out. She was going to ask me out – out to the Tate. I know it seems like an assumption, but it was all beginning to make sense. Why would her aunt say that? Why were Dave and Sophie like the most inept secret service agents the world has ever seen? And why was I such a dick head?

I had blown it. Too bloody right I had. There was no way Diana would think I returned the attraction to her after the way I had behaved. Even when she had plucked up the courage to nearly ask me out I had shaken my head to ward her off. To anyone watching it was a definite knock back. But Sophie would have told her I liked her, wouldn't she? Yeah, just like an urban myth – a friend of a friend told me they liked you. I know it was only one friend, but I feel like being over-dramatic. Can you blame me? I blame me. If I hadn't been so pig headed I could have been eating dinner, or sharing a movie, or anything with a woman I felt the strongest attraction I believed I'd ever experienced.

Turning onto my side I stared at the shadows dancing on the wall. I am stupid. So bloody stupid. Why couldn't I just be normal and allow my feelings to come to fruition? From the very first time I had heard her voice I had felt the connection. Then when I saw her, it was as if my soul knew. I should have recognised the ache for what it was, although to recognise it, a person would have to have experienced it before. Strangely enough, it seemed that I had, but not in this lifetime.

‘Christ!' This was getting me nowhere and fast. There was no point lying in my bed thinking of what could have been, how I had acted, how I felt. I had to do something about it. Had to let Diana know I felt the way I did, although I think I would calm it down a little as I think I would frighten the life out if her if I started talking about soul mates and reincarnation.

What if I am too late? What if she goes to London and Lauren isn't the evil conniving bitch she had been? What if they decided to have another crack of what might have been?

Resignedly, I turned over again and faced the other wall. The only thing I could think of was just to try. What harm could come of that?


The rest of the week went by without much happening. I think I was more concerned about what the weekend would hold than thinking about what I could do at work to keep my over active imagination from running rampant. Sophie and I had made plans for lunch on the Saturday and I was secretly hoping a certain blue eyed beauty would turn up too.

Nope. Just Sophie and I, as it happens. It didn't stop me from turning and looking at the door every time it opened though. Eventually, Sophie slammed her knife and fork down and demanded, 'What's the matter with you? Hiding from the Feds?' I shrugged and continued to eat.

After lunch, we decided to put off the shopping – much to my happiness – for a while so we could just relax over coffee and catch up. I skirted the topic of Diana beautifully, although that was the main thing I wanted to talk to Sophie about. If anyone knew what Diana was up to it would be her. Instead of grabbing my metaphorical cojones and asking, I went via another route.

‘How's it going with you and Dave? Are you seeing each other now?' A grin broke out on her face and she nodded shyly.

‘I really like him, Jess. I know I've said it before, but this time it seems different somehow.' Thoughts of Diana slipped from my head as I watched my usually gregarious friend become almost teenage. ‘I know that when I first started talking to him it wasn't because I wanted to date him.' She stopped short, bit her lip and then looked at me sheepishly. I could see the blush seeping up her throat, so the reason couldn't have been about sex and sex only. Don't get me wrong, Sophie was not a slapper. She didn't sleep around, as I've said before. However, Sophie was not shy about telling me about her experiences. I knew at that point that the only reason she had started talking to Dave was to get the goss on his sister. This was not the time to pump her for that. I really did want to know what she was feeling, how she was becoming more involved with Dave Sullivan.

‘Does he feel the same way as you?' A relieved breath left her before her eyes glistened and her lips curved making her usual cock sure expression seem like a figment of my imagination. ‘I hope so. God. I really hope so, Jess. I want him to be the one.'

‘Don't you know that? I mean. When it's the one, you should know it right?' A shrug. ‘Well, that's what I think at any rate.'

‘For me, yes. For him. I don't know. He's attentive, funny, intelligent, gorgeous, single ... note the stress on single. But why on earth would he want to be with someone like me?' The smile had slipped away and was replaced by a definite sadness. ‘I'm not exactly catch of the century am I?'

‘Soph ...'

‘Look at me, Jess. I'm in my thirties, have a crappy job, a family who don't give a flying fuck about me. I'm not exactly Marilyn Monroe am I?'

‘No. She's dead.'

‘Ok. Cheryl Cole then.'

‘She's overrated. And you're a better singer.'

A snort left her mouth before the sad look returned. ‘Honestly, Jess. Why would he want to spend the rest of his life with a no hoper like me?'

This was news. In all the years I had known my best friend she had never mentioned anyone who she would want to spend the rest of her life with.

‘Looks like someone is feeling sorry for herself.' Reaching forward, I grabbed her hand and squeezed. ‘Dave would be the lucky one to have you, Sophie. Any man would. You are everything a person would want and more besides. You are beautiful, do you know that?'

Silence, before a quiet, ‘You hitting on me, Jess?'

‘Git.' A laugh shot out of her mouth shortly followed by one from me. Then all out laughing until the waitress hovered near us in a bid to make us shut up and stop scaring the regulars.

There I was feeling the same way as her and through this realising that it is all to do with perception. When you like someone, really like someone, do you automatically go through the stage of not feeling good enough for them to wipe their boots on your back? I had seen the way Dave had looked at Sophie and that was not a look of someone who wasn't totally smitten. What was needed was for me to make sure that Dave Sullivan told, instead of just showed, my thick skinned friend how special she was to him. The only thing I could think of was how I was going to do that. I wasn't Casanova – had no clue about the romantic side of life, and definitely needed a crash course on revealing feelings.

‘Are you seeing him later?' Sophie shook her head. ‘Why not? It's Saturday night?'

‘He's got to sort out some family matter.' Hmmmm ... ‘Diana is still not back and he's worried she has done something stupid.'

‘Like?' Please – don't say ‘Got back with the Bad One.'

‘Well, Dave is worried that Lauren will try to get Diana back. She was really hurt, you know, by what happened.'

‘What did happen?'

Do you know those times where you want to know the answer to something but when you find out you wished you never had?

‘Lauren was abusive – both verbally and physically.' And that is emotionally and spiritually too in my book. ‘Have you ever noticed Diana's hands?' What? ‘Looked at the part where her thumb meets the fleshy bit?' I nodded. Although I was feeling confused. ‘The scar she has? Circular?' No. No. NO! My voice was barely a whisper when I asked why. ‘It's a burn. A cigar burn for that matter.' I felt sick to the pit of my stomach. I didn't want to know. Didn't want to think that someone would do that to another person and still be walking around like nothing had happened. Still be a burden. Still expect to be taken care of by the victim. ‘Lauren is not a very nice person, Jess. She did that – thought it was ok to knock the living daylights out of Diana too.' Sophie picked up her cup and drained it. ‘That was the last straw though. A little jealously from a woman who could have had everything if she hadn't been such an evil cu …'

‘Everything ok here?' The waitress had decided we had been sitting for too long at the table and wanted to get rid of us. To be honest, I wanted to go. Wanted to leave and deal with the anger welling up inside me. I wanted to find Diana, tell her she would never have to go through that again, and never have to be a punching bag for anyone. I would take care of her, love her, wrap her in tissue paper and cherish her for the rest of her life. But, I had an awful feeling that I was too late. Too late to stop the inevitable. Too late to take away the pain she must've gone through and the mental agony she must deal with on a day to day basis. And now she was with the one who had done this to her, probably believing the lies of ‘I've changed', or ‘I love you – come back to me please.'

A sob tore from my throat and I covered my mouth. I needed to find her. I needed to protect her. I know I barely knew Diana Sullivan, but that didn't mean that I didn't know her soul. How could I not? It seemed as if it was part of my own.

The air outside hit me and instead of clearing the welling I felt coming from within, it just seemed to overwhelm and almost choke me. The food I had eaten was clambering up my throat and I knew it was the matter of seconds before I lost it all. A hand landed on my shoulder; a reassuring hand, a hand I knew from old. Even when I had been a kid I had responded to Sophie's touch. She had the ability to calm me even when I thought there was no way I could be calmed. Today was no exception. Then the hand moved around me, circling and pulling me closer to her. I was fully absorbed into safety and familiarity, the scent of her balming the rage brewing within. Instead of anger, I released the tears, my body almost collapsing against the strength of her. One word kept on seeping through my tears, one stuttered ‘Why?' I couldn't grasp it. Why would anyone do that to another living breathing thing?

All the time I cried, Sophie held me, her voice shushing, cajoling, calming. She didn't try to move me, wasn't ashamed of her hysterical friend standing outside a restaurant in broad daylight being passed by Saturday shoppers. It wasn't until I had calmed enough to be reasonable that Sophie led me to her car and got me settled inside. We sat there for ages, me just staring out of the window at nothing, and her staring at the side of my head. What a pair, eh?

‘How did you find out?' My voice was barely audible and I had a feeling I would have to repeat myself.


‘Did you know from the start?' Why that would make a difference I will never know. Sophie sat quietly next to me for long enough for me to turn and look at her. A few seconds later she released a sigh.

‘No. Not from the very start.' Another sigh. ‘I think I should tell you from the beginning don't you?'

Yes. Yes I do.

The story that unfolded was nothing I would have linked to the beautiful and confident Ms Sullivan. I had never expected to learn she had been a very successful graphic designer living in London – in my short-sightedness I had just believed she had always been an art teacher at Stockport College. That was her getting back into society again after everything that had transpired with Lauren Baker. Sophie didn't drag it out … didn't elaborate on the details … she told me the bare bones of it. Told me she had overheard Dave in the print room talking to a work colleague how his sister was starting an art class and he needed it to be successful – needed her to find something to look forward to everyday instead of being too damned ashamed to carrying on living life as it should have been lived. ‘I didn't know the details, I promise you, Jess. I just thought she'd had a bad split.' I just nodded. I didn't have the strength left to argue. Sophie told me how she had made a point of cornering Dave the same day and asking about the class. I watched in fascination as Sophie's colouring began to darken as the blush made its appearance. ‘I told him about you. Told him how special you were. How talented. How beautiful both inside and out.' I went to speak, but Sophie held her hand up. ‘You are, Jess. And I also know you would never treat anyone the way Diana had been treated. If anyone could make a woman feel special, it would be you.'

I didn't believe it either, but I continued listening.

‘It wasn't until just before you were coming around for dinner that Dave told me the rest of it. How Lauren had led his sister a dance from very much the beginning.' Turning on the engine, Sophie turned on the heating as I believe she thought the shaking I was doing was because I was cold. Far from it. I was glowing with a growing rage and that same rage was racing through my veins making my body shake. ‘Lauren is an actress. West End. After her opening night last season she received a less favourable review. Took it out on Diana.' My teeth were grinding so hard, my jaw was aching. ‘It hadn't been the first time Lauren had used her fists, but she always put it down to stress of work, not being truly recognised, Diana not loving her enough, blah de blah and all that shit. But that night was different.'


‘Lauren did it in front of everyone.'

Fuck. I didn't know how to react. Part of me was screaming ‘at least there were witnesses' and the other part of me was pushing that statement back with ‘It should have never happened in the first place. Public or private.' I could feel the sensation of the shame Diana must've felt when that happened. Knowing that everyone had witnessed you at the lowest point in your life … hang on a minute. It wasn't the lowest point in Diana's life – it was the lowest point in Lauren's. Gutter low.

‘What happened?'

‘Lauren was arrested and the play was in jeopardy. Of course Lauren was released two days later, but Diana was already back in Manchester. Dave got her.' Another sigh. ‘She didn't call him. He read it in the paper.' Now that was strange. A woman burning another woman with a cigar and then giving her a good hiding was something that would be in a local paper, so how could Dave have read it? ‘I know what you're thinking – how did he read it in a national paper? Yes?' I nodded. ‘He knew Lauren was in Hamlet playing at the London Criterion Theatre – the closing of the play for three evenings was announced and the press took hold of the story. Obviously, lesbians fighting over bad reviews is supposedly newsworthy.'

Sophie continued with her tale, but I wasn't listening. Hamlet. Ophelia. Ophelia's Hamlet. Millais. The Tate. ‘Beautiful isn't it?' ‘Have you seen Millais's Ophelia at the Tate?' ‘We'll have to go sometime. You would love the Tate.' ‘There's rue for you, and here's some for me. Oh, you must wear your rue with a difference.' All these snippets, but the thing I remember most was the sadness lurking behind her eyes – something impenetrable – the same sadness I believed I had imagined.

I knew the answer to my question before asking it. ‘Did Lauren play Ophelia?'

‘How did you know that? And does it matter?'

No and yes. Yes and no. Seems like Diana Sullivan is still yearning after the fucker who tried to ruin her life. You hear about it all the time; hear about women going back to their abusers; hear about there being no other choice. But Diana did have a choice – that choice was me, or someone like me. Someone who would never hurt her, never take her for granted, never take out her anger on the one she loved best. Did Diana love Lauren that much that she could see past all of the abuse or was it easier to fall back into something that had become routine? Nah. I haven't a fucking clue what I am talking about. I had never been in that situation – never had to pick up the pieces to my life, however much I thought most of the time my life was shite.

‘Have you got Diana's number? I need to call her.'

Sophie's eyebrows lifted slightly in question. ‘Erm … yes. But she's not picking up.'

I didn't care. I was going to keep calling until she did.


Three weeks. Yes. Three weeks and I'd not heard a dickey bird. Don't get me wrong, I did call her. Called and called and called and I didn't even get through to her voicemail even once. Dave had heard from her but it was more of an ‘I'm fine. Don't worry. Ask Aunt Mon to cover for me.' That kind of deal. He was worried. No. Scrap that. He was beside himself. Lauren didn't live at the same address she had, which isn't a crime, I know, but it still didn't fill any of us with a semblance of calm. None of us had a clue what was going on and to say our imaginations were rife would be an understatement. It would have been so much easier if I could've just spoken to her. Just heard her tell me she was happy and things were going great. Not that I would've been jumping around with joy, but at least I would have the knowledge that she wasn't tied up, battered and bruised, and stuffed into a hole in someone's cellar.

So, for three weeks I continued with my art class. For three weeks I looked longingly at the door expecting her to come in and take over the class. And for three weeks I sat through art formations, fruit and miscellaneous household junk in the hopes that the tall, raven haired beauty with the stunning blue eyes would become the focus of my life once again.

Who am I kidding? Once again? Pffft. The weird thing was that the longer she was out of my life, the more I knew I wanted her in it. It was beginning to hurt. Physically. I would leave each class with an ache akin to being booted in the stomach each and every time she made a no show.

So, here we are at the fourth week. Why was I bothering to keep coming? If Diana was coming back then Dave would have told Sophie who, in turn, would have called me. And as of six fifty five I still hadn't had a call from my best friend. You might have guessed that Sophie wasn't in class on this fourth week – this month without seeing Diana. I knew she was coming though – she told me she was when I had spoken to her for about the fifth time in a day.

Monica stood at the front looking nervous and I didn't have a clue why. I did notice the absence of the pots and pans and shit from the table. In its stead was a heavy dark crimson cloth draped conspicuously over the wood. I wanted to be intrigued but to tell you the truth, I couldn't be arsed.

A noise alerted me that someone had entered the room and I looked up expecting it to be Sophie. But, no. Standing in the doorway was a woman. The strange thing was she looked as if she had just climbed out of bed, as she seemed to be only wearing a robe. For God's sake, this was nearly November – why would a woman be standing in a classroom in just a robe? She must be freezing.

Talk about freezing, that's what the question did on my lips as Monica beckoned the woman over. Strangely enough, Monica had lightened up considerably since her first outing as teacher, but she seemed almost cold, almost defensive.

‘As you can see, class. Tonight we are going to be studying life form.' Aw shit. That's the last thing I wanted to do in a class that promised we would get to draw nudes. (Please note the sarcasm.) ‘If you would like to make your way to the table.' Now. If that had been me, and I had been the one who had entered a classroom full of people ready to draw all your bits and bobs, I would have been crapping my pants. However, the woman didn't seem fazed in the slightest. She almost glided over, her smile fake and full, making sure everyone in the room paid her attention.

As she reached the table, she lowered the robe from her body, much to Monica's disdain. ‘Not yet. We are only drawing your shape tonight.' The woman grinned at her and slipped the robe back up – not before we had all had a good look at her breasts. I have to admit that even though I was still hankering over the absent art teacher, I still couldn't pull my eyes away from the full, firm breasts that had been on show. Weirdly enough, they did nothing for me. They just seemed like breasts. Pity the blokes in the class didn't feel the same way, as I heard the collective intake of breaths as the silky material had slipped off to reveal something I truly believe they had dreamed about for the majority of their life – well, certainly since they had hit puberty.

In fact, I made a semi stance and decided to sharpen my pencil instead of eyeing up the woman, the same woman who had suddenly spotted me and seemed a little too interested for it not to become disconcerting. Her smile was cocky, brazen, unfeeling yet full of unspoken promise. I didn't like it. It was fake. It was cold and it certainly didn't hold the charm of Diana Sullivan's beautiful lopsided grin.

Shaking the pencil sharpenings into my pencil case, I once again wondered where Sophie and Dave were. Must have been the smell of shaven wood that reminded me. Just as the thought flittered into my head, the door opened again and they stepped inside, Sophie mouthing her apologies to me and moving towards her seat like people tend to do when they get up in front of you in the cinema. Dave, however, stood in the doorway. His eyes were glued on the woman seated on the table. It was fascinating to witness the smile slip from his face to be replaced by a surge of something almost dangerous. What the fuck? Dangerous? Dave? Now, if the situation had been so fucked up I would've laughed at that – Dangerous Dave Does Drawing. But ...

‘What are you doing here?' Huh? That wasn't me. That was Dave. He wasn't talking to me, either. Thank God. ‘Where is she?' Who? Was this his ex? And why had I thought that? Sophie was standing next to me and she looked exactly how I felt. Bloody confused. The class were looking at Dave by this point and they, like me, followed his gaze. The woman on the table leaned back, the shoulders of the robe slipping down to reveal tanned strong shoulders.

‘Hello there, David.' Her voice was rich, trained, alluring in a cat and mouse kind of way. ‘Missed me?'

A snort left his mouth and he began to walk towards the woman on the table. It appeared that he had no idea, or maybe he didn't give a shit, about where he was. His attention was definitely riveted on the lounging woman in the centre of the room.

‘I said where is she? Where's Diana, Lauren?'

Snap. Even I didn't expect the pencil between my fingers to break so easily.


The class was so quiet. I believe if I had still been sharpening my pencil it would have sounded like a Harrier jump jet taking off. But, alas, my poor broken pencil was still being gripped – a piece in each hand.

‘I'm here, Dave.' I wanted to turn and look towards the door – wanted to see that in fact she was there and it wasn't my imagination that had taken hold of me and made me believe she was standing mere feet away. Instead I looked towards the centre of the room at the almost panther like movements of the infamous Lauren Baker. Her self-satisfied smile was accompanied by the tilt of her head, long auburn hair falling easily over her shoulder as she tossed the locks into disarray. I knew what Monica had said the first night I had met her was spot on – Lauren was beautiful, painfully so, but that beauty was surface only. Brown eyes turned and met mine. They should have been as perfect as the rest of her physical appearance, but they seemed to lack any depth. No. That's wrong. Can cruelty be classed as depth? I couldn't bear to look at her, couldn't bear the intensity of nothingness, so I caved and looked towards where the siblings were standing. ‘Can I just have word?' Diana had reached Dave by now and had slipped her hand around his arm. ‘Outside?'

He didn't answer, just moved towards the door to be shortly followed by his sister. Sophie was shuffling next to me and I knew if I turned to look at her she would start analysing everything that had happened. I didn't want to analyse anything. I just wanted to leave. But if I got up now it would be like announcing that I was uncomfortable with the events. I know I was uncomfortable with what had happened, but I didn't want everyone to know that. God. This is not what I mean at all. If I left I would leave Lauren there. I knew by the way she had looked at me that I wasn't a random ‘catch of the eye'. She had set out to intimidate me for some unknown reason and me leaving would just let her win. Pretty fucked up. And no. I don't know what I am talking about either.

Let's try again. If left now, I would meet Diana in the corridor with her brother. That seems more logical. I would disturb their reunion. Nearly a month and a couple of phone calls didn't relate what had happened in the interim did it.


‘Not now, Soph.'

‘Spoil sport.'

‘Let's continue with life form, shall we?' Monica's voice seemed a little shaken, but she did her upmost to keep it together. ‘You need A3 paper and charcoal for this ... for this ... erm ... topic.' I could've changed the word topic to so many different words but I kept my mouth shut and stuffed my broken pencil back into my pencil case.

Monica explained our objective for the evening – living, breathing form. We had to show the shape of the ‘subject' and try to intimate movement, hence using charcoal. No one said a word. Not one person asked a question. It was as if the room gave the appearance of housing twenty odd people but in fact it was just me following an art class on the TV. As soon as we were told to start, Sophie leaned over.

‘I wonder what's going on,' she whispered.

‘Why didn't you tell me she was back? I spoke to you an hour ago.' My whisper was more like gritting of teeth with words escaping. I tried not to look at both Sophie and the woman sprawled on the table who was looking directly at me, one eyebrow raised, giving her the appearance of a challenge. This was becoming a nightmare. I was drawing the abusive ex of the woman I had the hots for and all I wanted to do was get up, walk over, and smack her between the eyes. ‘Hmmm ... who is the violent one now, Taylor?' a little voice whispered in my ear. ‘Oh fuck off.'

‘I didn't know. There's no need to ...'

‘Shush, ladies. Concentrate.' I wanted to tell Sophie I wasn't telling her to fuck off, but my inner voice. However, the smug smile that crossed Lauren's face made me clam up and put more pressure on the charcoal stick I was holding. A dark line scarred the paper and I released the pressure. At this rate I would vandalise the contents of my pencil case and be left drawing in blood.

Click. The door opened and closed softly, and I heard the muttered apologies of Dave as he sat in his seat. Sophie leaned forward and I could sense her gesturing to him. I couldn't resist, so I looked down the line of people and saw him doing the ‘I don't know' gesture with his hands. Monica stepped in front of him and leaned over to whisper in his ear. God. At that moment, I really wished I was Batfink and had ears of radar, but all I could garner were the shush and hiss of whispered words.

Turning back to the centre, I was greeted by a wink from the woman who I was beginning to loathe. I felt my top lip quiver before giving into a snarl. A laugh escaped her mouth and she quickly stopped herself.

I knew at that moment that I was Lauren Baker's next challenge - something that filled me with both dread and a sense of sadistic excitement.


It was the longest hour of my life. Honestly. How can an hour seem like a lifetime? We had drawn Lauren in four different positions, and each time she tried to strip off only to be told again by Monica that we would not be drawing a full out nude that evening. Was she thick? Or just thick skinned? Maybe she was just trying Monica's patience. By the look on the teacher's face, Lauren was succeeding. Actually, by the looks on Sophie's and Dave's face, Lauren was victorious.

I couldn't wait until the break. Couldn't wait to get out of there and into my car and into my house and into my bed. As soon as it was announced I began to slam my equipment into my bag.

‘You're not leaving, Jess? Come on. Don't let saggy tits get to you.' Saggy? Tits? Had Sophie not seen those breasts? They were straight from the pages of Plastic Surgery Triumphs.

Dave was next to us and trying to get my bag from my hands. ‘You, lady, are not leaving.' Ah ... Dangerous Dave. ‘I need to speak to you, both of you.'

I wanted to say no, I kept on shaking my head and trying to get my bag back, but it wasn't having the effect I wanted. Dave still had it. I didn't.

‘Going so soon, Jess.' Shit. Shit shit shit and even more shit. ‘I was hoping to get to know you a little better.' Lauren moved behind me, her voice too close, her body even closer.

I was still mute. It was a good job too because the words I had conjured were even a little strong for me.

‘Why don't you just get the fuck away from me, my friends and my sister?'

‘Oooohhh ... I see you still haven't lost your charm, Davey.' One minute her voice was sickly sweet, but the next ... ‘Listen. I don't give a flying fuck what you want, Da –vid. Just keep your interfering face out of mine and Diana's life, ok?'

At this moment Diana appeared, her blue eyes darting from her brother to her ... her ... lover? Friend? Ex?

‘What's going on? Dave?'

‘I hate to break up this happy reunion but I'm freezing, darling.' A girlish laugh broke out of that hateful little mouth. ‘Can you show me where we left our clothes earlier? I mean ...' another laugh ‘ I left my clothes?' Looks like lover, then.

Diana scrunched her face before shaking her head. A short sharp nod, then Diana guided Lauren towards the door. Just before she left the room she said something to Lauren and came back over.

‘Please ... just ignore her. She loves to wind people up – gets off on it.' I shrugged my shoulders and looked away from her intense gaze. The other two didn't make a move. ‘Can I speak to you in the break?' Dave didn't answer her. ‘Don't leave will you?' Still nothing. Then I felt a poke in my side. Turning, I noted that Diana was still staring at me. ‘You won't go will you Jess?' She had been talking to me. Me? ‘I need to talk to you. Can you give me five minutes?'

I was so surprised that she wanted to speak to me I agreed without argument. I could feel Sophie relax next to me, as she was used to my stubbornness. So was I, for that matter.

So why did I stay? Why did I set myself up for listening to Diana tell me about how great Lauren was, how much they'd missed each other, how fabulous their lives were going to be now they had found each other again.

Probably because deep down, (actually, not very deep down), I was holding this molecule of hope that wished more than anything that in fact Diana and Lauren were not an item. It was the same feeling a person gets when they buy a lottery ticket. Part of them really believes it will be them who is made to feel like a millionaire, but the reality is the prize goes to someone they believe doesn't deserve it, who will squander and waste it, who won't see what good they could achieve by this spell of good fortune. Actually, come to think of it, would the loser, if being the winner, act that differently after all? I know. I know! I am once again making no sense whatsoever.

Now that seems more like the reason I stayed. Because I have no sense.


Diana left with Lauren and I went to the cafeteria with Dave and Sophie. Her parting words had been she would meet us there in less than ten minutes. None of us discussed what had happened on the way there and the topic didn't raise itself until we were secured in the farthest corner of the cafe.

Sophie was the one to break the silence. ‘We didn't know she was back, Jess. Honestly.' I shrugged and picked up my coffee, the smell of it making my stomach roil. ‘The first we knew was when we turned up tonight.'

I shrugged again. ‘It doesn't matter.' A moment's silence before Dave decided to join in.

‘I'd been trying to get hold of her, you know that. We said we would let you know and we would have ... if we had.'

Slamming the cup onto the table, I looked into blue eyes that were so like his sister's. ‘Listen. Both of you. It doesn't matter. It has nothing at all to do with me what Diana does and who she wants to screw ...

‘Really?' Diana's voice broke in before I had the chance to finish what I had been saying. I meant to say screw up her life with, but I don't think that is the way it came across. Her voice was trembling and I knew she was on the verge of tears. I felt a little ashamed of my outburst, but, stupidly, I didn't apologise. Actually. Why should I? Diana had been the one to flee to London, spend nearly a month there with no word to anyone, and then saunter back toting the bitch from hell on her arm. And another thing – Lauren ‘letting slip' the ‘our' clothes epithet wasn't a slip after all. It was as if she had cocked her leg and pissed all over Diana, warning me to back off.

Wait a minute. Why should I have been affronted at all? She was my art teacher and the sister of my best friend's boyfriend. I didn't have a claim on her, or anything she decided to do. More shame, followed by heat as the blush raced up my throat and spread along my face. I needed to apologise.

Lifting my gaze to meet Diana's, I could see she was on the verge of breaking down right there in the middle of the cafe. Opening my mouth, I attempted to say I was sorry, but Diana just lifted her hand and waved me off, trying all the while not to cry. God, I felt like a shit. So then I attempted to get up, attempted to grab her arm, attempted to make her understand how sorry I was, but she flinched as if she thought I might hit her. Why would she do that? I would never, ever ...

‘Hello again.' Lauren was behind Diana, her hands on her waist and moving her to one side so she could take centre stage.

That fucking bitch. It was obvious. The way Diana's body almost folded inside itself as soon as Lauren's hands had made contact. It wasn't me she was frightened of; it was the effort of a human being trying to push her way into our lives that had made the vibrant art teacher become a shell of the woman I knew.

Gripping the cup in my right hand, I had to physically restrain myself with my left, as I had the urge to throw the remainder of my drink over the smug faced twat of a bitch grinning in front of me.

‘Look, Lauren,' her name almost spat from my mouth, ‘don't you ever try to join in any conversation I'm having, you got me?' The shock that whipped across her face was fleeting and the smile she had been sporting was drastically replaced by something that could only be described as dangerous.

‘You little cunt.' Diana attempted to move Lauren away, but she was having none of it. ‘Think you're something special, eh? Think you have one over on me because this spineless ...' with the word, Lauren shoved Diana away, ‘twat fancies you?' Lauren leaned over and I saw Sophie move towards me in defence only to be pulled back by Dave, who, in turn, had been stopped by Diana. The look on Lauren's face should've frightened me, but in fact it did the opposite.

I moved closer, and even though I was physically smaller than Lauren I felt ten feet taller. Calmly, I edged around the table to face my opponent. ‘As I said before. Don't ever, and I mean ever, try to join any conversation I am having.' I leaned forward, my face inches from hers. ‘You like to push people around, don't you? Well, I am not the kind of person you can push, right?' Lauren sneered, a half snort leaving her mouth. ‘Does it make you feel big and strong to hit another woman?' At this, I heard Diana gasp before saying Dave's name. I wanted to apologise again, but I was too riled up. ‘If you ever hit Diana again, I will personally knock the living shit out of you.'

Lauren's cocky grin was pulled back, but I knew I had hit the mark. One thing a bully can't stand is to be found out to be a coward after all. Diana didn't wait for me to finish. She was gone in a flash and so was her brother. I wanted to follow her and tell her I was sorry to broadcast her life to everyone and anyone who had a mind to listen in the cafe, but I wanted to stare Lauren out.

‘You'd better watch your back.' With that she turned and made a move to leave.

‘That's your style isn't it?' I saw her shoulders stiffen. ‘You can only get people when their back is turned.' I knew she wanted to thump me, could feel her hatred seeping through her skin like poison. ‘Coward!' Her fists clenched, but she walked away.

I looked around the cafeteria and was surprised to see that no one had paid a blind bit of notice to the altercation. They were too involved in their own little lives to worry about ours. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. Aren't we the race who love to feed from other people's misery?

Sitting back at the table, I was glad of the support of the chair as I truly believed my legs were going to give way. Fuck. What was I thinking? I wasn't a challenger, a fighter, a defender of the realm, or even someone who would help a damsel in distress. I was just me. Jess Taylor. I had never had a fight in my life and I really wanted it to stay that way. I wasn't a teenager anymore.

‘I'm too old for this shit.'

A giggle came from next to me. I'd forgotten Sophie was still there. ‘I thought you were magnificent. Told you art class would be good for you – just like being at school.' My hands were shaking as I lifted my coffee again, the contents swishing around alarmingly. A calming hand landed on my own and lowered the cup. ‘I'm really proud of you, Jess.' A sigh left her mouth. ‘Although announcing to Diana that you know about what had happened ...' Sophie sucked the air between her teeth before releasing it in a whistle, ‘Looks like Dave will have some explaining to do.' Shit. I should look for her, tell her I didn't mean it to all come tumbling out, explain that I only did what I did was because I was protecting her.

But did I? Was it solely for Diana's benefit that I had turned into Sir Lancelot with a twist? Was it jealously that had made me react the way I had? Maybe a little, but wasn't it because I was attracted to Diana that I had stood up and threatened Lauren? It was the way Diana had flinched when she thought I was going to be exactly the same as her previous partner that made me flip my lid, wasn't it?

‘Don't worry, Jess. Diana will understand. I promise.' Even though I wanted to believe Sophie there was an edge to how she said it that made me think she wasn't totally convinced of what she had said herself. ‘Come on. Break's over.' Sophie stood as if to leave. ‘And if you think you are racing off into the sunset on your white charger you have another think coming lady. Up. Class awaits.'


Yes it did. Everyone was back by the time Sophie and I turned up. Monica was in the centre hastily rearranging the display. This time the pots and pans were back and there was no sign of Lauren. Or Diana. Or Dave, for that matter. She called over her shoulder to explain that our life class was put on hold for another week, so we should swap back to pencil for the remaining part of the evening.

‘No. Keep the charcoal out.' Huh? ‘You were promised a life class tonight, so it is only right you should get one.' It, obviously, was Diana. I looked towards the door and saw her standing there, her face ashen, her black hair making her skin appear even whiter. Red lips etched onto her face captured my attention, and I was surprised to see them moving. Walking over to the centre, Diana swept the pots to one side and jumped onto the table. ‘Hope you don't mind, Monica.' The supply teacher's giggle said it all. ‘Ok. What you have to remember is not to be put off by the picture as a whole. Choose a section to concentrate upon and work on that.' Babs Hepworth put her hand up. ‘Yes?'

‘Do you mean to choose a part of you and focus on just drawing that?' How did that woman get from A to B without getting killed?

‘Yes.' How did she say that without sounding sarcastic? ‘For example – if you wanted to draw just my hand ...' she leaned back and grabbed a glass from the array of kitchen stuff on the table, ‘you would show the way it grips the glass but you don't have to draw the glass in full, or the arm for that matter.' Why was she doing this? Why did she come back? I could tell she was putting on a brave face, but I couldn't understand why. Monica was leading the class tonight, so it wouldn't have been weird if she had just gone home after everything that had transpired. ‘How long, Mon?'

‘Ten minutes?'

‘And your time starts ... now.'

For the first couple of minutes I just stared at the blankness of paper in front of me - the whiteness making my eyes blurry. The only sounds in the room were the scratching of charcoal on paper. Lifting my face, I was greeted by a sea of blueness, so fucking blue, so enticing, so addictive. I could drown in that blueness, be swept away and love every minute of it. Slightly, oh so slightly, I saw an eyebrow twitch, then her lip, almost as if she was trying to control a smile. Why would she be smiling at me after what I had done? Was that a wink? My heart rate was picking up and I was finding it difficult to breathe. Her eyes were so intense, I was lost in them – lost in her and her pure perfectness. I could see the colour coming back in her face and it was as if I physically saw a rose blossom.

‘Ok. Time.' Time? But I ... ‘Let's have a look at what people have done shall we?' Monica started moving around the class and I could hear her praising and critiquing people's work. I was dreading her getting to me. ‘Maybe less time studying your subject and more hands on might help next time Jess.' I looked back at Diana who raised her eyebrow and gave me a lopsided grin in response.

‘Yes Miss.'

‘Miss?' Sophie's laugh bellowed out before she controlled herself. ‘Miss? How old are you? Twelve?'

I grinned shyly, looked once again at Diana and felt my heart speed up again. Yep. Twelve and having the taste of a real first crush. I felt good. Fucking good. Actually, I felt A plus.


The rest of the class went along the same lines. Every time Monica set us up with a task to draw Diana, I found myself too engrossed in just absorbing her to make much of the paper and charcoal I had waiting. Even Sophie was getting stuck in. It ended up that Monica avoided me when she was getting the students to share what they had. But I didn't care. I was learning so much about art by being an observer. Diana was a masterpiece in herself. She was one of those paintings that have the eyes that not only follow you around a room but look straight inside you. To be honest, I don't think I could've drawn her if I had tried. Not just because I couldn't replicate what I saw, but mainly because I doubted my ability to guide my charcoal across the paper. My fingers were numb in places, tingling in others and shaking all over, all because of the changing expressions on Diana's face.

‘I think she wants you. Badly.'

‘Shut up Soph. Haven't you got a picture to vandalise?'

‘Touchy subject, Miss Taylor?' She sniggered. ‘I believe someone is going to be a busy little knight in shining armour later, don't you?'

‘Would you like to show the class what you have done, Sophie.' Monica's voice broke in from behind us making us both jump and scrape a line across the page.

‘Ah fuck.' Thankfully, Monica didn't hear the delightful turn of phrase popping from Sophie's mouth as she had already moved to the front and was awaiting the picture from hell. ‘Erm ... well, erm ...' Sophie lifted her picture out in front of her and closed one eye as if perusing it like a critic. ‘I don't think I truly captured the moment.'

‘What? Saddam Hussein's first day in hell?' I muttered. She glared at me and I grinned at Diana. ‘I think you've caught it beautifully.'

To be honest, I wasn't too sure what part of Diana's body Sophie had meant to be drawing. All it showed was a mishmash of lines, a lot of smudging and a doodle of a cat with buttons down its front near the corner. Another thing that struck me was the lack of laughter when she eventually turned her pad around. My. We were in a room full of polite people.

Monica coughed, then coughed again. ‘Would anyone like to make an observation?' Not a peep. Nada. Zilch. Tumbleweed. ‘Any strengths?' Again – silence. ‘Anything you think Sophie could do in the future?' Apart from leaving out the buttoned cat? Nope. It was purrfect. ‘Well. We can call it a night then.'

I had barely picked up my bag before Diana was beside me. I could feel her presence rather than see her. It was like an aura of electricity had coated me and made all my hairs on my body stand to attention.

‘Would you, erm, can I ... crap.' My eyes met hers and I grinned.

‘Do you need to?'


‘Never mind. What did you need to ask me?' It felt like an age before she actually stopped moving her lips around and allow the words to come out.

‘Would you like to do something on Friday night? Erm ... with me, I mean.' Amazing to think how calm I felt. It was usually me that was struggling for words and blundering my way through a conversation in the hopes that I actually said what I wanted to say. Diana waited for my response. I was sure she was holding her breath.

‘I would love to. Call me, yes?' She nodded, those thick dark locks dancing over her shoulders, the smile broadening and making me feel way too much for what was in fact the prelude to our first date.

God. If she made me feel this way with the promise of a date, how on earth would I cope when we were actually on it? But it didn't stop my insides dancing and my brain begin to wish away the next two days.


Chapter Six

Thursday was a bitch. No. I take that back. It would have been a bitch if Diana hadn't called me when I got home from work to arrange our ‘date'. I liked writing that – ‘our date'. Where was I? Thursday being a pseudo bitch. The reason why I initially said the day wasn't my favourite kind of day was because of work. I know most people will say the same, but I believe mine was even worse because of anticipation – the anticipation of making arrangements for ‘our date'.

Christ. I'm even boring myself now. Let's begin again in a more succinct way.

Diana called on Thursday to arrange meeting up the following day. Man. That sounds cold.

Fuck it. Skip that bit.

Friday night came around slowly, slowly, quickly, slowly, almost like a fox trot and I was as nervous as hell. I know I've rattled on – in detail – about how much I like her, but the knowledge that it would just be her and me for the whole evening was killing me. I felt I couldn't breathe at times because of excitement, and then I went into the ‘I'm not worthy' train of thought. I'd never experienced this in my life – this wanting, I mean. Diana Sullivan was out of my league and there was nothing I could do or say that would change that. Well, that's what I thought when I was in my ‘I'm not worthy' stage. Thankfully, it was like a pendulum and before I knew it I was on the backwards stroke and I was getting all excited again. Talk about rapid cycling.

As the big hand on the mantelpiece clock approached ten to and the little hand hovered at not quite seven, I caved.

‘Sophie. Can you come over?'

‘Fuck off.'

‘But I'm having a crisis.'

‘You will have if you call me again.'

Click. Brrrrrrr ...

Why had I called Sophie? Maybe because deep down, actually just beneath the skin's first epidermis, I was a coward. I wanted to go out with Diana. Wanted to sit and be entertaining, delightfully engaging, deliciously sexy. But how could I when I was just me?

‘Ding dong!' I hate doorbells. They make you want to wee. Not all the time, just on first dates that matter – and maybe Halloween when I was a kid. ‘Ding dong!' And insistent doorbells were worse.

Inhaling a deep breath, I made my way to the door glancing at myself in the mirror one last time. The outfit I had chosen was smart yet casual. We were going to grab something to eat and then go and see a film. All in all, a traditional first date. Dark green cargo pants topped with a white short sleeved shirt said ‘Yes. I'm casually going out but can be accepted at places like ... ‘Ding dong!' which translates to ‘Who gives a fuck where you're going to eat? Just answer the door before I blow my batteries!'

My hand was physically shaking when I lifted it to turn the latch on the door. I could hear the metal clunking against the ring on my index finger. Turning the knob was a feat in itself and I had the appearance of a ninety year old woman answering the door to carpet baggers.

Another deep breath before I yanked the door back. Standing half on half off my doorstep was Diana. Obviously. But it wasn't the same assured woman I had seen on Wednesday night. Don't get me wrong. She was still breathtakingly beautiful, still had those amazing blue eyes, that gorgeous body, that everything, but she was almost white. Her lips stood out against the paleness of her face and for a moment I thought she was going to be sick. I could see her mouth moving and for a split second I thought she was about to lose her lunch all over my doorstep. But then it hit me. She was as nervous as I was. I know I shouldn't have felt happy, considering she looked so terrified, but it did cheer me up to find out it wasn't just me who wanted this date to work so goddamned much.

‘Hey ... you ok?' I saw her swallow before quickly nodding her head twice. ‘You want to step inside? I'm not quite ready yet.' I was – I had been since a quarter to six, but it would give her time to adjust (if that is the right word) and me also, for that matter.

Diana stepped into the hallway and I was once again reminded how tall she was, as I never had to be reminded of her beauty, however ill she looked. ‘Here. These are for you.' Flowers. No. Tulips. A dozen of them in their blazing glory. Initially I thought they were roses and had a fleeting urge to go and check out the meanings. Talk about insecure. ‘You seem like a tulips kind of girl.' A slight smile, a lifting of those perfect lips, lips that I had suddenly become fascinated with. Just the sheer movement of them, the way they seemed so soft and kissable, so alluring and enticing. Before I could think it through, I found my own lips pressing against hers. All the anxiety I had previously gone through seemed to evaporate in that brief moment as lips held lips. It felt so right kissing her, although in reality it was merely a brushing, a sampling, a connection that was so unbelievably strong I found it difficult to drag myself away. However, just before I moved, my eyes sprung open and I noted her startled look change into something more primitive. Blue eyes seemed to darken as her pupils dilated and almost covered all the colour.

And you know something? That perfect moment when I spotted her reaction was absolutely wonderful.

‘Erm ... thank you.' The smile I sported was huge and I could feel my heartbeat quicken as she smiled in response. Even I wasn't sure whether I was thanking her for the tulips or the kiss, but it didn't really matter did it?

‘No. Thank you.' I could see some semblance of colour flush her face just before she shyly looked away and then back at me. ‘Shall we?' Memories of the first time Diana has said those two words at Sophie's came flooding back.

‘Sure.' But why was I finding it so difficult to just get moving? All I seemed I wanted to do was stand and stare at the vision in front of me.

‘Is it this room?' Her voice brought me back out of my idle idling and ogling and made me remember my manners.

‘Yes.' As I turned, I was anticipating it. Not just her hand on my arm, but the feeling of electricity racing through me – that feeling I had once classified as weird but now came to expect every time we touched. Not that it wasn't thrilling. It was. My reaction paid testament to that. I couldn't help jumping at contact and as I turned, Diana was looking just as confused as I was.

‘Did you feel it too?' Unlike last time, one of us voiced it. ‘That ... erm ... jolt. When we ... when I touched you.'

I just nodded. Words, again, had escaped me. What I couldn't understand was why hadn't there been the electricity when we had kissed? No. I didn't mean it to sound like that. There is something desperately wrong if there are no sparks when you kiss – God. I'm rambling on. Even I don't understand what I'm trying to say.

A chuckle left her mouth and she shook her head slowly from side to side. ‘Never mind. You need to get sorted. The table is booked for seven thirty.' A grin split her face and she looked more in control, well, more than she did when she had first arrived. ‘In here?' She pointed towards the lounge and I tipped my head in agreement and fled the scene.

In the bathroom, I just stood in front of the mirror. I looked the same. The same green eyes, the same blonde hair, the same everything. So why did I feel so radically different? Happier? Lighter? Why was I grinning stupidly? Considering I had a huge knot forming in my gut I was feeling pretty good. Tentatively, I lifted my fingers up to my mouth and trailed them along my lips. I had kissed Diana Sullivan with these innocent pilgrims. God. That kiss. That connection. That look she gave me just before I pulled away. Jesus. If that's how she could make me feel with a brush of lips, an expression of want, what on earth would I be like if she actually made a move on me?

Grinning to myself, I fingered my hair and turned for the door. There was only one way to find out.


Being with the dark haired woman was more than I could have ever pictured. I knew I liked her, had known it from the very first time I had heard her voice in the classroom. But being with her ... being alone in her company and being the focus of her full attention ... that was more than I could have ever thought possible. Initially, I had just been attracted, forcefully attracted, granted, but just attracted after all. However, the more I got to know her, the more I got to really see her; I knew it wouldn't take much for me to fall for the gorgeous art teacher.

Now there's the rub. I had never been a person to fall for anyone. All my ex-girlfriends were exs for a reason. I liked them, sure, but love them? Think I could ever have fallen for them? No way. They were just girlfriends. I know that doesn't seem fair, but I don't think I've explained it the way it was. I didn't set out to just have a girlfriend whom I just liked. I wanted to fall, wanted to love, wanted the white picket fence and everything that came along with it. But it never happened. After the blast of sexual attraction had fizzled, I was left feeling a little deflated, left wondering if there was something wrong with me. Not now though. Not after sitting in Diana's company for dinner. Not after seeing those blue eyes digest me over every course.

In a nutshell, I can guarantee I have never wanted anyone more than I wanted her. It wasn't because she was intelligent, charming, beautiful, sexy – God, was she sexy – it was everything. It was the way she would throw her head back and laugh, the way her eyes would sparkle when she looked at me, the way she smiled in a half crooked smile kind of way. It was the feeling of excitement when she touched me as she was explaining something, the racing charge of expectation alongside the current rushing from her into me. And I still don't think I have clarified why I knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that I could so easily see me falling for her. To be honest, the thought didn't scare me – it terrified me.

Yes. You know what is coming now. Doubt. Insecurity. Unworthiness. Just because I felt all of this didn't mean she would, does it? Not to mention that I was only half way through my first date with Diana and I could see myself spending the rest of my life with her – that was freaky enough – but to suddenly get hit by the jitters over her intentions? Where was my Dad when I needed his input of her plans for my future? Better still, where was Sophie?

‘Are you ok, Jess?' Diana's beautiful voice broke through my mental meanderings and I refocused on her concerned face leaning over the table and dangerously close to the candle.

As if from nowhere, I brought a grin out and nodded. ‘Never been better, Ms Sullivan.'

Her nose wrinkled adorably and she returned my smile. Butterflies danced merrily in my gut. At this precise moment I didn't care about the future, because at this precise moment she was with me. Smiling at me. What more could a girl ask for?

‘Excuse me. I have to make a trip to the ladies room. Won't be a tick.' Erm. Not really what I had in mind, but it was a start. A woman has to relieve herself at some point in the evening and not just when the bell rings.

Sitting at the table I took the opportunity to look around the restaurant she had chosen. Couples huddled all around, and if my vision served me right, they were all female. A sigh broke out, then a gasp. Seated at the far side of the room was Samantha James. Yes. The Samantha James. My ex Samantha James . She wasn't alone, either. The woman she was with was all over her and she was loving it. I wanted to look away but I couldn't for some strange reason. Well, actually, the reason was that Samantha James was looking straight at me. Fuck. I hadn't seen her in months – not that I was complaining. The longer I could spend not seeing her, the better.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see Diana talking to a member of staff. That's all I needed. Diana meeting Samantha – more to the point, Samantha getting her claws into Diana, as she never knew when to back off from her next victim. I felt the anger well up inside me and instinctively balled my fists ready for battle. No. I wasn't usually the type to fight for what I wanted, therefore the action surprised me but didn't make the anger go away. Or unclench my fists. Samantha grinned over at me before extracting herself from the woman she was with. Fuck again. She was coming over and I looked past her to where I had seen Diana but she wasn't there.

‘Hello stranger. Long time no see.' Man, that woman could move when the mood struck. Samantha leaned over the table blocking my view of the exit and where I had last seen my date standing. This is all she needed after all what had transpired with Lauren on Wednesday – me getting all arsey and knocking Samantha on her backside in the middle of a restaurant. That would fill her with absolute joy wouldn't it? Going from one woman who was happy to use her fists to another who was just as ready.

‘What do you want, Samantha? It can't be me, surely?' Good. My voice was steady – I sounded in control – big tick to me.

‘Just thought I'd say hello.' A grin that was almost primitive coated her face and she made me think of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland but without any cute qualities – just a freaky grin that seemed it would be there even when she had left. ‘Who's the date?' Ding. That was the sound of that old proverbial penny dropping into place. It wasn't me she was interested in, but Diana. Samantha James was all about conquests. ‘New girlfriend?'

‘Why don't you just fuck off, Samantha? I'm not interested.' I leaned closer, my face mere inches from hers. ‘And I never was. Got me?'

A sharp laugh shot out of her mouth. ‘You weren't saying that when I was fucking you, were you? If I recall, you seemed to want me around then.' She squinted one grey eye before looking me up and down. ‘Must admit, you were pretty good in the sack. Well, when you lost that stick up your backside.' Reading her face I knew she meant it as a compliment, as if being told you were a good lay when you loosened up was something to write in your diary as a ‘My achievement of the day today was ...'

‘If I was so good, why did you sleep with all the others? Hmmm? Was it the stick getting in the way?' Why wasn't I ignoring her? Telling her to sling her hook? I tried to look past her again to see if Diana was there but the human slinky moved with me.

‘So, as I was asking. New girlfriend? Or is it open season.' Momentarily, I frowned. She tutted and sighed before leaning towards me again. ‘I mean. Is she available?' God help me if I didn't lift my fist a little. I wanted to smack that self-satisfied shit eating grin off her face. How dare she come over to my table and try to pump me for information about my date when her own sat glowering on the other side of the restaurant.

‘No she isn't.' Fuck. Could that response get any colder? And the best thing was it wasn't from me. It was from behind Samantha. I have to admit, the look on my ex's face was pure quality. Talk about how to confuse an idiot. Her upper lip lifted and her head tipped to one side as if to say ‘How did you do that?' ‘So, if you don't mind, I would like to sit back at my table with MY girlfriend.' Part of me wanted to jump up and down and shout hurrah then race around the restaurant telling each and every person individually – Diana said I was her girlfriend - but the older, less teenage part of me decided to sit with a smug grin on my face.

‘I was just ...'

‘I know what you were “just” doing. Now move or I'll move you myself.' Samantha straightened up believing she could intimidate Diana with her height. At this point I really wanted to laugh, as Samantha was at least three inches shorter than my gorgeous defender. Diana stood there, her hands on her hip, one eyebrow raised in challenge, her lip partly curled. God. She looked sexy. It wasn't the most perfect situation to feel a rush of arousal, but come on. I would have to have been dead not to feel even more want for this woman at this perfect moment of Samantha getting her just desserts. ‘Well? Do I have to physically move you or will you move your own dumb ass?'

‘Who the fuck do you think you are?'

A sardonic laugh shot out of Diana's mouth and she leaned towards my ex. It was a good feeling watching Samantha step back as if she fully believed Diana was going to crack her one. ‘I am the woman who will never treat another woman the way you do.' Samantha tried to interject, but Diana lifted her hand up to silence her. ‘Do you think I don't know about you? Don't know that you haven't a clue when you've got it made?' Another laugh before she shook her head slowly from side to side. ‘You are one sad fucker.' I knew the body language of Samantha spoke more than words. She was livid. Absolutely livid. I was loving it. Maybe I was still loving the ‘MY girlfriend' – who knows? ‘You are going to end up one very lonely woman.' Shove. Samantha pushed Diana out of the way to get past, but Diana caught her by the arm and pulled her to her. A growl came through her teeth as she spat out the words, ‘Don't you ever fucking do that again, understand? Or I will knock you in the other side of next week.'

I didn't get it. I'm sorry if I sound dumb, but I didn't get it. This wasn't the same woman who had suffered physical abuse from her ex-girlfriend, the same ex who was smaller than Samantha. So what gives? And how did she know about my past relationship?

Samantha didn't say a word. She just tried to shrug off Diana's hand, but it stayed put. Grey eyes met blue and I could see some level of unspoken understanding pass from one woman to another. A hand released an arm and Samantha moved away a little slower than she had approached.

Diana watched every step before she turned to me and gave me a stunning smile. ‘All done. You fit?' It was if nothing had happened. ‘The film will be starting in twenty minutes.' I just sat there. Staring. ‘What's up?'

I shrugged. What could I say? Should I mention the transformation from hunted to hunter? Yes. I loved seeing Samantha James put in her place, but my head couldn't compute the events. I'm not saying that I felt threatened by Diana's actions – far from it. I felt a sense of the damsel saved from more distress and it felt good. Very good. Exceptionally good, actually.

‘What about the bill? We need to pay.'

‘All done.' A huge grin. ‘You fit?' So, that's what she had been chatting to the member of staff about. I pursed my lips to begin a tirade about it not being fair, how I wanted to pay my way, but she surprised me even more than she had already done. ‘Hey.' Her voice was so soft, so delectably enticing. She looked over her shoulder at Samantha James arguing with her date before capturing me in her blue gaze once again. ‘If I'm going around telling everyone you're my girl, can't I at least pay for your meal?' A small smile glanced across that perfect mouth but I knew underneath her cool appearance, she was as nervous as I was. I could feel the charge of electricity dancing between us, actually, I could almost see it.

‘In that case ... I would hate for you to lose face. Thank you.' I dropped my eyes fleetingly as I didn't think I could keep holding her intent gaze any longer. When my eyes returned, she appeared to have reeled some of her dynamic sexuality back allowing me to continue breathing at a steady rate. ‘Come. We're going to be late.' Diana held her arm out and it seemed the most natural thing in the world to link mine with hers. It may have been my imagination, but I could swear that I felt, as well as heard, a click – just like two pieces of a jigsaw puzzle snapping together on contact. Weirdly enough, I didn't react. It appeared I was becoming used to sensations vibrating around me when I was with Diana.


Case 39. That's the film we had gone to see, although I honestly don't know why. The ‘Evil Spawn' of a child looked like the kid from the Cadbury's advert and I believed her eyebrows should have won an Oscar. It was supposed to be a horror film, but to be honest, I was more scared when opening my gas bill. However, I made the most of the situation – what sane girl wouldn't? Well, to tell the truth, I did jump a little and knock Diana's coke out of her hand and over the man sitting next to her when the ‘thing' came out of the closet. I could make a joke here about coming out of the closet, but that is a little too obvious and I doubt you really want to hear it. Neither did the bloke next to Diana for that matter. Talk about overreacting over a little diet coke. You would think I had peed on his kids as they were opening their Christmas presents the way he acted. Thankfully, Diana handled the situation, giving him money to get his shite shirt and Primark jeans dry cleaned whilst I just sat silently praying for my seat to swallow me up.

As soon as the first credit came up we were out of there. Neither of us wanted to hang around and wait to have diet coke shoved in unmentionable places as promised by sticky stained man. Obviously.

The drive home was taken in silence. It didn't feel uncomfortable, just a little deflated. The evening had been perfect and I didn't want it to end – especially since I didn't know when I was going to see her again. I know she had said ‘MY girlfriend', but as the evening wore on I didn't see any more evidence from Diana to prove that what she said hadn't just been to piss Samantha off. There had been no attempts at sneaking her arm around me in the darkened theatre, no leaning against each other as people do when snuggled down in their seats watching a film. The only action I had seen was the movement of the badly dressed, and stained, man who was unfortunate enough to catch the remainder of a soft drink.

‘Here we go.' I hadn't even noticed we had arrived in my street, as I had been too busy feeling sorry for myself. Considering I had enjoyed every single moment of being with Diana, I couldn't understand why I should even contemplate feeling sadness about the evening. Maybe it was because I wanted it to happen again and was worrying myself stupid about it not happening. I know. I go on. That's me in a nutshell – too busy thinking about stuff and not much action.

‘Yes.' Last of the big speakers, that's me.

‘Thank you, Jess. I had a lovely time.'

‘Yes.' Oh God. Say something! ‘So did I' Bravo. Am I a rival for Henry V and his historical speech? Methinks not.

‘We'll have to do it again soon, yes?'

‘Yes!' A little loud. ‘I'd love that.' A lot better. More normal, as the volume didn't hurt anyone's eardrums.

We were both fidgeting with seat belts, bags, twisting rings around (the ones on our hands), flicking glances at the other but too shy to actually make eye contact. ‘Erm ...'

‘Yes?' Did I sound eager? You bet.

‘Are you free tomorrow? '

I could feel the grin leave my stomach, travel up my throat and appear on my mouth like butter. ‘Yes.' One word answers – I am doing well.

‘Shall I call around about eleven?'

‘Yes.' Come on, Taylor. You can do better than that. ‘I'd love to see you again. Actually ...' I paused, wondering if I should say the next thing. ‘Would you like to come in for coffee? We can make plans then.'

Her sigh hit the air, the only sign that she had been holding her breath. Then a smile. That perfect crooked one I liked so much. ‘I thought you'd never ask.' At that we both started laughing and made our way into my house.

God. Having her in my house seemed the most exciting thing in the world. Why is that? She was just a woman in my home. Well, that isn't it at all is it? She wasn't just any woman – she was Diana Sullivan, the woman I had been lusting after for far too long and I didn't want to screw it up. But, you know me, if anything can be screwed up you know I will be the one doing the screwing.

Coffee made, I delivered the beverages into the lounge where I saw the gorgeous art teacher leaning back on my undeserving sofa. Now I know I keep on telling you how beautiful she is, but at that moment, the moment I saw her reclined, her legs stretched out, her head back on the rear of the sofa, her eyes closed, was the moment I thought I was having a visitation from a messenger from God. It was either the light from the lamp or she actually did have a halo around her head – or I was in fact losing the plot big time and hallucinating. To be honest, I didn't care if I was. I just stood there, taking her in unobserved. I didn't care about the heat of the coffee burning my fingers, didn't care that I must've looked gormless, I just felt paralysed.

‘You ok?' Fuck. Caught in the act, and with the catching the coffee inside the cups made a break for it and decided that the easiest escape route was up and over my hands and along my wrists until the carpet could give it a getaway vehicle.

‘Fuck.' More splashing as I tried to put the cups on the table and missed completely, allowing the full contents to make happy with my trousers. ‘Fuckity fuck fuck fuck.' Dancing around with hot coffee seeping through my trousers was not the best way to impress the woman who was trying valiantly to help me. I doubt me stripping off the aforementioned trousers was any more of a heart grabber either. But, thankfully, it stopped my Morris dancing. ‘Jesus. That was hot.'

Diana didn't say anything. She was half on half off the sofa, her hands holding copious amounts of tissue in the attempt to soak up any more of the pooling brown liquid from hitting my carpet. But her eyes were not on her quarry. They were on me. Yes. The woman who was now standing in front of her with no trousers on. It should have been sexy, shouldn't it? Me stripping off for the object of my desire? However, standing there with brown stained legs and boots was as far from sexy as I could go. Told you I could screw things up, even without planning it.

‘Hot.' Diana's mouth moved around the word, and her eyes were riveted on my steaming legs.

‘Erm … yes. Very.' I'm a dumbass. Especially because I was finding it difficult to do anything but watch her reaction. There was no laughter, no sound, no rushing for a clean pair of trousers to cover my stupidity. I stood there like a first prize dick head.

‘You should … erm … you should …' Dress? Get a brain? Dig a huge hole and bury myself in it? Diana leaned towards me, her tissue filled hands outstretched and attempting to touch the dripping drink from my legs. Thing is, I let her- let her wipe even more coffee down my legs. I was fascinated with her facial expression. She was so engaged in her task, I don't think she realised she was making matters worse.

Grabbing her wrist, I stopped the cleaning motion and for a few seconds she just stared at my knees totally ignoring the way the drink seemed to bob on the top of my socks.

‘I think I should …'


‘Before it …'


Leaving the room sharpish, I had to take a last look at Diana. She was still in exactly the same position except her gaze was on me. The look showed some kind of confusion like she was just realising she was on her knees on the floor of my lounge and I was running for the door half naked. Not quite what she envisioned for her first date, I should imagine.

In the bathroom, I continued a running commentary at my own stupidity. I should have been sipping Colombian coffee now, making chit chat, even, fingers crossed and God willing, getting a little bit of a grip of my date. Instead, I was showering off the stain on my legs and cussing like a sailor. Why I am an interminable dickhead? Why couldn't I just breeze into the room, slip the cups effortlessly on the table before sidling up to the delicious woman downstairs? I wanted to call Sophie and ask her how I should dig my way out of this one, but that's not really what you do is it? After all, I am a grown woman.

‘Soph. Listen.' Yes. I had snuck into my bedroom and snapped up the phone before slinking back into the bathroom again to make a surreptitious call to my best friend. It's looking more as if I am in fact fourteen after all. ‘I know, I know … Look. I've fucked up.' Furtively, I glanced at the door fully expecting Diana to barge in and accuse me of having no common sense whatsoever before marching off to live her own life. ‘I poured coffee all over myself.' The laugh Sophie gave me filled me with dread. It was the same laugh she made when I fell off the stage doing the Nativity in Primary school.

‘What's the big deal? Everyone spills coffee all over themselves at some stage.' She paused. That woman knew me too well. ‘What did you do?' The stern mother voice came out. ‘Jess? Tell me you just cleaned it up.'

‘Erm … I … erm … well, I …'


Itookmytrousersoffandstoodtherewithjustmybootsandshirton. ' When you say it more quickly, is it supposed to sound better? If that was the case, I mustn't have said it quickly enough.

That laugh again. God. I hated that laugh. That laugh indicated I had been a total melon.

‘And the problem about you being half naked in front of the woman you are lusting after is?' I bit my lip. Then bit it again. 'My advice is make the most of the situation.' Another pause. ‘You ran off didn't you? You chicken shit.'

‘I …'

‘Jess. Go. We'll talk tomorrow, ok?' I tried to interrupt but she wasn't listening to my pleading for guidance. ‘Slip into something more comfortable and dry and get back in there. Laters, Lady.' The sound of the disconnected tone made the panic once again snake up my throat. Then I thought ‘Why am I panicking? What is the worst thing that could possibly happen?' A laugh slipped out of my mouth before I hastily covered it with my hand.

After changing into sweat pants, I made my way downstairs. The lounge showed no sign of the incident and Diana was seated back on the sofa acting as if nothing had happened.

‘Hey you.' I must admit, my voice sounded brilliant. No wavering, no stuttering, nothing but normalcy. Inwardly, I grinned.

‘Hey, you too.' Diana leaned forward and she looked a little uncomfortable. ‘Look. I'd better get off.' Then she stood. ‘We'll have to do coffee again sometime.' The smile she gave me was tentative at best. So, what's the worst that could happen? Diana leaving after my display of being inept, that's what. ‘I've had a lovely time.' I nodded, as I knew if I opened my mouth I would probably start crying. Weren't we supposed to be meeting tomorrow? Reaching down, she picked up her handbag. It seemed like everything was in slow motion. I wanted to remind her about our sketchy arrangements for the following day, but I thought I would give her the easy opt out option. Maybe after my display of being the new and improved village idiot had made her rethink her suggestion.

Diana was standing in front of me now and I had to tilt my head up to meet those blue eyes. ‘So.' Her voice was husky, thick and so enticing. ‘Are you still free for tomorrow?' Amazing to think that one moment I was feeling almost suicidal and the next ridiculously exultant. A grin spread like lightning across my face and I grabbed her face and pulled her to me, my lips claiming her again just as they had at the beginning of the evening. However, this time it wasn't a brushing, wasn't a sampling. This time it was total ownership. And it felt so good. So damned good. This time she didn't hesitate, didn't give the appearance of being startled – just reciprocated the yearning I had with abandon. Deep, sensual, open, wet, hot, pagan. My fingers slipped effortlessly into her hair and tried to pull her closer, tried to absorb her, claim her, possess her, my tongue flicking over her lips until her mouth opened and allowed me access. Her strong arms circled my waist and lifted me higher, my feet having to rely on my toes for support. I could feel myself pushing against her, my whole body pushing. It wasn't until I knew for definite the sofa was behind her legs that I began to lower her onto the soft cushions, only to climb on top of her. My body pressed against hers, my knee separating her legs allowing me between them. Cool fingers slipped down the waistband of my sweats and I felt her hands cup the cheeks of my backside and pull me closer, pull me in, allow the contact of my pubic bone to hit the apex of her thighs in perfect rhythm. Each thrust was met by her, each grind of my hips made her gasp inside my mouth. Heat and wetness emanated from between my legs and I was sure I could feel a trickling sensation at the tops of my thighs.

‘God, Jess. Yes. Please.' Her hands were scrabbling with my shirt, trying to lift it off, kisses peppering themselves over my face and throat. ‘I want you … want you .. please.' My hand released itself from her hair and snaked its way between us. I was fumbling with the button of her trousers, our lips never breaking contact. The anticipation of finding the same wetness between her legs blinded me to what we were about to do. Plink. Open. The zip held up no fight, and then my hand was inside her panties. Slick, wet, wanton, mine. I pushed down, separating the folds to find treasure, to find the quivering mass of want waiting there for my touch to release it from its prison. I wanted to take it, love it, own it, swallow it and her whole.

Leaning back, I pushed her shirt up to expose her bra and the curves of her delicious breasts. Lips met skin, suckling, nipping, licking the tender flesh. I could hear bells ringing somewhere: was I in heaven?

‘Jess. God. Please … ignore it.' Ignore it? Ignore what? My hand was forcing her trousers further down, the panties giving me more room. Long, hard strokes, followed by flicking and circling.

The bells again, followed by a thudding.

My teeth moved the bra aside and I could see her nipple straining to meet my mouth. I was so close, so damned close. My fingers were in position to enter her, to take her, to claim what was so rightfully mine, to feel the closeness of her wrapping around my digits as I made love to her.

‘Jess!' Why did her voice seem so much deeper? ‘Open up!' I'm trying, honestly, I am trying. ‘Diana!' Huh? Why was she …

Bells and thudding and a man's voice at my front door eventually made me pull back onto my haunches and look at Diana's expectant face. My hands froze – one inside her pants and the other on her breast. Both our chests were heaving, arousal apparent.

‘It's Dave.' We both said it as a statement at the same time. Then ‘It's Dave? Dave? '

Scrambling off her, we both hurriedly tried to sort out our clothes before answering the door. Dave stood on the doorstep, his face full of panic. ‘Thank God for that. It thought I would be too late.' Did he plan on stopping us from getting to know each other? ‘I thought you might have gone to bed.' Well … ‘And Diana gone home. I … I …' Dave was having difficulty speaking, as it was obvious he was upset and out of breath. ‘It's Monica.'

‘Monica?' Diana pushed passed me and pulled Dave inside the door. ‘What about her?'

‘She was attacked. Someone broke in and attacked her.'

The colour from Diana's previously flushed face disappeared and the contrast was disturbing. ‘But she … she was at my house tonight using the studio.' Dave gave a half-hearted shrug, his face showing his confusion. ‘I don't know the specifics. I got the call on the way home tonight. I knew you were here so I came instead of calling.' I felt Diana stagger and caught her around the waist. ‘We need to go to the hospital, Di.'

‘The hosp-i-tal?' Another stagger.

‘Diana. Come. Sit for a minute.' She tried to argue, tried to pull away, but I wouldn't let go. ‘Just one minute. You won't do much good if you try to go there now.'

Dave nodded and helped me take her into the lounge. The scene that greeted us so obviously screamed that we had been making out. Cushions were scattered over the floor and the sofa indicated two people had very recently been disturbed. It felt wrong somehow that we had been doing that whilst Monica was in the hospital with God knows what injuries.

After sitting Diana down, I turned to Dave. ‘Do you know what happened?'

He shook his head. ‘Mrs Greenall from number 32 called me. She heard a disturbance and went around. Aunt Mon was already out for the count.' Diana released a sob. ‘The ambulance took her away, but they say she'll be ok.' He leaned forward and grabbed her hand, squeezing her fingers. ‘The police want to talk to you.'

‘I want to see Monica.' Understandable. ‘I can talk to the police after.' Dave patted her hand.

‘Come on. We can go in my car.'

Usually, I would step out now, would let them sort out what they had to do without much involvement from me. But this wasn't a ‘usually' kind of relationship. I know I had only had one date with Diana, but I knew deep down that I needed to be with her.

‘Just let me get my shoes on.' Two sets of blue eyes turned to me and both seemed thankful for some reason. ‘Shall I call Sophie?'

Dave released a relieved sigh. ‘Now that would be wonderful.' I turned to leave. ‘Jess?' I turned to look at Dave. ‘Thank you.' I gave him a small smile as an answer whilst fishing around in my bag for my mobile before realising it was hidden under the towels in the bathroom.

Sophie picked it up on the third ring, answering with a ‘What the fuck have you gone and done now?' Within less than a minute, she was already making her way out of the door. See? That's what friends do, isn't it? Be there. Just be there for whatever unexpected event that should crop up. I hadn't even told her Dave would be there, just said I needed her. And for some friends, that's all it takes.


Sophie was already at the hospital when we arrived. After checking with reception we found out Monica was still being tended to. Sitting on the plastic chairs in the waiting area was the worst part – well, that didn't come out right. I meant waiting for news was the worst part – the comfort of the chairs was immaterial.

Two hours. That's how long we had to wait for news – two fucking hours. Eventually a tired looking doctor came out and asked for relatives of Monica Bright. Considering we were the only ones there, it was more like a rhetorical question. I felt a glimmer of guilt flit through me as I remembered meeting Mrs Bright for the first time. All the internal piss taking … Mensa member, the nanny from Count Duckula … Not to mention calling her Margaret Thatcher in my head. All I can put that down to is disappointment at Diana's absence, because I later found out, when I wasn't being a mean bitch, that Monica was one of the nicest, gentlest women I have ever met.

All in all, Monica had sustained a nasty blow to the back of her head amounting to twenty four stitches. However, the blow had made her fall and smash her face on something sharp, resulting in twelve stiches across her eyebrow, a black eye and a broken nose.

At this Diana started crying again, as she had been doing it off and on ever since we had climbed into the car.

‘Can we see her?' The doctor seemed to think about it before nodding and explaining that she was out of it at the moment. ‘So she won't be able to come home tonight?' The doctor explained that with head injuries, the patient had a bigger chance of concussion so she had to stay in hospital for a minimum of twenty four hours for observation.

After thanking him, we all made our way to a side room. Inside we all inhaled at the same time. Gone was the feisty woman who had led the class on occasion, and what was left was an old lady with a face the colour of clay on one side and a rainbow the other. I thought I was going to be sick. Not because of the stitches or dried blood, but because of what had happened. How could anyone do this to this gentle woman? Actually, how could anyone do this to another human being?

As soon as the thought hit me, I thought of one person I knew who would. Lauren. She had proven time and time again that she was free with her fists and didn't think twice about hitting someone. Nah. Even she wouldn't stoop as low as this, would she? I mean, she hit Diana – although I still can't understand her reasons behind it, she did so because she was her partner. No excuse, but the only one I could conjure. But to hit an old woman on the back of the head and then leave her? That, to me, was even beneath her level of fuckster.

Monica was in Diana's house. Maybe she thought Diana was there. Maybe she had a key to her place and let herself in to confront her ex-lover and found Monica there. Bam! Wrong woman, but message put across.

Stop! I am not the lead DI in Prime Suspect. All I had was inherent hatred for the actress. What I needed was evidence – a chat with the police – it could have been a botched burglary.

‘You need to talk to the police, Diana.' That wasn't me. That was Sophie the organiser. It was amazing how she always seemed to know what I was thinking. ‘See if anything was taken.' See? Sophie was definitely on my wavelength. I wondered if she, too, thought it could have been the Bitch from Broadway – or even the Wanker from the West End.

Diana and Dave made their way over to the bed, but Sophie and I stayed hovering in the doorway. Both of us knew this was family time, not the time to all overcrowd Monica's bed.

After a few minutes, Soph indicated with a tilt of her head that we should leave them alone for a while. I nodded and followed her silently back to the waiting area. No sooner had we arrived before Sophie started.

‘It was Lauren. It had to be.' Considering I had thought the same thing, I surprised myself by negating my friend's statement. ‘Look, Jess. Who else could it have been?' Soph glanced around the empty corridor as if she was fully expecting Lauren to come tumbling from one of the side rooms in a prison outfit and toting a swag bag. ‘The facts speak for themselves. One ...' she lifted a finger up, ticking it off with her other hand. ‘Lauren has a history of violence. Two. She is still in Manchester.' A frown covered my face. To be honest, I hadn't really thought about where Lauren had gone after the night class – truth be known, I hadn't really given a shit. ‘Three – she would know where Diana lived.'

‘But how did she get in?'

A snort left Sophie's mouth. ‘That's easy. Monica let her in.'

Huh? Why would Monica let her in? Why would Lauren hit Monica if she knew Diana wasn't there? Whatever had transpired between Diana and Lauren had nothing to do with Monica. Man. This was getting confusing – and it is just how many names are used to try and sort out this mess. It was almost like the opening to the old series of Soap.

A sigh hit the air and my attention was back on Sophie, who, by this stage, was leaning back in her chair, her fingers steepled, and a look of absorption plastered all over her face. Minutes ticked by and neither of us said a word. More minutes. So quiet, too quiet.

‘Or she had a key.' I had thought of that before, but why would Lauren have a key to Diana's house? They'd broken up before Diana had got the place, hadn't they? A person doesn't give her abuser a key to her home after she has escaped, does she?

And usually, the person doesn't go running back to her ex when she calls do they. But Diana did. Quite quickly, if my memory serves me right.

A feeling of nausea hit me, a swirling clump of nausea. People who did that usually still loved the person didn't they? That's one of the main reasons why the victim goes back – love, the ‘I can't live without them' gene. What else was there? Diana didn't need Lauren financially, didn't have dependents, but had loved her – or still loved her.

I gagged. Couldn't help it. It was the thought of what I had been doing with Diana just before Dave had come to my door that made my stomach roil and the contents beg for release. Diana wanted Lauren and not me – not the one who would never hurt her, but the selfless bitch who beat the shit out her on a regular basis. Talk about the perfect example of lusting after the ‘Bad Girl'.

‘You ok, Jess?' Sophie was leaning forward again, her eyes trying to meet mine. I nodded, but gagged again. ‘You gunna hurl on me?' I started to shake my head but felt the contents of my stomach make a bolt for it. So I followed suit – made a bolt for the nearest toilet and brought up everything I had consumed that evening. Warm hands slipped over my shoulders and held me in place before one snaked down my back and began slow circular movements along the sensitive skin. ‘Come on, love, get it all up.' Again and again I retched, eventually stopping when there was nothing else to bring up.

Slumping on the floor, I brought my knees up and encased them with my arms. It was the only way I felt as if I could protect myself. From what? God knows. Tears slipped down my face, something that wasn't unusual, as I always cried when being ill. Sophie sat next to me, the cold tile giving no comfort to either of us. A strong arm wrapped itself around me and pulled me close. I always felt so safe in Sophie's arms – always. Even when we argued, I never felt threatened, never felt ill-at-ease. Part of me wished that everything was different – that Sophie was my girl and we were just sitting there being happy and complete in each other's presence. How much more simple life would be if we were a couple? If Sophie and I were in love, were together? Could move past friendship and make a life with each other? Then I wouldn't be sitting on the floor of the toilets feeling my heart breaking into a thousand pieces. I would have it all, wouldn't I?

‘Bad pint?' Her voice was gentle, but she was trying to make me laugh, trying to make me open up. I shrugged before shaking my head. ‘What is it honey? You coming down with something?' I could barely shake my head. ‘You lovesick?' Huh? Sophie must've felt my body stiffen, because she leaned in closer. ‘I know you, Taylor. You think Diana's still in love with Lauren don't you?' How did she know? ‘I know you too well, lady.' Her hand cupped my chin and lifted it so I was looking directly into soft concerned eyes. ‘For the record, I know for a fact ... for a FACT ... that Ms Sullivan is absolutely smitten with you.'

‘But ...'

‘No buts. She told me.'

‘She told ...'

A grin changed the serious expression into the woman I knew. ‘She told me ages ago. Why do you think I have been doing everything I can to get you two together?' A laugh shot out. ‘Do you know she was shitting a brick the day we all met in the bistro? Took all my persuasive powers to get her to come along – she thought you'd tell her to sling her hook after the way you acted in class on the Wednesday before.' Come to think of it, she had looked like someone walking the plank. Another laugh. ‘The art gallery was my idea though – a good one, I thought at any rate. Then you both come back without the balls to do anything about your obvious lusting.'

‘That long?' Yes, Taylor. Long before she mogged off to London to see the twattette. Satisfied? No wonder Sophie had said something about coming back single and arsey. ‘She really likes me?'

‘Yes, you muppet. She really likes you.' At this point, Sophie tried to move back, but her knees and butt had other plans for her. ‘Fuck me. Fuck.' I laughed – must've been relief. ‘Oi, git. Don't laugh at my aged bones. I've fucking seized up.' I made a move to help her and realised I was in the same boat. We looked like two eighty year old women attempting to breakdance – well, if eighty year old women punctuated every movement with a euphemism of pain and surprise.

Hobbling to the waiting area again, after rinsing my mouth – obviously – we sat back in the chairs and waited. This time, however, I couldn't seem to keep the grin off my face. Not really the expression a woman should be wearing when waiting in a hospital after a friend has had the crap beaten out of her. Thankfully, I changed expressions when Diana and Dave came back out. Just.

Deciding to get it over with, Diana called the station and arranged to meet the police at her house as soon as she could. There was no point leaving it until the morning – too much evidence would have gone by then. Without discussion, we all made our way to her house. All for one and one for all, is what I say. Lauren didn't know what was going to hit her – erm ... if it was Lauren, that is. Although my money was still riding on her as Public Enemy Number One, even if she was innocent.


Chapter Seven

The police were there before we were – surprisingly. It wasn't often that the police took notice of what could be perceived as a failed burglary. However, they were very interested in what had happened to Monica – especially when there didn't seem to be any evidence of a break in. The doors and windows hadn't been tampered with, so that left one of two scenarios – Monica let the person in or they had a key. As it worked out, the only other people to have a key to Diana's place were Monica and Dave. No mention of Lauren.

‘What about Lauren? Did she have a key?' Dave asked Diana, making the two policemen sit forward.

‘Lauren?' The pen was lifted ready to take notes.

‘Erm ... not that I'm aware of.' Huh? Should be cut and dried – either a yes or a no answer. ‘I do have a spare key in my glove compartment of my car.' Both police just stared at her expectantly. ‘But my car isn't here.' It was outside my house, as we had all climbed into Dave's car when going to the hospital. ‘Erm.' The policemen still stared, and, to be honest, they were giving me the creeps. ‘Do you want me to go and check?'

The older of the two policemen gave a sigh that could only be described as boredom before shaking his head. ‘Just let us know if it turns up missing.' What a stupid fucking statement. How can anything turn up missing? I think he realised what he had said because he paused momentarily before standing up as if to dismiss us all. ‘This is a serious incident, Ms …' a glance at his notes, ‘Sullivan. We need your full co-operation. We need you to check around and see if anything is missing.'

‘And what are you going to do about it?' I couldn't help myself. They had spoken to Diana as if she had robbed her own house and whacked Monica on the head for effect. ‘Where are CSI? A Community Officer? Is this all you are going to give us?'

The bored sigh again. ‘I'm sorry to disappoint you, madam , but this isn't a television show.'

I hate being spoken to like an idiot. ‘Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you, Officer . But this isn't police service. A woman is in hospital with head injuries and you seem to think it is a waste of time.'

The look he gave me could have made Medusa worry about her position as the Gorgon. ‘We can only go on evidence.' He shot a glare at Diana. ‘And we have no evidence. No break in. Nothing. For all we know the old dear fell over.'

I was thoroughly pissed off now. ‘So, let me get this straight. You said this was a serious incident but also say we have no evidence and the old dear could've fallen over.'

‘There is no need to be aggressive, madam.' Aggressive? If he wanted aggression, I would give him aggression. ‘I am just stating the facts.'


I saw him stiffen, then half close one eye before looking me up and down. ‘And you are?' I was on the verge of snapping ‘Does that matter?' when he continued. ‘Where were you between the hours of 9pm and 10?' WTF? A small smile flickered over his face and he brought out his pad and pen again. Now it was my turn to let out a bored sigh.

Thirty minutes later, after I had been interviewed within an inch of my life, and Sophie too, as she couldn't keep her gob shut, Dave came back with Diana. Whilst they were tearing into me and my best friend, they had decided to go check out the spare key. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realise it wasn't in Diana's glove compartment and there had only been two people in Diana's car in the time since she had last seen it. Me and the lovely Lauren Baker. And I didn't have it, as you might have guessed. So, that left the glamorously absent actress as the magpie.

At this news, both officers seemed to get their acts together. This was something they could work on, as they said, but I was still under the impression that a woman with the shit knocked out of her from behind was kind of the thing they should have been focusing on. Diana gave the name of a hotel where Lauren had checked in the previous Wednesday after she had stormed out of class. Thankfully, the policemen left – hopefully to arrest Lauren Baker.

It was decided that Diana couldn't stay at her house whilst her key was on the loose. It was too late, and expensive, to get the lock smith out at this hour. The next day would be fine for that, considering that her insurance company wouldn't cover the cost – if a key is used, there is no break in. Stupid, I know.

I wanted her to stay at my house – obviously. But I couldn't seem to voice it. Would she think I was offering so we could continue what we had started before Dave came? Now, that would have been callous, understandable, but callous. As Dave suggested it, Sophie kept nudging me, trying to get me to say something. She even punched me in the arm at one point, but I even muffled the ‘ouch'.

Dave was oblivious about it all, grabbing a holdall and helping his sister stuff her clothes and toiletries inside the bag. ‘You can stay as long as you like, sis, you know that.' Another punch to my arm. I turned and glared at Sophie who tried to look innocent. ‘You can have my room.' Punch, a visual ‘Fuck off'.

‘Or …' Sophie tried to interject Dave's rambling, but he wasn't listening. However, Diana looked over hopefully in our direction. ‘She could stay with either of us.' Blue eyes flicked to mine and they seemed to sparkle a little, just before the smile lit her face. Was that relief?

‘I know it's not the best reason, but I love having you stay over, Di.' Fuck. ‘We can spend the night going over everything in detail.' I saw her shoulders slump and resignation take over. It was now gone four in the morning and everyone, apart from Dave, seemed to realise when enough was enough.

‘Yeah. That would be fantastic, Dave.' He stood grinning at her, lifting the bag to signal all was ready.

Sophie was going to give me a lift home and I knew she would end up spending the night. Before we parted, she gave Dave a kiss and a hug, both of them whispering to each other and I'm definite I heard Dave say ‘Well, I didn't know did I?'. That left Diana and me. ‘Hey. Sorry about tonight – erm … last night.' What on earth could she have to be sorry about? ‘Not the best way to end our first date.' A soft laugh drifted between us, so soft and delicate it was as if I could catch it in my hands and treasure it like a prized butterfly. Then a slight frown as she looked down at me. ‘Are we still on for tomorrow? Maybe a little later than eleven?' Instead of answering her straight away, I leaned in to capture those perfect lips once again. I have never, ever been so lost in someone's kisses before her. It seemed all I could feel and taste was her. Nothing else mattered. Breaking the contact was agony, but it was either that or standing outside in the cold until we both froze to death.

Like a love sick teen, I watched as she climbed into the car, the interior light dimming after mere seconds. But, if I looked hard enough I could still see her looking at me as the car pulled away, and believe me, I looked hard.

‘Come on, Romeo. Home.' A firm hand gripped my elbow and pulled me over to her car. ‘And I hope you don't think I'm Diana when we get back. I'd hate to punch you in your sleep if you get fresh.' Aw shit. Now that idea was in my head.


As you can guess, I barely got any sleep. Thoughts of what had happened to Monica kept drifting in, thoughts of Lauren, the smug fucker, too. But, if truth be known, the main two thoughts keeping me awake were nothing to do with the incident at Diana's house. One. What if I did feel Sophie up in my sleep? I would die a thousand deaths, both literally and metaphorically. Two. Diana. How could I not? I had come to grips with the gorgeous art teacher in the most intimate of ways, tasted that mouth, touched her hot skin, seen those gorgeous eyes up close and personal. God. And then back to worrying about reason one again – dreaming I was still doing all of the above and being rudely woken by my best friend strangling me.

But she liked me. Really liked me. Fancied me, in fact. Not Sophie, Diana. A grunt came from next to me; the air of my friend's breathing hitting my face. Wistfully, I wondered why I couldn't just become comatose like her. She had no problem sleeping, and definitely no problem nicking my Tina Turner t-shirt and sprawling like Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man across my bed, leaving me with a handful of duvet and only enough mattress to balance one cheek of my arse on. I couldn't even lie on my back, or facing away from her – I had to face the grinning somnolent (and snoring) woman who had pegged ‘left hand side' as she had raced for my bedroom.

My teeth were beginning to grind together. I wanted more from this bed … more duvet … actually some of the pillows would be nice too. Nudging Soph, I whispered. ‘Move up, mate.' Nothing. So I repeated the action once, twice, three times until I half stumbled out of the bed and shoved her hard. ‘For fuck's sake, Harrison! Shift your fucking arse over!'

Groggily, Soph muttered, ‘Oh Diana. Diana … Kiss me again.' The hand with which I was just about to punch her with hovered over her left shoulder. What did she say? ‘Your lips are like velvet, baby.' Lips like velvet? ‘Mmmm .. yes.' The feeling churning inside my gut was suddenly replaced by the urge to throttle her when I heard a laugh. ‘Got ya, Taylor.'

‘You fuckster!' Thump. ‘Now shift. My bed, my duvet … your arse, move!' Sophie was still laughing as she moved over, rubbing her arm, whilst I muttered how she had better sleep with one eye open for a while.

Back to back. That's how we started to sleep again. However, the next morning I was sprawled over her chest, the spit dribbling over Tina Turner's grinning mouth. That'll teach her. No. Not Tina – she was innocent, unlike the person inside the shirt. Funnily enough, I couldn't help but grin before snuggling in deeper.


Chapter Eight

Diana arrived at two thirty. I'd expected her to be earlier, and part of me had believed that she had slept on it and decided that she couldn't be arsed seeing me on the Saturday after all. Call it low self-esteem if you want, but I would imagine many people go through that ‘I'm not worthy' stage within a relationship. Sophie had left as soon as she cleared out my fridge, promising to call me later. So, I had been left to my own mental meanderings for almost two and a half hours. A lot can go through a girl's mind in that length of time, most of it fruitless, pointless and random. I also had the cleanest window sill and phone in the world considering how many times my hands went over them with the duster as I toyed with either calling her or looking out of the window in the hopes of her turning up.

When she did, I was at the window and I hoped beyond hope that she hadn't seen me craning my neck trying to see further up the road, almost falling off the ledge in the process. I even waited a respectable time before answering the door with a look of shock firmly in place.

‘I didn't expect to see you so soon.' Her face showed confusion and her hand hovered weakly at the living room window before shaking her head. Shit. She had seen me. So, my attempt to be reserved and chillaxed in front of her was pointless. ‘What are you waiting for? Come in.' I wasn't going to admit my faux pas though – what kind of idiot do you think I am? ‘I was just cleaning the windows.' Shut up. Just shut up now. ‘They can be a bugger can't they?' Why won't you listen to me? I was sounding not only desperate but a clean freak to boot. ‘Enough about me ...' please ... ‘any news on Monica?'

We had made our way into the spotless living room by now and Diana slumped on the sofa, kicking her shoes off in the process. ‘I've been to see her this morning. Seems as if she had no idea who hit her.' A sigh hit the air before she patted the cushion next to her. Obligingly, I sat next to her only to be pulled into her arms, my head landing on her chest. ‘She was working on a project when she thought she heard me come home.' Long, dextrous fingers started working in my hair and I was trying my hardest to concentrate. This was important after all. ‘She had just got into the hallway when she felt something hit her at the back of the head. That's it.'

I lifted my face up to look at her; a frown was burrowing itself and making her eyebrows almost meet. Using my thumb, I began stroking the lines, trying to ease the worry I could see there. Warm breath hit my wrist and tingles spread like butter over my skin allowing the hairs on my arm to lift and dance stupidly.

Gently, I whispered, ‘So what happens now?' A slight shrug of her shoulders meant my body moved with hers.

‘Change the locks. Go through my stuff to see if anything is missing.' It had to be Lauren. It had to be. Nothing obvious was taken, so the purpose for being in Diana's house was not robbery. ‘I called the locksmith this morning but he can't make it until after seven tonight.'

Jesus. She mustn't have had hardly any sleep. She must've got to bed at the same time as me, but she had called the locksmith and visited her aunt in hospital. All I had done was fart about pseudo dusting and keep to my guard tower courtesy of the living room window ledge. Feint dark circles cupped the underneath of Diana's eyes, tiredness mixed with worry evident. I knew if the circumstances were right, it wouldn't take long for her to nod off.

‘Why don't you grab a cat nap? You must be beat.'

Blue eyes opened wider in the attempt to show she was fine, but it was obvious she wasn't. ‘I'll be fine after a good strong coffee. Honestly.' A smile appeared. ‘And anyway – why would I want to sleep when I can be here with you?' Bam. My heart thudded against my ribcage and I'm sure she could feel it against her breast. Thoughts of what we were doing on the same sofa last night darted into my head (although, to be perfectly honest, I don't think they had ever truly left). But, she was knackered. It wasn't as if we would never get the opportunity to relive the moment was it?

An idea came to me. ‘But you would still be here with me, wouldn't you?' At this point I stroked around her eyes making lazy circles with my fingertips, smiling when I saw the lids fluttering. ‘We could both have a nap. Here. Together. On this sofa.' More caressing, more fluttering, more thumping inside my chest. Her hand had started up a light rubbing movement on my back and I was in no hurry to leave the safety of her arms.

Quietness was marred only by our breathing. Nothing else actually mattered. I could feel her chest undulating underneath mine and it was as if I was on board a small boat on a gently bobbing lake. It was hypnotising, relaxing, perfect.

‘Ok. Five minutes. Then we should get on with our date.' I couldn't help the smile on my face, but I buried it into the softness of her sweater, nestling in deeper and inhaling the scent that was pure Diana Sullivan.

If I had to choose between the erotically charged encounter we had shared the previous evening and the one I was now experiencing curled up on the chest of the woman I was falling for, I would be hard pushed. It was deliciously intoxicating but in the most ethereal way imaginable. I believe I had waited all my life to experience this feeling. I was home. It was home. She was home. My home.


It was almost three hours later when I woke up against the warmth of her. Her arms were wrapped tightly around me keeping me firmly in place, my face was next to her throat and my hand was tangled into her hair. Legs were intertwined and bodies were pressed together. All in all, it was the perfect way to wake up, one I wanted to do again and again and again. Diana's breathing was regular, just like the breathing of someone who was sound asleep. A need to see her in such a peaceful pose made me gently lift my head to see the woman I was using as a human pillow.

Blue eyes met mine and momentarily I was startled.

‘Hey, you. Sleep good?' Her voice was husky with sleep and it sounded so sexy. Without preamble, the southern part of my anatomy sat up and screamed ‘I'm awake!' Diana didn't wait for an answer, as she leaned forward and brushed her lips over mine. I wanted to continue, but knew if we did there would be no way either of us would be going anywhere for the rest of the day. It wasn't just because I thought of Monica, thought of the locksmith, thought of everything we had to do that stopped me. It was because I just didn't want to rush this – rush us. Last night, although wonderful, was too soon. Although I wished the circumstances had been different, I was happy that we hadn't just fallen in bed with each other on our very first date. ‘What's the matter? You ok?'


‘I know that, but are you ok?' God. This woman was smooth.

I leaned in for another brief contact of lips before whispering in her ear, ‘You, Ms Sullivan, are a charmer. A silver tongued charmer.' Her laugh broke through the stillness of the room.

‘Me? A charmer?' More laughter. I just glared at her and nodded my head solemnly. ‘I am as far from charming as they get.' I lifted up so I was straddling her waist with my legs and stared down at her, my head on one side. Diana cleared her throat and tried to look admonished. ‘Ms Taylor. I can assure you, I only ever speak as I find. You are perfect.' Her right hand cupped my chin, her thumb stroking the side of my face. ‘So utterly perfect.' Gone was the laughter and what replaced it was a face filled with concentration, like she was deliberating her next move. ‘I know it is early in our relationship, Jess, but ...' All the moisture in my mouth seemed to dry up. ‘But I think I'm ...' She swallowed nervously. ‘Never mind. It'll keep.'

‘No!' Crap. Too loud. Try again, Taylor. ‘No.' That's better. ‘Tell me.' I grabbed her hand that was still cupping my face and brought her fingers to my mouth, kissing along the knuckles, my eyes never leaving hers. There was a sense of panic flitting through the blue, making the colour change like moving water. A tongue peeked through and nervously moistened already moist lips. Then it disappeared again, only to make way for her bottom lip to be sucked inside whilst she chewed on it in contemplation. ‘Just tell me, Diana.' I turned her hand over and kissed her wrist. ‘What's the worst that could happen?' Tempting fate again, it seemed, but I had to know.

‘I think ... I'm ...' Come on. Say it. ‘I'm falling for you.' Blue eyes closed and she shook her head slightly before opening them again. ‘I know. One date and I'm scaring you away already. I'm sorry.'

‘I think I'm falling for you too.' Liar, Taylor. You know you are.

‘If you want to take things slowly, I totally understand. You don't have to say ... what did you just say?'

‘I said ...' I brought my face to hers, making sure she was looking as deeply into my eyes as I was into hers. ‘I think I'm falling for you too.'

The kiss she gave me was hard, soft, deep, light ... everything and more a kiss should ever be. Her hands held my head in place as she showed me just how my words and admission had affected her and I felt myself becoming lost in the taste of her all over again. I was definitely falling – falling hard. I even had images of a certain four letter word popping in and out of my head. But, like the lady said – it had only been one date. If I voiced my real thoughts I believe I would be the one doing the scaring. Talk about the butt of every lesbian joke I have ever heard. Second date U-Haul truck, third date turkey baster.

Reluctantly, I pulled away, the separation making my body ache for the contact of her again. ‘We need to talk.' Christ! I was going for fourth date now – the ‘let's talk seriously' one.


Sighing, I pushed myself back even further and lifted myself off her body. Sitting nearer the end of the sofa, it wasn't long before Diana followed suit. How do you start a conversation about cooling things off before you have even let them heat up more than you should? No. I didn't want to cool things off with her – shit. I'm no good at this. What I wanted to say was I didn't want to rush into making love with her – not that I didn't want to make love with her – GOD! How inept am I? All I wanted was for us to take our time, get to know each first, make our first time perfect and special, not some quickie on the sofa. I wanted so much more than that for us.

Tentatively, I looked at Diana. Her body had seemed to fold into itself and it took me a couple of minutes to realise that it was because of me and my staring at the living room rug that had done it.

I released a huge sigh. ‘I just don't want to rush us. That's it. I want to get to know you, you to get to know me before ... before we ...'

Realisation dawned on her and her eyes opened widely, shortly followed by a knowing grin. A curt nod and a half smile told me she knew exactly what I was getting at.

‘I would like to get to know you, Jess. And not just physically.' Her hand slipped across the sofa and she interweaved our fingers together. ‘When the time is right we will know.' Physically, the time was right now, but I wanted everything to be perfect. Maybe I was being old fashioned, maybe I was expecting what I had read in novels, but the one thing I knew for certain was I would enjoy the waiting, enjoy the learning, enjoy the journey with the beautiful woman who was right next to me.

‘Hungry?' No point in dragging it out is there? Diana gave me a saucy grin before nodding. I knew at that point that it was going to be a very interesting discovery of Diana Sullivan and I also knew I was going to find out a lot of things about myself in the process. Now that's a scary, yet definitely exciting thought.


Whilst the locksmith fitted new locks on both the front and back door, Diana went through her personal belongings. It seemed that whoever had been there had been very specific in what they had taken. Actually, they had only taken one thing. A necklace with a pendant on it. Surprisingly, it was the only thing Diana still had that Lauren had bought her. Evidence to suggest the actress had something to do with the events to previous evening, don't you think?

Nope. The police reported back that they had interviewed Ms Baker and she had an alibi for the whole of the Friday evening. I knew it was the same officer I had pissed off the night before when he refused to go into detail about the alibi, just vaguely mentioned another party being involved. Considering Monica didn't see who had hit her, the police had no other choice but to do fuck all. No evidence, no witnesses, no crime. It didn't matter about Lauren being the last to be in the car when the key was taken, didn't matter about the pendant and necklace, didn't matter that a woman had stitches for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Seems like Ms Baker had once again got away with being violent.

Sophie and Dave met us at the hospital and, thankfully, Monica seemed more like her usual self – well, if being beaten black and blue and having a total of thirty six stitches could ever be deemed as normal. The doctors informed Diana that her aunt could go home the next day. Not surprisingly, Monica didn't fancy staying over at Diana's again, even when it was explained that the locks had been changed. She didn't want to go home either. Before I'd even thought it through I said, ‘You are more than welcome to stay with me, Mon.' I know she could've stayed with Dave, but as much as we all liked him, we also knew he would have difficulty letting the matter drop. To say he was angry about the events was an understatement.

I felt embarrassed when I saw the older lady's eyes fill with tears, and felt the need to shuffle on the spot for a while. Diana slipped her arm around me and pulled me to her, whispering in my ear, ‘You're an angel, do you know that?' making me shuffle just that little bit more. Looking over to Sophie, I saw her mouth the words ‘Lick arse' but chose to ignore her.

We stayed until we were asked to either keep the noise down or go home. It was fun being in the hospital, not that I would have ever thought I would write that. Being in hospital is never fun – especially if you are the one sprawled out in the bed. Monica looked tired, so we decided that we could well and truly keep the noise down if we buggered off somewhere else.

‘Any one fancy a curry?' Dave asked as we all stepped outside. I felt my stomach churn at the mere thought of being stuck in an Indian restaurant inhaling the smell of Hell itself. ‘Sorry. Forgot you hate the stuff.' I looked thankfully at him, but realised he was talking to Diana.

‘You don't like curry?' She looked embarrassed before making a gagging motion and pretending to stick her fingers down her throat.

‘I know. I'm weird. Everyone likes curry apart from me.'

‘Me too. Hate the smell of it.' She cocked her head to the side and gave me one of those gorgeous half-cocked grins of hers, the dark hair slipping effortlessly over her chin in the process.

‘Awwww ... a match made in heaven. Look, Dave. Two curry haters find love.' I just ignored Sophie, as I felt that it was the best I could do with her that night. ‘No breaking of naan bread for those two whippersnappers. No googly eyes over the pilau.'

‘Shut the fuck up, Soph.' Sorry. Trying to ignore Sophie was like trying to ignore a mosquito. Turning more to Diana, I asked. ‘Do you like fish?' A snigger from Sophie indicating she was being less than polite. ‘Fish and chips?'

‘In the paper?' I nodded. ‘You're on.' Diana turned to the other couple (I liked writing that – other couple, meaning we were a couple – and I'm getting on my own mushy tits now). ‘You two up for it?'

Five minutes later, we were on our way to the chippy. Twenty minutes after that we were standing outside tucking into fish and chips in the paper. It reminded me so much of when I was a teen hanging about on a Saturday night with my mates eating chips just to keep our hands warm. Looking around the foursome I felt a sense of nostalgia. Sophie was still in the group and I wouldn't want it any other way. However, instead of a gangling spotty youth trying to cop a feel of my best friend, she had a good looking caring man right beside her. It was at that moment that I truly absorbed the way he looked at her. For all Sophie's worrying about him not liking her, I was more than certain this man would tell her the same thing his beautiful sister had told me earlier in the day if he ever got the chance to get a word in.

To say it was a wonderful feeling would be an understatement. To know that Sophie was in line to get her heart's desire was just what my own heart yearned for. Well, one of the things my heart yearned for. The other was standing right next to me offering her fattest chip in my direction.

After eating, we decided to walk through the park and soak up the cold autumn air. Arms linked, Diana and I walked behind Dave and Sophie, our feet kicking the leaves to the side of the path.

‘Tell me something about you?' Her expression looked questioningly as if to ask me to be more specific. ‘Anything. Your job. You do more than teach at the college one night a week. So ...' I drifted off allowing her to continue.

Diana looked at the darkened sky as if she was trying to formulate her response. ‘I'm a graphic designer.' Something I already knew, but I didn't say anything. ‘I used to work in an office in London, but with my line of work it is just as easy working from home.' But that wasn't the real reason why she worked from home, nor was it the reason why she decided to teach a night class. I didn't want to push, didn't want her to feel uncomfortable by making her feel she had to open up to me, but ... as I said, I wanted to get to know her. How could we start our journey if we never moved past the introductory stage? ‘Here. Let's sit on the bench.'

Minutes passed, and we still sat there, the only contact we had was holding hands. Dave and Sophie had stopped at the next bench about ten, or so, metres from us.

‘I think I need to explain what happened. I know Dave told you some … or he told Sophie and she told you.' Blue eyes flicked to mine and I nodded slowly before muttering that Sophie had only told me a little. ‘Thought so.' Diana's voice was sombre, quietly sombre, and I knew what she was about to tell me was something that was going to be hard for her to say – I didn't realise how hard it was going to be for me to hear until I heard the full story. There is no point in me telling you word for word about the events in London, as it would be pointless. But, like me, you need to understand what had happened for me to hate Lauren Baker even more than I had before we had sat on the bench.

Like love's young and naive dream, the relationship had started well. It had to have or how else could Lauren have had so much of a hold over Diana if she had been a cunt from the outset? Sorry. Bad word. Shouldn't really resort to the ‘c' word, but in my mind that is all what she could ever be from now on. They had met after Diana's firm had been hired to do all the graphics for the theatre company Lauren was working for at the time. You know, posters, programmes, fliers, even the billboards. Lauren was the main draw to the show, and it was Diana's job to promote the actress in the best way possible. It had been Lauren's suggestion that they spend more time together, something that I could tell Diana regretted.

Of course, Lauren had been charm personified, making sure Diana was well and truly under her spell. No. That's not quite right. Let me rephrase that. Diana was not openly out at work and Lauren progressively made it difficult for her to stay in the proverbial closet. It wasn't a case of her living a lie, but she stressed that she just didn't want people at work to know her private life. Therefore, Lauren had her. Little innuendos at meetings made Diana a little easier to manipulate. Instead of causing a scene, it was so much easier to go along with Lauren's wishes.

‘I'm not proud of who I was back then. I should have just called her bluff, as she had as much to lose as I did.' Diana's eyes stayed on our clasped hands. ‘I mean, who wants to see a woman in a romantic role with a man when they know she bats for the other team when she's offstage.' True. But I doubted Diana was the kind of woman who would ruin someone's career for revenge – unlike her ex. ‘By the time we moved in together, I knew it was over – I tried to get out of it. However, Lauren wouldn't take no for an answer. Then the guilt ... God, the guilt.' Diana continued to explain how guilt had taken the place of attraction, as she couldn't give Lauren what she thought she needed. Love. Commitment. Everything Lauren professed to have for Diana. Then it started. Just a push now and again, apologies – the ever present ‘It's because I love you so much' or ‘Look what you make me do.' As in all destructive relationships, the abuse didn't stay to words or pushes ... slaps, thumps, good old fashioned ‘putting the Mrs in her place' beatings followed, which were always tagged with begging for forgiveness, the ‘I won't do it again. I just love you so much' until the next time the fists came into play. Every time, guilt. ‘You make me do this. You make me hate myself.' Work suffered, it had to. Warnings were given, but Diana wouldn't say a word, wouldn't tell her bosses why some days she just sat staring at a computer screen for hours, why sometimes she couldn't quite stand up straight because her back was a myriad of bruises.

‘Then opening night. Actually, it was closing night for us.' Lauren, as I knew, was playing Ophelia and she had bragged about how fantastic an opportunity this was ever since she had been given the part. When the review came in that painted her in a less than favourable light, it seemed as if that was the catalyst that made her show her true colours in front of everyone. Even though the article had hinted about the actress' personal preference, it wasn't the reason why she had decided to stub out her cigar on Diana's hand.

When Diana was telling me this part, I couldn't help but rub my thumb over the circular scar between her thumb and index finger. All I wanted to do was wrap my arms around her and bring her close, tell her she was safe now, promise her Lauren would never ever get the chance to hurt her again.

‘I'm not sure if it was because it happened in front of everyone, or, in my fucked up logic, I didn't feel I deserved to get a beating because of a bad review.'

‘You didn't deserve a beating full stop.'

A snort left her mouth making a mist in the cold dark night. ‘By that time I thought I did.' At this, Diana pulled her hand from mine and pretended to straighten the collar of her coat. Instead of backing off, I grabbed her hand again and brought it to my mouth. Her fingers were cold against my lips, so I blew warm air onto them before kissing each and every finger gently. I could feel her eyes watching my movements and I knew I had to very careful what I said and did at that very moment. Considering how angry I was, I surprised myself with my gentleness. Slowly, using the hand I was holding, I pulled her into me, guiding her head to my chest before wrapping my free arm around her shoulders. I could feel her body shaking and I knew she was crying. Although I didn't want to see her cry, I knew it was good for her, knew she needed to release the pent up emotions before she burst like a pressure cooker and splattered her insides all over. There would be no chance of putting her back together again.

Without thinking, I realised I was stroking her hair. Long, languid strokes that seemed to calm her. Nestling my face into the back of her neck I whispered, ‘I've got you. Come on, love ... get it all out. I've got you.' And I did – I would have her, protect her, for as long as she needed me.


Chapter Nine

It had been two weeks since the night in the park and Diana hadn't mentioned it again. I wanted to speak about it, wanted to know how she was feeling, but I didn't dare bring it up in case I put my foot in it. She seemed fine, happy, in fact, so why rock the boat? I know. It's a cop out. But why bring it all back to the surface when Diana seemed happy? She would know that I would always be there to listen, wouldn't she? What was the point in brooding over the worst time in your life when the future could be so much brighter? Well, hopefully that was what she was thinking – that I could make her future brighter.

We picked Monica up from the hospital on the Sunday and she stayed with me for nearly a week before admitting she missed her own home. It was good having the older woman living with me, but I would be lying if I said I didn't jump around with joy when she finally left. I have to admit it was nice coming home from work and having someone there to talk to. But, man, Monica could talk. After about an hour and a half each evening, I changed from fully interested and responsive, to nodding and grinning inanely.

Diana had come around to see her every day, but usually flanked by Dave, and, on occasion, Sophie. Although I loved having them all drop by, they never stayed long enough, always with the excuse of being a bother. Considering two months earlier it had been a struggle to get me out of the house and not in bed by nine thirty, I realised my attitude to life had changed considerably. I no longer wanted to curl up in bed with a book, preferring to spend my evenings doing things that made me feel as if I was actually part of the human race.

Art class was in its ninth week – we only had three more sessions to go before it was all over and Wednesdays would go back to being just Wednesdays once again – even if it was still curry day at work. At least when I went to class I knew I would be seeing Diana. I suppose I should explain that last comment, shouldn't I?

Sigh. Ok.

I wanted to see more of her. Do you blame me? Not knowing when I would see her again was driving me nuts, and although I love Sophie dearly and think the world of Monica and Dave, I wanted alone time with Diana. Am I being selfish? Yes. Do I care that I'm being selfish? Y … No. Well, yes and no. It wasn't anyone's fault (apart from Lauren's – even if we couldn't pin it on her) that Monica had to move her stuff back to her own home the previous Sunday and then insisted we all stay for Sunday lunch, then tea. Diana had to go to the offices in London for project discussions on Monday and Tuesday, so that left Wednesday at class.

How can you nurture a budding lesbian relationship when a man is sitting on a bench in the middle of the room wearing nothing but a smile? Not easy. But at least I saw her. Got to chat with her. Could gaze into those amazing blue eyes anytime I wanted – and then be teased mercilessly by Sophie for the interim, although, to give her credit, she did shut up when the bloke stripped off, much to Dave's dismay.

It was when I was once again rubbing out the man's private parts to draw it again (he seemed to like Sophie) that I heard the dulcet tones of Diana in my ear. ‘Maybe you should leave that bit until last.' A chuckle followed. ‘Unless you like rubbing a man's …'

‘Ms Sullivan!' Fucking Babs Hepworth. It was a conspiracy. ‘I can't seem to get the angle right.' I wonder what part she is drawing. ‘The curve won't curve right and the hair is getting in the way.' God. I wanted to laugh. Would you admit it out loud in front of everyone? ‘And the fleshy …'

‘Ok, Sylvia,' so that was her name – not the Babster. ‘I'm coming.' Leaning down next to me, she whispered once again. ‘Wait for me at break, ok?' A stupid grin spread over my face and I felt rather smug.

‘Look at my dick. It is huge!' Sophie. Not the man, although I totally believed he thought it. A pad was thrust in front of me and I was faced with every lesbian's nightmare.

‘You are supposed to draw the whole figure, Soph. Not just …' I lowered my voice, ‘the bits that interest you.' Dave's head snapped up and he looked at the both of us before shaking his head and giving Sophie a mock glare.

‘Life should be full of interesting bits. I can draw his face any time.' She lifted her pad in front of her and held it at a distance from her. Using this as her hiding place, she whispered, ‘Do you think Dave's jealous yet?' Rolling my eyes, I tutted and continued rubbing out. ‘Suit yourself.'

From the other side of the room I heard Diana explaining that the man's moustache should accentuate the lightness of the nose and enhance the curve. By the chuckles in the room, I wasn't the only one with a filthy mind.


I waited for her. Of course I did. And as soon as the last person left the room she was over to me, dragging me into the store room and closing the door behind her. I felt myself being pinned against the wall and a firm body pressing against me. I didn't care that it was dark in there, although I did want to see her eyes. Her hands wrapped around me pulling me closer and deeper into her. A hot, wet mouth found my throat, her lips opening to suckle and taste my skin. God. It felt so good to feel those same lips travel over my neck and up to my ear.

‘I've wanted to do this all day.' Her voice was husky, deliciously deep and enticing. A slight nip on my ear and her mouth was travelling once again, and so were her hands. As one slipped up the side of me, the other pressed lower and grabbed the cheek of my ass. Another pull and I was straddled against her thigh, my need pressing against muscle. I pushed harder, releasing a moan into her hair. When I heard her echo it, I actually felt the heated moisture bubble and burst from between my legs. Jesus. She hadn't even kissed me yet and I was pooling, melting, pressing against her in the bid to heighten the contact.

Just as that thought flittered through my head, her lips found mine. The kiss was not gentle, not soft, not a brushing. It was almost an ownership, a possession, a claiming. It was the kind of kiss that could drive a person mad with want, as it was everything but not enough. My hand pushed through her hair and gripped making her groan into my mouth, thereby making me wetter, making me want to swap places so I could press my body against hers just like she was doing to me. A rhythm was building, and I was rocking against her. Diana was matching each thrust, the kiss deepening, the sounds coming from us making it more intense, more sensual, more primitive. But still, it wasn't enough.

Using my other hand, I slipped inside her blouse, opening a couple of buttons for access, before my fingers traced the edge of her bra, taunting her. Instead of dipping inside, I cupped her breast, her nipple hard against my palm. Tearing her lips away, I heard her growl before she took my mouth with hers again. I couldn't resist. I had to feel the flesh, had to feel the sensation of that pert bud on my skin, in my mouth, against my breast.

It was my turn to break the kiss, but her moan of disappointment turned into pleasure as I burrowed my face between her breasts, inhaling her … God, she smelled so fucking good … edible, delectable, divine. A swift push and her bra was gone leaving me to hover my lips over her puckering areola. I just wished I could see it, too, but the darkness of the store room wouldn't allow it. Thoughts of taking things slowly were rapidly leaving my head.

My breath hit her skin, rapid breaths to be precise. Each time it hit, she gasped and pushed forward but I moved just in time.

‘Jess, please.'

That's all it took. Two simple words and I enveloped my mouth over ambrosia and sucked. I felt her tip her head back, as her chest pushed more into my face intensifying the connection.

‘God, yes!'

A flick. A dragging of teeth. Wetness coated the hard stub as my tongue started loving her – I couldn't help bringing my hand up to massage the rest of her breast. Her hands were in my hair and gripping handfuls, pulling it before pushing me into her even harder. My other hand was on her hip and I moved it in the rhythm of her thrusts wanting to join in, wanting to take her, wanting this to be somewhere other than in a darkened room with the knowledge of twenty odd people piling back into the classroom in a matter of minutes.

‘Jess! Are you coming?' God. Nearly. If she would just slip her hand, or use her thigh, her mouth – yes – her mouth … ‘You've had nothing to drink yet.' Oh I have, but I wanted so much more, as nothing could quench this thirst. Nothing but her. ‘For fuck's sake!'

Light. Blinding light. Light that made me squint and pull slightly away from the ample breast offered to me.

‘Oops. Sorry mate.' Diana quickly moved so my face was covered, and considering it was by her chest I didn't complain. The door closed slightly, leaving a slit of light to peek through. I heard a giggle before Sophie collected herself enough to splutter, ‘Meet you downstairs.' A pause. ‘If you want.'

Her footsteps were heard scurrying away and I knew Dave would know all about the events in the store room in less than three minutes. Diana's chest was heaving, so was mine actually. It wasn't embarrassment – that wasn't it at all. It was arousal. Obviously. Who on earth could have an encounter with Diana Sullivan and not be aroused, or out of breath for that matter. The heat of her was still on my face, my hand was still cupping her delicious breast, whilst the other was digging into her backside. Glancing up, I witnessed that crooked smile that only Diana can pull off, her blue eyes dancing with laughter.

‘Looks like we've been busted, lady.' I grinned back, briefly kissed the curve of her breast before moving away from her. Gently, I placed her bra back in position before making a point of patting her shirt into place and buttoning it back up.

‘There you go. Good as new.' Another pat. Another grin. Then using my tip toes, I lifted up and placed a chaste kiss on that gorgeous mouth of hers. ‘Come. We have people to entertain.' Grabbing her hand, I led her from the store room.

Just as we suspected, Dave and Sophie were grinning stupidly when we arrived, my best friend giving me a knowing wink and nod of the head. ‘Y'alright?' She dragged out the expression, lifted an eyebrow before inclining back in her seat and eyeing us both up. A frown came over her face and she leaned towards me, her hand reaching out for my neck. ‘Someone has a hickey.'

‘Fuck …' I tried to look down only to be met by Sophie's finger.


Instead of calling her a myriad of names, I just lifted my face higher and gave her a serene expression, which unnerved her more. Dave just grinned that charming grin of his and played absently with his goatee. By this action, I knew he was worrying about something, as he only ever played with it when he was deep in thought.

Instead of just letting things slide, I began to wonder what would make him worry. Me? Diana? Diana and me? God, I was so self-absorbed. Was it him and Sophie? Were they ok? Back to me again – was Dave ok with Diana and me? Of course he was … he set me up with her. So what was the matter?

‘Did you know there is an exhibition of Gauguin at the Tate?' Huh? Why did he look worried about that?

Diana lifted the coffee one of the pair had got her and shrugged her shoulders before taking a sip. ‘I know. Started end of September. Can't get tickets for love nor money.'

‘Really?' More goatee fiddling, then a grin. ‘You loved Gauguin when you were a student didn't you?' Diana nodded her head, looked at her watch, and then knocked the rest of her coffee back. ‘It's your birthday in December.' At this, my ears pricked up. Someone was having a birthday and wasn't going to tell me. A blush spread over Diana's face and she gave me a quick glance before standing up.

‘When ...'

‘Come on. I'm the teacher, and I say it's class time.'

Dave laughed before digging into his back pocket. Slap. A white envelope hit the table and we all stared at it as if it would either explode or get up and start doing an all singing and dancing routine. Tentatively, Diana snaked her hand out and drew it back to her. ‘Happy birthday, sis.' Shaking fingers peeled back the flap before lifting out numerous pieces of paper. ‘Thought you might want to get away for a breather.' Sophie snickered and then realised she was almost thirty two.

Train tickets. Two nights at the Plaza. And, to top it all, two passes for the Gauguin exhibition.

‘Fuck me, Dave. This must've set you back.' You would expect the expletive to come from Sophie, or me, as we were both known for our ability to say what we really thought and felt – to a degree, but definitely with profanity – but, it came from Diana. ‘I can't accept …'

‘Yes you can.' Silence pervaded the air as the siblings stared at each other. Looking at one then the other, it was a toss-up whose eyes started to fill up first.

‘Thank you.' It was quiet, but that didn't affect the emotion behind the words. In fact it enhanced it. Then a grin broke out and she launched herself over the table and hugged her brother, coffee cups flying in all directions. Dave made the usual grunting noises of someone who was embarrassedly happy and Sophie and I just made faces at each other – something we had been doing for most of our lives.

Eventually, Diana released him and tried to rearrange her clothes making my mind drift back to watching her do almost the same action as we left the store room not very long ago. Once again heat hit me, and I don't mean in the face. The woman who was staring at the tickets at the table was aglow, making her look even more beautiful than she usually did. This was no mean feat, as I didn't realise she could become anymore enchanting. The breath I didn't realise I'd been holding hit the air gaining the attention of three sets of interested eyes.

‘You ok, Jess?' Sophie looked concerned. Considering I'd expected her to ask me if I was bored, it came as a bit of a surprise.

‘Just hot.' Even this didn't earn a snicker. Was Sophie feeling ok?

‘Ms Sullivan?' The Babster, I mean Sylvia, was leaning over the table. ‘Isn't it way past time for the lesson?'

Diana made a shake of her head before smiling her teacher smile. ‘Oops. Sorry. Yes.' Turning to us, she pulled a face making the muscles in her neck stand out. ‘Better go and earn a living.' With that, she was gone, Dave shortly on her heels.

I leaned down to get my bag and was surprised to see Sophie looking at me. ‘What?' She didn't answer. Just half closed one eye and gave me a searching look. ‘What?'

A nod of her head and she leaned towards me. ‘What's up? I thought you would be dancing all over the place after what I witnessed.' Huh? ‘But you look as if you lost a pound and found a penny.' I made a move to answer but she cut me off. ‘Is it because Diana didn't ask you to go with her?' Shit. I hadn't thought of that. Sophie patted my hand like an old aunt would. ‘Don't worry, Jess. By what I witnessed, she will definitely ask you.' Another pat, a saucy wink and a move to get back to class.

‘Erm ...'

‘Enough with the long speeches, Lady. We're officially late for class. Willy Man is waiting for us.'

And that was that. Well, that wasn't exactly that, as I couldn't help thinking about what Sophie had said. Shouldn't it be obvious that Diana expected me to go with her? I was her girlfriend after all. Wasn't I? She had said to Samantha James on our first date, hadn't she?

Wait a minute. She had said that then ... but not since. Was I or was I not Diana Sullivan's girlfriend? I tried to dismiss the thought by shaking my head. Of course I was. People didn't just do what we had done in the store room, or on my sofa for that matter, without being girlfriend and girlfriend, did they? I snorted before realising of course people fucking did. It wasn't the expected for undying love to be aired to the world before a little snogging session. I wasn't living in the nineteen twenties.

Sophie was back to shading in her penis (excuse the phrasing, but I was having a mental and nervous breakdown by this point) and I wanted to ask her was Diana my girlfriend. But, on seeing her intent look at her attempt at pubic hair, I decided to suck it in and stop racing ahead without a definite finishing line. Now I know I am flirtarded; I also know I can make mountains out of molehills, but I can usually talk my way through it. Sometimes. With the help of the guru herself, Sophie Harrison. The same Sophie Harrison who was drawing flying lice around the scrotum of her drawing.

I was so absorbed with my own dilemma, I didn't even react to the feeling of my hairs lifting at the back of my head and the sensation of something slipping down my drawing board and hitting my hand. Looking down, I saw a folded piece of paper with a smiley face on the front. A quick turn of my head revealed the disappearing figure of Diana. Unfolding the paper, I saw a very short message written in her flowing script:

What are you doing on December 17/ 18/19? Fancy seeing Ophelia at the Tate?

I have to admit, the feeling of the grin shooting across my face was gloriously painful. Lifting my head, I was met by blue eyes looking at me intently from across the room. I don't know if it was my imagination, but I think she looked a little nervous. Did she honestly think I would turn her down? And why did the sparkle begin to fade? Fuck. My brain seemed to kick start and I nodded enthusiastically, heaving a sigh of relief when I saw the light in her eyes appear again followed by a grin that could rival my own on the stupidity scale.

‘Ok?' she mouthed. ‘You want to come?' I nodded again and held up the paper wanting nothing more than to run up her and give her a kiss in affirmation. ‘Good.' A wink made my heart pitter patter just that little bit more.

‘My pubic lice are wrong.' Sophie mumbled from next to me. ‘They look like wasps.' I just ignored her and returned the wink, holding eye contact before someone wanted Diana's attention. ‘Jess? I said my lice look like wasps.' I knew she was staring at the side of my head with an expression of fake sadness, but I didn't look at her.

Picking up my pencil I tipped my head towards her pad before uttering, 'Maybe you shouldn't put the stripes in. Colour them in.'

A few seconds passed before I heard her ‘Oh yeah, cheers.'

God. I loved Sophie. A quick look over at Diana, who decided to lift her head from a student's work to grace me with one of her wonderful smiles, made another thought flash through my mind. Heaven help me, I was beginning to think the L word was creeping not too gently into the feelings I had for Diana Sullivan. The worrying thing was, I still didn't know if I was her girlfriend or not.

Back to the drawing board. Literally and metaphorically.


Chapter Ten

You would think that Diana and I would have gone back to either her or my place to continue what we had started in the store room, wouldn't you. But, we didn't. It wasn't as if I didn't want to – or her want to, for that matter, but we had agreed to take things slowly. Kissing could be just kissing. It didn't mean we had to have full blown sex just because we got a little overheated, did it. I lie. I lie I lie I lie I lie. I wanted nothing more than to have hot, passionate earth shattering sex with Diana, but it had been my idea to take things slowly. I knew I couldn't kiss Diana and not want it to go further. Call me weak willed, spineless, chicken shit, anything you want to, but I admit it. When it came to Diana Sullivan I had no self-restraint. We could just hop into bed and do the deed, the beast with two backs, plump the hairy pears, but somewhere in the vacuous self-sacrificing neurotic brain of mine, I had this wish for something more. I wanted it to be special, wanted this relationship to be something more than sex.

After I left class, I'd told Diana I had to get back home – had work to finish. Stupid, I know. I just wanted to go home and take stock of what was happening with me, with us. Sit and ponder the miracle of the universe and everything that was the dark haired, blue eyed woman who I hoped beyond hope thought of me as her girlfriend. I knew she was disappointed, knew she wondered why I was blowing hot and cold, but I did have some serious thinking to do. To be honest, I wasn't too sure what the serious thinking would entail, but I had decided that I would at least have a crack at it.

Sprawling out of the sofa, the room lit only by a lamp, I stared at the ceiling for far too long. Images of Diana came easily, mainly because my head was so full of her, so full of her smile, those lips, the strong jaw, the high cheekbones, the way she tilted her head when she laughed, the smell of her ... God, the smell of her. And the feel of her skin under my unworthy fingertips, the knowledge the same fingers held about the softness of her breasts. The way my mouth seemed to come alive when it encircled and closed upon a taut nipple. I tried to conjure the darkness of the skin surrounding that same nipple – the picture making my mouth water to taste it again. I know I said I had serious thinking to do and in my mind this was the way I would develop the aforementioned ‘thinking'.

A sigh, long and hard and definitely full of exasperation. Why, again, had I decided to take things slow and steady? The sensation whirling around in the lower half of my body was not very happy about my decision and was demanding why it had not been asked its opinion before I had gone all virginal on it. It wasn't as if I hadn't slept with a woman on the first date before, was it? So, why not now? What made me turn holier than thou and believe I could re-enact the first time I was ever touched intimately by another person?

But. This wasn't like the other times. This wasn't just another person. This was someone who I held feelings for, feelings that I was a little bit worried about airing to anyone, especially myself. What if I did and then she didn't feel the same way as I did? Where would that leave me? Devastated most probably.

Hang on. If I was too afraid to admit my feelings why would I feel devastated?

‘ ‘Ohhh –ohhhh – your text is on fi-re!!!!' Trust my phone to interrupt this serious thinking of mine. I honestly believed I had reached an important part ... or maybe an impasse. Reaching over, I plucked my mobile off the table. I don't know why I was surprised to see the message was from Diana.

‘U ok? U smd quiet 2nite. Wnt 2 tlk?' After working out the bloody message, I pondered for at least five seconds before clicking the call button. One ring later and I heard the dulcet tones of Diana breathing out hello.

‘Hey.' Now that it came down to it, what did I want to talk about? I doubted that my insecurities would be a good conversation – especially the feelings I knew were building up inside me. ‘Of course I want to talk to you. I always want to talk to you.'

I heard a sigh leave her mouth and could imagine her expression, could imagine the tilt of her head as she cupped the phone next to her left ear with right hand. ‘Sorry about the message ... I erm ... well, ...' a delightful embarrassed laugh left her mouth, ‘I just wanted to make sure you were ok after ... erm ... what we did in the ... store room.'

Pulling the phone away, I stared at the block of technology in amazement. I hadn't thought of that.

‘No! I mean yes! You know what I mean!' Diana laughed again. ‘I loved what we did in the store room, you know that. I just ...' had to come home and have a ponder about my virginity ‘had to finalise some reports for work tomorrow.'



‘Yes. Good. I like it when my woman works hard and brings home the bacon.' My woman? Insert huge fuck off grin about now. Is that one above girlfriend?

‘Oh, you do, do you?' For once my attempt to sound sultry actually worked. But not as well as when she replied with a simple yes. It is amazing how all the moisture in your mouth can suddenly flee to other, needier regions with one simply uttered word isn't it? Not that I minded. Not that I minded in the slightest.

‘So. What do you want to talk about?' You? Me? Us? Our future? How I can't seem to get through one day without thinking about you? How, since meeting you, I have devolved into a love struck teenage boy?

‘How about our trip?'

And we did. We talked and talked and talked about art, about the Tate, about our plans for the future. Therefore, in a weird way, I had my wish. It was over an hour later that I made the usual noises of someone who is about to end a conversation.

‘Before you go, Jess, I just want to say something.' I felt the blood stop in my veins, even though I know that only happens when you are dead – well, even if it did then. I'm, once again, digressing. And distressing, if the pain in my chest and the apparent hesitation in her voice was any indication. ‘I know we've only known each other for a few weeks and that we said we'd take things slowly.' I grunted. Couldn't do anything else really. ‘Well, I ...' I sat up for this. Had to. ‘Really like you.'

‘And I really like you.' Really really like you, actually.

‘But, how can I say this?' I was standing now. Wouldn't you if you were just about to be told that the woman you were falling for wasn't falling for you as much as you would want her to? Yes. I know. Diana had already hinted that she might fall for me, but she hadn't said for definite. What if she was going to say this wasn't the be all and end all for her? Why I thought the last bit, I'll never know. ‘My relationship with Lauren was hard.' She wasn't ready to date again, that had to be it. She was trying to let me down gently. Instead of just standing, I began to pace. ‘And, to be honest, I was hurt pretty badly by what she did.'

‘I know, honey.' At that moment I hated Lauren even more.

‘But I didn't love her.' Huh? Why would she say that? ‘The only hurting she did was physically and to my pride.' Although I understood that Lauren was a bitch and that Diana might be in the stage of licking her wounds, I didn't really understand what she was trying to tell me. I even stopped pacing in the hopes my head would use the excess energy. ‘You understand?'

‘Erm, I think so.' Why couldn't I just say no, say I was completely confused and needed clarification?



Diana paused before asking, ‘You want to add anything?'

Like? I don't understand what you are saying? Am I officially your girlfriend? Or even the best one ... could you ever love me? There. The L word in the open. Therefore, my response wasn't as good as it could've been – blame it on mental exposure of thinking about the ultimate four letter word.

‘Nope. I think we've covered it all for now.' I have to admit, I did hear an element of disappointment in her voice when she muttered a weak ok.

It wasn't until I was climbing into bed that something struck me. Was Diana telling me she felt more for me than Lauren? It was the way she had said ‘You understand?' that sent off bells in my head. It was just a pity the bells were retarded and had not wanted to work an hour earlier.

‘Shit!' I climbed out of bed and searched for my phone. ‘Shit, bollocks, fuck and wank.' Should I call her and tell her I hadn't understood at all and could she explain it? Or should I actually grow a spine and make the first move?

Click. New message.

I wud lke 2 add tht I thnk u r de mst btfl wmn n de wrld x

Send. Then a flash of foresight. How could I send her that without using real words?

Click. New Message.

I would like to add that I think you are the most beautiful woman in the world x You deserve it in full x

Send. I felt the smile slip over my face and hoped beyond hope she was telling me what I truly wanted her to be saying. That she felt the same as I did. That the ‘liking' part was more than like – that the reason why she had said she had never loved Lauren was because she may be falling for me as much as I was falling for her.

‘Ohhh –ohhhh – your text is on fi-re!!!!' My hand was shaking as I clicked on open message.

There, dancing about on my screen, was a emoticon doing a jig and grinning widely. Then the sound of another message came through: ‘ No. You are the most beautiful woman in the world. No backsides. And I will always give you everything I have in full. I promise. Good night, my Jess. X'

My Jess. Those two words seemed to sneak behind and take my knees away from me, as I felt my body sink onto the bed without even realising it. My. Jess. Hers. I was hers and she was so mine. Mine. She was mine.

I wasn't aware of the lone tear travelling down my face until it plopped onto my thigh. Why do people cry when they are really happy? Simple. If they didn't they would explode or implode – either way it would be messy. I wanted to answer her text, but I couldn't see the buttons. I don't think I could've typed the response either as my hands were shaking so much. I had never felt this way about anyone in my whole life, never wanted someone so much, never needed to hear she felt the same way as I did. It was scary, gloriously scary, to feel so much so soon, but I knew this feeling could never be found again. She had to be the one. My one. My woman. My Diana. I also knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that I was in love with her - totally and utterly and completely in love with Diana Sullivan. Was that what falling for someone actually is? Falling in love? Up until this moment I had thought it just meant a strong attraction – a crush. Amazing how I have lived for thirty one years and didn't even know the rubric of love.

With this realisation, I flumped back onto the bed and looked at the dancing emoticon once again. The way I was grinning stupidly, it could've almost been my reflection there on the screen. Although I didn't know for sure how Diana felt, this was not the time to worry about it. Tonight I wanted to go to sleep with the idea that she felt the same way as I did and we had the rest of our lives to tell each other so. It wasn't every day that someone fell in love was it? Especially for me. I'd never been in love in my life – felt an intense attraction to the odd woman before, but to be in love? Nope. Never.

Fuck. I'm in love. I'm. In. Love.

The movement from prostrate to standing shot pains down my back and my legs but that wasn't the reason why I shouted ‘Shit Shit Shit!' into the air. I was in love. With Diana. With someone who had not even said I was her girlfriend. This was not good – not good at all.

My phone was still in my hand and I clicked on the second message. ‘My Jess.' But not ‘I love you, Jess.' Not ‘I want to be with you for the rest of my life, Jess.' Throwing the phone onto the bed, I covered my eyes and pressed my face into the palms. They felt cold on my overheated skin – and also wet. The tear I had let out when I had first read the message was joined by an army of other friends. Was this still happiness? And where did the ‘I wanted to go to sleep with the idea that she felt the same way as I did.' No one had ever told me that falling in love would make you paranoid, scared, apprehensive and a myriad of other adjectives that summed up this was a fucking disaster. At least she liked me.

The sob broke out and hit my palms followed by another and another and another. Yeah. At least she liked me.


Thursday came around slowly. Maybe because I had spent most of the night trying to force images of Diana out of my head, something that will annihilate any chances of a good night's sleep whether they are good or bad thoughts. However, when I say images of Diana, they weren't the glorious ones where we were up close and personal, or with her admitting her undying love for me. They were more of the type where I spill my guts and she either laughs or gives a sad shake of the head and tells me she doesn't feel that way.

Come on. Think about it. Why on earth would Diana love me? I was insecure, clumsy, spineless, couldn't seem to say what I wanted to say. She was absolutely gorgeous, talented, funny, witty, intelligent, had a body to die for. I was just me. Boring. Thirty one. Single. Living my life day to day in a rut of routine and the only time I moved away from this rut was when I found Diana. Diana Sullivan. The most beautiful woman in the world.

Did I mention insecure?

It had just gone one o'clock when my office door opened and a very familiar head poked through.

‘You had lunch yet, git face?' I don't know who was surprised the most - Sophie or me – when I shot off the chair, raced over to her, flung my arms around her neck and began sobbing. Initially, she froze before wrapping her arms around me and covering me in a safety blanket. Minutes passed and she didn't push me to tell her what had happened; she just allowed me to gather myself up and grab a handle on some sort of composure before leading me back to my desk and sitting me down.

Kneeling in front of me, Sophie grabbed my hands and pulled them to her chest, held them there before moving them up to her mouth. A soft brushing of her lips ran over my knuckles. Still, she didn't say a word. I felt myself calming, and alongside the calming came the hiccoughing that comes with crying hard. I wanted to tell her what had happened, or what I believed would happen if my stupid heart got a chance to spill itself over and into the real world. But, the hiccoughing stopped that. I couldn't actually speak.

Twenty past one. Yes. Twenty minutes had passed by with Soph on the floor and me harrumphing on the chair. Eventually, I swallowed, tested my lips to see if they were numb, and allowed the words to sift into air.

‘I'm in love with Diana.' Sophie's grin spread like a bush fire, the heat palpable, before she realised I didn't return it. ‘She doesn't love me.' Brown eyes widened in shock before slitting into anger. I felt her hands grip mine a little more and watched as I actually saw the wheels begin to turn inside Sophie's head. ‘It's not her, it's me.'

‘Fuck that, Jess.' Standing sharply, Sophie turned her back to me. Just by the stiffness of her shoulders, I knew she was livid. A quick flash of those brown eyes in my direction once again before she lifted her head higher and straightened her back. The last time I had seen her do this was when she had found out about Samantha James' infidelities and it had taken a lot of talking on my part to stop her knocking my ex's teeth down her throat. ‘I hate liars.' Liars? Sharply, she turned and crouched on the floor again. ‘Did she tell you this? Tell you she didn't love you?' I was still shocked by her anger and could only shake my head slowly and erratically. ‘Have you told her?' Her voice was softer now. Once again, I shook my head from side to side. ‘Jess? When did you know?'

‘Last night.'

Sophie laughed. She laughed! Head back, hearty booms of laughter. Had she gone mad? Better still, had I?

Eventually, after much chest heaving and attempts to speak, she blurted, ‘You realised last night and are a fucking wreck because you're in love with a woman who hasn't said either way whether she loves you back or not? Correct?' Putting it that way I began to understand why Sophie laughed, not that I felt like laughing myself. I was too caught up in my very own pity party. ‘You are a nugget.'

‘But ...'


Tightening my lips I tried to give her a look, the same one Diana could pull off so easily. ‘I don't even know if she's my girlfriend or not.'

More laughter, followed by a thigh slap, and Sophie was standing in front of me, her hand outstretched in invitation.

‘Come, nugget. Lunch. You're buying.' As I grabbed her hand, she looked me squarely in the face. ‘I fancy chicken nuggets today. What about you?'

I had to laugh, shakily, but a laugh all the same.

Over lunch, Sophie put me in the picture about a few things. Especially the fact that Diana and I were girlfriend and girlfriend. In her words she explained it wasn't just what she had witnessed in the store room, but every touch, gesture, look Diana and I had shared screamed ‘couple'. I was appeased, slightly, but I also made the decision to ask the blue eyed woman if I was more than a fling, more than a something to get over Lauren Baker. Now that's a start, isn't it? Me actually voicing my thoughts to the person who I should be voicing them to? Definitely a novelty.

After about thirty minutes of Sophie stroking my ego, it went a little quiet. Then it hit me. Why had Sophie just ‘popped' into my office on the chance I would be up for lunch? Great mate I am. I should've put self-absorbed in my list of qualities.

‘How're you?' Brown eyes lifted and met mine. The twinkle, that was almost her trade mark, was brighter than ever. ‘How's Dave?' God. I was so sure I saw a flash as the lights sparked from her eyes.

‘He's in love.'

My mouth moved to form the words ‘with whom?' but by her expression I didn't have to. Weirdly enough, I never knew I could squeal as highly as I did. Squeal, lunge and hug, actually. I could feel Sophie's body jerking against me and I knew that when I eventually let her go I would see a huge grin and maybe a few tears there. The happy ones.

Yep. I was right.

‘Are you?' Rhetorical, I know, but I had to ask.

‘What do you think?' My face hurt with the smile I gave her. If there was one person in this world I wanted to find true love, it was Sophie. She deserved the best, deserved to be treated like a queen, deserved to be loved and loved and loved by someone she loved in return. Dave was the one. He may have taken his time about it, but he did well in the end.

‘Can I be your bridesmaid?'

The sip of tea she had taken decided to shoot out her nostrils and splatter over the table. ‘Fuck sake, Jess. Give us a chance.' Lifting some napkins we both made the job of cleaning up her mess. ‘And no you can't be my bridesmaid.' I paused, tissues in hand. Sophie looked fleetingly serious before allowing the smile to come to the surface. ‘Maid of Honour.'

I squealed again, lunged, missed, and head butted her in the face.

‘Jesus, Jess!' But she grabbed me into a hug and pulled me to her. Thoughts of my own insecurities went to the wind and I just embraced the moment. I had waited far too long for Sophie to get her heart's desire to dampen the mood with my own worries.

‘Awww.' I heard a woman's voice speak from behind us. ‘Look Helen. Isn't that adorable?'

‘Love's young dream, eh?' answered the person who must've been Helen.

Sophie and I froze, before slowly pulling apart. Now, it wasn't that Sophie didn't want to be classified as a lezza, or I was embarrassed by people thinking we were a couple, but come on. Everyone thinking me and Sophie were at it? That's too fucking weird even for me.


Chapter Eleven

Friday night saw me pulling up outside Diana's house ready to pick her up. I had spoken to her on the phone the previous day and she'd dropped the bombshell about me meeting her parents. Thankfully, I wouldn't be the only one under scrutiny. We had arranged to meet Sophie, Dave and Monica there, which, I was later to find out, equates to safety in numbers. Initially, I had been surprised to hear about her parents and did wonder why they'd never been mentioned before now, considering Monica was such a factor in Dave and Diana's life. Weird that in all the time we had known each other, neither brother or sister had mentioned if their parents were still alive, serial killers doing a stretch, or even, more boringly, lived in the area. That actually was the reason I hadn't met them before. They didn't live in the area. They lived near Chester and rarely came to visit. It wasn't until I actually met them that I also realised that even if they had lived next door to either one of their children, it would still have been a while before I would have been introduced.

Diana was quiet on the way to the restaurant and it wasn't until we pulled up outside that she turned to me, blue eyes looking dark in the light. ‘I will apologise now.' I cocked my head to the side in question. ‘My parents are not really the nurturing or friendly type.' A little late for me to do a runner, don't you think? However, I didn't really care if they were Fred and Rose West; at least I got to spend the night in Diana's company – girlfriend or not. I should drop that topic. I'm getting on my own tits now.

The first thing I noticed about Mr and Mrs Sullivan was they were snobs. The second ... they ignored my offered hand. The third ... they ignored Sophie's hand. This led to Soph and I doing the raised eyebrow expression and her mouthing ‘Hark at me and my working class roots.' Another notable thing was the relationship between parents and children. If I said cold and loveless I would be buffing it up from what it was. A nothing. No familial greeting other than a ‘My dear. You look drawn' followed by an air kiss. What amazed me even more was how different Diana and Dave were from them. It was as if they had tagged onto them as we entered the restaurant and they thought we were staff. It didn't take long to work out that the only reason why they had come to Manchester in the first place was because they had tickets for the Opera House. Having dinner with their children was just a side order they could shove around with a disinterested fork.

Thankfully, I was seated at the very end of the table and this gave me the opportunity to watch the interaction between parents and children. Now, I don't think of my relationship with my parents to be different to other children's relationships – apart from my Dad's addiction to catching next door's cat – but at least that would classify mine as normal. This was as far removed from normal as normal could get. Conversations were stunted, as they revolved around social climbing and business – both things none of the younger ones had the slightest bit of interest in. If there hadn't been a striking resemblance between them all, no one would have ever thought they were related.

Over the course of the evening, another thing became apparent. Monica was the ‘mother' in this ‘family'. She was the one who made Sophie and I comfortable, the one who asked Dave and Diana how their day had gone, the one who told Dave to eat all his veggies. Mummy and Daddy were more interested in the wine menu and pontificating shite. I would be lying if I didn't say I was a little put out at first, but after about five minutes I was more than happy to be ignored by them. They didn't even ask Monica if she was ok after her attack. It was as if it had never happened.

Throughout dinner, I kept feeling Diana's hand on my leg, giving it a pat or a stroke. I know she did it to reassure me, but the feelings jangling through my body were not thinking about being reassured – more the case of expectant. Very expectant. Every time she did it, I turned to look at her, and every time I looked at her, she gave me one of those dazzling smiles I was beginning to think she saved just for me.

It was when dessert was being served that things changed. Derek Sullivan decided it was time he directed his attention to something other than how much money he earned a year, what changes were happening in his club, or his take on the world at large.

‘Diana. You seem to have forgotten to introduce us to you little friend.' Was I being transported back through time to Primary School? I gave a quick look at Sophie. Nope. She had all her teeth and was definitely a lot bigger than twenty five years ago. ‘Is she a colleague?'

I felt Diana's body stiffen next to mine. ‘You know full well, Father, that Jess is not a colleague.'

‘Jess?' Just the way he said my name made the hairs on my neck stand to attention like they do in all horror stories. ‘Jess? I thought this was Lauren.' More prickling of hairs, more wishing I was in a horror story so I could chop off the evil monster's head with an axe and glorify in all the gushing of blood.

‘So why did you ask if she was a colleague then?' Diana's eyes locked onto her father's daring him to continue. Alas, he didn't get the hint.

‘I was hoping that you had grown out of all that childish behaviour by now.' What childish behaviour? Contradiction? ‘It is about time you stopped all this ... this ...' he waved his hand in my direction ‘ abnormal behaviour and settled down.' I heard Diana's jaw lock, her teeth click together and a definite grinding begin.

‘I am not abnormal. I am a lesbian.' I was amazed that she could get the words through her teeth.

‘Diana! How dare you say that disgusting word in public! Have respect for your father.' Mother Dearest decided it was time to put in her tuppence worth.

‘Respect? You two talk about respect?' Sophie decided she'd had enough. ‘You two have no idea how lucky you are to have such wonderful ...'

‘And who are you?' Judith Sullivan's eyes dragged themselves over Sophie as if she had just been thrown up.

‘Look, lady. Don't cut me off when I'm talking, ok?' Aw fuck. Sophie was well and truly pissed off now. I knew as much as she had stood and was holding her wineglass in the position a person would hold it if they were going to lob the contents over someone.

‘Soph. Sit, love. I'll handle this.'

‘Dave. Keep out of this. It's between me and the white witch.' Aw shit again. Monica started laughing and a part of me wanted to join her, although mine would be because I was becoming hysterical.

‘No. I will.' Dave stood, placed his arm protectively around Sophie and stared, first, at his mother, then his father. ‘No more. No more telling me, or Diana, who we can and cannot see.' Derek threw his napkin onto the table and made to stand. ‘I'm in love with Sophie and she loves me back.' He turned and gave her a smile followed by a nod and a quick lift of his eyebrows. ‘Actually, we're going to get married.' Monica stopped laughing, Diana stopped clenching, I stopped the hysterics, Big Daddy and Mummy Bear froze ... but more to the point, Sophie sat down. Sat down with her mouth open and stared at the table top. Even I (and as we all know, I'm an idiot) could tell this was the first Sophie had heard about it. Dave continued, completely unaware that he had blown Sophie away with his declaration. ‘As for Diana. She's gay. Get over it.'

Derek leaned forward, his face hard. ‘No daughter of mine is gay. This ...' he waved his hand over me as if he was hoping I'd disappear, ‘is a phase.'

‘Jess so happens to be my girlfriend.' You can guess my facial expression at this point can't you. I would like to say smug, but I will go with relieved. ‘And I can guarantee she is definitely not a phase.' With the latter statement, I felt an ache in my chest so sharp I had to suck in a breath.

‘Will you keep your voice down? People will hear.' Looks like Judith Sullivan was not only a homophobe like her husband, but she was more concerned with social acceptance than the love and happiness of her daughter.

‘Really?' God. Diana sounded so fucking sexy when she used that tone of voice. I know it wasn't the ideal time and place, but God ... ‘Jess, baby.' I think I swooned at that. ‘We're leaving.' Diana stood and held out her hand and I took it willingly, smiling up at her.

‘You have brought shame on our family, Diana. What you are doing is disgusting.' There seemed to be not another sound in the restaurant, as all the other customers in the place seemed to stop eating and talking. To be honest, I would have, too, if I had been on another table. However, I was holding hands with the woman I loved in front of her mother and father and not expecting to get their blessing any time soon.

‘Look, Judith.' Monica's voice broke through. Blue eyes, so like and unlike Diana's, flicked to her sister with a look of utter contempt. ‘I think you mean what you are doing is disgusting.'

‘This has nothing to do with you, Monica. Diana is my daughter not yours.'

‘Doesn't look that way. You certainly don't act like her mother.' Throwing her napkin on the table, like most of the people had done at least once in the short space of time we had been at the table, Monica stood. ‘Come on kiddies. I've got a Pavlova waiting at home with our names on it.' With that, we all stood.

I know it was hard for Dave and Diana to move away from their parents after what had transpired, as no one wants to leave a situation still bubbling even though their relationship was not deemed to be the best at the start.

‘How dare you leave your mother!' Derek the Ferret was on his feet now trying to block our path. ‘I demand you apologise at once!'

‘Oh shut up, Derek. You're ruining your reputation as a cold hearted bastard.' To hear these words come from Monica's mouth was what Sophie and I would call absolute class. ‘As for you, Judith. You're the one who has brought shame on our family.' She leaned over to her sister. ‘You seem to forget I remember you when you didn't have two ha'pennies to rub together and didn't walk around with a stick up your backside.' Judith opened her mouth to speak, but Monica held her hand up. ‘And I remember Carol.' At the mention of the name, we all witnessed Judith blanch. ‘I, for one, am proud to know Dave and Diana. Gay, straight, whatever. I love them as if they were my own.'

I couldn't swear she did it on purpose, but when Monica turned to leave, her backside hit the table. And by hitting the table, it made the glass of scarlet wine wobble dangerously. However, I did know for definite that the next bump was done on purpose, thus allowing the glass to smack onto its side and release its contents over Judith's once immaculately tailored dress.

Amongst the scream emitting from the end of the table, Monica's voice broke above it. ‘I think it's time to go, don't you?'

Outside the restaurant, the laughter started. I think it was mainly nerves, but it felt good. With tears running down our faces, Diana spluttered, ‘Well, I think that went better than expected.' More laughter. ‘Who's Carol?'

Monica slipped her arm through her niece's and pulled her along. ‘My secret weapon.' Intrigued? Nah. Even I understood that Carol was something that Judith wanted to forget, and to bring in her name when we were talking about her daughter's sexuality ... it doesn't take a rocket scientist to work it out does it? ‘Jess? Come here.' Monica slipped her free arm through mine and we walked to the car park linked.

It wasn't until I got to my car that I remembered what Dave had said about Sophie and him. Was it a spur of the moment thing? God. I hoped not. Not with the way I knew Sophie felt about him. Even though the car park was dark I could make them out. Their foreheads were touching, and the silhouette showed two people obviously in love. It looked as if I wouldn't have to wait to be Maid of Honour for very long if their body language was any indication.

And, to make the night even more perfect, Diana Sullivan was my girlfriend. She said it. In front of everyone too.

Now that was an evening to write home about. Definitely one that decidedly got better the longer it went on kind of evenings. The best bit was - it was still early. It made me wonder what else the night would hold. Surprisingly, it wasn't what I thought it would be.


Diana didn't say a word all the way home. Even though I knew she was fuming, she was still gentle as she absently stroked my thigh. Pulling up outside her house, I left the engine running. Something about the way she was staring out of the side window gave me the impression that she didn't feel up to continuing the evening after all. We had already turned down Monica's Pavlova and I was beginning to think that was not the only sweet thing that would be off the menu that night.

A few minutes ticked by without her even realising we had stopped. The air was thick with unspoken words, but funnily enough I didn't feel uncomfortable.

‘Do you think it is wrong?' Her voice was hushed, as if the words were sacred, painful or sinful.

Scrunching my eyebrows, I gave the side of her face a confused look. Then she turned to look straight into my eyes. She seemed lost and momentarily I had the urge to pull her close and comfort her even though I was still unsure what she was talking about. Diana seemed to read my confusion and clarified her question. ‘This. Us. Being abnormal?' Fuck. There was one thing I thought I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt about Diana and that was her comfort in her sexuality. Never before had she mentioned that she thought being a lesbian was wrong, but then again, I had never seen her after her parents had Rottweilered her before. I'd been so lucky in my life. My parents loved me, gay or not.

Gently, I cupped her cheek, my thumb brushing over cool skin. ‘There is nothing ... NOTHING ... wrong with being you. Being us,' Please. Don't ever think we are wrong. ‘Some people don't understand that lo ... erm ...' shit ‘relationships come in all shapes and sizes. Just because it isn't as common as a man being with a woman, it doesn't mean it is abnormal.' My thumb travelled over her lips slowly and softly in the hopes that would comfort her, as I was more than definite my shite speech hadn't come anywhere close.

A sigh left her mouth trickling over my fingers. ‘Sorry, Jess.' She grabbed my hand near her mouth and kissed each digit making sparks shoot up my arm and through my body. ‘Sometimes I get a little self-conscious. It doesn't help when my parents believe I'm the spawn of Satan.' I wanted to say in theory she was if her parents' behaviour was any indication, but I was too busy relishing the contact of her fingers that were now stroking my hand. Another sigh left her mouth followed by a smile, the first one I had seen since leaving the car park. ‘You're so right, Jess.' Huh? Me? Actually right? Diana leaned forward and captured my mouth with hers giving me a searing kiss, her lips opening and sucking in my bottom lip. God. I felt my spine lose the ability of keeping me upright. However, as soon as it began, the kiss stopped and Diana pulled back, a grin firmly in place. Her voice was huskier than previously as she almost whispered, ‘There is nothing common about being with you, Jess Taylor.' Another kiss, but this time more chaste. ‘So, are you up for a nightcap?'

Amazing to think how quickly her mood had changed from forlorn and dejected to sounding quite upbeat.

‘Sure. Sounds like a plan.'


Less than thirty minutes later we were flopped on her sofa nursing a coffee. Although I wanted to continue the kissing we had started in the car, the greater, nobler and nosey part of me wanted to discuss her thoughts about being gay. I know her parents had given her a hard time, but she had shot them down, stuck up for us, called me her girlfriend and made sure they knew this wasn't a phase. However, by her sullen mood in the car, by her even doubting that what we had ...

‘You ok?'

‘Y-es. Erm ... Sure, why?'

‘You seemed a little out of it then.' Diana placed her cup on the table, grabbed mine and put it there too. ‘I think I know what the matter is.' I went to speak but she shushed me. ‘You think I'm ashamed of being gay don't you?' I didn't answer. ‘Thought so.' She sucked in a breath before allowing it to seep slowly from her mouth. ‘I think I need to explain, don't you?' If it meant she was going to say she was ashamed about being a lesbian, being like me, then I would rather she kept it to herself. Instead of saying that, I nodded. What was the point of denying the inevitable? ‘My parents, as you're aware, don't agree with my life, don't agree with who and what I am. I've had to listen to their views for nearly fifteen years.' She reached out and took hold of my hand. ‘When you're constantly told your way of life is the wrong way, it kind of sets you off kilter now and again.' I wasn't too sure how to feel at this stage. Was she ashamed, even if only on occasion? And if she was, how would I deal with being hidden? ‘I'm proud of who I am, Jess. I just thought, well, maybe you might not be.'

What the fuck?

‘What the ... no way!' My outburst made her release a giggle before blue eyes met mine once again, the serious look back in place.

‘I just, well, you didn't seem to comment when I told my parents you were my girlfriend. I wondered if you had thought we were or ...'

Oh. My. God. In all my stupid churning over events and scenarios, I'd never given a thought to whether Diana doubted that I wanted her to be my girlfriend. Told you I was self-absorbed didn't I?

Pulling her to me, her face inches away from mine, I whispered, ‘I've been waiting for you to claim me for so long, Diana.' I kissed the tip of her nose. ‘I know I shouldn't have waited for you to make the first move, but I didn't want to freak you out.' That, and because I was a chicken shit.

Instead of her grinning and understanding, she just looked confused. ‘But, I did.'

‘I know you did. I was there. Parents, arguing, exclamation.'

Diana slightly pulled back and scrutinised my face. ‘Not then. The text message. I know it wasn't the best way to do it, but I thought it would give you an out if you didn't feel the same way.'

Text message? She hadn't asked me to be her girlfriend in a text ... ‘My Jess.' Fuck. And I hadn't replied either because I was doing a happy dance before realising I was in love with the woman who was staring at me with a look of total confusion eking out of every pore at that precise moment. Fleeting images of me crying myself into a fitful sleep crept in too. What a waste. If only I had called her and said something back. Sophie always told me off for not being able to voice my thoughts and feelings to those that mattered. Considering I worked alongside countless people, managed complaints and orders, I was completely shit at communication.


‘Not really what I was going for, but at least you've stopped staring at my forehead as if it is growing horns.'

‘I'm so sorry, honey.' The endearment made her smile briefly and I felt a little embarrassed as I wasn't the kind of woman to call my other half sweetheart, love, darling, or the classic, baby. But this felt different, maybe because it was. ‘So, am I your Jess?'

Without a pause, she answered. ‘Do you want to be?'

Instead of answering, I launched at her, my arms grabbing hold of her and pulling so hard against me. My lips found their target and tried to show her how I was feeling. Lips hit lips, teeth clashed, tongues danced and claimed. I was above her now, her body stretched underneath mine. The feeling of her hard, yet deliciously soft body, met my insistent one. Using my knee, I separated her legs and slipped one leg between hers. Pushing against the vee of her thighs, I felt her groan seep into my mouth. It was addictive – totally and utterly addictive. I wanted to hear it again. Push. God. The way that sound felt as it travelled through my mouth, down my throat and into my body ... I felt lightheaded, felt alive, felt that I needed more. My hand was at the base of her shirt, my fingers playing with the edge. Her hips came up to meet mine and it was my turn to gasp, her thigh hitting the need building and flooding throughout me.

Without any more deliberation, my fingers slipped inside her top to be greeted by hot, smooth skin. They trailed up the side of her waist, luxuriating in the curve of her, before slipping behind her and pulling her closer to me. Her hands were gripping my backside, fingertips digging, searching, pushing down so I could press against her even harder. A rhythm was building between us, me thrusting against her, my thigh chafing, her thigh hard against me. Sensations were rippling, tingling, climbing, and I was becoming more lost in her. Her mouth left mine to kiss my cheeks, my eyes, my nose, then down to my throat. The heat of her pulsated on the join of my shoulder and my neck making me buck against her even harder. I leaned back to give her more access, my hand leaving her back to slip around the front and I spread my fingers over her skin, as if I was assessing her like a fine piece of art, except instead of feeling cold, hard marble beneath my hands, the skin was hot and silken. Her teeth nipped, grazed and then allowed her tongue to lavish my throat.

I don't remember her hands being inside my top; don't remember lifting my arms to allow her to remove it; all I remember was the sensation of cool air swirling around me before the heat of her hands on my skin. I was straddling her now, my bra the only fortress between her hands and my breasts. She cupped them, seemed to weigh them, my aching nipples hard against the palms of her hands. A thumb flicked over the sensitive peak making it bounce sideways before appearing erect through the silk of my bra. Long arms snaked around the back of me, a quick flick and I felt the confines of the material release. Diana's expression was sultry, sexy, definitely primitive. Wetness pooled between my legs in anticipation of being captured.

Slip. Slip. Gone. The bra was tossed on to the floor and I waited for her next move. Eyes glistened in the lamp light and her fingers traced the curve of my breasts. I felt revered, sacred, wanted. Soft fingertips trailed and eyes were following the movement; a mouth parted to allow her to moisten those glorious lips. It was as if she had read my mind, because she lifted up, her breath hitting my skin making my nipples pucker and tighten even more than I thought they could already, before she enveloped that nub in that hot wet mouth.

‘God!' My eyes closed on their own volition, almost as if I couldn't keep them open and experience the sensation rippling throughout my body. I jerked against her, needing more contact. Slow, deliberate suckles, licks, flicks, her teeth grazing along the tip. Then her free hand left the safety of my hip and trailed along the underside of the other breast. Sparks lit my body, side by side with all the other sensations seeping through me.

‘Look at me, Jess.' That voice. It trembled though me. Diana's voice had been the first thing that had attracted me to her, and now that same voice was talking directly to me. My eyelids fluttered open, the act harder than I thought possible. However, once I witnessed the vision underneath me, all strain vanished. Diana's dark hair was swept back over her shoulders showing a delectable throat, her face flushed with arousal, blue eyes almost violet with desire, as her pupils had dilated to almost fill the colour. Lips were moist, the same lips that had recently been loving my breast. We were undulating against each other, so close but miles apart. I needed to feel her skin next to mine, needed to feel her breasts against me, longed to feel the length of her underneath me, naked, hot, wanting.

Slowly, I traced the buttons to her blouse, up and down, down and up, until the temptation to pop them open becoming too strong. One, two, a glimpse of the curve of her breasts. Three, four, her bra was fully exposed – and so was my longing. I wanted to taste her, bury my face between those perfect breasts and drown in the feel and scent of her. Sliding the material from her shoulders, I dipped my head and brushed my lips over her skin. I felt her tremble; the shiver of it exciting me more than I thought could be humanly possible. This was the skin that I loved. The smell that I loved. The woman that I loved.

But I couldn't tell her that. Couldn't whisper it into her pores and let it trickle through her body. Couldn't divulge my inner longing to be loved by her in return. It was too soon, too soon for both of us, although I knew as surely as I knew anything in my whole life, I was in love with her.

Warm hands cupped my face and brought it level with hers. Unspoken words were behind her eyes, her mouth moving slightly, but it seemed she was having difficulty voicing her thoughts. We had gone too far this time to stop. This would not be a fumble on a sofa, a session in the store room. If I couldn't tell her I loved her, I could show her.

Licking my lips, I noticed she was fascinated with the movement of my mouth. ‘I want to …' make love with you ‘move this upstairs.' Her thumb began to caress the side of my face once again and I felt the effects of it throughout me. Instead of waiting for her reply I pulled back, missing the contact of her immediately. Standing at the side of the sofa, I offered her my hand, smiling at her when she clasped it and allowed me to pull her to her feet. I had to tilt my head to look into her face, such a beautiful face. Our bodies were slick against the other, the top half allowing some raw contact, but not nearly enough.

Diana leaned her forehead against me, a sigh releasing itself before she tipped her face to mine meeting my intent gaze. ‘I'd love to. Come.'

No more words. She led me to the stairs, her hand holding mine. It seemed like time had stopped and we were the only people moving in the whole world. It was deliciously surreal, although the anticipation was gnawing inside me. Thoughts of not being good enough, not being able to satisfy the woman who was taking me to her bed, taking me to the place I had wanted for so long. Even though I was terrified, I was also exultant. This was me and her. Us. Her and me taking the next step in a relationship I wanted so fucking much.

Click. A lamp gave the room a sensuous glow and for the first time I saw Diana's bedroom, not that I was interested in interior design at that moment. My attention was definitely rooted to the woman standing in front of a bed. She looked magnificent, the light behind her accentuating the curve of her, the true force of the beautiful woman waiting for me to move from the doorway and take what I'd been promised.

I wanted to take it all in; capture each footstep as I approached; etch it to memory as the most perfect moment in my life. And with each step, I felt myself falling even deeper in love with her. Part of me was so fucking scared of feeling the way I did. I was digging myself in more deeply into a situation where I knew it could end so badly. However, even if I stopped now, I would be forever lost. Obviously, that was the other part of me that was clamouring to get out.

Standing in front of her, I trailed my fingers up her belly, up the crease of her muscle, watching in fascination as the skin appeared to ripple. Slowly, I moved along the underside of her breasts, along the silk of the bra, across the bump of a very interested nipple. I wanted to taste it again, just like I had done two days previously.

Slipping my arms around her, I found the clasp and released it. A second later, I pulled her down into my arms, the feel of our skin touching fully for the first time. The feel of her breasts against mine was almost my undoing. There is something so sexual about a woman's breasts, something so primal and delicious. The way they mesh, the way they cushion and excite. Then to lift my face and receive a kiss so deeply … God. I wanted to stay like this forever. It was as if my whole soul was coming alive at that very moment.

Pushing her backwards, I felt the bed hit her legs. Slowly, we lowered and I spread myself over her like a blanket. The kiss was hot, all-consuming, seamless, but I wanted more. Her hands were holding me so close, gripping my shoulder blades as if I would run, but I had to have more. I wanted to unwrap her like a present, wanted to feel her skin ravish my skin, wanted to luxuriate in the scent of her, deliberate over what part I could touch, kiss, honour. Diana seemed to recognise what I needed; maybe she felt the same as I did – God, I hoped she did. Hoped beyond hope that Diana Sullivan was dying, just as I was, for this to more than a kiss.

‘Here.' She pushed me back slightly, her fingers slipping to the button of my trousers. I felt every movement as she popped open my trousers, slipped down my zipper and eased the material over my hip and down my thighs leaving me with only my panties. Then they were gone and instead of feeling exposed, I felt cherished. Hungry eyes began to feast on my body, and I could feel tingles appear wherever she looked almost as if she was touching me.

Slipping over to her, I performed the same ministrations. Trousers moved down muscled legs, her panties getting caught in the action. Moments later, we were both sat on the bed, completely naked in front of each other for the first time. It seemed as if my eyes were ravenous and by absorbing the whole of her I could satiate their hunger. Once again, her eyes moved over my body making me feel revered, especially when she lifted a shaking hand, almost as if she was too scared to touch me. I grabbed it and placed it on my breast. Blue eyes momentarily disappeared and a moan escaped her mouth. I felt another jolt of want shoot from inside me and I knew if she reached between my legs she would know how much I wanted her.

Diana leaned forward, her lips sought mine out. Slow, deliberate kisses – gentle, yet forceful. – then a move, as she suckled the pulse point on my neck. Leaning back, I gave her more access, her hand slipping around my waist and pulling me closer to her. My fingers slipped into her hair, tangling in the luscious strands. Her mouth moved lower and kissed along my collarbone. I could feel my hips moving, as if they were trying to find something to place my need on. I was so turned on, so ready, so committed to making love to this woman. With each kiss I had to bite back the urge to tell her I loved her. It was agony holding back those words. The only time in my life I had ever wanted to say them, had ever been on the precipice of uttering them, and I couldn't.

Pushing her back and away from me, I stopped her advance by moving over her, my body flat against hers for that coveted moment of connection. We merged and blended together, each eliciting a moan into the air. It seemed as if we clicked, like a puzzle missing the other half for centuries to be reunited in this room, on this evening, in this lifetime.

Breaths were ragged, erratic. Noises of pleasure danced into mouths, onto skin, inside my chest, my gut, my soul. I moved down her body, my lips worshipping each and every part of her. Her skin was soft, taut, delicious, silken, and my tongue danced across it with adoration. I wanted to take her, claim her, possess and own her, show her how much I needed her, longed for her, but most of all I wanted to love her. It was consuming me, blurring my vision of her, something I didn't want to happen. I wanted to commit this to memory, just like the move into the bedroom, so I could play it over and over in my head every time I was not with her.

Her fingers were tender, insistent, dragging, trailing, touching, reading my body like braille. Each movement we shared seemed as if it had been choreographed eons ago and now it was time for the ethereal performance.

Her breasts tasted divine, the pert nubs greeting my greedy mouth. I loved them. Made love to them. Caressed them with my tongue, my lips, my breath, my eager fingers and palms, but it still didn't quench the hunger churning inside me. I needed more. She needed more. And who am I to refuse the woman I love?

Moving lower, I trailed a path along her stomach, down her thighs, then back up. Then down and up. Her fingers were now in my hair, her hands guiding me to the place I wanted so desperately to go. Diana shifted, her legs opening wider and granting me access. I could see the glistening of her folds inviting me to sample the nectar that would try to quell this want. I couldn't resist.

Sliding my hands up the insides of her thighs, I pushed them slightly to open her more fully. I've never seen such a magnificent sight. Diana Sullivan was offering herself to me, offering something so personal, so vulnerable, and she was offering it to me. Leaning forward, I released a soft breath over her wetness. Another jolt shot through me when she released a ‘Please, Jess' into the air. She was trying to rush me, trying to make me dive inside her with my tongue, my fingers, my all, but I wanted to take her slowly, take her my way, take her in the way I knew I could cherish forever in the memories I was making. I had to taste her, touch her, find every hiding place and make it mine.

My tongue became a defector. It didn't listen to my reasoning; it just wanted to sample the delights of her. A flick. A swipe. A lavishing. Diana crushed her hips towards me, hoping to increase the contact. Then a sweeping along slick folds … God. The taste of her … the essence of her. She was more than I ever thought she could be. Her scent was addictive and I was totally absorbed in everything that was her. More strokes, more tasting, more and more and more. But not enough. Never enough.

Gripping her thighs, I dipped and covered her clit completely, sucking on impact. Her hips shot off the bed increasing the contact, but I carried on sucking, my own need dancing at my core. A flick, a grazing of teeth, more bucking. I was eating her, tasting her, loving her, and I wanted so much more. Being at the centre of her was deliciously intoxicating and I was drunk on her and her alone. I didn't think I could ever top this moment – how do you move past perfection? Diana was grinding her centre into my face, slick juices covering my chin and mouth. I knew she was close; I could taste it, feel the thickness of it.

We were rocking, the rhythm heightening perfectly, as if we had been together a million times before, yet I also knew this was new, this was our first. Moving my lips, I mouthed the words ‘I love you' inside her before slipping my tongue beyond the folds and deep within her. Then out. Then all the way in once again. I was taking her, loving her, showing her how I needed her. Faster, faster, deeper, deeper, the tempo increased, the wanting intensified, my fingers gripping her thighs, slowing the buck of her hips allowing this moment to gloriously drag on.

‘Jess! God! Jess! Yes!' Sweat was slipping along the side of my face, her essence dripping from my starving mouth. I kept thrusting, pumping, taking, dancing inside her. Long fingers were in my hair, gripping, pulling, pushing me in more. I could barely breathe, but I didn't care. I was making love with Diana Sullivan, loving her with more than my mouth. Diana was frantically twisting her hips, her orgasm imminent. She was riding my face, riding my tongue, peaking, cresting, clenching, stilling … ‘GOD! Jeeeeeessssss!' Hearing my name on her lips was nearly my undoing. I nearly came with her, nearly tipped over into the sweet light alongside with her. ‘I … I … God !' I didn't slow; I kept taking her, as I knew she had more to give me just as I had so much more to give her. I pulled my tongue free from her spasming muscle and clamped onto her clit. ‘Fuck! Jess! I … GOD!' The growl she gave after was purely animal, but the feeling of her cumming for the second time into my mouth was all woman. All my woman.

Shaking hands tried to lift me, but couldn't, so I moved up her body like a panther, leaving small kisses in my wake. The journey upwards was enhanced by pure, radiant beauty, as her eyes were hooded, her lips slightly parted with the remnants of her cries. Her skin tasted wonderful, salty, husky, perfectly Diana. I stopped to adore her breasts, mouthing silent epithets of love into the soft flesh.

As I reached her face, her mouth claimed mine shortly followed by a crushing hug, her fingers digging into my back. Hips lifted and I slipped between her legs, the wetness coating my skin. It was a mixture of her and me, a blended potion of our connection – of my love and her lust.

Slam. I was on my back, those hands now on the front of me, caressing my breasts, her mouth on my throat. I could feel her trying to control her actions, trying not to take me hard and fast, trying to slow it down so she could take me as slowly as I had taken her. But, I didn't want that. I wanted more, much much more. I wanted her to part my legs, climb between and slip two fingers in deeply. I wanted her to thrust inside, push and plunge and lunge and take; I wanted to see her eyes mist over as she drove into me deeper, dipped into me harder. I was so wet, so ready, so hers. I tried to tell her to do it, tried to force her to own me, but she didn't budge from her lavishing of my breasts.

Lifting my hips, I urged her. Pressing down onto the apex of her pubic bone, I found some relief, but not nearly enough. ‘Di-a-na.' The word was staggered, stammered, stunted. The ability to form a sentence was lost; I was lost all over again.

One hand made its way down my side, along the curve of my waist and down the back of my thigh. Her lips were intent on consuming my breasts and I was torn between the sensation of her fingers and her mouth. Then those delicious fingers dipped down and grazed the wetness pooling at the very core of me and I knew where my attention lay. With her. Instead of lifting to press into her body, I pressed down and tried to make those digits claim what was so rightfully theirs. But she moved them away, taunting me, making me inch backwards hoping to capture her hand and let it take me.

‘Please. God. Please.' I felt her smile against my skin and I knew it was the one I loved best. However, that only fuelled my need for her even more.

‘Patience.' The word echoed over my skin, rumbling inside me. Blue eyes lifted and caught my gaze whilst I caught my breath. Diana Sullivan was the most beautiful woman in the world and she was with me - and she was moving slowly down my body; her eyes dark and erotic; her tongue and lips trailing their way to between my thighs.

Anticipation took over. Knowing where she was going on her journey made my heart beat even harder than I thought possible without passing out. Even though I wanted her there – God, I wanted her there – I basked in the knowledge that she would get there. Eventually. Weird, I know. One minute I couldn't wait; the next I was happy to.

Hot breath met wetness and the groan I released into the air was almost primal. Diana parted my legs and released another breath up and down the length of me making me surge forward and attempt to press against her mouth. I wanted to beg her, plead with her to just take me, but, for a split moment, words were lost to me. Then a flick, followed immediately by another and another and ... God ... the ripples spread like lightning throughout me and I had to force myself from letting the words I love you from escaping and exposing me to the air and her.

‘Fuck!' Her mouth had fully captured my clit, dragging and holding, pulling and sucking. Soft moans drifted up and charged the air with electricity. My hips were bucking against her hoping to increase the contact of her mouth and my want, but she was too quick for me. Releasing my clit, she moved away, the coldness of the air hitting the heat that was waiting impatiently for her to return and feast. Leaning back, Diana slipped her hands down my quivering thighs and I wanted to grab her and pull her back where she belonged.

Just as I thought she was going to move away, her hands slipped back up towards my need. Diana leaned forward, her face coming towards mine, her dark hair shifting and brushing my skin. Breath hit my face in short sharp puffs. ‘Jess, I ... I need to ...' Diana momentarily closed her eyes making them appear to flutter.

‘Yes.' I didn't know what I was agreeing to, but just felt I had to give her some kind of sign to tell her she could do anything.

Without preamble, fingers were at my entrance. Blue eyes were locked on mine. I watched in fascination as her lips moved as if she were speaking, but there were no words in the air, just breath.

Two fingers slipped slowly inside me, filling me. Deeply. And then they waited. She pulled them back with agonising slowness, her eyes trying to gauge my expression with each movement. Back in. So deep, so full, so fucking good. The inside of me was trying to hold her there, pull her in and keep her prisoner in the very heart of me. Out. And back in. Out and in. The rhythm was picking up; my hips were thrusting towards her in the hope that she would increase the tempo. Her hair was still brushing my skin, blue eyes still held my green, skin was slick with sweat enabling our bodies to move delectably against each other's, and breaths mingled in between us.

Although the feeling of her taking me was exquisite, it wasn't enough. I wanted her to take me harder, faster, deeper. I wanted to spill out the words I was so scared of saying, professing my undying love for her. But most of all, I wanted to hear those clichéd three little words slip from her lips and coat me with the promise of our future as her fingers were inside me.

I think it was this realisation that made me want to break the eye contact. I didn't want her to see the tears that had suddenly decided to appear. Moving towards her, I filled the gap that was between us and claimed her mouth. The kiss was all-consuming allowing me to hide beneath it for a while. Grabbing the back of her head, I pulled her even harder against me. Want had taken over and left no room for her to pull away ... left no room for words. Her fingers dipped deeper, the penetration matching the hardness and neediness of the kiss. Faster. Her fingers were plunging inside me faster now, my hips reaching and plummeting with each thrust. My essence was dripping from me, the slickness of her fingers making me even wetter.

A third finger thrust inside, the tightness giving way almost immediately. Diana was taking me hard and fast, her arm pumping, her lips devouring. My hands were gripping onto her, one in her hair, the other on the curve of her ass. Feeling her work as she claimed me made it so much better; knowing she was frantically thrumming those fingers inside my most sacred place made me nearly cum with the thought of it. Frenetic, wild, decadent, primeval, each stroke brought me closer. I had never experienced this height of passion before, never experienced what it would be like to be completely and utterly taken by someone I loved. Loved. Loved.

When it hit, I thought I would die. The light. The sensation of floating. The stepping out of my body and seeing myself being loved by someone as wonderful as Diana Sullivan. My cumming was a cleansing, a connection, an epiphany of what I wanted for the rest of my life. Spasms raced through me, hitting every nerve ending with total abandon.

And as the lights curled and danced I remember uttering her name before I began to cry.

Strong arms slipped around my body and I felt myself being cradled against Diana's body. Soft kisses landed in my hair and I could just about hear the shushing noises she was making. Having her so close to me didn't help stop the tears as having her there only made me so much more aware of how much I loved her and that she didn't feel the same way as I did.

‘Jess? What's the matter, honey?' Her voice held a hint of fear and I realised Diana had no clue why I was blubbing like a baby after we had finally made love. I could feel her fingers shaking as they stroked my cheek collecting the tears that were there. Opening my eyes I looked at her. Blue eyes held more than concern, more than questioning. My breakdown had caused a glimmer of hurt to appear in those beautiful orbs making me feel even worse than I had to begin with. It wasn't her fault that I had let my premature love for Diana Sullivan to mar what should have been one of the happiest times of my life. It wasn't every day a person fell in love for the first time was it? Unfortunately. ‘Jess?' Her voice broke at the end of the word and I joined it with the sound of my heart.

‘Nothing, baby. I'm ... I'm just so happy.' I could tell she wanted to believe me, could tell by the way her hand stilled and her eyes widened slightly. But then I saw her deflate a little. Felt her move slightly backwards. Shit. I didn't want her to move away from me, physically or emotionally. ‘Honestly. I am.' I cupped her chin and rubbed my thumb against her skin. With each stroke I could feel her relax a little more. The only sounds in the room seemed to be our breathing, although I knew that wasn't the case.

Just touching her seemed to balm my soul and I could feel myself needing to make a connection with her all over again. Not just to pacify her concerns, but to stop the incessant doubt I couldn't seem to shake off.

In one fluid movement, I pulled her to me, my mouth claiming hers in a searing kiss. It was as if I was attempting to kiss away her doubts and for a split second I thought I had succeeded.

Diana pulled away, her hands lifting and holding my face still and away from hers. Dark blue searched my green and I knew there was no way I was going to get away with crying and not explaining.

‘Tell me, Jess.' I opened my mouth to lie once again, but she saw it coming. ‘Is it because you wanted to wait?' Wait? ‘I know you said we would take our time and …' her eyes fluttered closed, a sigh slipped through her parted lips, ‘and I couldn't wait for you any longer.' The air was silent around us and I was sure she could have heard my brain ticking over if she had a mind to. ‘But it just felt so right – now felt so right.' It was. But was it right to tell Diana I was in love with her? Was it right to make those beautiful blue eyes widen slightly and watch as she made an excuse or battled for a way to get out of an embarrassing situation?

‘It was perfect, Diana.' Leaning forward, I placed a gentle kiss on those adorable lips of hers. ‘You are perfect.' I smiled and dipped my head to look up at her. ‘Just ignore me. I was just over-emotional.' A frown tried to appear on her face, but I kissed her again. ‘Believe me. You were spot on. This was the right time and I feel wonderful.'

Thankfully, she didn't push the issue. Although it was the perfect time to make love, weirdly enough it wasn't the right time to proclaim it. I think we call that a paradox, don't you?


Throughout the night we awoke to continue discovering each other. Hands, fingers, breasts, stomachs, lips, tongues and everything else that we could press against the other was sampled, tasted, stroked, loved. And each time I wanted to pour out those three little words to dance and sing over her skin, into her mouth, inside her most intimate place. I also wanted those three little words to come from her; wanted her to tell me she loved me just as much as I loved her. Alas, it was not to be.

Seven twenty three Saturday morning saw me staring at the sleeping profile of the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. It was as if I wanted to record each and every nuance of her to memory just in case she woke to realise she had made one of the biggest mistakes of her life. Why she would want to do that is beyond me. It wasn't as if we had done what we had under the influence of anything but each other, was it? Weirdly enough, I wasn't used to having negative feelings about sleeping with someone – and to be perfectly honest, I was beginning to freak myself out. I just hoped I wasn't going to become one of those needy insecure types who text, call, stalk and terrorise their partner twenty four hours a day.

‘Good morning, gorgeous.' Her voice was husky and deliciously addictive. ‘Don't tell me you're ready to get up.' A smile formed in my stomach and raced to my face. Not a bad greeting for the day. No sign of ‘Fuck me! Was I pissed?' and I decided I could put my stalker suit in the closet for a wee while longer.

Snuggling against her, I could feel her chest lifting and falling in an easy rhythm. Wetting my lips I asked, ‘Did you sleep ok?' The laugh she emitted rattled around her chest and made my head bob.

‘Sleep? What's that?' Another laugh. ‘I think that was the last thing on both our minds last night don't you?' No. I think my insecure fucked up thinking was one of the leaders in the ‘Thought Race.' ‘Not that I minded.' I felt her lips brush the top of my head and then the air move as she released a sigh. I don't think I have ever felt so contented in my life.

‘Hungry?' I was just about to say I was fine when my stomach gurgled emptily. ‘Looks as if something has answered for you.' A laugh rumbled through me making the hairs on my body stand to attention. ‘Come on. Let's get that monster fed.'

Diana cooked breakfast whilst I got ready, even though, secretly, I'd hoped she would join me in the shower. Alas, it was not to be.

Breakfast was wonderful, as if I expected it to be anything less. Everything Diana did she did with excellence. Thoughts of her the previous night flitted through my head making parts of me glow with the memory. Looking over at her, I watched in fascination as she tucked into scrambled eggs and bacon. How anyone could make eating eggs and bacon sexy I will never know, but she did.

I wasn't sure how long I'd been staring, don't know how long she had been holding the forkful half way to its destination, but I did, eventually, tear my eyes away from the fork, up to her parted lips and licked my own.

‘You ok, Jess?'


‘You want this?'

Her mouth? Those lips? Of course I did. I felt my head nodding, although the repeat of ahuh was left unsaid.

‘Here you go.' So why wasn't she moving any closer? ‘Jess?' Was she waiting for … ‘Jess!'

Snap. Back to reality. Back to a forkful of scrambled eggs sitting right in front of me. What the …

‘You seemed to drift off a little there, my woman.' Clench. I liked the way she said that. My woman. ‘Are you not interested in my eggs? No?' She released a chuckle. ‘Maybe you'd like something more tempting?' Blue eyes twinkled and she placed the fork on her plate before leaning over the table. Her face was so close to mine, our breaths mingling. ‘Well. What would you like?' Diana's husky voice trickled over my skin making my eyes flutter momentarily.

I wanted to say ‘I want you, you and only you,' but that would be exposing my inner longings, the same inner longings I had wanted to spill all over her the previous night. ‘Hmmmm … let me see.' Diana came closer, her lips almost touching mine. Being so close to her beautiful face was both blindingly wonderful and absolutely terrifying. I was so aware of how I felt about her that fear had snaked its way into what should have been a glorious experience.


Using my bottom lip, I brushed against her mouth. Diana released a moan, her eyes closing before opening slowly, the blueness darker. I could hear the crockery on the table moving as she pushed herself closer to me. I leaned back, but she kept on coming, the sound of smashing plates not stopping her advance. A strong hand cupped the back of my head and brought me closer to her, our lips meeting, the kiss deep and full. Even though the chair was moving backwards, I couldn't pull away from her. This kiss was too perfect to worry about small things like landing on my back onto the tiled kitchen floor. As long as she was on top of me when I fell, I didn't care.

But I didn't have to worry about that. Diana slipped effortlessly over the wooden table and straddled my legs, my hands slipping along the muscle of her back through the thin t-shirt she was wearing. I could feel the heat of her through my trousers and it didn't take me long to realise she wasn't wearing anything else. Fuck. I wanted her. Wanted to tip her backwards, lay her over the table and take her – make her mine once again.

Without thought, my hand had already made the decision for me and tucked itself between her open and ready thighs. Wet. God, so wet. So hot and wet and ready for my fingers to slip inside her. Her groan entered my mouth and I pushed in deeper, her intimate walls gripping my fingers. Diana rotated her hips and groaned again. Breaking away from her mouth, I looked into her face. Red lips parted, breaths ragged, her body moving against my fingers in perfect rhythm. A vision.

Dipping my head, I pulled at the material of the t-shirt with my teeth and growled. Diana's grin told me she understood what I meant and pulled the offending material off her body. Seeing her naked and straddling me was sublime.

I placed a gentle kiss across her collarbone, inhaling the scent of her as I did so. Lips ventured lower, a tongue teasing the curve of her breast as I pulled my fingers free of her. ‘Please, Jess.' My tongue dipped lower, finding a path in the cleft of her breasts, my fingers stroking the length of her making her buck against me.

Everything about this journey of my mouth seemed right, seemed perfect, seemed as if I had travelled this path all of my life. It didn't make the voyage any less intense. In fact it enhanced it. Made it even more wonderful. Diana's lips found the curve of my shoulder and I could feel the heat of them caressing the skin almost as if she was inside of me.

Inside once again. Inside the heat of her. Inside the core of her. Inside the woman I had fallen in love with. One finger, two, three. Deep, thrusting, owning. Her legs opened wider, thighs lifting to wrap around me and the chair, trying to absorb me, trying to heighten the contact of her and me, me and her. Push, push, hips rising and falling. Thrust, thrust, fingers seeking and claiming. The tempo was rampant, unbridled. Her fingers were digging into my skin, pulling me closer, and although she was crushing my wrist, I continued to take what was so rightfully mine.

I could feel it building, feel the maelstrom of climax racing throughout her, feel the slickness of her juices collating and charging for release. I knew I had it in the palm of my hand – knew at this precise moment, I, too, had her in the palm of my hand and tip of my fingers, and I felt alive. There would never be anyone else for me, ever, as no one else had ever made me feel anything but existence.

And as the first spasm hit, I captured her nipple into my mouth and sucked. Diana clamped down and around me, her arms engulfing and shutting out the world. The sounds of her cumming hit the morning air making my gut ache with love for her all over again. Slipping my fingers free, I embraced her, her wetness sliding along her skin.

We sat like that for God knows how long, her rocking against me, me rocking against her, neither of us wanting to break free from our cocoon. It seemed as if we were two parts of some strange puzzle that had found its missing piece after a lifetime of separation. Click. I'd felt it before … on our ‘first' date, and again the first time we'd made love, but it was so much stronger now. This connection was too real. Part of me thought it would be perfectly acceptable to tell her I was in love with her, whereas the more rational part of me knew it was too soon.

Diana's mouth was moving against my neck, but it wasn't kisses. It seemed as if words were hitting my skin but I couldn't make them out.

Lifting my head back, I saw her face half turned to me, her lips parted, dark hair splayed over both her shoulders and mine, but no evidence of her speaking.

‘You ok, Diana?' A lazy smile slipped effortlessly across her face shortly followed by a nod.

‘Perfect.' Yes you are. And beautiful – don't forget that.

My hands moved over her and I could feel the coolness of the morning attacking her skin. She was naked and sat on my lap in the middle of her kitchen at the end of November. She must've been freezing but in my eyes she could never be anything but hot.

‘Come on, lady. You need to get some clothes on – you must be cold.' I slapped a loud kiss on her mouth then watched with surprise as her brow furrowed.

‘I'm hot.'

‘Yes you are.' A snort left her mouth and she lifted back to look me fully in the face.

‘Git.' With that, I slapped her butt.

‘Grab a shower and warm up. We have the whole day ahead of us.' Another kiss, and with that, a near attempt to slip my top off. I laughed at Diana's face when I pulled her hands from me. ‘We have all the time in the world to carry this on … later .' A flash of light seemed to spark from Diana's eyes, her eyebrow lifting slightly.


With a quick flick across my chest with my fingers, I answered, ‘Cross my heart and hope to die.' Diana tilted her head to one side as if to ponder what I'd said before the grin was back.

‘That'll do.' Then she was gone, half running, half skipping out of the room in a blaze of naked perfection.

I missed the heat of her immediately, but when I looked at the wetness on my leg I couldn't help the stupid smile that shot across my face. It seemed as if I still had the essence of the woman with me after all.


Whilst Diana grabbed her shower, I tidied the broken crockery away and poured another cup of tea. The newspaper had come and I idled away some time flicking through the events in the world outside of Diana's house. I was so immersed in a story about a dog being kidnapped that when her mail came I jumped and knocked over the cooling cup of tea in front of me.


‘What did you say?' The voice of Diana drifted down the stairs.

Hastily, I tried to clean up the mess whilst replying with a ‘Nothing, honey.'

After I had cleaned up, again, I collected her mail and placed it on the kitchen table. I didn't even flick through to have a snout at whom the mail was from. Weird, considering I would class myself as a woman. That was part of the job description wasn't it? Nosiness?

Back to the paper. Back to violence, hatred, war and death. Cheerful stuff. Ten minutes later I felt the presence of Diana behind me, her mouth close to my ear. ‘Anything interesting?'

Without looking up, I answered, ‘Mail.'

I felt her tense slightly before asking, ‘Male?'

‘Over there. Table.'

‘Ah … mail .' I tried to stifle a grin and peeped up from my reading to watch her flick through the letters. Then I watched her face crumple in thought a little before ripping open the envelope. Blue eyes flicked through quickly, an eyebrow rising in contemplation. Interest piqued, I folded the newspaper closed and observed the continuing drama of emotions as they swept across her chiselled features.

‘Strange.' I didn't answer her, just continued to wait for her to elaborate. ‘Why on earth …' She turned the letter over to see if there was anything written on the back before meeting my quizzical look. ‘Would you believe it?' Diana held the letter out for me to take and I felt my hand hesitate before accepting the note.

Unlike Diana, my eyes went to the address and then to the signing off before continuing to read. London. Lauren Baker. What the fuck. It was as if had been punched, repeatedly, in the gut. Talk about timing. I tried to read through the letter but I couldn't seem to absorb the words. All I could focus on was the ‘Love ya loads, baby, Lauren x'.

‘As if I want to know she's moved.' Diana's voice seemed miles away. ‘I can't believe she actually thinks I give a damn.' I looked up at her and noticed two things. One, she was pale. Two, she looked like she had been punched too. Alas, I doubted it was for the same reason as me. What I couldn't understand was why she had told me, why she had let me read it? Why on earth had she not ripped up the letter and thrown it in the bin with all the broken crockery? ‘Jess?'

Time for the acting.

‘Weird isn't it? I'm surprised she would raise her head after what happened to Monica.' Not to mention Lauren must have put two and two together and realised Diana had come back to me that night. Folding the letter, I placed it on the table and slipped it over to where Diana was still rooted to the spot. It seemed as if time stopped – no – everything around us stopped and we kept moving. Slowly. And it seemed as if I was moving backwards and she was moving even slower towards me, thus creating a distance that I had not envisioned half an hour previously.

A slender hand reached out to touch me, but I must've given a sign to say this wasn't the time and she placed it over the letter before scrunching it beneath her fingers.

Turning away from me, Diana spoke. ‘Yeah. But she could never understand when she was not wanted.' Her voice sounded thick, laden. ‘I'm still surprised the police believed her.' That made two of us. A sigh released and strong shoulders straightened before Diana walked over to the bin and slammed the letter inside. ‘She always had a way with making people see things from her perspective … must be part of the training.'

What was I doing? I was allowing a letter from Lauren to ruin what should have been the happiest time in my life. And for what reason? Jealousy, that's what. The green eyed twat of a monster herself. By the way Diana had reacted, she hadn't asked for Lauren to keep in touch. Just because I had wanted her to rip the fucking letter up didn't mean she would do what I would have done, does it? And for that matter, why should she? What if Lauren had signed it ‘Love ya loads, baby.'? Was I acting this way because I couldn't seem to say those words to Diana? And there are too many questions here. I needed to act instead of sitting on my arse being all rhetorical.

Before I had the chance to ask any more asinine questions to my moral self, I stood and moved over to where Diana was still standing. Slipping my arms through hers, I pulled her back and into me. Initially she was rigid, but that soon melted. Diana turned around and I had to look up and into those eyes. It seemed as if there was a storm brewing inside the blueness, as they seemed to shift and change in intensity like clouds collecting above water.

‘I …' I wanted to tell her I loved her. Wanted her to know that she was the one for me. Wanted those eyes to settle and stay focused on us, not think I was a jealous bastard who was one step away from clouting her because she didn't react the way I wanted her to. ‘I'm sorry baby.' I watched her brow furrow slightly and the ghost of a smile edge its way around her mouth. ‘It was just a bit of a shock.' A snort left her mouth.

‘Tell me about it.'

Standing on my tiptoes, I leaned in and placed a kiss on her mouth. A quick one. One that was intent on testing the waters. No resistance. Thankfully. So I did it again, just as quickly. Diana released a mock growl before grabbing my butt and dragging me into her. Her mouth claimed mine in a searing kiss and I felt my knees buckle slightly. It felt as if I was drowning inside her and I knew then and there I would die a happy woman. But not today. Today was our day. Today was a day that was full of wonderment and undiscovered possibilities.

Tearing my lips from hers, I grinned. ‘Let's go out. What about Buxton?'

Diana tilted her head back and laughed. ‘Buxton? Why on earth do you want to go to Buxton?'

‘Just because.'

‘Just because what?'

‘Just because.'

She laughed again, a musical sound that I knew I would never tire of hearing and one that I promised I would try to make happen at every chance I could for as long as she would let me.

‘Ok. Let me get my boots on.' Another kiss and she released me and went in search of her footwear.

I felt a rush of energy race through me and felt like a six year old at a funfair. ‘I need to go and get changed first!' A muffled ‘ok' came from under the stairs and I grinned stupidly once again.

Lifting my hand, I attempted to sweep my fingers through my hair but stopped. Stopped and lowered my fingers. Stopped and inhaled the perfume clinging to them. Not mine. Not Diana's.

Amazing to think how the realisation of having your girlfriend's ex's perfume on your hands could make them feel like they were on fire, isn't it? Why would Lauren douse her letter with perfume? And why hadn't I noticed it when I was holding the letter? Maybe because I was too busy being fucking jealous.

Hot water splashed over my hands shortly followed by lashings of liquid soap. Although I scrubbed the skin until it was nearly raw, it just didn't seem to take away the stench of the woman who had once had what I wanted.

‘Ready?' I felt my teeth grit together but I loosened my jaw enough to answer.

I needed to call Sophie. Needed someone with their head screwed on enough to give me a verbal bollocking and tell me to stop trying to fuck up my life with stupid thoughts and even stupider actions. Lauren Baker was not in the picture anymore. I was with Diana. Diana was with me, not her. She was in London not here in Stockport. She wasn't the one Diana had climbed over the table to this morning; she wasn't the one who had spent the night loving Diana; she certainly wasn't the one who was going to be spending the day with Diana today. And she definitely wasn't the one who would be trying with all her might to get Diana to fall as much in love with her as she was with Diana.

No. That was, without the shadow of a doubt, me.


Chapter Twelve

We spent the whole of Saturday in Buxton. It was wonderful spending time with Diana even though we did succumb to Christmas shopping. The only downside was the thoughts of Lauren Baker that kept sneaking inside my head. I couldn't seem to stop them, couldn't stop the image of her smug face the last time I had seen her. My stomach roiled every time it happened, and I mentally pushed it out time and time again. What was the matter with me? I knew Diana wanted to spend time with me – she didn't want Lauren. She couldn't … not after what we had shared the previous night and over breakfast. I mean, at every opportunity she had stolen a kiss, even held my hand as we walked through the town – something that told me that she wasn't afraid of letting everyone know we were together.

But still. Why had Lauren written to Diana? No. Diana had thrown the letter away hadn't she? That should've been enough. Shouldn't it? Her dismissal?

What the fuck was happening to me? I'd never been one to be jealous over someone's ex – never. But then again, I'd never been in love before … I'd never felt so gloriously wonderful and so fucking insecure in my whole life before meeting Diana. If I didn't put a curb on this irrational thinking I knew I was going to cock things up once and for all. I should be happy that Diana wanted to be with me; should be ecstatic that our relationship was starting to take off. Granted, I had fallen in love with her a tad early, and although it wasn't a case of love at first sight, it was damned near it. All through my life I had scoffed at the tired romance stories of people seeing ‘the one' and swooning. In ‘my' life book there was no such thing as the elusive love at first sight. Lust, yes. But love took time didn't it? Two people had to get to know each other and not react to physical reaction for it to be classed as love – that much I was sure of.

Or was I?

God! I needed to call Sophie. I know I said it earlier, but I'd been with Diana all day and it didn't look good me phoning Sophie to ask about relationship advice did it. Imagine: ‘Excuse me a mo, Diana. Soph? It's me. What do you do if you are being eaten up with jealousy and think your girlfriend may run back to her ex?' Nope. Not the best route. Even I could see that. Just.

So, when Diana asked if it was ok if she stayed over at my house Saturday night, I was a little torn. Who am I kidding? I wanted so much for her to stay over. It would mean another night with the woman I wanted to spend every night of my life with. Sophie could wait.

We stopped at Diana's to collect an overnight bag and made our way back to my house. Within half an hour we were soaking in a bath full of hot bubbly water trying to ease the aching muscles and scare away the chill of a cold day in November. It was wonderful to spend time relaxing together. Candles helped to light the room, the scent of them adding to the sensual atmosphere of heat and steam. Diana's hands stroked up my stomach and I luxuriated in the feel of her wet body behind me and I leaned back even more. The movement of her fingers seemed choreographed, as they danced over my skin in a dance of semi seduction.

‘Did you have a good day?' Her mouth was right next to my ear, the tremors of it rumbling through my body. I nodded, the grin splitting my face. ‘Good,' trickled over my skin making goose bumps sprout up all over my body and making me shift back a little more. I heard a gasp from behind me and realised I had chaffed her most sensitive place. Using the tips of my fingers, I trailed a path down her thigh that was fortunately positioned next to me, almost wrapping me inside of her. I could feel the trembling of her muscle as my lone digit made its way up and down. Another move back, another gasp.

‘What about you?' I heard a mumble from behind me. ‘Did you have a good time?' Lips met my neck and massaged the skin, teeth deciding to nibble a little before her mouth sucked gently. Even though I was wet already, I believe I became wetter.

‘I loved it.' A hand slithered up my belly and cupped the underside of my breast, the nipple straining for contact. ‘And this.' Her other hand snaked downwards and through the apex of my thighs, a stroke of the flat of it hit every nerve ending. ‘And … this.' Teeth nibbled the lobe of my ear, a hand slipped higher and covered the wanting breast whilst inquisitive fingers parted my folds and met heat.

‘God!' I could feel her pushing against me and I wanted to turn around and capture her mouth, capture her body, her soul, her heart, but the sensations racing through me seemed to place me on a one track course. I wanted her to take me, to make love to me. Her fingers became more insistent, pushing down, dragging up, her palm began to knead, her teeth allowed her tongue to lavish and stroke my throat. Her scent was intoxicating, mingling with the candles and steam. I was thrumming with sensations, all of them were battling for prominence, fighting for significance, but I couldn't focus on one of them – they all made the whole, they all made me feel whole. Seeing her hands, her thighs, the weird shapes dancing on the walls … hearing her mutterings so close to my ear, the splash of water … the feel of her body underneath mine, her lips, her fingers, her breasts, the heat of the water, the heat of her … the taste of my cumming was so close. More stroking, more heat, more mutterings, more more more … and I needed her so much more. I wanted her deep inside of me, wanted her to climb inside me and stay, needed to know that she would always be with me body and soul.

I tried to turn, tried to cover her body front to front, feel her breasts press against mine, guide her fingers inside me, let them ravage and take what was so rightfully theirs as I slipped inside her, but she held me fast, her fingers digging deeper, her palm gripping my breast perfectly.

Instead of fighting, I succumbed. Surrendered to her inquisitive fingers … yielded to her kisses … gasped as a lone finger entered me and gripped, holding me in place. Then it circled, pushing against nerve endings that were screaming for more. And she gave it to me. Another finger, more circling, circling that turned to pushing and pulling, pushing and pulling that transformed itself into taking. My hips pushed downwards trying to increase the depth, increase the pressure. Water was manic, trying to escape, trying to give me more room, splashing over the bathroom tiles in its attempt to flee the scene.

A beautiful ache sparked inside, an ache so agonisingly encompassing I could feel the seed of it blossom and sprout outwards as if its mission was to completely cover every molecule of my undeserving body. Turning my face, I was met by hooded violet. Deep concentration didn't mask the look of want, in fact it enhanced it. Our bodies were rhythmic, her fingers claiming me, her breasts pressed so close I could feel the tautness of her nipples on my skin. Red lips were parted, breathing ragged. A slight twist and I covered them with my own. It was as if the contact released the stifled ache and I echoed her name inside her mouth as the orgasm hit like a tidal wave of delicious euphoria.

White. Everything blindingly white and deliriously wonderful. Diana's grip on me made me feel the safest I've ever felt in my life – one arm around me, the other moving her fingers from inside and trailing up my side. Now I could turn fully, turn and cover her, allow my lips to kiss her properly.

I was just in position when she stopped me, pulling her mouth away from mine.


I didn't want to stop. I wanted to make her feel the same as she'd made me.

‘Jess. Come. Let's go to bed.' Now that was something worth stopping for – well, stopping to start all over again.

A quick kiss and I lifted off her, water splashing over the rim of the tub. Holding my hand out, I gripped hers and pulled her up.

Dry towels swaddled us and I led her to my bedroom. I wanted to remember every single detail of this night. The way she held my hand as we walked, the look on her face, the way her eyes glistened, the soft, knowing smile she gave me as I closed the door behind her.

And as I lowered her onto my bed, I knew tonight would be the night that I made love to the woman I would always love.

Weirdly enough, not once in all the times we made love to each other throughout the night did I think about Lauren Baker. It was a pity that I couldn't stop it sneaking in as I lay in Diana's arms in the early hours of the morning. This was beginning to freak me out. Why couldn't I just let it go? Call me insecure, but I prefer the term ‘twat'.


The next morning we were woken by my Dad calling to ask if I was coming for lunch. That was a first. Dad called me to give me updates about world news, how he hated the Prime Minister, Mrs Walsh's cat and its pooing habits, but never to invite me to lunch. That was a given. The only time I didn't go for lunch was when I called to say I wasn't going.

I could hear my Mum's voice in the background asking how many were coming and then it hit me. They knew I wasn't alone. And the reason they knew? Only one reason and that came in the shape of a Sophie Harrison, AKA the gob of the North.

‘Erm … your mum wants to know if … erm … anyone else is coming.' I looked over my shoulder at a very naked Diana sprawled deliciously on the bed and grinned at her.

‘Just a minute Dad.' Holding the phone away, but uncovered, I asked, ‘You up for a spot of lunch with the in-laws?' As soon as I realised what I had said, I could feel the blush wafting its way up my throat and along my skin. Diana grinned and nodded, mouthing ‘I'm starving.' Thankfully I don't think she noticed my verbal faux pas, but I turned away from her quickly in case she could see the redness covering me like spray paint. ‘Yep. Make it two for lunch.'

I heard him whisper something to my Mum before he said nonchalantly, ‘Not our Sophie is it?'

A laugh shot out of my mouth. ‘As you well know, Dad, no … it's not Sophie. Happy?'

‘Too bloody right I am. Got to dig out my clipboard.' I opened my mouth to tell him he'd better keep his bloody inquisition to himself, but he fired a ‘see you both later' and was gone.

Fuck. I knew my parents. No. Better still, my parents knew me. As soon as they clocked me with Diana they would know I was smitten and they would make damned sure Diana was good enough for their little girl. This was not good. This was like Sophie times two on crack.

‘I'm looking forward to meeting your parents, Jess.' Diana's voice drifted from behind me and I pulled a ‘fuck me' face before plastering on a casual smile and turning to face her. ‘I've heard such wonderful things about them.' Her hands slipped around my waist and pulled me to her. ‘And … anyone who can make something as magnificent as you must be pretty special.' A small kiss turned into something a little more promising, but we didn't have the time to finish what would inevitably start if we continued – I didn't want us turning up at my parents smelling of sex – although at least it would shut them up for a little while.

Jesus. Even the thought of that made me feel I was eight years old and someone was kissing in front of my parents. Yep. Too gross.


As soon as we arrived I knew the Spanish Inquisition could be deemed as tame. Don't get me wrong, my parents were all smiles and courtesy, but the questions they asked were not the kind of questions you would ask someone unless you had an agenda. ‘What do you do?' Granted. That shows interest in the person's life. ‘How much do you earn a year?' could have been replaced with ‘What are your intentions with our little girl?' Initially, Diana looked a little startled, but, after a grin in my direction, she answered ‘More than enough.' The look on my Dad's face spoke volumes and for a split second I believed he was going to ask, ‘More than enough to take care of my daughter.' Thankfully, the phone rang and he scuttled off to answer it muttering his apologies whilst leaving my Mum grinning and nodding.

‘It is wonderful to finally meet you, Diana. We've heard so much about you.' Not from me you haven't. ‘You're a Graphic Designer, yes?' Not again. ‘Come into the lounge and let's chat.'

Diana made a move to go with my Mum, but I was stopped by my Dad yelling for me. Shit. Divide and conquer. That's what they were up to. Get both of us on our own and play good cop and … erm … good cop until they had all the information they needed to make a full and valid report.

‘Jess! Sophie's on the phone!' Now I was torn. I wanted to save Diana from a fate worse than a day with the lead interrogators from the MOD, but this also was a prime opportunity to talk to Soph. ‘About time. You deaf?' He leaned closer, his grin wickedly devilish, ‘Or in love?' Before I had a chance to turn my disapproving look into a sarcastic comment, he was gone.

‘Jess?' Sophie's voice seemed to calm me, but only slightly. ‘See you've taken your bird for the interrogation. How's it going?'

‘Thank God you called. I need to talk to you.'

A moment's silence echoed from the other end. ‘What's happened?' The jokiness of her previous tone seemed to vanish and I knew she would be sitting upright, the look of the Defender on her face.

‘Lauren Baker, that's what.'

‘WHAT? She been bothering you? Little fuck …'

‘She wrote a letter to Diana and …'

‘Hang on a minute. She wrote a let -ter?' Sophie paused and I knew she was thinking it through. ‘You going all paranoid, Jess?'

‘Well, it came yesterday. I know I'm being stupid.'

‘Yes. You're being stupid. Look, Jess. Do you really want to fuck everything up?' Of course not. ‘Get over it. How would you like Diana to go all moody arsed every time she thought about your exs?' Obviously, I wouldn't. ‘Lauren is very much in the past and if you don't want your relationship with Diana to go the same way, then get over yourself.' True. I didn't want to jeopardise my relationship with Diana, but that didn't stop the jealousy coming did it? ‘So, give us the goss. Did you shag?'


‘Looks like a yes. Any good? Earth moving, the works?'

‘Sophie! Pack it in.'

‘Looks like a yes again. Nice one.' Her chuckles came down the line crystal clear. ‘I have to dash – meeting Dave in a few. Good to know it's all going well.' A pause. ‘And Jess? Don't fuck it up, ok? Leave Baker in the past – move on – Diana is the one and you don't want to fuck it up do you?' No. Obviously. ‘Speak later. Love you.'

And she was gone, like the proverbial whirlwind.

Back in the lounge, my parents were seated in rapt attention as Diana spoke. ‘Well, that's how I would do it if I had that problem?' What problem? ‘Oranges.' Oranges?

My Dad turned his grinning face my way. ‘My. You've got yourself a cracker her, love. Oranges.' What the fuck with the oranges already. ‘Fancy coming into the garden, Diana?' You can tell me where I need to put them.' I looked at Diana, who gave me a wink before saying she would love to.

Left alone with my Mum, I had to ask. ‘What's all this about the oranges?'

‘Not a clue, love. I was too busy watching her body language.' She got up from the chair and made her way over to me. ‘She's beautiful, Jess. And funny.' Loving arms wrapped around me and pulled me close. ‘She's in love with you, you know?'

‘Pffft!' Although I said this, I felt my heart stop before banging against my ribcage.

‘No pfffts. Mum's know. It's written all over her.' A kiss on my cheek and she pulled away. ‘You want a brew?' Yes. Of course I did. But I also wanted to know more about what the oracle had seen. Diana was in love with me? Diana. In love. With me? So, why couldn't I see it? Why was I holding back on telling her? Should I just go for it and say ‘Look. I'm not expecting anything in return, but thought I would just get it out there.' But, I was expecting something in return wasn't I? If she nodded, thanked me and then carried on with her life, I would be devastated. ‘Well, are you coming or not, Dolly Dreamboat?'

By the time we had got to the kitchen, there was evidence of oranges being ravaged all over the work tops. Mum just picked up a cloth and started wiping the counter down, her attention otherwise engaged. Looking out of the window, I could see Diana and my Dad talking animatedly at the end of the garden, him waving his arms about like a human windmill.

Before I knew it, I was standing next to them. ‘Let's see if that ginger moggy likes this shall we?' Glancing at the ground, I noticed orange peel and segments littering the borders of my Dad's garden. ‘That should stop it. If not, back to the giant pill bottles.' Diana turned and gave me a blinding smile and I felt my stomach flip wonderfully. ‘You've got a belter here, love. A keeper.' I know, Dad, I know.

‘Tea's up!'

Dad scuttled back to the house leaving me alone with Diana for the first time in what seemed ages. I opened my mouth to apologise for the twenty questions, but Diana spoke first. ‘I really like your parents, Jess. So different to mine.' Too right. They actually gave a shit – and that's why they give anyone they think I like the third degree. ‘I was surprised your Dad hasn't used oranges to keep the cats off his garden before.' She snorted. ‘A lot better than me designing a huge pill bottle to catch them in.' Fuck. He never asked her that.

‘Are you two coming?'

And now it time for round two.


Overall, it was a wonderful lunch. Mum and Dad left the grilling of my girlfriend off for the remainder of the day indicating she had passed the Taylor Test. Which is good. By the time we had left, the day was nearly over. Night had taken over the gloom of the day and I was quickly approaching leaving Diana's company until God knows when. Diana drove me home and we both sat in the car waiting for the other to say something. I didn't feel ready to say goodnight, but I knew we both had work to do the next day. I wanted to invite her in for a while just to extend our time; however, if I did I knew where we would end up. Not that I minded. Nevertheless, I also knew Diana had to work on a project that was due by the end of the week.

‘So.' Diana's voice cut through the quiet of the car. ‘Here we are.'


More silence, a little fidgeting, a lot of expectation.

‘So. Erm … I'll say goodnight.' Do you have to? Can't you say you want to come inside – stuff work – let me take you again? Turning my head, I was met by her intent gaze. Those eyes got me every time. ‘Do I get a kiss?' A grin spread over my face.

‘Do you want one?' Diana didn't even answer. Her hungry lips found mine instantly and claimed them all over again. Hands were fumbling inside jackets and trying to seek naked skin. Diana pushed me backwards until I was pressed against the door, her body trying to climb over mine. The interior of her car was too small to accommodate her body trying to shift over the handbrake and I could feel her frustration, a growl emanating from the depth of her. A laugh escaped from me and I felt her stiffen before relaxing flaccidly against me.

‘It's not going to happen is it?' Her voice was joking and slightly muffled.

‘Not here it isn't.' Her head shot up and I was pinned by blue eyes and a raised eyebrow, almost like she was questioning my words. ‘And you have to work, honey.' Another slump.

‘I hate work,' was muttered against my neck. She sounded like a teenager hating school. ‘I want to play with you.' I laughed. Her head shot up and I was gifted with a mock serious face. ‘You laughing at my misery, Taylor?' I nodded. Diana released a huge sigh and slumped back onto me.

Minutes passed and we half sat, half lay like this neither of us wanting to end things. But, like all good things, an end has to come.

I stood in my doorway and watched the tail lights of her car disappear into the distance. Turning, I was just about to enter when I heard a voice say, ‘Fucking dykes.'

‘Night Jeff.' Grinning, I made my way into the house and closed the door. Time for a little loud music to liven up the neighbours before bedtime. At least whilst I was pissing off Jeff Barnes, I would not be pondering the meaning of life, love, Diana Sullivan and my incessant need to throttle the life out of Lauren Baker.


Chapter Thirteen

I didn't get to see Diana until class on the Wednesday. We'd spoken on the phone, but it'd been rushed. It appeared Diana's boss wanted the proofs of the project asap and she had to get them to him before Friday – meaning Thursday. Considering she was teaching on the Wednesday evening, that didn't leave her with much time to get on with it. Part of me seemed smug that I had made her go home on the Sunday so she had more time to work, whereas the other, needier, part was still wishing I had ignored real life and taken Diana inside.

Diana looked perfect as usual, but she seemed unfocused. It appeared as if her mind was elsewhere all evening, although she did make her way over to my desk more than once to whisper things in my ear. Sophie was in her element with her piss taking – Hot For Teacher was hummed intermittently throughout the first session, even though I glared at her repeatedly. However, she did decide that losing her teeth down her throat was a good reason to pack it in.

Break time came and went without a sign of Diana joining us, but Dave and Sophie seemed unfazed by it. As for me, you can gather what was going through my head. Rushed phone calls, no real contact, unfocused … I knew she was busy with work, knew that she was drawing the classes to their natural conclusion in the next two weeks, but the rational side of me had decided there was too much evidence going on on the other side of the argument. Had the weekend been too much too soon like I had thought? I mean, sleeping with each other and meeting each other's parents all in the space of a few days – a lot. And the letter. I wanted to stop this part eking inside, but it was an exhibit in my own little court case residing inside my head. Was Diana thinking about Lauren? Even if it was to do with how the bitch had treated her in the past? Did she need to talk about it?

Standing suddenly, I decided to go and seek out the missing Ms Sullivan and ask if she needed my help. That's what girlfriends do. They help to sort out problems.

‘You going for a pee?' Why did Sophie feel the need to ask about my bladder? ‘Hurry up. Class starts in a few.'

Making my way to the classroom, I comforted my neediness with the knowledge that I was being the good girlfriend. I mentally slapped myself that I had forgotten to grab her a coffee and bring it back with me when I was halted by the sound of Diana's voice.

‘Look. I can't just drop everything here right this second. I have commitments.' I couldn't see her, but knew she was somewhere ahead of me. ‘I'll try to get to there tomorrow, ok?' Where? ‘I know you need me, but …' Who? Who needs her? I heard her sigh resignedly. ‘Ok. I'll be there about 11. I'll catch the commuter. You happy?' I wasn't. And her voice was getting closer. I didn't want to appear to be ear wigging, although that was exactly what I was doing. Furtively, I looked around the hallway. Doors surrounded me, but I knew they would be locked. ‘See you then.' Fuck. I ran a little down the opposite way of her voice, turned around and started strolling back. Just as I had started to walk, Diana appeared around the corner, her mobile in her hand. ‘Hey baby. I was just coming to meet you.' I forced a grin to my face.

‘Same here.' With knobs on.

‘You ok? You look a little pale.' I nodded and squeaked a fine before launching myself at her. ‘Hey, what's all this about? Not that I mind.' The warmth of her seeped into the fear of me and I held her tighter. ‘Has something happened?' She pulled slightly back and looked into my face as if trying to read me.

‘Nope. Just missed you.' I watched her face try to gauge my reaction, so I grinned up at her. ‘Can't a girl miss her woman once in a while?' The crooked grin came out, the one, as you know, I really loved best.

‘Too right.' A soft kiss hit my forehead and she pulled me to her and held me tightly. It was like we were saying goodbye at a train station never to see the other again. ‘I've missed this … us.' Tears built up behind my eyes and I can't really explain why. Too much had happened in the last five minutes for me to compute. All I knew is that Diana was going away tomorrow and she was holding me like it would be the last time. ‘Jess? About after class … ‘ I knew it was coming before she said it. ‘I've got to get straight back. I'm leaving for London tomorrow.' London. Lauren Baker. Love ya loads, baby. ‘Work needs the project as soon as. I have to walk them through it.' I squeezed her to me harder before releasing her.

‘I understand, love. Work is work after all.' To be honest, I think I did pretty well when I spoke. My voice was perfectly pitched, light, understanding, pleasant. Although if anyone who really knew me was standing near they would have added empty to the list.

‘I might be away for the rest of the week … maybe into next. Is that ok?' What did she expect me to say? No. I want you to quit your job and stay with a woman you have only known for ten weeks?

‘God, baby.' I laughed for effect. ‘I'm sure I can entertain myself for a few days.' Either my imagination was playing up or I saw a fleetingly look of disappointment cross her face. ‘You need to get a drink. Class should be starting now, Teach .' And dismissed.

‘Erm … ok.' Diana just stood there as if she was waiting for me to continue metaphorically brushing her off. ‘I'll … I won't be a minute.' And then she was gone and was I left mentally kicking myself up the arse whilst standing in the corridor.


The second half of class seemed strained. I mean, there was a naked woman sat in front of us all flashing her bits and pieces and none of us could even muster a giggle. Not even Sophie. She, for once, was concentrating on something less private than when the man was in the same position last week. There were no epithets like the ‘Look at my dick!' or even wasp like public lice. Granted, she was drawing the woman's breasts, but she did have the choice of drawing intimate places as the woman had decided to sit facing the pair of us with her legs raised up. Not the most flattering position, I must admit.

‘I'm sure her flower keeps winking at me.'

I ignored Sophie and focused on getting the peak of a mischievous nipple seem almost chiselled.

At nine, Diana was pleasantly chatting with Dave as Sophie and I packed our things away. A little part of me wanted to slink away, into my car, go home and bury myself under my duvet. However, I was getting on my own tits. I had to stop all this insecure bollocks and carry on – get a grip of what I was stupidly doing. What Sophie had told me when I had spoken to her at my parents was going to come true. At this rate I was going to fuck up the only good relationship I'd ever had. I knew that Soph would tell me to talk to Diana about things, get them out in the open, but how could I? It would be like admitting I was a fucking insecure idiot who was becoming obsessed with Lauren Baker – the same Lauren Baker who Diana had told to sling her hook because she was an obsessive violent insecure wankette who didn't know what side her bread was buttered. A bit like me without the violence. So, if I didn't want to be kicked to the kerb, I needed to act like a normal human being for once.

‘Hey, you.' Diana tore her eyes from Dave and grinned at me. ‘Fancy a little you and me time before you go?' God. That smile.

‘Night, Dave,' Diana moved away from her brother who was looking a little confused. He went to speak again, but Diana repeated her ‘Night, Dave,' and moved even closer to me. ‘You need a lift?'

‘Nope.' I moved closer. ‘Just a kiss to keep me going.' Strong arms wrapped around me and pulled me into her. Sophie shouted her goodnight from the doorway, giggled and then told Dave to move it. That left just Diana and me in the room.

‘I think I can manage that.' Her voice was sultry, husky, alluring, and so close to my ear I could feel the ripples race through me. Lifting my head, I gazed into a sea of blueness. So open, so trusting, so goddamn beautiful and enthralling. Slowly, she dipped her face to mine and delivered the most tender, yet powerful, kiss I'd ever had in my life. Pressure deepened, and I felt myself becoming absorbed, almost as if I was morphing inside of her. Nothing else mattered but now. Nothing else existed but Diana and me. Nothing could change the way I felt about this woman. A lot of nothings, but this was everything – she was everything.


Just under an hour later, I was at home making Dreamtime tea. We had parted in the car park and I observed her through my rear view mirror watch my departure as she stood next to her own car. I wanted to slam on the brakes, get out of the car and run to her, hold her, gather her up and slip her inside my coat and run. But that is just idiotic. I had to start acting like a thirty one year old woman who had just realised love actually exists and stop being a teenage Facebook addict updating their status to ‘confused', ‘lovesick', ‘angsty' and all the other ones that dredge up hormones and insecurity.

Diana said she would call. That was enough. Diana was my girlfriend. My girlfriend. And I was happy with that.


Thursday saw me checking my mobile too many times. It was as if I was awaiting the results of a test and couldn't seem to concentrate on anything but an ‘All Clear' to be beeped through. She called at seven thirty one just as I was climbing into the bath. Obviously, I nearly broke my neck to get to the phone, which, as it so happened, was right next to me. I could hear voices behind her like she was in a public place and although I spoke as loudly as I thought appropriate, she had difficulty hearing what I had to say. I could hear a woman shout her name, but it didn't sound like Lauren Baker. The woman sounded older, as I convinced myself for the remaining part of the night.

‘Baby. I have to go. We're sitting down to eat before going back to the office. I'll call tomorrow, ok?'

‘Sure. You get going.' Well, what else did you expect me to say?

‘And Jess … I miss you.' Closing my eyes, I absorbed the words. She missed me. ‘Got to go, honey. Until tomorrow?'

‘Yes … ok … and I … ‘ but she was gone and I was left holding the phone to my chest wishing it was her.


The events of Thursday were pretty much repeated for the next six days. I knew she was busy, knew the project was important, but I was also feeling lost. Diana was popping home for Wednesday's class and going back to London the following morning. All I hoped was I would get a little more time with her.

As soon as I walked in the classroom, Diana grabbed my hand and pulled me into the store cupboard. Slam. At this moment I was extremely happy I had made it to class thirty minutes early – more time for Diana's kisses. It didn't take very long before we both began panting, the intensity of separation apparent to us both. A soft knocking sound came from outside the door followed by, ‘Are you two at it again?' We giggled like school kids caught behind the bike sheds by the teacher on duty, but I didn't mind.

Straightening my blouse, Diana stilled my hands. ‘Are you free after class?' I grinned and nodded. ‘Can I come over? You can say no if you want.'

Standing on my tiptoes, I kissed her gently. ‘I would love you to come over. I've missed you.'

‘Have you? Really? You're not just saying that to make me feel better, are you?' I wasn't too sure if she was joking or not, but by the look on her face, something told me she meant every word. And, you may guess, that made me feel so fucking good.

Class dragged by. Don't get me wrong, I loved being there with Diana, loved taking part in the drawing exercises, but I wanted time alone with her. I hadn't seen her for a week and only spoken to her at intervals – you can't blame me can you?

By nine twenty, we were in the hallway of my house. By nine twenty three we were naked and on my bed. Our lovemaking was fierce, passionate, demanding. It seemed we couldn't get enough of each other. Every touch, stroke, taste was hungry and it felt as if I would never be satisfied. It was gone one o'clock in the morning that we both fell asleep, her half sprawled over me, both completely contented with our nakedness. It didn't seem to be five minutes before I felt her gently shaking me awake and murmuring how she had to leave. My eyes ached as I opened them to watch her getting dressed, flicking my attention to the clock on the side. Five forty five.

Sitting up, I widened my eyes hoping that would be enough to allow me to focus on her. Her movements were fluid, quiet, sensual. Clothes slipped over the glorious expanse of her body and began steadily to hide the beauty of her skin. ‘You're up early.'

Turning, Diana brightened the room with her smile. ‘Hey baby. I know, but I've got to get home and get my stuff. My train leaves at eight ten.' Leaning over, Diana's face was mere inches from mine. I could see the tiredness around her eyes and the normal vibrancy was slightly dulled. ‘I … thank you for last night. I needed that.' Funny thing to say - ‘needed that' not ‘needed you' like I would have said but didn't.

‘My pleasure, love.' Was I easy? No. Don't go down that path. Don't start thinking she only wants you for a quick release. ‘When will you be home?' Did I sound eager or just interested?

Diana sighed, her shoulders slumping. When she looked back at me I could see sadness lurking just below the surface. ‘To tell you the truth, Jess, I don't want to go back.' I grabbed her hand and squeezed. ‘I want to stay here with you. I missed you so much last week.' I felt the ache in my chest crack and the balming solution slip out and coat the inside of me. ‘Can I ask you something?' I nodded. ‘Do you wish I didn't have to go too?' Why would she ask that? Wasn't it obvious? Diana shook her head before stating, ‘Never mind. I've got to get going.'

She went to move away from me but I pulled her back. ‘I wish more than anything that you didn't have to go back. I've missed you so bloody much.' I wanted to add that I loved her, but didn't. Diana slipped out of my hands and wrapped her arms around me, muffling the next bit. ‘I just can't wait until you're back for good.'

A hot kiss hit the side of my face, ‘I can't either.' When she pulled back her eyes were back to sparkling and full of life, the tiredness seemed to have evaporated. ‘You mean so much to me, Jess. I just want you to remember that when I'm not here.'

Cupping her face, I made sure she was looking straight into my eyes before I said, ‘You mean a lot to me, too, Diana. I just want you to remember that when all the women in London are hitting on you.' I grinned to let her know I was joking, although a bit of me wasn't. This woman in my hands was gorgeous. Any fool with two eyes could see that. I was still surprised that she had decided to be my girl instead of getting someone who was worthy of her. ‘You need to carry a big stick around with you to beat ‘em off with.' God, I loved her laugh.

‘Yeah right. Can I borrow yours if you're not going out?'

‘In the words of teenagers … LOL!'

‘LOL?' Her face looked puzzled in the most adorable way.

‘Never mind. Go on. You're going to be late.'

Ten minutes later I was waving her off. There was no point in going back to bed. There was no way I would be able to go back to sleep after seeing such a beautiful vision first thing in the morning. There was only one thing for it. A cup of tea and morning TV. Now that's living.


Why was it getting harder the longer she was away? Shouldn't I be getting used to it by now? I mean, she had been gone again for five and a bit days and was only popping back for class again. At least she had taken the time away from her busy life in London to call me more often. Well, not often enough to pacify the insecurities I seemed to be wildly taking out of control.

I did spend Saturday with Sophie who told me in no uncertain terms I was well on my way to a strait jacket and a one way pass to the Obsession Ward – alone. My parents were no better on the Sunday, and they thought making goo goo faces at me when I was talking on the phone with Diana was perfectly acceptable. They tried to get me out of the self-imposed funk I'd slipped into as soon as the call was over, but I couldn't snap out of it. Even I knew this was not good. The only thing I couldn't seem to nail was the reason I was acting like such a twat. It wasn't because I loved her, that much was obvious. People in love didn't do that. Jealousy wasn't about love – it was about possession and instead of the other person falling madly in love back, it would only serve to scare them away.

I didn't want to scare Diana away. I think that was obvious. Therefore, I had to do something about it before I lost the only woman in my life I would ever love.


Chapter Fourteen

I was in bed at nine thirty on the Tuesday before the last class and the return of Diana. I couldn't bear to sit downstairs and watch TV or do something else as mind numbing. So, I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, staring at the ceiling and thinking about me and Diana – I should say thinking about how I was going to get past acting in a way that would drive her away, as that would be nearer to the truth. Every time I thought of her face, I got a clawing feeling in my gut. Even though a little bit was fear, the majority of it was the anticipation of seeing her the following evening.

I had just nodded off and my mobile sounded. Through blurry eyes, I saw Diana's name flash up. My grin was instant although still half asleep.

‘Hey … Did I wake you?' Why is it when people ask you if they've just woken you, we always insist we were awake? ‘Oh … that's strange?'

‘What is?'

‘I thought you'd be asleep considering all your lights are out.' Eyes that were half open shot to full attention as I realised what she has said. If she knew all my lights were out that would mean only one thing.

Shooting out of bed, I tripped over my rug and launched head first into the closed bedroom door. I didn't let it affect me, just shook my head and yanked the door open before racing down the stairs. It wasn't until I stood in front of the door that I remembered Diana was still on the other end of the phone.

Lifting it to my ear, I could hear Diana repeating my name. Butterflies skipped around in my gut and I was definite my legs were finding it hard to support me. It was also a surprise when I witnessed my hand shaking as it unlatched the safety chain and made its snail way to the catch.

‘Are you ever going to let me in?' Her voice held an edge of teasing and I felt the grin split even further over my face. ‘There you are. Finally .' Diana was still talking into the phone, but lowered it before holding her arms out in invitation. I didn't have to be asked twice. Grabbing hold of her, I pulled her close and buried my face into the nape of her neck. The scent of her was like coming home after being away for too long. Diana's smell seemed to calm me, as it held everything I ever believed I needed to feel complete. I don't know how long we stood there, but I seemed to snap back into the real world when I heard her whisper, ‘Come on inside. You're shivering.' She thought I was cold. I didn't correct her.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that Diana didn't go home that night. We spent hours knowing each other again, hours of moulding ourselves to willing bodies, hours of moving in perfect synch acclimatising each other to heat, skin and breath.

The sun peeked through the badly drawn curtains and slithered up the covers to illuminate the contours of Diana's face. In sleep, she looked so young, so innocent. I felt a giggle bubble up as I remembered all we had done the previous night – all of which was as far from innocent as innocent could go. A contented sigh slipped through her lips before she shuffled towards me, her body searching mine in her sleep. This slight movement made my heart painfully expand as I wondered if she knew she was doing it. God. I hoped she did.

Lifting my fingers, I traced a path around her face without actually touching her. Slowly, I drew in the air her chiselled features, her firm jaw, her straight nose; then I fluttered my fingers over the softness of her lips, lips I had kissed only a couple of hours before but was aching to kiss again.

Lowering my hand I shuffled closer to her allowing my breath to mingle with hers.

Softly, so softly, almost like a murmur, I allowed the words I longed to say to her to hit the air.

‘I love you.'

It is amazing how saying those three words can make a heart soar isn't it? But then again, seeing Diana's eyes flutter, her forehead crease and then a ‘Jess?' seemed to do the complete opposite.

Slamming my eyes closed, I feigned sleep. I felt Diana move, felt her lean over me as if she was checking to see if I was actually awake, before hearing her repeat my name. I played possum, although I was definite if she had the mind to listen, she would hear my heart banging like a drumstick against my ribcage. Actually, she could probably see it booming in and out of my chest.

I stayed like that for as long as I believed she was leaning over me. It felt like hours. But as soon as I felt her shift, felt her breath move from my face, I smacked my lips together and readied myself for my fake waking up performance.

My eyes tentatively fluttered open to be greeted by a sea of blueness. Diana was staring at me intently, her head resting on her hand, her elbow buried into the pillow. I stretched leisurely, or as leisurely as could considering I was metaphorically crapping myself as I expected her to demand I repeat what I had said.

I fluttered my eyes as if to focus them and innocently asked, ‘You ok?' Diana seemed to think about it before answering with a smile.

‘Couldn't be better.'

I think the sensation of relief is one of the best emotions a person can have, don't you? Think about it. All the times you have felt really good in your life, weren't they mainly based on relief? I know this relief I was experiencing was very selfish, but at this precise moment I was happily wallowing in it. However, there was a little part of me that felt a semblance of disappointment that she hadn't heard me tell her those three little, yet very powerful, words.

‘You want a drink? I'm getting one.' I nodded, too scared to trust what would come out of my mouth. ‘Orange? Water? Tea? What?' I nodded again. Diana's face crumpled in question.

‘Tea! Erm … yeah .. tea.'

A laugh shot out of her mouth. ‘Looks like tea, then.' Swiftly, she leaned forward and planted a kiss on my lips. It wasn't gentle, almost possessive in its intensity. Then she was up and off the bed, grabbing her shirt as she left the room, leaving me breathlessly waiting for her return.


Nothing was said upon her return. We sipped our drinks and then snuggled down for another hour before the alarm sounded and told me it was time to get to work. Diana left my house at the same time as I did as she had a million and one things to get sorted at home before class that evening. I hated leaving her. I think that goes without saying.

All day at work I was distracted with the events of the morning. Did she hear me tell her I loved her? If she had, why hadn't she said anything? Even a ‘WTF!' would have been a start. It seemed strange that she had decided to wake up when I had whispered to her. But not. God! I was driving myself insane with all the fucking mindreading and possible outcomes that could happen in my life if I had the bloody spine to say something to her. I should've just bit the bullet when I saw her eyes twitching and her forehead furrow and waited for her to be fully awake and told her again.

Who am I kidding? That would take balls, backbone and gumption – three things I obviously lacked. I wanted to call my pseudo therapist, AKA Sophie, but I knew she would only take the piss, before telling me to get a grip. So, the day continued. Uneventfully.

The evening came around slowly and I was looking forward to the last night in class. If I had learned anything from this course it would not just be how to consider perspective. I had learned so much about my life, myself and my inability to ‘seize the day'. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all negative. I had also found Diana Sullivan, although I don't think she was really lost in the first place.

I got there early hoping to grab a few minutes alone with Diana before class started. What I didn't expect was that everybody else had the same idea. It was the last class after all – something I had acknowledged but not actually acknowledged, if you know what I mean. She was in the process of thanking a middle aged woman for a gift when she suddenly stopped mid-sentence and looked in my direction. Blue eyes pierced mine before she bestowed a breath taking grin in my direction. I watched her finish her thanks and make her excuses, all the time her eyes had darted back and forth to mine.

‘Hey, you.' Diana leaned forward slightly and, for a moment, I thought she was going to kiss me in front of all her class. Instead, she tilted her head and whispered, ‘You look amazing.' I heard her inhale. ‘And smell divine.' I felt the blush race over my face and even heat the tips of my ears. A giggle came up from nowhere and I was on the verge of shuffling my feet and saying ‘Aw shucks.' But, I was saved.

‘Oi! Taylor! You sucking up to the teacher again?' Sophie was standing right behind me and I hadn't even heard her approach. Strange, as Sophie was a lot of things, but Ninja wasn't one of them.

Diana looked over my shoulder and grinned. ‘Ah … the sister-in-law. You brought any equipment tonight?'

‘Just my razor sharp wit and good looks.' I turned to face her. ‘And … fuck me, Jess! What's with the beetroot face?' Did I say she had saved me? Maybe I mean to say embarrass me even further until I felt the blush turn into something that could be classified as a third degree burn. ‘You got a temperature?'

Playfully, I went to push her away, but even the people who were on the other side of the room turned to look when they heard the thwack of my hand on her shoulder and the ‘Ouch! Y'git!' come from my best friend and tormenter. ‘It's the cold. Erm … the heat.'

‘Which one? Cold or heat?' She was rubbing her shoulder and glaring at me.

‘Both. Come one. Let's get settled.' I winked at Diana, which was quite a feat at the precise moment in time. ‘See you in a bit.' I know. Completely stupid. I would be seeing her all night as she was the one teaching the class. However, you have to forgive my stupidness – I was having a crisis at the time.

Our final project was a still life. A female one, much to Sophie's disdain. This would be the one that would decide if we would either pass or fail the course. By the looks of my friend's drawing, and her inability to focus on what she was doing, I gathered she didn't really care whether she flunked or not. Images of her cat with buttons down its front popped into my head at one point as I was looking at her work – something that shouldn't have been conjured when she was supposed to have been drawing a naked woman. At least the pubic lice were absent.

Dave came in about 7:45, nodding and mouthing his apologies to his sister. Diana grinned at him and motioned he should just get stuck in.

When break came, Dave scooted over to us and told us he needed to speak to Diana before meeting us in the café. I smiled at his words, but a part of me was a little disappointed that I wouldn't be able to snatch a few moments alone with her.

Why did I need to be near her all of the time? Why was it when someone else held her attention, or if she was not right next to me, within touching distance, I felt empty? Was I turning into a sticky bob? We had been together only twelve hours previously, so why was I feeling as if a lead weight had been dropped onto me when I was queuing for coffee?

Sophie didn't say anything until we were seated, and then it took her the time to stir her coffee slowly whilst glaring at me suspiciously for me to get antsy.

‘What?' She continued to stir, and then tapped her spoon on the side of her cup three times. ‘Why are you staring at me like I've grown two heads?' She puckered her lips and closed her eyes momentarily. ‘What? Again.'

A sigh released itself and I watched her shoulders slump, a look of resignation on her face.

‘You're cocking up again, aren't you?' I pulled the ‘What the fuck are you talking about' face and snorted. ‘Thought so.'

‘Look, I …'

‘So you should be.'


‘Exactly. What the fuck are you playing at?'

A frustrated breath left my lips and I squirmed uncomfortably on the plastic chair. Grabbing a pen from my bag, I snatched a napkin and wrote, ‘ I've no clue what you're talking about. I'm not even going to try to answer you if you insist on finishing my sentences.' Sophie half looked at me scribbling before giving me a look of disinterest as I pushed the note over to her.

‘You know exactly what I mean. You're being all retarded.' Huh? ‘No need to look all innocent. I've known you too long for you to give it the angelic one.' Sophie leaned over the table. ‘Jess. Just tell the girl how you feel. What's the worst that could happen?' I didn't answer. ‘You're terrified she will leave you. I saw your face when Dave asked Diana for a word. Anyone would think you would never see her again.'

‘But, I didn't do or say anything.'

‘You didn't need to. All I'm saying is …'

‘There you are.' Diana slipped in beside me and I felt the click of connection once again. ‘Dave's just getting coffee.' She looked from me to Sophie. ‘What's up?'

‘Noth …'

‘Just reminding Jess about what she has to do.' Sophie smiled showing her perfectly white teeth. ‘Tell me Diana …' I felt my stomach clench. She wouldn't would she? ‘I wanted to know something.' I tried to kick her under the table but kicked the leg of it instead. ‘How do you feel about …' Aw fuck. ‘teaching?' Then the smile again, but this time aimed at me with the addition of a raised eyebrow.

Diana was oblivious to my discomfort, both physically and emotionally, and started to jabber about the pros and cons about teaching a night class. I didn't hear a word of it. I was too busy plotting my revenge on my grinning friend.


I passed; Sophie didn't. I was over the moon as I fully believed I would fail. Sophie was really surprised that her drawing hadn't cut the mustard with her -‘in-law', but took the rejection as well as she could ever take it. With grumbles, piss taking (mostly to do with I was sleeping with the teacher) and loads of face pulling.

However, passing the course seemed to pale in comparison when I found out Diana would not be leaving the following day as I expected her to. The project was running smoothly and she didn't have to go back to London until the New Year. It was if a weight had been lifted off my chest – a weight that I did and also didn't know was there. If I was to say the heaviness I had experienced in the last couple of weeks was just because I missed her, I would be a liar. It was more of me fretting about how I felt about her, her being around much more interesting people, and, mainly – if I was being truthful, her being in the same city as Lauren Baker. I know, I know. Diana had told me she had never loved Lauren. But she had also told me Lauren had held something over her to keep her with her. That was the crux of the matter.

But. That was in the past. I had Diana all to myself and I was going to make sure I made the most of it.


Chapter Fifteen

I couldn't believe how fast time flew now that Diana was home. Her birthday came and went with much celebration and a necklace from me. I had spent ages looking at rings but decided that it was a little too soon to be frightening the shit out of her with an engagement ring. ‘I love you' definitely comes before ‘Will you marry me?' doesn't it?

Before I knew it, I was waiting for Diana to pick me up for our weekend away in London. It would be the first time we would have been away together, but it wasn't as if we didn't know each other intimately by that stage. Good job too because I would have been shitting a brick.

The Plaza was everything I could want and more. It wasn't until we pulled up outside that I realised we were staying at the Park Plaza on Westminster Bridge Road and not the dump I had seen online. Our Studio room had a fantastic view of Big Ben framed by floor to ceiling windows. No wonder it was so expensive.

As soon as the door closed behind us, allowing the porter to scuttle off, Diana slipped her arms around my waist and we stood for ages gazing at the busy street below. Big Ben was illuminated and stood guard over the city, and the Houses of Parliament seemed to tag on at the side. It was perfect.

‘Fancy a soak before dinner?' Her voice tickled my ear and the nerves in my body willingly reacted. ‘Get your bags sorted and I'll run us a bath.' A quick kiss on the side of my throat and she was gone. I liked the thought of her running ‘us' a bath. That sounded wonderful.

After five minutes, I entered the bathroom, the aroma of the bubbling water tantalising my senses. Fluffy bathrobes and slippers were waiting next to the bath and candles were lit all around the edges of the room. Diana waited for my response with a grin on her face before saying, ‘I won't be a minute' and shooting out.

Quickly, I disrobed and slipped into the tub. A sigh released itself as I allowed my body to relax with the gentle massage of the water. My eyes slipped closed and I sunk even lower.

A voice close to my ear whispered, ‘Careful you don't drown in there.' I allowed a lazy smile to slip along my face and slowly opened my eyes to greet a half-naked woman standing with her back to me. Muscles curved and shaped as she removed her clothes and I once again questioned how someone could be so perfectly beautiful. Bending to pick up her trousers, I was greeted with the mouth-watering image of Diana's backside. God. I felt the spark of arousal ignite once again, although, to be truthful, I don't think the spark had ever extinguished since I had first heard her voice in the Art room.

It seemed so natural to scoot forward and let her slip in behind me. So natural to feel her legs slip around my hips and cocoon and protect them. So wonderfully natural to lean back and feel to pressure of her breasts on my back, her breath on the side of my face. We chatted lazily about the exhibition the following day until we realised we didn't have to talk at all. Just being with each other was more than enough.

Leisurely, we washed each other; each stroke of the sponge on my skin seemed to incite the longing I had for the woman behind me. I could hear her breathing become more ragged as she shaped her hands over the base of my neck. Soft kisses lighted on the flesh and conjured goose bumps along my arms and front. Even though the room was pleasantly warm, my nipples gave the impression of sub-zero temperatures.

I couldn't resist her soft touches and had scooted around and claimed her mouth with mine. The water seemed to increase the pressure instead of acting as a deterrent. Her hands went instinctively to my butt and pulled me closer, allowing the lapping sensation to titillate the oversensitive area between my legs. Moving over her was so easy, the rhythm of her against me seamless. My mouth moved from hers and trailed a path down her throat, over her collar bone and down to her breasts. The taste of the water mixed with the taste of her making a heady combination. Thankfully, the bath was wide enough for me to push her legs further apart to make room for my inquisitive fingers. Heat taunted the tips, a thicker wetness than that of the water greeted me and I slipped effortlessly inside her. A gasp murmured from her lips, her eyes half open and expectant. Out. In. The tempo was slow, demanding. I could feel her trying to lift herself more into me, but I pushed down, almost trapping her. I knew she wanted me to take her quickly, could tell by the noises she was making. But this wasn't the time for speed. This was the time for a slow claiming.

Hips pushed higher, fingers dipped deeper, as my mouth suckled her breast. I could feel her most intimate walls contracting, pulsating, readying themselves for the onslaught of sensation that was imminent. What I didn't expect was to climax with her as she came, as just watching that beautiful face tip over the edge was enough for me to fall over with her. It was at the precise moment that I knew I would tell her I loved her this weekend. I had to, because if I didn't I knew it would drive me crazy.


Over an hour later, we emerged, faces flushed, bodies alive yet relaxed. I was drying my hair when I heard the door knock and Diana speaking to someone.

‘Hungry?' Turning, I saw a trolley laden with food and my stomach growled a yes.

I think it was the most wonderful evening of my life. Everything was absolutely perfect – the setting, the company, the food – everything.

Throughout the night we rekindled the passion we had experienced in the bathroom. It felt as if I could never get enough of Diana. This thought both thrilled and depressed me. Even in sleep I couldn't escape the fear that Diana would rebuff my proclamation of love. Images of her face contorting into all emotions were paramount, and even though I held great comfort to the feel of her naked body spooning up against my back, part of me was still in limbo. I just wanted to get a grip of myself. Maybe even give myself a good shake. But, that was impossible. So, I fell into a fitful slumber once again.

The exhibition at Tate Modern started at 10 am and Diana wanted to get there before the rush. Breakfast was hurried and it wasn't long before we were making our way on foot as the gallery wasn't even a mile and a half from where we were staying. Half past nine saw us queuing outside the foreboding building, a building that definitely hid the fact it was full of beautiful artwork.

By the time we got inside we were perished. The wind had whipped around us making our teeth chatter and forcing us to hang on to the other for heat. Well, that was what I told myself at any rate.

God. It was worth it. Seeing all those beautiful pieces in one place was absolutely breath-taking. Half naked women surrounded us and the exhibit could have been described a lesbian's dream. I was more fascinated with his philosophy – the escapism from everything that was ‘artificial and conventional'. Considering I was as conventional as conventional got, I was a little surprised at my mental meanderings. It was the freedom of it all. The ‘fuck it all' mindset. I craved the ability to throw caution to the wind and follow my dream, although mine didn't include travelling to Tahiti or Hiva Oa. Mine was touching six foot and staring at a wonderful painting titled The Moon and the Earth, her fingers stretching as if she desperately wanted to touch it, just like mine were itching to touch her.

Time sped by so quickly that I was surprised when Diana said we should get lunch and sit for a while. We had been in the museum for over four hours and it felt like I had just stepped through the door.

‘We need to get going after we eat. Tate Britain closes at six.' Diana was perusing the menu and only flicked her eyes to mine. I didn't answer. Tate Britain? ‘If you want to see Ophelia we have to go to Tate Britain.' Another glance, almost as if she was embarrassed about mentioning it. Why would she feel embarrassed about going to see a painting that we had both said we had wanted to see? And why was I suddenly going all fucking Secret Squirrel again?

‘Sure. I'd love to.' I remembered when she had mentioned seeing Ophelia at the Tate the first time … ‘Oh, you must wear your rue with a difference.' I also recalled the impenetrable sadness lurking behind her eyes. Was it still there? Or had I really imagined it the first time? But, Diana was focusing intently on the choice of fare in front of her.

We were quiet over lunch. Unusually, conversation seemed strained. Was it my imagination or did she feel uncomfortable? I couldn't work out why she would feel like that – it was a painting – the same painting she had offered to show me the first time she had tried to ask me on a date. But, it also reminded us both of Lauren Baker. I know it seems as if I am talking for her as well, but it was so damned obvious.

Standing outside, the wind even colder, I spoke to the air in front of me, as I felt a little exposed looking at her directly. ‘We don't have to go to the Tate if you'd prefer.' Diana didn't answer me for a few moments and I thought the wind had whipped my words in the opposite direction.

‘I would like to show it to you, if you wouldn't mind.' From the corner of my eye I noticed Diana fidgeting, her hands nervously slipping inside her pockets as if they would help her. Considering I was the one who was feeling nervous about living up to my declaration of undying love, I seemed to put that on the back burner for the moment. A sudden sense of anger flowed through me, probably stemming from a stupid jealousy about a relationship Diana had told me she hadn't even wanted. Simple, when you put it like that. But try telling someone as pig headed and idiotic as me that and you will realise it would only incite my jealousy even more.

The walk to Tate Britain was a little further than the one earlier. We walked past the hotel and over Westminster Bridge seeing Big Ben, the House of Lords and Parliament up close and personal. It should have been a view that encouraged cameras to come careering from bags and stupid poses for entertainment later, but we did neither. Diana seemed lost in her own world and I could feel her surreptitiously glancing my way when she thought I wasn't looking.

We arrived at Tate Britain at just after four fifteen and made our way straight to the Pre Raphaelite gallery. Just as we were about to enter, Diana's phone sounded.

‘Shit.' She fumbled around in her bag and brought out her mobile. I grinned as I had dutifully turned mine off before entering the Modern. ‘I … erm … got to get this. Won't be a tick.' The grin I had sported slipped into a weak smile and nodded my head as if to say I would go on ahead. Diana mouthed a ‘wait' and indicated she would move more into the hallway.

I could see her talking to someone, but the words came in spits and spots. Furtively, she kept on looking my way as if she was checking I was either still there or I couldn't hear what she said. Obviously, my brain went with the latter. The green eyed monster started churning inside and I felt a rush of anger and nausea flood through me. What was going on with me? When had it ever been a crime to take a phone call?

‘Not yet. I haven't had the chance to speak to her.' Speak to me about what? Too many different scenarios vied for attention and prominence, some of which were the pleasant, intimate and perfect ones. Alas, they were losing and losing fast. ‘What if it all goes wrong? What if she …'

‘Are you lost, madam?' An elderly male voice came from next to me and I looked into concerned grey eyes. Lost? Yes. But not in the way he was thinking. ‘Can I be of assistance?'

Diana looked over to us and mouthed, ‘Are you ok?' What was it with everyone wondering if I was ok or not? I nodded at her. I couldn't think of what else to do. Shapely eyebrows lifted before they furrowed once again. ‘What?' She was back giving her attention to the person at the end of the phone.

‘Are you feeling ok?' Fuck off. Please. Before I tell you to fuck off and feel even worse than I do already.

‘Loos. Erm. The ladies room. Can you tell me where to find it?' I had to think of a way to get away from the scene I would probably start making in the non-too distant future. The gentleman smiled and pointed in the opposite direction, indicating the foyer of the Clore gallery.

I thanked him and turned to look at Diana. She was fully engaged in her conversation, her free hand fidgeting once again in her coat pocket. I waited for her to look and pointed to the end of the corridor before mouthing ‘loo'. She grinned at me and I felt my heart break inside my chest.

Scuttling away, I soon found myself standing outside on Millbank, the gallery doors behind me. I don't know why I thought running away would solve anything, but that's what I did. As usual. I didn't have the guts to stay behind and listen to Diana tell me what she seemed so nervous about telling me, so I left. I would go back to the hotel, get my things and leave London to go back to the safety of being a loner who had fuck all in her life.

However, that didn't happen. I found myself going in the complete opposite direction.

After a while of walking, I caught a cab and rattled off an address I had memorised even though I had only seen it the once. Who would have thought I would end up here on today of all days?

The self-satisfied smile seemed to fade as I looked into the brown eyes of Lauren Baker. Her long auburn hair was pulled back into a pony tail, stray locks escaping the confines of the tie. I was definite she must've been working out before I rang her bell as she was kitted out in sweat pants and a vee necked t-shirt. Her hand went to her throat to finger a necklace, probably from nerves.

‘Well, well, well. The little student.' The left side of her lip curled into a sneer and she reasserted her pose of destroyer leaving me momentarily wondering if she had been nervous at all. ‘What have I done to deserve the honour of a home visit from my replacement?'

Now I was there, I didn't have a fucking clue what I wanted to say. One thing I did know was that by coming here I had truly fucked up anything Diana and I could have ever had between us. Sophie had been right. I had totally and utterly mapped out my own downfall. I had let jealousy and insecurity get in the way of something that could've been truly magical. I had been so scared of losing her I had pushed her away. What I couldn't understand was why? Why would I do that to me? To us?

‘Cat got your tongue?' Her smirk was back, followed by the widening of her eyes. ‘Don't tell me Diana's done a runner?' Her laugh was shrill and loud. ‘You think …' more laughter ‘you think she is here ?'

I felt my teeth clench and I took a step forward. It was with sick satisfaction to see her step backwards as if she expected me to clock her one. ‘You are nothing but a bully.'

A snort left her mouth. ‘A bully? Are we on the playground?'

I knew she was taunting me, and like a fool I took the bait. ‘Hitting a woman, burning someone you profess to love … yes. A bully.' My fists were clenching along with my teeth. ‘No. A coward. You couldn't have Diana so you made sure she felt as if she didn't have a choice but to be with you.'

‘Diana loved me. Ask her.'

It was my turn to laugh, but it wasn't through merriment. ‘I didn't have to. She told me all about you.'

A flash of pain shot through her eyes before she leaned forward and ground out, ‘And she told me all about you.' A look of disdain crossed her beautifully ugly features as she assessed me up and down. ‘And you ain't all that.'

I have never hit anyone in my life, but I was led to believe it would be a satisfying experience if the circumstances were right. You see it in the movies and it's easy. Thwack. The other person's head will fly to the side and they wipe their lip and look at the spot of blood before giving you a look or a smack back. This is not the case. The pain shooting up through my hand was agony, and I was definite I caught her tooth with my middle knuckle. There was no wiping and snarling; no thump back. All I got was a bloody hand, an aching wrist and a woman who seemed even more self-satisfied than before.

A tongue came out and whipped over her lips as if tasting blood. Lauren cocked her head to one side and looked deeply into my eyes before saying, ‘And we are so very different, how?'

I think that was the lowest point of my life. Well, to that exact point, I mean. Turning, I stumbled, my handbag falling on the street issuing all the contents of it to scatter and run before they had to witness any more of my total decline into the abyss of misery I called my life.

Lauren watched me as I stumbled around collecting everything – she didn't say a word in all the time I did it. Eventually, I gave it up and left most of my belongings on the floor. As long as I had my purse, I could get home.

But, I had to go and see Diana before I went. I had to explain that in fact the old saying ‘It isn't you, it's me' was truer than I ever thought it could be.


Arriving at the hotel, I felt sick. I had totally fucked up. Totally – Fucked – Up. By allowing my insecurities to take precedence, I had made damn sure that I lost the only woman I had ever loved – and I hadn't even told her how I felt. All I had managed to do was show her that she should run as fast as she could in the opposite direction. I was worse than Lauren Baker and Samantha James rolled into one.

Upon reaching the hotel room door I realised I didn't have the card key and turned to make my way back to reception to get another one. I didn't get very far, as the room door flew open and Diana appeared. Her face was a mixture of anger and relief, but instead of biting my head off or saying anything, she disintegrated into a flood of tears and wrapped her arms possessively around me. Words kept on trying to make contact with the air, but her sobs got in the way. Six foot of shaking, sobbing woman. Six foot of complete quivering mass – the same quivering mass I had created.

I wanted to end her tears; wanted to lie and say I had left for some other reason than I was a twat. However, the lie wouldn't come – didn't want to come. I had, as my mother always said, ‘Made my bed' and now I must lie in it – or not lie, as the case turned out to be.

It didn't matter anyway. I knew whatever I said would not be enough as soon as I heard the voice behind me.

‘How sweet. Love's young dream.' Why had Lauren followed me? How did she know where I'd be? ‘You left these.' I felt Diana stiffen; felt her pull back; witnessed the expression turn from concern to something darker, something cold. ‘Thought I'd be the concerned citizen, although I should've really called the police.'

And then the expression turned to me. Blue eyes widened slightly before she uttered, ‘Jess?' Confusion. Stark and real. I opened my mouth, moved it as if I was actually speaking, but nothing came out.

‘I think it's best if we went inside, don't you? I doubt you want everybody hearing what a fucking bunny boiler you've got yourself involved with.' She didn't wait for a response – she just pushed past us and into the hotel room.

‘Jess? What … why is she here?' There was such sadness in her voice that I knew she already had worked out what had happened but was too scared to believe it.

‘Nice room. You've splashed out, Diana.'


I pulled away from her, almost peeling her fingers from my arms in the process. It was time to face what I had done, even though I knew I would hurt her even more than she was hurting already.

As I walked I scanned the room noting the disarray – the phone thrown on the table, her coat and bag tossed onto the floor, a small box next to her gloves on the coffee table. I noticed everything to delay the inevitable of noticing the breakdown of my relationship into smithereens.

‘What's going on?' Diana's voice had lost its insecurity. It was sharp, authoritative. There was no evidence of the sultry, seductive lover I had been with less than twelve hours previously. No lightness, no humour, nothing.

‘I think you should ask her, don't you?' Lauren lifted her hand and touched the bruise that had formed on the side of her swollen lip. The only thought I had was that I should have hit her harder and then maybe she would be either unconscious or find it too difficult to speak.

‘Stop fucking me about, Lauren. Why are you here?'

‘Diana, I …' She held her hand up as if to silence me. A flick of coldness glanced my way before she focused her attention back on Lauren.

Lauren seemed to inflate with happiness at the way Diana had shut me up. ‘As I said. Why have you come here? I told you I never wanted to see your face again. Ever.'

Part of Lauren's inflation seemed to eke out, almost as if she had a slow puncture. Alas, this deflation turned to resentment, kind of like she swapped roles half way through. This resentment was aimed in my direction, as I had been the perpetrator to this scenario after all.

‘I don't know why you are being such a bitch to me. She's …' Lauren pointed accusingly in my direction, ‘the one you should be mad at.' Silence. ‘She came around to my place earlier looking for you and punched me in the face.'

‘I didn't …'

‘You fucking liar. You punched me in the face because I told you Diana wasn't with me.'

You would think I would have learned my lesson, wouldn't you? But, unfortunately, I hadn't. I made a grab at the lying conniving twattette standing in front of me, my hands tearing at the scarf around her neck. Strong hands grabbed me and pulled me off, almost flinging me aside.

‘See? She's a nut job.' Hands flitted up to her throat to play nervously with the necklace again.

Diana froze. Her eyes narrowed and widened before she ground out, ‘That's my locket. You've got my locket.'

‘And? I bought it.'

Shit. But one of those times when you are nervous, angry and a little surprised. Although I was in a situation where I wish I had done everything completely differently, I was still a little thankful that I wasn't Lauren Baker at that precise moment.

‘It was you after all. You hit Mon.'

A nervous laugh shot out Lauren's mouth. ‘I have no clue what you are talking about. Hit Mon? Who, or what, is Mon?'

‘You know damn well who Mon is. She is the woman you nearly killed when you broke into my house.' Diana reached for her phone. ‘Let's see what the police say about this shall we?' The room was so quiet that I honestly believe I could hear the three numbers being dialled.

Panic rolled off Lauren, as she knew there would be no way she would be able to get out of being guilty. The evidence was hanging around her throat after all. She turned pleading eyes in my direction as if she expected me to stick up from her. I gave her a smug smile, even though I knew it wouldn't be long before I was the focus once again. Diana was speaking to the emergency services by this time, her eyes flicked from me to Lauren, all the while holding no emotion.

I witnessed the light come on above Lauren's head; witnessed that same light travel to her eyes and illuminate from her face. ‘Actually. I would like to speak to them too. After all, I've been the victim of an attack after all.'

Shit. Again. That had never entered my head. Why had I not realised there would be repercussions other than my losing Diana? GBH or ABH? That is the only decision left to make. Then on to court … prison or bound over to keep the peace. A record. Life over. Ah, fuck it. It already was.

Diana had stopped talking. The phone was closing and so was her expression. ‘You get out now and never contact either of us again, never mention this again, and that's it. Over.'

‘No. Diana. Monica deserves better than that.' I turned to Lauren. ‘I don't give a rat's ass about what you say I did. You're going down too.'

‘Just shut up Jess. It's over.' Diana turned away from both of us. ‘Everything is over.' I felt the actual crack in my breast bone. Felt the excruciating sensation of reality hit home as I understood what she had said. Everything meant us, because to me it was everything.


Lauren fled and left us in silence. The room darkened even more and the small lamp was struggling to make any impact on the gloom surrounding us. We sat in silence for over an hour, neither of us wanting to admit what we had to admit, although it was a foregone conclusion. We were over. Done with. The end of a chapter. We'd had our closure, even though we both knew there was a final act to play. I didn't want to be the lead and, by the agonising quietness, neither did she.

I shifted in the chair, my legs going numb from inactivity. Sad blue eyes caught mine and she released a resigned sigh. ‘Why Jess? Why did you have to go and see her?'

Such pain. Not just mine. Hers. It filled the air as it seeped from every pore of her.

I shrugged my shoulders in defeat.

Another sigh, a slight hitch, almost as if the sigh had wanted to be a sob but had been restrained.

‘I love you, Diana.'

Too late. Way too late. Not only in words but by action.

I watched her face stretch and crumble all in one fluid motion. Watched as a solitary tear slip unbidden from her eye and race uncaringly down her cheek. ‘And I loved you, Jess.' Loved. Standing quickly, she walked over to the coffee table and scooped up something. ‘Do you know why I wanted to see Ophelia today?' I shook my head but realised she couldn't see me.


Slowly, she faced me, her hands cupping something. ‘I wanted to … wanted to …' a sob, followed by more tears. ‘Never mind. It doesn't matter now.' Her hands fell to her sides, hiding what she had in them. ‘I think I should go.'

With those words, I seemed to find the ability to move. In one action, I was next to her gripping her arm. ‘Please, Diana. Don't. Let's talk.' I could feel the rigidness of her body in just the tips of my fingers and I knew even before she spoke that I didn't have a cat in hell's chance of changing her mind.

Diana couldn't even look at me as she spoke. ‘I can't, Jess. Not now.'

‘When?' Yes. I was becoming frantic.

A shrug loosened my fingers and I allowed her to slip away, my question unanswered.


Chapter Sixteen

It goes without saying that my life took a turn for the worse. That night Diana left the hotel room and I didn't hear a word from her. It also continues to be a topic that doesn't need broaching to clarify my actions after she left. Initially, I felt numb. Stood there staring at the closed door in wonder, every part of my body giving the impression it was slowly dying. I don't know how long I stood, then sat, then lay, but the numbness turned into something like grief. I think, in the course of one evening, I went through the five stages. I tried to deny it was over, tried convincing myself there was something I could do to make this right. Then it was anger. God, was there anger. I think I ranted and raved about everything and everyone, but I never forgot the person who I should be the angriest with. Funnily enough, you would think I would blame Lauren Baker, wouldn't you? Alas, I knew for a fact it was all my doing.

How did I bargain? Easy. Promising myself I would be a better person, would seek help, would do anything to get her back and show her how much I loved her.

The fourth stage – depression. Full on depression. Tears, tears, more tears. I don't think I can actually explain the pain that wracked through me. It felt as if I was being thumped in the gut over and over and over again and found myself curling into a ball to deflect it. No luck.

It was morning. The sun was creeping through the window and I watched it tentatively approach the foot of the bed. A new day. A day for accepting what had happened and moving on. I had accepted what I had done, accepted I had totally fucked up the best thing I had in my life with my own insecurities, accepted many things but two. One was how Lauren Baker had gotten away with hurting Monica because of my actions. Two – that I would never be with Diana again. I know. The last stage should be the stage where everything begins to heal through acceptance, but come on. How could I? Diana wasn't dead. She was very much alive and somewhere in my world. So no. I couldn't accept it.

And I never would.


I had been home for half an hour when my front door bell went crackers. I didn't want to answer it in case it was someone who wanted to be sociable, but there was a little hopeful part of me that thought it might have been Diana.

Who am I kidding? As soon as I neared the door I knew it was Sophie. Mainly because of her shouting and threatening me through the letterbox. Some things never change.

Opening the door, I moved away without saying a word and made my way to the living room for my roasting over the coals. My actions had affected more than just Diana and me; they affected Sophie and Dave too. How could I still be classed as her best friend when she was marrying the brother of the woman I had hurt so much? And how could I see her, see her and Dave, and act as if my heart wasn't breaking every time?

‘What the fuck are you playing at?' I knew she'd be angry. ‘What on earth were you thinking? Lauren Baker?' Her voice got louder as she followed me. ‘I told you to leave it – told you!' Sophie grabbed my arm. ‘Jess? Fucking answer me!' In all the years I had known Sophie, she had never spoken to me in that tone of voice.

Turning, I felt anger pour from inside and belch out into the air. ‘Don't you think I know I fucked up?' Sophie snorted in answer. ‘Don't you know I wish it had all turned out differently?'

‘It's a pity you didn't think about that before you cocked things up, isn't it?' She walked to the sofa and threw herself on it. I could see she was trying to control her anger – her chest puffed out and she released a slow breath. ‘And why is your phone off?'

Weirdly enough, I hadn't thought about my phone. I had turned it off as we had entered the Tate and had been too busy screwing up my life to consider turning it back on again. ‘Do you know how many times I've tried to contact you?' I looked towards the landline before looking back at Sophie. ‘You know I don't have your landline number on my phone.' I shrugged before making my way back to the armchair I had been curled up in since my return. ‘Come sit next to me, Jess. Tell me why.'

How could tell her why when I didn't know myself. All I knew was I had acted completely out of character. I couldn't blame the reason on falling in love for the first time, as millions of people in the world experience that but don't act the way I did.

‘Diana's devastated. Obviously.' She patted the sofa again and I sat on the far end. Just the mention of Diana's name sent a spark of pain through me. Sophie must've seen her, as I knew Dave would have been in contact if only to see how everything went. It had been his birthday present to her after all. ‘I don't think I've ever seen anyone cry so much.' Was Sophie doing this on purpose? ‘I mean, Jess … Diana left Lauren because she was violent – and what did you do? Use your fists.'

Aw shit. No wonder Diana was devastated. I had shown all the characteristics she had suffered through with Lauren Baker. Insecurity and violence. Shame cloaked me, as it should. I had never thought violence was the answer to anything, so why had I hit her? No one, even Baker, deserved to be hit. I was the lowest of the low.

Upon this realisation, I allowed the tears to come. They weren't just the tears of self-pity – they were tears for the hurt I had caused to Diana, Sophie, Dave and Monica. I felt Sophie's arms slip around me and pull me towards her. Being in her arms had always been a comfort, but not at this moment. It appeared that I just couldn't seem to let it come.

All the time I cried, Sophie held me. She didn't say a word, even when the tears stopping flowing – she just held me tighter. Why hadn't I listened to her in the first place? She had told me to leave it, told me to just tell Diana how I felt, but I had known better hadn't I. And look where that got me. Curled into a ball, half on, half off Sophie's knee shivering through emotional exhaustion, that's where.

My lips felt swollen and dry; my tongue seemed too big for my mouth, but I had to ask. ‘How is Diana now?'

Sophie snorted. ‘How do you think? Crushed.' I lifted my head to look into Sophie's brown eyes and saw concern there. ‘She loves you, Jess. Can't you see it?'



‘She said she loved me. Past tense. I fucked up.' Pulling away, I felt Sophie's hands slip down my arms and release me. ‘You want a cuppa?' Without waiting for a reply, I went into the kitchen.

The kettle had boiled and I heard Sophie shift into the room behind me. ‘What do you mean “past tense”?'

I didn't even turn around. ‘As I said, I fucked up. How on earth could still love me when I did what I did.'

Quietness eked into the space between us and I continued to make coffee. ‘You still off the sugar?'

An irritated sigh sounded from behind me. ‘What the fuck are you doing, Jess? You've just split with the woman you profess to love and you are carrying on as if nothing has happened.' Momentarily, I stopped stirring the drinks. ‘True. You could've done things differently, but you didn't. So what are you going to do about it now?'

A flash of anger raced through me and I spun around. ‘Do about it? DO about it? This isn't some fucking admin error. I, as I keep on fucking telling you, have fucked it all up. I couldn't let it go. Couldn't let go of the … the … jealousy … the feeling that if something better came along, she would take it.' Instead of looking surprised at my outburst, Sophie smiled. Now that pissed me off. ‘Go on. Tell me “I told you so”. You've never had that problem, Sophie.' I moved towards her, a teaspoon as my weapon. ‘Everyone always loves Sophie, don't they? Everyone always wants to be with you.' A laugh shot out of my mouth, one of those angry bitter ones that you hear in films when the psychotic killer is unveiling his or her plan of world destruction. Sophie didn't look phased by my cutlery weapon. What was I going to do? Stir her to death? ‘As for me …' that laugh again ‘I get fucked over. Get shit on. Find out from everyone else that the woman I am seeing is fucking anything and anyone with a fucking pulse.' I was close to her now, her eyes were flicking from me to the utensil I had in my hand.

‘Give me the spoon, Jess.' It should've been funny. Should've had us both in stitches, but it didn't. The spoon was my asserter, my right giver, my administrator of justice. ‘Give. Me. The. Spoon. Jess.'

‘No! It is my spoon.' Yes. I had lost the plot big time. ‘Mine not yours. You have your own spoons.' What the fuck was I saying? ‘You always have everything and I get fucked over.'

‘She wasn't worth it, Jess.'

‘YES SHE WAS!' I felt the yell come from within and it alleviated some of the pressure inside me, some of the old anger. ‘Diana was always worth ten of me. I was never good enough to be loved by her.'

With a lunge, Sophie grabbed my hand and attempted to free the teaspoon from my grasp. I wasn't having any of it – she couldn't take that away – that's all I had left.

And then it was gone and I was in Sophie's arms crying all over again.

‘She wasn't worth it, Jess. Samantha wasn't worth it.' Samantha? ‘I know … I know … Come. Let's sit down.'

Sophie led me to the living room once again and sat me on the sofa. One minute later she brought drinks in. I could smell the brandy coming from the cups before I even took it.

‘Helps.' Sophie gave me a tentative smile and offered me a cup. Snivelling, I took the offered drink and sipped, the heat of the coffee and alcohol flowing through me.

We sat there for what seemed like an age, but in reality was only about ten minutes. Placing the empty cup on the table, Sophie took mine from my hand and placed it softly next to hers.

‘We need to talk, Jess. Need to get all this shit out in the open.' I shrugged in defeat. Gently, she touched my thigh and patted it. ‘You need to accept this and move forward.' I opened my mouth to speak, but she stopped me. ‘Not Diana. Samantha James.'

‘This is not about Samantha James.'

‘That's where you're wrong, love. It's always been about Samantha James.'

Hearing Sophie tell me, in detail, why it was all about Samantha James, I realised something. Just because I had never fallen head over heels for my ex, it didn't mean what she did to me, did to us, still wouldn't have consequences. I'd admitted it, without even realising, when I had ‘gone into one' in the kitchen. Saying things like ‘feeling that if something better came along, she would take it.' No wonder Sophie had smiled. That had been the main problem, hadn't it? Me thinking that Diana would do to me what Samantha had done and it would be another case of finding ‘out from everyone else that the woman I am seeing is fucking anything and anyone with a fucking pulse.'

‘That's one of the reasons I wanted you to meet Diana in the first place. Thought you two could heal each other.' And now I felt even worse. ‘Maybe it was a little soon, eh?' Sophie hugged me to her. ‘I just couldn't bear to see you going more and more into yourself.' I pulled back and looked at her in confusion. ‘You were never the one to stay in all the time, Jess. I never had to force you to come out … do stuff. But after Samantha …' She pulled a face, ‘it was like you wanted to protect yourself from the world in your own little space.'

Had I? Was that the reason why I'd sat home night after night, going to bed at 9:30 to have a read like a pensioner would do? Was I really trying to avoid getting hurt all over again? Could I even remember what I'd been like before I'd found out about Samantha's infidelities?

‘You were always the life of the party, Jess.'

‘But …'

‘No. You were. I was usually the person that tagged along to whatever you were going to.'

‘But …'

‘Yes you were and no I wasn't.' She gave me a stern look that was gentled by her eyes. ‘You said everyone loves me, wants to be with me … that isn't exactly true, is it?'

‘But …'

‘You got interrupting goat disease, Taylor?' I laughed, the first real one I had done since the Tate. ‘We have always been a team. Always got into trouble together. Remember the art trip to the gallery at school? Who dared me to cop off with that munter Alan Henson in the work room?' Me? ‘And remember when you shoved a sharpened pencil into my arse cheek in the middle of a Science exam?' I laughed again. ‘I got detentions for two weeks for that.'

‘I tried to get you off.'

This time Sophie laughed. ‘Telling them I fell onto your pencil didn't cut it, hon. That's what gave me the two weeks.'

She regaled me with some other stories from school, from college and from our twenties, and it seemed as if I had just stepped out from a cloud of amnesia. It appeared I'd remembered only what I wanted to keep up with my fucked up reality of my life to date.

‘So, you see … you are a wonderful woman, Jess Taylor. You're my best friend and you always will be. Even if sometimes you act like a total dick.'

I sighed, rubbed my sore eyes and then the rest of my face.

‘What am I going to do, Soph?'

I felt her shrug. ‘I've no idea, Jess.' She took my hand and squeezed my fingers. ‘It's all down to you now, honey. You have to do this on your own.' A pause. ‘But you're not on your own, if you know what I mean?'

Yes. I did. Sophie would always be there for me but what I had to do to make things right with Diana had to be from me. That was the right thing to do.


Sophie left just before midnight. We had talked and talked and talked – no change there. But this time we talked about the future, how we were in charge of it, how the past could shape it but didn't have to lead it.

I waited until I saw the tail lights of her car disappear before I did what I'd wanted to do for hours. Searching through my handbag I found my phone. As soon as it had kicked to life, the tone sounded to tell me I had seventeen text messages and twenty one voicemails.

Hearing Diana's voice hurt. Hearing her progressively become frantic was like another kick in the stomach. No. Scratch that. Repeatedly being kicked in the stomach. She had called initially when she couldn't find me at the Tate. The message sounded a little concerned, as she had checked the restroom and found it empty … actually, by the fourth message, she had checked every restroom and café and shop in the whole museum. Then she moved from Tate Britain and informed me she was going back to hotel ‘Whatever I have done, I'm sorry. So sorry, Jess.' I could hear the emotion in her voice, the holding back of tears. But, when I heard her speaking from our hotel room, the sobbed, ‘Where are you?' the dam burst. I'd been so intent on confronting Lauren Baker, I hadn't even considered what Diana would be going through. Maybe I thought she would just be pleased she hadn't had to tell me what I believed she was going to tell me. Yes. I had considered that she was waiting for an opportunity to dump me. But, honestly, had I really believed that? We had spent the majority of the previous evening making love – that was not the actions of someone who couldn't wait to dump someone else, was it?

Wait a minute. Let's see if I can actually make sense of what happened.

No. I can't.

All I could remember was the look on her face when Lauren Baker turned up at the hotel room holding a handful of my belongings and the key card to my room. The pained expression had etched its way onto my brain and refused to go. Then afterwards? After Lauren went? After we had sat for too long in silence? What did she pick up from the coffee table? Nearly offer me? It was small, whatever it was. It could hide inside her hands. ‘I wanted to … wanted to …' wanted to what?

It hit me. Hit so hard I didn't see it coming. I should have, all the evidence had been there if I hadn't been so self-pitying to see it. Her nervousness, the fidgeting, the phone call with the ‘I haven't had the chance to speak to her' bit. The ‘What if it all goes wrong? What if she …' section. The small box, the wanting to but not doing it … even the ‘I loved you too.' It all made sense now. Diana was going to tell me she loved me – maybe the box held a ring. I know it sounds presumptuous, but what else could it have been?

Dialling the phone, I barely gave Sophie the chance to say hello when I butted in. ‘Was Diana going to give me a ring at the Tate?' Quietness pervaded the air between us for a moment. ‘Please, Sophie. Was she?'

‘It's not my place to …'


I heard her sigh, heard her mutter something to the air before coming back on the phone. ‘Diana was going to propose to you.'

Have you ever had the feeling of someone reaching inside your chest and ripping your heart out whilst you looked limply on, completely defenceless and unable to stop it?

I choked out a thank you and speak soon before slowly clicking off the phone. Sophie had tried to get me to wait, but what the fuck for?

Amazing to think that I had single-handedly ruined my chance of happiness without even a second thought. Diana had ben plucking up the courage to propose and I had taken her nervousness for something negative and tried to counteract this with another negative action hoping to make a positive.

Silently, I made my way up the stairs. I knew that I had to lie flat before I literally fell on my face – I'd already done it metaphorically in the last twenty four hours.

Fully dressed, I slipped under the duvet and stared at the ceiling waiting for the shock to subside so I could start the grieving process all over again.

It was the longest night of my life.


Chapter Seventeen

Christmas came and went. New Year too. Then February and March. It seems months can fly past at such a rate when a person doesn't give a fuck. Let's move onto April and then May - spring into rebirth and new beginnings, shall we?

It may seem that I have gone into way too much detail for three months to skip five in the matter of a few lines, but what was there to say? I was upset? Broken? I think you already know that much in the previous chapters for me to reiterate it all over again. I feel like Bella Swan in New Moon – too focused on my own emotional breakdown to go into detail about the nothingness of my life.

Sophie was a constant. Thankfully. I wouldn't have blamed her for walking away, as my actions had compromised her relationship with Dave. I tried not to burden her with everything that was going on inside my head, but sometimes I just couldn't help it spilling out. It was as if I had to keep going over and over it just to try and make some sense of what I had done. It didn't work. I couldn't work out why I had acted the way I had. Diana was not Samantha James, had never shown any qualities of being like her, but I had treated her as if she would do to me what my ex had. That was definitely not what Diana deserved or what I had wanted and if I could have turned the clock back, believe me, I would have.


I attempted to contact Diana, but it was futile. My first attempt had been on the Monday believing that with a couple of days away from me she may have given me a chance to explain. No answer. I'd also gone to her house after I left work – once again, no answer. Actually, no sign of life whatsoever every time I had tried. Calling Sophie, I found out that Diana had decided to work away for a while and would not be back in Manchester until the New Year.

To me, it seemed strange that she would leave everything behind her. Dave and Monica were here, and with Christmas coming, it just didn't sit right. But, I didn't argue. What could I have done?

Yes. What could I have done? Found out where she was staying would be a start. So, I tried. Sophie was my obvious pot of information, but that pot turned out to be a dry pan when it came to Diana. All Sophie would say was that it wasn't up to her to pass on that information. I should ask Dave. I couldn't face him; couldn't bear to see the hurt in his eyes knowing that his sister had gone away because of my actions.

Finally, I cracked. There was one other person who could help me. Monica. Once again, I was in a quandary. Seeing Monica would bring it all back. I had not only let Diana down that day, I had let Monica down also. If I hadn't thumped Lauren, Monica would get justice for her attack.

Therefore, it was that thought that found me ringing Monica's doorbell two days before Christmas. I had to apologise to her for my actions. Instead of receiving the cold shoulder, Monica was happy to see me making me feel even worse than I already did. It was the ‘My goodness, Jessie, you look terrible' that made me start to cry on her doorstep. Comforting arms wrapped around me and pulled me inside.

Initially, I thought she didn't know what I had done. How could she know and act as if I was a lifelong friend she hadn't seen in ages? Maybe because she was a better person than I was.

So, she knew about Diana and me. Knew that Diana had bailed me out and sold her out at the same time. But, just like Monica, she didn't care about that; she was just miffed that I hadn't hit Lauren harder than I did. I had to laugh at that. Laughter that made me cry once again.

Monica comforted me until I stopped with the waterworks. All I kept on saying was that I was sorry, so sorry for everything.

I spent nearly three hours with Monica, but at the end of the three hours I still was none the wiser about Diana's whereabouts and left with the promise that I would see her soon. Five months later, I haven't been back. What's the point? It was obviously clear that Diana didn't want me to contact her, and seeing her aunt would only make me remember how stupid I had been.

Christmas and New Year were like a wet rag. I stayed with my parents over the holidays when all I wanted was to be on my own. I think Sophie had forewarned them, as the topic of Diana was not broached. All the attempts to go out and get ‘ratted' by Sophie were met with a solemn shake of the head. I didn't feel like going out on the tiles when I felt as low as I did, as I knew if I had one drink I probably wouldn't stop.

By March, I just felt like an empty shell. Work was my saviour and all aspects of a ‘social life' were on the decline. If Sophie thought I had walled myself up when Samantha James had done the dirty on me, she soon realised that it was nothing to what I was doing to myself at this moment.

The absolute kicker came one evening as I was staring at the TV on mute. I was experiencing the strangest sensation. I was completely devoid of any gumption, completely reticent about doing anything but whiling away time before I could go to bed, when it was counteracted with a need to do something else. So, there I was without any motivation full of motivation. See? Totally fucked up. It was like I had ants crawling inside my veins and I had to do something to get rid of them without actually doing anything.

Eventually, I got up from the armchair and went into the cupboard under the stairs and pulled out a folder. Inside this folder was my art pad – I know – you would think I would steer away from anything to do with art at this point in my life, wouldn't you? But no. I wanted to do something, anything to get the feeling I was experiencing to go away.

Flicking through the pages, I tried to ignore the drawings I had done in class, as it goes without me blabbering on about it how each and every one would be painful to see. The speed in which I whizzed through them didn't work, as I could sense each drawing, each evening spent with Diana as our relationship was blossoming.

Then I stopped. Stopped and stared. Stopped and stared and held my breath to stop from crying out. In front of me was a drawing I had not done in class, a drawing I had not looked at since the night I had done it. A pencil drawing done from memory of just one eye … one eye framed by a shapely eyebrow and the hint of a nose. All in all, it was a drawing of Diana done when I had started to feel something for her but had been too chicken shit to admit it to myself.

That was another night I cried myself to sleep – the ants in my veins had decided to fuck off after all and left me with dreams of loving and losing Diana Sullivan.

And now we are back in May. Spring, rebirth and fuck all else. Sophie's wedding was the following month and I was dreading it. Well, dreading and longing for it too, to be perfectly honest. As promised, I was the Maid of Honour so there would be no being able to hide in the crowd. And the reason I wanted to hide in the crowd? Weirdly enough, in the five months I had been separated from Diana, I hadn't seen Dave either. There would be no way I could avoid talking to him considering he would be the groom.

And the reason why I was longing for it? Isn't it obvious? I would be able to see Diana again. I doubted she would put a little thing like hating my guts come between her attending her brother's wedding, do you?

God. I was shitting my pants. I didn't want to make a scene at the wedding – didn't want to see Diana look at me with nothing but repulsion, or even indifference – actually, I think that would be worse. Knowing that she didn't care whether I was there or not would be so much more hurtful than her reacting to my presence, even in a negative way.

But this was the day I was to meet with Sophie to get my fitting for the dress. I had seen pictures of it – countless, if I am honest, and I was just glad it wouldn't make me look like a meringue. Whatever happened on this day I would make sure that Sophie enjoyed herself. It was time to put my misery on the shelf I had been perching on for nearly half a year and go and be with my best friend to celebrate what was going to be the happiest time in her life.

Walking into the Bistro at one o'clock, I was surprised to see Sophie already there. A feeling reminiscent of a kick in the stomach made me gasp as I remembered the last time we had met in this particular place, and, once again, Sophie had been early. However, this time, she didn't look furtive or guilty. A grin spread over her face and she stood to greet me with a peck on the cheek.

‘Hey there, face ache. Ready to have your booty pimped?'

‘As long as you don't go for the pink, pimp away.'

Lifting up the menu she asked, ‘Fancy a cocktail before we get started?' Shaking my head, I snorted and continued to browse. I think it was a little bit of her enthusiasm, as I felt a rush of electricity flow through me. ‘What about you? You up for a cocktail?' I lifted my head to audibly answer her, as I thought she had missed the motion, but the grin seemed to freeze on my face. Sophie was looking past me, actually, she was looking at the region just beyond my left shoulder.

‘I think I'll stick to a soft drink.' Closing my eyes, I felt my heart try to force itself up my throat and out of my mouth. ‘Hello Jess.'

I had to lick my lips to get them to work. ‘Hello Diana.' As I turned, I opened my eyes to see her standing behind me looking as beautiful as ever. Her hair was a little shorter than I remembered it to be, but it still lovingly cloaked her shoulders. Those blue eyes seemed to spark as mine met hers, and in that one look I felt the rush of love for her return tenfold. ‘You're looking well.' To be honest, I don't think she was, but that's not what you say to someone it is? Telling them they look tired, maybe a little gaunt, they seem to have lost a little weight … no. So, the ‘looking well' thing was the best route.

‘So do you. You look great.' Seems like she went to the same school of etiquette as I did, because I definitely knew I looked like shite.

‘What's all this? The ‘let's compliment the arse of each other' club?' I turned to see Sophie grinning at me. I couldn't believe she hadn't told me that Diana was going to be joining us, although deep down I already knew she was going to a bridesmaid. ‘I'm starving, ladies. And then we have to get you dressed up like those toilet roll lady dolls.' She waved the menu in the air before standing and hugging Diana to her. ‘Good to see you, love. It's been too long.'

Yes. It had. But that didn't change the fact that Diana was here right at this very moment and I wasn't prepared. I had only had five months to work out what I would say to her if I ever got the chance to see her again. Well, I had gone through a hundred different scenarios but none of them have included us meeting again on the day I was going to get fitted for my bridesmaid dress. Actually, none of the scenarios had turned out the way I wanted them too, either. It had always ended up with Diana leaving again saying what I had done was totally unforgivable. Which it was - obviously.

However, Sophie wasn't the kind of person to let a little thing like me fucking up mine and Diana's relationship get in her way. She carried on chatting, leaving room for us to answer monosyllabically throughout the course of the meal. Thankfully, when she eventually realised that we were not answering her in as much detail as she wanted, she turned her Gestapo qualities onto Diana.

‘How's work? You still working in London?'

I continued to push my lasagne around the plate, but found I was holding my breath all the while.

‘Erm … well, yes … for the moment.' For the moment? Did that mean she …

‘Are you moving back to Manchester?' Thank you Sophie.

‘Well, that, erm, depends on … on … things.' Things?

‘Things? What kind of things?' Once again, thank you, Sophie.

‘Just …' Everything went quiet – even the sounds of the Bistro seemed to fade into nothingness. Furtively, I lifted my face to hers and was surprised to see her looking at me intently. Her expression was open and I believed I could see the old Diana there for a fleeting moment before a screen seemed to slip into place. ‘Enough about me.' Her eyes seemed to hold me fast before she broke the connection and looked at Sophie. ‘You excited about getting hitched?'

Sophie had been watching us both intently and seemed surprised to be included back into the conversation. A grin split over her face and she leaned forward and slapped me on the arm. ‘Nearly as much as dressing my best friend up like a fairy.' I tried to laugh but it came out as a semi squeak.

Soon after, we were seated in the dressing room of the bridal shop waiting for our turn to be transformed. Conversation came mainly from Sophie, as, to be honest, the tension between Diana and I was almost palpable. Don't get me wrong, we did speak, but it was more reserved than I ever thought it could be between us. Truthfully, what did I expect?

Fifteen minutes later and we were shown through to the back and into the dressing rooms. Inside mine, I spotted a rich blue dress hanging from the hook on the wall. This was it. Time to get into role as the Chief of the bridesmaids. A snigger shot out. Chief? Bridesmaids? There were only the two of us and I doubted Diana would follow anything I said.

‘Excuse me, Madam. Glass of Champagne?' A young woman was standing in the doorway, the curtain pulled back to reveal a tray with three glasses on it.

I was just about to decline when I heard Sophie shout, ‘You'd better have one, Taylor. It cost me a fortune.' I grinned with embarrassment at the woman, nodded my head in the direction of Sophie's voice, and mouthed ‘God help the groom.' The woman's face split into a wide smile and she nodded towards the glasses.

What the hell? What's the worst that could happen?

Taking one, I took a sip and placed it on the floor near the doorway. Turning, I began to undress and then anally fold my clothes before placing them on the floor next to the glass. Lifting my head, I noticed the dressing room in front of me – well, more to the point, I noticed the curtain of that dressing room had not been pulled fully closed. The next thing I noticed was the mirror, the same style full length mirror I had in my room. But, unlike the mirror in my room, this one held the most beautiful sight I have ever seen.

Diana's back was to it. Diana's smooth, strong, capable back reflected and teased me. I could see the muscles moving with the rhythm of her arms as she undressed. I knew I should close the curtain and stop my voyeurism, but I was transfixed. A movement, a turn, I held my breath. Breasts, full and proud, showed themselves to my hungry eyes and my mouth began to water. Diana stretched, the silkiness of her stomach beckoned and I was sure I took a step towards the oasis in front of me. I spied the band of her panties and remembered a time when I had slipped my hand inside to find wetness that always seemed to be there just for me. A flash of blue and my heart stopped. For a split second I thought it was her eyes showing me she had caught me spying on her, but it was her dress as it slipped like a caress over her body.

Stepping back, I tried to tear my eyes away, but I couldn't. Seeing Diana turn and swish the skirt out was totally mesmerising. The swoosh of a curtain being fully brought back seemed to sink inside my subconscious and suddenly I was face to face with a fully dressed Diana. Her look moved down my half naked body, her eyes darkening. I felt as if I was being digested and it made a spark of heat ignite in the pit of my stomach. I wanted to reach for her, tell her how sorry I was, beg her forgiveness before pleading my love for her all over again. But, no. When I saw her expression change, saw the coldness come over her features once again, I knew that my love for her was definitely one sided.

‘You need to hurry up and put the dress on. Sophie wants us to meet in the main room.' And she was gone, leaving me empty all over again.


Time seemed interminable. After the events in the dressing room I just wanted to leave, but this was Sophie's day not mine.

Getting dressed into my every day clothes, I felt the need to talk to Diana. We had to be together on Sophie and Dave's wedding day and it wouldn't be right to have an atmosphere between us. That's the last thing I wanted. I had to explain to her why I had acted the way I had, although I still couldn't fully work it out myself.

I was just tying the laces to my trainers when Sophie's head popped around the curtain. ‘Hey you. I got to dash. Could you do me a favour?' She stepped into the small space. ‘I … erm … kind of promised I would give Diana a lift back to hers, but I have to meet Dave at the tailors.' What the fuck? No!

Then the more rational side of my brain kicked in. If I gave Diana a lift, then I could explain - captive audience and all that.


Sophie looked a little surprised I had acquiesced so easily. ‘Erm .. right. ‘ A step closer. ‘Sorry I didn't tell you she was coming, Jess. Thought it would freak you out.' A quick kiss on the cheek and she was gone and I was left trying to calm the butterflies that wanted to choke me.

Waiting outside the shop, I watched as Diana came out and looked around for Sophie.

‘She had to meet Dave. I hope it's ok if I drive you home.' My voice sounded like it actually belonged to me for a change and, for a fleeting moment, I felt in control.

‘No thanks. I can get a taxi.' She said no? What?

‘Why? I can take you.' Was I sounding whiney?

Cold blue eyes looked at me and made the blood in my veins appear to freeze. Diana moved closer to me, her body seeming powerful and almost threatening. ‘I said no. I don't want a lift.'

‘But …'

‘But what, Jess?' I'd never heard her speak my name so bitterly before. ‘It might be easier for you to talk to me if I was in the car with you?'

‘What do you mean by that?' Anger swelled from inside me. ‘Easier?' A harsh laugh spat out of my mouth. ‘Easier? More like a chance to actually speak to you without you running away to God knows where.'

‘Do you blame me after what you did to us?' She waved her hand between our bodies. ‘You ruined everything we had because you just wouldn't let it go. I told you I didn't love Lauren. Hell, I didn't even like her never mind love her. But no …' she snorted in disgust. ‘You had to go and make a scene, had to go and hit her because you couldn't handle being in love with someone who would have done anything for you.'

True. It was my fault. All of it. I had not believed in myself enough to think I was worthy of being loved by Diana. And they always say if you can't love yourself you can't love anyone. I didn't have a cat in hell's chance because there was no way I could even like me at the moment.

‘I wanted to explain, but you wouldn't let me. You just upped and went.' Diana started to walk away from me, almost dismissing my presence. ‘Seems like you always run when it gets tough.' Then I said something I will regret for the rest of my life. ‘You ran from Lauren too didn't you? You can never stand up to anyone – you just run away and hide.'

Fuck. Fuck. And Fuck. Dark hair whipped around so fast I thought I was dreaming. Diana towered over me, blue ice chips bore into mine, her breath hitting my skin like a slap. ‘Run and hide?' Her hand was on my shoulder, the power of her seeping into my body. ‘I didn't run and fucking hide.' A slight push made me stagger backwards. People were stopping to watch the floorshow, but neither of us gave a damn. ‘If you'd taken your head from up your own backside you could have found me. But, as it seems, you didn't even try.' Her voice hitched and she plucked her hand from my shoulder looking at it as if she didn't recognise it. I could hear the emotion in her voice. ‘That's what hurt the most, Jess. You didn't even try to find me.'

‘I did! I …'

She stopped me with a look. And in that look I realised something. I hadn't tried to find her, had I? Asking Sophie, going to Monica's, knocking on Diana's door, that wasn't looking for her was it? That was going through the motions hoping that everything would turn out as it should, as I'd expected it to turn out. What had I done in the last four and half months to find her? Nothing. Just wallowed even more deeply in my own misery believing I had lost the best thing that would ever happen to me, totally believing that what happened had happened because that was my lot in life.

‘Goodbye, Jess.' And she was gone, striding down the street in her perfect glory whilst I stood frozen to the spot embracing my epiphany and wanting more than anything to get amnesia.


Chapter Eighteen

Two weeks. That's how long it's been since the incident with Diana in the High Street. It's also two weeks until Sophie's wedding day. And I was doing something I should've done a long time ago. Sorting my fucking life out. So Samantha James shagged anything in a skirt and probably trousers too, but that was no reflection on me. It was also something that I had to accept and move away from. Not everyone was like Samantha. Look at Sophie and Dave … look at my parents. They had relationships without constant drama and strife – they trusted and loved unconditionally. They allowed that sacred part of themselves to be engrossed in the life of someone else, believed that this someone else would always be there for them. And why? Simple. Because they were in love and that's what love is all about. Being together, loving each other, trust, things that I'd once thought to be out of my reach. I didn't want my life to be stagnant, be just a still life. I wanted to live it, be more than a static object in a painting.

It was time to take the brush and paint a different setting, a different life for me. So, after the altercation with Diana I knew I had to make amends, had to prove myself worthy of her love, had to show her that I wasn't the same scared, insecure woman I'd been.

You may wonder why I'd taken two weeks to come to this conclusion. Once again, simple. It'd taken me this long to get my act and plan together. Firstly, I went to see Dave, and, after apologising to him, I asked the questions I should have asked a long time ago. Where did Diana work in London? I knew vaguely, but wanted to know for sure. Then I asked where she stayed when she was there, as I knew she was using hotels now. I needed to know this, as she'd gone back the same day she'd left me – I'd checked, so now it was time to follow her and do my best to win her back. Usually, I would've have thought I'd fail even before I started, but not now. Now I was ready to give it my all – ready to give her everything.

As I was leaving, Dave caught my arm and turned me around. ‘Jess? One thing.' I waited for him to continue. ‘Love her, ok? Just love her.' Throwing my arms around him, I hugged him close.

‘That will not be a problem, I can assure you.' And it wouldn't be if she would only listen to me.


Stepping off the train at Euston, I caught a taxi to Tate Britain. I was early, thankfully, and had time to talk to the curators. I'd already called and spoken to a woman called Sally who had promised to help me hatch my plan. Closing one of the galleries was not an easy feat, but I persuaded her that it was a matter of life or death – both of them mine. That was another thing that surprised me … my ability to be both persuasive and charming, something I would never have written on a CV.

All my plan needed to succeed was the help of Sally and the stupidity of Diana's employers. I had called her company and lied through my teeth. Apparently, I am the Chief curator of Tate Britain and the museum was very interested in promoting a new exhibition entitled The Romantics. The show was to start early August and run until June 2012, and new fliers, brochures and posters were needed to promote the event. I could hear James Turner, Chief of Sales, nearly cream his pants when I told him we were very interested in hiring his firm for all of the art work. I mean, come on! A graphics company in charge of promoting one of the world's biggest art galleries? I'm surprised I didn't hear him wanking.

Sorry. That slipped out. I didn't mean to be so crude.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Wanking. Obviously, I had one condition. I wanted to meet the person who had designed the promotional material for The Criterion Theatre's production of Hamlet, as the style was exactly what the Tate was looking for. I think I heard a stop in the wanking, but only briefly.

And now was that time. Diana Sullivan, one of their Chief Designers, would be meeting with Sally Rogers outside the Pre Raphaelite Gallery at four thirty.

It was four twenty six and I was standing inside the gallery. Sally would meet Diana outside, lead her inside and then say ‘I won't be a moment' before slipping off for twenty minutes.

Then I heard it. Heard the distinct timbre of Diana's voice as she stood chatting to Sally in the doorway. Heard Sally make her excuses and leave. Heard all of this through the demented beating of my heart. At any other time I would have been proud of myself for surviving, but I still had to get through the next few moments.

She was wearing heels. The tip tap of them sounded on the bareness of the floor and I knew she was approaching where I was standing with my back to her.

‘Hello, there. I thought I was the only …' She stopped walking and talking.

I still didn't turn around, just started to speak.

‘You see Ophelia? See her staring blankly? See the flowers scattered all around her?' Nothing … although I knew she was just behind me. ‘See that sadness? That loss?' Turning, I looked Diana in the eyes. I couldn't read them – they seemed closed to me. ‘I think I used to be a little like her even though I didn't realise it at the time.' Still no reaction. ‘I used to think I wouldn't give it all up because I couldn't have the person that I wanted when in fact I was the one who ruined it all.' I stepped closer to her. ‘It wasn't a case of readying myself for the most important scene in my life – it was a case of being too scared to take centre stage and realise that I wasn't the leading lady after all.' Reaching out, I grabbed Diana's hand. It seemed to have no life in it, seemed to be pliable and without purpose. She looked down at our hands and stared as if this was all a nightmare. ‘I don't want to renounce the world, Diana. I've spent far too long renouncing it, hiding from it, being too bloody frightened of being hurt to appreciate the importance of life and living.' A small squeeze of my fingers showed me she was in fact still with me and not drifting away into another world to escape being here. ‘Samantha James humiliated me, Diana. She made me feel as if I was a nothing … a nobody.'

‘You are not, and have never been, a nothing or a nobody.' Blue eyes flicked to meet mine. ‘Not to me. Never to me.' Warmth seeped from her hand and into mine and I felt a small tug as she moved me closer to her.

Being so close, smelling her scent, seeing those mesmerising eyes of hers absorb me whole … I believe I felt my heart kick start all over again. Tears welled in my eyes and I tried to blink them away. They weren't having any of it and slipped over my lids to rush down my face. Diana lifted her free hand and gently wiped the tears away with her thumb.

‘I'm … I'm so sorry, Diana. I … God.' More tears came unbidden. She cupped my head and brought it to her chest where I listened to her heart hammering. Pulling her hand free from my grasp, she wrapped it around my shoulders and held me as I cried; movements to comfort stroked my back. A kiss lightly touched the top of my head and I cried harder. Here I was trying to explain why I'd done what I had and I ended up blubbering like a baby.

Softly, Diana murmured, ‘It's ok, baby. Everything will be ok.' Then she let me cry. ‘Look.' Lifting my head, I sniffled. Diana was staring past me. ‘Isn't it beautiful?' I nodded, as I realised she was looking at Millais' painting. However, unlike my usual solitary experience when viewing beautiful art, this time I felt a part of something much bigger than I'd ever known. ‘But …' Hands cupped my face and turned me to her. ‘Not as beautiful as you, Jess. Nothing is as beautiful as you.

When her lips touched mine I felt my world right itself once more. Her lips were so soft, so deliciously perfect, I forgot we were standing in Tate Britain – forgot everything apart from how much I loved her.

Pulling away from her was hard, but I had to tell her. Diana leaned her forehead against mine and sighed.

‘I've missed you so much, Jess.' She pulled back, her eyes glistening. ‘I love you.'

A sob broke out of my mouth and I felt my face crumple. This time it was in the present tense. And this time I wasn't going to mess it all up.

‘You will never know how much I love you, Diana.' Her eyes closed momentarily before opening and swallowing me inside. ‘But I swear, I will spend the rest of my life showing you.'

The kiss was not gentle, not restrained, not timid or fearful. This kiss was the kiss of commitment and our future.

A cough sounded from the doorway making us break apart. Sally stood half in, half out of the gallery looking shyly embarrassed. ‘Sorry. But … erm … we need to reopen this room again.'

A giggle came unbidden from inside. It seemed as if it bubbled up and overflowed and bounced off the walls of the gallery. I felt lightheaded, felt complete, felt as if a dream I always wanted had magically turned into reality. All in all, I felt my life had been woken from slumber and it was raring to explore.

After thanking Sally and receiving a knowing wink, we left the sacred walls of Tate Britain and let the May air caress our faces.


Click. The door to her hotel room closed and I grabbed Diana and pulled her to me. Slipping my hands underneath her coat, I pushed the material from her shoulders. Her mouth met mine and the hunger I always had for her came flooding back. But I needed more. My hands fumbled with the buttons on her blouse but I couldn't seem to stop them shaking long enough to unfasten them.

Snap. Diana tore the front of her shirt and tore the buttons from their holdings allowing me to digest the sight of her breasts hidden behind her bra.

Snap. Again. This time it was my blouse that got the Diana Sullivan treatment, not that I minded, as it allowed me to press my torso against the bare perfection of her.

More kisses, more devouring, more and more and more. I felt my legs hit the base of the bed before I was lowered onto it. Frantic hands searched my trousers until they found the button, then the zip, then the band … and then they lowered. All the time, Diana kissed me. All the time I kissed her.

Naked. Both of us. The sleek movement of her skin over mine was like a reaffirmation of everything pure and right. Her knee parted my thighs and she slipped between my legs. The wetness I had pooling there seemed to ignite as soon as I felt her pubic bone grind into me and I lifted my hips to greet her thrust.

‘God, Jess.' Her mouth was on my throat, her words seeping into my skin and down through every part of me. ‘I love you so much … love you … love … you so much.' I felt like crying all over again, but this time with sheer happiness.

Fingers dipped between us and I gasped as I felt them gather the juice from my core and brush it over my swollen flesh. Another buck of my hips. I needed more, needed her to take me, claim me, own and possess me. My hands smoothed over her skin, pulling her closer, as well as committing each and every muscle to memory. Another stroke. Another gathering and swiping. My hips were moving to the rhythm she was setting and it was blindingly wonderful – but still not enough.

‘Please, Diana. Please make me yours.'

Blue eyes lifted and held me fast. ‘You're already mine, Jess.'

A moan shot out of my mouth, as the intensity of her words coated me.

I could feel those delicious fingers toying, circling, teasing, and I wanted to force myself onto them. However, I didn't have to.

‘Jesus!' The feeling as she filled me was sublime. The depth of it, the slow purposefulness of her taking of me was seamless.

The rhythm was building; my want of her was tantamount to madness and I welcomed it. Each thrust sealed our future; each push made me more hers, if that was possible.

A surge raced through me and I knew my cumming was close, knew I was ready to tip and fall and explode all over her before I melted even more into her.

‘Go-d! Di… ana! I … I … love you … love you.' Then light. Bright. Distinctively celestial. A waterfall of emotions passed through me at that precise moment, but none so clear as my love for Diana Sullivan. My Diana. My woman. My life.

And then it was time to show her that she was mine. Repeatedly.


Throughout the night, we woke to reaffirm our connection. Each time was like the first, as we tasted, stroked, melded and joined. Emotions ran high and we couldn't seem to stop the flow of tears that came with our coupling. Everything seemed heightened – everything seemed to be the most important action we had ever known.

Morning found us wrapped around the other, neither of us wanting to release our holds in case it turned out to be just a dream after all. Upon waking, I was greeted with the sight of her staring down at me, one hand holding up her head, a look of absolute peace radiating from the blueness of her exquisite eyes.

‘Morning, baby. Sleep well?'

I stretched my body and made a growling sound. ‘Sleep? What's that?' Leaning forward, I placed a tender kiss on her lips. Even though we had spent the night making love, I still felt the spark of want ignite on contact.


I grinned at her saucily and raised an eyebrow.

‘Tsk … I mean breakfast.'

Snuggling up to her, I mumbled into her chest, ‘You on toast?' God. What was wrong with me? Had I been hit by the mushy stick when I was asleep? I felt the laugh rumble inside her chest before a kiss planted itself on top of my head.

‘I like you like this?' Peeking up from the divine place near her breasts, I looked at her quizzically.

‘What? Hungry?'

With one fluid motion, she had me flat on my back and pinned my hands down with hers. ‘No.' Her face came closer to mine and it seemed as if she was reading my expression. ‘I like you relaxed and …' a kiss on my nose ‘happy and … ‘ another one landed on my eyelid ‘romantic and …' the other eye received the same treatment ‘all mine.' Her mouth claimed mine and sent shocks throughout my tired body. It felt as if she ripped those ruby gems away and left my own mouth bleeding when the kiss stopped and she pulled back. ‘I'll go and order us breakfast, ok?'

I felt the loss of her as soon as she moved her body away from mine and sighed as she walked through to the living area to call room service. Looking around the room, I noted that she had two suitcases stacked on the side, her portfolio resting against the wall, a laptop bag leaning against it. It looked exactly like the room of someone who is living away from home. I felt a longing for those cases not to be there and for time to go backwards to the moment when we had arrived at the Plaza five months previously. I also wished for me to know what I knew now, then I would have acted so differently. Or maybe not. Maybe I needed to go through hell to recognise what I could've lost.

Releasing a yawn, I stretched again. I needed a shower and to definitely brush my teeth. I hadn't noticed if Diana had morning breath or not, but I doubted she could say the same about me. Smacking my lips together, I held my palm to my mouth and tentatively breathed onto it. Yep. Definitely time to freshen up.

After a quick shower, and a thorough brushing of teeth, I appeared in the bedroom dressed in her robe. She was waiting on the bed, a pile of clothes next to her. ‘I didn't know if you had anything to wear, so I got you some sweats and a t-shirt.'


‘And to you.' Have I told you how much I love her smile lately? ‘Will you be needing any?' She lifted her eyebrow and gave me a look that suggested I wouldn't.

I returned the expression and added, ‘That depends.'


Moving over to her, I leaned to her ear, ‘You.' Her hands were on my hips and she pulled me to her, her mouth finding my exposed stomach. The heat of it was delicious and I felt I needed to feel it in other places.

‘Shower time!' And she was gone, leaving me gasping half naked next to our bed. Shaking my head, I laughed. She was such a tease and I loved it.


I'd just finished dressing when the door sounded, announcing the arrival of our breakfast. The shower had stopped a few minutes before, so I knew she wouldn't be long and started to pour the tea from the pot.

A few more minutes went by and she still hadn't come through. I could hear her fussing with her luggage, mumbling what I surmised to be swear words under her breath. A giggle shot out of my mouth before I decided I would start eating without her. By this stage, my stomach had announced it was time to feed the beast and who am I to deny it?

I was half way through my second piece of toast and honey by the time she appeared in the doorway. Her face was flushed and she seemed to be a little distracted. A grin split her face and she walked slowly to the table. Frowning, I asked, ‘What took you so long? And why are you grinning like that?'

‘No reason.'

I gave her the ‘I don't believe you' look, but didn't push any more. That insecure part of me was laid to rest – I had gone through too much to let her fidgeting and flushing get me all anxious again. It was amazing to think that after all we'd gone through I would feel so much peace inside.

Breakfast was performed in comfortable silence; the only words were based on passing butter or more tea.

‘Right. Time to get cracking. Fancy exploring London?' I stood as I spoke, but her hand shot out and grabbed mine. Blue eyes looked at me pleadingly and I scrunched my face in confusion. I could tell she wanted to say something, but it was as if the words were jamming in her throat.

Kneeling in front of her, I took her free hand and pulled her forward so she was closer to me. ‘What's up, love?' Usually, I would have been panicking, would have been thinking she didn't want me to be there, didn't want me. But not now. Finally I'd recognised that Diana and I were meant to be, that nothing and no one could separate us – well, apart from me and my stupidity. Thankfully, I had put that stupidity away and was hoping that it wouldn't return any time soon.

‘Jess, I …' Her Adam's apple was going crazy. ‘I … love you.'

I smiled up at her like a mother with an over anxious child. ‘And I love you, Diana.' My tone suggested some form of comfort, but also relayed she should continue.

‘When we came in December, I … God, it turned out so badly.' I took a deep breath. She was right. We should discuss it – discuss what had made me act the way I had. ‘I think I went about things the wrong way.' Huh? No. It was me and my insecurities that fucked everything up. ‘I wanted to tell you how much I loved you, but I was so scared you would run a mile. Turns out you ran anyway.'

‘No, Diana. It was me. I wanted so badly to tell you I loved you that it drove me mad, made me do things I would never have done.' A cracking noise came from my knee and instead of standing, I swapped them over whilst still holding her hand. ‘I was consumed with jealousy. I blamed Samantha James, but, in fact, I brought it all on myself.'

Diana was looking at me intently, almost as if she was absorbing every word. A quick shake of her head and she attempted to stand, but I was too close to her. Her leg kicked backwards and tipped the chair she had been sitting on over. In one fluid movement, she was kneeling on the floor in front of me, our hands still joined.

We were nearly level, so she leaned forward and down a touch until her face was so close to mine. ‘I don't want to go over the past, go over what happened or what could've been, Jess.' The words were slipping over my skin, as her breath blended with mine. ‘I … I … ‘Pulling back, she released one of my hands and placed hers behind her. I thought she was doing so to balance herself, but instead she brought it back around and lifted it to my face.

A small box. An open small red box housing something that glistened in the morning light. Rays darted outwards and created a prism around itself and I was momentarily lost.

‘Jess Taylor. Will you marry me?' Will I marry her? Marry? Will I? Me? Jess Taylor marry Diana Sullivan? Do you take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife? To have and to hold? Marry?

‘Wha-a-t?' My voice showed my inherent stupidity and by the smile she was giving me she knew I wasn't refusing her – looks like Diana had me and my inability to comprehend perfect moments in my life in the bag.

‘Marry me, Jess.' This time it wasn't a question. This time she said it almost as if it was a dare, almost as if she knew I was powerless to refuse her. And I was.

The kiss I gave her pushed her backwards and flat on the floor, whilst I straddled her and continued to show her without words that I accepted.

My display ended as we both broke into laughter, and I slipped off her to lie on the floor. Through the laughter, I heard her ask ‘So, is that a yes?' before she climbed on top of me and pinned me with the blueness I loved so much. Seeing her dark hair frame her face, the happiness, the expectation, the raised eyebrow, the ‘Well?' prompted me to speak.

‘Yes. Yes! YES!'

And that was the last rational thought I had for the rest of the morning. Not that I'm complaining. Insert a huge grin here.


Chapter Nineteen

I left her in London the following day and spent my train journey staring at the single solitaire ring on my left hand. In retrospect, most of the people on the train must've have thought I was high or drunk as I kept grinning and sighing, not to mention the constant jiggling on my seat. If I couldn't stay with Diana, the next best thing was to get back to Manchester and tell Sophie about what had happened, as I didn't want to tell her over the phone. I really wanted to see her expression as I broke the news. Diana was calling Dave later after she knew I'd told my best friend.

‘iv nooz 4 u. mt @ mine @ 9?'

It took her less than one minute to respond. ‘m already here.' What the fuck?

‘WTF? + ?'

‘u av cable.'

I grinned at the phone before staring at my finger again. Then, I did what any woman in her right mind would do – I took a picture of my engagement ring and sent it with the message ‘I love you', obviously to Diana and not the woman who was sprawled on my sofa watching TV. It never entered my head that Sophie didn't have a key to my place – I was too busy feeling smug and loved up.

It wasn't until I got my own keys out that it dawned on me. However, I knew damned well she would have fed my parents a line and got their key from them, probably after she'd scarfed a full Sunday roast and charmed them to bits.

Upon entering, I spotted her exactly as I knew she would be. Sneaking behind the sofa, I kneeled down before thrusting my hand in front of her and shouting ‘TADA!'

‘FUCK!' The drink she was holding flew in the air splattering all over her in the process. ‘SHIT!'

It was one of those scenes that act out really slowly, but instead of feeling helpless to step in and do something, it just gave me more time to enjoy the show. Watching Sophie try and catch the glass before it hit the floor was a peach. The amount of times it scuttled around and flipped from her grasp was amazing and I couldn't help the laughter that came out.

Smash. And scatter.

The only sound in the room was the theme tune to The Simpsons, as my laughter had dried up as soon as Sophie turned her attention to me.

‘This had better be good, Taylor.' Brown eyes flickered to my hand, back to my face, then back to my hand again. ‘What's that?'

‘That, my dear dear friend, is a ring.'

‘Der. I know it's a ring. But what is it?'

‘My dear dear …'

‘Will you cut out the dear?'

‘Sophie. This …' I held my hand aloft, ‘is an engagement ring.'

‘A what?'

I pulled a face and grabbed her hand. ‘See this on your hand?' I put mine next to it. ‘This is the same.'

‘No it isn't.' Her lip curled slightly, as if she was talking to an idiot. ‘I have something to go with this … it is called a fiancé.' I smiled at her. ‘But you haven't even got a girlfriend. How can … No WAY! You're not back with that slapper are you?'

Standing, I lifted my hand and blew on my solitaire. ‘I doubt your future sister-in-law would appreciate being called a slapper.'

I had moved nearly to the kitchen before Sophie moved off the couch. A firm hand caught my arm and turned me around. ‘What? Diana? You? Ring?'

‘That's what I've always loved about you, Soph. Your ability to articulate.'

‘Just a minute. Where've you been?'

‘To London to see the Queen.'

‘Are you drunk?'

‘Only on love … only … on … love.'

‘You are freaking me out now. I think I preferred you miserable.' Sophie leaned her face close to mine. ‘Now answer me. Properly. Got it?' I nodded and grinned making her grind her teeth. ‘Are you telling me you went to London to see Diana and have got engaged to her?' I nodded. ‘For real? You're not just hallucinating and buying rings you can't afford to fit with your screwed up imagination?' This time I shook my head. ‘Fuck me.'

‘Sorry, Soph. I'm taken.'

She tilted her head to the side as if assessing.

‘WAHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! You're getting hitched!' Her shout was loud and I fully expected Barnesy from next door to come around complaining again. ‘You did it, baby. You sorted it all on your own.'

‘Well not exactly on …'

‘I don't give a fuck about anyone else.' Sophie grabbed me and pulled me to her before lifting and twirling me around, all the while screaming out in happiness.

Thankfully, I have known Sophie for the majority of my life and knew that it would be the matter of moments before she tripped and we both ended up on the floor.

I was not disappointed.


My Mum and Dad were ecstatic. I think they believed they were one step closer to grandkids, and I didn't have the heart to tell them that neither Diana nor I had the tackle to accomplish it.

As I was leaving, my Dad pulled me to one side and whispered, ‘I am so happy, love. She's a keeper.' I wrapped my arms around him and kissed his stubbled cheek. ‘Tell her one thing from me will you?' I nodded against his shoulder. ‘The oranges worked.' Pulling back, I looked into his eyes. ‘Didn't like to mention it before.'

Bless him and his moggy fixation.


So, here we are on Sophie and Dave's wedding day. The bride, as I knew she would be, was radiant. Following her down the aisle must have been one of the proudest moments of my life. I could sit here and waffle on about how everything panned out, tell you about Dave kneeling at the altar with the sale price stickers on his shoes, could tell you about Sophie tipping Dave backwards and kissing him hard when they announced, ‘You may kiss the bride', could tell you all that and more, but to you it will seem like just another wedding day.

However, to me, it was so much more. It was the day my best friend married the person she loved the most in the world; the day I knew that she would be happy for the rest of her life; the day I'd hoped Sophie would have for so many years. It was also the day I stood behind her, both physically and metaphorically, like for twenty five years she had stood behind me.

It was also the first time I had seen Diana since she had popped the question. I know it seems like a long time, but she had things to do – relocate, for one. We'd spoken to each other every night on the phone, and, unlike the last time she had worked away from home, this time I didn't go half-crazy with jealousy – this time I accepted it. I'm not saying I didn't miss her, as that would make me out to be a liar, but I also knew she was returning to me – something that a month ago I would never had believed possible.

Therefore, after much huffing and puffing, holding of breath and having nervous breakdowns, I have finally come to the end of my tale. I did warn you and say although I promised a brief retelling I also did point out that we both knew I wouldn't succeed. So, I will apologise now if you feel that you will never get the time back you have invested in this story, but come on! Have you ever heard of free will? The ability to think for yourself and to make choices based on what you want out of life?

Now I think I may have upset you. Honestly, that was not my intention. What I meant to say, although it was broached like I was wearing one of my size sixes in my mouth, is this.

I started this tale indicating that the events within took me by surprise. Doesn't love always do this and why do we always act so stunned? Realising that everything that I believed to be part and parcel of my makeup was not the most brilliant and satisfying time of my life, but eventually it worked out for the best. Yes. I cocked up. More than once. I gave up too, something we should never allow ourselves to do. I honestly believe that we are in charge of our own happiness, but sometimes it takes the presence of the people we love around us to make us want to grab those happy reins and steer ourselves in the direction that we have always dreamed we would go. Yes. Samantha James dented my self-esteem, but it was up to me to push out those dents and smooth the body work once again. It was her shortcomings and not mine that led to infidelity and lack of respect for another human's feelings. True, I may not have given her everything she wanted in a relationship and should have ended it long before it turned ugly, but, come to think of it, so should she. Whatever the relationship, it takes two to make it and two to break it.

As for Lauren Baker – what can I say? I was jealous of someone who was so unhappy with her life she had to resort to making anyone and everyone as miserable as she was. Diana had the courage to walk away; it may have taken her a while to do it, but do it she did. No one should ever have to suffer the wrath and low self-esteem of another. Ok. I cracked her one. But, between you and me, I think she had that coming. Pity I didn't hit her harder when I had the chance of a pop. Joking. Not. Yeah … I'm (not) joking. However, she got her just desserts in the end. The week before Sophie's wedding she was in the Nationals again for hitting a stage hand. This time she got a hefty fine and bound over to keep the peace. I'm not smirking, honestly. Just grinning a little bit.

Before I love you and leave you I have a couple more things to share. I know, I know, I should just get to it already.

My life before Diana was a mess. Actually, after Diana it was a mess. I existed and didn't live, and to me that seems such a waste. Work, early nights and making excuses to do nothing seemed to be part and parcel of my small little world. I had slipped, effortlessly into apathy and didn't even realise it. Yep. Groundhog Day – well, until that fateful Wednesday when the numbers just seemed too freaky to be believed. All it took was a mail, a bit of contact, an understanding of what is needed by your best friend in the world to pull you out of a funk. Sophie was my saviour in more ways than one. She didn't allow me to get swallowed up by past mistakes, didn't relent in her love for me and our friendship to let me nose dive into OAP status before it was my time.

And here is my two pennies worth for you to take or leave as you please. Friendship. Proper friendship, not the ‘I have 547 friends on Facebook' kind, but the ones where you know their eyes close up, can recognise their laugh from a crowded room, know their scent, their troubles … Friends are the gems in our lives that sometimes we take for granted, something I know I am guilty of doing. A true friendship is priceless and irreplaceable – and my true friend is Sophie Harrison, serial bluffer and shoulder to cry on.

As for love? I thought I was already talking about that. Love comes in many guises, shapes and sizes and each and every one of these is a blessing. May it be your family, your friends, your pets or your partner, love is present and usually ignored or skimmed over to make way for the demands of modern life and her difficulties. Don't do this, ok? Take time. Take their hands and tell them ‘I love you'. Don't hide behind those three words as if they will burn – how can they? They are the words that have kept this race of ours going for thousands of years (granted, not exactly the words, but actions – I know what I mean, although it's not helping you much). To have the chance to love, to be loved in return, isn't that why we are here? To connect, to belong, to live a life that isn't bland and static, but full, fecund and joyful?

Diana and I won't make that mistake, although it doesn't mean we won't make any – we are human after all. But, I will try, and hopefully succeed, to make sure she knows how I feel about her every day of our lives together. I want to have a full, fecund and joyful life with Diana, the same woman who is gesturing for me to get off my butt and make a speech to the drunken crowd at Sophie's reception. Like this story, I will try and make it brief, although I think you've heard that before.

Ok. I will let you go now. I have speeches to make and a woman to love for the rest of my life.

Oops. One more thing, in case you are wondering. I love Diana Sullivan. Or did you work that one out for yourself?


The End


Thank you for sticking with me until the end.



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