RATED NC17: Sexual content and mild profanity

FEEDBACK: If you enjoy the story please let me know: weebod@mac.com


Part Five:

"Open up, Elish, I know you're home!"

El sighed, she had been intent on ignoring whoever was at her door, but she couldn't ignore her mother. Putting down the figures she was working on she went to let her in.

"About time, Elish." Marie Maloney gave her daughter a stern look.

"Morning, Mam. What brings you over?"

"Don't come all coy with me, Elish Maloney, I heard about the incident at work."

El lowered her head as her mother passed her heading towards the kitchen; she followed hoping and praying that her Mam hadn't heard everything. Please let her be talking about the landlord, El sent up a silent prayer.

In the kitchen, Marie Maloney was already filling the kettle, obviously intending to stay a while. Elish took a seat and waited for her Mam to speak what was on her mind.

"Did you go running this morning?" It wasn't the question El expected.


"It must be getting near that time."

"Not long now, I've been upping my mileage, if I avoid injury I should be in good shape."

" I admire your commitment, Elish. It takes a lot of discipline to do that. Twenty Six miles is a long way to run."

"It's for a worthwhile cause, Mam."

Marie Maloney smiled, "That it is. How much have you raised this year?"

"Should be a little over 5000 euros. I'm confident I can still get more sponsors before race day."

"I'm very proud of you, Elish, you know that don't you?"

El wondered where this conversation was going. It seemed her Mother had a point to make, but it wasn't like her not to take the direct route, El felt a twinge of fear in the pit of her stomach. It looked like her prayers wouldn't be answered this time.

"I know, Mam." she replied quietly.

"What you do for the community round here," she paused shaking her head, "it's wonderful, Elish." She poured the tea that had been brewing into the cups, then walked to the fridge to fetch the milk.

"I've been hearing a lot of talk, Elish, most of it about how you put your own safety aside to save some poor lass from a man with a knife. A drug addict, needing a fix." Mrs Maloney brought the cups of tea to the table and sat opposite her daughter.

El stared into the caramel coloured liquid still swirling from the stirring her mother had given it. She knew what was coming.

"Elish?" Her name was spoken so softly, El was surprised, she looked up into eyes, a mirror of her own, but where El knew her eyes reflected anguish, her mother's showed concern.

"I heard other things...things that concern me greatly. Are they true? Did you attempt to...choke the man?" Mrs Maloney struggled to say the words.

Elish couldn't lie, she swallowed hard and nodded, her head bowed, not wanting to see the disappointment in her mothers eyes.

"Oh, Elish." was her mother's whispered response. Then stronger, "You have to let this go. You can't be some avenging angel; it's not the right thing to do. You have to learn to forgive."

El looked at her Mother, her face showing all the agony and pain of their loss. "I can't forgive, Mam, I don't think I will ever be able to do that. I want to kill those bastards!" The brunettes voice cracked under the strain of the strong emotions running through her.

"No, Elish!" Her mothers voice was firm. "You cannot take the law into your own hands. That man did not kill your father. You have to be strong and let the police do their job."

"They will never find who did it. It's been five years. Five years without justice!" El's voice was rising with her anger.

"Don't give up, Elish, it will happen." Mrs Maloney pleaded.

"When? When Mam?" Close to tears now Elish felt the weight of the last few days come crashing down upon her.

Taking her strong daughters hand in a show of support, Mrs Maloney fought back her own tears. "I don't know, Elish, but I have to believe that it will."

El understood what her Mam was telling her. By continuing to hold onto that belief, she kept herself strong, as it gave her hope. El nodded her understanding.

"About what happened, Elish..."

El interrupted, not wanting to cause her mother further pain. "Look, Mam, I..."

"No, hear me out." El nodded. "I'm proud of you, Elish, you saved that girl from harm. You are a strong brave woman, your Da' would have been proud of you, but...he would never want you to take revenge for his death, no matter how much you and your brothers want to avenge it, he wouldn't want that. He believed in the law, Elish, he was an officer all his working life and he died doing what he loved." El sniffed back tears as her Mother spoke. "Promise me, Elish?"

"It frightened me, Mam, it was like I lost all control, if Naomi hadn't been there to throw me off of him, then..." El trailed off, not wanting to finish the sentence.

"But she was, Elish, that's what matters. You didn't do it."

El wasn't so sure it was as simple as her Mam made it sound, but she would let it pass and deal with her conscience in her own time. "She was mad as hell at me."

Marie Maloney smiled a little as she sensed the slightest shift in her daughter's mood. "I'm sure she will get over it, you two have been good friends for quite some time, that doesn't just fall apart over one incident."

"You're right. Mam, Naomi has already made moves to mend any problems we might have. We're going out for dinner on Wednesday, I have to pay for being an... Well, I won't repeat what she said."

Mrs Maloney smiled again, "I'm sure I can fill in the blanks."

El chuckled, "I'm sure you can."

There was a few moments silence between them. Elish looked out of her kitchen window noting the sky had darkened, she knew within minutes it would rain and her washing was hanging out on the line. As if reading her daughters thoughts, Marie Maloney spoke, "Come on, I'll help you get it in. No point in letting it get wet."

El wondered if her Mam's mind was ever fully off household chores, or if it had just become second nature to her and she simply responded without thinking. It's definitely a gift. El thought to herself as they made quick work of a weeks worth of washing.

Washing in and airing on the clotheshorses that El used in the bad weather, they made their way to the living room, a second cup of tea in hand.

"How are things going with Aisling?"

El sighed deeply, "Not good."

"Speak to her, Elish, hear her out. It's such a shame that the two of you have fallen out over this sale business."

"I don't know. I'm not ready right now, I'm not sure when I will be."

"She is a lovely lass, I'm sure there is a good reason for her keeping quiet."

"She should have told me, Mam."

"What difference would it have made? You would still be in the same situation you are now."

"She let me down, Mam, I feel like she chose to support her Father over me."

"He is her employer, Elish." Mrs Maloney pointed out reasonably.

El shook her head, "I just can't understand it, all that time she knew what was going to happen and never said a word. I feel like what we had was... I don't know. I just wish she had said at the start."

"Would it have made a difference? Maybe she was afraid you wouldn't have been interested in her if you knew?"

Elish thought about that, would she have dropped her interest in Aisling had she known up front what her Father's plans were for the centre? She wasn't sure. "I don't know."


"Perhaps you should consider giving her the chance to explain?"

"I'll think about it." That was the best El could offer at this time and her mother accepted that the conversation was over.

The Maloney women hugged and said their goodbyes, but Mrs Maloney had one final request before she left. "You'll go to confession, Elish?"

"Yes, ..." Mrs Maloney was about to interrupt, but El was quick to stop her, she knew her Mam was about to suggest they go this evening. "I'll go when I'm ready, Mam. I've got a lot to think about first."

Marie Maloney nodded. "Fair enough, Elish." She left her daughters home, content for now that Elish seemed to be holding up reasonably well, despite the difficulties she was currently experiencing in her life.

Elish could hear the incessant buzzing somewhere in her sleep addled brain, it was only when the tune became familiar she realised it was the alarm on her mobile phone. Reaching blindly towards the bedside table she located it, flipped the top open and pressed in the general direction of the off button. When the polyphonic ring tone finally stopped her hand flopped back onto the duvet and Elish pried open one eye. This was becoming a new morning ritual, finding it hard to get to sleep at night Elish was finding it increasingly difficult to get up in the morning. Having been able to sleep a little longer over the weekend, this Monday morning was proving to be more of a challenge, but she needed to motivate herself.

A quick trip to the bathroom, followed by a quick check of the weather and Elish was pulling her underwear from a drawer. Pulling on bikini briefs and a sports bra, El then found a cotton T-shirt and nylon running shorts. Grabbing a pair of white sports socks, Elish sat on her bed to pull them on. Recalling yesterday how her little toe had hurt after the run, she went back into her bathroom barefoot to get her first aid kit. Micropore tape was El's answer to all friction problems, as she had begun to gradually increase her distance, she was incurring the odd problem with her feet. She needed to prevent any blisters from forming, as they could seriously hamper her progress. Tearing off a piece of Micropore, El taped over the reddish looking part of her little toe.

Walking downstairs in her socks, El opened the front door to bring in her milk from the step. She headed to the kitchen where she poured a glass of milk, then popped the bottles in the fridge. Knowing she couldn't run on an empty stomach, El had found that this small amount of fluid and a piece of fruit was enough to sustain her, without making her feel too full. Reaching into the cupboard under the stairs Elish removed her running shoes, then sat on the bottom steps to put them on. Ready to start her run El opened her front door, locked it, and put her key in its usual little hidey-hole. She felt the cool air as she began her warm up stretches, it would soon be time to warm up in her tracksuit, as summer was leaving rapidly to give way to autumn. El looked around as she went through her routine, feeling her muscles begin to ready themselves for action as they stretched and contracted. Heating quickly due to the increased blood flow to the tissue.

El glanced over to Mrs Fitzgibbon's cottage, she smiled when she spotted her milk still on the doorstep, it was rare that she left before the milk was gone, but it happened occasionally. She knew it would be taken inside before she got back from her morning run. Taking in a few deep lungful's of air, Elish set out on her easy five mile run. Having run twenty miles the day before this would be a less challenging distance, El was approaching peak form.

Forty minutes later a decidedly warmer Elish was jogging the last hundred metres to her cottage, already starting her cool down. Walking up the path Elish began her warm down stretches, now that she had stopped running she was beginning to feel the chill in the cool morning air, tomorrow she was definitely laying out a tracksuit. She walked over to the little plant pot that housed her front door key, but her eyes were drawn over to her neighbour's step and what she saw caused her to frown. Mrs Fitzgibbon's milk was still on her front step. Foregoing the usual route, Elish put her hands on top of the fence that separated their front gardens and in one smooth motion leapt over and jogged to the front door.

Knowing her neighbour was hard of hearing Elish put her hand on the doorbell and pressed it several times. Hearing no movement inside she looked through the letterbox, calling out her neighbour's name. She knocked the door a few more times. Come on Mrs F! Still with no response, Elish made her way to the back of the cottage, she tried the back door and could hear Mrs Fitzgibbon's cat inside, responding to her presence. Looking through the kitchen window, what she saw shocked her into action. Lying unmoving on the kitchen floor was her neighbour. Her cat by her side.

Knowing the back door was locked, the brunette looked for a way into the cottage. With no easy access, she decided to try kicking in the back door. Mrs Fitzgibbon's door was old and two attempts later the wood split from the doorframe allowing El access.

Immediately rushing to the woman lying on the floor Elish checked for a pulse, it was there. Sighing with relief she ran to the living room and dialled an ambulance, then grabbed a blanket from the sofa. El returned to the kitchen, and put the blanket over her unconscious neighbour talking to her all the time, trying to get a response.

Elish gently cupped Mrs Fitzgibbon's cheek as he spoke close to the unconscious woman's ear. "Mrs F, can you hear me? It's Elish." There was no response. El was deeply concerned, wondering how long the woman had been lying on the floor, her skin felt cool to El's touch. Elish looked her over for any obvious sign of injury. Has she fallen over and hit her head, had a stroke, a heart attack? All these questions were running through El's head, she tried again, "Mrs Fitzgibbon, it's Elish." This time she heard a small groan escape from slightly blue tinged lips. Deciding not to move her neighbour for fear that something was broken, Elish continued to talk to her using soothing words and telling her that help would be here soon. Sure enough, not five minutes later Elish could hear the sound of a siren getting closer. She stayed with her neighbour until she heard the doors open, then quickly made her way to the front door to let the paramedics in.

"My neighbour is lying unconscious in the kitchen." El's tone was a touch frantic, but tinged with relief now that medical help had arrived.

The navy blue suited man and woman followed Elish and quickly began to assess the elderly woman. Wasting no time placing an oxygen mask over her face and running an IV line into her arm. They began to fire questions at Elish.

"What's her name?"

"Mrs Fitzgibbon." The man began talking to his patient as the woman continued to question Elish.

"Have you any idea how long she has been unconscious?"

"Has she spoken to you?"

"Do you know of any medical complaints she may have?"

Elish answered the questions to the best of her ability, as the pair continued to assess her neighbour.

"What do you think is wrong?"

"It looks like she's had a fall. We're concerned about the possibility of broken bones and her temperature is low. She may have been on the floor overnight." the guy answered as the pair began getting Mrs Fitzgibbon onto the gurney as gently as possible.

Elish winced inwardly at the thought of the poor woman being on the kitchen floor all that time. "Will she be alright?" El knew it was a stupid question as soon as it left her mouth, but she was concerned.

The blonde female turned to El, "Sorry, we won't know anything else until they see her at the hospital."

"Where are you taking her?"


"Alright. I'll make sure things are taken care of here first, and then I'll be there as soon as I can. I'm Elish Maloney, I live next door."

"Okay, we have to get going, we'll let them know in the accident and emergency unit."

Elish took one last look at the frail Mrs Fitzgibbon and said a silent prayer that she would recover from whatever had happened.

As soon as the ambulance left, sirens wailing, Elish set about doing what she could. First she called her brother, Thomas, she figured he could fix the back door where she had split the wood. Next she fed the rather forlorn looking cat and put some water in her or was it his dish? Elish couldn't be sure about that. With a name like Tac it was hard to tell. That done, she nipped back across to her own cottage to grab a quick shower before Thomas turned up to fix the door.

Elish arrived back at her neighbours to find her brother had already started on the door.

"Morning, Tommy," she greeted over the hammering.

"Ah if it isn't wonder woman." He teased. El had earlier offered him a quick explanation of the morning's events. "Kicking in doors and saving damsels in the distress, all before breakfast."

El smiled at his joking. "What's the damage, Tommy?"

"Ach, I can just patch it up for now, Elish, no need to put a new lock on."

El, nodded and watched as her brother proficiently drove nails home into the new bit of wood he had cut.

"Is she going to be okay?"

"I don't know yet. I'm going to head to the hospital as soon as you finish up here."

"Almost done, El, just need to check the lock is working then that's me."

Elish made a quick call to the centre and let Bren know she would be in later. Then walked Tommy to his van, the family name emblazoned on the side.

"Thanks a lot, Tommy, you've been a great help. I really appreciate you coming out here."

"It was no problem, El, I hope the old dear recovers." With that he hopped in his van and with a quick wave drove off.

Elish arrived at work two hours later. Mrs Fitzgibbon had fallen and broken her hip so she was being kept in hospital and all being well she would have surgery the following day to replace the damaged hip socket. Her neighbour was such a sprightly woman El wondered how she would cope with the restrictions the surgery would put upon her normally active lifestyle. The woman danced, did her garden, she was always keeping herself busy pottering around her house and walking daily to the shops. It was going to be a difficult time for her neighbour.

El arrived at the wine bar, a little after 7pm, to find Naomi already seated at the table reserved for them. As she approached the table she took a moment to observe her friends dark exotic complexion. With her long silky brown hair, high cheekbones and full lips. Naomi was in a word, beautiful and not for the first time Elish thought what a truly lucky man Declan Connelly was.

Naomi's eyes locked onto El's as the brunette approached, a wide smile greeting her slightly late friend. She tapped her watch in mild reproach, lateness being a pet hate of hers.

El held up her hands, "I know, and I'm sorry. I popped in to see Mrs Fitzgibbon after work, she's a bit lonely in the hospital so I stayed as long as I could."

"Ah, in that case you're excused for being late. I'm a sucker for a good cause."

"Thank you, you are too gracious." El took a seat opposite her friend.

"How is she doing anyway? Besides fed up being in hospital."

"The surgery has been a success, she came through it well, there was a slight concern with her age, but she's made of strong stuff. They couldn't repair the damage to the bone, so they have fitted a GK nail into the top of her femur to act as the new ball to rotate in her hip joint."

Naomi gave her friend a funny look, since when did El talk like a doctor? "Eh, in English please, El?"

"Can't you just ask Declan?" El whined as Naomi shook her head. "Fine. Mrs F has a new hip."

"Couldn't you have just said that in the first place?" Naomi chastised.

"I thought with you being the wife of a doctor you would have preferred the jargon."

Naomi made a face. "Where are you getting all the technical details anyway?"

"A chart on the wall outside the orthopaedic ward." Naomi rolled her eyes. "It's really cool what they can do, Naomi. With graded exercise and proper care and attention Mrs F will be good as new."

"That's great news, El." Naomi saw this as her opening, "Speaking of news I have some of my own."

"You do?" El's curiosity was peaked.

"Look I know this isn't a great time for you, El, with all that has happened in the last couple of weeks, but I really wanted you to know as soon as possible."

Elish was becoming concerned now and just wanted Naomi to spit it out the tension was getting to her. Was she leaving? Had Declan gotten a new job somewhere else? Potential scenarios were racing through El's mind as she waited for her friend to continue.

El watched as Naomi took a deep breath; barely able to keep the smile off her face she said, "I'm pregnant." then sat perfectly still awaiting El's response. She watched in rapt fascination as a myriad of emotions ran across her friends face. Confusion first, followed by what appeared to be relief, then a huge grin exploded forth.

"Pregnant! Oh wow. That is fantastic!" El was out of her seat in a flash, kneeling next to Naomi's chair as the pregnant woman looked on stunned by her friend's antics. El began rubbing Naomi's abdomen, then much to her chagrin she kissed it, right there in the restaurant.

El looked up at her startled friend, eyes brimming with happiness she said, "This is great Naomi, there is a little you and Declan in here!" She rubbed her stomach again until Naomi finally came to her senses.

"Elish. Elish! Get up, you're causing a scene!"

El laughed, "This is just wonderful Naomi." She got to her feet and took her seat again. "I am so happy for you. What does Declan think?"

"Oh, he's over the moon. Totally looking forward to being a dad."

"And what about you?"

"I couldn't be happier, El. I really want to be a Mother."

"This baby is going to be so well loved, I can hardly wait." El paused then exclaimed, "Oh my God. You're pregnant!" Both women could hardly contain their joy and Naomi knew that when the time came she would be making the right choice. She could think of no one better than Elish, to be a godparent to her son or daughter.

As the meal progressed both women chatted about everything and anything, including the possibilities for a new location for work. At the end of the meal the pair sat sipping coffee, Naomi going for decaffeinated, giving up caffeine was a small hardship in her opinion, but well worth the effort.

As usually happened when these two were out alone, a couple of guys gravitated to their table, intent on chatting the pair up. They had become used to the scenario and had developed a quick way of being left alone, though tonight El's version had a new twist.

"Hello ladies, I'm Gary and this is my friend Eddie." Eddie added his hello, especially in Naomi's direction.

Naomi nodded politely as El answered. "Nice to meet you, I'm gay and my friend is married and pregnant."

Gary and Eddie stood in stunned silence as they absorbed El's words. Then they both laughed. "I take it that means we have no chance?"

"You would be right, but thanks for stopping by."

The four shared a laugh and the usual comments of how unfortunate it was that two beautiful women were off limits, but it was a good-natured exchange and neither Elish nor Naomi were remotely bothered, unfortunately it was not always the case.

"That was easy," El remarked casually.

"Hmm, I think it was the additional, and pregnant that did it. You being gay and my being married isn't often that much of a deterrent."

"True, maybe in future I'll just say, we're pregnant. Though I have to admit, I find pregnant women a real turn on."

Naomi looked at El in disbelief. "You what? Get away with you."

"I'm being serious, Naomi, when my sister in laws were pregnant, my brothers started to worry that I was after their wives, I spent that much time rubbing their bellies. I just think that pregnant women are really attractive." El raised an eyebrow and leered ever so slightly at her friend.

"So what you're saying, Elish is that you're going to be feeling me up every chance you get?"

"Something like that." El mumbled.

Naomi stared at her friend, there was something different in El's tone, that she picked up on, then it struck her, El really was being serious. She leaned a little closer to her friend, her voice low. "El, you have my permission to feel me up any time you like." She watched on with great satisfaction, as El blushed right there in front of her.

"Behave, Naomi." El hissed.

"Oh, this is going to be so good. I can't believe you will really have the hots for me!"

"Get used to it, cause it will only get worse." El grinned with little apology at the new revelation. It was true she was going to think her friend was extra hot during her pregnancy.

When they left the wine bar Elish insisted upon walking Naomi to her car, already slipping into protective mode.

"Jesus, El, if this is what you're like after eight weeks, I dread to think what will happen when I'm eight months."

"Humour me."

They stopped at the white Volvo, where Elish pulled her friend into a tight hug. "I really am delighted for you and Declan. It's such wonderful news." El said as she continued to hug her friend.

Naomi pulled back and kissed her on the lips. "You really are a terrific friend, Elish. I know that you must be hurting right now, but you are able to be genuinely happy for me. I really appreciate that."

There was a pause as the two shared a connection, before stepping out of the hug. Naomi decided to ask the question that had been nagging her most of the day. "I noticed that there has been no sign of Aisling or her car since Friday. Do you know anything about that?"

"Not really." El sighed, she had noticed too. How could she not when she looked for the little silver Mercedes every time she was in the car park. "We had words on Friday afternoon, I...I think I may have been a little harsh."

This was news to Naomi, "What happened?"

"I was angry and she was there." El shrugged. "She followed me back to the office after the incident with the methadone. I was so raw, Naomi, I couldn't think straight." El shook her head as if trying to erase some painful memory. "She offered support and I told her I didn't need anything from her, then I told her to go...I haven't seen or heard from her since."

El looked truly sad and Naomi felt deeply for her friend. "That could explain her absence, or perhaps she just can't face being around the centre and the shops after her father's decision?" Even as she said it, Naomi knew that was unlikely. Aisling had been around every day last week. Had she not wanted to face them, she surely would have stayed away before now.

El smiled sadly at her friend, appreciating her attempts at easing El's conscience, but seeing the flaws for herself. "I miss her, Naomi. She has hurt me, but I miss her."

Early Friday afternoon found Elish back at the hospital. She was to meet with the Occupational Therapist to discuss Mrs F's discharge, or lack of it. Her neighbour had been so upset the day before when she heard that she may not get home for a while due to her living on her own and having no family who could come and help her out until she was able to look after herself again.

Walking onto the ward she found the OT already waiting by Mrs F's bed.

"Oh, here's Elish now." She heard her neighbour tell the woman with her.

The woman in the white tunic and green trousers introduced herself. "Hi, I'm Emma Hughes, Mrs Fitzgibbon's Occupational Therapist."

El shook the hand offered, "Elish Maloney, Mrs F's neighbour." El's gaydar pinged, the woman before her was feminine looking and certainly her outfit was giving nothing away, but El just got that vibe, perhaps it was the once over she had received.

Elish sat down in the only available chair, while Emma perched on the edge of Mrs F's bed. The OT laid out the principle problems that were complicating the discharge then she and Elish along with Mrs F set about overcoming them. By the end of the chat El had a list of things to do over the weekend, including moving furniture so that Mrs F's living room could be converted into a temporary bedroom. Elish assured Emma that she could organise friends and neighbours and set up a rota to look after Mrs F's needs until she was able to do so herself. Overnight, El would be right next door, just a phone call away and she could be there in minutes. For her part Emma would arrange a district nurse to assist Mrs Fitzgibbon with bathing and would also go to the cottage that afternoon to measure the bed and toilet heights for any adaptations that may be required and order any equipment needed. Elish never imagined that there could be so many stumbling blocks to getting a person home from hospital, but apparently at this stage the new hip was most susceptible to dislocating and the utmost care would have to be taken to avoid this.

After everything was arranged, Emma agreed that if everything went to plan, Mrs F could be home by Tuesday. The OT would take her home to approve the discharge from hospital, apparently Mrs F had to be shown how to get in and out of cars, as well as use her new equipment. Elish said she would be there for Mrs F getting home, to help her settle back in and thanked Emma for co-ordinating the discharge. El had always wondered what an Occupational Therapist actually did, now she had a bit more insight she realised they are a vital cog in big wheel. Mrs F had even been taught new techniques for dressing herself that would avoid damaging her hip while offering independence and privacy. El recalled fondly how the day before Mrs F had taken great delight in demonstrating how proficient she had become with her 'helping hand'. Using the picker upper to put her slippers on and pick up various items from her side cabinet. The poor woman was so desperate to get home she must have been perfecting her techniques for hours!

Mrs Fitzgibbon was a lot happier after the meeting; she thanked Emma telling her that she was very grateful and really looking forward to Tuesday. Then the OT left taking the house keys from Elish, assuring El she would pop them through her letterbox when she was finished.

"And you, Elish Maloney, have a heart of gold. A finer neighbour I could never wish for." The older woman said with all sincerity.

"You're not so bad yourself, Mrs F, you don't even play your music too loud," El added cheekily, pleased to see her neighbours spirits finally lifting.

"How's Tac, Elish."

"Oh, healthy but missing you." El still wasn't sure what sex the cat was and had done everything to avoid using gender specific terms. She was still getting used to Mrs F hearing her clearly, that had been a shock. She had greeted her groggy neighbour on Wednesday in her usual raised voice hoping the woman would hear her, only to watch on astonished as Mrs F begged her to lower her voice as she had been fitted with a new hearing aid.

"I miss him too and I can't wait to see him."

Ah, mystery solved El thought. "He's eating well, but he looks a little lost every time I go in to feed him. I'm sure he will be over the moon when he sees you again."

"You know, Elish, it's not that the people here haven't been wonderful. I just miss home, you know? I've never been away and I don't want to stop doing things for myself."

El recognised the concern in her neighbour's words. She was worried that if she didn't get home soon, she might never. Mrs F had seen it happen to friends after what appeared to be a simple fall led to them never getting home again. Ending up in sheltered accommodation or worse a home for the elderly. Elish would do everything she could to help Mrs F regain her independence and keeping her mood up would be a big part of that.

"Don't worry yourself. I'll get everything organised over the weekend and I'll let Emma know first thing Monday morning, so she can go ahead and make the arrangements to get you home."

"Thank you so much, Elish, from the bottom of my heart." Mrs Fitzgibbon took El's larger hand in her own and gave it a gentle squeeze.

"You're most welcome. I'll see you soon, you take care."

Sunday morning found El for the first time that weekend with time on her hands. She had been very busy contacting people to help out with Mrs F on Friday evening and yesterday she had moved the furniture with the help of the older twins, Gerry and Gheordan. Mrs F's bed was now in her sitting room, which had been rearranged to accommodate it. Between that, her running and weekend chores she barely had time to stop and think, which suited Elish just fine. When she stopped to consider anything her thoughts immediately turned to Aisling, which in turn invoked feelings in El that she was not comfortable with. Instead she was filling her spare time and if truth were told was almost relieved that Mrs Fitzgibbon needed her at the moment, it allowed her to focus on someone other than herself.

El glanced around looking for yet another chore to keep her busy, but knew it wouldn't be enough to occupy her mind, just her time. Glancing at her watch she had an hour before Sunday mass started, pondering over her decision for just a moment El's mind was made up. She would go to church early to attend confession; there was always confession on Sunday morning prior to the holy sacrament. Who knew, maybe a chat with the priest would help ease her guilt over the incident at the drug centre, at the very least her Mam would be pleased to hear she went to confession.

El put a Mac on over her dress slacks and lambs wool crew neck. The weather this day was damp and the air felt heavy. El rarely enjoyed running in this type of weather, there was just something so cloying and depressing about it. Her run earlier that morning had left her feeling sad and gloomy.

The drive to the church only took 15 minutes; Elish had been a member of the congregation since she was a toddler. Most Sundays El attended the same mass as her Mam. It was as familiar to Elish, as pulling on a favourite jacket or walking into her childhood home. She missed the house she had grown up in, but had fully supported her mother's decision to move, it had never felt the same since the day her Father didn't come home from work. The church felt safe, she felt like she belonged here and was always welcome. Some of her friends found it difficult to understand why she would continue to be a member of an institution, which condemned her lifestyle and choices, but for Elish it wasn't so much about the catholic faith as more a sense of belonging. In truth El would be happy to attend any ceremony, it didn't have to be a catholic service. The reason for coming here was that she liked this church and the people who congregated within it.

Elish parked the Mondeo a few streets from the church, despite getting here early. She wouldn't take up a parking space that could be better used by someone less able than herself. She had two perfectly good legs and could easily walk the extra distance. Looking up into the grey sky El knew it was about to rain so she picked up her step and walked purposefully towards the heavy wooden doors of the old building. As the door closed behind her El felt the stillness immediately. It was rare that she was inside the building when it was virtually empty. She glanced towards the confessional box and noted that there was one person kneeling in prayer, El guessed they had already been in. She walked towards the pews outside the confessional, her footsteps echoing within the cold building. It always felt cool inside the church, even in the middle of summer the stone building was cool.

Entering the confessional she sat down on the hard wooden surface. A grate separated herself from the priest, she wondered which one would be in attendance.

The seated figure on the other side of the box began a blessing when Elish was seated, she knew instantly that it was Father O'Neil and she almost groaned out loud, he was such a sweetie wifey, he knew everything that was going on in the community.

"Bless me Father for I have sinned, it has been several months since my last confession."

"Go ahead my child."

"It's Elish Father." The brunette decided to forgo the pretence, that this confession would actually be full and El would truly repentant all sins she had committed. They both knew it wasn't going to happen.

"Elish? Elish, who I wonder?" El rolled her eyes, here we go.

"Could this be the Elish who's name I have heard spoken no less than one hundred times in the last week? The Elish who rescued a fair maiden from a knife wielding individual intent on harm? The Elish, who assisted her poor elderly neighbour after a serious fall, got her to hospital and then...got her back out? Not only that but the woman is now able to hear. I've heard talk of a canonisation." Father O'Neil chuckled at his own joke.

"Keep it up Father and I'm out of here." Don't you have to be dead for that? El wondered.

"Alright, alright, Elish. Just one more though...you'll like this, I promise." He paused for effect. "Is this the Elish who is now the best suitor in all of Dublin, for men and women I might add. I heard two ladies talking in the village; I can't say whom mind you, obviously to protect their daughter's identities. Anyway, these daughters are unmarried and obviously the wheels have been turning in the heads of their mothers. Apparently, if their daughters 'aren't the marrying kind' they wouldn't have any objections if it were your good self being brought home to meet the family. Though I must say. Elish, if rumours are to be believed, I think that ship has sailed, if you catch my drift." He added in a conspiratorial whisper.

El shared a chuckle with him on that one; the women were already an item.

"Well it's not everyday I get a local celebrity in the confessional, so what brings you here...apart from your Mam that is?" He chuckled again.

Finally, El thought, She would actually be able to get a word in. "I won't be confessing everything father, well I can, but I won't repent."

"Let's stick to the sins you wish to repent Elish and not the ones you intend to keep repeating."

"Good enough, Father. Obviously you've heard of the incident at the drug rehab centre?"

"Indeed, indeed."

"I went too far, Father, I lost control."

"Go on."

El bit her bottom lip, she may not enjoy free use of the confessional but she did take seriously those sins she wished to confess. She would not seek forgiveness unless she was truly sorry. "It's complicated father, I was intent on stopping the man with the knife, which I did, but I didn't stop there. After he was disarmed I continued to inflict harm upon him. I lost all control Father, I'm not sure what would have happened if my friend had not been there to stop me."

There was silence in the small confines of the confessional as they both absorbed what El had said.

"Do you think, had there been no-one else around the outcome would have been different?'

There it was, the question that Elish had been asking herself for the past week. "I think..." El stopped and drew in a deep breath before trying again. "I was intent on forcing the methadone into his mouth. Had I been successful, he would have overdosed on it. What the outcome of that would have been is anyone's guess, a trip to the hospital to pump his stomach? I don't know, father, I just don't know."

"Are you sorry for your actions, Elish?"

"Yes, Father and not just my actions. I'm sorry for the hurt and disappointment I have caused to the people I love through those actions."

"And what of your concerns, Elish? How do you feel about all of this?"

El bit her lip again as she considered his words and formed her response. "It concerns me greatly. I've been shocked to learn this about myself. I'm shaken over the loss of control. I'm worried that it could happen again."

The priest took a few moments to think about his response. "I've known you many years, Elish, and in all that time I have never seen you be anything less than a hard working young woman who would go that extra mile to help those less fortunate than yourself. You love your friends and family and your respect in the community is more than deserved. Your recent actions are clearly weighing heavily on your conscience. I believe that in the unlikely event that this type of situation should ever arise again, you will not lose control due to the learning experience you are going through now."

"I hope you are right, Father."

"I have faith in you, Elish. Don't get me wrong, your actions almost led to something more serious and it's right that you should have feelings of remorse, but I am confident that you will learn from this and grow as a person."

"Thank you, Father," El sounded a little reserved, hoping that the priest was correct, but not trusting herself.

"Give yourself time, Elish. You will come to terms with what has happened...and perhaps, other events too." He added a little cryptically, but Elish knew exactly what he was getting at. The incident had brought home the truth that she had not gotten over her Father's death. She wanted some sort of revenge, she wanted someone to pay and she needed to perhaps let go of the part of her that raged over the injustice of losing her Father. Unfortunately even now sitting in a confessional booth she felt the anger bubbling under the surface.

"It won't be easy, Father, but perhaps in time...well, you never know."

Father O'Neil offered Elish a blessing and made a sign of the cross, "Go in peace my child." He murmured and El appreciated the sentiment. He never offered her absolution; she couldn't accept it unless she was willing to repent all sins.

Monday morning was an extremely busy one for Elish; she had barely had a moment to get up out of her seat to grab a coffee. As soon as El entered the office she had made the all important call to Emma at the hospital informing her that everything was in place for Mrs F, now the discharge hinged on what Emma called a discharge home visit, which basically meant that if the OT was satisfied that Mrs Fitzgibbon was going to be safe at home then she would discharge her and head back to the hospital on her own, if she saw anything that concerned her she would not approve the discharge. Elish had enquired as to what would happen if Mrs F refused to go back to the hospital? There had been a brief laugh on the other end of the phone before Emma informed El that it wasn't unusual for a patient to refuse to leave their home and she would be bringing a self discharge form to be signed by Mrs F in the event of that occurring. El smiled at this knowledge, she now knew that Mrs F was definitely getting home tomorrow afternoon, there was no way she would leave her cottage to go back to hospital under any circumstances.

The rest of El's morning had been spent looking for new premises for the centre. The local girls high school was proving to be a real possibility. The gradual decline in the number of girls attending over the last few years meant classrooms were lying empty. Elish had spoken at length to the school's headmistress, Mrs McBride, a lovely lady, but she had made it clear that under no circumstances could she consider the possibility of the combined unit moving to the school premises. She was willing to enter negotiations for a permanent space for the community centre, but the drug rehab centre would have to find an alternative location. El understood her reasons, but it left both her and Naomi in a spot. The centres worked in tandem and being in the same building was of great benefit to everyone. If clients had to go any distance to get between the centres it was highly likely that a lot of vulnerable clients would slip through the net.

Elish sat back rubbing her temples, with no straight forward solution it meant that moving to the school would be unlikely at this point in time. Stretching out the kinks in her body she decided it was time for some lunch before she began to tackle her in tray.

El followed the lovely aromas coming from the kitchen as her stomach began to make its demands know.

"Mmm, something smells wonderful."

Molly and Bren turned to look at El from their place at the kitchen counter where they were making toasties for what appeared to be the entire building.

"Oh, hi, Elish, what would you like?"

El gave that all of two seconds thought before replying, "Cheese and tomato?"

"Coming right up, I take it you'll be wanting the two, what with all the extra running."

"That would be wonderful, Molly." El replied giving the woman her usual charming smile then turned to look at Bren who had been unusually quiet throughout the exchange. Even if she didn't want any conversation, El always merited a grunt of response at least. Bren though seemed more intent on observing El than speaking. Every time the Brunette caught the younger woman's eye Bren seemed to be waiting on her boss to say something. Eventually El lost patience with the game.

"Everything alright, Bren?"

Bren's eyes immediately swung to the floor. She glanced over at Molly who shrugged her reply. The two of them were now acting odd and seemed to be communicating non verbally much to El's annoyance.

"Would either of you care to tell me what's going on?"

Molly glanced to Bren who shook her head 'no', before replying to Elish. "Nothing."

El sighed. "Okay, when either of you do decide to enlighten me, I'll be in my office." With that El stood up to head there, she wasn't in the mood for anyone's games.

She heard Molly call after her, "I'll bring your lunch along, Elish."

"Fine." She could here their muted voices deep in discussion as she walked back along the corridor.

Fifteen minutes later a rather sheepish looking Molly brought Elish her lunch, along with a mug of coffee.

"Don't get upset, Elish, it's nothing personal, Bren's just...well you'll find out soon enough and it'll all make sense." Molly paused awaiting her boss's response.

El nodded, "I'll try to be a little more patient, Molly, but she really was acting strangely, even for Bren."

"Maybe you should tackle your in tray after lunch?" Molly suggested.

El knew a hint when she heard one and intended to do just that. "Thanks, Molly."

"You're welcome, El."

As with most days at the centre, El's plans were disrupted with an unexpected turn of events. No sooner had she started on her in tray than the phone interrupted her progress.

"Elish Maloney."

"Hello, Ms Maloney, it's James Keenan."

El almost pulled the phone from her ear to stare at it in disbelief. The man actually sounded courteous. She was immediately suspicious. "Mr Keenan, what can I do for you?"

"I'm over in the office and I wondered if you could find the time to come across to discuss an urgent matter?"

El's heart rate immediately picked up, she couldn't help the response. She hadn't seen anything of Aisling for over a week and despite everything her immediate concern was for the little blonde. "I'm on my way."

Taking the stairs to Aisling's office at a run, El stopped on the top step to compose herself. Calm down Elish, this could be about anything. She was trying to rationalise her thoughts. The man was well known for making demands on people and expecting them to jump at his word, but Elish couldn't shake the feeling of dread. It was his tone that concerned her. He was never solicitous, instead usually more condescending and of course smug.

El knocked on the door and was immediately granted entrance as James Keenan opened the door and invited her to take a seat.

"Ms Maloney, so good of you to take the time to see me." He sat behind the desk and El couldn't stop her thoughts straying to memories of what had happened on that desk. When she looked up to meet Mr Keenan's eyes, he seemed to recognise where her thoughts had strayed and clearing his throat brought their focus back to his reason for inviting Elish here.

"Aisling has gone." He stated pointedly.

El blinked rapidly, "Gone where?"

"To Edinburgh and I want you to bring her back."

Elish stared stupefied at the man in front of her. He wants me to go bring her back? What the hell! "I don't think so." El stated tersely.

James Keenan nodded his head in understanding of her response. "Let me explain further. First of all there are some details that you should be made aware of and I'm sure when you hear them, you will have a new understanding of what has been going on around here."

This peaked her interest, "Go on."

"Aisling was never in favour of the sale. To the extent that she went over my head with a plan of her own. Back at the beginning of August my daughter drafted a new document that made additional stipulations on the sale of the land and buildings. The company want the land desperately and they agreed to the changes. Aisling then showed me the entire agreement and asked me to endorse it. All it needed was my signature. That never happened straight away as I was still negotiating the price I could get for the land." He offered Elish a wry smile, "I was letting it be known that the land was for sale, I might have gotten a better offer."

El wasn't surprised to hear this; the man must be good at this sort of thing after all. You don't get rich on these deals by capitulating too easily. She said nothing, waiting on the landlord to continue his pitch.

"Aisling has been urging me to make a decision and sign this document since the day the company approved the changes. It seems she has a real soft spot for your centre, since that was the change that was made. A brand new centre would be built to replace the current older building that both yourself and Mrs Connelly use. You would both have new premises." He stopped to let that information sink in.

Elish was stunned by this new information. Aisling had cared all along, if the timing was correct it seemed that she set about making these changes right after the day Elish met her in the butchers shop and offered to show her round.

"She would tell me all about the work that you and your staff put in for the local community. How valuable the drug rehab centre is. Not to mention what a wonderful bunch of people you are. My daughter and I are very different; she cares about people and lets that interfere with business. I don't. However on this occasion, the change wouldn't affect me financially."

Elish knew what was coming, she had put two and two together and come up with the answer, but she had to ask. "So why didn't you sign?"

James Keenan looked slightly uncomfortable with the answer, but he gave it none the less. "I changed my mind after I found you with my daughter."

Elish stood up abruptly, "I ought to wring your scrawny neck!" she hissed.

The landlord swallowed heavily, he found the woman in front of him intimidating, but quickly regained his composure, not wanting her to know that. "But you won't because I doubt the Garda will be able to overlook a second assault, hmmm."

There it was, the smug bastard was back and Elish hated him all over again.

He smiled at her, but it never reached his eyes, there was no sincerity in the sentiment. "Now here is the deal. I haven't signed anything yet. If you go to Edinburgh and bring back my daughter I will sign the agreement that Aisling put forward, that includes the rebuilding of a combined centre for yourself, Mrs Connelly and your respective employees. Will you bring her back for me?" He delivered the question with a confidence that conveyed his certainty of the pending victory; he could not imagine Elish turning him down.

There were so many thoughts and feelings running through El's head. A part of her still wanted to do the man physical harm, while another part of her wanted to ask for the address and hop on the first plane to Edinburgh. Elish bowed her head, deep in thought, after a couple of minutes she knew what she had to do.

She raised her head and looked the expectant James Keenan in the eye. "No."

He was about to congratulate her on making a decision that would mutually benefit them both; instead a look of absolute incredulity replaced his previous smugness.

"No?" was his disbelieving question, "But I'm going to save the centres!" He was on his feet unable to comprehend El's decision.

Elish remained calm, what she had to say was important and she wanted this man to listen. "And I hope you still can find it within yourself to do so – but the only way you are going to get Aisling back...and I don't mean back to Dublin, I mean as your daughter, who will love and respect you, is if you go and get her yourself. You need to go and bring your children home...both of them." El paused for breath; she was on a roll now. "Until you and your wife do that it won't matter whether Aisling is living under your roof or on the other side of the world. Until you start accepting your children for who they are, you will never have what is most important...their love and respect. You can demand and control all you want – you might even be able to get her back – but is that really what you want? Will you settle for just having her physically close by without her love? Or do you want it all?

James Keenan sat in his chair with a stunned look upon his face. He was speechless.

Elish continued on, unabated. "I'm not the one who can do that for you. Only you can do it." El left him to think about what she had said and she sent up a silent prayer that she was making the right decision. Naomi is going to kill me. She winced as she thought of the discussion she was about to have with her friend.

Deciding not to waste any time El headed straight for Naomi's office, almost wishing that her friend wasn't going to be there. As Elish approached the door it was open, she knocked once out of good manners then entered and closed the door behind her.

"El, Good to see you." Naomi looked fantastic and it pained Elish to know that she was about to wipe the smile from her friends face. She attempted one of her own, but knew it was weak.

"What's up, El?"

El put her hands up in a placating gesture. "Don't kill me."

Naomi frowned, she had no idea what Elish was talking about, she watched as her friend sighed deeply and took a seat.

"I just had a very interesting chat with our landlord." Naomi raised her eyebrows. "This is a long story, maybe I could get a coffee?" El was stalling and they both knew it, but Naomi allowed the temporary distraction and got El a coffee and a decaf one for herself.

Elish explained all that had transpired in Aisling's office with James Keenan and watched Naomi's face go through a range of responses as the story unfolded. Hope, confusion, disbelief and finally resignation. She sat in quiet contemplation as she mulled over all that Elish had told her.

"So let me get this straight. Aisling, who we have both thought badly of since we were served notice to end the lease agreement, was actually all this time working to save the centres? Then when her father found out you were screwing his daughter he changed his mind?"

El winced, "Yes."

"Then when he offers you a deal that means the centres will once again be saved you turn him down because you want what's best for your ex girlfriend?"

"That about sums it up I think."

Naomi nodded and offered El a sad smile. "I desperately want to keep doing what we do, Elish, but it wouldn't have felt right under those circumstances. Sure a part of me wants to shout and scream at the injustice of it all, but it isn't your fault. You made the right choice, as you always would."

Naomi stood up from her seat and approached her nervous friend. She pulled El up from her seat and took her in a tight embrace. "I am so sorry, El, for the way things have turned out for you personally." Elish buried her face into Naomi's neck and let her tears fall silently as Naomi rubbed her back soothingly, while murmuring to Elish.

"God, Naomi, I was horrible to her and all that time she just wanted what was best for us."

El sounded so distraught that Naomi felt her own eyes fill up and her throat became tight with emotion. "I know, Elish, but you weren't aware of what was going on between Aisling and her father. The whole thing just seems so unfair on both of you."

El shook her head, "No. Not just Aisling and myself. My actions, getting involved with the landlord's daughter has cost all of us, Naomi. Because of me and my fucking libido, we won't have a place of work in six months time. I should have known better than that! I do know better than that!" Elish was thoroughly disgusted with herself on so many levels she couldn't even begin to sort through her ragged emotions.

"No, Elish, you can't think like that. You can't blame yourself for the actions of James Keenan. He is a homophobic, spiteful bastard, who would rather see his daughter hurt than happy. It's not your fault, El."

Elish never made it to her in tray that afternoon; it wasn't until the following morning that she happened upon the reason why Bren was acting so strangely.

"What the hell!" Elish almost shrieked. There in her hand was a short perfunctory note giving two weeks notice. Bren was leaving and Elish was absolutely stunned. There had been no clue, no hint from her secretary and there was absolutely nothing in the letter that indicated any reason for her leaving. "Christ, this place is coming apart at the seams!" Elish was out the office door without another thought.

Marching up to the front desk, fuelled forward on a mix of shock and disbelief El stood until Bren raised her head from her computer screen. She watched as the young woman blanched at the sight of her boss.

"You're leaving?"

Bren nodded.


With that Bren burst into tears and Elish wasted no time in going to her distraught secretary and taking her in her arms.

"Shhh, come on, tell me what's wrong." El encouraged soothingly. She didn't cope well with tears and idly thought that perhaps if Aisling had turned them on the outcome would have been different, then banished the thought, Aisling had never struck her as much of a crier.

Bren began to talk but it came out as broken sentences and mumbling as she continued to sob. All El caught was that she didn't want to say anything.

"Come on, settle down a bit, Bren, I can't understand you."

The secretary nodded and attempted to compose herself. Elish pulled a chair over and sat close to the distraught girl.

"It's been so hard, El. I didn't even make up my mind till the weekend." She started to cry again. "I love my job here."

"So what's made you decide to leave?" El was having a hard time following her secretary.

"I'm going to University."


Bren nodded, "I got accepted late, I thought I wasn't going to get a place to start this year."

El was shocked; this was news to her, but the best news she could imagine. She remembered writing a reference to Trinity College, but after that had heard nothing. Elish had assumed that Bren had failed to get a place. Since the secretary never mentioned anything, El had taken her cue from Bren and let the matter drop.

"Social Work?"

Bren nodded and before she had time to say anything else El had swept her into a hearty hug.

"Bren! That's just, amazing! I had no idea you had gotten a place!"

Bren nodded and attempted to get her over exuberant boss to ease up on the bear hug just a little.

"I was awarded a place after my interview, but I had to get over 400 points on my leaving certificate to gain it. When the results came back I was just under what I needed, and I assumed that was it, I would have to apply again next year and top up on what I failed on, to increase my points."

El was nodding along with the information like an excited puppy. She knew Bren had been going to night school to do a higher leaving certificate, which she missed out on, having left school at sixteen.

"Then I got a phone call to say that there was a place for me. I took the weekend to think it over and well...I've decided this is what I really want."

"I am so, so happy for you, Bren. You will make a great Social worker. I really mean that. The initiative you have shown here, the way you have turned your life around in the last three years. You deserve good things, Bren. Lord knows we will miss you round here, but to see you move on to start a degree is just wonderful." El was beaming from ear to ear and it was infectious as Bren let go of a smile of her own, transforming her normally cool features.

Elish delivered a kiss to her cheek, "Does Naomi know?"

Bren shook her head, "I only told Molly because I was scared Elish, I needed someone to know."

"I understand. Do you want to tell Naomi yourself?"

"No, I couldn't, would you?"

"Can I tell her now?"


"Great, see you in a wee bit."

Elish practically bounded into Naomi's office, her friend looked at her like she had two heads. This was so different to the woman she had held the day before.

"Bren's going to university to be a Social Worker. She's leaving in two weeks!"

El watched as Naomi's face lit up at the news.

"Oh my God, that is the best news!" And it truly was for the two of them, this was the kind of story they lived for. Bren had been an addict when she first attended the drug rehab centre, hooked on heroin at age Seventeen. She cleaned up her act with the help of the staff and Elish, at Naomi's request had employed her as her new secretary. The two of them stood in Naomi's office beaming like proud parents.

"You know, Elish, this is why we do what we do." She shook her head still trying to take in the news. "She will make a terrific Social Worker."

El nodded, "I told her as much."

"It's great to see her go on to do this."

A thought suddenly occurred to El. "Hey, it's alright for you, Ms Campbell, now I have to find a new secretary." El whined.

Naomi grinned wickedly at her friend, "And I have just the person in mind." She held up a hand, "Now don't let the red hair put you off, and there is the nose ring, but he is a really great guy..."


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