It was bad enough having your dreams crushed, Molly thought, without having it done by text message. Sorry Molls we r through just not working is it? c u round Chris. She'd thought going out with Chris would cheer her up, but it had just made things worse. Reminded her that what she wanted wasn't just someone in bed – even a cute, if ignorant medical student – but someone she could talk to, admire.
But she wasn't going to stay at home and be miserable. It was Friday night and she was going to go out. OK, she didn't feel up to a nightclub, people enjoying themselves, but it'd be light for ages yet, she'd go for a walk. And so what if it was raining. She'd go for a walk in the rain. What could be more carefree, more romantic than that?
But of course, this was London, and it wasn't romantic rain. It was driving rain that rapidly formed streams and lakes along the blocked drains and in the potholes. And the cars roaring past splashed her with muddy spray, and now she was cold and wet as well as miserable. Molly retreated hastily back to her little flat in Colliers Wood and Toby gave her the smug look of a cat who knew better than to stir out of doors on an evening like this.
"I am not just here to be your slave," she told Toby firmly, and decided she'd better go and find something else to do before she ended up spending hours discussing her love life with him. She went upstairs and turned the radio on, as she struggled out of her wet tights.
For tonight at half-past ten,
For the first time in history
It's gonna start raining men.
Geri Halwell cheerily belting out cheesy Eighties stuff, and Molly did not need that right now. She switched the radio off and her laptop on, and wondered how sad it would be to spend the evening looking at pictures of Lolcats.
What's happening? Twitter asked @MollyHoopla and she typed in:
If I wait for stormy skies you won't know the rain from the tears in my eyes #BreakupBlues.
But twenty minutes later all she'd had was a virtual hug from a friend in Connecticut and a stream of tweets by someone desperate enough to be watching Borat. Everyone else was probably out enjoying themselves, she thought. And then a new tweet appeared from @sawbones:
Do you want to come and have a drink? #GetOverTheBluesTime
@sawbones? She tried to think who that was. Not Tina or the woman in Southampton or Clare from the diabetes clinic. Oh, she remembered now. Sarah Sawyer, John Watson's girlfriend. She'd met her a few times, liked her, but she'd hardly expected to get an invite from her.
@sawbones Do you mean now? #ItsRainingItsPouring
@MollyHoopla If you fancy it, I have some nice cava in the fridge. Will send location via DM #GetOverTheBluesTime
@sawbones You're on! #SingingInTheRain
Molly had a cagoule and jeans and trainers on and she was still soaked to the skin by the time she got to Sarah's flat in Highgate. Sarah took one look, and said:
"You'd better get out of those right away. You're about my size, I'll find you something dry."
Molly didn't feel anything like as awkward as she might have expected being mopped up by a woman she only half-knew. Because she didn't need to be the world's only consulting detective to know that Sarah had been stood up that evening. It was obvious to someone who'd had the same experience too many times herself. The flat that was far too tidy for this stage of the working week. The casual clothes with the artfully done make-up, because Sarah had changed out of her smart dress, but hadn't quite given up the hope that she might be wowing someone later. Though judging from the rather scrumptious-looking homemade panna cotta she 'd been working her way through, she was almost resigned now to ending the evening alone.
Molly hadn't felt at all hungry earlier, but now her stomach was rumbling, which was embarrassing. Especially when it did so again as she was putting on the trousers Sarah had found for her. She hoped the rain outside might hide it, but Sarah just smiled and said:
"Would you like something to eat? There's another panna cotta if you'd like it. Stop me eating that one as well. And if we're going to have that wine, best not to drink it on an empty stomach."
Put it like that, it was practically medically advisable to have the dessert, and it was wonderful.
"The fruit makes it healthy," she said, as she licked the last bit from her teaspoon.
"I'm not sure the vodka and double cream does," said Sarah. "And it took forever to make. But I'm glad someone appreciated it." A jaunty ringtone blared out. Sarah's phone, not hers. And from the clipped politeness with which Sarah was answering, it probably wasn't good news.
"That was John," Sarah said, switching the phone off a little too firmly. "He's off to Verona tonight."
"Yes. He said earlier something urgent had come up. I thought even if he missed the concert, and it was too late for supper, there was a chance he might still come round at some point tonight. But...he says he's just about to board a plane."
"With Sherlock?" said Molly.
"Do you think John would go to Verona on his own?" said Sarah, clearing away Molly's plate briskly, with the slight air of someone who wished she had the nerve to start smashing crockery.
"I always wanted to go to Verona," said Molly. "It's where Romeo and Juliet lived. You can still see the balcony they're supposed to have kissed on. I mean I know they're not real, but there's a real medieval house that you can go and see."
"I don't think John will have time for any sightseeing, not if he's there with Sherlock," Sarah said. "Would you like some wine? I did promise you some, so we might as well open the bottle now."
"Verona...isn't there another Shakespeare play set there?" Sarah said, as they sat on the sofa with their very nice wine.
"Oh I remember, " said Molly. "Not one of the well-known ones, I've never seen it. Two Gentlemen of Verona. Isn't that appropriate?"
"For Sherlock and John?" Sarah said, and started laughing.
"I can just imagine...," Molly said, and then broke off. Because what she was imagining was Sherlock in Italy, warm sun on his bare arms as he sat outside a cafe, drinking a cappuccino. And she was stuck here in the rain of London. I can't stand the rain, against my window. Coz he's not here with me. To hell with that. She was not going to be pathetic and sit around and talk about Sherlock.
"I can just imagine them," she added firmly, "rushing around frantically and getting fed up with Italian officials, and not realising that we're having a good time here without them. Did you say you went to a concert this evening? Who did you hear?"
Sarah turned out to have a taste for classical music that Molly didn't share, but they did both like the theatre, and the Courtauld Gallery, and of course Sarah knew all about the more gruesome bits of the Wellcome Collection. And from that they were onto medical school stories and the strangest things they'd ever seen. Sarah won that with a goitre patient, though Molly's account of an autopsy on the stomach of a pica sufferer got a few choking laughs from Sarah. It had been a while since Molly had had a girls' night out: it was fun to be able to slip between discussing DNA sampling and the best moisturisers to buy.
They talked on and on for ages. This is nice, thought Molly, really, really nice. And then Sarah, having told her about her walking tour in France in July, asked: "Are you going away this summer, Molly?"
"I was going to the Glastonbury festival next week with Chris," she said, and suddenly there was a knot in her stomach, and she knew she was about to cry, and she should not have had that last refill because alcohol was a depressant, and her life was depressing anyhow. And then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid.
"You could go without him," Sarah said.
"I don't want to."
"Couldn't you find someone else to go with?"
"I don't want to go to Glastonbury!" Molly burst out. "It'll be raining and muddy and the toilets will be horrible, and the music will be too loud. But Chris wanted to go, so I said yes."
"You don't have to go, Molly," said Sarah, putting her arm round her, as Molly buried her head in her hands. "You don't have to do anything you don't want to."
"But I don't want to end up with just a cat and a vibrator!" she wailed.
"Of course not, because the cat would think the vibrator was a toy and want to play with it, wouldn't it?" said Sarah. Molly found herself almost choking between tears and laughter. "Hold on," Sarah added. "I'll get you some tissues and a glass of water."
She must stop crying, Molly thought, as she gulped down the water.
"I'm thirty-one," she said. "I shouldn't be crying about Glastonbury and cats."
"It's fine," said Sarah. "You're just having a bad time, and you need someone to give you a hug." She reached out across the sofa, and gave Molly a big-sisterly hug. Only somehow it ended up with Molly curling up against Sarah's chest, with Sarah stroking her hair as if she was a cat. Which was perhaps not quite sisterly, but very comforting.
"Why are you going to end up with cat and a vibrator?" Sarah asked after a bit.
"I can't find anyone for a proper relationship, because I'm subconsciously still in love with Sherlock and no other man measures up to him," Molly said. It was no help whatever that she knew about psychology.
"Why do you love Sherlock? Is it the voice or the eyes? Or the shirts? He wears very sexy shirts."
"It's not just that...it's because he's clever and lonely and he'd have so much love to give if he just found the right person."
"Would he?" Sarah's voice was soft.
"No," she said. "He's an inconsiderate bastard who only flirts with me to get his hands on corpses. And he's never so much as kissed me. I am so stupid. At least John's sweet and you get to sleep with him."
She could feel Sarah suddenly tense. Oh help, she'd said the wrong thing, hadn't she?
"I'm sorry, she said, hastily. "I shouldn't have reminded you about John, should I? You must be missing him."
There was a long silence from Sarah, and when Molly looked up she was biting her lip.
"It is...OK with John, isn't it?" Molly whispered. "When he's not in Verona, I mean?"
"John's a nice man," Sarah said slowly. "Kind, considerate...the sex isn't bad." Molly waited.
"It's just..." Sarah said, and her arm was heavy round Molly now, as if Sarah no longer had the strength to lift it, "it's not his fault. I...it takes a while for me to get in the mood sometimes."
And if you want long, slow sexy times in bed, Molly thought, John Watson's not ideal, especially when he has Sherlock breathing down his neck. Sarah must have been planning this evening with John for ages, and instead she'd got stranded with a mopey pathologist.
"I'm sorry," Molly said.
"It's OK," Sarah replied, and Molly could hear the wishful thinking in her voice. "Maybe it'll be better when John's back from Verona."
Why did they do this to themselves? Think it would be different this time. The same delusion that kept Molly waiting, waiting for Sherlock, even when she was in a relationship with another man. Which was probably why her relationships never lasted.
"What are you thinking, Molly?" Sarah asked at last.
"That my relationships never last."
"You ought to forget Sherlock, find someone better for you," Sarah said, stroking Molly's hair again. "You could find someone easily. You're beautiful and sweet and just adorable. Kitten Molly."
"I'm not a kitten! I'm a grown woman."
"I'm sorry," said Sarah, and Molly could imagine the warmth of her smile. "Molly, the secret tiger."
"That's more like it."
They sat for a while in silence, which was oddly soothing. Maybe it was the wine, Molly thought, maybe it was having someone hold her close while the storm raged outside – she could still hear the lash of heavy rain – maybe it was just there was nothing she needed to say. She could just stay like this, warm and snug and happy against Sarah. Maybe she was a cat after all.
She felt Sarah shift a little awkwardly under her.
"I'm sorry," Molly said, sitting up hastily. "I must be squashing your arm."
"A bit," Sarah said, scrunching up her shoulder. "But it's more that I spend too much of my life just sitting at a desk. I always end up feeling a bit stiff at the end of the week. Getting old, I suppose."
"Would you like a massage?" Molly asked. She should do something to help Sarah, given all she'd done this evening.
"Do you know how to do that?"
"I went on a course last year. I think I can remember what to do."
"I...that would be good. Make a change from a hot bath and too much paracetamol. And I think I've got some massage oil lurking somewhere. I'll just go and get it."
When she was taking the massage class, Molly had always imagined a late evening in the lab at Bart's. Sherlock would be straightening up after hours of crouching intently over the microscope, wincing over his protesting muscles. Molly would offer to ease his shoulders out, and he'd carelessly agree. And then as her skilful fingers worked their way across the smooth planes of his purple shirt, he'd suddenly sigh, and say "Yes", very low. And then his fingers would be fumbling desperately at the buttons down his front, and he'd pull his shirt off, and murmur: "Keep doing that, Molly, I want your fingers on my bare skin right now..."
"I've found it," Sarah announced triumphantly from the stairs. "Body Shop finest circa 2005. Massage oil doesn't go off, does it?"
"I don't...probably not."
"Would it be easiest on the bed upstairs?" Sarah asked. "It's the nearest thing to a treatment table I've got handy."
"That'd be fine," Molly said firmly.
"Have you had a massage before?" she asked Sarah, as they walked into the very tidy and freshly-hoovered bedroom.
"Ages ago. I treated myself to a day at a health spa for my 35th, but the masseuse there was a strapping Californian with steel fingers. I hope you're a bit gentler."
Sarah stripped rapidly down to her lacy blue knickers and lay face down on the bed. She had a nice body, Molly thought, decent curves, not flat-chested like her. She rolled up her sleeves and poured out some oil to warm it. Her hands were a bit rough from all the hand sanitizer, but she was stronger than she looked – you needed to be, in the mortuary – and she knew about anatomy, and she could remember some of what she learned on the course. So get into position and then start with a light contact on the back, and an upper trapezius squeeze...
It felt good having Sarah's smooth skin under her hands. She spent so much of her life with the cold heavy weight of dead bodies, bruised and battered flesh. It was like the fresh sweetness you got after a spring shower to have her fingertips making circles down the curve of Sarah's neck. What was it the massage teacher had said? Massage isn't just a physical act. It's about consciousness, becoming aware of others' bodies, connecting through touch. So what could she feel? Her hands connecting her to Sarah's body, which was beginning to relax now, muscles unbunching, then a tiny sigh of pleasure escaping Sarah, as she stretched up into Molly's touch...and the heat that Molly suddenly felt in her own groin.
Oh help, she thought, I shouldn't feel...and she stood up, her hands pulling away from Sarah. But why shouldn't she? Because of course skin to skin contact was erotic, even if it wasn't a man's body. And more than that, it was Molly's fingers that had done that, released Sarah. When she made love to someone, it was that that she craved almost more than her own orgasms: giving herself to someone, holding them, touching them, licking them until they collapsed into pure sensation. To have the power to do that...
"Are you OK?" Sarah asked, twisting round on the bed to stare up at Molly, one plump, creamy breast revealed, soft, alluring.
"I...I'm fine," she said. "I'm sorry. I just got distracted. If you lie back down, I'll finish doing your neck."
"Thanks," Sarah said, and lay back down. Molly's hands felt heavy, clumsy now, pushing too hard, not hard enough. As quickly as she could, she finished the sequence of movements.
"I'm sorry," she told Sarah, "I...it was only a short course, and I'm not sure I remembered things right."
"Felt good to me," Sarah said smiling. "You have a very therapeutic touch." She rolled onto her back. "That really helped."
"Good," said Molly. "That's good." Sarah was lying topless there in front of her. She was used to seeing people naked, Molly told herself, it was not in the least bit embarrassing. There was no reason for her to feel flushed and slightly shaky. It was just that she hadn't properly taken in before how beautiful Sarah was. Full, generous lips, and her eyes were light grey, like...no, because her gaze wasn't cool and insolent, but assured, tender, as she gazed up at Molly. What would happen, she suddenly wondered, if she reached out and brushed her lavender-scented fingers across Sarah's breasts?
Stop it, she told herself, you're being ridiculous. But the more she told herself that she shouldn't, she mustn't, the more she wanted to. To stop being pathetic Molly, who never did anything that wasn't sensible, safe...
"You're dripping oil on your trousers," Sarah said mildly. "Well, they're mine actually." And then she added, with a slightly tentative smile. "Do you want to take them off, so you don't get them mucky?"
"I...yes," she replied. "And if you'd like me to massage you...lower down, I can do that."
"I would like that," Sarah said softly. "Did they teach you to do that on the course as well?"
"No," said Tiger Molly, smiling as she pulled down her trousers and knickers, "but I know a lot about female anatomy."
"Well I've already got loosened up, so maybe I should have a go on your muscles first," said Sarah, reaching up and undoing Molly's bra, her fingers warm and steady against Molly's back. Molly leaned forward and ran her tongue across Sarah's nipple, and there was no going back now, was there? A moment's minor confusion followed, as Molly tried to take off Sarah's knickers while Sarah was simultaneously trying to remove Molly's T-shirt. Then she was lying down on the bed naked, and Sarah was pouring oil over her hands with the swift confidence of a surgeon preparing herself. She reached out, pressing her thumbs onto Molly's nipples, skilfully playing with them, and it was as if Molly's body had been hardwired to respond, desire shooting through her like lightning.
Sarah's hands were slipping down her body now, and it felt so right, circles rubbed on her sensitive belly, and then Sarah's fingers were dipping lower, and yes, Molly wanted this, and she clung onto Sarah, kissing her neck. She smelled so good, so sweet, so lovely, and nothing mattered but this, she didn't care about the roar of London outside, not when Sarah's fingers touched her there, gently stroking, massaging, till Molly's body's spasmed in response, and all she could do was gasp: "That, yes, that, that". Bliss after bliss, till it was too much, and she pulled away from Sarah's hand. And then she hugged Sarah tightly, and said: "Your turn now."
Sarah didn't cry out when she came from Molly's tongue cleverly teasing at her clit. But Sarah's hitching breath, the way her thighs had quivered from the tension, was somehow even better, signs of true pleasure given and received. They lay on the bed afterwards in silence, curled up against one another.
"Is it still raining?" Molly asked at last.
"I think it's stopped," Sarah said. "But it'll still be horrible outside, and I'm not sure your clothes will be dry yet. You're better off staying here tonight. I can probably find you a spare toothbrush and a pair of pyjamas."
"Is it...is it OK if I sleep naked?" Molly asked.
"Is that what you normally do?"
"No, but I think it's time to try something different."
"Don't worry," said Sarah. "If you do find you're getting cold, you can just snuggle up to me."
Molly woke up naked in a strange bed, and felt a moment of panic before she remembered. She was at Sarah's, wasn't she? Which was...good. She probably ought to be having some sort of crisis after last night, but she decided she didn't want to. Sarah was nice, and sleeping with her had been lovely, and when Sarah came back into the bedroom, in her blue dressing gown, shiny with happiness, it felt absolutely right.
"Shower's free if you want it," Sarah said, "And if you want to wash your hair you can borrow my blow-dryer. What would you like for breakfast?"
A few more advantages to spending the night with a woman suddenly registered with Molly.
"Thanks," she said, smiling up at Sarah, as she pushed the duvet away. Then she stretched out luxuriously, and she couldn't help noticing how Sarah's eyes were tracing up and down her body as she did so.
"Molly," Sarah said and then stopped. Then she picked up her phone from her bedside table and said casually, too casually. "I checked this earlier, when I woke up. Doctor's bad habit, I suppose."
"I had a text from John." She handed the phone to Molly.
We're in Padua now. Back in time for Monday's surgery I swear. Hope you're getting on OK. Missing you. Love, John XOXO
"I'm sure he will be back for his shift," Sarah said. "He's very...reliable about that sort of thing."
"It's a nice text," said Molly. It was the kind of text that made you give a man a second chance. Or a third, or a fourth.
"I want more," said Sarah. "Someone who wants me enough to stay."
"I'll stay," said Molly. "If you'd like that. But John..."
"Give me your hand," Sarah said suddenly, "and hold still for a moment." She fiddled with the phone, and then said: "Take a look." She turned the phone to Molly, a photo of their intertwined fingers filling the screen.
"Juliet and Juliet," Sarah said. "Not bad as a caption." Her fingers slid over the screen again. "There we go. I suppose it's a bit brutal, but he needs to know, and I'd prefer not to have to break it to him first thing Monday morning."
"You...you just sent that to John?" Molly gasped.
"Of course not," Sarah grinned. "I sent it to Sherlock. He'll be able to work out who both hands belong to."
She ought to protest, Molly knew that. Say that you shouldn't do things like that, upset people. On the other hand the thought of Sherlock seeing that picture was...surprisingly satisfying.
"We're not really nice after all, are we?" she said.
"Tigers aren't," said Sarah. "But gorgeous as anything. Would you mind waiting for breakfast, on second thoughts? If you're not in too much of a hurry, that is?"
"I've got nothing on today," said Molly, and then grinned. "I mean, I'm happy to stay here for as long as you like. Can I just go and clean my teeth?"
It was raining heavily outside once again, and it wasn't even Wimbledon fortnight yet. Why does it always rain on me? Is it because I lied when I was seventeen?
Time to switch the soundtrack, she thought, and smiled as she started singing to herself:
Sunshine on a rainy day
Makes my soul, makes my soul drip, drip, drip away.
You touch me with your spirit
You touch me with your heart
You touch me in the darkness
I feel it start.