Suits arrived and were tried on. Rings arrived and were hidden away. Relief was expressed at the fact that they didn’t need to worry about flowers or seating arrangements or in-laws. Finally the Thursday before arrived and the nerves that Robbie had been feeling seemed to be doubling with every half-hour.
With Innocent’s connivance they were working on various pieces of catch up work, new cases being tactfully re-directed around them to other teams, after all they both of them had the day off tomorrow. Robbie thought that he might have felt guilty about this but for the hundreds of times over the last thirty years that his personal life took a back seat to the needs of the job; the force owed him one.
From time to time, Robbie found himself just staring at James and once or twice James caught him staring and they exchanged a smile but no words. Robbie was grateful for that because, he was horrified to realise, he was suddenly filled with doubts about what they were doing. He had no doubt about how he felt about James. None at all, and he had no doubts about the way James felt about him. What he had were doubts about whether it was the right thing to take advantage of James’ feelings and ... impose himself on the lad. He hoped, or more knew if he was honest, that he’d been good for James, that he’d helped James work through a lot of the crap from his childhood, but god, here he was nearly thirty years older than him, was that fair, saddling the lad with looking after him in his declining years?
The thing was that James hadn’t really ever been in love to speak of, perhaps only Will and that had gone badly, how did he know, how did they know that he wasn’t just settling for the comfort and security Robbie was offering him? It occupied his mind more and more as time went on, chasing out the things he was supposed to be doing, meaning that he ended up reading the same paragraph five times and none the wiser after the fifth time.
With these thoughts every time he looked at James he looked younger to Robbie’s eyes. He found himself staring at James’ eyelashes. They were so fine and light; they reminded him of some sort of baby animal, so delicate that it was a miracle that the great gangling length of him could generate something so beautiful. Just at that point James looked up and caught him staring,
“You OK?” James asked,
“Yeah, I’m fine, just miles away,”
After that Robbie was careful to keep his eyes firmly on his paper work even though he really wasn’t getting anything done. The question was should he say something to James and what could he say that wouldn’t sound like either rejection or fishing for compliments? The churning in his stomach got worse and worse over the course of the morning until in the end Robbie felt like if he didn’t move he might explode.
“I’m just going to nip out; I need to check something with Laura. See you later.” It was said hurriedly hoping but not expecting that James would take it at face value. There was a pause before he replied,
“OK, see you later.”
It was a struggle, but Robbie managed to get out of the office without giving in to the urge to justify his trip out, he knew that unconvincing as he had been he would have been still more unconvincing the more he’d explained. The hesitation he’d heard in James’ voice told him that he was dubious about the reason for the trip and the lad was a good detective, he’d almost certainly worked out what was going on. He’d worked out what Robbie was thinking and then trusted him to work it through. That thought cheered Robbie a little.
“Hello, Robbie, just give me a moment to finish this email,”
Laura was in her office and Robbie was relieved that this was the case, he couldn’t really see having this conversation over some poor sod’s innards. Laura was clearly examining his face and he knew that she would have drawn conclusions straight away, better to get it over with straight away. Laura obviously felt the same way; she didn’t give him any chance to explain why he was there,
“You’re having doubts?” It was expressed as a question but it really wasn’t one, “Can’t say I haven’t expected it. So, what’s troubling you, you can tell me I’m a doctor!”
Now that he was here with Laura, Robbie couldn’t really get the words together to say what the problem was.
“So come on,” she encouraged, “what is it, he’s too young? You’re too old? He’s too good for you?”
“All of the above,” Robbie finally managed, “God, Laura, what am I doing to him, saddling him with me?”
“He doesn’t get a say in this?” Laura asked,
“Of course he does, but that doesn’t mean I should let him make a huge mistake does it? Especially if it’s to my advantage!”
“Do you love him?”
The abrupt question shocked an equally abrupt response out of Robbie,
“Of course I do.”
“Does he love you?”
“That’s the problem.”
“Are you saying that he doesn’t love you?” Laura asked, leaning forward in her seat, watching his face intently,
“No, I’m not saying that,” Robbie sighed, “But does he know what he’s really feeling, and is it enough? I’m not breaking any confidences to say that James has had a few bad times that might very well have left him I don’t know, confused, about his feelings, he really hasn’t been shown a lot of affection in his life. And then I come along and it’s like someone’s switched the light on for him but surely now he knows that it’s possible for someone to love him and for him to love them back he should be looking for someone more ... suitable.”
“He’s an adult Robbie, I think I told you to try and keep that in mind right back at the start of this thing, didn’t I? You don’t get to make his decisions for him. I’m fairly sure he knows what he wants, I think it’s you that needs to straighten out your thinking. Why are you so unsuitable?”
There was a long pause, and Laura remembering even though these days she didn’t deal with live patients very often how useful silence could be in getting people to talk, kept her mouth shut.
“He’s so bloody young, Laura! When I’m seventy he’ll still only be in his forties and potentially looking after me while I lose mi’ marbles, I can’t do that to him can I?”
“Or, you might get run over by a truck tomorrow, or James might have a huge allergic reaction to something next week or aliens might kidnap both of you. Listen to yourself, Robbie, the job you do, the jobs we all do, you know better than anyone there are no guarantees in this life. The only question is will both of you be more happy if you do this tomorrow or if you don’t. The only reason for calling the whole thing off would be if the answer to that question was that you’d be happier if it was called off.” She paused, letting her words sink in, “So which is it, happier if you do or happier if you don’t.”
“It isn’t really even a question, is it?” he replied, with a sheepish grin,
“Well I didn’t think so, no.”
The smile she gave him was amused but understanding and while he felt embarrassed it wasn’t too bad.
“I’d better get back, put in an afternoon’s work.”
“I guess so. I’ll see you in the morning.”
Robbie knew it was the right decision when she said that, and all he felt was anticipation.
With Robbie out of the office and no need to keep up the pretence of working, all James’ nerves hit him all at once. What the hell am I thinking of, trapping Robbie into this, taking advantage of his loneliness like this, what an arsehole way to behave. He took a calming breath and it helped just a little. I can’t do this to him, hell even now I don’t know from one day to the next whether I’m going to freeze up when he touches me, I’m too broken, he deserves someone better, we need to call this off before I hurt him even more. James was on his feet, heading towards the door to go after Robbie and tell him when the door was opened by CSI Innocent.
James stumbled to a halt a bit flummoxed to see her there,
“Oh! Good afternoon, ma’am, is everything all right?”
“I don’t know,” she said, coming through the door and shutting it behind herself, “why don’t you tell me.”
“I’ve just had an email from Dr Hobson, telling me that she’s got a highly nervous Detective Inspector in her office, spouting on about how he’s not worthy and that she thought I ought to come and talk to you because you were probably in a similar state. Was she right?”
James hung his head, looking down at the carpet in front of Innocent’s feet,
“Yes, ma’am,” he muttered,
“Well, let’s hear it, then.”
“He just deserves someone better, less damaged. I have all sorts of issues left over from my childhood, I’ve made him wait so long for so many things, he deserves someone less ... complicated.”
“Has he ever said that?”
“No, of course not,” James had almost snapped the answer, “sorry, ma’am, he’s never been less than kind and considerate.”
“So he’s proposed,” James opened his mouth to correct her but she waved him down, “sorry, accepted your proposal knowing all your issues, is that right? So you don’t think he knows what he wants? He’s what, not competent to make his own decisions, you feel his advanced years are diminishing his faculties?”
“No,” James replied, more than aware that he sounded like a petulant teenager.
“Robbie’s a big boy now, old enough and tough enough to know what he wants and he wants you. The only thing you have to be clear on is do you want him?”
“Of course I do!”
“Well, then, stop making this more complicated than you need to.” She raised her voice slightly, “That goes for you too,” she said as Robbie opened the door to their office.
Robbie tried to look daggers at her, but his focus was really on James, and Innocent sidled out of the room as they walked into each other’s arms.
It didn’t take long for the two of them to reassure each other, and the rest of the afternoon passed with a little more conversation and only the amount of nerves that would be expected of a couple the day before their wedding.
Their usual leaving time was about ten minutes off and James was just thinking about tidying up his desk when Innocent and Hobson walked in.
“Right, boys,” Laura began, “we must observe the proprieties, can’t have the engaged couple spending the night before their wedding together, heaven knows what they might get up to, James, you’re coming with me, Robbie you’re going with Jean,”
“We can’t do that all our stuff’s at home...” Robbie protested, but his words ran out when Laura shook the spare keys to his flat at him, “bloody hell, woman,” he said with a rueful smile, “I gave you those for emergencies.”
“This is an emergency,” Innocent said, “come on you to, hop to it, you’re off the clock as of now!”
Both Robbie and James expressed token reluctance to the plan but Robbie for one could see the advantages of it, he strongly suspected that in their mutual nervousness the two of them would have got seriously on each other’s nerves before the night was out. As it was, he and Jean had a good supper and talked over some old times and Robbie spent a far more relaxed time than he expected. The two of them sat over a couple of glasses of red, at the end of the evening,
“I sort of envy you,” Jean said,
“Yes, you’ve been lucky enough to find love twice; some of us don’t get that lucky.”
Robbie had been trying not to be curious, but his inner nosey bastard couldn’t pass up that opening,
Robbie could see her blush slightly and regretted asking as soon as he said it, “Sorry, none of my business,”
“Oh, it doesn’t matter. He went a couple of years ago, just didn’t seem to be worth telling anyone who didn’t already know, it turned out he didn’t like successful, strong women half as much as he said.” She smiled and before Robbie could frame to say anything else continued, “Don’t worry about it, the sting’s gone out of it all now.”
“I’m sorry nonetheless,” Robbie said, “If I say, ‘you’ll find someone’ it’s going to come out sounding as condescending as hell, but it’s true for all that.”
“Yes, but I’d have to be open to it as you were with James, and I’m not sure I could do that.”
“I suppose luck was on my side, if you can call car accidents and serious illnesses luck.”
“Aye, I think I do, I think without that intense time we’d neither of us ever have said anything or even in my case fully realised there was anything to say.” He paused, contemplating his glass, “Honestly, how do you think this is going to affect his career?”
She took some time to think about the question,
“Could go one of two ways, some people aren’t going to like it, but he’s good at what he does and he would allow the force to show its commitment to diversity and that could count in his favour. It’s impossible to say, but while he’s under my command it will make no difference. I’ve got him lined up for his Inspector’s course in a couple of months and once you’ve retired I’ll send him on a circuit of all the teams, he needs more experience and I’ll see that he gets it.”
“Thanks. Thanks for everything, I know you weren’t precisely made up to be landed with me when I got back, but you were more than fair with the two of us on occasion, and now the way you’ve responded to this, well,”
“Oh, shut up, you’re getting maudlin, time you got your head down, big day tomorrow!”
“Aye, your right,” Robbie said, getting up,
“The spare room’s the first on the left; I’ll call you in plenty of time!”
“Come into the kitchen,” Laura said when they arrived, “I’ll get some food started. Would you like a drink?” she asked pulling a bottle of wine from the fridge,
“Thanks,” James replied with a smile that didn’t quite hide the fact that he was feeling quite uncomfortable. Laura of course noticed and took pity on him,
“Relax, James, I don’t bite, really this is all about making your day tomorrow more special. Jean and I talked about it and came to the conclusion that nervous as you were you’d have ended up arguing, this seemed like the better option.”
“You’re probably right,” James replied as he took the glass of wine from Laura.
Laura busied herself with pasta and tomatoes while James looked at his wine rather more than he drank it. There was one thing that he wanted to ask, and that he feared to ask and the perfect balance between these two things kept him frozen in place. He was thinking so hard that he didn’t even notice that Laura was stood watching him,
“What is it James? Are you having second thoughts?”
That stung him out of his reverie,
“No ... no, not second thoughts, just, it’s just ... do you think I can make him happy?”
“Oh, James, sweetheart, you do make him happy, tomorrow can only add to that!”
She walked round the breakfast bar, took the ignored wine out of his hand and gave him a hug. James returned the hug and gave her a genuine smile when she went back to stir the sauce simmering on the stove.
“You know I was insanely jealous of you for a long time,” James said,
“Oh, that was entirely mutual, but I quickly knew when I was beaten.” James knew that she had caught the tail end of his look of dismay as she turned back from her cooking, “Not to worry, I made my peace with that a couple of years ago. It really was very sweet of you to keep trying to get us together, I had an idea even back then what it was costing you. You really are a good man.”
“I just wanted him to be happy and he was so lonely,”
“Not really, or at least not for long after he got back from Tortula. God, he was slow wasn’t he?”
The two of them dissolved into laughter,
“I always felt like I was being so bloody obvious,” James choked out,
“No, it wasn’t you being obvious, it was him being oblivious, he’s too damned modest that was the problem, he never let himself think anyone might fancy him. Right this is as ready as it’s going to be, grab the wine from the fridge, and you can lie sweetly about my culinary abilities.”
Laura had called James early and hustled him until he was ready, wearing the new suit, and feeling conspicuous even though he wasn’t out of the house yet, perhaps the suits weren’t the best idea I’ve ever had, he thought. He was even more surprised when Laura declared that they would leave at least half an hour earlier than he’d expected,
“Won’t we be painfully early?” he asked, aware that the nervous feeling in his stomach would not be improved by waiting around imagining that Robbie wasn’t going to turn up like something in a Thomas Hardy novel.
“No, sorry, I just have to pick something up before we go. Will that be all right?”
“Yeah, sure,” James replied.
James was thinking about Robbie and wondering if he was as nervous, so it took him some little time to work out that Laura was heading towards the Railway station. When he did realise his nervousness increased until he felt physically sick.
When Laura pulled into a ‘pick-up’ parking space, she looked over at James and stamped her foot on the break even though they were already stationery,
“What on earth’s the matter James, you’re as white as a sheet, are you ill?”
“No,” he said in a voice that he knew would do nothing to reassure her, “what are we doing here?”
“We’re picking up Robbie’s Lynn, is that going to be a problem? I thought that she was all right with this all, that’s what Robbie said.”
The relief that James felt was perhaps a little disproportionate, he’d thought, just for a moment that Laura had managed to get in touch with some of his family and the fact that it was Lynn they were picking up was so much better than he’d feared that he almost felt like crying.
“No, no,” he managed to stutter out, “that’s fine, great in fact. I’m glad she’ll be here to see this, really,” he continued seeing the still concerned expression on her face, “this was a brilliant idea.”
“So what did you think we were here for?” Laura asked. James really didn’t want to go into it all now but he still felt he owed her an explanation,
“Just for a moment I thought you’d got in touch with some of my family. That wouldn’t have been good,” he continued, “my mum didn’t take the news very well, to put it mildly.”
“God, sorry about that James, my fault for being all mysterious about things, I should have thought. I’ll just go and get her,”
“Are you sure you’ll recognise her?” James asked, “It must be an age since you last saw her, she’s been up in Manchester for five years. I’ll come with you.”
It took a little while to get Lynn and Eve and all Eve’s accoutrements into the car but they eventually sorted it all out and got back into the car.
“Are you surprised?” Lynn asked,
“Not half as much as Robbie will be,” James grinned, “I think this is the best thing you could have done for him, seriously, Laura”
Robbie and Jean were the first at the registry office. They could have waited inside, there was a waiting room Robbie remembered but by unspoken agreement they waited outside by the steps. Robbie felt conspicuous in his wedding suit, and from the glances they were getting from passersby most people assumed he was here to marry Jean. James looked at his watch for perhaps the twentieth time in the course of four minutes,
“You know,” Jean said in a measured tone, “if you look at your watch one more time, I’m going to take it off you and smash it, just so you know.”
“Sorry, I’m not really nervous about the registration but all of a sudden I’m thinking of all the things that might have happened...”
“Seriously? Laura’s a safe driver, I doubt that James will have over slept, you both of you know which registry office you’re going to, settle down, it’ll be fine.”
Robbie might have had a less difficult time not looking if Jean herself hadn’t seemed quite so nervous.
He saw James first, walking around the opposite side of the corner that the registry office was on, the sight of James taking all the tension out of him. Laura was just behind him, and then Robbie saw Lynn and little Eve and suddenly the day was complete. He turned to glance at Jean Innocent,
“You two cooked this up between you?” he asked,
“Perhaps a little, couldn’t have you marrying without Lynn here could we?”
“Thanks.” He said before hurrying forward and hugging his girl to him. “I’m so glad you’re here, lass, it really makes today all I could ask for.”
“Don’t talk daft, dad, I wouldn’t have missed this!”
After everyone had got themselves disentangled, and Laura and Jean had helped Lynn to repair her makeup and everyone had taken a turn at cuddling a bemused Eve, it was time for them to go in. Robbie waved the rest of the party in ahead of James and him.
“Well, bonny lad, here we are.”
“Still want to do this?”
“Yes. Do you?”
“More than I can say.”
Robbie took his hand and they walked up the steps.
The ceremony was, well it really wasn’t a ceremony Robbie thought, and if it was one then it was the six of them that made it so. James and Robbie had decided that any vows they were going to make they had already made in a thousand different ways in the last few months, so they signed in the appropriate places, and so did Jean and Laura. The weirdest thing was when the registrar handed over a package of information, ‘rights and responsibilities’, which Robbie privately thought would have been best handed over when they’d registered in case one of them wanted to give back word.
When they left the Registry Office, Jean took charge,
“We’ve got a table booked,” she said, leading the way across and down the road. Robbie suspected where they were going and he was right, well, he thoughtwhere else would three policemen, a coroner and one of their daughters and granddaughters go for a meal?
It wasn’t the first time that he and James had been in Malmaison, and it gave Robbie a vaguely uncomfortable feeling, remembering that case when he was here with James, but Jean hadn’t been to know. James met his eye and they both gave a minute shrug, it didn’t matter, this was the two of them now.
Seated at the table, with a couple of black looks from some of the other dinners at Eve, Robbie brought out the ring box that had been in his inside top pocket. They’d decided against exchanging rings at the registry, something about the matter of fact nature of the ‘ceremony’ had made it seem wrong, but now, with friends and family around them seemed like the perfect time.
“I asked James some weeks ago about rings and he said he’d like to wear my ring,” all of them laughed as he’d expected, “so,” he spoke over them, “after we cleared out three singers in poodle skirts, I started looking for the perfect rings and the perfect inscriptions.” He passed the box to James, “What do you think, love?”
James took the box aware that his hands were shaking a little. He took out one of the silver metal rings and turned it until he could see the inscription. It was in Hebrew and James smiled at Robbie’s confidence in his ability to read the language in the original script. He had an idea what it would say but he checked to be sure and somehow even though he’d expected it the sentiment made his eyes prickle a little, he’d waited so long to feel like this, so long that he’d despaired of it ever happening. He cleared his throat,
“It says, in Hebrew, ‘I am my beloved’s,” he pulled the other ring from the box, “’and my beloved is mine’. They are beautiful Robbie.” James held out his hand to take Robbie’s hand and slipped the larger of the two rings onto his ring finger and then he passed the box over to Robbie and held out his own hand. The metal was cool as Robbie pushed it onto his finger and James thought, I’m never going to take this off, I never have to be without him, he is mine and I am his. This time he actually had to wipe his eyes and seeing that Robbie leaned over the table and kissed him, whispering ‘I love you’ as they broke apart to the applause of the rest of their guests and the bemused looks of some of the other guests in the dining room.
They took their time over lunch, enjoying each other’s company but as the dining room began to clear they realised that they needed to go.
“We should make a move,” Robbie said, before he was interrupted by Laura,
“Well, we should, but you two have a room for the next two nights, our treat!”
“I don’t know what to say,” Robbie replied, “I don’t know what to say about any of this. We’d planned it just to be us, just to be quiet, not because we’re ashamed or unsure or anything but just because the two of us belong together and it should be a normal thing. But you’ve all made it so much better, just to know that you lot are all behind us and happy for us makes the whole thing better and I didn’t think that was possible.”
Jean and Laura applauded his impromptu speech and the two of them got up as Laura passed them a room key,
“Your bags are in your room, enjoy, boys!”
And then the two of them were alone, in their room, the cell door slammed behind them. James leaned against the door, watching Robbie intently,
“We’ve really done it, haven’t we?” James asked,
“That we have, lad, that we have.”
“I didn’t know I could feel this happy.”
“Come here.” Robbie said and James did moving forward, pulling Robbie into his arms and kissing him,
“Neither did I.”