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There is a parcel waiting on her doorstep when she arrives home. Clearly someone has failed to notice the ‘Fragile – Handle with Care’ label that was attached to her package as it has arrived in a state of ill repair. The creature ahead of her has little in common with a style icon unless she missed the fact that fashion is now embracing vagrant chic. To put it bluntly Cheryl looks awful. This does not appear to be the effects of jetlag; jetlag would be an attractive step up from where Cheryl is at the moment. She looks emotionally and physically exhausted, bedraggled and, if Nadine is not mistaken, rather drunk.

As Nadine gets closer she realises that her assessment of Cheryl’s sobriety was alarming accurate. Well either that or Cheryl’s new fragrant of choice is 100 proof. She looks down at the lost figure and says, “I would have picked you up from the airport you know?”

“I didn’t want to put ya to any trouble.”

“But showing up unannounced is totally ok?” Cheryl crinkles her brow in response and it seems that answering Nadine’s question is beyond her skills at present. “Come on let’s get you inside.”

Cheryl struggles to her feet and makes an attempt to pick up her bag. Her attempt is entirely unsuccessful and results in both Cheryl and the bag tumbling down onto the driveway. Nadine sighs, picks up the suitcase and does her best to usher Cheryl into the house. Cheryl is tottering and bouncing of walls and Nadine would be having comical flashbacks to their younger days if the situation weren’t so serious.

She pulls Cheryl into the living room and Cheryl collapses onto the couch as though her body is made of lead. Nadine reaches down and places a kiss on Cheryl’s forehead. “Can I get you something? Maybe a coffee?”

“I’ll take something in an alcohol and in a very large glass.”

“Do you think that’s a good idea?”

“I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever had.”

“I take it you don’t want to face your pending hangover?”

“I don’t want to have to feel anything again. Ever.”

If Cheryl was a patron Nadine would have cut her off long ago but Cheryl’s not a customer and it’s probably better that she be supervised while she embraces her self-pity. Besides, Cheryl’s entitled to a little pity party. Marriage breakdowns are seldom a picnic and it must be so much harder to fail publicly and have every gossip columnist in the country weigh in with their opinion on the matter.

She returns with a highball containing more vodka than is wise and Cheryl looks at her with complete adoration. To Nadine’s amazement Cheryl manages to pull herself into a semi-upright position in order to take a very large swig from the glass. Nadine takes a place beside Cheryl only to find that the other woman return to her original position. This time with her had resting in Nadine’s lap.

The alcohol seems to have failed in its medicinal purposes as Cheryl looks decidedly green. “I’m so dizzy.”

“My poor baby. Have you got bed spins?”

“I’m not on a bed,” Cheryl points out.

“No I guess not.”

“And the world was spinning long before I starting drinking.”

They remain in silence for a while and Nadine tries to decide on the appropriate thing to say in the situation. It’s pointless to ask Cheryl if she’s ok when it’s more than clear that she isn’t and saying sorry seems shallow and trite. The words she selects in the end come as a surprise to her, “Is it too soon to say that he’s an arsehole?”

“Nope. He is an arsehole. A stupid fucking arsehole. How could he do this to us?”

“I don’t know sweetie. He clearly didn’t appreciate what he had.”

“Not that. How could he friggin’ let himself get caught?”

“You’re not bothered about the cheating.”

Cheryl rolls her eyes and makes a grab at Nadine’s hair. She misses and looks for all the world like a kitten batting at string. “I’m not allowed to be bothered ‘bout that.”

“But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.”

“I live in a disco ball,” Cheryl says with a sigh.

“Come again?”

“It’s all glass and mirrors.”

“Oh for some reason I pictured glitter and nightclubs.”

“That too but those are the good times. I don’t get to be mad about the cheating cause I have been unfaithful from the moment I met him.”

“Does he know that?”

“No. He’s a stupid arsehole remember?”

“I do believe we’ve covered that,” she strokes Cheryl’s hair back behind her ears.

“Just cause he didn’t know doesn’t mean that I get to be angry.”

“I imagine you must be a least a little angry.”

“I don’t want to be both a hypocrite and a liar.”

“Your husband just caused a huge sex scandal, you get to be whatever you need to be.”

“What if it was my fault? People are saying that you know?”

“You think they know about us?”

“No they are stupid just like him. They say I was too focused on my career. I don’t buy that but what if he felt that he never had all of me?”

“I don’t think you ever get to have all of anyone.”

“True but maybe he got less than usual.”

“Because of me?” she asks quietly.

“I’m not blaming you. It’s not your fault you’re sexy and smart and that I adore you.”

“Good to know,” she manages a dry laugh.

“I loved him too.”

“I know you did.”

“I still remember how excited I was when I realised that he was interested in us. It all seemed to good to be true.”

Nadine knows that feeling well. The same thing happened to her with Jessie. “Maybe it was too good to be true.”

“You must be loving this.”

“Hey! That’s not fair.”

“You can’t tell me that you didn’t want him gone.”

“I think it’s only natural that I wanted him gone but I never wanted you hurt.”

“Well you got what you wanted. I’m all yours now.”

“No your not.”

“You’re choosing Jason?”

“Cheryl I want to be with you, you know that but you decided long ago that I wasn’t the one.”

“What are you talking about? You are my forever.” Cheryl links their hands together and Nadine can’t help but notice the lack of rings.

“I really hope we do make forever but baby you want the fairytale and I’m not it.”

“Fairytales are for little girls.”

“Cheryl, you had a huge white wedding with a gaggle of bridesmaids.”

“I don’t think gaggle’s the right term.”

“I can goggle the right one for you if you like.”

“Oh I keep forgetting that you are internet savvy now.”

“Don’t mock me.”

“Maybe I’m done with fairytales. Maybe I just want something real now.”

She cannot let her heart run off chasing fantasies, “We’ll talk about this when you aren’t in pain anymore.”

“You don’t think I mean it?”

“I think we both want it but I don’t know if we would survive in the real world.”

“What we have is real.”

“I think so. However, I don’t know if it will handle the judgment by the media or by our families. What if means the group’s next album tanks? What if it ruins our careers? Will it be enough to comfort us if we are pariahs?”

“You think too much.”

“Maybe but I still think you want the traditional things. I think you want to be a wife and mother and I can’t give you those things.”

“There are ways.”

“They come with a huge cost.”

“Everything good comes at a price.”

“I just don’t want that price to be losing you.”

A tear escapes and runs down Cheryl’s cheek, “I hate how fucking perfect you are.”

“I’ll have to work on developing a few flaws then. Seriously though, you shouldn’t decide on anything right now.”

“Can I decide that I would like another drink?” Nadine looks over and realises that Cheryl’s glass is empty. She didn’t notice Cheryl drink it but it can’t have just evaporated and there is probably more alcohol in Cheryl than there was in the glass so it didn’t absorb through her skin via osmosis.

“I think I should take you to bed.”

“Oh I like that idea much better,” Cheryl manages to make her drunk eyes smoulder.

“Missy you are going to need about a thousand showers before I am going anywhere near you.”

“I should at least get pity sex,” Cheryl pouts.

“Let’s get you upstairs before you trip over that lip.”

“You are no fun.”

“I think I know that I am plenty of fun under the right circumstances.”

“You don’t play fair.”

“All’s fair in love and war my darling.” She manages to push Cheryl upstairs and into the bathroom and is about to head off to make some much needed coffee when she hears a crash. Nadine rushes in to find Cheryl lying on the floor and her towel rack dislodged from the wall.

“I didn’t mean to break it,” Cheryl’s eyes are large and earnest.

“It doesn’t matter. Are you hurt?”

Cheryl shakes her head, “I don’t think so.”

“I doubt you’d know,” Nadine grumbles. “Can’t I even trust you to shower yourself?”

“No,” an evil smile dances across Cheryl’s features, “you are going to have to join me.”

“Fine but there will be no funny business.”

“Spoilsport.”

Avoiding funny business is so much harder than she imagined. Her intentions can’t have been entirely pure after all she climbed into the shower cubicle with an equally naked Cheryl. She uses the washcloth to lather gel over Cheryl and feels the heat in her own body rise in response. Suddenly Cheryl’s fingers show more dexterity then they have any right to as they attack Nadine’s nipples. “No,” she says firmly as she takes Cheryl’s hands pinning them against the glass over her head.

“This works too,” Cheryl claims as she worms her thigh between Nadine’s legs.

Nadine bites the inside of her mouth to stop herself moaning, “I said there will be no sex.”

“Please Nadine. I just need to feel that I am loved.”

“Baby you are so loved,” she places a tender kiss to Cheryl’s temple.

“You really, really don’t play fair.” Suddenly Cheryl loses all her bravado and collapses against Nadine as tears wrack her body. They stay there long after the hot water runs out. When Cheryl finally allows Nadine to pull her from the shower they are both shivering. Nadine wraps her precious bundle in a large towel and leads her to bed.

She settles down beside Cheryl and their naked bodies entwine. “Sex would have been so much better,” Cheryl states solemnly.

“There’ll be time for sex later.”

“You owe me hot shower sex.”

“Fine.”

“Say ‘I promise’.”

“I promise.”

“No say “I promise hot shower sex.”

“I promise you everything I can give you which includes plenty of hot shower sex.”

“Good.”

“Satisfied?”

“No but you could do something about that.”

She should have made them get dressed before climbing into bed because it’s hard not to succumb to temptation, “Not tonight dearest.”

“Can I wake you at midnight then?”

“Go to sleep Cheryl.”

“Nadine?” there is a wariness to Cheryl’s tone.

“Yes.”

“Can I ask you something?”

“I think so.”

Nadine braces herself for questions on marriage, commitment or sex but instead Cheryl asks, “Can you come back home for a little while. I think I need support.”

“Absolutely.”

Cheryl clings to her like a lifeboat, “Thank you. I love you.”

“Likewise.”

It’s not long before Cheryl’s breathing becomes deep and even. Nadine lies awake watching her. She tells herself that she just wants to make sure that Cheryl doesn’t suffocate in a pool on her own vomit but the truth is that she loves watching Cheryl sleep. It strange to think that she has outlasted Ashley. She can only hope that she manages to outlast any future husbands because she knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that the woman beside her is the love of her life.