One quiet Saturday morning, Moira was sleeping in when the noise of the front door woke her. It was Bill. Bill being just plain inconsiderate, Moira thought, but she put on her dressing gown and went to see if she was all right. Bill didn’t usually come back to the house in the mornings. She was almost always out, as if she didn’t like being there at all unless she had to.
Moira found her rummaging about in a drawer, looking for something.
Bill jumped and turned around and stared at her. She stared like she hadn’t laid eyes on her in years. That was ridiculous, of course, they’d seen such other just a few days ago, but - something had changed. Something big.
“Oh god, what is it? I know that look. Your mum had that look. What’s happened to you?”
Bill opened her mouth and closed it again and a million awful concepts ran through Moira’s head. “Bill, answer me, are you all right?”
“I’m fine!” Bill said, far too quickly. “Honestly, I’m…I’m totally fine.” But her sleeve was wet, as if she’d been crying. “Um. You remember the Doctor? That nice old man who was my teacher, my friend? He died. He died last night.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.” That explained why she was so completely out of sorts, then. But it didn’t explain a few other things, it didn’t explain the backpack Moira had just noticed open on the floor…
“What exactly are you doing, Bill?”
“I’m gonna m - go - m-move out, for good this time.” It was said with dignity, but she stuttered terribly over the words.
“Why?” Moira considered herself not an intentionally ignorant person, she suspected where the conversation was going, but she wasn’t in the least bit pleased about it. “Your friends run into another dodgy landlord on the street? Cos look how well that turned out-”
“No, I got a girlfriend.”
Moira didn’t consider, for even a second, the weight her foster daughter put behind those words, or the look in her eyes.
“And you’re - you’re gonna run off with her without even a by-your-leave, then?” Now she was the one stuttering.
“I am, actually,” Bill said. And then she said, in a tone that somehow managed to combine both hesitancy and anger, “You weren’t actually surprised at that, were you? You always knew. I told you often enough. And you were always talking about me and men anyway.”
Moira had always known this day would come, so she was prepared. “It just might be worth considering that it’s just a phrase.”
“A phrase that I’ve had since I was seventeen years old.”
“Don’t be like that, Bill. It’s not unreasonable to want the best for you. You know.”
“The best for me,” Bill said after a pause. “The best for me.”
“Anything like what you’ve got now, girls with girls, it’s hard and it’s difficult-”
“Because people don’t accept it! People like you, apparently!”
Moira considered whether or not she accepted it and she came close, she really did, but it wasn’t enough. It had never been enough, for her foster child.
“It just - I don’t -”
“It makes you uncomfortable,” Bill said bitterly.
“Fine, if you must know, yes! But that doesn’t mean you can’t live under my roof, it just means-”
“It means leaving my new girlfriend. It means changing my sexuality. It means a conversion,” Bill said, and her voice sounded…different, and old, and resonant. “That’s what you mean.”
Moira had no real answer. She wanted to say no of course that’s not what I mean, I’m sorry, invite your girlfriend in and we’ll talk, but she didn’t.
“I just want you to be…
“Happy? Well, other people have done that,” Bill said with finality. “I’m gonna go now.”
She put what she had been looking for in the drawer - pictures of her mother - into her backpack, and started towards the door. Moira, uncertain, hovered behind her.
“Bill, I really am sorry your teacher died.”
“I am, too. He was a good man. And he accepted everyone just as they were.”
“It doesn’t have to be like this,” Moira found herself saying. She didn’t want Bill to go, not really. She had never been her parent but she thought she was her friend.
“It does,” said Bill. “I can’t live here. Not now. Come on, Moira. I am… grateful, yeah? I’m grateful you fostered me and fed me and put a roof over my head and all. I kinda have to be. But you were never my…”
“Don’t you dare say ‘my mother’. I was never trying to replace your mother.”
Bill didn’t flinch at the slightly raised voice. “That’s pretty obvious.”
A thin strain of desperation rose in Moira as Bill opened the door. She’d promised to look after the girl, when she’d showed up on the doorstep as a lonely, angry teen. A lot of it had been out of duty to the memory of a friend, but… she had liked the adult Bill had grown to be. It felt unfair.
“Bill, this isn’t even a dealbreaker to most people!”
As Bill stepped outside Moira caught a glimpse of another woman, the girlfriend. She was standing in the street, her feet in a puddle, as if she hadn’t got a care in the world. But her gaze was intense, and it was terrifying.
“Bye,” said Bill. “Call me when or if you’re ready to be… I dunno… better.”
She walked off without looking back, kissed the girlfriend, and the pair of them wandered off.
Moira, unable to even work out what she was feeling beyond hurt (it was guilt) went back upstairs. A few hours after Bill left she noticed a water stain on the carpet, and she tried to clean it up over the next couple days, but she never was able to entirely remove it.