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Returning Tides

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Poplar primary school looked far more inviting in the afternoon light Patsy thought. The red roof and chalk alphabet snake on the playground shone against the damp asphalt and the promise of fresh rain was thick in the air; made it smell clean, fresh. Almost like a promise.

Delia was in there.

Patsy smiled into her cupped hand at the glowing fire of her cigarette. Rays of rogue sunshine were managing to peak through the clouds and the balmy hints of light caught along her hand and cast the fine lines of her skin into smudgy relief. Even the sunshine had come out to play it seemed; Patsy just hoped it was a good omen.

Patsys afternoon had gone much quicker than she could have hoped in the end. She’d pulled up to the kennels within twenty minutes of her detour, Kim had been sweating and sulky beside her; annoyed at the delay to their schedule and refusing to get out and go with Patsy on the basis of the noise.

Patsy had been forced to concede Kim’s point on that.

The kennels were more a ramshackle collection of ancient brick outhouses topped with thin iron roofs than actual buildings. The low sound of dogs howling a lonely chorus had permeated the air as she’d gotten out the jeep and the smell of wet dog had clung to the gates when she’d reached them.

The man who ran the kennels, a sciatica ridden pensioner called Perry, was an old friend. They’d worked together a few years ago in conjunction with the RSPCA and Patsy had kept in contact since. They sent Christmas cards to each other every year and Patsy usually popped in for a cuppa if she was passing; he’d never yet turned her away. Patsy had always been a sucker for a sad pensioner, she blamed Helen for the nobler side she couldn’t yet shake.

Perry was no nonsense, smoked like a chimney, but he loved the dogs and he had a streak of optimism that life hadn’t quite managed to steal from him yet. His working life had been spent racing Grey hounds on the local tracks but he’d left the profession when his wife traded him in for a horse breeder in Surrey.

He never put a healthy dog down if he could help it though, Patsy had always rather admired that trait in him. Perry wasn’t one to give up without a fight.

Patsy had been emailing him for over a month now, waiting for the right dog to turn up.

Perry was inside the kennels when Patsy arrived. His wellies were caked in shit as always and he’d been busy hosing down one of the empty pens. When he’d spotted Patsy edging in he’d laughed and strode forward to give her a swift hug.

Perry had a daughter all grown up somewhere in the country and a few grandkids of his own, he’d told Patsy that once, but Patsy had the impression they didn’t speak any more. He was good with kids though and he’d evidently been expecting Patsy to bring Seppie in. Excited to see a child that reminded him of the ones he had lost.

“I was cleaning out our best pen so she could have a bit of time here with him to get used to each other.” Perry had said, looking disappointed at the lost opportunity when he’d realised Patsy was alone.

“She’s in school til half three,’ Patsy explained hurriedly, ‘and I thought I might surprise her there. It’s her first birthday with me and I’m doing a tea for it, thought we might not have enough time.”

Patsy had toyed with the idea of bringing Seppie here but good sense had prevailed. Seppie surrounded by this many dogs would end in tears; she would’ve wanted to bring them all home and as much as Patsy loved her daughter she didn’t particular fancy thirty pets at a time.

Perry had perked up a bit when Patsy promised to bring Seppie round to his for a cup of tea to say thank you though. His face had creased in amusement as he’d surveyed Patsy through rather mucky glasses.

“What a change for the books you are now Pats... Suits you though. You look happy girl.” He’d told her gruffly as he’d led Patsy along the corridor with its succession of concrete lined pens towards his office round the back.

A dog had been sleeping in a basket when they’d arrived.

Seppies dog as a matter of fact.

A cocker spaniel mixed with some kind of terrier was about all Perry could tell Patsy. The dog was all long ears, wagging tail and wet nose. Seppie might die from excitement.

Perry had run through the paper work as the dog yawned and padded over to sniff at Patsys boots with interest. Large brown eyes had watched Patsy calmly as Patsy signed her name on the dotted lines.

That had been about it.

Perry had promised the dog, Neil, was one of the gentlest animals he’d come across in quite some time. A family who’d had to go into rented housing and couldn’t keep a pet with them anymore had brought him in a few weeks ago. Neil had been somewhat depressed at the split and Perry had quickly sent his information to Patsy; hoping to make a good match.

“He’s a bit needy though,’ Perry warned with professional authority, ‘he’s used to kids fussing him all the time. His old owner says the little ones used to ride him like a horse. Never bitten or growled. I’ve been trying to train him for you-Here, look.”

Patsys heart had melted a little bit as she’d watched the old man sign without much skill for the dog to sit. Neil had obeyed instantly.

Patsy had fallen just a little bit in love.

When she’d got back to the car about an hour later with Neil in tow and what felt like half a sheep’s worth of dog blanket and a huge bag of feed under her arm Kim had still been sitting in the passenger seat. Patsy had sensed her curiosity as she’d reversed back out onto the main road waving at Perry all the while but Kim hadn’t asked any questions.

The lack of response wasn’t surprising.

They’d got back to the station about half an hour later. Kim had jumped out of the car instantly while Patsy slipped a leash onto Neil’s collar and trailed behind hoping the dog wouldn’t pee in the main office. Ursulas reaction would be anyones guess to an animal in the workplace but the cleaners were tenacious at best. No one wanted a repeat of March 2014 when Phil had left a bag of shit in one of the sinks for a laugh. The cleaners hadn’t entered CID for nearly six weeks in protest until Ursula forced Phil to write an official letter of apology.

He’d done it eventually too because everyone would have killed him if he hadn’t but Patsy knew he’d enjoyed himself in the mayhem. Phil hadn’t ever respected those beneath him. Patsy was almost certain that he hadn’t even written the letter himself; probably made Val write it at home.

When Patsy arrived in CID ten minutes later Kim had already got to Ursula. Patsy had watched with surprise as the two women chatted in a much more friendly manner than she’d ever have expected from either of them towards her. Ursula had even cracked out the good mugs and a biscuit barrel that Patsy had never seen before.

She’d scowled as she’d slid in beside them both; an unenthusiastic third wheel.

Patsy had expected Ursula to demand reports and information as soon as they spoke, wary of being in cautious, but she’d surprised Patsy. Patsy had been allowed to explain the scene and the mothers back story succinctly as Ursula listened to her looking thoughtful. When she’d finished Ursula had nodded, told her to follow up the hospital lead and then waved Patsy out.

Kim had stayed though and Ursula had been quick to close the door. Patsy didn’t bother to wonder about the whys of that, she had enough mental scars to get on with without adding the awful possibility of what those two might be up to. Besides; best not to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Most of her colleagues had been out then and Patsy had breathed a sigh of relief as she managed to spend the next uninterrupted hour phoning round to Daniels social worker, landlord and bank with Neil laying contentedly on her lap.

Patsy hadn’t managed to get through to the social worker; the office secretary had given her name as Aida Adibola and promised to pass of whatever message Patsy wanted. Patsy had asked for a call back tomorrow and she’d left her mobile number.

She’d had a little bit more success with the council. She’d got through easily to the social housing department but they hadn’t been able to give her much information. Daniels flat hadn’t been council as Patsy had believed. A few of the flats in the block was sub rented out to private landlords. Interestingly, Daniels flat had been leased by a third party. The chatty bloke with the posh southern accent on the other end of the line hadn’t had the details to hand for the guy taking the money but he’d told Patsy he would do what he could to find out the real landlords number.

The bank had stonewalled her. It was always a 50/50 knowing if they’d play ball with the cops; usually depended on the manners possessed by whoever answered the phone. The background had been noisy when Patsy got through, the sound of mechanical beeping and someone shouting loudly over another broken copier. The snappy woman on the other end of the line had asked for a warrant and when Patsy hadn’t been able to produce one she’d ended the call.

Patsy had just been about to call the hospital to speak to the admissions office when Ursula had broken her concentration and called over to her across the room.

The older woman had been leaning against her door frame, Kims greying hair just a smudge of colour behind her. She hadn’t smiled exactly but she’d seemed oddly soft as she’d told Patsy to go home early.

“It’s your daughters birthday isn’t it? Best knock it on the head for today, you can pick Sanders up from the fire station tomorrow and start fresh. No point disappointing the kid.” Her tone had been business like but sincere.

Patsy hadn’t even bothered to ask why Kim couldn’t meet Patsy at the station because she’d been too busy stumbling to her feet in surprise at the unexpected and generous offer. She’d tried to give some word of thanks but Ursula hadn’t waited for them, she’d been too busy closing her door again.

Patsy decided she wouldn’t wonder how Kim was going to get home. She filed it mentally under things she’d rather never know.

Patsy had raced home for a shower. She could still smell Daisy’s house on her and didn’t want Seppie to notice and freak out. Or Delia. Eu de pissé was never a good scent on a first date situation.

Shit. Was this a date? Could it be a date with two kids in attendance? Patsy didn’t really know. She’d never really bothered with actual dates. Things always just seemed to happen without them. An electric anxiety crawled down her skin as she plopped Neil in the boot and jumped in the car.

By the time she got back to Poplar, missing most of the school traffic, Trixie had already gone out. Patsy noticed another bottle in the sink and a small forest of empty glasses; discarded with little grace. The image reminded her too much of Daisy’s house and she’d quickly washed them up in disgust before throwing herself in the shower to scrub off the smell of decay and bad choices.

She’d tried not to think too hard about what to wear when she got out the shower and if anyone asked her she’d lie to their face that she only took five minutes.

It was longer than that though.

Miraculously she’d still managed to get to the gates a little early though and all she could do was wait now. At her feet Neil sat with his stumpy tail smacking the pavement, sniffing the air around him hopefully. When Patsy looked down, still smiling, the thumping increased and Patsy shook her head before bending slightly to rub a long black ear.

Two kids and a dog. Life never really did go the way you thought it would.

Six months ago she’d probably have been hoping for a text from Val. Maybe she’d have banked on dinner at Helens or Trixies at the weekend. This set up wouldn’t have even crossed her mind; waiting for a five year old at school gates. Especially not her five year old. If someone had tried to tell her what was about to happen she’d have probably thought they were drunk. Or insane.

Everyone had known Patience Mount didn’t do baggage.

The dog licked her hand and Patsy recoiled, thinking hurriedly of germs as she wiped the soggy appendage on her jeans. Neil didn’t seem to mind the hygiene based rejection. His tongue was still hanging out of his mouth as he stared up at his new master with slavish interest.

Patsy reverted back to puffing on what would have to be her last cigarette for the next few hours as she waited for the bell to ring and the hoard of excited kids to sweep towards their parents baring all manner of paperwork and half eaten lunches.

She wasn’t alone. A few steps away from her a bustling hive had formed at the main gates. Mothers mostly with the odd father sprinkled in for good measure. Patsy sensed eyes on her where she stood away from the crowd but refused to be drawn in. She had more than enough people in her life for the moment and didn’t much fancy chatting about school politics with Brian the bore of Nancy something or other who ran the Boy Scouts jumble sale.

Growing up with Helen had meant that she’d spent more than her fair share of time sat on a chair at the back of PTA meetings. She’d learned how to read people there.

Patsy had scoped this crowd out by the end of the first week.

Two of the mothers she’d met professionally at domestics. That was the thing about being a cop; the job didn’t stop when you stepped out the front doors. Neither women had pressed charges as Patsy recalled even when one of them, the dumpy looking grey haired mother of four near the back, had been diagnosed with a cracked pelvis. Patsy had been there when the surgeon begged her to seek legal protection but it had fallen on deaf ears. Her husband had stamped on her when he’d finishing throwing her down the stairs. Patsy had watched him take her home in their car; all apologies and promises everyone knew he wouldn’t keep. She must have had another child with him going by the pram she pushed. So far Patsy hadn’t tried to talk to her.

A few she recognised from drunk and disorderly calls. Bored housewives drinking too much and deciding to make life interesting again with a fight wasn’t all that unusual for a Saturday night. Patsy was almost certain she’d locked up the brunette they called Frankie. Frankie had thrown a shoe at a man for refusing to serve her. Nearly knocked the poor bloke off his perch and Patsy had been given an earful from her too when they got back to the cells.

The queen Bee though, the crowning glory of it all and the source of Patsys self inflicted isolation was Lorna.

When Patsy had been growing up in the commune she’d met women like Lorna. There had been a lot of women there to watch; quiet types mainly because Abraham disliked the noisy ones. They’d banded together because that’s what you did when you lived in hell, her mother amongst them; they’d helped one another out with their chores, planned things.

As a child Patsy hadn’t thought anything about it; the adults behaviours had been mundane, meaningless and she’d assumed that everyone lived that way but now, seeing it through adult eyes, she understood there had been a pattern to it. A hierarchy surrounding Abraham.

He’d been the leader, the guide, the axis on which they had all spun but there’d been a second position. Nothing close to an equal but perhaps a favourite pet. Elizabeth had been ensconced into the role when Patsy was very small. Patsy the unwanted prize and living proof of her place in their world. Abraham had been controlling about almost everything and although he’d most certainly slept with most of his flock it was only Elizabeth that he’d allowed to carry his child. For that honour she’d been elevated above the rest.

Patsy could never quite decide whether her mother had wanted her or not. The murky question mark of how she came to be usually depressed her enough that she tended not to delve too hard into it.

She recalled vividly though how much the other women had despised her mother behind the false niceties. They’d been jealous of the fact that she held something special to the man they loved. They’d hated Patsy too; tripped her up or pinched her if she came too near to their less prestigious children. Elizabeth had seen it happen sometimes but she’d never intervened. Abraham had enjoyed the controlled chaos. More likely to kill Patsy himself and make a birdcage from her ribs than set her free from the misery of the existence she lived.

Patsy had spent too many years isolated. The commune a lonely place already made lonelier by other people’s choices and regrets.

Looking back on it now Patsy could understand to a degree why she’d been so hated by them. No one had ever officially proclaimed it but everyone had seen the way that Abraham favoured Elizabeth. The others had wanted the luxuries such a position afforded her. That had all changed though when Chastity was born. The birth of Patsys sister had dragged Elizabeth from her pedestal instantly and then it had been like a silent war; players vying for position.

Before Chastity Patsy had been barely tolerated, the others forcing themselves to talk to her when necessary to keep Elizabeth on their side. After Chastity though, life had become more like hell. There had been no more attempted pretences. Perhaps it had been the fact that as she’d grown older she had looked so obviously like her father that it had been the final provocation to the other women. The proof that he had chosen someone and that that someone had not been them.

The women had blamed Patsy for their misery. When Chastity had died so had Elizabeth in many ways too. She’d never tried to protect Patsy from the others, she’d looked upon Patsy with nothing short of disgust but the death of the child she’d truly loved had robbed Elizabeth of any friendly feelings she might have once attempted. It had taken almost any feelings she had away.

Elizabeth never did recover from the loss, just distanced herself further and further from Patsy as Abraham had continued to rage.

Lorna Bentwicke reminded Patsy of those women. The perfect blend of spite and bitterness hidden behind false superiority.

She was tall and glossy. A polished doll with an hour glass figure that was slowly losing its sand. She looked more like the idea of a mother than an actual mother to Patsys untrained mind. Too tidy. Probably baked in the evenings and she controlled the groups; dealing out casual cruelties she could later explain away if challenged for nothing more than boredoms sake. She was late twenties to a kind eye or early thirties to a more honest one, she had carefully curled hair and a professionally achieved white smile. She wore a lot of designer clothes, her wrist jangled with expensive jewellery and her feet were always clad in varying pastel shaded Jules wellies.

Lorna didn’t appear to work in the traditional sense but her kingdom existed here in this sacred space. The other mothers were depressingly in awe of her and Patsy sensed that they lived in fear of the women’s child coming to tea. God forbid they feed Lornas son too many nitrates. A chicken nugget might kill the tyke off entirely.

Lorna irritated Patsy immensely for a lot of reasons; some not entirely the other woman’s fault. Still... Lornas unwarranted supremacy, her snide looks and her self important attitude grated on Patsy. Lorna laughed at the poorer kids too, sniffed at those who couldn’t afford a certain standard of clothing. For Seppie and Phyllis’s sake Patsy held her tongue but one day soon Patsy had a feeling she would need to have a little whisper in precious Lornas ear. It would only take five minutes.

And maybe a well placed pin to prick Lornas overinflated ego.

Chummy had once told Patsy after an autopsy that the human body contained almost a trillion nerve cells and somehow Lorna managed to get on every last one of Patsys.

She reeked of second hand money. Her ‘hubby’ was some kind of investment banker working from London. They lived in one of the big houses near Blakeney but Lorna hadn’t approved of the local schools ratings so she’d chosen Poplar instead until her son was old enough to be shipped off to boarding school.

The boy himself was in year 5 and Patsy pitied him. He was short with straw coloured hair and a weak chin. Too often Patsy had watched as he was made to stand at his mothers knee like a sort of prize as Lorna scolded him loudly for dirtying his expensive school shoes with something as frivolous as play.

Lorna had tried to loop Patsy into the mummy clan on the first day. Patsy had watched Lorna sizing up her short hair with barely hidden disgust but she’d seen also the way her eyes had lingered on the cut of Patsys shirt, the shape of her face. Patsy had let it happen, answering the intrusive questions vaguely as she smiled over at the other women standing a few steps behind their leader. Patsys lack of interest had obviously piqued Lorna who hadn’t been used to it.

No. Patsy hadn’t wanted to attend the bring and buy. No. She didn’t know how to make jam. No. She didn’t feed her kids vegan themed salads. Or teach them Latin. Or go to Salsa club. No she didn’t want to host Anne Summers parties or Candle shows. She was just here so her kid could get an education. Thanks Lorna.

When Patsy had reluctantly explained that she was a police officer Lornas face had creased with beautiful confusion. Lorna had enquired what Patsys husband did if she worked. The concept of female emancipation clearly passing her by some years ago.

Patsy had wavered here, never one to lie about being gay it had chaffed to do so now but she wasn’t thinking about herself alone anymore. Seppie. She hadn’t wanted Seppie picked on for having a lesbian as a mum even if it was 2018. She’d have enough to deal with being deaf. Patsy had stumped for the easy yet unsatisfying half truth that she was “just single” in the end even though it made her skin crawl to do it.

That answer had got a raised eyebrow from Lorna. When Patsy had shaken the baffled woman’s hand at the end of the exchange Lorna had spotted the missing finger and recoiled with shock. Patsy had enjoyed herself far too much as she’d explained with the first piece of true animation that she’d recently had a plague of extremely aggressive cannibal moths. No one else had laughed but Patsy hadn’t minded. No one ever did.

She had minded however, very much, when Seppie arrived twenty minutes later. Patsy had seen the mothers gossiping being their hands about them, a few of the more impolite individuals even pointing over at Seppies frantically signing hands as she’d told Patsy about her day. Maybe at the fact that they were different colours.

In any case no further attempts of invitation to the yummy mummy club had been offered since.

Patsy wouldn’t have wanted to go anyway. If she had she’d probably have just wiled away her time watching them all pretend they weren’t miserable and sleeping with one another’s husbands. She could do that at home watching Jeremy Kyle if the urge struck her. Besides; she’d never been that good at parties. Never quite willing to belong anywhere long enough to grow attached.

A door opened in the playground cutting through Patsys thoughts and there was a fluttering of heads in the crowd as the sentinels spied out any alterations to their daily routines.

Patsy took the opportunity of a distraction to quickly stub out her fag in the gutter. There’s been a letter about littering last week and she didn’t want a lecture for it. She was certain that she still heard a few tuts from those watching her though. Bloody nosy bastards.

The gate creaked again as someone with Curly hair poked their head through. Patsy had half a second to meet Phyllis’s excited eyes and then it was hidden as Lorna stepped into the line of sight.

“Oh Phyllis!’ Lornas voice rang out instantly. An eager child wanting the teachers approval. Patsy hid her smile lest one of Lornas disciples see and report back. ‘This is wonderful, I was wondering if you’d had time to read my email regarding littering in the village? It’s really becoming a problem. Me and a few of the girls were thinking we could set up a committee, maybe take it to the WI for a drive. I’ll be going there to chair this evening so simply say the word and-“

“That sounds delightful lass,’ Phyllis was breathless but firm, ‘but I’m afraid I haven’t had the time yet. Later perhaps, but for now, I’m afraid that I need to talk to ms Mount on an urgent family matter. Patsy? If you wouldn’t mind following me?”

All faces turned to stare at Patsy who stood up straight to follow the bobbing head of Phyllis as she walked with purpose down the small path. Patsy didn’t feel panicked by the request; Phyllis had been too calm to have been honest. Besides, she’d have called Helen first if it was something to do with Seppie.

Lornas eyes narrowed at Patsy as she squeezed past to get through the gate with Neil following at a trot, her expression close to jealousy. The gate closed with a satisfying clunk in the woman’s face. Patsy tried to tell herself that enjoying the other woman’s discomfort made her almost as bad as Lorna herself.

She did enjoy it though.

Phyllis had ducked round a corner when Patsy caught up and they almost collided. Two spies in enemy territory. Patsy offered a shy smile, still not used to talking to this woman without the buffer of Helen to fill in the awkward pauses. Phyllis didn’t seem in the slightest perturbed though as she instantly bent down to coo over the dog once they were out of sight.

“I hope you don’t mind Pats, I saw you through the window... And then I saw this little thing with you.’ Phyllis looked like a child caught in an unapologetic lie. ‘He’s gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous, our Seppie is going to be beside herself, does she know your bringing it here for when she gets out?”

“He,’ Patsy corrected automatically, ‘he’s called Neil and no. I thought I’d surprise her. Phyllis? Did you really just lie about a family emergency just to fuss the dog?”

Phyllis looked up from where she was enthusiastically rubbing Neil’s stomach. Neil, for his part, lay on his back staring up at Patsy with his tongue out as a back leg kicked when Phyllis found the right spot.

“With great power comes great responsibility lass.’ Phyllis said seriously, appearing almost as stern as the first time they’d met for half a second until the effect was rather ruined when she winked. ‘As a future grandmother I thought it best to survey the families newest addition with my own eyes.”

Patsy mulled over the usage of family and then discarded it quickly.

“Do you want to be there when she see’s him?’ Phyllis looked up, perhaps surprised by the offer. Patsy shuffled her feet feeling uncertain as she added quickly. ‘I know you probably have other things to do but the offers there if you want it.”

Phyllis’s mouth widened into a broad grin and she got to feet to pat Patsys shoulder eagerly.

“That sounds wonderful lass.” She glanced back down at Neil who’d sat up looking rather forlorn at the loss of attention. ‘He’s a fine specimen, the ears will grow in I imagine.”

Patsy didn’t get a chance to say anything else as the bell rang at that moment. Throwing a wink at Phyllis Patsy pressed a finger to her lips and passed over Neil’s leash as she strolled, hands in her pockets to stand in the playground.

They tended not to allow every class out at exactly the same moment. Patsy wondered if it was a health and safety thing or merely an innate British requirement to imbed the urge to queue at a young age. Seppie was normally a few minutes late as she got caught up grabbing her coat and bag. Patsy waited patiently as she watched the older children greeting parents or childminders.

One boy caught her eye and held it. Timothy Turner, his body looking like it had been stretched somehow. Timothy noticed her too, his skinny face made sharper in the tang of the cold on the wind, he sent a quick wave in Patsys direction as he met his mother near the climbing frame. Shelagh smiled over at Patsy too and Patsy nodded back easily but she didn’t try and talk to them.

Patsy recalled the Turner family home, the pictures on the fridge and the way Shelagh had looked comfortable with her children. Patsy doubted anyone would ever think that she, Patsy, was quite as adept.

Then the wind was taken out of her as a small body collided hard against her thighs in an excited hug. A scrubby head bashed against her waist as a bag containing wellies and spare clothes was dropped unceremoniously for Seppie to wind her arms around Patsy. Her arms weren’t quite long enough for the job but it still made Patsy laugh, any other thought forgotten as she bent to lift Seppie high into the air.

Seppie seemed to vibrate with energy inside the circle of her arms, a single A4 sheet in her hands rattling as it bent between them.

“Red!’ Seppies hands swung up to nose level, happy to be home after the tedium of a day apart and full of pride. ‘I made this for you, it us. Look! I made it on my own, I did the writing and everything.”

Patsy spotted Claire strolling towards them looking expectant and threw her a quick smile before reluctantly putting Seppie back down to peer at the picture.

It was a smudgy thing, the lines blurred where Seppie had clearly got a bit over excited with the crayons but she could clearly make out the scene. A tall stick figure with yellow fuzz for hair was holding a brown sticks hand and sort of dog shaped sausage the same size as Seppie was next to them. Above them was the clumsy words ‘my burfthday’ Patsy widened her eyes and made a note to thank Claire. Seppie had come to writing later than a lot of kids but she was learning quickly. The B was nearly perfect.

“You made this?’ Patsy shook herself as she felt a wave of something thick nearly choke her. ‘Look at those words! You so good. And the drawing, wow, looks exactly like us baby. You’re so clever.”

Seppie preened, her hands holding her cardigan pockets as she twirled on the spot. Patsy wanted to pick her up again, the love shocked her. How could one small human being possibly elicit so much love? How did Seppie manage it? Patsy hadn’t any idea but was a welcome slave to the emotion anyway.

“Can we get the dog Red? Like you promised? Now?” Seppie was all big eyes and twirly shoes, snapping onto her main agenda with impressive speed.

Patsy pursed her lips and tried to feign confusion as she squinted down at her daughter. Thinking quickly.

“We can go... but before we do you need to thank Phyllis for her card this morning. She’s round there.” Patsy pointed towards the corner where Phyllis was stood hidden from view.

Seppie stopped twirling, her eyebrows knitting into a hard frown as she looked in the direction Patsy had pointed to. Patsy could see her considering her options; wanting to forget responsibilities so that she could have what she wanted immediately. It was a strong effort from both sides but eventually manners won.

Patsy watched Seppie plod towards Phyllis, shoulders slumped as she gave way to adult decrees with minimal grace. Patsy followed quietly, weaving in between parents and kids alike so she could watch. She spotted Claire hovering from the sidelines still but didn’t stop to call her over. She wanted the moment to herself; hoarding memories.

Phyllis had gone back to rubbing Neil’s belly when Patsy saw her again. Seppie was closer, her vision unobscured and she’d stopped dead where she was, her small hands rubbing at the sleeves of her cardigan as she stared open mouthed at the little dog. Patsy put a hand on her daughters shoulder when she reached her and Seppie looked up, her eyes already shiny with tears. Patsy smiled gently.

“Phyllis wants to give you your dog baby. Go on and say thank you.” Patsy gave Seppies shoulder a squeeze.

Seppie paused, a moments uncertainty holding her hostage and she wound one arm around Patsys leg for comfort. Patsy gave her thirty seconds to gather herself and then detangled the arm gently. Holding Seppies hand the two of them took the last few steps but the pace was too slow and Seppie began to pull away as soon she was near enough to touch the dog. The pull impossible to ignore.

Patsy let her go, watched Seppie fall to her knees, the asphalt probably ruining her new tights as she ran a shaking palm along Neil’s back. The dog shivered and then bounced up to lick Seppies face. Seppie squealed. Phyllis said something but Patsy didn’t hear it. The look on Seppies face was the only thing she really cared about and the stark fact that despite all of Patsys flaws and failings, she had been able to make her kid happy.

They didn’t put those feelings in bottles. You couldn’t buy it but occasionally it happened. Patsy wished she’d brought a camera.

Someone cleared their throat close by, not a rude sort of sound, just a gentle acknowledgement that a person was there. The hairs on Patsys neck stood on end and her bad hand automatically slipped inside her jacket pocket. Shy of offended eyes.

When Patsy turned she found Delia standing a foot from her. The sun was at her back, the dark flair of her hair seemed darker from the light and she was smiling at Patsy. A genuine smile now, not the strained expression from this morning.

Patsy gave a tentative smile in return, her heart beating unevenly in her chest. She thought that if she’d been Neil at this moment, her tail would have wagged.

“Hello.” Delia said a little uncertainly and Patsy realised that she’d been staring.

“Umm hi.” Patsys throat was dry as she watched Delia.

Delia was wearing Patsys scarf around her neck and Patsys eye kept being drawn there. She’d given it to Delia this morning without thinking about how it might appear to others but now she could see Delia in it, wearing something that Patsy had given to her almost casually, the reality took her breath away. Nervous too. The nerves made her shy. The enormity of how much she wanted to get this right was terrifying.

She had no frame of reference for what they were doing. She was terribly afraid that she’d mess everything up. That Delia might see through her once and for all.

“I saw you walking over with her when I let the kids out.’ Delia explained quietly when she saw that she had Patsys curious attention. ‘I hope you don’t mind, I thought I’d come to see what you were up to. You had a planning look about you... I was intrigued.”

Patsys stomach gave a satisfied lurch when she thought about Delia knowing her face well enough to read it. No one else really knew how to do that besides Helen. Even Trixie got it wrong more than she got it right.

“I don’t mind. I like it.” Patsy admitted shyly. Aware of the awkward tinge as they adjusted into one another’s space after the summers distance. She wasn’t really sure how to break it fully but Delia didn’t seem to need her to.

Delia winked as she stepped closer and crossed her arms to watch Seppie laugh at Phyllis.

“Phyllis wanted to be there when she got her dog.’ Patsy mumbled, her voice rough as she tried to fill the silence. ‘I thought it would be better away from the crowd.”

“Very wise, there might have been a mad rush.” Delia was grinning as she stepped forward again so that their shoulders were a few inches apart, warmth like a sun leaking out into her words.

Patsy felt herself relax. They both stood easily together watching Seppie play for a few minutes as the crowd in the playground thinned and drifted away.

A moment as close to perfect as Patsy had ever experienced.

“I’m surprised you brought the dog here,’ Delia broke the silence, niceties needing to be observed. Probably got taught consideration young. Patsy could picture her in Wales, surrounded by a sprawling family, ‘first day back I thought they might put you under a pile of paperwork.”

“Not enough time for paperwork,’ Patsy replied simply, enjoying the interest, ‘they stuck me on a job soon as I walked in. The boss let me out early though, couldn’t miss this moment could I?” Patsy caught Seppies eye from her vantage point and stuck out her tongue because Seppie liked having an ally in the war against sensibility. Phyllis was fishing around in her coat pocket, looking for dog treats.

Patsy couldn’t tell if Phyllis had planned to give them to Seppie before they left or merely always liked to be prepared. Probably the former.

“You know, sometimes, I have no idea if you’re real or not.” Delia sounded almost wistful, she’d torn her eyes away from Seppie to peer at Patsy while she’d been distracted.

Patsy laughed, amused by the idea. “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?”

“It’s a good thing. Definitely a good thing.’ Delia licked her lips as she bumped her shoulder against Patsys. ‘You do realise that you’ve just made that little girls day.”

“I do my best.’ Patsy said modestly, watching Seppie press her face into Phyllis’s shoulder as she laughed. ‘To tell you the truth it’s still a bit weird. Being someone’s mum. Kids are a lot harder full time. They don’t come with a manual.”

“You seem to be managing just fine.”

“Ahh well you haven’t seen us first thing in the morning.’ Patsy fidgeted, confessing her sins to a considerate ear. ‘Last week she had a temper tantrum because she couldn’t dress up as Batman for school. Half the time I’m probably just mucking it all up.”

“I assume you talked her out of it.’ Delias lips twitched, idly swapping her weight from one foot to other. Bringing her arm just a shade closer. ‘No superheroes have been reported as far as I’m aware.”

“Yeah, in the end I had to lie.’ Patsy had been about ready to beg in reality. They’d had a Mexican standoff in the upstairs hallway as Patsy held a summer dress up against the black plastic suit, gradually losing patience with Trixie snoring loudly from the bedroom. ‘She only changed her mind because I said that I was planning on wearing my batman costume that day. The world might ended if we’d clashed.”

Delia laughed and the sound made Patsys skin itch, the electric static dancing on her palms. God, she was such a goner. Delia slipped her arm through Patsys and leaned her face closer, tongue pressed against her teeth.

“Now that I want to see.”

“See what? Me in a batman costume?”

“I feel like it would be an experience.”

“I’m afraid I only wear the costume for very specific crimes,’ Patsy could smell Delias perfume and her mind was losing focus, she ploughed on hoping it would catch up, ‘you know, on full moons in months ending in H and only if I haven’t got ironing to do.”

“So it doesn’t happen that often then?”

“Not that often but...’ Patsys cheeks burned and she ducked her head. ‘I’m kind of hoping you’ll be there for it though.”

“Planning ahead.’ Delia noted approvingly, ‘What will Trixie say about that?”

“Oh she’ll probably just roll her eyes.’ Patsy could feel heat creeping up her chest. She didn’t seem to be able to support her own weight, she was leaning in towards the solid shape of Delia who didn’t look like she minded. ‘She’s getting bored of hearing about how much I talk
about you really.”

“You talk about me?’ Delias hands found the hem of the scarf and she rolled the rough edge between her fingers. ‘What do you say?”

“Just the usual things, you know;’ Patsy waved her good hand in the air expansively, ‘how many sheep did she see today, which pair of shorts do you think she’s wearing? All the vital questions.”

“You talk about my shorts.” Delias dimples were deep curves around her mouth now.

Her mouth-

Patsy shrugged, unabashed as she dragged her mind away from that particular temptation, aware they still had something of an audience. “What can I say? They weigh heavy on my mind sometimes.”

“I didn’t realise you’d become so fond of them.”

Patsy gave up on politeness and brought her mouth closer to Delias ear. “Well they looked pretty perfect on the bedroom floor don’t you think?”

Delias cheeks flushed and she pressed her lips together, shaking her head as she took a deep breath. “You’re terrible and this isn’t a conversation for work. Behave.”

Delia gave Patsy a stern look as Patsy raised her hands in surrender and crossed her heart.

“You’re the boss Miss Busby.”

Delia rolled her eyes. “I’m not going to even try and comment on that one. So...’ Delia bumped her shoulder into Patsys again. ‘Am I still invited to dinner?”

“Of course you are,’ Patsy beamed, ‘I thought we could walk through the village to mine. It’ll give Seppie a chance to throw a few sticks.”

“I’ll just need to get my coat, can you wait five minutes?”

“Take your time, I’ll be here.” Patsy promised amiably, meaning it far more than she could say.

Delia threw Patsy a quick look as though double checking that she was really there and then sped off up the step to her classroom fire-door. Patsy watched her go, absorbed with far too much interest on Delias bum as it disappeared from view. It was a good bum.

She sighed. She really had liked those little shorts although she could see that chinos might join the group. Honestly, those legs weren’t fair.

When she looked around her she realised that most of the crowd had vanished off to their houses and lives. The playground held only the last stragglers; Lorna was holding final court near the bins and Claire had come out to stand by Phyllis. Seppie, momentarily unsupervised closely, had taken the opportunity to clamber onto one of the benches and Neil was jumping up, barking at her excitedly.

Patsy raised an eyebrow when Seppie glanced in her direction and hid a smile as her daughter hurried to get down. Helen had taught her that look years ago although Patsy had usually been doing something worse than standing on the furniture.

When Seppie had gotten down and straightened Patsy saw that her tights really were ruined and frowned as she crouched by the bag at her feet that Seppie had abandoned. She was sure she’d packed a fresh pair somewhere but her hands only found a half eaten apple and a soggy pair of socks.

She should probably get her to change before they walked back. Seppie could catch a cold, the air still felt too damp.

She was so absorbed in her task that when a hand tapped her on the shoulder it shocked her. Her body reacted purely on instinct. Her mind might have accepted that the world was a safer place but her body remembered the pain too much. Muscles locked, a dried up felt tip pen clattered onto the floor as Patsy spun round to find out who’d surprised her.

Lorna.

The woman must have crept up because Patsy felt sure that she’d have heard those high heels on the floor. Lorna had taken an automatic step backwards as Patsy loomed up fast.

“Yes!” Patsy spat out, the adrenaline making it hard to be polite as her heart beat painfully fast.

“Oh,’ Lorna gave a fake cough of surprise, barely hiding a smirk and Patsy realised that she would probably be telling the other mothers about this later for their shared amusement. ‘Sorry to startle you Patience. I was just wondering if we could have a little chat.”

“I was actually just about to go Lorna. It’s Seppies birthday so I’m a bit busy.” Patsy tried to sound polite but it still came out as dismissive. Lornas lips curled slightly at the tone.

“I’ll make it short then shall I?’ Lorna said with saccharine sweetness. ‘I simply thought that you and your...’ Lorna paused, taking a moment to glance at Seppie with a hint of irony, ‘child, just needed to know that the rules still apply, even out of official hours.”

“What rules?” Patsy asked distractedly, Seppie had decided to come to her, Neil’s leash trailing on the ground as she rested her head against Patsy hip to watch Lornas mouth. She’d be getting tired. For all of the excitement Patsy knew that Seppie was still adjusting to full school hours; she’d be clingy by six and grumpy by seven with or without a dog. Right now Seppie had stuck her thumb in her mouth and was sucking industrially, her body pressing heavy against Patsys thigh. Patsy put a hand on her shoulder protectively. Hating what she saw in Lornas attitude.

“Faculty rules, they’re on the school website, I put them there myself.’ Lorna sounded far too smug about that, her chest puffing up as though she’d admitted that she’d been involved in Earth shattering matters. ‘There’s a section on pets.”

“Really, whole sections?’ Patsy tried to stifle the scorn. ‘Is there a section on minding your own business too?”

Damn. That one just slipped out. Seppie had decided to put a cold hand underneath her shirt and she spoke without thinking as she’d hurriedly reached to hold it away from her skin.

“I beg your pardon?” Lornas eyes widened in indignation.

Then beg, a dark part of Patsy dearly wanted to reply but she didn’t, too aware of Seppies hand now securely latched onto the loop of her jeans.

“Just my joke Lorna, no offence meant, what’s the rules about pets?”

“Well,’ Lorna made a face as she attempted sincerity. ‘I’m sure the headmistress will tell you herself but animals aren’t allowed on school premises.”

“The dogs on a lead.” Patsy pointed out calmly. Admittedly Seppie wasn’t holding it and the thick chord rushed along the floor but it was definitely still on.

“Everything alright?” A brusque voice interrupted them. Phyllis had arrived, seeming to have sensed the potential clash as she placed herself in the middle of Patsy and Lorna, one hand on Patsys shoulder.

Claire was standing behind her looking on with interest. Patsy saw that Lornas self satisfied expression had faded with the introduction of actual authority.

“Phyllis,’ She simpered, ‘I was just reminding Patience about the school rules. I know you’re busy and I would hate to see standards dropping.”

“Which standards?” Phyllis raised her eyebrows with what appeared to be genuine confusion but her hand tightened warningly on Patsys shoulder.

“Nothing too serious.’ Lorna was backpedaling a bit now. Patsy wanted to stick out her tongue. ‘I just noticed that she brought a dog onto the grounds, as you’ll be aware the board of governors revised the rules regarding the matter last year.”

“I do remember, I was there. The rules were based on an animal knocking over a child as I recall.’ Phyllis answered smoothly. ‘The governors agreed that an accompanying adult supervising the animal wouldn’t be an issue. I appreciate your dilligance though lass.”

“And it’s not your job to enforce the rules anyway. You’re not an employee Ms Bentwicke.” That was Claire, chipping in on the back of her boss. Her eyes focused hard on Lorna with undisguised dislike.

Lorna paled with anger, her painted smile spreading dangerously as she glared at Claire.

“It’s everyone’s duty to enforce the rules young lady.”

Young lady? That was a low blow, Patsy thought. Claire swelled where she stood and Phyllis let go of Patsy to focus on her staff. Patsy felt Seppie tugging at her shirt.

“Can we go home now Red?” Seppie wasn’t interested in the adults she couldn’t understand. Her thumb fell back into her mouth as soon as she’d spoken, her eyes half closed with Neil nosing at her shoes.

Patsy decided to take the easy exit when it was presented. Delia had just reappeared on the step, buttoning her coat as she went, Patsys scarf still around her neck.

“Yes, we can walk back home. We can have ice cream if you want.”

This seemed to perk Seppie up a bit. She let go of Patsy to rub her cardigan sleeve again; a hopeful habit. Patsy knew she should probably announce her goodbye but Claire and Lorna were still arguing, Phyllis caught in the middle trying to find an opening in the discourse.

Patsy mimed a hasty goodbye wave that nobody acknowledged as she picked up Neil’s lead and backed away from the fray with Seppie tucked safely under her arm.

She met Delia at the gates and the three of them made their way down the main path together heading towards the pocket park not speaking much. Behind them someone shouted in the playground and Patsy desperately hoped that Claire was winning.

Seppie held Patsys hand until they reached the park. Once there though, the shadow of school authority fading, Seppie let go to run off ahead. Trusting that Patsy wouldn’t let her go far. There was a stream running near the trees and Seppie sank down, busy searching for a stick. Patsy craned her neck to keep her in sight but when Seppie settled onto one patch she let her pace slow.

It had shocked her how casually Seppie had accepted Delias presence. She hadn’t even asked about it. The easy acceptance was a surprise and Patsy wondered about that; she’d known that Delia had made a mark on the girls of course. Even Fern had asked about her. She’d been with them when she’d been taken by Abraham. According to Fern Delia had saved the day.

A real life hero.

Patsy snuck a glance at Delia as she thought about it. Delias face was pink with the cold, her fringe blowing across her eyes in the wind as she walked steadily beside Patsy.

Patsy shivered. Finally having Delia here, seeing her, being able to talk to her, made Patsy feel slow inside. It was like the last brick in a big wall had been snuck into place. For the first time in a long time Patsy stopped worrying.

This was them. They couldn’t really go wrong after everything that had happened. Patsy felt that the universe owed her something of a happy ending.

“You look like you’re a million miles away,’ Delia interrupted, ‘are you worried about her? She’s just playing Pats. We can go a bit faster if you want.” She nodded towards Seppie.

Patsy glanced quickly to double check for Seppie herself and found her safely kicking at the floor. She shook her head. “Not a million miles away. I’m just enjoying the company; I’ve been looking forward to this all day to tell you the truth.”

“Me too.’ Delia admitted coyly, her teeth worrying at her top lip. ‘Although it might just be hunger. We only got back on Sunday and I haven’t been up to bracing the shops. It didn’t seem fair to send Caroline out to get the food in so we’ve been living off takeaway. I’d kill for a carrot.”

“So I’m just a free meal then?” Patsy felt slightly deflated, momentarily disappointed.

Delia frowned at herself, reading the room and rethinking quickly. “No. That sounded awful didn’t it? Don’t take it personally. I’m led by my stomach, always have been, I remember when I was training my mentor used to tell me off because I’d sneak a bag of sweets in my pockets. My mam used to hate taking me to the dentist.”

“You’re in luck.’ Patsy smacked her good hand on her hip like a stall runner at a fairground. Inviting the spend of a less loved penny. ‘I’ve got cake at home if you’ve got a sweet tooth, you might have to thumb war Seppie for the first slice though.”

“I’ve never really been a huge fan of cake,’ Delia frowned, ‘that’s weird isn’t it?”

“Ahh but you’ve never eaten my cake have you.” Patsy waggled her eyebrows, enjoying the way Delia blushed.

“I’m going to assume you’re referring to pastry and nothing more Patience.” Delia sounded like a teacher now; prim. Patsy didn’t believe it for a second though.

“Can’t imagine what else you think I might mean Deels.” Patsy forced an innocent expression but inside she wanted to sing. Delias eyes had darkened, their pace slowing as the world around them seemed to shrink.

Delia blew out a shaky breath and pushed a hand down her scarf with too much force as though she was trying to ground herself again. “I don’t think I said thank you for this earlier.’ She held the scarf up, changing the subject. ‘It’s kept me warm all day.”

“Always happy to help keep you warm.”

“Smells like you.’ Delia admitted this quietly, tucking her chin under the top loop, ‘it’s nice.”

“Well, like I said, I do my best.”

“I know you do...’ Delia paused here, a break interrupting her stride as her tone shifted suddenly. Patsy sensed that she’d been thinking about what she planned to say next for a while. There was a measure of concentration that hadn’t been there so far. ‘But it’s not just that...’ Delias tongue clicked for a second as though she was deliberating on a point. ‘I think that I owe you thanks for something else.”

“I doubt it somehow.” Patsy straightened reluctantly, aware of the odd tension about the two of them. Delia was staring at her with a too sharp knowing to her gaze that gave Patsy the uncomfortable sensation that Delia was trying to read her mind.

“I got a call at the start of the summer.’ Delia went on finally, a question burning in her voice. ‘It was from the police; the team leading the investigation into... What happened to us. The man in charge told me that I wasn’t a suspect anymore, they dropped me from the investigation. I have to assume that’s down to your input.”

“That investigation was conducted by another region.’ Patsy uncoiled a bit at that, relieved at the easy to fix issue. ‘Nothing to do with me Delia.”

“Yes,’ Delia peered up at Patsy still suspicious, ‘but they also told me that I’d been cleared after a strong succession of character statements and an eye witness account. No one from another force was there Pats.”

“There wasn’t ever a case against you,’ Patsy huffed, thwarted and awkward, ‘you were a material witness and a victim as much as any of us. It was ridiculous that they were investigating you anyway.”

“I killed him Pats.’ Delia wasn’t smiling now. The absence of the feature made the others stand out more clearly on her face; she looked too pale, the dark moons under her eyes were too dark. Patsy wanted to rub them away but knew it didn’t work like that. ‘He was choking you and I picked up the chair leg and hit him with it. I murdered a human being. I know why you did what you did... But you and I both know that I’m guilty.”

“No.’ Patsy stopped pretending to walk finally, demanding her stillness convey how entirely she believed what she said. ‘You saved lives. You saved me, you saved Helen and you saved yourself. If you hadn’t stopped him I wouldn’t be here; Seppie wouldn’t have any of this,’ Patsy pointed her head up the path towards Seppie who was spinning on her feet as the dog jumped around her. ‘You saved so many lives... besides; when he’d finished with me he would have got up and tried to kill the two of you too. Men like Abraham never know when it’s time to quit; you did the only thing that you could to protect everyone. That’s not murder sweetheart. It’s survival. You’re a hero.”

“I don’t feel like a hero.’ Delia sounded lost, uncertain. She rubbed her hands against the scarf again, wiping her palms along the wool. ‘I see his blood every night... And you. You were dead.’ Delia swallowed. ‘I thought you were dead.”

“But I’m not dead,’ stomach fluttering Patsy prised Delias hands away from the scarf and held it to her chest, right over her heart. The organ thumped against her flesh like it sensed an owner at last. ‘See.’ Patsy said firmly. ‘Definitely not dead because you did the only thing you could. Stop beating yourself up for it, it’s unnecessary.”

“I didn’t mean to kill him.’ Delia didn’t move her hand away, speaking fast she sounded like she was trying to force all the thoughts she hadn’t let out since she’d left Poplar spill out between them now. ‘I’m sorry. I know... He was a monster but he was still your father.”

Patsy snorted. Vaguely disgusted at the title spoken out loud and let Delias hand fall away from her chest but refused to let it go entirely. They fit well together, Patsy didn’t want to let it go. She wasn’t ready yet. “He wasn’t my father. Not a proper father; hell, Phyllis is a better parent than him and I’ve only known her for a few months, although do me a favour and don’t tell her I said that.”

“She’s ridiculously proud of you you know,’ Delia seemed relieved at Patsys reaction. The tension draining as they resumed walking, their joined hands swinging between them. ‘I heard her telling Barbara in morning meeting that she respected your work ethic. That’s high praise coming from her.”

“She said that?” Patsy felt a prickle of surprise but it wasn’t unpleasant. Just unexpected.

Delia sighed and rubbed her fringe out of her eyes. “Yeah... She’s very protective of you isn’t she? I mean I was half expecting her to ask me about my intentions towards you at break time. It’s adorable.”

“Well she’s marrying Helen, I think she just feels like she needs to do it because of that.” Patsy deflected the concept of Phyllis liking her quickly. Batting away the responsibility of someone else she needed to not disappoint.

“Phyllis?’ Delia raises her eyebrows looking mildly surprised. ‘Pats, Phyllis doesn’t do anything she doesn’t agree with. You should have seen her when they fiddled with her rolodex; poor Barbara nearly lost an eye. She’s not a woman who does things for the sake of it.”

“Well, like I said, she’s marrying Helen.” Patsy parried uncomfortably.

“I got an invite this morning to their party next Friday. It sounds like it’ll be fun. True love after so long, they should have their own movie. Barbara says it’s Disney love; she’s going to be a bridesmaid apparently. Honestly, it’s so romantic. Really reaffirms the belief anyone can fall in love doesn’t it?”

“You had your doubts about true love?”

Delia squeezed Patsys hand and sighed as she let it go finally. “Let’s just say my beliefs have taken one or two knocks this year.”

“Well we’ll have to see what we can do to fix that won’t we?” Patsy said mildly.

Funny that the prospect of doing just that didn’t make her run for the hills with this woman. A year ago she probably would have been sick at the idea.

“You’re always willing to be my knight in shining armour aren’t you...’ Delia sounded half exasperated. ‘Pats?”

“Yes?”

“It was you wasn’t it?’ Delia brooked no argument, demanding an answer. ‘You called them and told them what happened? That’s why they dropped the case against me.”

Patsy fidgeted. Her bad hand cramped where it was hidden as it grazed the seams of her coat pocket and came into contact with the clammy warmth of a sweating penny she’d left there. “You would have lost your pin, maybe your clean DBS check.’ She hedged. ‘Your house. It wasn’t as though I did all that much, I needed to give a statement anyway. I didn’t do it for thanks. It was the right thing to do.”

“Thank you...’ Delias voice was thick, her breathing shallow. ‘Even if you don’t want my thanks... Thank you Pats.”

Patsy felt a bit sick accepting gratitude from this woman. She’d never been all that good with appreciation in any form; suspicious of anyone who liked her too much but coming from Delia it felt different. Not unwelcome exactly just misplaced. Misplaced simply because it was Patsys fault; her family, her mistakes, her incompetence that had drawn the woman into this mess in the first place.

She wanted to talk about something else and searched for a topic.

“How is everything? The house and... How are you?”

Too late Patsy realised that this probably was too big a question to ask. Delia breathed quietly as she considered it for a moment. They’d come to the trees. The gate to the village green was in sight and Seppie was almost there. Patsy hoped the girl would wait at the boundary. She’d have to run and get her if she didn’t.

“Tired mostly.’ Delia answered thoughtfully. ‘I spent a lot of time thinking about things; my mam drove me mad. Kept trying to feed me. She doesn’t trust English cooking, she thinks it lacks heart.’ Delia laughed, the dimples flashing at Patsy like beacons as they came back into view. ‘I think it was the right thing to go home for a bit though. At least the people up there don’t hate my guts. It made a nice change.”

“No one hates you Delia.” Patsy said, frowning at the idea.

“Oh they do.’ Delia corrected darkly. ‘Well, Maryanne does. She’s been calling me a few times a week, leaving messages. Last one was Saturday just gone. She told me not to come back... It’s been hard ignoring it. She says I killed Jessie.”

“You didn’t kill Jessie, Abraham did.’ Patsy didn’t want to talk about it again. She didn’t want to be thanked. ‘Who’s Maryanne?”

“Jessie’s mum.’ Delia said it like a swear word and then must have realised how bitter she sounded because she shrugged self consciously, looking tired again. ‘She’s been a nightmare; hates my guts. Wants the house. Wants Jessie’s insurance pay out. I told her that she can have it but I don’t think she wants it given to her. She’s more the taking sort. She’s got a right I suppose; not like we were married and...’ She shrugged. ‘Well, it doesn’t matter, I don’t want it.”

Jessie’s mum... just the thought of it was a hard knuckle to her brain. Patsy realised with regret that she should have stuck to gratitude after all.

Patsy had stopped again as she’d listened, her heart sinking and only realised that she’d fallen behind when Delia was a little ahead of her and turned to look back surprised to find Patsy wasn’t with her anymore. Patsy hurried to catch up, hoping she’d been fast enough to hide the fear.

She’d never been that lucky though.

Delias face turned grey as she realised what she’d said. The link that wasn’t asked for. “Oh God, Pats- I’m sorry, I didn’t think. We don’t have to-“

“It’s fine,’ Patsy said shortly, ‘honestly, I just hadn’t really thought about it that’s all. Hey, it’s okay,’ Patsy had pulled up level again and gave Delias shoe an encouraging nudge with her own, wishing she was being honest. ‘I want to know if something’s bothering you. No matter what it is... Sounds stupid but I kind of want to be the person you can talk to about things, anything. I want to hear about it.”

“That’s not stupid at all.” Delias eyes crinkled when she smiled, she’d have laughter lines when she was older.

Patsy thought that she’d like to be there to see them grow.

Patsy gave a toothy smile that made her cheeks ache. “Sounded better in my head.”

“It sounded just fine to me.”

“It did?”

“Would it be stupid if I told you that I like talking to you too? You make me feel... Very safe.”

“I make you feel safe?” Something warm spread along Patsys spine. Made her feel ten feet tall. Tall as angels just like Abraham had told her.

Delias lips twitched as she leant on her tip toes under the guise of wanting to straighten Patsys collar. It was a strange move. Patsy hadn’t expected it and her stomach clenched as their faces came close enough to see the blue of Delias eyes cutting through her. Delia smelled of old perfume and coffee and Patsy had never wanted anyone quite so much as this.

When Delia let go, Patsy sagged with her, wishing she’d stay that close just a little longer. She missed the warmth.

Delia clearly had her own preferences though because after a seconds consideration she leaned forward, a determined set to her mouth and reached to snake her hand inside Patsys coat pocket.

Patsy stiffened, her bad hand curling tighter against the smooth lining of the pocket.

“Do you mind?’ Delia searched Patsys face carefully, ‘you’ve been hiding it all day. I thought we should get it over with don’t you?”

Patsy sighed, knowing what she was trying to do and wishing she wouldn’t.

“It might ruin the mood.” She volunteered. Aware of how warm Delia felt against her skin. Her fingers laying flat against the tendons of Patsys damaged hand. Tracing the shape.

“It won’t.” Delia promised.

When she gently began to lever Patsys bad hand out into the daylight Patsy considered fighting it. She stared at Delia trying to guess what she was really looking for.

Delia just squeezed her limb encouragingly and Patsy gave up. Unable to deny something that Delia wanted she allowed her hand to be pulled out and examined carefully in the harsh afternoon light.

“I’ll never play piano again.” Patsy said eventually with forced cheeriness, caught between wanting to be truthful and hating that this had happened to her in the first place.

Delia didn’t reply instantly. She was tracing the knuckle of Patsys middle finger with infinite care.

“It looks sore.” She commented, her thumb rubbing the thicker band of scar tissue at the edge of the stump. ‘Is it hurting you?”

Patsys mouth opened automatically to trot out her usual replies but she stopped herself. Delia didn’t look disgusted, just concerned. Concerned about her.

Patsy didn’t want to lie. “Sometimes, at the end of the day mostly.”

“Have they given you tablets?”

“I don’t like to take them to tell you the truth. They make me tired.” They reminded her of the commune.

“Of course you don’t.’ Delia sounded exasperated but fond as she entwined their hands carefully again looking satisfied. ‘I’d expect nothing less from someone as stubborn as yourself Patience.”

“You think I’m stubborn?”

“In a good way,’ Delia corrected, her thumb running along Patsys wrist idly, scouting their way across the veins, ‘always in a good way.”

“Did your friend mind when you told her you were coming to mine after work?”

“Caroline?’ Delias voice changed, her grip slackened as she almost lost her balance on a patch of wet grass. Patsy moved to help her but the brunette managed to right herself quickly, her cheeks pink with embarrassment. ‘Oh, you know, she didn’t mind. I told her about you over the summer so she told me to take my time.”

“She sounds like my kind of person.’ Patsy grinned appreciatively, ‘she must be a good friend to come back with you?”

“Yeah, we- we’ve known each other since the wheel.’ Delia licked her lips, not meeting Patsys eye. ‘She was Bernard’s best friend at school and we ended up in a little gang as teenagers. I sort of fell out of contact when I was with Jessie and, well, we met again at Bernard’s wedding. She’s going through a nasty breakup, her ex boyfriend found some stuff out she didn’t really want sharing and she wanted to get out of Wales for a bit.”

“I’m glad. I’m glad you can talk to your old friend again. It’s nice.” It was nice. Patsy couldn’t ever see Delia as someone without friends. Anger smoked like an old bonfire in her chest at the petty cruelties couples dealt out under the guise of love. Delia should have friends.

“It’s alright I suppose.’ Delia said non commitally. ‘At first I thought that we’d both changed a lot but now I’m thinking; same old Caroline.”

“She’s got bad traits?” Patsy concluded shrewdly.

Delia squirmed. “She’s just Caroline.’ She broke off and glanced down at their joined hands, ‘I still might sell the house. Buy somewhere smaller maybe. Jessie was the one who chose it, it’s too big for just me.”

“What does Jessie’s dad think about everything?” Patsy didn’t really want to know but she still asked. She couldn’t stop herself. It was like pushing at a bad tooth and knowing it would hurt but still doing it anyway.

Maryanne. It was an enigma. The name hadn’t come up in the file Chummy had given her about Abraham but Jessie had said she was Abraham’s youngest sisters child. Maryanne might have changed her name like Abraham. Or been adopted and had it changed for her.

Patsy hadn’t thought much about her before now. Hadn’t wanted to.

“Graham?’ Delia seemed pleased to answer the question, eager to supply information. ‘He never says much, Maryanne talks for him mainly. Nice man though, he took on Maryanne and Jessie and you wouldn’t ever know that he wasn’t Jessie’s biological dad- not that it matters. He was on the scene before she was even born. They used to be quite close I think but Jessie never talked about it much.”

Patsy had to take a breath, she felt suddenly sick. A creeping nausea seized her as a terrible possibility presented itself.

“Who- Who was her father?” No. Please not a mystery sibling. She didn’t need any more shit falling from her family tree.

“I don’t know.’ Delia understood her fears instantly. ‘Jessie didn’t like talking about it- I don’t think it was him though Pats. Maryannes mad but I don’t think she’s that mad.”

“But you don’t know for sure?” Patsy doubted her father had ever cared about rules. She wouldn’t rule him out of any amount of evils.

“No.’ Delia shook her head. ‘I’m sorry.”

“Right.” Patsy wished she hadn’t asked.

“I’m sorry Pats. She’s still your aunt... You could probably speak to her if you wanted to.”

“I’ve never met her.’ Patsy spoke bluntly, angry at all the things she couldn’t escape. ‘Wouldn’t be able to pick her out on the street and it’s not like she’d be a person to visit. If she’s anything like him I’d probably want to kill her myself.”

“She banned me from Jessie’s funeral.’ Delia confessed gloomily. ‘Made Graham stand outside the hall and everything just in case I tried to break in.”

“Did you really want to go?” Patsy didn’t like funerals and it was unsettling to imagine Delia standing by Jessie’s coffin. The woman had tried to kill them. She’d killed Val. Patsy wouldn’t have gone if she’d been paid to do it.

“I would have liked to have a better last memory of her that’s all.”

Patsy didn’t know what to say to that and was relieved to find she didn’t have to when Seppie reappeared in front of them. Her small fists pumping the air as she raced to a skidding half in front of Patsy.

“Careful. You’ll fall.” Patsy signed sternly, Seppies ripped tights catching her eye again.

Seppie ignored her, clutching her side at a painful stitch, she’d run nearly the length of the field far too quickly but she still made her hands talk, desperate to share her information.

“Red!’ Seppies mouth hung open in delighted horror, ‘Red I just seen Fern get off the bus with a boy. She...’ Seppie rubbed her mouth, stifling a laugh at the absurdity of what she’d witnessed, ‘she was kissing him Red.”

Patsy blinked. Seppies giggle rebounding inside her head as she translated the meaning into a strange new world. Fern? Boys?

Seppie snorted in the way of younger siblings getting one over on the older ones.

Patsy groaned; teenage romance.

Wonderful.