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Returning Tides

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For all of Patsys good intentions of getting a good nights sleep she still woke up early the next morning when a cold nose snuffled into her face. She’d woken sweating, heart racing as she was ripped away from confusing nightmarescapes of shadowy beaches and the memory of screaming inside her own head.

Waking up didn’t particularly help either.

Delia.

The name spun around her head, banging off neurones, trying to make a spark happen. Patsy ignored it.

Luck alone had meant that Neil hadn’t relieved himself somewhere in the house during the night. Patsy let him out on jelly legs and watched him piss against the wall tiredly as she smoked a bedraggled fag. Last nights poor show of rain had condensed somewhat into a bedraggled mist that caught in her hair.

Patsy thought about her scarf, still folded over the back of the kitchen chair and puffed harder on her cigarette. She hoped Delia would be sensible enough to wrap up this morning. She’d catch a cold.

Patsy already felt like she’d come down with something.

Her head felt like it had been stuffed with glue. Her thoughts stuck together and jumbled about. Try as she might she couldn’t stop wondering what Delia was doing this morning.

Would Caroline be up? The two of them chatting away? What happened when Delia got home?

It was with a great sense of relief for the distraction that Patsy flicked away her cigarette butt hastily when she heard Seppies small feet knocking down the stairs half an hour later.

Seppie, it quickly became apparent though, had not woken up on the right side of the bed. The face she showed to Patsy as their eyes met didn’t bode well. Seppie could be irascible in the mornings, sometimes tearful and other times just contrary; Patsy was not the only inhabitant in this household haunted by bad dreams after all.

Today looked like Seppie had not only come out of the bed the wrong way but also a small forest and a large lake. In fact, if Patsy wasn’t fully aware that her daughter was five, she would have diagnosed a rocketing case of PMT. Seppie sat scowling at the table as Patsy made toast, changing her mind between jam and marmite six times until Patsy lost patience and did half and half. Once put in front her Seppie merely sat scowling at the table, tapping her uneaten toast on the plate, her bottom lip jutting out as she glared at her breakfast as though it had done her personal wrong.

Patsy sipped her tea and tried to ignore the urge to check her phone. She wasn’t sure if Delia would have the balls to try and text her and she wasn’t quite brave enough to check yet.

The morning was not improved when Fern sloped downstairs half an hour later with yet another load of soiled bedding, her hair sticking up at all angles where’d she’d slept and throwing Patsy a muted snark that Trixie was throwing up in the bathroom again.

“She can’t be.’ Patsy frowned at her eldest, gulping down tea that was already going cold and wincing as Fern slammed the washing machine door closed too hard. ‘I watched her go upstairs myself Fern, she hasn’t been drinking.”

Fern rolled her eyes, a sixty year olds cynicism trapped in a sixteen year olds body. “And whoever heard of an addict who could hide their addiction? Mick used to hide Crack in his slippers when the social came round.” Fern muttered witheringly as she yawned and dumped two slices of bread into the toaster.

The toast Seppie had been holding slipped from her fingers and dropped on the floor where Neil swiftly worked as a stand in hoover. Seppie have a grunt as she signed angrily at the dog for eating her food.

Patsys temper felt raw as she listened to the dog chomping on the toast. Fern didn’t look at her as she made her tea and put another slice of bread in for Seppie.

Patsy had the childish urge to ask for a break.

Just one tiny break from everyone. She was doing her best dammit.

But she didn’t say a word as she waited for Fern to finish and then poured Trixie a cup of black coffee from the blondes fancy packet in the cupboard and sloped wordlessly upstairs. It wasn’t the kids fault and she was the adult here.

To her surprise and slight concern Trixie really was in the bathroom. Patsy paused in the hallway as she listened to the sound of retching and spitting before pushing open the door cautiously. Trixie was there, kneeling before the porcelain throne, her head supported by shivering arms.

Patsy felt a pang of sympathy.?Withdrawals could get you like that sometimes.

Trixie spat one more time and then looked around. Her skin grey as she breathed through her nose and flushed the toilet.

Patsy waited for the flush to quiet down before speaking, allowing Trixie to concentrate on clambering over to the edge of the bath. “I brought you some coffee.” Patsy explained rather pointlessly as she handed over the cup.

Trixie made a face as she sipped it and sniffed with feeling, the skin under her eyes gleaming with sweat still. “Bile and coffee. Never a good combo.”

“Ahh so I’ll cancel Heston Bloomington’s seasonal special blend then?” Patsy risked a half smile, needing someone to be vaguely friendly to her this morning.

“Well...’ Trixie took another sip thoughtfully, ‘if it’s Hestons.”

“Are you alright?’ Patsy eyed the door, wondering if she should close it in case one of the girls came upstairs. ‘Do you think that you’re coming down with something?”

“I must be.’ Trixie wiped at her forehead with a limp wrist, her hair unusually dishevelled. ‘I didn’t drink at all last night.”

“Might be withdrawals.” Patsy suggested in the most neutral voice she could manage.

Trixies eyes flashed menacingly for a second and then she sagged, the coffee sloshing in the cup and spilling over as her hands shook.

“You’re worse than Tom was...’ she muttered irritably. ‘I don’t even drink that much.”

“I’m just trying to help.” Patsy said gently, ignoring the barb.

“I can do this on my own.” Trixie snapped stubbornly.

“Right,’ Patsy took a breath and shoved her hands in the pocket of her pyjamas forcefully, ‘well, maybe I should come back around lunch time anyway though? Check to make sure that you’ve not got any worse.” Or fallen into a bottle, Patsy added to herself silently.

Trixie put the cup down on the corner of the bath very heavily. Obviously gathering the direction of Patsys thoughts despite the censorship.

“You can do whatever you want. It’s your house.’ Trixie said dismissively, ‘I wasn’t planning on staying up here and drinking myself stupid today if that’s what you’re implying.”

“I wasn’t suggesting that.” Patsy backed off instantly, embarrassed by her own nagging as she tried to find something else to talk about. ‘It’s just a bit odd for you to be sick so much don’t you think?”

“Maybe I have an eating disorder.” Trixie suggested smiling wanly, her chest sucking in air.

Patsy rolled her eyes, unamused. “I was actually thinking about something more likely.”

“Like withdrawals?” Trixie mimicked testily in a good passing imitation of Patsys voice.

“Or,’ Patsy hesitated wretchedly as something presented itself to her in a flash of suspicion. ‘Trixie, you don’t think- You don’t think that maybe... that you could be, erm, you know-“ Patsy trailed off, her hand gesturing to her own stomach pathetically.

Trixie tracked the movements owlishly. “Or what? I could just be fat? I’ve only put on three pounds. Do you want me to get an eating disorder?”

“No!’ Patsy nudged the bathroom mat with her toe, straightening it to the edge of the bath. ‘I was just thinking about timings that’s all. You’ve been yacking up nearly every morning this week... That could be a symptom of something couldn’t it?”

“It could be a symptom of a lot of things Patsy.” Trixie replied pertly, finishing her drink and put it down. Probably planning on walking out.

Patsy bit her tongue, concern making her continue. “You know what I’m trying to say though.”

“Not really.” Trixie was peeling strands of hair that had clumped together with her fingers disinterestedly.

Patsy decided to take the bull by the horns. “Morning sickness.’ She said bluntly. ‘I was suggesting that it could be morning sickness. I mean,’ Patsy laughed uncomfortably, ‘look, when did you last do the deed with Tom?”

Trixie had stiffened, her face starting to get back its colour. “That’s not really any of your business Pats.”

“Yeah, trust me I’m not enjoying it,’ Patsy qualified wretchedly, ‘but it is possible isn’t it? I mean, birds do it, bees do it-“

“You know,’ Trixie interrupted coldly, ‘I don’t come to your station and start telling you your business. I’m a nurse, you don’t think that I’d know if I was pregnant?”

“But the timeline fits,’ Patsy persisted doggishly. ‘Couldn’t you be pregnant? Just a little bit?”

“No.’ Trixie stared at Patsy, ‘the idea’s ludicrous. I might as well ask you if you were pregnant.”

Patsy chewed her lip but took the bait. Being around Trixie these days was too much like hard work, it was like treading on egg shells no matter what you said. In a show of surrender Patsy raised her hands in the air. “Hey, if I was up the duff it would have to be Jesus.”

“But it would still be more likely than me.’ Trixie said far more quietly, waspish and tight. ‘I can’t get pregnant, we both know that.”

“It was never confirmed that you were the problem Trix.’ Patsy consoled softly, wishing that she could stop the pain her friend was in. She wished she knew how to help people. ‘I suppose you haven’t slept with anyone else since-“

“So Tom text me this morning.’ Trixie interrupted this possibility with a note of finality to her voice and just a dash of something terribly close to excitement.

It derailed Patsy entirely and she stared at her friend in confusion. “Oh?” She asked, intrigued.

“Yes,’ Trixie got to her feet, a manic brightness filling her face. ‘We’re meeting one another this afternoon, he says he wants to see me.” There was a definite bounce now. Trixies smile would have been pretty if she didn’t look like she was ill.

“Where?” Patsy asked the question only because Trixie seemed so keen to be asked. A thrum of concern loomed through her.

Trixie gave a hum of satisfaction. “Our place.” She answered smugly.

Patsy watched her friend warily, aware of potential eggs about to be trod on.

“Why would he want to do that?’ Patsy asked cautiously. ‘I thought you two decided that you weren’t communicating anymore? You’ve already got your stuff out of the house.”

“Who knows?’ Trixie rubbed her neck, an old flirtatious habit she’d never shaken. ‘Perhaps he’s seen the error of his ways.” Trixie tried very hard not to let the hope show but Patsy still saw it.

Patsy heart sank.

“You really think he’s going to ask you back?” Patsy couldn’t stop the surprise and disbelief bleeding into her voice. She didn’t want to. Trixie sounded too excited and it left her stomach churning with worry. Trixie was so fragile at the moment.

Trixie shrugged, unwilling to answer but smiling mysteriously none the less. “Let’s just say that I, well I sensed a definite tone... He said he’d missed me.”

Patsy shook her head, forever the bringer of bad news. “Trix... I don’t want to burst your bubble but he’s moved on. Barbara’s already moved-“

“I thought’ Trixie snapped, her faint aura of happiness disappearing instantly and an ugly look growing in her eyes. ‘That we’d agreed not to say her name.”

Patsy backed off. Not strong enough for another argument today.

“Yeah, okay, sorry. What do I know right? I was just looking out for you that’s all.”

“I’m a grown woman Pats.’ Trixie had fished out a hairbrush from the side and was dragging it through her hair forcefully. Hair pulled away from her scalp and into the brush but Trixie didn’t flinch. ‘I can look after myself just fine.”

“So I’ve seen,’ Patsy muttered pointedly, arms folded, ‘when I think of world class self care you’re definitely the name that pops to mind Trixie.”

The two women stared at each other for a moment, the unsaid retorts hovering between them and then Trixie laughed, the tension breaking instantly as she sank back down to the bath and reached for her mug.

“I sound like an idiot don’t I?” Trixie asked still laughing. The laughter sounded wrong though, her eyes were too shiny.

Patsy pushed her thumbs into the pockets of her pyjama bottoms and bit her lip.

“I love Trix, you know that right? I really do love you.”

“I know you do.” Trixie gave Patsy a rueful smile that still didn’t meet her eyes. ‘I know it sounds crazy. Me and Tom...’ she shook her head and spared Patsy a condescending look. ‘I can’t explain it. You just don’t understand what it’s like to be in love properly Pats, you never have. He’s my husband. That sort of thing means something to some people.”

Patsy felt the comments like physical slaps. Her hand tightened around soft cotton, needing something to hold on to that wasn’t Trixies neck but forced herself to smile back.

“Speaking of love I don’t understand. I don’t suppose you’d do me a favour and take Seppie to school for me this morning?” Patsy tried to bat her lashes.

A shame that trick only worked on warm blooded women.

Trixie gave Patsy a slow, appraising look. “Sure,’ She said with awful sarcasm, ‘book me in for a domestic at the gates when I see that bitch any time you like.”

“Yeah, never mind,’ Patsy sighed in defeat, ‘stupid question. Just a thought.”

Patsy went back downstairs. Not really sure about the time but aware that they’d probably be late if she didn’t switch it up a gear. She definitely didn’t want to get caught signing Seppie in by an inquisitive Phyllis.

Or a determined Delia at that.

That idea left Patsy half yearning and half panicked. She still hadn’t allowed herself to think about what to do. Last night she’d run away from it but the truth never did go away.

She needed to check her phone and- What? Call her?

Patsy wasn’t usually the one who called anyone back. She didn’t even think she’d bothered with Val.

She had to use all of her self control not to pick up her mobile as she came back into the kitchen to find Seppie laying on the sofa with Neil. Apparently unconcerned that school beckoned. Fern had obviously slipped away upstairs and left Patsy the hard task in punishment.

Patsy girded her loins.

It was not a pleasant experience having to dislodge Seppie from her nest on the sofa. Seppie allowed herself to be taken upstairs to get changed but the attitude striking out from the five year old continued to wave about unchecked.

She stalked around her bedroom in a mingled daze of confused grumpiness she couldn’t explain or control when Patsy put her down. Kicking at her duvet.

The tension only grew as Seppie refused to put on her uniform. Even choosing socks became a battle as Seppie pushed away each pair in turn, her temper spiralling until it broke when Patsy tried vainly to tug a pair of pink socks onto her feet in exasperation.

Seppie kicked them off angrily waved a frantic NO and then pushed her face in her hands and burst into confused tears.

Patsy caught sight of her own face in the reflection of the window, her mouth hanging open in exhaustion. Abraham stared back at her. His face, her face. Two sides of the same grubby coin.

What are the wages of sin?

She pretended she hadn’t seen it as she gave up on dreams of brushing her teeth and settled for pulling Seppie into her lap and rocking her until she calmed down.

She should have expected this really. Too selfish with her own crap to consider Seppie.

Yesterday had been a busy day, a very good day it was true, but still it had been busy. Possibly too busy. Too many new things, too many good things for Seppie to process. Now it was tomorrow and the busy day was over but Seppie still wasn’t over it. All of those emotions, all of those new experiences clumping together into a congealing soup she couldn’t tred through easily.

It was overloading and Seppie didn’t know what to do with it all.

Patsy recalled the few days after they’d moved in. Seppies nightmares had been really bad for weeks afterwards. All the good stuff burning reminders of how bad it had all been.

In her arms Seppie mouthed against her wrist. Non sensical movements.

Patsy stroked her ear consolingly, angry at herself. Of course she’d be needy today. Today Seppie would want the small normalities she was barely growing used to, everything else simply wouldn’t feel right. A five year old wouldn’t know how to deal with that. Hell, Patsy didn’t always know how to deal with changes like that.

Delia popped through her head again and Patsy shook herself.

Patsy rubbed Seppies back, sensing a slight loosening of muscles as calm drifted back and briefly contemplated calling in sick, keeping Seppie with her. Spending the day at home to keep an eye on things until she perked up again. In the end Patsy demurred. She didn’t entirely trust her own judgement; uncomfortably aware of how much she didn’t want to chance across Delia.

Besides, it was Saturday tomorrow. They could all go to Helens and Seppie could have her down time with the family then. Somewhere nice and calm. Maybe they could go to the beach.

Seppie seemed to reluctantly agree with this proposal in theory when Patsy put it to her fifteen minutes later. That was to say that she at least allowed her uniform to be put on and Patsy to get changed which was almost the same thing.

Fern was dressed when they came down stairs and mooching by the curtains. As Patsy came into view Fern dropped the heavy material and stood guiltily with her back to it. Her cheeks unusually flushed.

Busted.

Grinning and unwisely allowing Seppie to get view of the sofa again Patsy sauntered over to the window and peeked over her eldest daughters head. As she’d suspected a certain lanky red head was waiting at the gates; his face expectant and nervous.

Fern wouldn’t quite meet Patsys eye when Patsy looked at her.

“Checking out your escape route eh?” Pasty filled the silence, winking.

Ferns cheeks, if possible, reddened a few more shades of rouge. “I was just checking to see if the bus had come that was all.” She muttered in embarrassment.

Patsy sighed and draped an arm around Ferns bony shoulders. “Fern, there’s a dreamy boy outside though isn’t there?”

“Urgh.’ Fern made an almost convincing grimace. ‘Ollie? Per-lease. He’s pathetic.”

“Yeah,’ Patsy poked Ferns ribs and the teenager folded up giggling despite herself, ‘but he’s still a little bit dreamy right?”

“W- Patsy!’ Fern gasped. Escaping fast hands breathlessly, looking like the kid she was meant to be for a moment. ‘Ollie is so not dreamy. Who even says dreamy anymore anyway? You’re so embarrassing sometimes.”

“Hey,’ Patsy shrugged easily. ‘I can’t help it; it’s the gay agenda.”

“The gay agenda is you embarrassing me?” Fern queried sarcastically.

Patsy winked. “Yep. It’s in the purple charter. Pretty much the whole agenda in fact. Always embarrass your kids at all times. Sorry kid,’ Patsy have a theatrical sigh, ‘it’s bigger than the both of us.”

“You’re lying.”

“Fine. It’s the kids thing and minor tsunamis but!-’ Patsy raised an admonishing finger, ‘between you and me it’s only the show offs who do that bit. Too much jumping makes me sea sick. Not got the knees for it.”

“Patsy!’ Fern practically wailed in frustration. ‘What am I going to do? He’s just waiting out there for me... I mean it’s not like he’s my boyfriend now.”

“Do you want him to be your boyfriend?”

Fern gave a non committal head shake. Patsy rocked on the toes of her boots, squinting outside at the waiting boy.

Fleetingly she recalled being sixteen. Helen had never been that much help diving these sorts of situations. Too often if a girl came looking for Patsy at home Helen would let them in and make them a drink.

Whenever Patsy complained about this Helen had merely stared her down and told her firmly that she wouldn’t aid bad behaviour.

Patsy took a deep breath, thinking fast. “Okay. I’ll give you the out Helen never did me. Go out through the garden, I’ll distract him, give you a five minute head start.”

“You will?” Ferns eyes shone as she mooned up at Patsy.

“Get your bag. Go on or you’ll be late.”

Fern didn’t need to be told twice, stopping to drop a kiss on Seppies head and to give Patsy a shy squeeze she slammed into the garden.

Patsy would have laughed if she wasn’t all too aware that she wished someone could do the same thing for her.

Seppie was standing by the door with her shoes on for once, an all knowing smile on her face.

“She’s definitely going to marry him.’ Seppie informed Patsy simply as she stepped through the front door and down to Ollie.

Ollie waited for the to come down the path expectantly, his eyes flickering from Patsy to the door.

Patsy gave him an apologetic smile as they got close enough and pointed a thumb at the house by way of explanation. “Sorry Ollie, she’s running a bit late today. Could you give her five minutes?”

Ollies smile shrunk just a little but to his credit he didn’t lose it completely. “I thought I’d walk her to the bus.” He said, his voice faltering.

“She’s already gone.’ Seppie signed at him calmly, ‘you should chase her.”

Still fixing a manic smile on her face Patsy manoeuvred Seppie onwards and into the car.

Ollie was still there when they drove off, waiting by the gate and Patsy felt bad for him. She’d have to talk to Fern about him at some point.

Add it to the list.

Delia wasn’t waiting for Patsy when she got to the school.

Patsy wasn’t sure if she was happy about this or not. She’d certainly felt exposed as she handed Seppie off to Claire at the gates. She’d been red faced, expecting Delia to simply appear from nowhere. To demand some kind of explanation of last nights fuckery.

As if Patsy would have some kind of answer for her.

She’d been so distracted that she’d barely listened as Claire tried to pump her for information about the fire. The Facebook warriors had let the news out and Claire was intrigued by the prospect that Patsy might be involved in the investigation.

“So do you ever wear uniform when you’re at work?”

“What?” Patsy had been watching Seppie run to the playground, frowning as she followed the line of tarmac to Delias classroom. Would she be in there already?

“Barbara told me you were single?” Claire had apparently given up all attempt at guile.

Patsy blinked at her stupidly, realising too late that Claire was standing very close. Her chest pressing against Patsys arm.

Patsy glanced up at Delias classroom again and thought she saw the blinds twitch. Instinctively Patsy took an automatic step back, guilt she couldn’t understand flashing before she could stop it.

“I’ve got to go, busy day.” Patsy bit at Claire, not really caring that the woman looked after her slightly offended as Patsy wheeled back towards the jeep.

The yummy mummy’s club were assembled close by and Patsy felt Lornas eyes on her when she passed.

Someone laughed from the pack and Patsy had to fight the urge to turn around and ask Lorna what exactly she thought was so funny.

Getting into the car gave her the pretence of safety and she took advantage of it; letting out the breath she’d been holding as she closed her eyes.

Almost instantly the phone in her pocket rattled and she cracked open an eye as she felt it.

Delia?

Patsy paused, not sure if she wanted to know but not really in a position to come up with more excuses.

Had she seen Patsy with Claire.

Probably thought she was fucking Claire too because of it, Patsy thought savagely. Wasn’t as though Delia had any trust in her was it?

Restlessly Patsy pulled out her phone and thumbed in the key code. It wasn’t Delia this time but Delia had tried to call her. Ignoring this fact for the moment Patsy opened the newest message. Kim. Short and snappy wanting a lift from the fire station.

There was another one from Chummy, details about the victims body. Patsy blew past it, only glancing long enough to pick out the time early this morning.

Heart racing in anticipation, barely able to muster a snort for the fact that she was being used a stand in free taxi for her colleague as she exited the messages and went back to the home page.

Three texts. One voicemail. All Delia.

Patsy stared down at the little boxes on the screen, slightly blown away at the scale of attempts.

It had been late when she’d left. Patsy wouldn’t have bothered for at least a week if it were her.

Delia, apparently, was a bit more fast paced.

Patsy flicked through the texts against her better judgement. Soaking up the slight contact.

Delia [22:47]: I’m home safe... Could you call me please?

Delia [02:13]: Pats, I’m going to bed. Listen to my voicemail. Call me.

Delia [07:42]: Morning Pats.

Patsy flicked through them in turn, disappointed somehow.

Well, what had she expected, an insidious voice coiled inside her brain asked.

More words maybe?

Patsy wasn’t sure what Delia could say to her that she’d really want to here anyway. I’m sorry was a small thing and it didn’t make it go away. Patsy would have to let it go if they wanted to move forward and she didn’t think she was ready to do that.

Would Delia have talked to Caroline about all of this? Would Caroline have had much the same conversation as Trixie last night? Or would it have gone differently?

Patsy tried to summon up some idea of what Caroline would look like but all she managed was a soft sort of murky figure with eyes. She didn’t know Delias type. She didn’t know Delia at all really.

As if drawn to it Patsys finger hovered over the voicemail. It was stupid to admit but she wanted to hear Delias voice.

She wanted to talk to Delia. She wanted Delia not to have done what she’d done.

Patsy clicked onto the voicemail and pulled the phone up to her ear.

“New message received at 23:35... Patsy, hi, it's me. Delia. Err, Delia Busby.”

Patsy heard the voice like lightning, heard the inflections and something poisonous seemed to burn in her veins. Suddenly she was enraged. Gritting her teeth she ended the call abruptly. Her hands shaking as she threw the phone onto the spare seat and put the car into gear.

Driving to the fire station took longer than necessary given the traffic and Patsy turned up the radio for something to focus on. She wanted any kind of distraction, too angry to think.

She hated Delia. She hated Delia for what she’d done to her. She hated how badly this hurt. She didn’t want to care. She didn’t want this anymore.

It was done. It was so done.

The car park was half full when Patsy pulled up for Kim. Patsy could have gotten out and got her but pure stubbornness kept Patsy in the car.

She might be a taxi but she was damned if she’d be Kim’s fucking doorman too.

When Kim still hadn’t come out ten minutes later though Patsys patience was dangerously thin. The radio had long since been abandoned. Her brain was too full of things she wanted to say, wanted to shout.

At Kim. At Delia. At just about anyone who even dared to breathe the wrong way around her.

Why full name herself anyway? Delia Busby? As if Patsys wouldn’t recognise her instantly? As though Patsy had a long list of Delias leaving her voicemails to choose from.

Patsy sniffed and pressed her knee hard enough to hurt against the bottom console of her steering wheel.

Probably exactly what Delia thought. She’d believed Patsy was sleeping with Trixie just from a third hand party. She clearly didn’t trust Patsy at all.

What were the wages of sin? Was it this?

Five minutes on and Kim still hadn’t shown her face yet. Patsy looked over at her phone resignedly and picked it up like a house proud mother disposing of a dead animal.

She wasn’t going to torture herself and listen to the whole thing. She didn’t fancy hearing Delias pathetic attempts to dump her properly.

Because that’s what it would be wouldn’t it?

Wouldn’t it?

Clicking her tongue at her own mental ramblings Patsy typed Kim a quick warning text to get her butt out here before she was left to find her own way. She watched until the message bleeped to say it had been sent and then sat, clasping her phone between both hands.

Fighting her own wants badly.

What would Delia say to her? What could she possibly say?

Patsys chest felt too tight. Something undefinable clutching at her. Delias voice was so annoyingly kind.

Delia. Delia Busby.

Patsy would have made a James Bond joke to that if they’d been talking. Delia would have laughed.

Would she find Patsy funny now? Did she even care?

Three text messages though... It might mean something.

Again, Patsy thought about Chastity. She wished she had someone to talk to about everything. Someone who understood her.

Delia had understood her. Patsy had thought that Delia had understood her.

She hadn’t believed in Patsy though. She hadn’t trusted Patsy word to be good enough.

But she’d still text her three times...

Hating herself, making a mental note to get better at decision making in the near future, Patsy pressed the voicemail for a second time. Her spare hand gripping the steering wheel hard enough for the knuckles to crack warningly.

Stupid, masochistic-

“New message received at 23:35. Patsy, hi, it's me. Delia. Err, Delia Busby... Which is a stupid thing to say because you have caller ID and you already know my last name.' Delia gave a half chuckle and took a deep breath.

Patsy could feel her blood pressure rising where she sat, her hand squeezing the fragile tube of metal and glass like it was the only thing to cling on to. Like she was drowning.

‘I realise that I'm probably not who you want to hear from right now but I couldn't just- We need to talk about this Pats... You're probably asleep right now, I'm heading that way myself.' Delia paused, Patsy could imagine her in her house, the phone pressed against her face. Thinking.

Thinking what though?

'But I can’t, I can’t go to sleep without saying something to you first, I'm just not sure what that thing is really.’

Patsy felt her jaw clench. Well? Here it came. She’d messed this whole thing up.

‘I really want to talk to you Pats.’ Delia sounded bleak, ‘I want you to talk to me. Back there, it all went nuts and I don't want you to think that I ambushed you on purpose. I didn't want it to turn out the way it has. I didn't want to hurt you and I understand that you're angry and you've got a right to be but’ Delia paused, something drumming against a hard surface. Probably fingers. ‘I had to call you tonight because, ignoring the last bit, although’ Delia chuckled again hurriedly, ‘I mean maybe not the last last which was pretty good even if it shouldn't have happened quite like-' Delia cut off as she took another long breath, flustered. Patsy felt her lips twitch despite herself. 'God, I'm fucking this up aren’t I?’

Delia seemed to be reading Patsys mind. Without noticing it Patsys free hand loosened its grip on the steering wheel.

‘Okay,’ Delias voice wobbled dangerously. ‘Lets just ignore that last bit. I’m rambling. Don't know whats wrong with me, sometimes I swear to God I just stop thinking. I once gave a girl in a club completely the wrong number and had to explain to my mother the next day why she was getting random messages from a woman she’d never met- But you don’t need to hear about that either. Okay, forget that last bit too. God. Shut up anytime you want to Delia.’

Patsy had never heard Delia this flustered before. It was annoyingly endearing.

‘Suppose I probably should have practiced this before I made the actual call... I had a really great time tonight Patsy; seeing you again was really... And it was great seeing the girls and the dog...’

Something drummed harder in the background. Definitely nervous fingers. Patsy counted Delias breaths.

‘I really really like you Patience Mount. Just remember that.’ Delia might have whispered it but Patsy heard it clearly, something warm bubbling up in her chest at the admission.

‘Look, I'm going to go, hopefully you haven't hung up yet... I realise you probably have but if you are still listening to this then do you-‘ Delia took a deep breath. Brave. Patsy couldn’t help but marvel at the bravery. ‘Do you think that you could call me back? Or I could call you again?... Just don't- Don't give up on us Pats. Please. Not until we both give it a proper go of things... I'll try and call again tomorrow, or you could... So. Bye Patsy."

The line went dead.

Patsy couldn’t let go of the phone. The mechanical voice asked her if she wanted more options.

Too fucking right she did.

At last Kim finally appeared. Slamming her way into the car, two cups of coffee balanced precariously in one massive hand. Patsy dropped the phone instinctively and had to bend to pick it up. Her heart flutteringly nervously.

“You took your time.” Patsy barked in way of greeting once upright again, unable to quite shrug off her residual sour mood in the face of such an easy target to vent at.

Kim’s didn’t answer. Her face unchanged as she handed Patsy one of the coffees and settled herself more comfortably in the chair. She reached blindly behind her for the seatbelt and then fumbled for the clip still not looking at Patsy.

“Good morning to you too.” Patsy said with somewhat less chutzpah, eyeing her companion without much interest.

Kim looked terrible close up. Her usually tidy number two haircut was unusually messy, her shirt was creased too and, unless Patsy was mistaken, looked like it had been the one she’d worn yesterday. Her cheeks were very white and her eyes too pink.

She looked like someone who’d been crying and the idea of Kim Sanders, the block of wood herself, having emotions in any way more complicated than stoic boredom made Patsy blink.

Kim swallowed hard, chewing her tongue as she stared purposefully into the front windshield. Patsy had the sudden sensation of a voyeur into someone else’s misery and felt a wash of guilt at the opening snark. She looked down at her coffee, embarrassed to realise Kim had bought the expensive brand and toyed at the plastic lid with her thumb as she thought for a moment.

“Busy day ahead.” Patsy tried hopefully and when this didn’t work she reached out with some concern to put her hand on Kim’s forearm, shocking her out of her daydream.

“Hello? Earth to Kim. Hey, are you alright?”

Kim’s head snapped up instantly at the touch, focussing on Patsy blearily as though she’d only just noticed that she was there.

“I-‘ Kim’s voice came out strangled and she swallowed hard as she forced herself under control. ‘Fine Mount. Just- Just a long night, that’s all.”

Patsy removed her hand. “Makes two of us. You sure you’re going to be alright coming out with me? It’s not strictly necessary and we could-“

“No.’ Kim sat straighter in her chair, a stubborn set to her square face. ‘No. I’m fine.”

“Right.’ Patsy let Kim have her moment; understanding how irritating it could be to be pushed when someone wasn’t ready. ‘Well we’ve got a fun packed day. I called Chummy at the morgue and she’s going over our victim this morning. Probably be done by the time we get there. Then we can go and meet Cynthia Miller, see if we can eliminate her from enquiries and then,’ Patsy paused like a parent handing out sweeties, ‘you can go back to the office and fill the DI in.”

“Right.’ Kim mumbled distractedly. Patsy wasn’t really sure she’d heard as she put the car into motion and they began the short drive together in silence.

They got to the second traffic light before Kim spoke.

“Mount... Pats?” God. She sounded rough. Patsy wondered if Kim had been drinking.

“Yeah?”

“You’re good at understanding women aren’t you?” Kim hadn’t given up staring through the glass and Patsy decided to take her cue from that.

She was intrigued despite herself. Kim had never been anything but uptight professionalism.

“Not really.” Patsy answered simply.

“But women like you.” Kim went on slowly.

Patsy snorted, amused despite herself at the irony thinking about a variety of options to that one. “Not particularly.”

“But you know how to talk to women.” Kim insisted, annoyed now.

Patsys hands flexed on the wheel. Weighing up her answer. “Depends on what the conversations about. Why?”

“Doesn’t matter.’ Kim mumbled, rubbing her hand over her face tiredly. ‘You’d just make a joke of it.”

Patsy bit her lip thinking about Trixies parting shot.

“Oh go on,’ She said bracingly, ‘try me. You know you want to. You look like you had a rough night.”

There was silence as they approached a slowing line of traffic. Then Kim heaved her body to angle towards Patsy.

“If...’ Kim paused, assembling her thoughts with a poor attempt at guile spreading across her face. ‘Suppose... Suppose that you were seeing someone, sort of casually but not really casually and then they broke it off without an explanation when you thought everything was going really well... What would you do? Would you try and find out why? Or should you just walk away? I mean,’ Kim went on looking tortured, ‘if neither of you actually said out loud that you were maybe hoping that it might become a thing... Then that means it probably wasn’t going to be a thing to start off with doesn’t it?”

It’s must be my face, Patsy reflected as she stopped behind a car with a broken tail light. I must have one of those faces that says ‘tell me all your troubles.’

“That sounds like a straightforward sort of misunderstanding to me Kim.” Patsy said eventually, reminding herself not to take the piss instantly.

Kim’s forehead creased in confusion. “It does?”

“Yeah,’ Patsy felt her phone like a lead weight in her pocket. ‘One person wanting more than the other person. Tale as old as time. Not a lot you can do in those situations; it’s one of those immovable object and unstoppable force things.”

“So you think you’d leave it there then?” Kim asked, sinking back into her seat looking dejected.

Patsy ran her tongue across the back of her teeth thoughtfully. She’d always been nosey, it was why she’d liked CID in the first place. Kim presented something of a conundrum. Patsy hadn’t ever considered Kim might be in a relationship.

She probably should have asked.

“It depends,’ Patsy said slowly, still keeping her eyes firmly fixed on the road ahead. ‘What were you- Sorry, what was I doing before the dumping?”

“What do you mean?” Kim sounded confused now and Patsy knew that she was thinking about geographical locations.

“I mean,’ Patsy explained patiently, ‘what was the nature of the relationship. Is it just sex or is there dates involved?”

“Depends what you constitute as a date.”

“Okay, so did you talk about things other than sex? Did you sit down and eat a meal with each other? Did you spend time getting to know each other? Did you get a vibe that it meant more than just sex.” Patsys throat burned as she said it.

Unbidden she felt the ghost of Delias arm around her shoulders. The two of them eating pizza. Talking.

Walking with her bike.

It had felt like more even then. It felt like years since it had happened. So much had happened. Black clouds hanging over her golden day.

God, golden day? Patsy mentally shook herself thinking that she’d royally screwed herself over. It was done. Over. And yet she couldn’t shake the woman. The feel of Delia had burrowed too deep, Patsy felt bruised to the bone and it hurt.

It hadn’t ever hurt like this, the gnawing background ache. No one else had ever-

“Well there was definitely sex.’ Kim cut across Patsys meandering thoughts and Patsy started as she realised the light had turned green and someone was honking behind her. ‘Lots of sex but there was other stuff too. I mean there was texting, waking up and finding a morning text sort of stuff... and we talked for hours. We went even to the theatre.”

Patsy willed herself to focus on someone else’s problems. Anything was a good distraction right now. “Sounds promising. How long had it been going on?”

“About two months...’ Kim gave a shy sort of smile. ‘It just kind of happened; neither of us were expecting it.”

Patsy thought of Delia and her chest pulsed longingly. Kim cleared her throat, waiting for a response and Patsy hastened to make one. She whistled through her teeth, trying to look impressed. “Kimothy, you dog, whose the lucky lady?”

“I didn’t say it was me!’ Kim said quickly, her ears turning red, ‘this is simply a hypothetical situation. And don’t call me Kimothy, you know I hate it.” Kim added as an afterthought.

“A hypothetical situation?” Patsy repeated dubiously, grinning.

“I’m... I’m reading a book about peer interactions in the work place and I read that car chat can increase team feeling and thus outcomes for work.”

Patsy was impressed with that lie; she filed it away for use on another day. She’d always appreciated the fine art of stretching the truth to breaking point. Kim was a mere apprentice to the bullshit Patsy could produce in a tight corner though.

“Right,’ Patsy drawled. ‘So, you’re telling me that this hypothetical situation isn’t based on anything that might, let’s just pick something at random here, you and a potential lady doing the nasty?”

“No.”

“Fine.’ Patsy drummed her thumbs on the steering wheel as she let a car join the street in front of them. ‘So in this hypothetical situation I’m the one that’s been dumped. Correct?”

“Dumped is a very harsh term.’ Kim rubbed her wrist fretfully. ‘You only get dumped if it’s a relationship don’t you? So do you think it was a relationship or not?”

Patsy sighed but made her voice gentle. “I dunno. It sounds a lot like a relationship to me sweetheart although granted I’m probably not the right one to ask. Don’t you have some girlfriends you could talk to about it?” Someone even vaguely well adjusted?

“No.’ Kim said in a voice no taller than knee high. ‘That’s why I asked you... I sort of thought that you were my friend Mount.”

“Oh.” Patsy stared hard at the road ahead, suddenly awkward as the silence wound out like a pointed thread between them.

“I’ve never been very good at making friends, dating, that sort thing.’ Kim admitted sheepishly to the blushing quiet. ‘Dating in particular has always been a bit of a struggle. I never know what to say and then when I do try I just end up mucking it all up anyway.’ She gave a nervous chuckle, ‘Well, I suppose you already know that don’t you.”

“Kim... We didn’t exactly date.” Patsy said awkwardly, rightfully feeling like a shit.

“I know,’ Kim reassured pleasantly, ‘but I did like you. I think I just didn’t say it right and I know I freaked you out when we slept together.”

An understatement really. Kim had stared at Patsy. The whole time, her eyes wide open and staring as Patsy recalled. Patsy recalled too the unanswered calls from Kim afterwards.

“I’m sorry.’ Patsy muttered stallingly, ‘I was a bitch. I should have called you back.”

“I understand, don’t worry, you were never going to want to date someone like me.”

Patsys insides seemed to be knotting themselves together with uncomfortable guilt and she rushed to correct it. “No- That’s not-Kim, I like you, as a friend, it was me. I’m not one for second dates. That’s all.”

“Yeah I get it.’ Kim didn’t quite pull off nonchalant but she still made a good attempt. ‘It’s not like I wasn’t warned.”

Patsy felt a familiar sinking feeling. She hated this conversation only slightly more than the fact she’d had this conversation more than once before. “God, who by?”

“Rachel, she told me you weren’t one for sticking around.”

“Rachel?’ Patsy tried hard to wrack her brain for the face that matched the name but came up blank. ‘I don’t remember any Rachel.”

“She worked traffic for a bit.” Kim supplied without heat.

“She’s... blonde?” Patsy pondered vacantly.

“She’s brunette.” Kim corrected.

Patsy cleared her throat, feeling cornered somehow. “Nice girl.” She offered hopefully.

“She’s alright.’ Kim sniffed dismissively, already moving on to her own point. ‘So what do you think then? Would you try and fight for it? Maybe see if it’s a thing.”

“I don’t know,’ Patsy really didn’t. She didn’t do this sort of thing; she certainly wouldn’t put herself in a category for advise on the heart, that had always been Helens territory. Still, she tried. ‘Depends on the woman I suppose. If they really matter, if you think there’s something special... Shouldn’t you try again? If you can get over yourself... That sort of thing doesn’t happen every day does it?” Patsy realised as she said it that she’d fallen into her own mental slip stream.

Delias face, Delia had told her to call... So that meant there was a chance didn’t it?

Patsy looked at Kim out of the corner of her eye. Kim was contemplating her coffee as though she could fathom the mind of her erstwhile companion in its murky depths.

“But what if she doesn’t feel the same way?” Kim asked her thumb distantly, ‘what if I just built it all up inside my head and I’m totally on the wrong page? I mean she was so cold. It felt so final.”

“Talk to her.’ Patsy advised them both decisively. ‘If it hurts then it’s got to mean something hasn’t it?”

“That’s the problem though. I can’t talk to her, I’ve tried calling, texting. I even sent an email and,’ Kim clicked her fingers in frustration, ‘nothing. Not a word. She just came at me with it totally out of the blue, told me it was over. Bam. No warning.”

“Maybe she thought it was something and freaked out. Women can be like that.’ Patsy advised sagely, all too aware of where she fell on that particular demographic. ‘Maybe you should do what she said, try going out but sort of make sure she knows you’re going out.”

“Jealousy? You really think that will work?” Kim didn’t sound convinced.

Patsy shrugged as she finally pulled up at the morgue. “Well I’m no expert but sometimes people need a kick up the arse. If she doesn’t come and get you then you’ve lost nothing and at least it’ll take your mind off of it.”

Delia had told her to call her. Was that supposed to be Patsys kick up the arse?

“I don’t know. That all sounds rather childish.” Kim pointed out evenly, frowning over at Patsy.

Patsy felt her face flush, annoyed at her own shortcomings. Painfully aware of them already. “Look, you asked me what I think and that’s what I’d do. She pushed you away so make her know that you’re not waiting on her every word. Seriously, the world is your mollusc Kim. Go crazy. Cut your hair, polish your scalp. Shave your knuckles, douse yourself in your finest unguents, go to the pub, buy a pretty girl a drink, plough her into next week.’ Patsy yawned lazily. ‘What’s the worst that could happen?”

“I do not have hairy knu-“ Kim began, her face red with indignation.

“I just mean,’ Patsy cut across her firmly, ‘that you’ve already done the donkey work. Now it’s her turn to put in the effort. You’re worth fighting for Kim-No,’ Patsy added because Kim had made a derisive noise, ‘no. You are. You’re great and if this woman can’t see that then more fool her. Get yourself out there, paint the town red. Don’t hold out hope for someone whose not on the bus with you.”

They stared at one another across the car, Kim’s eyes suddenly tracing Patsys face with something like surprise. Then they fell on Patsys neck.

Patsy had tried to pick something to hide the marks Delia had left but there was a lot of them.

Kim leaned forward, too big and too real.

“Are you offering to help me Mo- Pats?”

Patsy licked her lips, they were dry and it stung just a bit. For half a second she almost considered it.

Hadn’t this just been her advise? Hadn’t she always been a believer in the old saying that the only way to get over a woman was to get underneath another one? It hadn’t been that terrible with Kim and, despite everything, Patsy felt raw.

It was what Delia had done.

Tit for tat and maybe she could chalk it up to a genuine mistake for both of them... Besides, Patsy wanted someone to hold her just for a little while and Kim wasn’t proposing the romance of the century. Just a quick tryst. Patsys signature move for well over a decade.

Kim took hold of Patsys hand and it would have been so easy to let her stay like that. Kim had large hands, broad and warm.

But it felt wrong, the weight and the shape weren’t the right ones. Not Delia. Not who she wanted.

Patsy didn’t want to remember but she did. Delia trying to hold her hand, the sweet shape of her. The confusing cold sweat of guilt at the mere suggestion of anyone else in the place Delia had somehow carved into Patsys heart.

Delia had told her to call her.

Patsy pulled her hand away falteringly, trying to make light of her own confusion.

“You don’t mean that, not really.’ Patsy forced herself to laugh, thinking about Nero playing his fiddle as she did it. ‘I just told you; you’re too much of a catch for the likes of me.” Everyone and no one. No one deserved the shit storm that Patsy was. Kim deserved better. Delia did too and maybe Patsy would have tried to tell her that if only Delia hadn’t already realised that fact for herself.

“What if I don’t care?” Kim’s words sliced through Patsys confusion and bounced between them.

Patsys fingers twitched in the safety of her lap. Unused to declining any invitation. Unused to sticking around long enough for consequences.

“I’m, I’m sort of not available.” Patsy mumbled shyly to her hands as though saying it that way would make it sound less ridiculous.

Didn’t work.

But Delia had told Patsy to call her.

“Oh,’ Kim paused thoughtfully, comprehension dawning. ‘You’re seeing someone?”

Patsy definitely couldn’t look at Kim now. She felt like a fool.

“Not... Not exactly.” She muttered, wishing the ground could swallow her up so she didn’t have to answer any more questions.

She didn’t have answers to give.

“I thought you said that you weren’t the second date sort of person.” Kim said with naked accusation in her tone now.

Patsy pursed her lips and took a deep breath. The concept of commitment made her feel sick. It had killed her mother. It had killed Val. It killed everyone. That’s what love had always been before Delia.

Before Delia.

“I’m not... I’m not dating anyone, it’s just,’ Patsy coughed uncomfortably, ‘it’s... Its a mess really but I... There’s this person... she’s sort of... She’s all I think about.’ Patsy bit her cheek, shocked that she’d said something so pathetic out loud. ‘I don’t really know where it’s going to go but, I don’t know, I feel like I owe it to myself to try and see what happens.”

There. Bad decisions were just too easy to make.

Patsy stared down at her hands, expecting Kim’s ire or laughter or, wildly, a freak bolt of lightning to shoot her down where she sat but nothing happened. The jeep just rocked slightly as Kim sat back in her chair and blew out a stream of air.

“So she’s the one who bit you up?” Kim asked eventually.

Patsy coloured and reached to rub at her neck self-consciously but didn’t answer. She didn’t talk about things like this. Talking had always been dangerous and Patsy had learned the lessons too well.

“So you think I should go to a bar and try my luck there.” Kim said when the silence had fanned out again, obviously deciding to take the hint.

Patsy looked at her and nodded gratefully. “Yeah, just get yourself out there. Talk to some people, it’s character building.”

“I’m not really good at that, I told you, I’m rubbish at chatting women up. Never know what to say.”

“So sit at a bar looking mysterious and wait for them to ask you.” Patsy decided it was time to get out of the car. She might not be able to run away from her troubles but she could damn well get a good head start.

“And that really works?” Kim called still sitting as Patsy pulled open the door.

“It’s always worked for me.” Patsy said over her shoulder with a slightly cocky smirk.

“Yes,’ Kim said with a trace of frost in her tone now, ‘but we can’t all be you Mount. Besides; the things people ask me are ridiculous.”

“Like what?” Patsy asked curiously as she slammed her car door shut and waited for Kim to follow before locking up.

“Just things that make no sense.’ Kim explained when she’d rounded the jeep. ‘Half the time I think everyone’s insane.”

“Seriously? Why, what are they asking you?”

“Oh, I don’t know; I was in a bar one time and this woman asked me to dance and I thought, what the hell. We had a few beers and I thought it was going really well and then,’ Kim took a deep indignant breath, ‘she asked me if I wanted to be her father. I mean I ask you, who says that?”

Patsy looked at the sky as she tried to see the world through Kim’s eyes. A possibility presented itself.

“Daddy.’ Patsy said neutrally, controlling her expression carefully, ‘she asked you to be her daddy?”

Kim sniffed, outraged at the lesbian world in general. “Yeah, imbecile. It’s biologically impossible to be anyone’s father let alone the time difference.”

“I see.’ Patsy paused delicately, ‘did you tell her that?”

“I did indeed.’ Kim said with satisfaction, ‘I told her that she should consult with a doctor to explain basic principles of anatomy and genetics at her earliest convenience and then I tried to find a YouTube video to explain the point to her. She was clearly a fool.”

“And she didn’t like that?” Patsy suggested carefully.

Kim sighed. “No, when I looked up from my phone she’d gone. She didn’t even finish her drink. I went home after that.”

Patsy watched Kim falter towards her and found a slight growth of endearment towards her.

Shaking her head Patsy offered a smile.

“Come on,’ She said quietly, ‘let’s go and see dead people.”