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Returning Tides

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Patsy was laying in her own bed on a lazy Sunday morning when she woke up, the warm spray of summer sunshine heating her face pleasantly. The cotton weave of the bed linen brushed the backs of her hands as she stretched lazily, groping for something shapeless and then she opened her eyes when she realised with disappointment that the left side of the bed was empty. Her bare feet curled against the bed post. Under her soles she could discern the tiny contradictions to the grain of the wood. She could smell coffee and the shake of the kettle from downstairs.

Ahh. So, someone was here after all?

Her curiosity only mildly piqued when she heard the snip of a radio being turned on. Smooth radio at that?

Turning over, Patsy sighed and burrowed her face into the cold pillow next to hers. It smelt clean, like shampoo and bedding fresh from the dryer. Patsy breathed it in, contentment leaving her easy and heavy.

The radio got louder though and Patsy shook her head regretfully. She was wide awake.

Muzzy eyed, Patsy rubbed her face and squinted out the window. The weather outside was already a blazing summers day. The light so golden and thick it was like syrup. The air was too sweet.

Smiling, Patsy slid out of her unmade bed and walked loose limbed down the stairs into her kitchen.

Delia was there, standing in their kitchen like she’d been there forever, humming gently to their radio while she waited for the toaster. Propping the newspaper on the kitchen counter as she sipped her coffee. She was wearing one of Patsys oversized t-shirts and it hung down to just above her knees. Her hair slung up in a messy pony tail. Patsy watched her for half a second; the yellow wall behind her suiting her mood. Sunshine and sleepy mornings.

Delia hummed louder when Patsy slid her arms around her waist from behind and nuzzled her neck sleepily. Her hair smelled like their sheets.

“Morning.’ Patsy mumbled. ‘You’re up early.”

Delia didn’t reply but she did tilt her face backwards to give Patsy more access to her neck. Patsys lips curved into a smirk and her hand dipped to find the hem of the shirt as the song changed again on the radio. Patsy tried to pick out the half familiar threads of the song as she bunched up the material and found skin. Barry Manilow? She chuckled, her breath warm on Delias throat and found herself marvelling at the instant bobbling of skin at the contact.

“I missed you.” Patsy whispered in Delia’s ear, her hands smoothing over Delia’s hip, pulling them closer. Delia’s body a comforting wall of heat that Patsy leaned into.

Delia still didn’t say anything but her coffee was abandoned when she reached behind her head to find Patsys hair and twirl it around her finger.

“We should do this more.’ Patsy sighed, resting her chin on Delias shoulder as she swayed the two of them idly to the sound of the music. ‘I like the song, I could do this forever.”

It wasn’t forever in the end. It never was. Just a few fleeting minutes but Patsy couldn’t make herself move. It was a rarity to be allowed to stay in one place. She could feel Delias chest move against her hand slowly, the pull of her lungs and the beat of her heart drumming against her palms. Too sleepy to push for anything more than this Patsy closed her eyes and tried to match Delias calm breathing.

“I love you.” Patsy told Delia quietly as the kettle rang on a never ending boil.

Eventually though the song ended with a final gleaming note, the kitchen momentarily filled with static as the next song queued and then, without warning, the air was ripped open with a harsh telephone ringing.

Patsy flinched, surprised by the sound but Delia was suddenly holding her wrist, keeping her close.

“It’s for you.” Delia said in a strange monotone.

Patsy blinked, struggling to free her hand for a second before managing it and linking their fingers together cautiously. She looked around the room, the ringing only getting louder in the silence.

“I don’t know where it’s coming from.” Patsy said, her voice echoing too much for the space.

Then Delia finally turned to face her and she was scowling, her hair a mess, her face patchy and red. “When are you going to talk to me Pats?” She demanded in a bark.

Patsy stared at her, bemused. “I don’t know what you mean. I’m right here.”

Delia snorted and shoved Patsy hard in the chest. Too hard. It hurt. Winded, Patsy was forced to step backwards, the ache over her heart burning like a brand where Delia had hit her.

“Liar! You’re not right here!’ Delia shouted, the ringing tone of the phone screeching along with her. ‘You won’t even talk to me!”

Patsy shrugged her shoulders to ease the ache and tried to take Delias hands but the brunette wouldn’t let her, slapping Patsy away angrily.

“Because I don’t know what to say to you.” Patsy shouted back. She couldn’t help it, she had to shout, the noise of the phone was so loud it was making her head ache. It was like screaming. She screwed up her eyes just to see in front of her. Delia was still shouting but Patsy couldn’t hear the words.

She felt the next shove in the chest when it came though. It shouldn’t hurt this much but Patsys chest felt like it was ripping open. She looked down and saw blood soaking through her pyjamas.

Gasping in shock, Patsy backed away, waiting for a wall to prop her up but it never came. Blindly she fell into nothing and collided hard with the wood of her living room. The telephone dying as soon as she did so. The silence was deafening as she heard herself struggling for breath.

Between her fingers blood bubbled up as she stared around her wildly. This wasn’t good. It wasn’t real.

Kneeling on wobbly legs Patsy swore and groped for the wall but found something smoother instead.

Looking up, utterly confused, Patsy realised that she was leaning up against a mirror. Full sized with a dark wooden frame. Her blood left brown smudges on the glass as she pulled herself to standing, trying to catch her breath. She was cold again; the sun had gone away.

When she glanced upwards though she forgot to breathe. She forgot what breathing was.

He was there. In her reflection. Their faces too much the same. Except she didn’t smile like that.

And he was dead.

“This isn’t real.” Patsys voice sounded feeble even to her own ears. Abraham only smiled more, his eyes crinkling with amusement.

“Don’t be sad. I’ve missed you so much little bean.” Abraham’s voice made Patsys stomach churn as his arm stretched out. Stretched out like he was going to hold her, his pale hand hovering as it touched the other side of the mirror before, with a loud crack of glass, he broke through, reaching for her through the glass.

Patsys skin seemed to recoil but she couldn’t move as his hand found her face. His fingers were in her mouth, stretching it open, her lips tearing at the corners as he forced her to smile.

“Put on a happy face Patience.’ Abraham laughed. ‘We don’t want them to see you sad now do we? Don’t let the ladies get you down.’ He was pushing himself through the mirror, his shoulders contorting as he heaved himself through solid glass. ‘You know we don’t talk to strangers.”

Revolted and panicking Patsy ripped her face away to turn and look back towards the kitchen. Delia. She wouldn’t let him near Delia. It wasn’t safe.

Delia was still in the kitchen. trapped before the threshold to the living room punching thin air. Her expression horrified as she watched.

This had to be a dream.

I have got to stop eating cheese before bed, Patsy told herself fervently. Just once it would be nice to have a wet dream where the liquid wasn’t blood.

But she’d made a mistake. She’d looked away, taken her eyes of Abraham and even as she turned back she knew it was too late. He was out of the mirror completely now. Taller than her and holding something bright and metallic in his hands.

Patsy shivered as she realised what it was. Raising her hands up to protect her face she tried to scream but the sharp hook was already flying at her, stabbing her.

Patsy closed her eyes and the darkness sucked her down. She was falling into nothing.

“Patience! Patience, wake up.”

Something called to Patsy out of the darkness. A nudging nuisance drifting behind her eyes like a bad habit.

Patsy was shaking as she tried to touch her chest and found nothing but her own skin.

“Patsy!’ The voice whined, ‘stop pretending and wake up.”

Patsys heart sank. She recognised the voice.

No. Anything but this.

Childishly, Patsy tried to turn her face away from the sound as though she could keep it at bay if she just ignored it. She knew who the caller was and what was happening. None of this was real.

She’d seen all of this too many times and she wasn’t in the mood. The only way out was through though and it had always been this way.

Even so.

Still trying to ignore the irritating fly voice pulling her reluctantly from nothing Patsy considered batting it away but gave up when someone prodded her face pointedly. “Go away,’ Patsy warned the voice bitterly, ‘just let me sleep.”

“Patience.’ The voice giggled in a hushed breath, cold fingers and small knuckles pressed into Patsys cheek as the voice tried to prise open her mouth and force a conversation. An insubstantial weight rested on her legs and dug in like they weren’t planning to leave in a hurry. Stubborn and stupid and sweet.

Huffing impatiently, Patsy finally cracked one sleep crusted eye open and looked straight into a face from the past. Her past.

If Patsy could have groaned she would. It never went away did it? Every time that she thought it was over it came back around and stabbed her right in the heart again.

This was definitely a dream.

No. This was a nightmare. Her nightmare. The one she’d done so many times it was a bad habit. Her memories conspiring to remind her of everything she couldn’t ever change. She couldn’t do anything to help this face and that thought alone was depressing enough. It hadn’t been her fault though and a small part of her understood that fact. It just didn’t make it easier to accept.

Chastity was smiling at her in the dark and Patsy felt the cold dorm room of the commune crawl in around her. Uncomfortably real. Patsy sniffed and recalled the scent of damp stones and too many people piled in together. The scratch of her blanket and the creak of the wooden cot bed.

It was so annoying. Other people dreamed they could fly, or that they were naked in a classroom. Patsy felt she would have quite enjoyed that.

But no, Patsy always got the stickiest end of the stick. She didn’t dream about fantastical stuff, no, she dreamed about the past, or at least she had used to dream about the past. She hadn’t dreamed about this in years though. She’d thought she was over this.

Above her face Chastity smiled her pumpkin smile and Patsy floundered.

Apparently not then.

Chastity never changed in her dreams. A wiry, hollow face, the cheeks always just a bit blue and the tip of her nose pinker than it should be from the cold. The red hair that made her obvious in the bustle of the commune because no one else had hair like that. Abraham said she’d suited fire best because of it after she died and Patsy had hated him for it. Her sister had their mothers eyes, dark as earth and rich. Red hair and brown eyes and knobbly knees that left bruises on Patsys legs when she used Patsy like a climbing frame.

Patsy had resented it back then of course, hadn’t realised how much she’d loved her sister because when you’re nearly ten the last thing you want is your baby sister trailing after you. She’d regretted that afterwards. Even now she regretted that.

Chastity was still smiling through too many years. Her pinched chin and the ghost of the dimples she’d have had if they’d ever had enough to eat. Small tombstone baby teeth peeked through thin lips. “You took forever.’ She complained through chattering teeth, puffs of air rising above the bed, ‘I’m cold Patience, let me sleep with you.”

Instinctively Patsy raised her head and scanned the bedroom. She was laying in her bed she realised. Lumpy shadows didn’t stir at their noise, the shapeless sleeping figures stayed asleep as always but she never trusted it. In the commune there had always been someone listening.

They weren’t supposed to do this.

Nonetheless, Patsy obediently lifted the corner of her blanket up and shifted to the edge of the cot so that Chastity could squirm in beside her. She was cold and clammy, her knees pinpricks of ice against Patsys warmer legs.

“You’re freezing.’ Patsy whispered in the dark as she felt Chastitys hand on her neck like a ghost and flinched. ‘Give me your hands.”

Chastity did as she was told, taking up far more of the bed than someone her size should while Patsy rubbed some warmth back into her fingers. They were small and chubby just like their mothers and Patsys own looked alien against them. Like an adults. Like Abraham’s.

“I’m going out tomorrow,’ Chastity whispered the words into Patsys shoulder in a rush, like she’d been bursting to tell her. She had been like that; always excitable. Patsy heard the fear there but also the excitement. The big draw of going somewhere different, of seeing the outside world. ‘Mummy says I can go with her.”

Patsy remembered the jealousy she’d felt too easily when this had been real. She remembered wishing that she be the one allowed out instead of Chastity. She’d never been given permission to go anywhere outside with the grown ups. Abraham had always wanted her close. She’d burned with resentment then but now... Now, Patsy closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around her sister.

She hated this dream. She always tried to change it and she never could.

“Don’t go tomorrow, stay with me.” Stay with me, stay with me, stay with me. The words were a pointless mantra in her head.

Chastity didn’t move, someone grunted in their sleep and turned over.

“Mummy said I could go.” Chastity spoke cautiously, afraid to upset Patsy.

Patsy held Chastity tighter. Tight enough to make her whine and fidget but Patsy didn’t care. Maybe this time she could change the dream.

“Promise me. Promise me that you won’t go. We’ll hide in the garden and they’ll have to leave you behind.’ Patsys hands were gripping the little girls arms, shaking her. She was light as a bird. Just a baby really. Patsy’s baby sister. Her first baby and the only person she’d loved back then. ‘You have to promise me Chastity. Swear it. Swear you won’t go.”

Deals with the devil, stupid to even try. Patsy already knew what happened next. The dream never changed.

“Why can’t I go?” Chastity never understood, every time Patsy did this she never understood.

“Because-‘ Patsy stared into her sisters frightened face... She didn’t have enough words to explain what she meant even now.

She could have said so many things.

Because when you die no one wakes me up in the night. No one presses their cold nose into my shoulder. That’s what she wanted to say. Because when you die something in me dies with you. Something breaks and I can’t fix it again and nothing is the same. I’m not the same. I should have saved you.

‘Because I say so.’ Patsy instructed instead. Heavy with dread. ‘Promise me Chastity, promise me that you’ll stay here where it’s safe.”

Chastity frowned at that, her nose wrinkling in puzzlement as though Patsy had made a bad joke. Giggling she pulled her hands away and rapped her knuckles on Patsys skull. “But Patience,’ she laughed in the quiet, ‘it’s not safe here.”

Patsy shook her head desperately, too aware of the exhaustion creeping back into her limbs. The dream was already changing around them and it was too late. “It’s okay.’ She said so quickly they weren’t words, just garbled sounds, ‘I’ll protect you. If you stay I’ll protect you. I’ll give you anything you want. I’ll do anything if you stay.”

But the room was altering too fast. Shadows began to flex around them, the darkness thickening out as the bed shifted.

No!

Patsys arms tightened uselessly around Chastity’s shoulders, refusing to let her go this time, but just like every other time the body she was holding was already slipping away from her.

She hated this dream, she hated-

“-Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil-“

Patsy staggered as the ground moved, her feet touching solid dirt. The wind was a scream in her ears and her arms were slack by her side. Empty like always.

She hated this dream.

Someone else was screaming ahead of her. The hoarse dry sobs that a body produces when there are no more tears left to be cried but the grief is still there.

Patsy hated this dream so much. You’d have thought living through it once was enough.

“Amen.” Called Abraham triumphantly, his voice loud and somehow always smiling as it bounced around the grey courtyard and it’s grey little people.

“Amen.” Chorused the flock dutifully, low small things that were less than droning memory.

Elizabeth wailed harder, a kneeling figure alone where she’d sunk to her knees in front of them all. A few feet in front of her was the wheel barrow. The whipping flash of a white nightie and red hair as it burned.

Patsy couldn’t bare to look at it.

It wasn’t real now but it had been and that was enough.

No one came to pick Elizabeth up from where she’d sunk to the floor as the memory unwound like a bad film. No one said anything at all in fact or gave the slightest inclination that they saw Elizabeth. Brung low at last.

The kindest reason for the inaction might have been that the children didn’t really understand what was happening and the adults had known somehow that nothing they said would help to smother a mothers grief. The more honest reason though was simply that they were all afraid of Abrahams reaction if they moved against him. In this place he was a God and they were a flock of people waiting to die

And there was her father.

Patsy could still see him as she had done then. Tall and handsome and always lit from an internal fire. He was a charismatic and attractive man no matter his cruelty even she could admit that. Then again, so we’re vultures to the right bird watcher and she wouldn’t have wanted one of those to come home with her either. His smile was burned into her memories like a scar that never healed or diminished whatever she tried to do. Somehow, he was always there under the surface; smiling.

Patsy hadn’t gone to Elizabeth that day either. She hadn’t moved from her place a little to the side of the others where Abraham had put her. She only stared ahead of her at the old wheelbarrow with its rusting bolts and stained steel handles as it burnt Chastity’s body. The smoke hurt her eyes and the smell hurt her nose and the sight hurt something that she didn’t have a name for then.

Patsy stood apart from it all, next to the girl she’d been and watched herself for the first time. Slowly she realised that the memory had changed. Things felt different.

Or had she just changed?

She realised for the first time too, with a pang of surprise, just how loud Elizabeth had cried. Back then she hadn’t been able to hear it properly. Elizabeth’s pain had been nothing but a soft breeze to Patsy against the silent storm of her own rage.

And she had raged. Her grief had been almost unmeasurable. The loss and the confusion and the pain had been so all consuming that she had almost been frightened of it herself. She hadn’t mourned or cried for her sister like her mother had. She had not allowed herself to fall apart on the outside. Instead, she had taken everything that hurt, everything that festered and had gathered it up, fed it and nurtured it until it was sharp and heavy and then she’d turned it onwards as a shield against a world where men, God and everyone else was a threat.

She really had hated the world.

She had hated Abraham for his refusal to let anyone help Chastity even when she’d been in agony. She’d hated her mother for allowing it to happen and obeying Abraham. She’d hated the flock for their meekness and their stupidity. She’d hated herself for letting Chastity go without out her, for not keeping her sister safe. She’d hated God himself and hoped that one day she would meet him just as Abraham promised so that he could see her heart and understand the depth of the pain his absence had created.

Patsy knew all of this looking down at the small girl she’d been, understood exactly how she’d felt but once again she realised that she wasn’t a part of it anymore. The anger was drained away to nothing but sadness and regret. It was like seeing someone you used to know. Like finding another younger sibling she’d lost.

Not wanting to see her younger self Patsy turned away and looked around at the people she’d grown up with.

Most of all it was surprisingly Elizabeth that held her eye. Patsy realised with a pang of regret that she had never fully considered her mother as anything but something distant and separate from herself up until now. She’d blamed her too much. Now though, she saw Chastity’s body and her mothers grief in a new light and felt something hard catch in her throat. Patsy thought that she could imagine that sort of loss and the idea of it was enough to freeze her.

The dream felt wrong.

Red hair singed in the fire and made it brighter as a man stepped from the flock and nodded at Abraham.

“Shall I take her inside?” He asked Abraham quietly, gesturing to Elizabeth, his voice carefully measured and barely there against the wind.

Patsy blinked, thrown by the new memory and scrambled in the depths of recollection to find his name amongst so many others. He had an indistinct face, the kind she’d barely noticed, his features were blurred by dull reminiscence. Caleb? He was a bald man, with a barrel chest, shorter than Abraham with the faint suggestion of a red beard. He had small hands that right now could have been easily imagined to be bunched into fists if only he’d had the balls for it.

The two men eyed one another for a moment across a foots gap and the silence between them was louder than any raised voices with all the things no one would say. Calebs face was pointed to the ground deferentially as though he was surprised by his own daring before, slowly, Abraham shook his head and Caleb took a step back. Abraham never once looked at Elizabeth but Caleb couldn’t stop stealing glances.

How had Patsy forgotten this?

“No,’ Abraham breathed softly and it was the softness that preceded pain, ‘leave her to her regret. It’s her kinds place in the world to sin is it not? From the first day in the garden they have taken what is not to be taken and now we have found that she is no different. Do not let her treachery allow this house to fall too. Only the faithful may see paradise brother. Should we forgo the teaching of God? Do you recall Hebrews 12:8 ever?’ His smile was too much teeth and Caleb shrank back as though punched. Abraham watched him go with glittering eyes before raising his arms to the flock and addressing them in his finest pulpit voice, exultant in victory. ‘Some lessons must be learned hard to ensure that they endure. No one can go against Gods will after all.’ There was a depressing susseration on the lines of amen that fizzled into nothing almost instantly as though the words were ashamed of themselves. Abraham didn’t seem to notice or care. Still smiling, he turned resolutely on the weeping Elizabeth and motioned his flock back towards the wooden back doors, ‘you may return to your duties, our task is complete here.”

It began to rain. Patsy felt the warm droplets fall on her face and heard the hiss as they festered on the hot steel of the barrow, dampening the charred corpse she couldn’t look at.

This was the place where the dream ended. It always ended now. Although it was different this time and she was more lost to it than she had ever been before.

Impatiently Patsy waited, watching the flock trudge back inside the commune. Watched herself go with them wordlessly. Watched Caleb follow after that, looking back only once to sneak another look at Elizabeth. Watched Abraham vanish after all of them and close the doors.

Nothing happened.

Elizabeth continued to cry and the rain kept falling. Patsy couldn’t understand what to do to make it end. Above everything she wanted an end, she wanted it to stop haunting her.

Elizabeth was a small woman even in Patsys memories. If they’d ever met when Patsy was an adult then Patsy would have been nearly a foot taller. Their faces were completely unalike; hers rounded and shrunken, Patsys pointed and sharp. Their hair was night and day, Earth and sunlight.

And yet there was something in the shape of her lips. Something in the nose barely there but still there just enough. Patsy couldn’t ever remember seeing her mother smiling but perhaps there might have been a similarity there if only she’d had the chance to see it.

She’d lost so much.

A gulf of unconsidered grief spread through her as she thought this, so suddenly and completely that it was like a physical blow and Patsy staggered, reaching out her hand to touch her mother. Unsure of what she could say if anything to this stranger she wouldn’t ever know.

Something else pushed her first though, a strong shove to the head that sent her wheeling wildly off course and crashing into the soft ground.

Again with the falling.

Blinking in shock Patsy looked up and stared straight into Abraham’s face. Not the young Abraham of her childhood but the older man he had been in June. No less handsome or cruel and still smiling that evil fucking smile.

He pointed at Patsy now, his face still a mirror of her own.

“You can’t get away that easily, you’re still mine Patience.” His voice was too loud and Patsy couldn’t breathe.

She could hear the clink of chains again, taste her own blood.

He knelt down beside her, his hands creeping to her throat.

But this time Patsy was ready.

Hatred so intense it was blinding boiled behind her eyes as he pressed his face into hers. She could smell his breath, those blue eyes staring into her soul as fingers squeezed her neck. He was killing her again, the hands tightened and held her, heavier than stone, the two of them locked in a struggling embrace.

Patsy tried to think through the confusion as she kicked out. This was wrong. This was a dream wasn’t it? He was dead. It was still a dream and it was her dream and in her dream she wasn’t a child if she didn’t want to be. She wasn’t afraid of Abraham anymore.

Bringing back her own fist Patsy brought it down hard across his face and felt him shudder, the edges of the nightmare rippling uncertainly as he was thrown back. He fell with shocking ease, scrambling in the dirt over the spot where Elizabeth had vanished.

Patsy got to her feet slowly, keeping him in her sights as she watched his smile fade.

“We’re a pair!’ He shouted at her, enraged, ‘you cannot forget me.”

But it could have been the rain who’d said that. She didn’t listen to the weather and she didn’t shake at shadows any more. He was dead and this was her dream.

Below their feet the ground shuddered and creaked. Lightning flashed as the sky rumbled and groaned.

“I’m not you.” Patsy said calmly. Deliberately. Taking a step that made the grass rip in two.

Abraham opened his mouth to scream but Patsy didn’t care.

Tall as an angel Patsy stepped forward, murder in her heart-

-And woke up with a start and a tangle of fur as Neil, who’d been sleeping tucked around her legs, sat up and yawned reproachfully at her.

Patsy ignored him. Her hands shook as she wiped at her forehead and found cold sweat. All of her was shivering actually. The blanket she’d been using when she’d gone to sleep had been kicked to the bottom of the sofa where it had been adopted quickly by the dog.

How nice for him.

Forcing herself to breathe properly Patsy sat up and put her feet flat on the living room floor. The clock said it was way past too late and she felt sick with shock.

Just a dream. Just a dream.

Patsys fists clenched on the arm of the sofa, anchoring herself in reality as she waited for her heart to stop thumping unevenly in her chest. One of these days she’d have a heart attack she just knew it.

At times like this Helen would probably try and point out a positive. Still sweaty Patsy scrambled to find one. Her eyes found the clock. She’d managed a solid four hours. Did that count as progress?

Neil whined pitifully as he butted his face under her arm. Apparently he didn’t mind the lack of beauty sleep if it got him a bit of unexpected fuss. Patsy shooed him away, his panting face too close for comfort.

Grumbling, Patsy rubbed her neck. It felt bent. The life of sleeping on a sofa was starting to get on her nerves. Above her head she could faintly hear Trixie snoring and wondered what would happen if she went up there and got in next to her. It was her bloody bed after all.

Patsy considered this for half a second before guilt prodded her in the back.

She thought about Delia; how would she explain that? Sorry about not talking to you, I know you think I’m fucking Trixie but we just sleep next to each other. Platonically...

Yeah, maybe not.

Not that Patsy was talking to Delia, for all of Helens pointed texts asking if she had any good news Patsy still hadn’t managed to work up the nerve to call her.

Trying to work out how to approach the conversation gave her a headache. It probably wouldn’t be that smooth to start off with “okay, you’ve been playing hide the sausage over the summer but it’s fine. Maybe we could go out and live happily ever after anyway?”

Just the thought of it made her feel sick with nerves.

And why should she be the one to call first anyway?

Even if she had been the one who asked for a bit of time.

To distract herself from the thorny subject Patsy had spent her Sunday watching Disney films with Seppie, trying to sign songs with enthusiasm as Seppie valiantly tried to eat her own body weight in salt and vinegar crisps. Fern had watched too but she’d sighed a few times just so everyone was aware that she was far too old and cool for all of this nonsense. Patsy had pretended she hadn’t heard the teenager humming along to the bear necessities.

And now it was nearly Monday and Patsy still hadn’t spoken to Delia.

It was starting to feel like it was going to be too late.

Maybe she should try a text instead? Or an email? Or would that be a bit formal?

What would happen if Delia ignored her?

Shaking her head at the ridiculousness of her position Patsy stretched out her legs until her feet were resting on the coffee table. Neil snorted and finally slid off his perch on the sofa, shooting Patsy a dirty look as he sank into his dog bed.

Patsy bit her lip. Lost in thought.

When Patsy had been in school there’d been something of a vogue to play dangerous games. Adolescent crap, growing up in jerky fits and starts, all of them jostling and pushing at every boundary just to see if it could snap with enough pressure. Trying to work out what that undefinable difference separating them from grown ups really was and never quite getting an answer.

Patsy had been part of them in a round about way; never really a member of any group but on the fringes of them somehow. She’d revelled in the mindless pursuits the games gave her mainly because it had distracted her from thinking or planning. She’d felt like a ghost; dead in her head. Ghosts didn’t have futures and neither did she. That’s how it had been; how she’d been.

And there’d always been something to work towards. How many detentions could you get in a day. How many fights you had to get into to earn respect. Getting drunk in the back row of English. Snogging Sarah Willis behind the science block and getting chased down the street by her boyfriend and his mates.

Idiotic now she came to think about. Lazy rebellions that she’d always regretted by the end.

She’d been particularly good at a game called ‘Knuckles’. She couldn’t remember who came up with it, probably one of the older boys. Patsy had liked playing it. She’d enjoyed the challenge and the knowledge that she could take anything. Silently invincible.

Knuckles was a game of endurance. It left scars.

The premise was simple. Someone would sharpen a 50p coin, each corner tapered to a gleaming point. Each person playing would then put their hands on the table in a fist, the fingers parallel with the desk leaving the knuckles vulnerable. Then, one by one, the coin would be flicked at the knuckles. People dropped out when the pain got too bad or their hands slipped away from the blood. Last kid still touching the desk at the end was the winner. The teachers used to just about explode every time they saw it.

Patsy never lost, she’d wait until everyone else had taken away their hands or cried off. Staring blankly ahead of her. She hadn’t known how to stop.

In the here and now Patsy sat cross legged on the sofa, her fingers idly tracing the faintest scars on the back of her hands, breathing through her mouth as she contemplated everything and nothing.

The boys had taken it up as a kind of challenge in the end. They’d wanted to beat her. Their friends had held the coin and flicked it as hard as they could, some days Patsy had gone to the children’s home after school with her hands purple and bruised and swollen. Strangely proud. She wouldn’t lose. She would have rather they broke all of her fingers than lose. She’d garnered a sort of respect from the other children for that; the boys mainly.

“Don’t mess with Mount lads.’ Luke Knowles would mutter by the bike shed when she walked past. ‘Who knows what freaky shit they taught her in that cult. She don’t feel anything.”

Which wasn’t true of course. Of course she’d felt it. Her hands had been cracked with scabs half healed up for months when the game had been popular and she’d barely been able to write.

It couldn’t have lasted though. The school got wind of it in the end. Helen had banned knuckles in her classes by the second term after spotting Patsys inability to hold a pen and the rest of the staff had become fairly vigilant so it had fizzled out. Natural causes.

Patsy wasn’t sure if she’d have stopped if that hadn’t have happened. Probably still be doing it now.

She’d never been good at giving up.

Another image, snaking through the long grass of memory. Abraham. His dark room that smelled of heavy aftershave that made her head hurt after the smell of the commune. The liquorice tang on his breath. His eyes so blue and honest and his handsome face. Her face. His hands on her face, his thumbs pressing against her eyes.

“Oh my little bean, you simply never know when to stop do you?”

Why had he said it?

Patsy couldn’t remember. Maybe she’d said something he hadn’t liked... Patsy frowned into the darkness, her thumb playing circles on the backs of her hands unconsciously. Straining through memories like a miser counting copper coins.

Chastity had been dead. Everything had been falling apart and Patsy had... Yes. That was it. She’d shut his bible without permission. That was it. He’d told her to open it, keep reading out loud and she hadn’t. Unable to say anything she’d stood with the folded book crushed between sweating palms, silently pushing at it, trying to squeeze it into nothing as he smiled at her. His dangerous shark smile.

Maybe he’d been right. Maybe the boys at school had been right.

Patsy really had never known when to give up. She wasn’t built to give up. Not if it mattered. Not if it was important. Not if she didn’t want to.

Stubborn.

This was so stupid.

She wasn’t consciously aware of standing up, or of her feet walking themselves and her body over to the kitchen side where her phone sat blankly on charge.

Her hands picked it up and her fingers scrolled too fast through her contacts until she found the number she wanted.

Her lungs caught as the ring tone dialled.

She couldn’t give up. She didn’t know how to.

Nervously, Patsy stared at nothing as she waited for the phone to connect. For it to ring.

Three short spirals of chime and then Delia answered.

“Nn’ung.” Less a sound and more a half unconscious snort from the other end of the line.

Patsy froze, the phone hard against her cheek, utterly blank. Deerlike. Blinking in headlights.

Oddly she hadn’t considered that this was actually going to need some thought.

“Hello?” From the sound of it Delia had been sleeping; her accent was heavy and slurred as bedding rustled in the background.

The ring tone probably woke her up.

For one split second Patsy felt a rush of guilt for the rude awakening. She didn’t know why she was doing this; shouldn’t be doing it really. She should have paced it out a bit more. Thought about what she was going to say.

Insanity to actually call... but then the stabbing image of Delia in bed with the mysterious Caroline slithered painfully across her mind and Patsy realised that she didn’t feel quite as guilty as she should.

“Was any of it real?” Patsy couldn’t keep the belligerence from her voice; the sharp, clinging anger leaking out between confusion and even if she’d regret this later on, at this moment, in this place, she simply couldn’t stop herself. She had to know the truth; maybe it would stop the thoughts rattling around inside her head.

Maybe she’d finally learn to give up then. Or not. Probably not.

“Pats?’ Delia was definitely awake now, Patsy could sense the recognition in her voice. Her tone twisting into a concerned but still croaky rumble. ‘Are you alright? God, Cariad. It’s...’ something clunked in the background as Delia must have reached to turn an alarm clock to face her, ‘shit, it’s two in the morning. Are the girls alrig-“

“Was any of it real?’ Patsy repeated tightly, refusing to be distracted, hurtling towards something she couldn’t define, ‘you and me? Us? The whole thing with us, did I just make that up in my head? Was I just some big joke to you; something you laughed about?”

There was a long pause, something rustled as Delia sat up, her voice becoming clearer although no less weary.

“Is this you talking to me?’ She enquired gently after a thoughtful pause. ‘Do you want to do this now? Have you had enough time?”

Patsy shivered on the spot. Her body not fully coordinated with her brain. “Was it all a lie?” She repeated heatedly, refusing to be sidetracked, almost scared by what she’d feel if the anger stopped.

“Of course it was real Pats, don’t be ridiculous.’ Delia snapped the words, clearly exasperated as she took a rattling breath, counting to ten in her head. When she spoke again it was calmer though, more measured. ‘We both have feelings for each other... It’s not a simple thing.”

“Have feelings or had feelings?” Patsy didn’t care if she was being pedantic, the distinction mattered to her. All of this fucking mattered to her.

“Oh for Gods sake Pats,’ Delia groaned and her voice came across muffled as though she was rubbing her face to push away the tiredness, ‘it’s too early in the morning for this sort of word game crap.”

“If I’d called you over the break, if I’d said something sooner about how I felt or, or-‘ Patsys brain, normally so quick to spit out words, was suddenly running out of them now that she’d taken the leap and made this call. Some internal dam was breaking apart. She was tired and she was about ready to cry. But she wouldn’t give up. She’d put her fists on the table and now she had to wait until the game ended or others gave in. Stupid. ‘-I don’t know, if I had told you that Trixie was staying for a bit would that have been enough? Would that have been enough to make you trust me when Barbara called you? Would you have chosen me instead? Or would you have checked and I could have-‘ Patsy bit her lip. She hated this. ‘Would that have been enough? You could have come back here like you did without Caroline and we’d-“ Patsy couldn’t catch her breath. Her heart beat drumming inside her ears.

What? Whispered the sharp voice in her head that was too much like Abraham. What? Fall into your arms and ride off into the sunset.

Pathetic.

“This isn’t about you being enough, or less or me choosing someone over you.’ Delia was sharper, like she could hear Patsys thoughts and hated them as much as Patsy did. ‘I was the one who should’ve checked the facts Patsy.’ For a moment neither of them spoke and then Delia sighed with purpose this time and a decisiveness that made Patsy smile without realising. She could picture the line of her jaw, the flare in her eyes. ‘Look, we both made mistakes that we shouldn’t have but this is not your fault. You can’t make this another stick to beat yourself up with. It was just... fuck, I don’t know, it was the situation. Me. I... I reacted all wrong and I hurt you and that’s on me. You’re not the bad guy Pats.’ She laughed half heartedly, ‘not everything’s about you sometimes, let’s just say that you’re not the only one struggling with everything right now okay?”

They both paused at this, their breathing echoing between them like a shared heartbeat. The clock in the kitchen tocked loudly through the house, winding Patsys nerves tighter and tighter as she tried to organise her mind. Delia sounded as lost as she felt and finally Patsy was ashamed. She shouldn’t have called like this.

Patsy realised that she really was cold now. She was shivering, her legs shaking as they tried to keep blood flowing. There was mist on the kitchen window, the cold fogging up the panes. Patsy raised her spare hand and pressed her fingers against the dampness, her remaining fingers leaving three smudgy ovals.

She felt lost. Like walking into the sea and losing the rope to pull yourself back in. She could drown with Delia so easily.

“You’re not the bad guy either.’ Patsy defended awkwardly, aware that her denial was faintly ridiculous given how she’d been acting and not sure how to rectify any of it. ‘This isn’t- you’ve just got to know that I wouldn’t have slept with Trixie.’ The finite details were splitting from reason leaving only the glaring points that had been eating away at her and she had to say it. ‘I wouldn’t have done it.”

Delia groaned, sounded like she had her fingers in her mouth. Biting her nails. “I know.”

“I told you that I would wait.’ Patsys lips wobbled and she scrunched up her face to press her fist against her eyes; forcing it all to stay inside even as every thought she had threatened to spill out of her. ‘I would have waited however long you needed. I would have done whatever you needed me to do.”

“I know you would.” Delia sounded resigned and it left Patsy frustrated. She wanted to argue and rail at the Welshwoman but she couldn’t fight an opponent that refused to fight back. It was like kicking a puppy.

It was like arguing with herself.

Still, she couldn’t let it go.

“Because I’m telling you now or because you would have believed me in the first place?” Patsy demanded doggedly, barking for a response.

“Pats...’ Delia was depressingly defeated, and yet there was something hard brewing, a heavy kind of resolution. ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to say. I’m sorry. Again? Truly, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for what I did, I’m sorry that I fucked everything up. I’m sorry about everything. I didn’t mean to hurt you; I really believed that you’d moved on and I know that I should have called and checked but I didn’t. I don’t have a defence for my actions. I wish I could take it back, I would if I could but I can only apologise... I miss you... I still miss you sweetheart but I can’t keep having this conversation. I won’t keep apologising to you anymore. You can either accept what I’ve said or you won’t. It’s your choice Cariad. You called me.”

Patsy had started towards the sofa again as she listened but at this she stopped. Standing in front of the back door she pressed her face against the glass all too aware that she had to make a decision.

It should make her feel vindicated to hear Delias admissions but it didn’t. She felt ashamed at the submissive response and it chipped away at her anger. Made it impotent.

God. She couldn’t do this. She didn’t even care about Caroline. Not really.

The sound of Delias defeat tugged at her. She didn’t have a defence to it. Delia just made her soft. She could feel it coming over her. That hopeless pull. That inert desire to protect.

“I’m so angry at you.” Patsy admitted eventually, her voice coming out ragged as her breath spread on the glass around her like thawing frost. Helpless to the stupidity of her new found heart.

“I know you are Pats...’ Delia whispered. ‘It doesn’t mean you don’t care about me back though. The fact that you’re calling me at all tells me that-“

“I wouldn’t have fucked someone else;’ Patsys eyes burned, her hand pressed against the glass, she felt too hot, too close to tears. The anger subsiding in an unwelcome hearth leaving the cutting hurt to writhe on its own. The disappointment. ‘I wouldn’t have done that to you. Trixie or anyone else; it wouldn’t matter. Not after what happened with Jessie. I wouldn’t have done it. How cruel do you think I am?”

“I don’t think you’re cruel at all Patsy.” Delia started calmly.

“But you didn’t know me well enough to know the truth, that’s the point, you should have trusted me!’ Patsy reached up to tug at her hair in frustration, tears leaking out of her eyes despite her best efforts. ‘You should have been able to trust me. You can trust me Delia. I wouldn’t- I would never hurt you like that. Don’t you realise what you mean to me?”

“I do trust you,’ Delias voice was louder, just as agitated, ‘I just didn’t trust us Pats. There’s a difference.”

Patsy knocked her head against the glass lightly, it stuck to her skin and made a sound like Velcro each time she pulled away. It struck her that life had been a lot simpler without relationships.

But more empty.

She tried to bully her brain into working through what Delia had said but couldn’t. Her head was strangely weightless. Shaking it uselessly she stared at her own non plussed reflection as if it might have a better idea than her.

“I don’t- I’m not good at- Look,’ Patsy tutted at her own inability to frame her understanding, ‘what is that even supposed to mean? I don’t understand.”

“It just means that this was my baggage and I didn’t handle it well... Pats.’ Delia sighed and something creaked as she moved to sit up. Bed. ‘Look... It’s really late... Or early I suppose. Can I call you tomorrow? I don’t want to go through everything this early in the day Pats.”

Patsy stared ahead of her, trying to think but disappointment was a hell of a drug. She shook her head. “No. You can talk to me Delia. You can talk to me now. I waited all summer.”

“Pats, its not easy to explain.” Delia didn’t sound like she was moving and Patsy rubbed her face, exhausted.

“Try.’ One word but Patsy meant it more than the others. ‘I promise to try if you do Delia.” She really would.

For a moment Delia didn’t say anything. The two of them apparently aware of the uneasy truce being offered between them and then the bed creaked through the line and Delia sounded clearer. “Fine, but I want a cup of tea. I need to do something with my hands. You can give me that.”

Obediently, Patsy waited, listening with a faint smile at the creak of stairs, the push of a kitchen door and the flicker of a kettle. Relief flooding her like hot air.

Then Delia sighed, the phone suddenly louder as though she’d put Patsy on hands free.

“Jessie cheated on me Patsy.’ Delias voice was flat now, empty, as though she was reading from a script. Mugs scraped the side and the rattle of spoons joined the chorus. A little louder than necessary like it was being thrown with too much force. ‘That’s not news I know but it wasn’t only in Poplar. You have to understand, she- She cheated on me from the first year we were together as far as I know for a fact. A colleague told me at school during my interview that she’d seen her out with a random woman. Can you imagine that?’ Delia laughed harshly. ‘My first interview after the crash and a stranger tells me she knows my girlfriends cheating on me. It was utterly humiliating.”

Patsy tried to picture it. “What did you do?”

“I tried to confront her of course but she just....’ Delia peetered off uselessly, the kettle roaring for her, ‘I used to get a bit confused sometimes. My memory. After the crash there was damage and it affected me for a while. It was so annoying; I’d get lost in supermarkets and not know how to get out or why I’d gone there... Jessie used to play on it. She’d swear black was white and she’d be so convincing that I’d start to doubt myself. Sometimes she’d get me so confused I thought I was going insane. She’d be out all night without a phone call and if I started an argument when she rolled in she’d swear blind that she’d told me about it and I’d just forgotten... That first time I think I made myself believe the woman at my interview had been lying to me. Jessie said her sister worked at the same firm so they were rivals. I knew it wasn’t true really but I convinced myself I was being suspicious. I didn’t want to accept what was happening. I made myself think that I was the problem.’ Something rattled as Delia stirred her tea noisily, the carefully neutral tone wobbling as she swallowed audibly.

‘But then someone else told me she’d seen her booking a hotel room six months later,’ Delia went on sadly, ‘and I didn’t even bother confronting her that time because I told myself there had to be thousands of innocent excuses for it. I didn’t want the argument if I’m being honest, it was all we seemed to do and then I found proof a few weeks later when I saw her bank statement and...’ Delia swallowed hard again and let out a short sharp breath, ‘and I still stayed Pats.’ Delias confession sounded so small Patsys fist clenched at her sides. ‘Can you imagine how bad that hurt? I let her treat me like that. I let her do that to me... And I know what I sound like, it makes me a doormat.’ Delia laughed again but it wasn’t funny and Patsy shivered. ‘And I was a doormat. I allowed every ounce of disrespect she gave me and I said nothing. I suppose I must have justified it to myself at some point but I can’t remember doing it. In the end I just fooled myself into believing that all relationships go through phases like that and once she’d got it out of her system then she’d love me properly. Like the way I loved her. Jessie was a bitch but I really did love her Pats.”

Patsy swallowed hard this time; a part of her wanted to run away from this conversation, she didn’t want to hear Delia admit that she loved Jessie but a bigger part told her to stay. If they couldn’t talk about these things then this was pointless. She couldn’t pick and choose when she could be supportive. That’s not who she wanted to be and it wasn’t what Delia deserved.

Through the glass of the door the garden was almost ghostly in the darkness. Patsy tried to squint up and make out the stars but they were invisible amongst the clouds. The moon cast only the faintest pearl sheen.

‘None of it was right,’ Delia sniffed dejectedly, ‘and I know that there were other options I could have taken but inside I suppose I thought,’ Delia paused thickly, and when she spoke again her voice was harsher, the speaker clunking as though she’d put the phone closer to her face, ‘I always thought that she was the best I was going to find... I felt like damaged goods. The crash really messed with me, I had no confidence, the scars were awful and I’d get muddled up and... You’ve got no idea. You should have seen me before it happened though. I thought I was going to change the world; I was going to take on anything that came. Afterwards.... I suppose I thought that that was it for me, end of the line. I mean I could barely walk, I looked a state, I’d lost my career, I couldn’t even trust my memory. I thought I was lucky when Jessie looked at me in the first place so I just accepted all the shit. She wore me down to someone I hated being. I blamed myself.”

Patsy shook her head. “That’s not your fault.”

Delia went on as though she hadn’t heard Patsy. “When she suggested moving here I genuinely thought it would be a new start for us. A sign that she was growing up. I had a good position in London, I was on my way to deputy and I gave it up because I thought it would help us get on track. It didn’t change anything though; it was just like it had always been except I didn’t even have friends to make it bearable. I’ve never felt more alone than this last year... And then I met you and it was different. It felt different.”

Patsy blinked at her reflection. The warmth in Delias tone surprising her only slightly less than the compliment.

Like she was someone admirable.

“And I haven’t been kind to you since you got back have I?’ Patsy filled in glumly, disgusted with herself, biting her lip when Delia didn’t answer, which was probably answer enough. ‘I’ve been no better... I’m sorry Deels. Jessie and I- We aren’t the same people.’ Patsy found her own voice thick, her cheeks burning, ‘I made you a promise; I always keep my promises.”

“I know that, believe me, I do know that Pats.’ Delia chuckled wetly, ‘You’re nothing like Jessie... You’re caring. You care. It sort of blew my mind I think. When you came round mine with that repair kit and that ridiculous story, I don’t know, it was thoughtful. You didn’t have to think about me but you did. Jessie never did that.”

“I’m not an angel,’ Patsy shifted uncomfortably at the idea of Delia thinking she’d been innocent, ‘I liked you even then. First time I met you I liked you. I was hoping you’d like me... And in my defence it was the blind nuns faults.”

Delia laughed again nervously. “Hallelujah. Thank God for that then.”

Patsy could imagine her smiling. Those bloody dimples. Without realising it her own lips stretched into a smile of her own.

“I don’t know Patsy.’ Delia said after a while, sober again. ‘You and me. When you were staying with me it all felt too good to be true. We got on and it was so easy. And then you left. That evil man. Jess... I killed someone for fucks sake. I was so messed up. I wanted to run a mile. I thought going home might help get everything into perspective; I thought it might make all the terrible stuff go away.”

Patsy nodded at that even though Delia couldn’t see her. This she could understand.

“It never does go away though does it?” She asked her own reflection simply.

“No.’ Delia agreed sadly, ‘not really. I was confused; Jessie was dead and I never wanted that. Despite everything I never wanted anything to happen to her like that, maybe I wanted her to put on twenty stone and all her teeth to fall out... but you... Pats, you’re all I’ve thought about in Wales and there were so many times that I wanted to call you but it made me feel guilty, Jessie was dead and here I was agonising over someone else. I wanted to call you-”

“You could have called me anytime.” Patsy insisted feebly.

“So could you.” Delia shot back just as swiftly.

Patsy pressed her forehead against the glass again, her lips twitching slightly. Touché. “I know,’ she admitted softly, ‘I’m sorry too. I’ve never been very good at talking about stuff; I’m not used to it. In my experience it’s not a good idea to get too excited.”

“Relationships never go well for me either Pats.’ Delia admitted quietly. ‘The woman before Jessie dumped me when I had my accident, I got out of hospital and she’d cleared me out, she even took my CD player, changed her phone number and everything. After Jessie turned up it was never easy but I was so low, I’d just had to quit nursing and I was going through the whole court case, Jessie was there at least and at the time I didn’t expect anything more than that. I settled; plain and simple. It never occurred to me that I might actually get the girl that I wanted. I never thought you’d like me back.”

“Delia...’ Patsy felt a bit weak. Blown at the ridiculous view Delia had of her. ‘I’m really not as good as you think I am.”

“Oh, I know you’ve got flaws, don’t worry, I’m not insane,’ Delia cut in brightly with another chuckle. ‘but I think I see you better than you see yourself... You’re so confident Pats. When you walked into my class it was so odd. You have this pull about you. You’re so competent; everything just seems to roll off you. You walk into burning buildings and turn up on beaches and you act like it’s just another day at office. Even the first time we met all I wanted was to talk to you. Sounds mad doesn’t it? You brought out all this stuff I thought I’d given up on and then I left Jessie and you needed my help... You were so fucked up and honest about it and...’ Delia sounded like she wanted to say something else but she caught herself, taking a deep breath. ‘And then the world went crazy. After the commune I thought you’d never speak to me again. I killed your father. I thought you’d blame me.”

“I didn’t. I still don’t.’ Patsy started to protest tiredly. ‘That was nothing to do with-“

“I know,’ Delia interrupted calmly, ‘but I still felt like that. I was going to run permanently I think before the summer, every time I thought about you I felt like I was drowning. I was so scared that you’d send me packing the second I showed up but I had to see you... And then you didn’t. You made that big speech and you promised me this whole dream life and the whole time...’ she was crying now, hiccuping into her tea. ‘I didn’t know how to trust it. When Barbara called me-’ Delia paused thoughtfully, ‘when she said you’d started up with Trixie I accepted it. It was like the bubble was bursting. Everything I’d been expecting had finally been confirmed. The fairytale didn’t exist. It was Jessie all over again only it was worse this time because this was you.”

Patsy closed her eyes. She wanted to reach through the phone or send a message to herself back in time. Stupid.

She hadn’t ever considered this. She’d not thought that Delia would think Patsy might not want her.

It was ridiculous.

Like comparing coal to diamond.

“I reacted badly.’ Delia breezed bracingly. ‘When I got the call I knew that if I called you and asked what was happening then you’d tell me it wasn’t true even if it was and if I heard your voice and I listened to you... I knew that I’d settle again. I’d give in to you because it was you and I- I care about you Patsy, I really do, but I couldn’t do that to myself. Not twice. I can’t be that person again Pats; not even for you. I can’t be someone’s last thought or the person waiting at home.”

“I wouldn’t ever expect you to be. You wouldn’t be.” Patsy defended uselessly.

“So I panicked,’ Delia went on simply, as though reading off a script. ‘I was disappointed and miserable. I got drunk and I slept with Caroline because she was there and she was miserable too and it was easier. I don’t even remember it that much, next morning, as soon as it was over, I knew that it was a mistake but I couldn’t change it. It was mean and it was cruel and I’m ashamed of myself. I couldn’t go back or make excuses for myself. This was my fault. And when I got back I thought you’d just ignore me but you didn’t and you really had waited and I had to tell you Pats. I didn’t want to lie to you. I hate lying and I know that you’re angry and I understand why but it doesn’t change how I feel about you. How I hope you still feel about me. I’m just a bit of a mess too.” Delia finished sadly.

Patsy could imagine her. In her kitchen watching nothing. Listening.

Warmth spread through her chest. It was like breathing when you’d been drowning. The anger seemed to melt. The hurt vanished.

How? How on earth did Delia think that little of herself?

“I dream about you every night.” It took a moment for Patsy to realise that the tentative hoarse voice that had spoken was hers.

Patsy blinked stupidly. She hadn’t meant to volunteer that information out loud, it had been hovering in her mind and tripped off her tongue before she could stop it.

Delia seemed to think it over for just a tad too long. Her eventual answer a mixture of relief and disbelief. “You do?”

“Every single night.’ Patsy confirmed sheepishly, her cheeks burning as something squirmed in her stomach. ‘All the time. Even since you told me... It’s like you carved something in me, just a bit that’s made for you. I can’t stop thinking about you, when I’m brushing my teeth, when I’m cooking the tea and driving in the car... You’re all I can think about. I keep telling myself not to be so pathetic to tell you the truth but I just can’t let you go... I can’t do it.”

“I hope you don’t.”

“I should have known you’d worry about me. I know I’ve got a history of sleeping around-” Patsy started bracingly. She knew she should let the subject drop but guilt was crawling through her now. Selfish.

She shouldn’t have waited this long over simple pride. She shouldn’t have been so stubborn.

“Pats, it doesn’t matter to-“ Delia started instantly.

“It does to me.’ Patsy interrupted firmly, squeezing her eyes closed. ‘It matters because it says something about my character. I have a reputation and I can’t deny that... I can even understand why you’d believe Barbara. I wish I’d worked it out sooner... But you’ve got to know that I wouldn’t do that to you. The way that I feel about you; I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I’d be betraying myself. It would be a lie and I try not to lie to myself... And I’ve missed you. I’ve had all these,’ She stared up at the ceiling, puffing out her cheeks contemplatively, ‘thoughts. Daydreams I suppose. About you and me. All the things I want for us.”

“Pats,’ Another creak from the background, a bang of cupboard doors telling her that Delia had gotten up again, ‘maybe I should come over? I could be at yours within twenty minutes. Maybe it would be better if we talked about this face to fa-“

“No.’ Patsy spoke quickly, certain that seeing Delia would make this so much harder... She was finally talking. If Delia was here then she’d never have the nerve to say it. ‘No I- Not tonight.”

“Tomorrow then?’ There was a note of steel to Delia now. Determined. ‘You could come to the school at lunch or we could get out of there and go sit on a bench near the beach. I don’t care where we go but I want to see you. This doesn’t feel like a phone kind of conversation.”

“I’d like that.”

“So it’s a date?” Delia pushed a little more happily.

Patsy found herself grinning, her right foots toes pointing into the ground and twirling without her permission.

And then reality caught up with her. Patsy groaned, smacking her forehead with her hand.

“Shit. I can’t.” Fucking Kim. Fucking Job.

“Oh,’ Patsy couldn’t help but love the disappointment in Delias voice. ‘Got a better offer?” She said with a laugh that didn’t quite hide the uncertainty.

Patsy turned back to the sofa and sat down heavily, in a rush to reassure. “No! God no. It’s work, a case. I’ve got to go St Matthews tomorrow to interview a couple of people. No idea how long I’ll need and I don’t think that I could get away.”

“The arson case?” Delia asked with interest.

Patsy frowned. “Yeah, how did you know?” Phyllis probably, although Patsy couldn’t remember talking about work with her.

“Oh, Claire mentioned it. Saw something on Facebook I think and asked me if you were working on it.’ Delia laughed, ‘she seemed to think I had access to your schedule.”

Patsy smiled, she didn’t care about work right now. “Tuesday?” She suggested.

It was Delias turn to sigh regretfully now. “I can’t. We’ve got a trip to the park planned for the geography project. I could come to yours afterwards though. We could just talk?”

Patsy made a half croaky laugh. The two of them in a dark house? With a bed? With flat surfaces of any kind really.

“We really do need to talk.’ Patsy croaked. ‘I meant what I said. I want to do this properly. It’s too important to muck up or rush.”

“Are you worried little old me is going to seduce you?” Delia teased half heartedly.

Patsy smiled darkly. “You don’t need to seduce me Delia. I’d just like to wait until Seppies older to do the birds and the bees talk. She’s got enough scars without walking in on us.”

There was a pause. Patsy could feel the squirming in her stomach increase as the silence dragged out and then Delia laughed in relief.

“So you haven’t gone off me then?” Delia asked shyly.

“Gone off you?’ Patsy blinked incredulously. ‘That’s... No. I don’t think we need to worry about that.”

“I could still come round now?” Delia suggested again, a smile in her voice not quite hiding her disappointment.

Patsys stomach flipped in her stomach and she bit her lip. Neil took the opportunity of her stillness to finally slink back onto the sofa next to her. She ran her fingers through the tuft of longer hair on the top of his head automatically.

“Don’t tempt me.”

“I could be good? We’re both adults.” Delia tried doubtfully, not really doing much of a job convincing herself let alone Patsy.

Patsy pressed her tongue to the roof of her mouth, her throat inexplicably dry. “That’s the problem.”

They both laughed, the tension seeming to drain away as they both took a welcome pause. Patsy could hear Delias soft breathing through the phone, soothing. For the first time in days she felt normal.

“Pats...’ Delia spoke first, the name was like air moving in a well loved room. It felt like comforting. “I’m sorry.”

Patsy stretched out her feet with a huff, resting them on the coffee table as Neil made himself more comfortable on her lap. To her surprise she found that she didn’t need another apology.

“So am I.’ She sighed. ‘I shouldn’t have flown off the handle like that. I was just being a bitch and I should have called you the next day.”

“Well to be fair you’d had a bit of a shock. You were owed a few shouts I suppose.” Delia said generously.

Patsys lips quirked at the absurdity of Delia defending Patsys poor behaviour and shook her head. “No. I was allowed one night to sulk maybe but I should have asked you why. I should have wondered more. I was being selfish; just thinking about myself when I should have thought about us. I shut down on you and that wasn’t the right thing to do. We should have talked this out then.”

“Well, we’re talking now aren’t we?”

“I’m sorry I woke you up.” Patsy offered shyly.

Delia sniffed meaningfully. “I’m bloody not.”

A thought occurred to Patsy. A nagging regret.

“And I lied.” Fuck. Why did everything Patsy said to this woman sound like it was being blurted out.

“Oh?’ Delia was cautiously curious now. ‘What about?”

“I did get your voicemail. The day after we first saw each other. Listened to it a few times... You babble too when you’re nervous.”

“Only when the stakes are this high.”

“They’re not that high.” Patsy whispered.

“No.’ Delia tutted. ‘If this is about us... being an us then it’s a high stake. I want this too Pats... if you still do?”

Patsy bit her lip and then made a split decision. Sometimes you had to take a stand and choose to take the blow if it came. If she couldn’t be honest with this woman then she couldn’t be honest with anyone. Delia was worth risks.

“I never stopped wanting this... I still want this you know. I want all sorts of things with you.” Patsy felt uncomfortably bare. More naked than she should. She waited nervously for a reply.

A part of her still expected Delia to scoff.

“Me too.” Delia whispered.

Patsy shifted uncomfortably. One more pressing thing she had to say. “But are you sure?” She asked hesitantly, her fingers felt slippery against the phone.

“No, I’ve been waiting on your call because I’m planning on getting you into a pyramid scheme.” Delia teased.

Patsy rolled her eyes. “I can’t see myself throwing Tupperware parties somehow.”

“I don’t know, I’d buy what you’re selling.”

Patsy laughed, she felt like she’d eaten balloons. Something too close to hope hovered in front of her.

But she had to be certain didn’t she? She had to make sure Delia knew what she was getting herself in to.

“It’s just-“ Patsy struggled with herself, trying to make the feelings sensical. Neil snuffled, tucking his tail under his body as he pressed a paw to keep her hand on his belly.

“Pats?”

“I’m not good at this.” Patsy admitted shamefaced. Too aware of Jessies ghost. Knowing she’d have to be better.

“Good at what?”

“This.’ Even though Delia couldn’t see Patsy found herself waving her hand at the empty air vaguely. Neil snorted his disapproval which she ignored. ‘Relationships. Talking. Being open.’ She shook her head. Understatement really. ‘Historically it’s never ended that well but... I went to my mums yesterday and she’s the happiest she’s ever been.”

“That’s a good thing isn’t it?” Delia said uncertainly.

Absently Patsy nodded. “Yes. Of course it is. She’s already planning our first child’s name by the way. She’s got everything I could want for her. She’s ecstatic and I couldn’t ask for anyone better than Phyllis but the point is that she had to wait for that. Delia, they both had to wait sixty years for that. Sixty years before they found each other again and I don’t want that. I mean; I don’t want to have some star struck reunion with you in thirty years. I want that now. I want that with you. I’ve wanted that with you since I saw you walking down that lane with your bust bike.’ Patsy swallowed, edging over a precipice one toe at a time. ‘I think I’ve been waiting for you all my life. I...’ Love you. I love you.

Patsy hovered but couldn’t quite say it aloud yet. Fighting for mental foot places she recovered quickly. Clearing her throat she presses on, sod the consequences. Confidence, if not actually real, at least convincingly feigned projecting outwards.

‘So if you’ve got any doubts, if you’re going to change you’re mind next week or decide you want someone better then you have to tell me now because...’ Patsy floundered, tripping over herself, ‘because you’re all I think about too... But I’m not... I have- Not everything- A lot of things have happened and I’m keeping my head above water barely some days and I don’t think,’ Patsys teeth clenched in embarrassment at saying this out loud to anyone, ‘that I can take another big hit... straight away.” She finished lamely.

“I know that.” Delia sounded like she was swallowing something thick.

“I’m not easy,’ Patsy went on tiredly, determined to get it out now because when a cork has finally exploded out its impossible to get it back in again instantly as many waitresses will attest. ‘I know I’m not easy. I’m sarcastic and I get prickly when I’m scared and believe me you scare the shit out of me. The way I feel about you scares me more than anything else but I don’t care if it’s going to mean something.”

“I don’t care either.”

“And I’m going to get things wrong,’ Patsy warned, ‘I know I am. Helen used to tell me that I’ve got a streak of bull in me, smashing everything in my way when I’m not paying attention. I’ve probably done this all wrong, I probably should have waited until the morning but I couldn’t. I had this... Dream and I couldn’t- I had to say something.”

“You really dreamed about me?”

“I know that’s not really smooth.” Patsy bit her lip.

“Err... No. Thats pretty smooth Pats.” Delia disagreed faintly.

“I’m not the best, I’m not the easiest and I know I’m hard work but...’ Patsy flopped back in her seat. Flummoxed but sincere at least. ‘If you let me I can get better. I can be better than this and I can learn. I want to learn for you. I want to give you everything. Anything you want. I want this future with you Delia and I’ve missed you. Which I know is daft because we’ve only got started.’ Patsy picked self consciously at her pyjama bottom. ‘I mean we haven’t even really got started yet but I can’t help it. You’ve got a hold on me and now I can’t really imagine anything else.”

“Pats.” Delia interrupted quietly.

“It’s just I don’t want you to have some idea that I’m not committed to this.” Patsy went on wretchedly.

“Pats-.”

“-Because I am.’ Patsy went on, her jaw tightening. ‘I’m committed to you. I’m in. I’m all in. I was all in when you said you needed time and there’s been no one else. How could there be? I don’t want anyone else. I just want you. And I’m sorry I’ve been such a prick. I’m sorry if I’ve hurt your feelings. I didn’t want to. Not really. I’d rather walk backwards through a field of dicks than do that. I just could stand the idea that you thought I would replace you like that.’ Patsy sighed and rested her neck on the sofa. She felt like she’d run a gauntlet and almost laughed at the picture she posed. So much for subtle Mount. “And I’m babbling aren’t I?”

There was a longer pause. Patsy frowned, aware that she couldn’t hear Delia breathing anymore.

“Err?’ Patsy hesitated into the sudden silence. Embarrassment flooding in to fill the gaps that Delia should be filling. ‘Was that wrong?”

Delia seemed to startle at that.

“Wrong?’ She repeated weakly. ‘No, no I just- Shit, you really shouldn’t say stuff like that.”

Patsys face fell. “Was it too much?” She wavered, ready to back away if she had to.

Delia must have read her tone because she said very quickly. “No! Not too much. Exactly the right amount. I just would have preferred to be there that’s all.”

“So you can laugh in person?” Patsy joked halfheartedly.

Delia snorted. ”That wasn’t funny.”

“Should have tried a knock knock joke.”

“You’re a bloody idiot Pats.” Delia said abruptly.

Patsy gulped. “I know that.”

“But I think you could be my idiot.”

Patsy blinked and then felt her face soften. Something warm was spreading across her chest, sinking into the bone. Still grinning with relief Patsy played with one of Neil’s ears.

“I’d like that.”

“That was a really good speech.” Delia said eventually.

“It was?’ Patsys cheeks hurt from smiling, the muscles complaining at the strain. ‘I can’t take the credit, I read it off a cereal packet at breakfast.”

“Which cereal?”

“Rice crispies.’ Patsy replied promptly, all too aware that if she’d been a seven year old boy she’d have probably thrown Delia in a pond after kissing her at this point. ‘They do snap, crackle, pop and love declarations on Sundays.”

Delia laughed. “You’re the worst liar I’ve ever met.”

“Well at least you know what you’re getting yourself into.”

“True,’ Delia agreed, yawning, ‘and I really do need to go to sleep now Pats, it’s late.”

“Says the woman who just suggested driving over here.” Patsy pointed out lightly.

Delia yearned again, “that wasn’t a direct brain message, I have to be up in three and a half hours and I’m rubbish in the mornings. When are you up?”

Patsy looked around her living room, she doubted she’d go back to sleep now but it didn’t feel so hard now.

“I’ll be up early too, might do some dusting.”

“At two in the morning?”

Patsy bit her lip, ignoring the fatigue weighing her down as she tried to be bright and breezy, ‘best time to get the housework done, besides, I’m strangely awake now.”

“You need to sleep some time too Cariad, you’ll get poorly if you don’t.” Delias obvious concern didn’t worry Patsy.

“I know, night Delia.”

“I’ll text you in the morning?” Delia sounded uncertain again.

“Not if I text you first.”

That seemed to cover it. Five minutes later Patsy was alone again, holding her phone.

Ten minutes after that, despite all of her plans, Patsy was fast asleep, still holding her phone.

This time there weren’t any nightmares.