‘Delia Busby, you must be the luckiest girl in the world!’
Delia looked up as she bustled through the door of The Poplar, wondering what on earth would make Val say that, given that she was very late, soaking wet and utterly exhausted. Days when she had classes, observations and work pushed her normally limitless energy reserves to the brink, and she hoped she could make it through her six-hour shift without falling asleep at the taps.
She took off her drenched woollen coat, holding it up away from her body as it dripped onto the floor, ‘Why am I lucky? I certainly don’t feel it right now.’
Val smiled as she wiped down the counter, gesturing with her head towards the clock on the wall, ‘Phyllis hasn’t come down yet to check on us. Hurry up and get back here before she comes. You know how she feels about promptness.’
As if summoned by Val’s words, the sounds of someone stomping down the back stairs echoed through the quiet pub.
Delia muttered ‘Cach!’ under her breath as she flung her coat onto the rack and made a run for the bar. Ducking behind it, she caught the martini glass and rag Val tossed towards her as she sprinted to her spot. When Phyllis burst in, she was calmly inspecting the glass, looking for all the world like she’d been there prepping for the last twenty minutes. It appeared she might avoid getting in trouble, despite her lateness. Maybe she was lucky.
‘Evening ladies, I wanted to check in with each of you about your plans for the holidays. Now I know that…’ Phyllis trailed off, staring at Delia, looking a bit bewildered, ‘Delia, what on earth is the matter with your hair?’
Delia glanced at herself in the mirror, seeing that her hair was so wet that long tendrils had snuck out of her tight ponytail and her fringe was matted messily to her forehead, ‘Umm…I’m sorry Ms Crane. I got caught in the downpour on the way from the bus stop. I’d prepared for snow, but I wasn’t expecting rain.’
‘And you’ve decided you’re simply going to bartend this evening looking like you’ve just been pulled from the Thames?’
‘Well…no. I just thought I’d help Val get prepped before fixing my hair.’
Phyllis sighed, ‘Delia, I know it’s a challenge to manage classes and observations and working here, and you’re an excellent bartender who the patrons love, but I really need you to be prompt and professional. This is a nice pub with a reputation to uphold.’
Delia looked down at the ground, feeling thoroughly chided, ‘Yes, Ms Crane. It’s just that the bus from the hospital was late.’
Phyllis narrowed her eyes, ‘I don’t like excuses, kid. The world needs more nurses, but I need a reliable bartender. Now, why don’t you pop up to your flat and spruce up while Valerie finishes prepping. You can pay her back by doing clean-up this evening. We’ll discuss holiday scheduling at a later date.’
Delia sighed and began making her way towards the back stairs when she was brought to a halt by Phyllis calling out.
‘Oh, and Delia? Do bring this coat up with you before it creates a small pond by the door.’
Delia grumbled to herself as she grabbed her coat and trudged up the back stairs. If she was the luckiest girl in the world, she truly felt bad for everyone else. Though she had to admit, Phyllis’ exacting standards notwithstanding, she still had a pretty nice setup. She was in a good nursing program, she had a job that paid the bills, and the small flat above the pub she shared with Val was well within her budget.
All she needed to do was not lose her bloody job because the bus always ran late. Maybe she should get a bicycle; that would probably be faster.
She quickly changed into dry clothes and made herself look presentable before making her way back down to the pub.
Val smiled warmly at her as she ducked back behind the bar, ‘I still don’t think she has any sense of just how late you were, so that’s a plus.’
Delia rolled her eyes and shot Val a small smile, ‘Silver linings and all that. Hopefully the bus won’t be late too many more times or you’re going to be getting a new roommate.’
Val waved her hand dismissively, ‘Are you kidding? Phyllis loves you. She just has to appear all stern and intimidating to keep up appearances. She’s really a marshmallow.’
‘I hope you’re right.’
Delia set about making sure the well was set up the way she liked it, feeling herself calm as she looked at the neatly organized row of bottles and dishes of citrus, olives and herbs. She really did enjoy this job. Getting to chat with people while she created delicious drinks was a great way to unwind and clear her brain after a stressful day of observational rounds. And, much to Phyllis’ chagrin, The Poplar never got outrageously busy, so it never felt too hectic.
Also, today was Wednesday, which meant that the midwives would be coming for their weekly Wednesday social. Which meant that Patsy would be here. Delia loved any opportunity to see Patsy, and it would be a special treat to get to see her two days in a row. Delia felt herself flush with pleasure as she recalled the previous evening. At one point, Patsy had told Tony that Delia made the very best Old Fashioned in all of London. In all of London! When she’d heard that she’d been filled with such a bubbly happiness she thought she might float away. Patsy thought her Old Fashioned was the best!!
God, she had such an utterly hopeless crush. Patsy was just so…interesting. And kind. And funny. And gorgeous. And an already established nurse who lived in a nice flat and wore stylish clothes and drank fancy drinks and wouldn’t even begin to be interested in someone like Delia, who was young and just getting started in her career and who couldn’t even manage to read a weather report so she wouldn’t show up at work looking sodden and unprofessional. Delia bet that Patsy had never shown up at work looking like a bedraggled stray.
But still, knowing that Patsy was out of her league didn’t stop her from looking…and hoping. And, somewhat shockingly, Patsy actually seemed interested in talking to her. They would often chat when the midwives would come to The Poplar, and last night they’d actually gone to a film together. Well, it was a group trip to the cinema, but still…she and Patsy and Tony had actually hung out together all evening and it had felt easy and normal and fun. Really, the only down side was that it had made her crush even bigger, which she hadn’t been sure was possible.
Oh well, she’d long since resigned herself to a life of hopeless pining, so she might as well enjoy every opportunity she got to bask in Patsy’s presence.
Valerie prepped extra citrus as she watched Delia fiddle with various bottles, lining them all up just so. She was dying to know how Delia and Patsy’s movie night had gone, but she had to find a way to ask so as not to seem suspicious.
It had been Trixie’s idea, trying to surreptitiously get the two of them on a date. The blonde was convinced that they were both utterly infatuated with each other but neither would admit it, so she’d declared that the group needed to hang out outside of The Poplar and organized a ‘group night at the cinema.’ Then she arranged for everyone else to conveniently have to cancel, leaving Patsy and Delia to spend the evening together. Valerie had dutifully texted Delia to say she’d had something come up, and now she wanted to know if the ruse had worked.
She cleared her throat, ‘By the way, I’m sorry I had to cancel last night. I’d completely forgotten I told my friend I’d meet up with her. Did you still have a good time at the cinema?’
Delia seemed to flush slightly as she smiled and nodded, ‘Mmhm. It was wonderful. Trixie and Barbara had to cancel as well, so it turned out to be not so big of a group.’
‘Oh no!’ Valerie hoped that her concern sounded convincing, ‘Was it just you and Patsy then?’
Delia shook her head, ‘No. Patsy had invited her friend Tony from the hospital, so it was the three of us.’
Did Delia seem disappointed? Valerie couldn’t tell. She knew she was disappointed.
‘Oh…that’s good then. I’m glad the three of you had a wonderful time.’
Delia simply nodded, though Valerie noted she seemed to be blushing.
Before she had a chance to follow up, a large group bustled in through the front door, calling out hellos as they took off their dripping coats. Valerie called back her greetings and took a deep breath. It was time to get to work.
Trixie leaned up against the bar feeling thoroughly irritated. Her plan had been flawless, and then Patsy had to go and invite Tony. How could she possibly have planned for that?
She made eye contact with Val, who hustled over to her, looking as if she had a secret to share.
Val spoke in an exaggerated whisper, ‘Trixie! I talked to Delia and it turns out it wasn’t just the two of them because Patsy invited –’
‘Tony, I know. Patsy told me.’ Trixie cut her off dryly before sighing dramatically, ‘Ugh. They’re just so impossible. I need to get them alone so they can realize how in love with each other they are.’
Val smiled and rolled her eyes, ‘That seems a bit dramatic.’
‘Not at all. I mean, look at them.’ Trixie gestured over to where Patsy and Delia were chatting at the other end of the bar. Taking in their flushed features and giddy smiles and shining eyes, Trixie wasn’t sure how it could possibly have been more obvious. Surely everyone else wasn’t blind.
Val cocked her head to the side, ‘I suppose they do look happy to see each other.’
Trixie shot her a disbelieving look, ‘Are all of you lesbians this hopeless? It really is amazing you ever start relationships at all.’
‘Hey!’ Val feigned insult, though she smiled good-naturedly.
‘Regardless, we need to figure out how to get them alone where they can’t invite anyone else and they’ll have plenty of time to get over all of their various insecurities.’ She watched Patsy walk back to join Barbara, Cynthia and Chummy at their table, considering her options. She could try to arrange another group outing, but it would be too suspicious if they all cancelled a second time. She could try yet again to talk to Patsy, but that route had been utterly fruitless thus far and she didn’t see why now would be any different. No, the time had come for drastic action. She turned back to Val.
‘Valerie, what are Delia’s plans for Christmas?’
‘She’s going home to Wales to spend it with her family, why?’
Trixie shot her a meaningful look, and Valerie immediately paled, ‘Trixie, no. That’s too much.’
‘On the contrary, I think it’s just enough.’
‘How would you even make that happen? There’s no way Patsy would invite herself to Delia’s family’s holiday.’
Trixie smirked devilishly, ‘She won’t have to because Delia’s going to invite her.’
‘Trixie, I really think this might be crossing a line. Family holidays are a big deal.’
‘Yes they are. Full of love and warmth and presents and mistletoe. It’ll be absolutely perfect.’
‘If they’re really so in love with each other, can’t we just wait for them to figure it out?’
‘We’ve all known each other for a year, Valerie, and they’re still just obliviously flirting with each other. If we wait for them to figure it out, we’ll all be retired by then. No, it’s time for drastic action. Anyway, Delia’s always talking about how she wishes she had a friend to act as a buffer when she’s around family, and Patsy hasn’t had a proper Christmas in…well, maybe ever. At worst, they’ll just bumble awkwardly through the holidays together.’
Val still looked profoundly sceptical, ‘I don’t know, Trix.’
‘Come on,’ Trixie pouted, shooting Valerie her best puppy-dog eyes, ‘Don’t you want Delia to be happy?’
Val stared her down for a moment before letting out an exasperated sigh, ‘Fine!’
Trixie beamed and clapped her hands together with glee, ‘I knew you’d agree to it.’ She lowered her voice and leaned conspiratorially across the bar, ‘Alright. Here’s what we’re going to do…’