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These Arms of Mine

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Chapter 1: ‘Lonely Tearsdrops’ – Jackie Wilson

 

‘Just give me another chance
For our romance
Come on and tell me
That one day you'll return
'Cause every day that you've been gone away
You'll know my heart does nothing but burn crying’

 

“I don’t want you to go.” Eleanor says. You stare into her eyes, so much like your own and smile.

“I know but I have to.” Your mind is set on it. You’ve known since Delia sent the letter asking for you that you would go.

Please, Pats, I need to see you.

“But why? Where are you going, Mama?”

“To see an old friend.” You hate leaving her and she hates you leaving but you must do this. It’s been eight years since you last saw Delia hop on that train bound for Wales. It’s been eight years since you caught a glimpse of those expressive blue eyes and dimples that could convince you to do anything. Eight long years and now you have a six-year-old daughter and widowhood to greet her with.

And what does she have to greet you with? A husband? A family? A life lived without you.

You lift Eleanor onto your knee and tuck a few errant strands behind her ear. She looks up at you, frown in place and lower lip poking out. You stroke her cheek.

“You’re my daughter, Eleanor, you know I wouldn’t leave you without good reason and you know I’ll be home as soon as I can. In the meantime, Aunt Trixie will be looking after you.”

“Auntie Trix?” she says, smile in place and dimples so reminiscent of Delia, of Edward, of your losses on show that it makes your heartache just a little.

“Yes.” Eleanor cheers and you smile. “Don’t think I don’t know about all that cake she feeds you, my Darling. Not too much, okay? You’ll make yourself sick,” you say, ticking her. She squirms and giggles in your arms and it fills you, it gives you air to breathe. You sometimes wonder if this is how you used to make your mother feel.

You hope so.

“I won’t, Mama. I won’t.” You stop tickling her and smile.

“I love you, Elle.”

“Love you, too, Mama” she says, reaching up and kissing your cheek with a loud ‘mwah’. You kiss her forehead, breathing in the scent of your little girl.

You hear a knock at the door and place her on the chair next to you before going to answer it, dusting imaginary lint off your jeans and squaring your shoulders as you rise.

“How’re my two favourite girls?” Trixie says, stepping into your living room and depositing her coat on the back of your sofa with a flick of her wrist, smile in place.

The glare you throw at her goes ignored as she breezes past and scoops Eleanor up. You shake your head, pick up her coat and hang it where it belongs, willing to play into this familiar theatrical routine to the soundtrack of their light-hearted laughter.

“We’re good, Aunt Trix.”

“Now that’s what I like to hear.” Trixie turns to face you, Eleanor tucked onto her hip. “And where are you going?” she says, cocking an eyebrow.

“Out. With a friend.” You say, looking for your gloves and willing yourself not to blush.

“And where might ‘out’ be?”

“Mama’s friend from London and Natus.”

“Oh, really, Elle Belle. Which friend is this?” You sigh.

“Delia.”

“Pats.”

“No, no, I know. She asked to see me. She needs me for something. I’ll go and do what I can and that will be that.” Trixie throws a sympathetic look your way and you look away. You can’t bear it. “I won’t be long, a couple of hours at the most. You know where everything is. Make sure she’s in bed by eight o’ clock.”

“I will, I know the drill,” Trixie responds, voice softer and less playful. You remember the days she used to tuck your little girl in, back when you first lost Edward and didn’t know what to do with yourself other than cry.

Another loss.

You loved him in your own way. You were the best of friends and he healed your broken heart after Delia left, always understanding that you loved him as much as you could but never that much. Always understanding that your heart belonged to somebody else, even if you never said who.

You swallow down the lump in your throat.

“I mean it. Be good. I know what you two are like when you get together.”

“Angels?”

“Devils. Now, I’ll be back as soon as I can,” you say, kissing Eleanor’s forehead and touching Trixie’s forearm.

“Take all the time you need, Pats. You know I love spending time with this little monster,” she says, squeezing your hand for a second before letting it go and spinning Eleanor in circles. Eleanor squeals and Trixie laughs, softly.

You smile and try to hold onto this lightness, this happiness for a few seconds longer.

“Thank you for this, Trix. I’ll see you soon. I love you both,” you say, righting your scarf around your neck.

“Love you, too,” they both respond in unison and you smile. What would you have done without Trixie? Trixie who’s always been there, helping you through losing Delia, losing Edward and raising your daughter alongside you, despite having her own family to look after.

At least if Delia is going to break your heart just a little bit more, you’ll be warm and comfortable, and you’ll have love to come back to.

You pull your coat tighter around you as the wind bites into your skin and tuck your head down, focusing on one foot in front of the other. What could she possibly want from you? You haven’t heard a word since her mother came and swooped her away from you and now she’s here, asking for you.

You feel sick, like you’re walking to the firing squad. You know it’s overdramatic but despite every loss, every time you remember your mother, your sister, your lack of family, the loss of Delia breaks you slightly more.

Because she’s alive.

She walked away.

She had a choice and she left you. She. Left. You.

You look up and focus ahead.

You have a daughter, now. Things are different. There’s a strength inside you you never knew before. Despite losing almost everyone, you feel stronger than ever with memories of Eleanor tucked inside your rib cage, fortifying your bones until they’re stronger than metal.

If she walks away, you won’t stand there watching this time. You will hold your head high, eyes dry and walk back to your daughters loving smile.

You keep walking, always looking forward, head high, even though for the first time since you read her letter, you’re wondering why you’re doing this, why she deserves your time. Even though, deep down, you know the answer.

Before you know it, you’re standing in front of Delia inside your old haunt. The Jukebox stills stands off to the side.

For a moment, the blue of her eyes takes your breath away. The smell of sweet smelling Tulips, the smell of her washes over you and every memory, every kiss, every touch comes flooding back.

You remember why you place fresh flowers on your window sill, every day, why you always smile when you deliver a cup of hot milk to Eleanor when she can’t sleep, why you never loved Edward as much as you wished you could. And it’s with these last thoughts you remember why you must be strong, why you cannot let her break you again, why you need to be everything your daughter needs you to be.

She cannot lose another parent. She will not suffer like you did. Luckily, Eleanor was young when Edward passed, when a car ran him over and took him from you both. You show her pictures and tell her stories about him and she listens, she learns and loves him in her own way, but you know it’s not the same. So, you square your shoulders, hold your head high and look the woman you love in the eye and the eye alone. You don’t want to see how good, how beautiful she looks despite knowing it must be so.

“Hello,” you say.

“Pats,” she breathes out wraps her arms around you. “It’s so good to you.” You politely smile and pat her on the back, a crease in your brow as you try to figure her out. She burrows her head into your neck. You tense and fall back on propriety, stepping away. Your skin feels two sizes two small and itches but you don’t let it show.

“It’s good to see you, too.”

“I’ve missed you so much.” She wraps her arms around herself and you frown. She’s missed you and yet she never responded to your letters. She upped and left without a word, and you both know that all she had to do was send you a letter or call you on the phone and you would have responded. Immediately. Like you have.

She’s missed you and yet she left without any contact.

You catch a glimpse of her tear stained face, red tinted cheeks, and blue, blue eyes before looking off to the side. You swallow and take a few moments to compose yourself.

“I believe you asked to see me?”

“Yes, yes.” She wipes quickly wipes her eyes and takes a breath, sitting down at that familiar table. “There’s so much to say- to tell you. I-I don’t know where to begin. I’m just so glad you came. That you’ve given me this chance.” She looks small and lost. It reminds you of that hospital visit.

You pull out the chair opposite Delia and take a seat.

“Just-just start at the beginning. Why am I here? What do you need? From me of all people? You never responded to my letters.” You clench your jaw and fist in tandem before releasing both. “I’m sorry. Please, go ahead. What do you need?”

“Oh, Cariad. Pats,” she whispers. You look around glancing at all the people who are paying you both no attention. “I did respond.” You frown.

“No, I never received a response. Not at all. God knows I wanted one. Just to even know you were okay would have been enough.”

“I know,” she says, reaching out and placing her hand over yours. Your mind is too pre-occupied trying to figure out what she’s on about to pull it away. “I know. Me,” she takes a deep breath before continuing, tears falling, once again. “Me Mam passed away a couple of months ago.”

“Oh, I am so sorry to hear that.”

“While I don’t doubt you are, I think a part of you isn’t but it’s okay. She was lost after Tad died and then she got sick, too. I half think it was heartbreak that killed her.”

“Delia, I really am sorry to hear that.” You turn your hand so it sits in hers and squeeze it for a moment before remembering yourself and quickly letting go. “How’re you holding up?”

“I’m getting there. It’s hard but,” she shrugs. “I’ll get there. I can be strong, just like you.” You smile in encouragement and wish you could help her but you still don’t understand what’s going on, what she’s trying to tell you. And you know nobody else can ever help with grief.

No matter who they are or what they mean to you.

You both sit in silence for a few minutes trying to figure out how to proceed. You play with your fingers, your mind simultaneously too empty and too full.

It’s with a deep breath and a wipe of her eyes that Delia begins again, tucking her hands in her lap and looking so, so small. How you wish you could wrap her in your arms and make everything okay but you know that won’t happen, not now and maybe not ever again. There’s a distance between you that’s never existed, not even when you first met and you wish you could melt into the rising darkness outside.

“I was there, in the room when she passed away. She kept saying sorry, that she wished knew how to fix it. I didn’t know what she meant, at first but then she told me about the letters, the ones you sent to me, the ones I wrote to you…the ones she kept in a locked drawer instead of posting.” You gasp and clench your jaw, a dull ache settling across…everywhere.

“Why?” Delia frowns. “Why did she do that? To you? To us?”

“I don’t know. She said she thought it was best and that afterwards, when she saw how sad and heartbroken I was she didn’t know how to fix it. She thought she’d lose me – that I’d come to London and be with you and that would be that. No letters, no calls.”

“Would it have been like that?” You wish you could lodge these words back into your throat as soon as you finish uttering them. It shouldn’t-it doesn’t matter. Not now.

“Maybe at first but I would have forgiven her, eventually. She was me Mam. I would have because I would have had you and I’d have been happy. We’d have been happy. And now? Now, I don’t know what to do. I don’t have any one and I can’t even be angry at her because she’s gone, but I am. I’m so, so angry at her. She took you away from me. I spent years wondering what I did wrong, why you wouldn’t reach out to me, why I wasn’t enough.” She looks down, playing with her fingers. “But it was her,” she says, her voice falling to nothing.

You wish you could cry. You want to but fire in your blood heats the tears to nothing and it feels like carbon monoxide is filling your lungs. Willing the sickness to stay down, you close your eyes and focus on your breathing, on inhaling oxygen to exhale the poison that that monster of a woman has placed inside of you.

All those years of hurting and wishing and wanting were because of her.

Your life could have been-would have been so different.

“I know things have changed. Phyllis once told me that you have a daughter and a husband. I don’t want to cause you anymore pain but I just-I just wanted you to know the truth. I never stopped wanting, I never stopped loving you and I’m happy for you. Really, I am.” She reaches forward, placing her hand on your lower arm, soft smile on her face as she looks down, wiping away the last of her tears. “I bet you’re an amazing mother.” She looks up, tilting her head and hitting you with a familiar twinkle in her red rimmed eyes. “I always imagined you as a stern but loving one. I’d sneak our child some sweets and you’d find out, telling us both off for spoiling our dinner but nursing us when we were sick from eating too much.” You smile and imagine Delia doing just that with Eleanor. Oh, how these two would cause you so much trouble if they were together.

“You imagined that?”

“Yes. I know it’s silly, that we could never have children together but, sometimes,” she shrugs and you see her rosy cheeks steadily redden. You’ve always adored it when Delia blushes, on the very rare occasions that ever happened. “I’d see you with a child and I just wouldn’t be able to stop myself from imagining a little you running about.” You smile and think of Eleanor, focusing on knowing that you have her to go home too, no matter the answer to your next question.

“What about you?” She frowns. “Did you ever-did you ever get married or find anyone else?”

“Of course not.” She looks down. You feel something lodge itself in your throat and it takes you a while to clear it and find a way to speak.

“Why? I bet you had all the men tripping over themselves for your hand.” You ignore the squeeze in your heart as you utter these words and force a smile on your face. Delia-the Delia that you remember always was the most desirable wife in your eyes.

“Because of you, Patience Elizabeth Mount. It’s always been you.”

“But I—”

“It’s okay, Cariad. I understand why. I’m glad you found somebody to love you, to give you a child.”

“I-it,” you take a few moments to formulate a response. “It wasn’t like that. He knew I never loved him like that.” She frowns and tilts her head, much like your daughter does now and your heart melts.

“Then why?”

“We-Edward and I were good friends. Trixie introduced us one night, about a year after you left.” You smile, remembering it well. His slick, dark hair and friendly face instantly endeared you to him. He was a good man. “He was-he was like us and after a few months, once we became really good friends, he confided in me that his family was pressuring him to marry.”

“Oh.”

“Yes,” you look down. “I’m not proud that I didn’t marry for love, neither was Edward. He used to dream about the day people like us could marry the people we really loved.”

“Someday we will be able too. I know it.”

“He used to say the same thing.” You smile again. “He always reminded me a little bit of you.”

“I’ll have you know, Patience Mount, that I am all woman, as well you know.” You can’t help the laughter spilling out from you. She always had this effect on you.

“Indeed, I do but that’s not what I meant. He was so optimistic, like you. So happy and cheerful. And he was from Wales, too.”

“Something about the Welsh, eh?”

“Yes.” You smile. “I think that was half the reason I could marry him – because he reminded me of you.”

“Then why,” she says, struggling to figure her thoughts. “Then why a child?” You sigh.

“We both loved Eleanor from the moment she was born but we didn’t create her from love. Edward’s mother wanted an heir but more than that, Edward and I wanted a child, just not with each other, and he wanted to provide even more security for me, should anything happen to him, because his mother never liked me.”

“Oh.”

“Yes, as optimistic as he was, he always felt like he would leave this world earlier than expected and he did.” Delia sucks in a breath and looks at you, trying to read how you are feeling.

“I’m glad you found such a good man, such a good friend to marry.” You smile. Of all the people, she would be the one to know not to apologise for his death.

“Me too.” You’re silent for a few minutes remembering his laughter, his friendship, his voice. “We were both so relieved when I got pregnant after our first, and only…encounter. I assure you, our natures were even more absolute after that excruciating experience. It took us all day, a lot of lewd magazines and a lot of imagination to make it work.” Delia giggles and you throw a playful glare in her direction. “Shouldn’t you be consumed with jealousy instead of laughing at me?” You smile at the twinkle in Delia’s eye.

“Would you be jealous if I lay with somebody else?” You sigh, once again.

“Unashamedly so.” She smiles and looks softly at you.

“A part of me is jealous but a bigger part of me is happy you have a child, a daughter no less, Cariad. And I know, I know now that it wasn’t from love – that it wasn’t like we were. But I meant it, I’m happy that you were loved by a good man. It’s all I ever wanted for you.”

The tears finally begin to come but you fight them, like always. You never have and never will be one to cry. Even with Delia, you rarely did so. She stands and walks around the table, arm raised to the side and head slightly tilted.

“Pats, let’s go for a walk. It’s still so warm out at this time of night and it’ll be good to get out of the glare of these lights.”

You stand and feel some of the distance begin to melt away as you hold the door open and catch a hint of that particular vanilla sweet scent.

It’s after a few minutes of you both walking along in silence, the darkness hiding a lot but not the paleness overclouding Delia’s face, that you notice something is wrong. Your surreptitious glances turn into a determined stare as you force her stop and stand in front of her, holding her in place and noticing the sheen of sweat, her ashen pallor, the subtle flinch as your voice breaks the silence to enquire what’s wrong.

“It’s-It’s not-nothing to w-w-worry about. Just.” She sighs. “After accident. Stress. Migraines.”

“Right. Well, we best get you home, then.”

“Sorry. Useless. So, useless.”

“No, this isn’t your fault.” You lift her chin and force her to look you in the eye. “We can continue this another time, for now, let’s get you home, okay?” you whisper as softly and jovially as you can. You wish you could continue this conversation, that you could begin to bridge the gap of eight years between you but more than that, you wish that Delia didn’t have to go through this.

You always wondered if there would be any lingering after effects. The fact that there is and that you’re in part the cause of this settles on your shoulders.

If she didn’t borrow your bike. If her mother didn’t come between you. If you’d have had the courage to go to Wales and demand and answer.

If. If. If.