Patsy hadn’t laughed like this since god only knows when. And she was doing a surprisingly good job of ignoring the rumbling of nerves that realisation was evoking. Somehow, with this gaggle of girls she’d only known for 7 weeks, in this slightly dilapidated kitchen, she felt at ease. And you know what, she was ok with that.
It had been an afternoon of revelations. Her housemates and their next-door neighbours, who were also on their course, had congregated in the kitchen of their student digs. It was becoming a regular Sunday occurrence. You see their kitchen had an enormous TV, courtesy of Patsy’s father. She’d been mortified when it was delivered. But it was perfect for film nights, and Delia and Val enjoyed co-opting it for Mario Kart races and Call of Duty battles.
Today they were doing a Youtube binge, educating each other on their music tastes.
Trixie had taken them on a journey through the bizarre world of 80s pop videos. Culture Club, Wham, A-ha, Pet Shop Boys, the lot. Her affinity with Madonna in her glory days was news to no-one. Val got most of them up air-guitaring to a bit of classic rock. To everyone’s surprise, Barbara had put on Slim Shady.
“You know he’s, like, properly homophobic right?” Delia piped up, dropping down onto the sofa next to Patsy. The red head desperately tried to ignore the way her skin tingled where their bodies met. The girl didn’t have much choice in her proximity after all, there were a lot of them trying to squish onto 2 sofas and a settee.
Barbara didn’t turn away from the screen, her head bobbing to the rhythm of the lyrics. “Don’t be silly Delia, he’s great!”
“I’m not being silly,” Delia leaned over Patsy to grab the remote from the arm of the sofa. “Listen to this bit coming up, you’ll see.” She turned the volume up and angled herself to watch Barbara, which for some reason required her to lean against the red head beside her. Patsy swallowed hard, watching the screen intently and trying to focus on the lyrics as the screen was taken over by two kids watching a pair of rhinos mating on their own television set.
“…But if we can hump dead animals and antelopes
Then there’s no reason that a man and another man can’t elope…”
Patsy’s eyebrows shot up as two men appeared before a wedding officiant and as they moved in to kiss, Eminem jumped up between them, shoving them apart.
“Noooo!” Barbara exclaimed. “But he just seemed like fun!”
“Really Babs?!” Val scoffed from her cross-legged position on the floor. “The man just said he’d locked a dead Dr Dre in his basement.”
Barbara clapped her hands over her mouth, clearly distraught. “Oh no. If I’d realised I would never have put it on, gosh you must all think I’m a terrible person.” She reached across the gap between the sofas to grasp Patsy’s arm. “Patsy, Delia, Val, I am so sorry if I’ve offended you!”
Patsy’s spine stiffened. “I’m not offended. Why would I be offended?” she tried to ask evenly, though she had to clear her throat to manage it. Shit shit shit. She thought she’d done a good job of hiding her sexual orientation.
“Because you’re a…”
“Give me the controller Barbara, we need something cheesy after that I think.” Once again Delia leaned over Patsy, and the red head couldn’t help a defensive flinch. Why did the girl insist on invading her personal space all the time?!
The welsh girl quickly typed something into the search bar as she settled back into her seat, the search result provoking whoops and a couple of groans, although everyone scrambled to their feet. Delia discreetly squeezed Patsy’s arm, her eyebrows raised, Patsy presumed silently asking if she was all right. The redhead simply waved her off, shoving the girl out of her seat to join the others lining up as a male voice called “It’s time to begin so count me in, 5 6 7 8!”
Patsy couldn’t help laughing as all her friends started rocking from side to side in a line-dance to the bright poppy accompaniment of Steps. She made sure to keep her eyes moving, trying to watch everyone equally, but she just kept getting drawn back to Delia. I mean, those hips…
The young brunette must have caught her watching, a cocky grin spreading across her face. She cocked her head, beckoning Patsy to join them. Patsy shook her head. There was no way she was getting up to dance! But she was perfectly happy to just sit and watch and enjoy the energy in the room.
Apparently Delia had a thing for crap 90s pop. Take That, B*Witched, Back Street Boys, S Club 7, everyone was throwing themselves into it with abandon. She’d never seen so much prancing around by people over the age of 7 without the presence of significant amounts of alcohol. And she genuinely hadn’t laughed like this since she was a child.
Eventually Delia put on Wannabe. Someone squealed before people started bowing out, leaving Delia, Trixie, Barbara and Lucille on the floor.
“Come on Pats!” Delia grabbed Patsy’s wrist and gently tugged. “We need a Ginger Spice!”
“Not on your life Busby!” Patsy cried over the beginning of the music, grinning from ear to ear. “I’m happy to sit back and enjoy the show.”
“Oh so you want a show do you?” Delia smirked. “All right, I’ll give you a show.” She sauntered over to the other sofa. “Come on Chummy, show us your best Geri Halliwell.”
Chummy leapt up clapping, falling into line with the others, Barbara unwrapping a lollipop while Trixie and Lucille quickly pulled her hair into bunches.
If Patsy hadn’t known better she’d think that what followed had been choreographed and vaguely rehearsed, despite Chummy’s clumsiness. Perhaps they’d just watched the video too many times. Trixie was in her element posing, Lucille’s high-kick had a suitable amount of attitude, Chummy bumbled about but seemed to be having so much fun it was endearing. Barbara was grinning from ear-to-ear, and Delia threw Patsy a cheeky wink before performing an impressive back-flip, although Patsy flinched when she kicked the lightshade. Val even got dragged up to do a passable impression of the rich old lady who featured at the end of the video.
When the song ended, the quintet legged it out the kitchen door, screeching and giggling, returning only when the remaining friends applauded from their seats.
A grinning Delia flopped back down on the sofa, out of breath, a light sheen of sweat glistening on her forehead. Patsy thought she looked…no, nope, she was not going there!
Instead, she squinted at the brunette. “I’m starting to think you’re a little off your rocker Delia.”
The girl laughed. “All the best people are.”
Normally Patsy wouldn’t agree with a statement like that, but she was considering making an exception in this case.
“I don’t know about the rest of you,” Trixie was fanning her face with both hands, glaring at a lock of hair that had dared to fall out of place and into her eyes, “but I rather think we need something less energetic next. Who hasn’t shared?”
“Patsy hasn’t,” Barbara mumbled around her lollipop.
“Oh,” Patsy waved her hand dismissively. “I’m sure you’ve all had more than enough of my rubbish taste in music.” She desperately tried not to fidget under the scrutiny of every person in the room, especially Delia, she could feel her watching her too closely.
“I wouldn’t call your jazz collection ‘rubbish taste’,” Lucille cocked her head at Patsy from the other sofa. “I find it quite soothing personally.”
“Well, yeah, it’s nice,” conceded Val. “But surely that’s not all you listen to?”
The loose thread in the knee of Patsy’s jeans was suddenly rather fascinating as she shrugged. “Pretty much.”
It wasn’t all she listened to. Soft jazz was for when she just wanted background noise. When she was feeling too much she had a whole other music collection that had to be played as loudly as possible, so unless she knew she was home alone she could only listen to it on her headphones.
And right now, Delia really needed to stop staring at her like that.
As if reading her thoughts, Delia turned back to the rest of the room. “Lucille? Cynthia? Care to share?”
Lucille’s face went blank, her palm smacking onto her forehead. “I can’t remember what I wanted to play!”
“Must’ve been a blinder,” Val muttered with a grin. Lucille swatted her round the back of the head. “Oi watch it!”
Cynthia raised her hand haltingly. “I have something I’d like to play, if that’s all right?”
“Absolutely Cynthia!” Delia sat up smiling, passing the controller along.
“It’s one of my favourites,” stated Cynthia, before hesitating. “But it will probably change the mood quite a bit. Is that okay?”
“Well now I’m curious!” Val straightened up against the sofa.
“Me too,” chimed in Chummy, taking the controller and passing it down. “Go ahead old thing.”
Cynthia chewed her lips as she took the controller and started typing the band’s name.
Patsy’s focus had drifted to Delia, seeing as Cynthia was sat on the far side of her, and she found herself admiring the freckles scattered across the welsh girls nose. So it was quite a shock when the girl gasped and clutched at Patsy’s arm.
“No fucking way!” cried Val.
“What?” Patsy stuttered, still not quite back in the room.
“Are you kidding me?!” Delia almost shouted. “Cynthia ‘The Mouse’ Miller, you dark horse! You listen to Disturbed?!”
“Yes I do,” Cynthia declared, sitting up proudly.
“And that’s a big deal why?” asked Lucille.
“Because they’re a heavy metal band!” Val clarified. “Cynthia is a bloody metal head!”
“Oh god.” Trixie groaned, flopping dramatically against the sofa. “I can’t stand metal.”
“If she’s chosen the song I think she has,” Delia waved two pairs of crossed fingers in the air. “Then it doesn’t matter if you like metal or not, trust me.” She lifted a hopeful eyebrow at Cynthia, who with a delighted grin clicked on the video for Sound Of Silence.
“Oh how delightful!” clapped Chummy as the video loaded. “I love the original, Pa’s handyman used to play it when he cleaned the swimming pool when I was a girl.”
“Urghhh!” Trixie groaned again. “Not ‘Hello darkness, my old friend’! That’s so overdone these days, it’s all over the memes.”
“Trixie, will you please shut up!” cried Barbara, stunning everyone. “We all sat through your choice of music, now give someone else a chance will you?”
Patsy could feel Delia shaking with suppressed laughter as she leaned into her conspiratorially. “I told you she must have some bite to her.” She sat back and turned up the volume on the tele.
The piano playing was beautiful, but Patsy was instantly floored when the baritone voice softly rumbled out of the speakers, through the air and straight into her bones. It caught the attention of the hairs on her arms as well. Just from the first phrase, she knew this voice held a power she could never comprehend.
When the guitars joined in to compliment the voice, every single hair on her body stood to attention, prickling down her back. Her heart began to beat harder and her breath slowed, as though she was trying to inhale and savour the intense peace that washed over her, an affect she was not unfamiliar with. The red head dared a glance around the room, every one of her friends seemingly transfixed, mouths open and breath as shallow and reverent as her own.
And then the music swelled. Every occupant of that room drew a deep breath as a wave of emotion swept over them. It overwhelmed Patsy entirely, unbidden tears welled in her eyes and her chest shuddered. The lyrics didn’t matter, she couldn’t even make them out, it was just the entirety of the piece.
Shit shit shit.
She couldn’t do this here. The pressure was growing, too much feeling rising up through her solar plexus and pressing into her throat. She just needed to breathe. Breathe, and detach herself from the music, make it through the song and then excuse herself, hoping the others didn’t notice her distress.
- - - - - - - - - -
Delia felt the second swell of the music like a punch in the gut. God she loved this song. It took her breath away every fucking time, and fuck did the sound system on this TV make it even better!
But then she felt Patsy shaking next to her. She was well aware of Patsy’s aversion to being observed, and so she tried to watch her discreetly out of the corner of her eye.
The older girl was sitting so tensely, arms wrapped tight around her chest, that she’d started trembling. If she was breathing at all it was extremely shallow. Her eyes glistened as she stared fixedly forward, unblinking, but when a tear toppled over her eyelashes and down her cheek Delia had to do something to comfort this person she was coming to care about rather a lot. Gently, so as not to startle Patsy, she nudged her knee against her thigh. But the red head pulled away as though burned, impossibly tensing further, her breath now quick and erratic, more tears tracking down her cheeks. Delia cursed herself, trying to grasp Patsy’s forearm, hoping to convey that she was safe, but unfortunately the third and final swell of the song hit at that moment and Patsy fled. She stood from the sofa, hunched to make herself small and taking seemingly calm and measured steps out the door, but Delia knew without a doubt that she was fleeing. As the music faded away she caught the last couple of stumbling thumps on the stairs before the bathroom door clicked shut.
A stunned silence lay over the room, everyone staring at the now blank TV screen, trying to process their own experience of the song. Except Cynthia. She looked devastated as she glanced between the door and Delia. All Delia could do was offer her a small smile, trying to convey that she was not to blame for Patsy’s emotional reaction, as she calmly stood and followed Patsy out of the kitchen.
Nearing the top of the stairs she could just make out the sound of shuddering sobs. Her heart broke a little at hearing her friend in such distress.
Fortunately Delia had some knowledge of Patsy’s difficulties, and her past. She got the impression Patsy was rather shocked with herself for opening up so readily to someone she’d only known such a short time. Delia took it as a compliment.
Knowing Patsy may not take kindly to the intrusion, Delia steeled herself and gently tapped on the door. She heard a gasp, a heavy sniff and a quiet curse.
“Just a minute,” she called through the door, voice a little too bright, a false smile probably in place.
“Pats, it’s me,” Delia called back, keeping her voice calm and soft. “Are you ok?”
“Absolutely fine Deels, I’ll be down in a mo, I just…” Patsy’s voice began to break and was replaced by the sound of running taps.
“Patsy it’s all right. I know you’re upset, I just wanted you to know I’m here if you want some company, or I can leave you be and keep the others out of the way?”
A muffled sob rang clearly through the door, followed by a soft thud that may have been Patsy leaning against the wood, and a hissing noise as she slid down to the floor. Delia’s heart clenched.
“Listen to me sweetheart,” she tried again, placing a hand against the panel, hoping to transmit her sincerity through the barrier between them. “If you want me to stay then just unlock the door. But if you want space that is absolutely fine, I’ll wait 30 seconds and then go away.”
She started counting silently. She didn’t want to do anything to pressure the red head, but at the same time she wanted to make sure she gave her the opportunity to accept her offer. When she reached 30 she took a step away from the door.
“All right Pats, text me if you need anything. I’ll look in on you later.”
She was aware of a shuffling in the bathroom, but she started down the stairs, respecting Patsy’s silent request to be left alone. She even ignored the snick of the lock opening, hoping the older girl was making a break for her bedroom.
The broken whisper though she couldn’t ignore. She turned to see a raw faced Patsy peering through the small opening in the bathroom door. Delia wanted to run to her and wrap her up tight, but instead forced herself to climb back up the stairs calmly.
“I’m here.” She held her hand out, waiting to see if Patsy was all right with touch. She released a breath when Patsy tentatively hooked her index finger around Delia’s pinky, then carefully gripped the rest of her fingers while Delia’s thumb stroked the back of her hand. “Do you want to go to your room?”
Patsy nodded, unable to look Delia in the eye. So Delia lead the way, pushing open the only door in the corridor with no decoration or adornment, and nudged Patsy to sit on the bed while she closed the door quietly behind them.
When she turned back to the bed she had to stifle her own tears. The young woman who first caught her eye for always being so poised and confident was nowhere to be seen. In her place sat a lost and hurting little girl, shoulders slumped, head down and fiddling with her fingers. Delia knelt before her, careful not to crowd her.
“What’s going on sweetheart?”
Patsy shrugged. A fresh tear tracked down her face.
Delia gave Patsy’s knee a squeeze. “Would you like a cwtch?”
Patsy’s eyes briefly flicked to her own, and Delia thought she saw a flash of want before Patsy’s head dropped again. After a breath, she just shrugged. But Delia had an inkling.
“Can I have a cwtch?”
Hesitantly, the older girls arms wrapped around Delia’s waist, her hands resting lightly on her lower back. Delia knelt up and pulled Patsy close, one hand stroking up and down her back. She felt Patsy quake against her, her arms wrapping tighter around her.
“You’re safe cariad. Let it out if you can.”
The red head buried her face against Delia’s neck, releasing a shaking breath, her body shuddering as she quietly sobbed.
Delia pressed a kiss to her hair, holding her tight. “That’s it sweetheart, I’ve got you,” she whispered.
It took some time for Patsy’s tears to peter out. Eventually she sat up and groaned, rubbing at her eyes in frustration. “I’m sorry,” she muttered under her breath.
“Don’t you dare apologise Patience Mount,” Delia warned as she stroked Patsy’s hair away from her face. “Now, can you tell me what brought that on? Is there an anniversary coming up?’
Patsy shook her head.
“Are you stressed about the course?”
Another shake. “No.”
“Had another argument with your dad?”
“No Delia, I don’t fucking know why I’m fucking crying!” Patsy shouted.
Delia held her hands up defensively, sitting back on her heels. “Ok. Ok, I’m sorry I shouldn’t be pushing you. You don’t need to tell me anything.”
Dropping her head into her hands and tugging at her hair, Patsy forcibly expelled a breath. “But that’s the problem! There isn’t anything to tell, I really don’t know why that song made me cry!”
The welsh girl gently untangled Patsy’s fingers from her hair. “What did you think of it? The song?”
The redhead seemed lost in the middle distance for a moment, then shrugged and gently shook her head. “It’s beautiful.”
“Well that’s a relief,” Delia chuckled. “I was worried you were crying because you thought it was dreadful!”
She caught a flash of Patsy’s fish-hook smile before she rubbed her palms across her face.
“That voice, it just…” Patsy sighed. “I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like it tore me open, and left everything about me exposed and good god does that sound melodramatic.” She hid her face in her hands.
“Not in the slightest cariad.” Delia got up to sit beside Patsy on the bed, tenderly rubbing her back. “That’s just the power of music. It can make you joyful, sad, angry…And if you’re sensitive to it then the right song, or wrong one depending on how you look at it, can absolutely devastate you.”
Patsy nodded. “My mother was a muso,” she smiled. “She said the best composers could capture the entire spectrum of the human condition. I was too young to understand when she said it, but I’m starting to see what she meant.”
Delia glanced at the framed photo of a pretty blonde woman on Patsy’s bedside table as she reached over to squeeze her hand.
Patsy offered her a small smile in return. “I am sorry though, truly, that you had to put up with me like this.”
The brunette groaned. “Really Patsy, stop apologising! You have every right to be sad at any time, and I am more than willing to be there for you. You don’t need to go through any of this alone.”
“I don’t deserve someone as lovely as you,” Patsy muttered, squeezing her hand back.
“Yes, you do,” Delia insisted with raised eyebrows. “You deserve to be loved Patsy.”
The red head’s reaction was instantaneous. Her jaw clenched, nostrils flared and eyes filled with tears. She dropped her head quickly but Delia saw it all.
“Look at me cariad.”
Patsy shook her head. So Delia resumed her position on the floor, gently pulling Patsy to her, carding her fingers through the girl’s hair.
“Patience Elizabeth Mount, you deserve to have your needs met. You deserve to have your desires considered. You deserve to be looked after…” Patsy’s whole body shook as a sob racked through her. Delia pulled her closer, hoping the physical connection would press home her words. “…To be cared for and about, to be supported. And you deserve to be loved.”
She drew Patsy’s head from it’s hiding place against her shoulder. The girl’s eyes were tight shut, tears still trickling down her cheeks. Delia pressed her forehead to Patsy’s. “All those girls downstairs care about you. I care about you. Your dad might be a knob but he loves you. You deserve everything that everyone else in the world does. You have worth. You are valued Patsy. Do you understand me?”
“But what if I don’t?” Patsy whispered so quietly Delia almost missed it despite being so close.
Delia was under no illusion that telling Patsy just once would heal years of damage to her sense of self worth. The woman had had to emotionally raise herself from the age of 11 while mired in the depths of grief. This was never going to be easy. Fortunately, Delia was a patient person.
“All right then. Fred the handyman. Do you think he doesn’t deserve to be loved?”
“Of course not,” Patsy sniffed indignantly.
“Ok. What about chatterbox Winifred?”
Patsy expelled an amused snort. “No.”
“And that mean old battle-axe Sister Ursula? Surely she doesn’t deserve to be loved?”
The glower she received nearly made Delia giggle.
“Everyone deserves to be loved. Right?”
Looking away again Patsy nodded sheepishly.
“So why don’t you?”
The redhead sighed. “It isn’t as simple as all that Deels. Logically, rationally, I know you’re right, it’s just…”
“Knowing something and believing something are entirely different things,” Delia finished.
“Well then it’s a good thing you’re pretty much stuck with me for the next 3 years, so I can keep telling you until you believe it for yourself.”
Patsy actually laughed at that.
“You’re pretty wonderful you know Pats. A bit of a snob sometimes,” Delia smirked. “But still wonderful.” She grinned widely at the redhead.
A shy smile was her reward. “How did you get so wise young’un?”
“Oi!” Delia swatted her knee. “Less of that thank you, I’m only four years younger than you.”
“Don’t remind me,” Patsy winced.
Delia filed away the reaction for another day. There would be plenty of time later to find out if Patsy was puritanical about age gaps. She really hoped she wasn’t.
“What do you want to do now?” She asked gently, noting that her friend seemed to be wilting. “Shall we go back downstairs? Or we could stay up here and cwtch?”
Patsy stroked an errant strand of Delia’s hair behind her ear. The contact made her fizzle a bit. “Would you be terribly offended if I had a lie down on my own? All this crying has given me a bit of a headache.”
“Not offended in the slightest.” Delia planted a kiss on Patsy’s forehead as she stood. “Take all the time you need.” She opened the door, knowing she now needed to reassure Cynthia that she had done nothing wrong.
The welsh girl turned back to see Patsy fiddling with her fingers again before meeting her eye.
Delia beamed at the young woman. “Anytime.” She closed the door softly, reassured that her friend, at least for now, was going to be ok.