It was Wednesday afternoon, and Franky and Liz were busy getting ready for her class when Emily arrived. The girl went into Franky’s office as usual to drop off her school bag, then came out to join the two women.
“Hey, bub. How was school?” Franky asked. Emily had gotten up on the step stool beside the brunette, so Franky slid a cutting board and knife in front of her, assuming she wanted to help.
“It was okay,” Emily replied. She hadn’t yet touched the knife that had been given to her.
Franky glanced over and saw that the child hadn’t joined in. “Do you want to help out today, or do you want to go into the office?” She thought maybe she’d misunderstood, and Emily had only come over to talk, not to help. The girl shook her head. “Which are you saying ‘no’ to?”
“I want to help, but I’m hungry, too.”
Franky thought back to the last time Emily had told her that. “What did you have for lunch today?”
The young girl shrugged. “Dad forgot to pack it again.”
The brunette looked over at Liz, then back to Emily. “Okay, go wash up, then come back, and I’ll make you something. You can help after you eat if you want.”
After Emily left, Franky went to the fridge and got out some cheese and butter. She placed a pan on the stove and started getting it warmed up. Something wasn’t adding up. This was the second time in two weeks that Tim had forgotten to give Emily something for lunch. He had also gotten Bridget to pick her up twice on very short notice. Short enough that if they hadn’t happened to be around, the child would have had to stay at school until someone there could track him down. There was also the time when she was in prison, and Bridget had gotten called to come pick her up because she was sick, and once again, they couldn’t find Tim. She knew he loved Emily, and maybe this was just him trying to figure out how to transition into being a single parent with a demanding job, but he couldn’t just keep forgetting to feed her and not being there when she needed him. Franky knew what it was like to grow up with only one parent who wasn’t fully present.
“Franky, love, what’s wrong?” Liz had walked over to the other counter to stand beside her, pulling her out of her thoughts.
Franky realized that she had probably been banging things around a bit. She was getting more upset the more she thought about the situation. “He forgot to give her any lunch.” The brunette took out two slices of bread and began to butter one side of each.
“Yeah I heard, but why are you so upset? I’m sure it was a mistake.”
“It’s not the first time.” Franky sighed as she put the cheese between the bread and set the sandwich in the pan. “I just know what it’s like to not have food when you’re hungry. Doesn’t matter why it happened, it still doesn’t feel good. I’m going to talk with Bridget when I get home. Maybe we can talk to her teacher, leave some money there so if she doesn’t have lunch with her, she can buy something. You know, that’s what makes it even worse. He doesn’t even have to pack something if he doesn’t want to be bothered, he could just hand her some money. It takes two seconds to make sure she can eat that day, but nah.”
“Let’s not jump to any conclusions. Have a talk with Bridget tonight and see what she thinks. Em’s on her way back now.” Liz gave Franky’s shoulder a squeeze and went back to her work.
Emily returned and pulled the step stool over by the stove. “What are you making?”
“Grilled cheese. You like that, yeah?” Franky was sure she’d made it for her before. Emily nodded. “Here.” The brunette handed her the spatula. “It’s almost ready to be flipped.”
Franky showed her how to lift the corner and check to see if it was toasted enough, then how to flip it quickly so it wouldn’t slide off the spatula. “Now we wait until the other side is the same colour. Then it’s done.”
Liz looked over to see the two standing by the stove. The young girl was leaning against Franky, her arm around behind the brunette, and Franky had draped her arm over Emily's shoulders. She quickly grabbed her phone from her pocket and took a picture. She smiled, looking at the image on the screen and sent it to Franky. She knew the brunette would appreciate her capturing that moment between her and the young girl.
When the sandwich was ready, Franky held out a plate and let Emily take it out of the pan. She cut it for her. “Give it a minute. The cheese will be hot,” she said, handing her the plate. Emily sat down at the table and started eating while the brunette went back to her prep work with Liz.
When Franky checked her phone at the end of the class, she had a message from Tim, saying that he was home, so she could drop Emily off there whenever she was done work. She also saw the message from Liz, and smiled at the picture. She forwarded it to Bridget, along with a message saying she’d be dropping Emily off on her way home.
“You all packed up?” Franky asked Emily, lifting her own bag onto her shoulder.
“Am I going to yours and Auntie Bridge’s house?” Emily was putting the last items into her bag.
“No, your Dad is home so I’ll drop you off there.” The brunette stood by the door, waiting.
“Can I come to your place instead tonight?” She had stopped getting ready to leave and sat down on the couch.
“Not tonight, sorry. Your Dad said to bring you home. But hey, we can plan something for the weekend instead, okay?” Franky had had a long day, and was ready to get home and relax. “Come on, bub, let's go.”
Emily started putting her things in her bag again, although the brunette could tell she was taking her time. After a few extra minutes, they were out and getting in Franky’s car. She watched the child in the rear-view mirror as she drove. Emily’s mood had changed. She had gotten quiet, and was just staring out the window.
“You alright?” Franky asked, glancing back at her. She got no answer.
Fifteen minutes later, she pulled into the drive at Emily’s house and turned off the car. By the time the brunette had gotten out and gone around to the young girl’s door, she had unbuckled herself but was still just sitting there. Franky reached down and opened the car door.
“Come on, I’ll walk you to the door.” The brunette held out her hand. Emily reluctantly took it, and they started toward the house.
Franky knocked once and waited. There was no answer, so she knocked again. Still there was nothing, and she heard no movement inside. Technically, she figured she could just go in since she was bringing Emily home. She reached for the doorknob, just as the door swung open.
“Oh, hey. Sorry, was having a bit of a nap. Next time just come in.” Tim stumbled a bit as he stepped back out of the doorway to let them in.
Franky looked at him, then down at Emily. The girl looked up at her, and the brunette sensed that maybe there was more going on here than she had realized.
“Hey, Em, why don’t you go get changed into your pyjamas? I need to talk to your Dad for a minute. Then you can show me that book you were talking about earlier, okay?” Franky had crouched down to talk to the girl, and watched her go down the hall to her room before she stood up and faced Tim. She held his gaze for a moment, and he swayed slightly. “You feeling okay?”
“Yeah, fine,” he said, giving her a smile.
She could smell the alcohol on his breath, and it made her nauseous. She could drink, and did once in a while, but something about the smell on his breath, in this situation made her feel ill. It hit too close to home, too close to her own childhood. She could remember her mother getting in her face, and screaming at her that she was worthless and that no one would ever love her. Sometimes she’d wake up in the middle of the night, and before she’d even open her eyes she knew that her mother was in the room just from the smell of stale alcohol that came from her body. It made sense now why Emily had wanted to come to their house instead of here. She didn’t think Tim was abusive like her mother had been. She just thought that he’d checked out. He was lost in the booze, and Emily was left to fend for herself most of the time. She took a deep breath and realized that her whole body was tense. She concentrated on relaxing the muscles in her neck and shoulders, then down her arms and back. There were so many things she wanted to say to Tim, to ask him, but it wasn’t her place. This was something that had to come from Bridget. There was also the slight chance that she was wrong, and she prayed that was the case, but deep down she had a bad feeling about it. She didn’t want to leave Emily here, but she couldn’t just say she was taking her back with her, even though that was exactly what she wanted to do. “Listen, Em asked if she could come to our place tonight. I had said no, but now, given the situation, I think it’s maybe a good idea.” She knew it came out harshly, but right now she didn’t really care.
Tim held her eyes for a moment. Realizing that she had seen through his earlier statement that he was fine, he nodded. He knew he had fucked up. Just then Emily returned, having changed her clothes and carrying the book she wanted to show Franky.
“Em, love, Franky says you asked about staying with her and Auntie Bridge tonight. It’s okay with me if you still want to go.”
The girl’s face lit up, and she nodded excitedly.
“Put your shoes on and wait in the car. I’ll bring your bag and be out in a minute.” Franky waited while Emily put her shoes back on and went outside.
“I’ve just been under a lot of stress at work…” Tim began.
“Tim.” Franky stopped him. “It’s getting late, and she’s had a long day. I just want to get her settled somewhere. I know everything that’s happened isn’t easy, but you’ve got to think about her. One of us will be in touch tomorrow, okay? I hope you’re feeling better by then.” She picked up Emily’s school bag, and headed back to the car.
It was only a five minute drive to their house, and Emily never said a word the whole way there. Franky walked into the house, and could smell the food that Bridget had put into the oven. The brunette had made some meals ahead that they could cook quickly on days when they both worked late. She dropped her bag on the end of the couch.
“Hey, baby! How was your da-“ Bridget stopped short when she saw the look on Franky’s face, and saw Emily come around the corner behind her. “What happened? I thought you said…” She trailed off when she saw Franky shake her head.
“Auntie Bridge!” Emily gave her aunt a hug. “Franky said I could stay here tonight.”
Bridget looked at Franky. She didn’t know what exactly had happened, but she knew that the brunette must have had her reasons for changing their plans. “Yeah, of course! Dinner’s almost ready.”
Emily took her bag and went down to the room she always stayed in.
“Franky, what’s going on?” Bridget searched her girlfriend’s face for clues.
“I can’t really get into it now. We need to talk after she goes to bed though.” Franky lowered her voice even more. “I did take her to Tim’s first. He knows she’s here. I’ll tell you the rest later, okay?”
The blonde nodded and gave Franky a quick kiss. “Okay, baby. Okay.”
Franky changed her clothes, and came back to the kitchen. Emily was happily colouring at the coffee table. The brunette poured herself a glass of water, and leaned back against the counter in the kitchen. She watched the young girl as she drank. She knew the situation was different from hers as a child, but she couldn’t help but feel protective of her anyway.
Bridget knew that the brunette was troubled tonight. In some ways, she wanted the evening to pass by quickly so that her and Franky could talk. In other ways though, she was dreading to know what had happened. The blonde walked over to lean against the counter beside Franky, and reached behind her to rub the younger woman’s back. The timer on the oven beeped, signalling that their meal was ready.
Franky went to grab the oven mitt, but Bridget stopped her. “I got this. You and Em go sit down.” She gave the brunette a small kiss.
Emily ate two plates of dinner, even after eating the grilled cheese sandwich that Franky had made for her earlier.
“You want some dessert?” Franky asked, clearing away the plates. The small blonde nodded her head.
The brunette took a bowl from the cabinet and the ice cream from the freezer. When she turned back to the counter, Bridget was looking at her with a look that told Franky she was surprised that the girl had said yes after eating two servings of her meal.
"No lunch again today," Franky said quietly as she dipped the ice cream.
The blonde didn't say anything, but just gave a slight frown and went back to loading the dishwasher.
Franky paced back and forth in front of the kitchen island. She could hear the sound of the kettle starting to boil in the background. When Emily had finished eating she'd asked Bridget to read from the book she'd brought with her. She knew that when the blonde came out of that room, it would be time for them to talk. It was a delicate subject, and if she was wrong, she worried that Bridget would be upset that she would accuse her brother of such things. She heard the door open at the end of the hall, and took a deep breath. She was standing facing the large windows overlooking the backyard when she felt Bridget come up behind her and wrap her arms around her.
The blonde rested her head against the back of Franky's shoulder. "Whatever is it, it'll be okay. We'll make it okay."
Franky nodded in response. "Is she asleep?" she asked.
"Almost, but she said she wanted to talk to you first." Bridget sighed. "Let's have the tea in bed. I feel like this could be a long talk. I'll make it and meet you in there."
Franky took one of the blonde's hands, and brought it to her lips, giving the back of it a small kiss. "Yep." The brunette went to talk to Emily while Bridget made their tea in the kitchen.
The brunette opened the door quietly, in case the child had fallen asleep already. There was just enough light coming in from the hallway for her to see Emily's head turn towards the door to look at her.
"Hey, bub. Auntie said you wanted to talk to me." Franky sat down on the floor beside the girl's bed.
"Will my Dad be okay?" Her voice was small.
Franky thought for a moment before she answered. “Yeah, your Dad just wasn’t feeling so great tonight. So we thought you could stay with us and he could get some rest so he feels better. We’re going to check on him in the morning, okay?” She wished Bridget was here now.
Emily nodded. Franky got up and gave her a kiss on the head before leaving to go talk with Bridget.
Franky changed into her sleepwear and joined Bridget, who was already in bed. She'd left the brunette's mug of tea on her bedside table. She left it there for the time being, judging by the steam coming off it that it was too hot to drink right now.
"So what happened today, baby?" The blonde took one of her girlfriend's hands, and held it between hers.
Franky decided she'd started from the beginning. "She came to the centre today, and said she was hungry. Just like she did the day we were at my apartment. So I asked if she'd had lunch, and she said that Tim didn't pack her one today. I made her a grilled cheese sandwich. So she's eaten that, two helpings of supper, and ice cream since she finished school this afternoon. She's hungry, Gidge. After class, I checked my phone and Tim had texted me and said he was home and to bring her there. When I told her that's where she was going she asked to stay here. I said 'no', it was her Dad's call. She didn't want to go. She took her time packing up, never said a word in the car, then when we got there she wouldn't get out until I went around and opened her door. I knocked on the door, no answer, so I knocked again, hard, and then finally he answered. He said he was taking a nap, and maybe he was actually asleep, but he was drunk. I could smell it on him, and Emily knew. The look she gave me, I just knew it was something she'd seen before. I asked her to go to her room and get changed so I could have a minute with him. I asked if he was alright, he said he was fine, but..." she shook her head. "I said Em had asked to stay with us tonight and I thought it was a good idea, he agreed. So when she came back, I sent her to the car. He said he was under a lot of stress at work. I couldn't listen to it, Gidge, I couldn't. I said he needed to think about Em, and that one of us would talk to him tomorrow." She turned to look at Bridget. "I'm sorry, I just couldn't leave her there."
"It's okay." The blonde was quiet, and Franky could tell that she was lost in thought. After a moment, she spoke again. "You're sure he was drunk?"
Franky nodded. "He was stumbling a bit and I could smell it on him. I'd know that smell anywhere."
Bridget let out a long breath, and the brunette could see that there were tears in her eyes. "He, uh, had a drinking problem years ago. It was really bad. He really wanted to change though. He'd met Sarah, he wanted to be a dad, he wanted to be a good one. He went through the whole rehab thing. He, I thought he was okay. He hadn't touched it in years." She wiped away the tears falling down her cheeks. "How did I miss it? I should have known. I should have known this would all be too much for him."
"Gidge, how could you have known?" Franky reached out, gently turning Bridget's head so she had to look at her.
"There's stuff that makes sense now. I wrote it off, and I shouldn't have."
Franky wasn’t sure she wanted to know. “Like what?”
“She asked to stay the first two weekends that she was back, and Tim never stuck around. He’d just drop her off and go, saying he wasn’t feeling well. She always ate a bit more than she used to when she lived here too. I just figured she was having a growth spurt or something. I didn’t think much of it. The day she was sick, when I picked her up, the principal said that she was more withdrawn than she had been, and that she only talked about me and you. I thought she was just missing her mom and adjusting to the move. God, I had an excuse for everything. That day she didn’t bring her lunch bag with her, I thought she’d forgotten it at school. She asked if I was sad one night because I was going to have a glass of wine. She said Tim told her that’s what people drink when they’re sad. Fuck! I should have at least gotten that one.”
The brunette pulled her closer. “It’s not your fault. There’s a lot going on with her lately. I could see myself making those same assumptions. I didn’t think anything was off until I went to drop her off today. If that had been you, the roles would be reversed right now.” She gave Bridget a kiss on the temple. “When I went in to talk to her just now, she asked if he was going to be okay.”
“What did you say?”
“I said he wasn’t feeling well, that he needed to rest, and that we’d check on him in the morning.” She felt Bridget nod. “But Gidge, that means she’s aware of what’s going on, and I can tell you that messes with a kid.”
“I know, baby, I know.” The blonde was quiet.
“What are you thinking?” Franky spoke softly.
“I think she should stay with us while he gets help.” Bridget wiped away another tear.
“I think she should, too.”
“I’ll go talk to Tim in the morning. I’ll tell Vera I’ll be in a bit late. Family emergency.” She let out a long breath.
"What if he says 'no'? What if he doesn't want Emily to stay with us? Or doesn't think there's a problem?" Franky suddenly had a million thoughts running through her head.
"I don't think he'll say 'no'. He knows he has a problem with drinking. The first time he was a bit reluctant to admit it, but this time I think it'll be okay." Bridget looked over at the brunette. "If he was okay with her coming here tonight, he's not going to make her come back until he's got this all figured out. He loves her a lot, and he'll want what's best. You know I'd fight for her. I won't have to, but I would."
"I know. That's the difference between her and me. I didn't have that, and when I realized what was going on with him today, I felt like I was a little kid again, and all those feelings came back." It was Franky's turn to shed some tears.
"Shh, you did good today, baby." Bridget reached over, and wiped the brunette's cheek with her fingers. "We'll get her to school in the morning then I'll go over to his house."
"You'll tell me what happens? What he says?" Franky looked at her expectantly.
"Yes, I promise. I will tell you as soon as I know anything." The blonde knew that she could tell Franky over and over that everything would be alright, but she wouldn't settle until she knew the outcome of that conversation tomorrow. "Do you want to try to get some sleep? It's been a long day."
"Do you think she's asleep?" Franky glanced in the direction of the room where Emily was sleeping.
"She was almost asleep when I left earlier, and she hasn't come looking for us, so I'd say she is, yeah." Bridget said, moving down from her half-sitting position in the bed, hoping the brunette would follow.
"I'm just going to make sure that she's not laying there awake." Franky started to get out of bed.
"Franky," Bridget said, half yawning. "If she is, bring her in here with us. No need of her laying there alone all night if she's worried."
The brunette nodded, and quietly opened their bedroom door. She walked the few steps down the hallway, and listened outside the young girl's door. She didn't hear anything, so she gently opened it just enough that she could look in. Emily was fast asleep, so she quietly closed it and went back to get in bed again.
"Was she asleep, baby?" Bridget asked.
"Yeah, it looked like she was. She didn't move when I opened the door." Franky climbed in, facing the blonde. "Are you going to be able to sleep?"
Bridget sighed. "I don't know. Probably not."
Franky pulled her close, and wrapped her arms around her tightly. Bridget knew the brunette held her a little closer whenever something was really bothering her. She loved that her girlfriend got that extra bit of comfort from being near her, but tonight she was thankful because she needed it as well. Franky lazily moved her fingers over the blonde's back where her hand rested.
"I like that." Bridget smiled.
Franky gave her a small kiss. 'I love you'.
Bridget gave her one in return. 'I love you, too.'.
They both knew that probably neither of them would get much sleep that night, but at least they had each other, and they'd get through it together.