"For the last time, I'm not telling you. What are you, five years old?”
“Not even a little hint?”
Ellen pouted and looked up at the blond through her lashes but as usual Patty was immune to such tactics and merely turned her attention back to the files spread across the vast expanse of the dining table with an impatient sigh. Ellen tapped her pen, shuffled her papers and made a show of returning to her own work, she lasted an impressive ten minutes.
“Can I wear it?”
Patty made a huge effort to stifle the smirk that was threatening to break across her face. Ellen had been at this for over an hour. Her arrival back from the office had unfortunately coincided with Perry handing over some parcels. Patty had virtually hurtled upstairs with them and returned empty handed.
“Was there something for me among those?" Ellen asked as casually as she could manage. "I thought we decided we were only going to do token gifts.”
“You don't have to buy me anything, I have everything I need.” replied the blond
The words we're delivered to the table top but the meaning was clear enough. They had been living together for four months, Christmas was approaching and things were going well. Patty could be surprisingly sweet when she took time off from plotting global domination. Ellen suddenly realised some sort of reply was in order.
“Well. Yes, so do I.”
Their gazes met suspiciously before Patty predictably rolled her eyes and looked away. Ellen grinned nervously, she had made one or two purchases herself but nothing extravagant. She did not want to be outdone in the gift stakes. If she could get some idea of the scale of the presents she could at least make sure she matched them. She began her gentle inquisition but Patty was having none of it and refused to play ball. Ellen changed her tactics, she ran a bare foot slowly up and down the blonds toned calf and accompanied it with a speculative look. Patty shifted her leg away in irritation.
“Stop trying to distract me I have to finish this.”
Ellen stood up and huffed feeling unreasonably put out.
“I think I might go and take a bath. If you get finished soon come and join me.”
Patty hummed vaguely and kept her attention fixed on the files in front of her. Ellen made her way into the bathroom, she turned the water on at a low pressure and added some of her favourite bath oils. She crossed the hall to their bedroom and began to undress making sure everything landed in the hamper. Patty could be anal about stray laundry items littering the pristine living space. She tied a beautiful blue silk robe around her, a gift of course from the blond, before listening carefully for any sound of movement downstairs. Satisfied Patty was still engrossed in her work Ellen stealthily opened the lawyers expansive walk in closet and stepped inside. She took a moment to marvel at the meticulous order of the impressive space. Shoes were racked, suits were hung with military precision, shirts lined up in blocks of colour. Further in, jackets and coats were lined up according to season. Ellen wondered when the hell Patty found time to maintain it. Her hand reverentially stroked her particular favourite deep purple shirt, she had very happy memories of Patty wearing that item. She shook her head to regain her focus. Her eyes scanned the high shelving, there was nothing out of place there. Quickly she moved aside some of the dresses and gowns to peer behind them, nothing out of the ordinary there either. Ellen closed the closet door and her gaze wandered around the room. She checked the dresser drawers quickly and even glanced under the bed before deciding the guest room was a more likely hiding place. Ellen detoured to the bathroom and turned off the taps before tiptoeing to the recently redecorated guest room across the hall. The bulk of Ellen's wardrobe was situated in the wall length sliding closet space in this room. The final section was left empty in the unlikely event of them having overnight guests. Moving in with Patty was the final nail in the coffin of her fractious relationship with her family, Patty had nobody left. The top shelving was high, too high to be able to see right to the back. Ellen pulled over the ornate high backed chair and hopped up with alacrity. Her smile was wide with triumph, there nestled at the back of the deep shelving were several plain brown wrapped parcels. Ellen stretched out an arm and still couldn't quite reach them, she scowled in frustration and rose onto her toes.
“What in the name of god are you doing up there?”
Ellen froze. Caught red handed she had no possible excuse, her shoulders slumped. Patty did not sound remotely amused. Ellen allowed the robe to fall open as she turned slowly on the chair to face her lover with a sheepish grin. Patty could not stop her eyes from raking over the slender body, she reluctantly tore them away and maintained an admirable focus.
“I find it hard to believe that a woman of your age and supposed intelligence is poking around in a wardrobe like a pre-schooler. Even Catherine is beyond this sort of thing. Get down and grow up.”
Patty turned on her heel and stalked out. Ellen blew out her cheeks, stepped down from the chair and returned to the bathroom. Patty did not join her. The blond sat downstairs for a long time that night, she checked Ellen was asleep before retrieving the parcels from the guest room and finding another hiding place. Two could play at this game. Patty slid into bed and accepted the sleepy embrace of her younger lover, she pressed a kiss to her temple and settled under the cover.
“I love you.”
“I’m still not telling you.”
Ellen huffed dramatically. “Goodnight.”
Three days later Ellen was out of options and decided on one last desperate throw of the dice. She was not proud of herself for even contemplating this but she found she could not let it go. Patty had got her Christmas gifts organised and under control. No doubt they would be fabulous, Patty was as generous with her gifts as she was sharp with her tongue. In Ellen's heart she knew it really did not matter. Patty would be as happy with a lipstick or a new novel as she would with a Ferrari or a hideaway in the Bahamas but her head was not having it. It was not in Ellen's nature to leave a task unfinished, to leave something to chance when she there was information available. All she needed was a clue, an inkling and then she could act accordingly and rest easy, sure in the knowledge that Patty would not be one up. On Friday the twentieth she cleared her desk early and headed home, she was certain Patty would not return before seven. She almost always made it for Catherine’s bedtime routine, but Ellen knew Patty was buried in the mire of a case currently coming to the sharp end and that meant all hands on deck Christmas or not. When the young lawyer came through the door at just after four Catherine and her nanny had not long arrived home from school.
“Hi Ellen” Catherine beamed from her little play table where her crayons and colouring books were already spread out.
“Ellen you're home early. Is everything alright?”
Mrs Ororo had been Catherine's nanny for almost two years, she was a steady reassuring fixture in the child's life.
“Everything's fine, things are winding down a little for the holidays so I thought I'd spend some time with Catherine.”
Mrs Ororo looked slightly sceptical, she lifted an eyebrow and smiled stiffly.
“I could stay until Miss Hewes gets home.”
“No need, Patty won't be back before seven. Have a nice evening.”
The nanny tried not to glower at being summarily dismissed. She liked Ellen, she thought she was good for Patty and for Catherine. The painfully shy, sickly little girl was beginning to inch her way out of her shell. Mrs Ororo conceded that was largely due to Ellen's gentle encouragement and younger outlook. Although Patty’s love for her granddaughter was beyond doubt there was an almost fearful wariness to it that the nanny could not comprehend. It seemed as if the blond was waiting for something to go wrong, as if she feared that showing that love would weaken her in some way. When she first took the job as Catherine's nanny Ellen was a peripheral figure, but she was always there, just on the edges and in the shadows. Mrs Ororo began to notice the slight shift in Patty’s moods when the younger woman came closer. She smiled more, she indulged in a little conversation rather than just giving instructions regarding Catherine's care or enquiring about her day. There was a mischievous glint in her eye. Then sooner rather than later, Ellen would recede to the sidelines once more and her employers mood would deteriorate accordingly. The hardness would return in the set of her jaw, she spent more time than ever at the office and Catherine would react by withdrawing into herself, shrinking away and becoming harder to engage. After watching this soap opera for almost a year no one was more thankful than Mrs Ororo when the apparently mismatched pair finally became a couple. Of course she was not privy to the details or circumstances of their relationship, it was none of her business anyway. Catherine was her business and Ellen blew in like a breath of fresh air. She won Catherine over in a heartbeat. There were outings, giggles, Disney marathons and dressing up clothes. Catherine was acting like a little girl at last and that made Ellen more than acceptable in the nanny's book. The difference in Patty was less marked. The woman was a law unto herself and could still start an argument in an empty room but the signs of contentment were there if you knew where to look for them. It could be seen in the sway of her walk, the glint in her eye and the lighter atmosphere that pervaded the apartment. After spending time around the pair she had decided they were like peas in a pod. Neither seemed to know quite what they were doing but somehow it was working. There were no outward sounds of a relationship at all, when Mrs Ororo arrived to take Catherine to school she would observe the pair discuss their respective workloads over breakfast and then bid each other goodbye before heading off to work whilst barely making eye contact. It was as much a mystery to the nanny as it seemed to be to Patty and Ellen. Mrs Ororo withdrew with good grace but she had the feeling Ellen was up to something that her partner had no knowledge of and that did not bode well.
Catherine said goodbye and quickly gravitated to Ellen's side.
“Will you colour with me Ellen?”
“Sure sweetheart, I've come home early especially to spend some time with you.”
Ellen kicked off her shoes and went over to the play table, she sat on the floor and opened the well ordered box of crayons. This particular apple hadn't fallen far from the tree, colours were lined up in blocks, broken crayons were kept in a separate compartment. Ellen smirked and began shading Cinderella in pastel pink.
“That should be blue, be careful not to go outside the lines.”
“I think she looks pretty in pink, I am being careful, look no smudges.”
Catherine inspected the work carefully and nodded her approval in that serious way she had. Sometimes she was so like Patty it took Ellen's breath away. She quickly tamped down on the sentiment, she was on a mission here. She took in a breath and began with forced naturalness.
“So.. You've finished school for the holidays today, are all your friends excited for Christmas?”
Catherine passed her a yellow crayon for Cinderella’s hair and sighed happily.
“How many more sleeps until Santa comes?”
“Four more sleeps. Are you sure you put everything on your list?”
Ellen smiled encouragingly. They had made the list together, Catherine had her heart set on just one thing. A pink bicycle, her round blue eyes lit up in wonder whenever she talked about it. How they would all go to the park and grandma could teach her to ride it without the training wheels, then she could ride alongside Ellen when she went for her weekend runs. How she could take it to the beach house when they went for weekends and they could all ride bikes together. Ellen inwardly raised her eyebrows at that one. She would give good money to see Patty Hewes riding a bicycle, it moved her more than she could express being included in all Catherine's imaginative plans. Together they expanded the list a little, Ellen pointed out that she would need a helmet so naturally a pink one was added to the list along with some protective clothing and one or two other items that Ellen prompted her with. Predictably Patty balked at the very idea of her precious charge hurtling around on a bike until Ellen pointed out how preferable that was to something electronic that would atrophy her brain cells and leave her susceptible to the horrors of the Internet or a games console that would see her permanently attached to the tv screen. Ellen thought it was charming the child wanted something as mundane as a bicycle, it was an easy argument to win.
“Did grandma post it to Santa?”
The list was entrusted to Patty to ensure it safely arrived. According to Catherine grandma knew lots of important people, she probably knew Santa personally.
“I'm sure Santa has it, and you have been a good girl right?” Ellen switched to purple to make a start on Cinderella’s coach.
“I’ve been good. Did you send a list Ellen?”
The young lawyer smirked inwardly. Here we go..
“Santa only needs lists of little people, when you're all grown up it doesn't work like that. What do you think grandma would like for Christmas”
Catherine furrowed her brow in thought, she looked so cute Ellen smiled fondly and reached out to stroke her cheek.
“Grandma said she has everything.”
Ellen’s smile drooped momentarily, but she rallied quickly, this was a minor setback.
“Well I know what I want...” Ellen began, sneaking a quick look at the little girl who’s head was down over the picture of prince charming. The blond head snapped up, her eyes wide with alarm.
“Grandma already has your presents, it's too late for something else now.”
“Really? Do you know what I'm getting?”
“Yes, I helped grandma pick them and wrap them up before she sent them to the north pole.”
’Bingo’ thought Ellen who switched to brown for the first of the horses pulling the coach. She let a few moments of silence pass, only the waxy scratch of crayons disturbed the quiet.
“I want to get grandma something really nice but I don't want to buy her something she may have bought for me. Who wants to get a present you already got for someone else?”
Catherine blinked in confusion as she tried to make sense of the muddle that had come out of Ellen's mouth.
“So... If you tell me what I have, I can make sure I don't get grandma the same sort of thing.”
Ellen nodded sagely as she saw the lightbulb pop on in the little girls brain. Catherine put her crayon down and fixed the brunette with an unwavering stare.
“Grandma said I can't tell you.”
“Grandma won't know.” Ellen looked nervously over her shoulder and smiled innocently.
“I'm not going to tell you.” the child grinned slyly.
“I'll tell you where grandma has hidden your Toy Story DVD.”
Catherine giggled in obvious delight.
“Grandma told me you would say that. I know where Toy Story is, grandma said we can all watch it together on Sunday.”
Ellen rolled her eyes and made a face, she was so over Buzz and Woody. They had made a trip to the cinema together when it was first released and predictably the little girl loved it. When Ellen bought her the DVD Catherine watched it over and over until her eyeballs glazed. Eventually a despairing Patty had confiscated it.
“I'll make your favourite pasta for dinner.”
“I'll let you download a game of your choice on my iPad.”
Catherine's eyes lit up momentarily. All cell phones, lap tops and tablets in the house were off limits unless either Patty or Ellen were in direct control of the appliance. She took in a big breath and Ellen's eyes sparkled in triumph, until the child shook her head adamantly.
“Well” said Ellen drawing the word out dramatically. “If you wont tell me, there's only one thing for it.”
“What?” Catherine's voice dropped to a nervous whisper, she hated to disappoint either adult in her life.
“I'll just have to....”
Ellen dropped the crayon and lurched towards the youngster grasping her gently and allowing them both to topple to the floor.
“Tickle it put of you.”
Ellen laughed in delight as the child squirmed and squealed underneath her. She dug her fingers into all the right spots as they rolled across the floor in a loud and happy tangle.
“Wait a minute”
Ellen had a sudden thought and stopped her assault gazing down at the flushed little face underneath her.
“What did grandma promise you if you kept it a secret?”
“She said she would make sure my letter to Santa was at the top of the pile.”
Catherine grinned up completely guileless and sure in the knowledge that a hot pink bicycle was on its way in four sleeps time.
“Did she now? Well if grandma said so it must be true.”
The sarcasm was lost on a five year old so Ellen resumed the tickling, the play table was knocked over and crayons scattered across the floor. Neither heard the door opening. Patty stifled a smile and put on her sternest voice.
“What on earth are you two doing?”
“Patty” Ellen squeaked in alarm, the pair froze in place.
“Hi grandma” Catherine said breathlessly unconcerned.
Ellen allowed her forehead to thunk to the wood flooring dramatically, she knew what was coming and she knew she deserved it.
“Ellen was trying to get me to tell her about her presents, just like you said she would.” The little girl piped up.
Patty stalked slowly across the vast living space, each measured tap of her heels reverberated like the sound of impending doom in Ellen’s skull.
“She tried to, tried to...” Catherine scrunched up her face as the unfamiliar word eluded her.
“Bribe you?” Patty supplied helpfully in a dangerously light tone. The child nodded happily and wriggled out from Ellen's grasp.
“yes. She tried Toy Story and pasta shapes.”
“Toy Story and pasta shapes?” Patty repeated mechanically as she arched a menacing eyebrow in Ellen's direction.
“And did you tell?”
“No,” Catherine made a zipping motion across her mouth with her fingers. “not even when she started to tickle me.”
“That's my girl.”
Patty smiled and pressed a kiss to the child's hair. Ellen sat up on the floor looking suitably ashamed and pathetic. The blond nudged her thigh with the toe of her towering black patent heels.
“What am I going to do with you?”
“I guess this means no tv” Ellen joked, and pouted miserably.
“This means no to many things.”
Patty stared at the younger woman meaningfully. Ellen’s eyes widened in alarm, Friday nights were generally lucky nights, they both tried hard to keep the weekends as free as possible, Patty was extremely amenable to most suggestions on Friday nights.
“Why am I not surprised you would sink to such depths Ellen?”
“Because you got there first. I hear Catherine's list is Santa’s top priority now.”
Patty tossed her head and let the previously well guarded smile spread across her face.
“Catherine, what do you think? Has Ellen been a bad girl? I think she needs to learn her lesson.
The blond toed off her shoes, slipped off her jacket and reached for her granddaughters hand.
“Yes” the child replied gleefully.
“Alright. You go for the knees I'll get the ribs.”
“No, no tickling, you know it......”
Ellen's words were lost in the melee as two determined blonds pressed her back onto the floor.