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Everyone dancin' merrily in the new old fashioned way
She tries to sneak a look at the clock on her phone, stashed under the bar. She could kill Chas for agreeing to go to Mexico with Paddy over Christmas. As if it's not bad enough that she has to run the flaming pub single-handedly, she also has to do the annual schmoozing of the brewery rep. When she realises she's been stood here listening him yapping for going on three quarters of an hour, she only just manages to hold back a sigh. He's a nice enough bloke, she supposes, but dull as dishwater. One of those public schoolboy types; posh accent and no social skills. He'd taken a fancy to her early on and is always flirting with her. Well, flirting's stretching it a bit. He's doing what he must assume is flirting. Normally she'd tell him where to shove it, but she entertains it because he's good at getting them deals and freebies and invites to fancy- She frowns, realising he's stopped talking and is looking at her like he expects a response.
"What? Sorry, Tim. I was miles away just then."
He clears his throat, and she notes a blush on his cheeks. Her stomach sinks as he squares his shoulders and looks her in the eye.
"I was just asking if...since we seem to get on so well...if you'd be so kind as to accompany me to the brewery's Christmas ball?" He blushes deeper. "I mean...you must know by now that I like you and-"
"Oh, Tim, that's so...so sweet." She almost chokes on the words, but lays a hand over his to mask it. "It's just…" She tilts her head in apology. "I'm spoken for, you see." The lie slips out easily, and his shoulders slump. But she really wants to hammer this home, so he doesn't get any ideas again in the future. "And, I'm, you know-" She shrugs, lifting her eyebrows. "-gay. So...I don't think we'd work out, babe."
"Oh. Right." A second later, his head snaps up, his face lit up with a grin. "So...it's not me? It's just that you don't like...men in that way."
She nods along with him. "Exactly!" She gives him a wink. "I'm sure if I was into blokes, you'd be top of my list."
He blushes and looks down and she rolls her eyes, plastering on a smile when he looks back at her.
"Right, well, how about I get you and your-" He pauses and leans closer, lowering his voice as if they're confidants. "-partner VIP tickets for the event, then? As a bit of an apology for this...awkwardness."
Charity shakes her head. "Oh, you don't have t-"
"I insist. I know you've got your invite anyway, but the VIP package comes with a free bar and-"
"And we'd be thrilled to accept your kind invitation," Charity says, touching his arm with a smile. A free bar in a posh hotel? She's not likely to turn that down.
"Right." He clicks his pen. "So, what's your girlfriend's name and I'll make sure you're both on the VIP list."
Her smile freezes in place as she desperately searches her mind for a name. It can't be a Dingle, or that'd look weird. It needs to be someone around her age and she's definitely not taking Moira. A name flashes into her head and without too much thought, she blurts it out. "Vanessa. Vanessa Woodfield."
He nods as he scribbles it down, banging his pen down for the full-stop. "Well then, I look forward to meeting Vanessa next week."
"And I'm sure she'll be looking forward to meeting you the minute I tell her." Charity pastes on her best smile, trying not to think about how the hell she's going to get Vanessa Woodfield to go out with her.
She doesn't have to ponder too long, because just after five o'clock, the woman herself walks in with Rhona and Tracy, the three of them chattering away happily. Charity practically launches herself from the other end of the bar, draping herself on the taps and giving Vanessa what she hopes is a sweet smile and not something that reeks of desperation.
Vanessa looks over her shoulder to see if there's someone behind her before turning back with a confused frown. "Are...are you talking to me?"
Charity shifts her attention to Vanessa's companions. "Here, ladies, why don't you go and get a table and I'll bring a round over, eh? I just need to borrow Ness here for a minute."
Rhona and Tracy exchange confused looks with Vanessa, but shrug and do as they're told. Vanessa leans on the other side of the bar, regarding Charity warily. That's not a good start, that's she's already suspicious. Charity will need to play it a bit cooler.
Vanessa's frown deepens. "Ness? Since when do you call me Ness?"
"Well, we're mates, aren't we?" She shrugs. "Sort of."
"Mates?" Vanessa shakes her head. "Have we ever had a conversation that didn't involve me ordering a drink from you?"
Charity waves away the question. "I'm sure we must have done at some point. Anyway-"
"And you nearly got my dad sent to prison in the summer!"
Charity frowns. "No, babe, that wasn't me. I was just along for the ride. And anyway, your dad's back with Megan isn't he? So if he can forgive and forget with her, surely you can do the same with me?"
It looks like Vanessa's going to say something, but she closes her mouth, looking utterly bewildered. She leans further across the bar. "What's going on, Charity?"
Charity sighs. "I...need a favour."
Vanessa presses her lips together and nods. "Right. I should've known. Why else would you be smiling at me and saying we're mates? Of course you want something."
"No, but listen! It's...it's not anything bad, I promise!" She ignores Vanessa's sceptical expression and trudges on. "The brewery puts on this really fancy do every year, right? And this year, I happen to be on the VIP guest list. Which means an open bar, goodie bag, free-"
"This is all lovely for you, Charity," Vanessa interrupts. "What's the favour? You looking for a lift to the do or summat?"
Charity bites her lip. "I'm looking for a date to the do, actually." She sighs. "And your name's already on the guest list, so...what do you think?"
"How on earth is my name on this list?" Vanessa asks.
"Because the rep fancies me, okay?" Time to lay all her cards on the table. "He's been chatting me up for months, and today he decided to take the plunge and asked me out. Only I'd rather gouge my own eyeballs out with a rusty spoon than spend a whole evening pretending I like him. So I told him I was gay. And attached. And he offered me two VIP places for me and my girlfriend. And yours was the first name that sprang to mind, alright?"
"You had to come up with a fake girlfriend and I'm the first person you thought of?" Vanessa's forehead wrinkles, brows lowered. "I hope this isn't-"
"No, it's not some comment on your flamin' sexuality." Even though that's the worst kept secret this side of Harrogate, Charity thinks. "It's just...I needed someone who was about my age, who wasn't too hard on the eyes and who wouldn't make me want to top myself after an hour of conversation. "
"Oh." Vanessa blinks. "That...was almost nice." The lines between her eyebrows deepen. "I think."
"See?" Charity grins. "Barely dating for two minutes and I'm already showering you in compliments. I make a great fake girlfriend, me."
"And what am I getting out of this?"
"Apart from a night out at a posh hotel with free booze and waiters who bring around tiny little things for eating, you mean?" Vanessa just looks at her. "How about an evening spent in my charming company?" Vanessa laughs out loud at that and Charity narrows her eyes, leaning across the bar and hissing. "Oh, alright. Free beer for the whole of January, okay?"
Vanessa's eyes widen at the offer and Charity curses herself for going high so early in the negotiations.
A hand shoots out. "Done."
Charity sighs. "Yeah, I think I have been." But she shakes Vanessa's hand anyway. "And don't tell Chas about the beer, by the way."
"Deal." Vanessa's smile is so warm and genuine that it throws Charity for a moment before she shakes it off.
"Well. Go and sit with your actual mates. I'll bring your drinks over."
Charity watches her go with a growing sense that this flashy night out might end up causing her more trouble than it's worth.
Saturday night arrives, and Charity checks herself in the mirror before she goes downstairs. She knows she looks good in her deep red full-length dress. She grabs her coat as she heads into the bar, where she's met with a series of wolf-whistles. She scowls at Marlon and Victoria.
"Someone's trying awfully hard for something that's not a date," Marlon says, nudging Vic.
"It's not a date." Charity shrugs into her coat and shakes her head. "I'm going for the free booze. And to keep us in with the brewery rep. Forgive me for not wanting to look like I just wandered in off the street."
"Mmhmm. Course you are." Victoria smiles sweetly.
"Well, I'm sure Vanessa will appreciate the effort you've put in." Marlon wiggles his eyebrows. "She's been going on about this date all week."
Charity's stomach does something weird upon hearing this, but she shrugs. "Yeah, well, let's face it, she doesn't get out much, does she?" She sweeps out from behind the bar. "Right, I'm off, try to hold things together while I'm gone."
As she's heading out the door, she hears Victoria mutter. "As if we don't have to do that when she's here." It's Christmas, so she lets the comment slide without a response.
There's a real nip in the air now that December's properly here and she hurries down the road to Tug Ghyll. She knocks the door and waits, feeling a bit awkward and slightly nervous, for some reason. She forgets all about those feelings when Vanessa opens the door.
"Wow. You look...amazing." She's genuinely taken aback by Vanessa in a long, strapless black gown. She can't recall seeing her in formal wear recently. It's not like she didn't think Vanessa was pretty, that's obvious, but she'd failed to realise how beautiful Vanessa actually is.
Vanessa huffs, but it's good-natured. "Well, you don't have to sound so bloody surprised." She grabs her coat and steps out, closing the door behind her.
Charity recovers quickly. Banter she can do. "Hey, can you blame me? You're normally all hidden away in jumpers and shirts buttoned up to the neck." She drops her eyes to Vanessa's chest. "It's nice to see the girls making an appearance, is all I'm saying."
When she looks back up, Vanessa's right eyebrow is up and she's smiling. "Like it when ladies flash a bit of cleavage, do you?"
"Don't be so quick to make assumptions, you. Maybe you're not the only one that's dabbled in the fairer sex." She offers Vanessa her arm. "Shall we?"
She feels Vanessa laugh. "Yeah, right." Charity just keeps looking straight ahead. "What? Seriously?"
She nods. "Yeah, seriously." She tilts her head, giving Vanessa a challenging look. "Shocked?"
Vanessa appears to consider this. "Not...really, if I'm honest."
"There you go then. Maybe you weren't at the back of the queue when they gave out gaydar after all, eh?" Charity says as a taxi pulls to a halt in front of them. She opens the back door, gesturing for Vanessa to get in. "After you."
They've barely handed their coats over at the cloakroom when Tim's voice rings out behind them and Charity winces. She nudges Vanessa.
"Right, babe, showtime."
Vanessa nods and they turn in unison to greet Tim. Charity drapes an arm over Vanessa's bare shoulders. It's been bloody ages since Charity had a decent fumble, which is probably why she's noticing how soft and smooth and warm Vanessa's skin is against her own. Vanessa, for her part, moves closer and wraps an arm around her waist, as if they've been doing this forever.
"Charity! I'm so glad you made it!"
Charity conjures up her fakest smile and accepts Tim's two cheek kisses. "Hiya." She waits until he steps back before she gestures to Vanessa. "Tim, this is Vanessa. My girlfriend."
Tim's eyes sweep down Vanessa's body and Charity bristles for some reason. "My word." He shakes his head and then winks at Charity. "Landed yourself a catch here, Charity."
It's starting to get painful to keep the smile on her face, and she's grateful when Vanessa holds out her hand. "Tim, it's lovely to meet you." They shake hands. "And thank you for the invitation. It looks like we're in for a wonderful evening."
"So, how long have you two been together."
"Oh, not that lo-"
"Quite a whi-" She frowns when they speak over each other, and covers it with an entirely fake laugh. "What I mean is, it feels like forever, doesn't it babe?"
Vanessa narrows her eyes playfully. "Not sure I like the sound of that."
Charity's smile hurts less when it's in response to Vanessa's pretend offence. "I meant it in a good way, obviously."
"You better have," Vanessa mutters, touching a finger to Charity's chin. The simple touch makes Charity's breath catch and she barely hears Tim's next question.
"How did you meet?"
Vanessa gapes at her and she rolls her eyes. They definitely should have worked out a backstory. She'd assumed Vanessa might've picked up Frank's ability to lie seamlessly, but that is clearly not the case. She turns back to Tim.
"Well, it's a bit of a funny story, actually. I had a brief little fling with Ness's dad and-"
His face falls and she could kick herself for her slip up. "I thought you said you were...uh, I mean to say..."
"Oh, gay you mean?" Charity nods, trying to come up with a plausible cover story for her slip-up. "Ah...yeah...well, I was in denial, wasn't I?" She pulls Vanessa closer, tight against her side, pressing her nose into her hair. "But when I met this one, I just...I knew I couldn't hide it any longer. I had to be myself."
"That's such a lovely story." Tim gushes. "You know, the brewery does a lot of work with LGBT issues. Pride month and such...perhaps I could get them to do a feature on the two of you in our monthly magazine?"
"Oh, that's-" Vanessa looks to her for guidance again.
Charity takes charge again. "Send us the details and we'll see, yeah?" She squeezes his arm. "Now, if you'll excuse us Tim, I promised my lady a glass of bubbles."
"Oh, of course." He steps aside, gesturing for them to pass. "Enjoy the evening, ladies. And if you need anything, don't hesitate to find me."
"We will." Charity nods and Vanessa bids him goodbye as they head through to the actual party. Her arm is still around Vanessa and she sees no reason to remove it for the moment. "Well then, I bet you never thought you'd end up being a centrefold in the brewer's magazine, did you?"
"God, can you imagine what it'd be like?" Vanessa comments, grabbing a glass of champagne from a tray.
Charity does the same, considering Vanessa's question with a frown. "I'm picturing me and you, naked and wrapped in a rainbow flag. Me holding a pint. You holding a packet of pork scratchings."
"Oh, are you now?" Vanessa smiles wickedly. "Well, whatever floats your boat, eh?" She holds up her glass. "Cheers."
"Yeah, cheers." She clinks her glass against Vanessa's. She gulps the champagne, her neck and face suddenly rather warm.
The evening progresses and Charity finds that she's actually enjoying herself. Turns out Vanessa's very easy to talk to, has a naughty sense of humour and Charity's found herself laughing out loud on quite a few occasions.
"Come and dance with me?"
Charity chokes on her champagne. "What?"
"Dance!" Vanessa nods to the crowded dancefloor and turns back to Charity with a bright smile.
Charity wrinkles her nose. "Oh, babe, I don't know if I've had enough to-"
"Oh, come on." She doesn't get to reply before Vanessa's taken her glass and set it down on the bar. Then she grabs Charity's hand and starts making her way to through the crowd by the bar. The band are playing some upbeat, jazzy version of a Christmas song, which isn't the easiest thing in the world to dance to. People are mostly just bobbing up and down and swinging their arms. She turns to comment on this to Vanessa and stops short when she sees what the other woman is doing. There are no words to describe what's going on. There are arms flying everywhere and strange, offbeat steps. It would be endearing, if it wasn't downright dangerous looking.
"Right, lady, you can stop that now." She grabs hold of Vanessa's flailing arms. "Come here. Just…" She sighs and pulls one of Vanessa's hands down onto her waist, keeping hold of the other one as she starts to move the pair of them vaguely in time with the music.
"You're a good dancer," Vanessa comments.
"Lucky one of us is, eh?"
The music changes, sliding into a mellow version of I'll be home for Christmas. Charity clears her throat.
"D'you wanna…" She nods over to where there are free tables by the side of the dancefloor.
"Your mate Tim's over there." Vanessa murmurs. "Would look a bit weird if we sat down the minute a slowie came on, wouldn't it?"
"I suppose it would, yeah."
Vanessa lays her head on her shoulder, sliding her arm further around Charity's waist. It's the closest Charity's been to anyone in quite a while, and she can feel her body responding to the touch in some fairly pleasant ways. She settles into the new rhythm, adjusting her hold on Vanessa and closing her eyes.
It's all for show. It's for Tim.
That's what she tells herself.
It's getting to the point of the night when they're going to have to think about going home soon and Charity's surprised to realise that she's had the best night she's had in months. Vanessa's happily tipsy and leaning against her side, their fingers loosely tangled together as they comment on the other partygoers, trying to come up with background stories for them.
"And he is definitely using his pub as a front for the Mafia, yeah?" Vanessa gestures at some old geezer, dripping in gold and bursting out of his suit.
"Nah." Charity shakes her head. "He's been a darts player in the seventies or something. That suit's at least fifteen years old. No gangster would be seen dead in that."
"You reckon?" Vanessa watches him hold up his partner's coat for her to slip into. She must be at least thirty years his junior, and very attractive. "And being a darts player from the seventies is all it takes for him to get a woman like that?"
Charity leans in and whispers in Vanessa's ear. "Think she's hot, do you?"
Vanessa tilts her head, alcohol making her far less self-conscious about this stuff than usual. "She's not bad." She turns and looks up at Charity with a smirk. "Do you think she's hot?"
Charity looks over as the couple walk by and wrinkles her nose. "She's alright." She licks her lips. "Then again, I'm here with the hottest woman in the room, so maybe she just pales in comparison."
Vanessa nudges her and laughs. "Give over, you."
She hadn't meant to say that and she's glad when Vanessa passes it off as a joke. She laughs along with her, though it rings hollow in her ears. Vanessa's fingers tighten around hers and she looks over to find Vanessa gazing at her with a soft smile.
"You know, you're quite nice when you want to be, Charity Dingle."
"Yeah?" She rolls her eyes. "Well, it's not often I want to be, so don't get used to it."
There's a pause where all Charity can focus on is the way Vanessa's thumb nail is scraping over the back of her knuckles. Then Vanessa speaks again. "Maybe I'd like to get used to it."
Vanessa's eyes drop to Charity's lips and linger there. Charity's heart starts beating faster, like some daft teenager. She needs to gain some control of the situation, so she tugs Vanessa's hand, pulling her arm so that it's around her waist and she's looking down at her.
"Is that right?"
Vanessa catches her lip in her teeth and nods and it's just about the sexiest thing Charity's seen. She turns so she's flush against Vanessa, tilting her chin up with a finger and leaning in.
"Excuse me, ladies! Sorry to interr-"
Charity turns to the voice with a barely restrained growl. "Jesus Christ, Tim!" Vanessa squeezes her waist and she tries to calm herself down a little. No point in getting through this whole thing only to alienate the guy now. She smiles at him, tightly. "We were sort of busy, here, you know?"
He's blushing and avoiding her eyes. "Yes, I see that now. And I'm terribly sorry, but our events manager was just speaking to reception and they mentioned that you hadn't checked in yet, so I picked up your keycard." He holds out the item in question. Charity looks at it and then back up at him, frowning.
"Keycard? Why would we nee-"
"Oh, no!" Tim looks genuinely aghast. "Don't tell me I forgot to mention that all VIP guests have a room included in their ticket!"
"Uh, yeah, Tim, you did forget to mention that." Charity shakes her head. "Anyway, we've made arran-"
Vanessa reaches out and takes the card from him, flashing a glorious smile that has him blushing even deeper. "Thank you, Tim. That's ever so generous of you. We're very grateful, aren't we, Charity?"
Charity's mind is working through the implications of that card being in Vanessa's hand, and every conclusion she comes up with makes her want to get rid of Tim as quickly as humanly possible.
"Yeah." She nods. "Yeah. Very grateful."
"Good," Tim smiles at them both. He glances up and winks. "Well, I'll let you get back to your mistletoe, shall I?"
With a final nod at them, he beats a graceful retreat. Charity looks up at the offending plant she had failed to notice before and back down to find Vanessa looking at her, a faint blush colouring her cheeks.
Charity suddenly feels awkward, like she twisted Vanessa's arm into this situation. "It's...we don't have to. It's not like he's going to check or anythi-"
Vanessa places a finger over her lips, shaking her head. "Charity. Just kiss me, will you?"
Raising an eyebrow, Charity can't help the curve of her lips. "Bossy little thing, aren't you?"
Before Vanessa can respond with a complaint at this description, Charity leans in and brushes their lips together. She'd meant it to be a peck, just for appearances sake. But when their lips touch, Vanessa lets out a needy little moan that hits Charity low down in her gut and Charity's hands grasp at Vanessa's hips, dragging her closer and deepening the kiss. Vanessa's hands clutch her shoulders, fingers digging in almost painfully as their mouths come together over and over, unable to get close enough to the other. Sooner than she wants to, Charity pulls back and is a little bit pleased to see that Vanessa looks as dazed as she feels. Vanessa brings the keycard up and taps it against Charity's collarbone in time with whatever song is playing, her eyes fixed on it.
"I, uh, I bet the bedrooms in this place are gorgeous," Vanessa comments.
"Yeah," Charity agrees, taking the keycard from Vanessa and twirling it in her fingers. She tilts her head. "D'you wanna go upstairs and find out?"
Vanessa nods, slowly, her pupils flaring. Charity grins and leans in for another kiss.
This just might turn out to be a very merry Christmas indeed.
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