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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
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Please have snow, and mistletoe
The queue shuffles forward a bit and Vanessa wrangles her suitcase and handbag to a new position, barely three steps further on. She sighs, muttering under her breath. "Bloody Paddy Kirk. Bloody CPD. Bloody RCVS."
Her boss Paddy had been going on about her not doing enough CPD this year and had booked her on a conference two flaming days before Christmas. In London of all places. Vanessa would rather not go to London at the best of times, but two days before Christmas in one of the coldest winters in years is possibly the worst time anyone could choose. She'd made him fork out for a flight so at least she wouldn't have to spend hours on a train. That is proving to have been the wrong course of action.
It's been snowing since just before noon. The ground has a fairly decent covering of a few inches. So, of course, the Great British transport network has ground to a complete halt and everyone's running around like headless chickens trying to get to where they need to be. She'd reached Stansted just as all the flights were cancelled. The few trains still running were packed to the brim with people and shopping bags. She'd gone for a look at where the buses leave from, but the queues were crazy and people with clipboards were yelling about people who'd pre-booked tickets getting priority. So she'd decided her best bet would be to rent a car and drive home. The roads are probably chaos, but at least she'd be in control.
So, here she is, stood in a queue a mile long at a car rental desk. As usual, the one she's chosen seems to be moving the slowest. Most of the other rental companies have put signs up saying they have no vehicles left and Vanessa's compulsively counting the number of people in front of her, worrying that they'll run out before she gets to the front. She shuffles and counts and shuffles and counts until there's only one couple in front of her. They finish up the paperwork and are handed a set of keys and she steps up to the desk and smiles widely at the harried rental agent.
"Thank God. I was worried that-"
In her peripheral vision, she sees someone approach, moving to stand right beside her. Vanessa turns to the intruder with a frown. It's a woman of about her own age, long blonde hair and clear green eyes. And she appears to be unbothered by the queue of people behind Vanessa, now agitated and mumbling about queue jumpers.
"'Scuse me, babe. I just need to talk to this nice gentleman here for a sec."
The man behind the desk looks at Vanessa and then back to the interrupter. "I'm actually dealing with this lady just now. And there's a queue of peo-"
"Yeah, I can see that." The woman leans forward, lowering her voice. "But I've got an family emergency, you see, and I really need to get a car and get home as soon as possible." She winks at him. "Yesterday if you can manage it, handsome."
"Uh, we're all trying to get home," Vanessa puts in, with a frown. She indicates the people in the queue. "Except the difference is, we've all stood here waiting our turn instead of just barging in, demanding things."
"It's Christmas. I've got kids to get home to." The woman rolls her eyes. "I'm sure people understand a mother wanting to be with her kiddies at Christmas."
"I've got a kid to get home to an'all!" Vanessa throws up her arms. "I'm sure all the people here have things they need to get home for. You're not special, you know?"
The woman's cocky demeanour falters briefly and something twinges in Vanessa's chest before she pushes it down. She is not going to fall for some sob story.
"Ladies, I do need to hurry this along. I've got to get home myself." They both turn to look at the bloke and he cringes a little. "And I...I've just checked and we've only got one car left."
Although he's trying to keep his voice low, the people behind are clearly listening in and a series of groans go up and the queue starts to disperse.
"I was next in the queue, so that car's mine," Vanessa tells him, picking up a pen and gesturing for him to give her the paperwork. As he's printing it off, the woman puts a hand on Vanessa's arm, squeezing lightly. Vanessa turns and looks at her, finding genuine sadness in her eyes.
"Look. I...I promised my kids a good Christmas this year. We've not always been able to be together at Christmas and I...I wanted to make that up to them. Please let me have the car. I...I don't have any cash on me, but I can pay you! I can-" She trails off, the light slowly dimming in her eyes.
Vanessa clenches her jaw as she glances over the form before adding her signature on the lines indicated. There's something about the woman that reminds her of her dad a little. That need to make amends, to show people he's changed. But she can't afford to be soft now, and leave herself stranded miles from home.
She shakes her head. "I don't want money. I want to be with my little boy."
The woman deflates, all the bluster and bravado disappearing. She sighs and nods. "Well, can't fault you for that, I suppose. I'll find a way home. Even if I have to hitchhike all the way to flamin' Yorkshire." She gives Vanessa a half-smile. "Merry Christmas, babe."
Vanessa watches her walk away, pulling a carry-on case, shoulders hunched. She's handed a set of keys and half listens to the directions about how to find the car, her mind still on the woman who's now fiddling with her phone, probably figuring out what to tell her kids. Sighing, Vanessa makes up her mind. With a nod of thanks to the rental guy, she grabs her case and the keys and jogs after the woman.
"Hey. Hey!" The woman turns, a question written in the lines on her brow. "Where about in Yorkshire you headed?" Vanessa asks.
There's a spark of hope in the woman's eyes. "Little village called Emmerdale, why?"
Vanessa knows it well. She visits the farms on the outskirts on a regular basis. "I live in Hotten." She only hesitates for a moment before making the offer she came over to make. "Why don't we share the car, eh? See if we can't both get back to our kids in time for Christmas?"
The most beautiful smile breaks out on the other woman's face and Vanessa can't help but return it.
"Seriously?" Off Vanessa's nod, the woman blows out a long breath. "Wow, babe, you have saved my arse, I can tell you. Thank you."
Vanessa shrugs. "Makes sense, doesn't it."
"Right, well, we'd better get a shift on, eh?" She nods to the large windows where the snow's still falling. "Roads'll be a nightmare."
"Take the lifts down two floors and follow the signs, the bloke said." Vanessa jiggles the key in her pocket as they start walking. "I'm Vanessa, by the way. Since we're going to be sharing a very small space for a few hours, we should probably know each other's names."
The woman smiles. "Nice to meet you, Vanessa." She holds out a hand. "I'm Charity."
"No wonder this is the last flamin' car they give to anyone!"
They've found the car they were allocated; not terribly difficult in the near deserted underground car park. It's a metallic green Nissan Micra that's definitely seen better days. There are at least three dents in the driver's side alone and the aerial has some kind of tape holding it in place.
"Look, it's got a roof and four wheels." Vanessa moves around to the boot, clicking the button to unlock the car. "It'll do."
"Have you actually counted the wheels?" Charity asks, looking at her over the roof of the car. "Because I wouldn't be so sure. I've seen cars in better nick sitting on bricks on front lawns in Chadderton."
Having discovered that the button on the keys does not actually open the car, Vanessa has to unlock the boot manually. "Well I'm sorry it's not a flamin' Ferrari, your ladyship, but it's the best I can do, I'm afraid." She wrinkles her nose at the musty smell of the boot when she finally gets it open. "I could've just left you in that airport, you know."
"Oh, so you're gonna cast that up all the way up to Yorkshire, are you? How you swooped in and came to my rescue like some tiny superhero?" Charity says, coming around to join her as she hoists her suitcase into the boot. They both stand and look at it, taking up the entire space. Charity frowns at her. "Where's mine gonna go?"
"Stick it on the backseat. Stick it up your arse, for all I care. Just put it somewhere and stop finding problems with everything." She claps her hands together to warm them up, then fishes her phone out of her pocket to send a quick text to Tracy to keep her up to date on the travel situation. "Solutions only from now on, okay?"
Charity rolls her eyes. "Oh God. You're one of them."
Vanessa bristles at the accusation. "One of what?"
"Them, you know...upbeat people." Charity wrinkles her nose. "Glass half full types."
Weighing this up, and deciding it's not actually an insult, Vanessa smiles. "Yeah, I probably am a bit like that."
"Jesus. Positive mental attitude and all that gubbins?" Charity points over her shoulder, taking a few steps backwards. "You know what, babe? Hitchhiking's not sounding so bad all of a sudden. I think there's only about a thirty percent chance of getting murdered these days anyw-"
"Charity." At any other time, Vanessa might've been amused by Charity's attempt at humour, but right now all she wants is to get on the road. "Get in the car."
Charity huffs and mutters something involving the word 'bossy', but she opens the passenger door and wrestles her suitcase into the backseat. Vanessa debates taking her bulky winter coat off before getting in, but even in the car park, the air is bitter and the thought of getting into a stone cold car minus a layer is not appealling. Charity is clearly of the same opinion, and they get in still wearing their coats.
Vanessa turns the key in the ignition, and the engine sputters to life, along with the radio and the heater, blasting classical music and freezing cold air, respectively. Charity hurries to close the vents and turn the volume down, while Vanessa worriedly watches the dashboard, which has lit up like a Christmas tree. Thankfully most of the warning lights go back off eventually.
"Well, there's something coming through the heater at least," Charity says, offering Vanessa an overly bright smile. "I mean, we'll freeze our tits off if it doesn't heat up soon, but hey, it's working!"
Vanessa narrows her eyes. "The fake cheer is worse than the complaining."
Charity slouches in her seat, wrapping her arms around herself. "Fine. I'm going back to the complaining, then."
Sighing, Vanessa revs the engine a couple of times, just to make sure it's not going to conk out on them. Charity winces.
"Well. That sounds healthy."
"You do know there's another option?" Vanessa asks, closing one eye as she shifts into first gear with a crunch. "Just not saying anything at all."
"Oh, but I wouldn't want to deprive you of my witty repartee." Charity winks. "It's a long way home."
"Lucky me," Vanessa mutters, finding the biting point and easing the car forward. She heads up the ramp leading out of the car park, and they find themselves immediately enveloped in white. Vanessa's sure that if she were to roll the window down, the world outside would have that soft, silent feel to it. The one that feels like it's out of a storybook. But with the heater rattling away and the engine sounding like a plane ready for take off, the effect is somewhat shattered.
Sitting forward in her seat, Charity looks around in wonder and then back in the direction they came.
"Sure you've not taken a wrong turn, babe? We've ended up in the bloody North Pole."
"Yeah? Well, keep an eye out for Rudolph, then. Because if this snow gets any heavier, we might be in need of his nose to get us home."
Charity holds her hand over one of the vents. "I think that might be some heat starting to come through now."
Vanessa smiles as she joins a queue of traffic, waiting to get out of the airport. "See? Everything will be fine."
"I'm bloody melting here." Charity's got her seatbelt undone and is trying to get out of her coat in the small space available.
The heater, it turns out, works a little too well and it's impossible to change the temperature or turn the stupid thing off.
"Yeah, tell me about it." Vanessa wipes at her brow with her sleeve. They've made it onto the A1 and had been making fairly good progress, but the traffic is now dead slow and stop. One of the lanes is closed off and the snow is still coming down, as thick as ever.
Charity's finally free of her coat and she chucks it over the back, on top of her suitcase, settling back down in her seat and looking at Vanessa. "You need to take that coat off before you overheat."
"How can I? I'm driving!"
"We've barely moved about six inches in the last quarter of an hour." Charity rolls her eyes. "Stick your arm out."
"Stick your arm out and I'll pull your sleeve off, then you should be able to wriggle out of the rest."
Vanessa thinks about protesting; it's hardly a safe activity to be undertaking on slippery roads in a tiny, unpredictable car. But she really is going to pass out if she sits in the heat much longer. "Fine." She sticks her left arm straight out towards Charity and with minimal difficulty, they manage to get the sleeve off. She slips the other arm free and Charity yanks her coat out from under her when she leans forward. It joins Charity's in the back.
"Right. Now then." Charity lifts her eyebrows. "Any more items of clothing I can help you slip out of?"
"Not without buying me a drink first." Vanessa bites her lip, worried that she's overstepped the mark, even though Charity had been the one to start the flirtatious tone. She's more at ease with her sexuality than she's ever been, but there's still a knee-jerk moment where her stomach clenches the second she says anything suggestive to a woman, worrying that they'll react badly.
Charity tilts her head, her eyes roaming down Vanessa's body and back up. "I'll shout you a latte when we stop for a wee, then. See if I can coax you out of that jumper an'all."
Vanessa laughs in relief. She's about to respond when a phone rings from the back seat.
"Oh, bugger. Left it in my coat pocket." Once again, Charity unplugs her seatbelt and turns to lean between the seats to grab her coat and rifle through the pockets. When she drops back into her seat, there's a huge smile on her face as she answers the call. "Hiya babe!"
Inexplicably, Vanessa feels a twinge in her chest at hearing Charity greet whoever's on the phone that way. She shakes her head at her own ridiculousness.
"No, I'm on my way now. No, car. Trains were getting cancelled left and right and the buses were packed so...no, I'm not driving. Oh yeah, I forgot to say, I'm sharing a car with this right stroppy mare called Vanessa."
Vanessa gasps and looks over, only to find Charity grinning widely at her. She narrows her eyes and turns back to the road.
"I met her at the airport and we were both headed in the same direction so we thought we'd share the driving."
"Oh, that's what happened, is it?" Vanessa mumbles and Charity sticks out her tongue.
"No, I was only kidding, she's not that stroppy. Yeah, we're on the road now...it's slow, but it's still moving." There's a pause, and when Charity speaks again, her voice is different. "I'll be there, like I promised, yeah? We'll have a proper big family Christmas." Another pause, and Vanessa wills herself not to look over at what is essentially a private moment between Charity and...whoever's on the other end of the phone. "Yeah, I know. Okay. Hey, Debs, I love you, okay?" There's another stab of that feeling Vanessa doesn't like. "Kiss the boys for me. Yeah I know he'll hate it, why d'you think I asked you to do it? Okay. I'll see you soon. Bye. Bye."
Charity hangs up and lowers her phone to her lap, blowing out a breath and turning to look out of the window, her hand covering her mouth. Vanessa has no idea if she's supposed to pretend she never heard one side of that conversation.
"Is...uh, everything alright?" she asks, in the end.
"Hmmm? Oh, yeah." Charity nods and flashes her a half-hearted smile. "Like I said, I've not always been with my kids at Christmas so...it's important, that's all."
"Course, yeah." Vanessa holds a breath in. "Was that...was that your partner? Wife?"
She doesn't expect the bark of laughter from Charity and it makes her jump. Charity puts a hand on her arm.
"Sorry, babe, I'm just imagining Debs' face if you said that in front of her." She shakes her head, grinning properly now. "No, that was my eldest kid. Debbie. I've got two boys an'all. Noah and Moses."
"Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to-"
"It's fine. But I've no partner. Or wife. Or husband, for that matter." She sighs. "Had a few husbands over the years, but none of them have stuck, thank God."
"Right." Vanessa smiles, though a little flame of hope she didn't know was burning has just been snuffed out. "How old are your kids?"
"Debbie's twenty-eight...no, twenty-nine, now." Vanessa knows Charity's looking at her for a reaction, so she keeps her face neutral. "Noah's fourteen and Moses is three."
"Oh!" Vanessa smiles. "My Johnny's three too!"
"Nightmare at that age, aren't they?" Charity says. "If I'm not fishing Moses out of the washing machine, I'm having to talk him down off the top of the wardrobe. How the hell he gets up there I'll never know. I think his dad's part monkey."
Vanessa smiles at Charity's tale, assuming it to be exaggerated. "Johnny's a quiet little thing, really. Just toddles about smiling."
"Seriously?" Charity frowns. "Tell you what, I'll do you a swap. Both of my lads for your one. Can't say fairer than that."
"I think I'll keep hold of mine, thanks," Vanessa says. "And I'm sure you'd never part with yours." She watches Charity's smile falter and kicks herself. Charity's mentioned being separated from her kids more than once, and here's Vanessa going and sticking her foot right in her mouth. "Listen, I didn't mean-"
"No, you're right. I wouldn't part with them if I could help it. Not for the world." Charity clears her throat. "So what about you?"
"Me? What about me?" Vanessa asks, slowing down when she sees brake lights up ahead.
"Any partners? Husbands? Wives?"
"Nope. None of the above." She shrugs. "It's just me and Johnny. His dad buggered off when he was just tiny and it's been the two of us ever since."
Charity nods, but she's watching Vanessa in a way that makes Vanessa feel like she's seeing right through her. To shift the scrutiny, she turns on the radio. Once again they're met with classical music.
"See if you can find a station that's got travel news, eh?" Vanessa asks. "This snow's getting heavier if anything."
Charity starts fiddling with the radio, pressing buttons to try and find another station. But all they get is static. The only station it finds is the one it was originally on. Charity sighs and goes to turn it off, but Vanessa catches her arm.
"Leave it on and turn the volume down. It's nice to have some Christmas music on in the background."
Doing as requested, Charity shakes her head. "Christmas music? Funeral dirges, more like." She sits back and folds her arms. "I hope no poor sod who's on their own this Christmas is listening to this. Make you top yourself, it would."
"Sometimes the happy ones are worse, though, when you're on your own," Vanessa says. She's spent a fair few Christmases by herself. Once she left home for uni, her mum and stepdad started taking cruises over Christmas. The odd year she was invited to a friend's house, but mostly she just spent the day quietly by herself in whatever flat she was staying in at the time. It's why she wants to make sure that she and Johnny build traditions together, so that he's always got a place to come to that feels like home.
"That's true." Charity looks down at her hands, still fiddling with her phone. "Oh...d'you want me to look up travel news?"
"That's an idea."
Charity taps away on her phone for a bit. She sucks in a breath through her teeth and Vanessa looks over. "What?"
"Looks like there's loads of roads closed a bit further north." She looks out the window and then back at Vanessa. "How long d'you reckon they'll keep this one open?"
Assessing their surroundings, she sighs. "Not long, probably." She bites her lip. "I don't want to get stuck overnight in this car." There had been news reports last year about people stuck out all night on the motorways and it did not look like fun.
Charity's tapping her phone against her chin. She nods back down the road. "There was a sign back there for services in a mile. Maybe we should get off there and see if we can get a couple of rooms for the night. Then we can set off early tomorrow. They'll have cleared the roads by then."
"That's not a bad idea, actually," Vanessa says. It's getting dark now and the conditions are worsening. On clear roads, the drive's probably another couple of hours. But if they wait for the roads to close, everyone will be looking for rooms and they'll be out of luck. It's unlikely they'll make it home tonight, so they might as well try and get somewhere they can have a kip and a shower. Vanessa sees the next sign for the services and flicks her indicator on.
"Oh, you're kidding me!"
The poor man at the front desk looks at her in sympathy, shaking his head. "No, sorry, it's the weather, you see. People are trying to get off the roads."
Vanessa sighs and nods. "Yeah, I know."
Charity comes up to stand beside her, having nipped to the loo as soon as they'd come in from the car park. "Everything alright, babe?"
Vanessa turns to face her, stomach churning. "They've only got one room left. A double."
Smirking, Charity turns to the bloke at reception. "Is she just saying that so she can get me into bed?"
He blushes a furious red, bending his head and typing something. Vanessa nudges Charity. "Oi, you. I'm being serious."
"Well, I'm sure we'll cope, yeah? We've just spent hours in a car I'm not convinced isn't part of someone's Scalextric set." She fishes in her pocket and puts a credit card on the desk. "We'll take the room, ta."
Fumbling around for the card so he doesn't have to look up, the still blushing man mumbles something.
"What was that, love?" Vanessa asks, leaning closer.
"The heating in the rooms has been a bit...unreliable for the last couple of days." He glances at Vanessa, blushes again and dips his head back down. "So you might want to-"
"Oh, don't worry." Charity's voice has changed to something that sounds like melting chocolate and Vanessa is concerned that her own face might be as red as the bloke's. "I'm sure between the two of us we can come up with a few ways to keep warm. I've already got two or three in mind."
"Charity!" Vanessa hisses, pushing her a little distance away. "Stop embarrassing the lad."
"Working at a Travelodge?" Charity rolls her eyes. "He'll encounter worse than us, I promise you that. I'm just toughening him up."
"I'm so sorry about her." Vanessa narrows her eyes as Charity punches in her PIN code and accepts the receipt. Two keycards are slid across the desk, without eye contact. Charity pockets one of them and turns to her.
"Right. Why don't you finish up here and take the cases up to the room? I'll pop over and see if I can get us something to eat before everything's closed, yeah?"
Vanessa sighs. "Fine." At least that means they might get through the rest of check-in without the man passing out.
Charity heads to the door and pauses, turning back to face Vanessa. She pulls her scarf tighter around her neck and stands the collar of her coat up, preparing to face the blizzard conditions.
"I'm just going outside." She's using a posh accent. "I may be some time."
Fighting a smile, Vanessa shakes her head. "Charity, this is Grantham, not the flamin' Antarctic."
Charity raises her eyebrows. "Not that you could tell by looking." She winks. "Won't be long. Hopefully."
Vanessa finishes up and hauls the two carry-on cases to the lift. It's only up one floor, but she doesn't care. When the lift doors open, she wrinkles her nose, immediately hit by the smell of old, stale smoke. The carpet must've been down well before the smoking ban. She trundles down the corridor and arrives at their assigned room. She fiddles with the keycard and gets the door open, shivering when cold air seems to rush from the room. She squares her shoulders, heading inside.
It's tiny. It's smaller than she expected, even. There's barely room to move around the bed, which is also tiny. Vanessa frowns at it, trying to work out if it even qualifies as a double bed. She hoists her case onto it and starts rummaging, finding yesterday's jumper. She shrugs out of her coat, fumbling the jumper in her hurry to get it on on top of her current one, and then yanks the coat back on. She finds the hat and scarf she'd packed because of the weather forecast and puts those on too, yanking the hat down over her ears. This is going to be a bloody nightmare.
Her phone starts ringing and she sighs when she sees it's Tracy. "Hiya."
"Hi. I didn't want to phone you when you're driving, but it's been ages since you texted and the news is full of roads closing and accidents and I just wanted to make sure you were okay."
"Yeah, yeah, fine." She sits down on the bed. "I was just about to call you, actually." She flops backwards. "We've stopped at a Travelodge for the night. The roads were just getting too bad and we didn't want to get stuck in the car overnight."
"We? Who's this we?" Tracy sounds concerned. "V, tell me you haven't picked up a hitchhiker or summat? I've told you all the horror stories from my murder podcasts and you-"
"She's not a hitchhiker." Vanessa says, before Tracy can launch into a retelling of whatever gruesome murder she's listened to this week. "I met her at the airport. She's from Emmerdale and she needs to get back to her kids, same as me. That's all."
"Oooooh, 'she'?" The concern has morphed into excitement. Apparently female hitchhikers are acceptable. "This your new tactic for picking up women, is it? Playing the white knight? Bit extreme, but I'm in favour. Is she hot?"
"Tracy," Vanessa warns. "We're just sharing a car, that's all." And a room, and a bed, she thinks, but Tracy definitely doesn't need to know those bits or she'll be buying a hat for the wedding.
"And? Is she hot?" Tracy asks again.
"She's got three kids and loads of ex-husbands. She's not going to be interested in me, is she?" Vanessa says.
"I never asked if she was interested in you. I asked if she was hot. And since this is the third time I've had to ask it, I'm gonna assume the answer is 'yes'."
Vanessa sighs. "Yes, she's hot, okay? She's ridiculously hot. Satisfied?"
Vanessa looks up in horror to find the door open and Charity standing there holding two huge takeaway coffee cups and a paper bag from Greggs. There's a vaguely knowing smirk on her face and Vanessa's neck suddenly feels very hot under her scarf. She sits up.
"Tracy, I've got to go."
"Oh my God!" Tracy's voice is now filled with glee. "She never just heard you saying she was h-"
Vanessa ends the call and throws her phone behind her, giving Charity a wan smile. "I...uh…whatever's in that bag, hopefully."
Charity grins, slowly. "Uh huh." She moves fully into the room and kicks the door closed behind her, wrinkling her nose. "Jesus Christ, I think it was warmer outside."
"Yeah. "Vanessa accepts one of the cups, wrapping her hands around it gratefully as Charity sits down beside her on the bed. "I shoved an extra layer on, but it's not doing much good."
"Oh, what?" Charity huffs. "Thought this latte was to get you out of your jumper? Not into another one."
Vanessa scowls at her over the rim of her cup. "Shut up."
"Ungrateful." Tutting, Charity pushes the bag towards her. "An' here's me risking life and limb, crossing a frozen tundra to bring you something to fill your belly."
Vanessa rips open the paper bag to reveal two sausage rolls. She prods at one, finding it lukewarm at best. She picks it up and she must make some kind of face because Charity huffs.
"Oi. This was the best I could do, alright? Everywhere was closed or closing." Charity picks up the other one and bites into it. "And where's your 'no complaining' rule now, eh?"
"I never said a word!" Vanessa says, around a mouthful of meat and pastry. It's not as bad as it could be. It's tasty and warm-ish. If she doesn't think about the potential botulism, she might even say she's enjoying it. "Thanks. For the sausage roll. And the coffee." She rolls her eyes. "And for risking life and limb."
"You're welcome, babe." They eat in silence for a bit and Vanessa desperately tries not to think about what Charity heard her say. "Nice hat, by the way."
Vanessa puts her hand up to the top of her head, catching the bobble. "My ears get cold easily. It keeps them warm when I'm out in fields at all hours."
Charity raises her eyebrows. "Never had you pegged for a farmer."
"I'm a vet." Vanessa marvels at the fact they spent a good few hours in a car and somehow never got round to discussing work. It's usually one of the first things she talks to people about. "That's why I was in London. Veterinary conference."
"Ooooh, beautiful and brainy, eh? Get you." Charity winks.
Again, warmth floods to Vanessa's cheeks and it makes her shiver, she rubs her upper arms to cover it up. "What about you? What do you do?"
"I own a pub. Well, I own half a pub. My cousin owns the other half. The Woolpack."
"Oh, yeah, I know it." Vanessa nods. "I've driven by it a few times."
"Well, next time you can stop and come in." Charity bumps their shoulders together. "Might even buy you a proper drink."
"Yeah." Vanessa smiles. "Yeah, I might just do that."
Charity nods, shoving the last of her sausage roll in her mouth, dusting the crumbs off the front of her coat. "So, when I came in earlier...who were you telling I was hot?"
She only considers denying it for a second, because it will just make things worse, really. So she sighs and flops back onto the bed, throwing an arm over her eyes. "My sister."
"Right. And how did that topic of conversation come up?" She can't see her, but she can tell Charity is smiling as she speaks.
"Because she's decided that I need to get off my backside and find someone before I end up an old maid." She laughs, humourlessly, deciding to lay her cards on the table so that Charity might stop flirting quite so overtly with her. "So she reckons any woman in a fifty mile radius and a ten year age range is fair game." She lifts her arm and looks at Charity. "Don't worry. I put her right."
"About...well, how we're just sharing a car. And you're…"
"Hot. Yeah, I heard that bit." Charity tilts her head like a curious puppy. "What did you put her right about?"
"You know…" Vanessa sits up and moves over to her suitcase, looking for her toothbrush and a way to avoid Charity's eyes. "That you're not into women."
"And how did you come to that conclusion, Sherlock?"
Vanessa frowns at her. "'Cause...you said you had ex-husbands. And kids."
"You've got a kid." Charity shrugs. "And he was hardly the immaculate conception, was he? I mean, unless there's something I'm missing."
"Well, no, but-"
"So, how come you can be into women and I can't?" Charity clicks her tongue. "That's pretty narrow-minded, Vanessa."
"Well, I...I...was-" Vanessa stutters, thrown by this accusation. She sighs. "Look, I was a bit in denial about myself. Well, a lot in denial, really. Until pretty recently, actually."
"Hmmm." Charity watches while Vanessa pulls stuff out of the small case until she finds her toiletry bag. "Maybe that explains it, then."
Vanessa looks over, quickly. "Eh? Explains what?"
"How clueless you are. Yes, I've a few ex-husbands." She raises an eyebrow. "But I've a few ex-girlfriends, an'all."
"Oh." Vanessa nods. And then she realises what Charity's said, eyes widening. "Oh."
"Yes, bisexuals, unlike Santa, do actually exist." Charity smirks. "Shocking, I know."
"No...I...ummmm-" Vanessa tries to laugh and roll her eyes, but even she can hear that it sounds nervous. "I know that. I just-"
"Haven't met one before?" Charity nods in clearly fake understanding and holds her arms out to the side. "Well, now you have. Like meeting a unicorn, eh?" She winks. "You can pinch me, if you like. Make sure I'm real."
"No, that's, umm, that's okay." She smiles. "I believe you." She points at the bathroom door. "I'm just gonna, you know, brush my teeth and that. Won't be long."
Charity smirks all too knowingly at her and nods. "Take your time. I'm gonna give our Noah a ring anyroad."
"Okay then." She grabs her toiletry bag and pyjamas heads into the miniscule bathroom, closing the door and leaning back against it. This is ridiculous. She's known this woman a few hours. Her heart should not be going a mile a minute just because there's the slightest possibility that Charity might be interested in her.
Moving to the sink, she looks at herself in the mirror. "Don't get your hopes up. She's just a flirt, that's all." It's not like she's usually the type to start picturing wedding dresses the minute a hot woman says hello to her. She's usually fairly pragmatic. But there's something about Charity that just clicks. Something just works. She's never felt as at ease with a stranger in her life.
Stranger. That's the key thing, here. She knows nothing about this woman except that she has three kids, multiple ex-husbands, lives in Emmerdale and owns a pub. And that she's funny, and cheeky, and clever, and gorgeous. Vanessa shakes her head at herself. "Get a grip, Vanessa."
When she comes out of the bathroom, Charity's sitting on the bed, plucking at the duvet with her phone pressed to her ear. Vanessa grabs a hoodie out of her case and shoves it on over her pyjama top and two jumpers. Any more layers and she won't be able to bend her arms, but at least it's staving off the worst of the cold. She tries not to listen to Charity's conversation, but it's literally impossible in the tiny space.
"-not an excuse. Yeah, I know, babe. I'll be there, I promise. I know I've let you down before, but I swear this time is different. I'll see you tomorrow, okay? I love you." Charity nods sadly, her shoulders slumping, and Vanessa assumes that Noah, or whoever's on the other end, didn't repeat those words. She watches her sigh and set her phone to the side.
"We will, you know." Vanessa smiles when Charity looks up at her in question. "Get home tomorrow. Even if we have to set off and dawn and walk the rest of the way. We'll get there."
A slow smile makes its way across Charity's face. "Why do I actually believe you, buttercup?"
"Because my sunny personality is rubbing off on you, clearly."
"Ugh," Charity moans collapsing backwards, and ending up lying diagonally across the bed. She pulls one of the pillows over her face, muffling her voice when she speaks again. "If this thing didn't smell quite so musty, I might try and smother myself."
Vanessa rolls her eyes and nudges Charity's knee with her own. "So...what do you want to do about the sleeping arrangements?" She looks at the very small gap between the foot of the bed and the dressing table and bites her lip. "There's spare blankets in the wardrobe...I can take the floor if-"
Charity lifts the pillow off her face and frowns up at her. "Don't be daft. We can share the bed."
"But…isn't that...won't that be-"
"Am I that irresistible you won't be able to keep your hands to yourself?"
Vanessa flushes and looks down. "Well, no."
"No. And neither are you, babe. So I think we'll manage to share a bed without it turning into bad lesbian porn, yeah?" Charity looks Vanessa up and down. "Anyway, I'd be knackered before I got half of those layers off you."
Sighing, Vanessa nods. "Fine. Budge up, then."
"What? Now?" Charity grabs Vanessa's arm and turns it so she can look at her watch. "It's not even ten o'clock."
"We want to be up and about earlydoors, don't we? Make sure you get back to your kids." Vanessa lifts the duvet once Charity gets up, quickly checking the sheet to make sure it's clean before climbing in. "So we might as well try and get a decent sleep." She prods at her phone. "I'm setting my alarm for six. We'll see what the weather's like then and decide what to do."
Charity groans, as she rifles through her case. "Yes ma'am." She stands up and looks at Vanessa. "I bet you're a morning person, an'all. All bubbly and bright at daft o'clock."
Vanessa grins. "I have been told that a couple of times, yes."
"Of course. Brilliant." Charity rolls her eyes as she makes her way around the bed and into the bathroom, but Vanessa's almost positive she's hiding a smile.
Pulling the duvet up to her chin, Vanessa adjusts her hat so that it's sitting just above her eyebrows. It's still bloody freezing, but it's almost tolerable. She lies and waits, feeling like she's on a ledge. Safe for now, but terrifyingly close to falling.
When Charity re-emerges, she's wearing a few more items of clothing, although none of them look particularly designed for warmth, unlike Vanessa's many wooly layers. She watches her deposit some bits and pieces in her case.
"What was it you were doing in London?" Vanessa asks, to take away some of the tension she feels at knowing Charity's about to climb into bed with her.
"Work thing. Brewery do." Charity bends and pulls something out of her suitcase. It's a long, sleeveless red dress and Vanessa's breath catches in her throat just from imagining Charity in it. "Evening wear isn't all that useful when you're freezing your arse off in a Travelodge, though, is it?"
"Not really, no." Vanessa pauses and then sits up, unzipping her hoodie and pulling it off.
Charity's eyebrows rise. "Well then. Things are looking up."
Vanessa glares at her and then throws her the garment. "Here, take that. I've got two jumpers on already."
"How gallant." Charity picks up the hoodie and slips into it, zipping it right up. "First you save me from being stranded in the airport, and now you've saved me from hypothermia." She flutters her eyelashes and puts a hand over her heart. "My hero."
"Shut up," Vanessa grumbles. Charity laughs and makes her way around the bed, stopping at the opposite side and pulling her hair into a messy bun. Vanessa finds herself watching, eyes drawn to the elegant line of Charity's neck. She shakes herself, hoping it looks like a shiver, and clutches around for something to say. "I feel like I should point out that it usually takes more than a Greggs' sausage roll to get me into bed."
Something strange passes over Charity's face, it almost looks like pain, but then it's gone and she's smirking and lifting an eyebrow.
"That so? What's it usually take?" She tilts her head. "Just, you know, out of interest."
She hadn't been prepared for that to be the response and she looks down, blushing. She shrugs. "Depends, I suppose. A nice dinner, maybe? Dancing? A moonlit walk?"
Charity wrinkles her nose. "Hmmm, I could maybe stretch to a sausage roll and a strawberry tart?"
Vanessa laughs and bumps her shoulder against Charity's. "Make it a Yum Yum and I'm all yours."
Charity laughs and lifts the covers, climbing in. "Noted, babe."
Vanessa switches off the lamp and they both rustle around, trying to find a happy medium with sharing the duvet without letting too much cold air get in the bed. They lie in silence for a bit and Vanessa wonders if Charity has nodded off. But then her voice pipes up in the near darkness.
"How cold are you?"
Vanessa lifts a hand to touch the tip of her nose. "What, like, on a scale of one to ten?"
The bed moves and Vanessa thinks Charity must've shrugged. "If you like."
"Yeah. Me too." There's a pause. "You know what's good for keeping warm?"
"Oh, don't tell me." Vanessa rolls her eyes. "This is gonna be some Bear Grylls survival thing about stripping naked and pressing our bare flesh together to share body heat, yeah?"
Another pause and then Charity props herself up on her elbow, looking down at Vanessa, illuminated by the streetlights coming through the space in the curtains. "Well, I was going to suggest having a bit of a cuddle, but I like yours much better, let's do that." She reaches for the zip on her hoodie, and Vanessa bats her hand away, laughing.
"Give over, you."
Charity falls back into her previous position, their laughter petering off into nothing. "I wasn't kidding about the cuddling, by the way."
"What, seriously?" Again, Vanessa's heart speeds up, rattling against her rib cage so loudly she expects to hear it echo off the walls.
"Yes, seriously. If I was a brass monkey I'd be singing falsetto right now." A hand lands on Vanessa's hip and tugs gently, giving her the option to refuse. Without allowing herself too much time to second guess the decision, she shuffles backwards and lets Charity put an arm around her waist. Instantly she feels warmer, but she's not sure that's got much to do with sharing body heat.
"Ni'night, babe," Charity mumbles, already sounding half asleep.
Vanessa lays her arm over the one on her waist, her fingers lightly brushing the back of Charity's hand. "Yeah. Night."
When Vanessa wakes up, the first thing she notices is that her nose is warm; the heating must've kicked in at some point during the night. The second thing she notices is that she's alone. She stretches, turning onto her back and throwing out an arm to the empty side of the bed. The sheets are cool, so Charity's been gone a while. Vanessa frowns, briefly considering the possibility that she dreamt Charity up. A gorgeous woman who needed rescuing in a snowstorm? That's a bit far-fetched by anybody's standards. She reaches over and flicks the lamp on, wincing at the harsh light. Before she can get too maudlin, her eyes land on Charity's suitcase, the red dress she'd shown Vanessa the night before spilling over the edge. Vanessa smiles. She's real, then.
As if she'd have come up with somebody like Charity if she was going to invent the woman of her dreams. She'd have picked somebody...somebody… She frowns, unable to think of any qualities she'd go for that Charity doesn't have. She likes people who are funny, intelligent and not afraid to say what they think. Beautiful doesn't hurt either. Maybe Charity is her type, then. And there was definite flirting going on. And Charity isn't straight and isn't attached.
Vanessa rolls her eyes at herself. Life isn't some daft Christmas film. People don't find the love of their life in a queue at the airport. People don't fall in love in tiny cars on snowy motorways. And being forced to share a bed doesn't lead to fairytale romances. But maybe, if Vanessa follows through on her promise to stop by the Woolpack for a drink, it might lead to something.
"A Christmas miracle," Vanessa says out loud, looking at the weird stains on the ceiling. "As if, Vanessa."
Just at that, the door opens and Charity breezes in with a smile and two cups of something hot in her hands. "Morning sunshine!"
Vanessa wrinkles her nose at the enthusiastic greeting. "Morning. Time is it?"
Charity shrugs, setting the cups down on the bedside cabinet and taking her coat off. "Must be around seven. Bloody hell, it's boiling in here after being outside."
Vanessa frowns, getting up on an elbow and picking her phone up. "My alarm didn't go off."
"Oh, it did buttercup." Charity picks the cups back up, offering one to Vanessa. "But you were dead to the world, snoring and drooling away quite happily. So I switched it off and let you sleep a bit longer."
One side of Vanessa's mouth turns up and she takes the coffee. "You're in a good mood for someone who was moaning about having to get up at this time."
Charity sits on the bed, one of her legs pulled up so she can face Vanessa. "Well, like you said, your positive attitude has clearly rubbed off on me." She rolls her eyes. "I'm feeling good about life. We're gonna get home today and my kids'll get the Christmas I promised them."
A strange sort of melancholy settles in Vanessa's chest at the thought of a quick and easy journey home from here. Of course she wants to get back to Johnny and to spend Christmas with him, building Paw Patrol control towers and trying to persuade him that the toys are more fun than the boxes, but part of her also wants to get to spend the day in the car with Charity, getting to know her better.
"The roads are clearer then?" she asks, taking a sip of coffee. She almost spits it out. "What the hell is this?"
"It's gingerbread flavoured," Charity tells her with a grin. "To get us in the festive spirit."
Vanessa laughs, shaking her head. "You're full of surprises."
"You've no idea, babe." Charity says. "And yeah, the roads are clearer. Some diversions a bit closer to home, but it should all be fine."
"That's good, then." Vanessa smiles, taking another sip. Now that she's prepared for the taste, it's not so bad.
"Right, get that down you and we'll get sorted and head off." Charity glances at the time on her phone and clicks her tongue. "Already later than you'd planned to leave, babe." She lifts her eyebrows. "Well, we can shower together, eh? That'll save a bit of time."
She's stopped blushing every time Charity flirts with her, but the image this conjures up definitely sends a rush of heat to her cheeks. She rolls her eyes."You are so bad."
"Oh, babe." Charity winks. "You really have no idea."
They get on the road after very separate showers, Charity behind the wheel this time. The roads are fairly empty, and easily passable and they make good time on their journey up to Yorkshire. They stop once, for petrol and to grab a quick bite to eat and a wee, and then they're back in the car. The time passes quickly in easy conversation. They talk about everything and nothing; kids, jobs, past relationships, families. It sounds like Charity's related to most of Emmerdale and it turns out that one of her cousins fixed Vanessa's car once when it refused to start when she was on a call-out.
'He didn't say much, really. Just sort of grunted at me.'
'Yep, definitely our Cain.'
As they draw closer to Hotten, the roads become a little harder to navigate and Charity has to slow down considerably and concentrate. Vanessa stays quiet so as not to distract her and instead watches the passing fields outside the window. Getting closer to home usually fills her with joy. But not today.
Too soon, they get into Hotten proper and Vanessa directs Charity to her estate and then her street.
"This is me just here, by the blue car," Vanessa says, as Charity crawls along streets still not totally clear of snow. The car comes to a halt and Charity switches the engine off. She blows out a breath.
"Well, kid, it's been...an experience."
Vanessa nods, smiling. "Yeah, it certainly has been." She touches Charity's arm. "I'm actually quite glad you barged in front of me in that queue yesterday."
"Yesterday? God, is that all it was?" Charity shakes her head. "Feels like ages ago."
"It does." It feels like they've known each other longer than a day. That they've shared more than that short amount of time. "I-"
"Why don't you get your stuff out of the back, eh? I'll grab your case from the boot."
There's no reason Vanessa couldn't take her own stuff into the house. There's not much of it at all, but she's not going to complain at getting to spend an extra few minutes with Charity. She busies herself grabbing her coat and handbag from the backseat, where they're lying on top of Charity's suitcase. She gets her keys out and heads up the path to her door, Charity trailing behind her, muttering swear words as the wheels of the case refuse to cooperate in the snow. Just as Vanessa gets her key in the lock, the door opens to reveal Tracy with Johnny on her hip.
"Mummy!" He holds out his arms and Vanessa grabs hold of him, squeezing his little body against hers.
"There's my little man." She kisses all over his face and hair, making him giggle. She looks up at Tracy. "I didn't think you'd be here."
"Yeah, well, I didn't want you having to traipse over to mine to get him after your epic journey." She shrugs. "And all the good toys are here." Tracy's eyes drift over her shoulder and her smile becomes brighter. "And this must be Charity." She holds out a hand. "I'm Tracy, Vanessa's much younger sister."
"Charmed," Charity says, shaking Tracy's hand. "I'm the incredibly hot woman your sister was telling you about yesterday."
Tracy cackles in delight. "Oh, I like this one, V. You can keep her."
Vanessa's already fighting a blush, but this makes it worse and she nudges Tracy out of the way to get into the house. "C'mon, get in, we'll catch our deaths standing about out here."
Once inside, she sets Johnny down on his feet and he plods back to the drawing he was obviously in the middle of. Charity puts Vanessa's case at the foot of the stairs and Tracy's standing between them, eyes bouncing back and forth like she's at flaming Wimbledon.
"Do you...I can make you something to eat before you head off, if you like?" Vanessa offers. "It's been ages since we last ate."
"No, you're fine. I'd better get back. I've got stuff still to get sorted." Charity smiles. "Thanks, though."
"Listen, I was gonna take Johnny up for his bath just before you came in," Tracy says, quickly. "So, why don't I do that now and let the two of you say your goodbyes in private?"
Vanessa frowns at the obvious set-up. "Tracy, you don't need to-"
"It's fine," Tracy says, scooping Johnny up into her arms and tickling him. She nods to the ceiling above Vanessa's head. "Just in case you want to make use of that."
Charity and Vanessa both look up and notice the mistletoe that Vanessa's positive that she didn't put there and wasn't there when she left. In fact, now that she's looking, there are sprigs of mistletoe all over the flaming living room. She grinds her teeth and resolves to kill Tracy later.
"So, your sister is really determined to get you a woman, eh?" Charity says, with a soft smile.
"Didn't I tell you as much?" Vanessa sighs. "Look, don't feel like you have to-"
"S'tradition, innit?" Charity takes a step forward, leaving her only inches from Vanessa. Vanessa can feel the warmth coming from Charity's skin, remembers how it felt to have Charity pressed against her back, an arm secure around her waist. Vanessa's holding her breath now, as Charity bends her neck.
Lips brush against the side of her mouth, just for a second, before retreating. Charity stumbles backwards and Vanessa's eyes grow hot with tears. Has she really read this situation so wrong? Charity's pointing over her shoulder with her thumb.
"I...I really need to go. I've still got all my wrapping to do and God knows if anyone's actually sorted anything for dinner tomorrow and I-"
"It's fine," Vanessa says, smiling as best she can. "You need to get back. I've got stuff to do an'all."
"Right, so...I'll...yeah. I'll go, then. Get home and..." Charity nods. "And I'll take the car back."
"It's rented until Boxing Day, just in case," Vanessa says, following Charity to the door. "No rush."
"Okay, good to know." Charity gets the door open and steps outside, pausing for a moment and then turning back to Vanessa, shoving her hands in her pockets. "Well, I-"
"I hope your Christmas is everything you want it to be, Charity," Vanessa says, and she means it. She really wants Charity to get the Christmas with her kids that she's desperate for.
Charity's eyes grow soft in the dimming light, and she smiles. "Thanks, babe." For a second, it looks like she might be about to say something else, but she just nods. "Merry Christmas, Vanessa."
And with that, she turns and heads back to the car. Vanessa leans against the doorframe, her arms crossed against the cold, until the car draws away. She sighs and closes the door, leaning against it and blinking back tears. She hears footsteps on the stairs and quickly stands up, swiping at her nose when Tracy appears.
"I heard the door close...is...Vanessa, are you okay?"
"I'm fine!" Vanessa smiles as widely as she can. "Why wouldn't I be? I got home, didn't I?"
Tracy looks from Vanessa to the door and back. "Did you...not get a kiss or-"
"No." She scrunches her nose. "Well, sort of. But not really." She sighs. "She kissed my cheek."
"Oh. Well…" Tracy nudges her. "Maybe she's just shy?"
Vanessa barks out a laugh. "She is not shy. She spent all of last night spooning me."
Tracy's eyes light up. "You slept together?"
"Slept being the operative word, Tracy." Vanessa shakes her head. "Since literally ten minutes after we met, she's been flirting shamelessly with me. At first I thought it was just how she was, but then she said...she said that she liked women too and I-" Vanessa clenches her teeth. "And I thought...things." Her shoulders sag. "I thought she liked me."
"Maybe she does." Tracy smiles. "You got her number, yeah? Text her and ask if she wants to meet up."
Vanessa deflates even further. "I didn't get her number." Her eyes open wide. "Oh! But I know where she lives!"
Tracy wrinkles her nose. "Bit creepy when you say it like that, but okay."
"No! She owns a pub! She invited me there for a drink." Vanessa nods.
"Like a date?" Tracy asks, smiling again. "That sounds promising."
"Well." Vanessa frowns, thinking back. "She said if I was passing I should stop in." She shakes her head. "That's not a date, is it? That's just being polite."
Tracy sighs and drapes an arm around her. "Oh well, plenty more fish in the sea, eh?" She jostles Vanessa playfully. "Maybe next week you can go to the bus station in Leeds and see if you can pull anyone decent there?"
Vanessa laughs at her sister's attempt to cheer her up, but her heart's not in it. She leans her head on Tracy's shoulder and sighs.
Not long after that, Tracy heads home and Vanessa gets Johnny bathed and into his jammies. They watch The Snowman together, which does nothing to improve Vanessa's mood. Who the hell thought it was a good idea to have a Christmas cartoon where the title character dies at the end? And she's always hated that bloody song ever since she was forced to sing it in the primary school carol concert. (She'd wanted to do Jingle Bell Rock with the year sixes.) After an initial struggle she manages to get Johnny to go to bed, with a promise to wake him if she hears sleigh-bells. He'd taken ages to decide on which carrot to leave out for Rudolph, but had eventually picked a medium sized one and set it out with a glass of milk and a mince pie for Santa.
Tired and depressed, Vanessa settles down in the living room with a glass of red wine. She watches the lights on her tree fade out and back in again, their soft, warm light casting a comforting glow over the room. But it does nothing to shift the weight in her stomach. If only she'd been braver. If only she'd told Charity that she liked her. If only she'd-
Her thoughts are interrupted by a knock at the door. She frowns, checking the clock. It's nearly nine. Maybe it's her dad, decided to drop Johnny's gifts off today instead of lugging them around tomorrow. She sighs, putting her glass down on the coffee table and shuffling to the door. When she opens in, her breath is stolen.
Charity's standing there, illuminated by the streetlights, tiny flakes of snow falling behind her. She's like a vision from a dream and, not for the first time today, Vanessa has to make sure she's not fallen asleep.
"Hi babe," Charity says, her voice barely above a whisper.
Vanessa smiles, leaning against the doorway. "Hi."
Charity smiles back, a hint of uncertainty making it waver. "I...uh, I hope you don't mind me turning up like this. I know you've probably got stuff-"
"I don't mind at all." Charity shivers and Vanessa remembers her manners, stepping back and beckoning her in. "Come in, come in! Sorry...here's me leaving you standing on the doorstep."
Nodding, Charity steps past her into the living room, shifting from foot to foot once she's there. Vanessa clears her throat.
"Do...do you want a brew or…"
"No, ta." Charity smiles. "I can't stop long. I just...I was taking stuff out of the car and I found this in the backseat." She reaches into her coat pocket and takes out Vanessa's hat. She grins, looking a bit more sure of herself now. She takes a step closer and pulls the hat onto her head, flicking the bobble and pressing her hands over Vanessa's ears. "Couldn't bear to think of your little ears getting frostbite in some freezing cold paddock, could I?"
Vanessa blushes, covering Charity's hands with her own. "You came all the way over here to stop my ears from getting cold?"
Charity's hands drop and her eyes flit away, looking down between them and Vanessa thinks she's said the wrong thing. Charity sighs, but her lips are turned up in a smile. "Not just for that reason, no."
"No?" Vanessa's heart is speeding up, her stomach churning with anticipation.
"I...kind of wanted to...well, apologise." Charity fiddles with the belt on her coat, turning the buckle over in her hands.
A little thrown, Vanessa frowns, pulling the hat off and chucking it on the couch. "Apologise? What for?"
Charity's eyes come back up to meet her own. "For ballsing up that kiss earlier." Vanessa can feel the relief bloom in her chest even before Charity continues. "I mean, I'd only been thinking about kissing you all day, and then I finally get the chance and I totally bottled it." Charity shakes her head in clear disgust at herself.
"Apology accepted." Vanessa tries her best to keep her smile under control as she pretends to think. "Listen. Maybe...if you had another go at it, you'd do better?"
Quirking an eyebrow, Charity steps closer, a hand coming up to toy with the collar of Vanessa's shirt. "Maybe. D'you think you'd be up for letting me try again?"
"Oh, I reckon everyone deserves a second chance, don't you?" Vanessa's full on grinning now, as she takes Charity's hand and leads her back to the same position they were in earlier that afternoon. It's much less terrifying, now that she knows Charity wants to kiss her too.
A gentle finger under her chin tips her face up, her eyes drifting closed as Charity's nose nudges her own to the side, and then their lips meet in the softest kiss Vanessa's ever been part of. It's like all the jokey flirting of the past couple of days has built up to this moment of perfection. Vanessa never wants it to end. But of course it has to, and Charity's thumb and forefinger frame her chin, pushing her back just a little so their eyes can meet.
"There, now that was a proper kiss, right?" Charity's eyes are bright and hopeful.
"That was...that was definitely a kiss." Vanessa lifts a hand to Charity's face. "But maybe we should do it again, just to check."
This time, the kiss is deeper, more passionate. Charity's hands fall to her waist, pulling her in, and her own arms go around Charity's neck, keeping her close as they move together almost desperately. One of Charity's hands moves to her backside and squeezes, making her moan into Charity's mouth. Then the hand slides into her back pocket and plucks her phone out. Vanessa frowns, ending the kiss and pulling back.
Charity grins at her before turning her attention to the phone, when her smile falters. She rolls her eyes. "I was going to be dead suave just then and put my number in your phone...but I need you to unlock it."
Vanessa laughs and presses her thumb to the sensor, unlocking the screen. Charity taps away for a bit and then Vanessa hears the sounds of a message being sent. She tilts her head in question. "Did you text someone?"
"Yeah, me." Charity's own phone beeps in her pocket. "So I've got your number an'all."
She slides Vanessa's phone back into her pocket and sighs. "Now, as much as I'd like to stay here and snog the face off you all night, I'm still totally not organised for tomorrow."
Vanessa only pouts a little, ghosting her thumb over Charity's cheek. "I s'pose I have to let you go, then." Leaning in, she brushes her lips over Charity's. "As long as you promise that I'll see you after Christmas."
Charity's mouth quirks into a smile, like she knows something Vanessa doesn't. She winks. "I promise."
Threading their fingers together, they amble to the door, in no hurry to have to say goodbye. Vanessa pauses with her hand on the doorknob, looking up at Charity.
"Had you really been thinking about kissing me all day?"
Charity rolls her eyes. "All flamin' day. And most of yesterday too, if I'm honest. In fact, from right after I shoved in front of you in that queue, pretty much."
"Even when I was mouthing off at you?"
"Yeah." Charity tilts her head. "Anyone ever tell you your nose twitches when you get stroppy?"
Vanessa lowers her eyebrows. "No."
"Well, it does." Charity pokes her nose. "And it's very cute."
Blushing, Vanessa shoves at her shoulder. "Give over."
Charity laughs and steals another quick kiss. "If I don't go now, babe, I might never leave."
Something twists in Vanessa's stomach and she grabs a handful of Charity's coat, pulling her close. "You'll hear no complaints from me."
"No complaints, solutions only, right?" Charity tips Vanessa's face up, thumb tracing over her lips. Her eyebrows go up. "Oh! I got you a little something." She yanks the door open and is running up the path before Vanessa has time to react. "Wait there, it's freezing out here."
"But how did you have time to-" Vanessa calls out, but Charity's already on her way back, carrying a small wrapped box. She holds it out for Vanessa to take, which she does. It's very light.
"It's nothing big. Don't get excited. But I did need to promise our Marlon all sorts so he'd help me with it." Charity nods at the parcel, shoving her hands in her coat pockets. "Maybe don't wait until morning to open it though, yeah?" She starts to walk backwards, but Vanessa catches her scarf and pulls her back into another kiss, just because. She can feel Charity smiling against her lips.
"You better go," Vanessa whispers, still holding Charity's scarf.
"Yeah, I'd better," Charity agrees. She cups Vanessa's face and kisses her deeply, stepping away when they part this time, and moving a few steps up the path. She smiles. "Merry Christmas, babe."
"Merry Christmas, Charity."
Charity's still walking backwards. "Bye."
"Bye," Charity says again, grinning wider.
Vanessa rolls her eyes at the pair of them. "Bye."
With a final wink, Charity turns and gets into her car. Vanessa stands at the door and waves until she can no longer see the car. She goes back inside, closing the door and leaning against it, feeling a whole lot lighter than the last time she said goodbye to Charity. She sets her gift down and heads upstairs to get into her pyjamas, finally excited about Christmas and what it might bring.
As she's coming back down the stairs, her phone beeps, signalling the arrival of a message. She takes it out of the pocket of her dressing gown and smiles when she sees it's from Charity.
I'd love to. Thanks for asking. x
Vanessa tilts her head, wondering what that could mean. She opens up the message thread and laughs when she sees the message Charity sent herself from Vanessa's phone.
Do you want to go on a date with me on Boxing Day?
Shaking her head, Vanessa texts back.
Cheeky mare. x
A response comes through almost immediately.
You'll learn to love that about me, babe. Open your present. x
Vanessa unwraps the gift to find a plain white box, the kind cakes come in from a bakery. She opens it and laughs in delight.
Nestled on a bed of red and green tissue paper, there's a sausage roll.
And a yum yum.
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