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What will survive of us is love
Charity comes into the bedroom after finally locating one of her shoes in Moses and Johnny's room. She shudders to think what they've been up to with it, but it looks relatively unscathed. Vanessa's in front of the mirror, fumbling with something. Charity takes the opportunity to appreciate the view from behind. She loves Vanessa in a pair of jeans or a dress, but seeing her in a suit is a whole other experience.
"Can you stop gawping for a second and give me a hand with this?" Vanessa holds up a necklace. "The catch is dead fiddly and I can't seem to hold it open and get it round my neck at the same time."
"Give it here." Charity takes the necklace and Vanessa turns around so that they're both facing the mirror. Managing to negotiate the dodgy catch, Charity drapes the fine chain around Vanessa's neck as she holds her hair out of the way and fastens it. Their eyes meet in the mirror and Charity smiles. "There, all done."
Vanessa returns the smile, leaning back into Charity and pulling her arms around her waist. She tilts her head at their reflection. "Scrub up well, don't we?"
"We do." Charity slides her palm down Vanessa's belly, smoothing out a wrinkle in her blouse. "This suit looks amazing on you."
"Yeah?" Vanessa shifts in her arms. "I'm not usually one for trouser suits at weddings, but I-"
"Thought you'd finally embrace your inner butch?" Charity suggests, laughing at Vanessa's playful glare.
"Thought I'd try something different," Vanessa finishes. "Anyway, I was running out of frocks. You don't half love a wedding in your family."
Pressing her nose to Vanessa's jaw, Charity smiles against her cheek. "That's true. If we were better organised, we'd negotiate a group discount on wedding cake."
Vanessa's fingers tangle loosely in her hair. "We've been together, what? 'Bout a year and a half?'
"God, is that all?" She closes her eyes, trying not to think back on the person she was then. She tightens her arms around Vanessa. "Feels longer."
"Oh, that's charming, that is."
She opens her eyes and sees Vanessa's raised eyebrows. She shakes her head. "In a good way, babe. Like, in a …'can't imagine my life without you' kind of way." A year ago she'd have choked on those words. Now they come as easy as breathing.
Vanessa doesn't bother to fight her smile. "Hmmm. Fine."
Swaying them gently, Charity bumps her head against Vanessa's. "Anyway, what were you saying before? About running out of frocks."
"Oh, no, I was just thinking that this'll be the third Dingle wedding we've been to together." She tilts her head to rest against Charity's. "Would've been four if Paddy and Chas had gone through with theirs."
"Yeah, I s'pose we have had a few lately." She grins. "Why? You worried ours won't be special?"
"Because I wouldn't concern yourself with that, babe. You have the distinction of being part of the first Dingle lesbian wedding, so you've secured your place in Dingle history."
Vanessa turns in her arms, gentle hands coming up to frame her face. "I don't give a stuff about going down in Dingle history. And I don't care if we're the tenth Dingle wedding in a row." She shakes her head, lips turning up in a soft smile. "It'll still be special, because by the end of it, I'll be married to you and that's-" Her smiles grows brighter. "-that's the special bit, for me."
"Oh, Ness, don't." Charity whines, blinking rapidly. "I've just done my mascara!"
"Well, I'm about to kiss you anyway, so you can redo it when you're touching up your lippy." The twinkle of mischief in Vanessa's eye warms the inside of Charity's chest. "What I was getting at was that I've never been part of a big family before, and it's-" She shrugs. "It's just really nice to feel part of something like that."
Deciding her make-up's a lost cause, Charity gives in to the sting of tears and shakes her head. "Usually they're the bit people feel like they have to put up with. You're the first person that's ever seen them as a bonus."
"That's the right word, actually," Vanessa says, leaning in until their noses bump together. "Because you and the kids are all I need. Anything else is a bonus."
It's a new experience for her, to be able to hold Vanessa's eyes when they're this full of love and not feel frightened. In the past, when she's let someone love her, it's felt like a balancing act. Don't reveal too much or you'll frighten them off. Don't give too much of your heart away or it'll hurt more when they let you down. With Vanessa, it's out there, warts and all, and Vanessa still looks at her like that. A soft laugh tumbles from her lips.
"Right, I think there's gonna be enough tears and snot today without you adding to it by saying stuff like that, yeah?" She narrows her eyes. "And I'm pretty sure you said something about ruining my lippy, and I can't help but notice you haven't followed through on that threat."
Vanessa grins and pulls her into a kiss that she can feel in the marrow of her bones.
Tipping her head back, Charity examines the ceiling of the church. It's utterly uninteresting. They've been sat in this church for what feels like hours and there's still no sign of Lisa. Zak's getting fidgety up the front and it seems Sam is being no use whatsoever in keeping him calm. She sighs and leans over, her shoulder pressing into Vanessa's.
"You're not allowed to be this late to our wedding, by the way."
Vanessa snorts. "Are you serious?" Turning to Ryan, she points at Charity with her thumb. "Ryan. Of the two of us, who's more likely to be late to something?"
He doesn't hesitate to answer. "Charity."
They both laugh at Charity's indignant gasp and she slumps in her seat, folding her arms. "Yeah, well. Fair point." She pouts, picking at the skin beside her nail. "But still, don't leave me standing there too long, yeah? You know what I'm like. I'll convince myself you're not coming."
Vanessa's hand wriggles under her arm, taking hold of her elbow. "Hey." Charity inhales and meets Vanessa's steady gaze. "I'll be there." She smiles, but her eyes are serious. "There's nothing that could keep me away. Okay? So stop worrying about that."
Charity nods and sniffs. "Okay."
"I'm not easy to get rid of, me," Vanessa says, squeezing her arm.
Laughing, Charity brushes a kiss over her cheek. "Tell me about it. Threw everything I had at you last year, didn't I? And you're still here."
Vanessa winks. "I'm going nowhere."
Charity wrinkles her nose at the familiar words. That feels so long ago now. Another lifetime. On the other side of Vanessa, Ryan lets out a huff.
"Could you two turn it down a notch, please?" He rolls his eyes. "It's very rude to be this mushy in front of a perpetually single person, you know."
"Awwww, Ryan! Don't be daft." Vanessa links her other arm through his, pulling him close. "I thought I would get old and die alone an'all, but look at me now!" She leans her head on Charity's shoulder. "Engaged to be married to the most amazing woman in the world." Charity narrows her eyes when Ryan laughs at this assertion, but Vanessa just carries on. "Kids coming out of my ears. Job I love. All the free beer I want in the pub my fiancée owns."
"Living the dream, eh, babe?" Charity says, unable to hide her smile at how genuine Vanessa's enthusiasm is.
Vanessa grins at her. "I really am." She turns back to Ryan. "And you've got loads of time to find the love of your life."
"It is inspiring to see two elderly ladies find love," Ryan says.
"Oi!" Charity's just about to have a go when Harriet announces that the bride has finally arrived. Belle and Lydia follow in a clatter of high heels and Lydia tells someone to 'hit it'. Presumably the organist. Everybody stands up for Lisa's entrance and Vanessa has to let go of both of their arms so they can turn and face the door. Charity inhales deeply through her nose, and swallows, determined not to cry before the day even starts properly. Vanessa's fingers link loosely with her own and she squeezes them, holding her breath.
And then it's time, Lisa and Cain step through the door. Charity's breath catches in her throat, and then comes out in a noise she can't quite identify, her hand flying up to cover her mouth. Lisa's dress is lovely. And absolutely filthy. So's Cain's suit, now she's looking a bit closer. They both look like they've been wrestling in mud. But they're smiling as they pass by. Lisa gives Charity a little nod and immediately Charity's throat closes up painfully, but she returns the gesture.
Lisa and Cain continue down the aisle to where Zak is waiting for her, his eyes shining with admiration. Charity turns to Vanessa with a smile and Vanessa takes her hand again as they take their seats at Harriet's request. Vanessa leans into her to whisper in her ear.
"So, I know where you stand on being late, but what are your feelings about me turning up covered in pig muck?"
Charity smiles and turns to whisper her reply. "Well, you do that most days, but try your best not to on our wedding day, eh? Push the boat out a bit."
Vanessa laughs softly. "I'll try."
Harriet starts speaking and they turn their attention to the front of the church, fingers intertwined.
After the Woolpackers have packed in, there's a return to normal music. Some country ballad is playing at the moment, and there's a few couples out on the floor, swaying along.
Charity's sat on a barstool, sipping at a gin and tonic, watching. The day has been long and emotional. Everyone's cried at some point or another. Even Cain. But despite Lisa's warning about sad faces, there's still an air of melancholy over the whole event. Charity shakes her head, eyes skimming over the crowd until they land on Vanessa having what looks like a very animated discussion with Belle and Debbie.
Downing the last of her drink, Charity stands. She's not going to spend the evening wallowing in what's to come. Instead, she's going to focus on what's good in her life. In a few strides she's stood behind Vanessa, and she taps her on the shoulder. As always, she's met with a bright smile when Vanessa sees it's her. Charity holds out her hand.
"Hey gorgeous. Can I have this dance?"
"Awww," Belle coos and Debbie rolls her eyes.
Vanessa sets down her glass and takes her hand. "You can have all the dances, Charity Dingle," she says, words slightly slurred.
They head out onto the makeshift dancefloor, finding a space for themselves. Vanessa slides her arms around Charity's neck, moving in so that they're pressed against one another in ways that almost feel too intimate for this setting. Charity's hands frame Vanessa's hips, pulling her even closer as they start to move together. Vanessa rests her head on Charity's shoulder.
They stay that way for the rest of the song; not speaking, just holding each other and swaying. When the music starts to fade out, Charity's not ready to let go just yet and is grateful when the song transitions into another slow one.
She wishes should just enjoy the moment, let the silence stretch out and wrap around them. But there's something been niggling at her insides since earlier in the day, something she needs to tell Vanessa.
Sometimes she wonders if letting all her secrets out has left too much space for other things to rattle around and draw attention to themselves. She used to be able to push things far enough down, underneath her mountain of pent up anger and sadness, and ignore them. But now it's like if there's something bothering her, it whizzes around inside her like a pinball, demanding her attention; demanding that she tell someone. And this is no different.
"So," she begins. Not the best opening, but it gets Vanessa to lift her head. "I was thinking, in the church." She swallows. "When Lisa and Zak were saying their vows? Well, after Zak's little hiccup."
"Mmhmm?" Vanessa shifts her hold, slightly, pulling back so their eyes can meet.
She catches her lower lip in her teeth briefly, before she continues. "I've...I've said them words before, as you know."
Vanessa nods. "Few times, yeah."
"Oi." Charity narrows her eyes, although she's glad of the humour in Vanessa's voice. "I'm trying to express a feeling here."
"Right. Sorry." Vanessa doesn't look remotely sorry. She waves a hand vaguely in the air before returning it to the back of Charity's neck. "Emote away."
"Right, so, when I was listening to Zak and Lisa say their vows, I was thinking that I've said them to other people, but I've never really felt them, you know?" She shakes her head, eyes dropping to Vanessa's necklace. "And I don't want you thinking that I...that I'm just saying them to you."
"Charity," Vanessa starts and Charity realises they've stopped moving without her even noticing. "I don't-"
"No, I want to-" Charity sighs, frustrated at her lack of eloquence. It's like the bloody proposal all over again. She looks back up into Vanessa's eyes and her heart clenches with all the love she can't put into words; she can totally relate to Zak's struggle earlier. She rolls her eyes and lifts a hand to Vanessa's face, cupping her cheek and rubbing under her eye with her thumb. "When I say those words to you, I will mean them with every bit of my heart." She swallows through a tight throat, a response to the tears that are making Vanessa's eyes even bluer than usual. She gently lifts one of her hands off her neck and brings it to rest over her heart, pressing it down and holding it with her own. "When I promise to love you as long as we both shall live, I'll mean it."
A choked sob erupts from Vanessa's mouth, but she's smiling. Charity takes advantage of her momentary silence to continue.
"And I know it's easy to say all this. I know you must be thinking that words don't mean anything, especially from me, but-"
"They mean everything, Charity." Vanessa's fingertips brush over her cheek to her lips. "Everything."
Charity nods. "It's different, with you. You're different from everyone else, yeah? Everyone that's gone before...I've never felt like this with any of them." She bumps her forehead against Vanessa's. "You know that, yeah?"
"Course I do, you daft thing." Vanessa smiles and Charity thinks nobody has any business looking that beautiful, especially with tears streaming down their face. "'Cause I feel the exact same way, don't I?" She shrugs. "I don't care that you've said the words before, Charity. All I care about is us, and now, and our future together." She presses up, nose against Charity's cheek. "And if I've got anything to do with it, it'll be a long and happy one."
"It will be," Charity whispers, pulling Vanessa in close again. It has to be, she thinks. She can't imagine ever wanting anything else. In all her other relationships, she's never quite been able to look to the future. She was always sure something would go wrong, that something would come back to haunt her. But this time, everything's already out. Vanessa's seen the worst of her, and somehow brought out the best. It has to be Vanessa.
She starts to sway them once more, falling easily back into a rhythm. Over Vanessa's shoulder, she catches Lisa's eye as she and Zak take to the floor. Lisa smiles and Charity's heart lightens just a tiny bit more. There's great sadness to come, she knows that. But there's still happiness to be had, if she lets herself have it. Vanessa tightens her arms around her, like she can read her thoughts. Burying her nose in Vanessa's neck, she closes her eyes and vows to keep hold of the happiness in her life.
As long as they both shall live.
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