DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Lesley Mitchell
"I'm going on holiday."
"I need a break."
"These past few weeks, I don't feel I've been at my best."
"But, we've solved five cases in six weeks. No one else has anything like..."
"I'm tired. I'm sick of the rain. It's supposed to be summer. I... I just need to be somewhere else for a while."
"It's... it's not you."
"Oh god. Please..."
"Really. It's me. I'm... I'm... I can't. I have to go. I'm sorry, Emma."
The following week had been strange. They still worked well together, but the odd tension between them spread insidiously through the entire team, until, by Friday afternoon, almost everyone seemed to be at each other's throats. It had been a relief to escape from the station, and Scribbs almost regretted her offer to drive Ash to the airport for her flight early the following morning.
Dawn had found them driving, in silence, through quiet back lanes where mist hung above the green fields, that only hinted at the luminous yellow that would come when they finally bloomed. Though the traffic had increased as they neared the terminus, the space between them had remained. Despite contemplating it a couple of time and even once going as far as allowing her hand to drift in its general direction, Scribbs had found herself, as usual, deferring to her passenger's preference for no music.
"So... I'll, er, see you in a fortnight, then."
"Yes. Thanks for the lift."
"Would you like me to..."
"No, no. It's fine. I'll just get a cab."
"Are you sure? It's no..."
"No, it's fine. I know you had to turn down a night on the town, last night, to be up and about for this. I don't want to inconvenience you."
"It's no trouble."
"Really. It's fine. I wan..."
"I'll get a cab. It'll be all right."
"Well, if you're sure..."
"I'm sure. Goodbye, Emma."
"OK. Goodbye, As... Kate. Have fun!"
"I'll... I... Goodbye."
It had been a long fortnight. A long, dull fortnight filled with paperwork. Endless drifts of long neglected paperwork tying up loose ends on a variety of cases. Cases that ranged from the high profile, but strictly natural causes, death of a minor local celebrity in a rather more infamous local "gentlemen's club" to the almost unnoticed murder of a single, white, middle aged man in his own home by an itinerant, opportunistic thief being a little heavy handed with the improvised half brick in a sock cosh.
Scribbs put the finishing touches to the final document she'd been working on and sent it to the printer. Closing down her PC, she looked across at the empty desk opposite and sighed gently, the breathy noise mostly masked by the churning of the printer on the far side of the empty room. While she waited for the endless copies to print she reached for the remains of her coffee, carefully navigating it back passed the stack of tidy folders that perched waiting for the review and sign off on her conspicuously missing colleague.
Being alone and stuck in the station with paperwork had worn her down and she had found herself drinking the strange substance served by the canteen. The scummy brown liquid lurked in the bottom of an ugly, green cup which stood squatly on a matching saucer. It was unpleasant when lukewarm, as it had been about three hours ago when she'd first obtained it. Now it was cold and absolutely vile.
She'd turned down the invitation to the pub, just as she had the previous two weeks. She knew there were mutterings among her colleagues; the most common tended to mention that she was no fun any more, the more spiteful said she was turning into her uptight colleague, and one astute voice had suggested that maybe she was pining. However, she'd done her best to ignore the comments and stuck her head firmly back into her work, eager to finish the last of the outstanding files before the end of the day.
Now, she carefully initialled the final sheets of her report and slipped them into their allotted place in the final case folder. Then, after placing the file in the appropriate place in the stack, she shifted the entire pile the two feet from her own cluttered desk to the spacious, tidy one opposite. Finally, after looking around the empty room with a slightly lost feeling, she sighed once more, threw her coat over one arm and headed toward home.
The short drive to her flat was easy. After all, everyone sane had left work many hours since. The golden light of the late evening lingered in the sky and, for a moment, she had a fleeting thought of driving out to the nearby recreational area, and watching the sun sink into one of the lakes formed by allowing spent quarries to fill with water. However, almost immediately after the thought occurred she was offered the sight of a gang of hooded teens colonising a corner. They were huddled together on bicycles, sharing cigarettes and, from the fleeting glance she received as she passed, bodily fluids. The somewhat sordid sight reminded her that, despite the council's best efforts, the park had become a popular location for minors to congregate, drink and engage in other minor infractions. She decided that overall she was better off going home, opening a bottle of wine, and slumping in front of some mindless TV. Monday would come all too soon.
So wrapped up was she in her thoughts, that she didn't notice the hint of light escaping from her window as she passed the front of the house. Once parked, she made her way indoors mechanically, and it took her a moment before the mingled scents of vanilla candles and freshly brewed coffee registered with her tired and work dulled brain.
With the front door shut, and the sun firmly sunk behind the row of houses opposite the hallway was dim, and she could clearly see the flickering light that leaked through the door to the living room. Curiosity thoroughly piqued, and with more than a little trepidation, she stepped into the room.
Some hours earlier
"Si, signora. There is a space."
"On the next flight?"
"Si. It will depart in... one and one half hours."
"Fine. Book me on that."
"Certainly, signora, and you will be paying by..."
The scheduled flight had not just arrived on time, it had been early. Which would have been great, if this hadn't meant that they had missed their allotted slot for baggage handling. So she stood impatiently by the empty carousel, inhaling in the plastic air of the terminal, and wondering if she could make it start if she wished hard enough.
The holiday itself had been less of a success than she had hoped for. The aim had been to clear her head, sort out the feelings. Clarify what was happening, simplify everything, even. And yet, as each day passed all she found was a yearning to point out a vista, share a flavour, comment on a sight... to the person who wasn't there.
Finally, she could stay no longer, for all the beauty of the Tuscan countryside and the lures of the Florentine museums and galleries. Even another night was too much. So, despite the expense, she had flown home early.
With a screech and a smattering of applause, the carousel started its lumbering motion. For a few moments, the gods of airline travel smiled on the brunette. Not only did her bag arrive, undamaged, in the first load, but the unheard of occurred, as she barely had to wait when a taxi drew up at the empty rank as she arrived at it.
She wasn't entirely surprised to find the flat empty. It was a Friday night, after all, meaning her colleagues including the only one she wanted to see, were, most likely, in the Red Lion on the third or fourth round of the night. Still, for all the clutter, there were far worse places to be.
A pair of small cases were stacked neatly in one corner of the room. Scribbs knew for sure that they hadn't been there when she'd headed out to work that morning and the tags on them marked them as having recently been through the pot luck of airline baggage handling. Confused, she stepped further into the room, and was met by the sight of Ash, curled up on her sofa, wrapped in a blanket against the unseasonable chill. On the table beside her, in amongst a drift of junk mail and local papers was a clear space which held the remains of a cup of coffee and a plate. Next to these was a fancifully gift wrapped boxy object.
The brunette jerked awake, clearly startled, and Scribbs was immediately sorry that she had spoken, until Ash looked up at her from under sleepy eyelashes and smiled.
"Scribbs," she said, simply.
"You're... er... you're not supposed..."
"I got an earlier flight."
"I suddenly realised that I'd spend two weeks looking at the countryside and not seeing it, eating and not tasting it. I visited museums and art galleries, and there was something missing. All the time, there was something missing."
Ash had become animated as she spoke, but now she lapsed into awkward silence once more. Scribbs, worried and confused by her friend's behaviour, could only join her on the sofa and hope that she would finally explain the unplanned last minute trip, and the sudden, unexpected early return.
"I, er, brought you something," said Ash, suddenly breaking the silence and thrusting the box at Scribbs rather unceremoniously.
"Ooh," said Scribbs, attempting to fake her usual excited reaction to gifts. Shaking the package slightly, she was rewarded with the dull thud of multiple objects against metal. "You got me a really nice... er... tin box. I know it's not alcohol, 'cos it's not heavy enough... so..."
"Just open it, Scribbs," said Ash, an enigmatic smile back on her face.
Scribbs ripped through the wrapping, like a sugar hyped three year old playing pass-the-parcel and it was all Ash could do, not to wince, just a little. The richly decorated tin she revealed was covered in exuberantly scripted Italian and Scribbs was left none the wiser as to the contents.
"They're biscotti," said Ash, as Scribbs extracted one of the wax paper wrapped objects from the tin. "Speciality of the region. The chap in the shop, after he'd stopped flirting, said these were the best ones."
"Why did he stop flirting?"
"It might have been the point where I said I was buying them as a gift... and an apology of kinds... for my, er, girlfriend."
Scribbs looked up from the confection, startled.
"It was you I was missing. Everything I did, everything I saw, everything I tasted and touched and smelled and heard... all of it I would turn to share it with you and you... weren't there.
"And it was my fault. I'm so sorry, Emma."
Ash hung her head, allowing dark hair to fall forward over her slightly tanned skin. At this moment, she couldn't bear to face the blonde's expression. Thus, she had no warning as she was drawn into a warm and comforting hug.
"Ash. Kate. I'm sorry, too."
There was more to be said, however, comfortably enfolded in each other's arms they allowed the silence to stretch around them.
Until it was broken by the rustle of paper and a crunching noise.
"Oh wow," said Scribbs, "these are really good!"
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