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All is calm, all is bright
Awareness comes gradually for Vanessa this morning. Delicious aches put a smile on her face before her eyes even open and she shuffles across the bed, throwing an arm out, only for it to fall onto nothing. She opens her eyes, lines forming between them as she finds herself alone. A sharp pain starts in her chest and radiates through her body in waves. How could Charity leave? After the things they'd said last night? After the-
Her eyes land on an emerald coloured bra, dangling from the bedside table. And a matching set of knickers on the bedpost. She quickly picks out the rest of Charity's clothes strewn around the room and flops onto her back, a hand on her chest and a smile on her lips. The relief she feels is almost laughable in its intensity. She shivers in the cool morning air and gets up to grab something to put on. She chucks on a pair of pyjama bottoms and a t-shirt before clambering back into bed as footsteps on the stairs grow louder. The bedroom door opens and Charity comes in, wearing Vanessa's dressing gown and holding two mugs. She smiles when she sees Vanessa is awake.
"Thought I heard movement up here," she says, her voice low as she places the mugs on the bedside table. She plants a knee on the bed and leans over to press her lips chastely against Vanessa's. "Morning."
"I thought you'd left." It's not what she'd planned to say at all, and a blush colours her face at Charity's raised eyebrow.
"That's more your thing than mine, buttercup," Charity murmurs, climbing under the covers. Vanessa arranges the pillows so they can both sit up against the headboard, and accepts the mug Charity passes her. "I was parched when I woke up so I made us a brew."
Wrapping both hands around the warm mug, Vanessa hums her thanks as she takes her first sip. Careful not to jostle the bed too much, she leans her head on Charity's shoulder, smiling when Charity turns to kiss her forehead.
"This is nice," Vanessa comments.
"Mmhmm," Charity agrees.
They sit in comfortable silence, sipping their tea. Vanessa has to fight to keep the smile off her face because it's Boxing Day and she's drinking tea in bed with Charity Dingle. She places her cup on the bedside table and then takes Charity's cup and does the same, ignoring the amused question on Charity's face. She pushes herself up and throws a leg over Charity's waist, settling on her thighs. Charity's eyebrows go up.
"Frisky this morning, eh?" Charity fits her hands around Vanessa's hips, sitting up further to bring their lips together.
Vanessa allows this kiss, enjoying for a moment the new sensation of being able to kiss Charity without trying to work out what she's feeling. But when Charity's hand starts to make its way below the waistband of her pyjamas, Vanessa pulls back, shaking her head.
"No, I'm...I just wanted to ask you something," Vanessa says, framing Charity's face with her hands.
"And this question requires you to be straddling me, does it?" Charity asks, hands flexing on Vanessa's hips. "Not complaining, just asking."
"It doesn't require it, no," Vanessa says, with a fake smile and narrowed eyes. "I just fancied straddling you."
"Fair enough," Charity nods. "Go on then. Ask me your question."
"What are you doing on New Year's Eve?"
"Well babe, as you know, I own a pub," Charity begins, speaking slowly as if to a small child. "So I will be slaving away, earning an honest crust by serving alcohol to people who are out pretending to have a good time." She slides her hands around to Vanessa's backside and squeezes. "Chucking out time will be one o'clock sharp, though, so I'm all yours after that."
Vanessa smiles, putting her hands on Charity's shoulders. "And if I happen to be in the pub at midnight-" She bites her lip, unable to completely quell the nerves that twist her stomach. "-will you be too busy working to kiss me?"
"In front of the whole village?" Charity widens her eyes. "Well, aren't you getting brave in your old age? I'll be sure to have Diana Ross lined up on the CD player."
"Charity," Vanessa begins, leaning in so that their noses are almost touching. "You announced to the whole pub that we slept together. Then I announced to the whole pub that we slept together. Then Paddy caught us sleeping together-"
"Wasn't a whole lot of sleeping going on when Paddy walked in, cupcake," Charity bumps her nose against Vanessa's, that slow grin of hers turning her lips up and making Vanessa's insides go funny.
"What I mean is, I think anyone who doesn't have an inkling about us by now just hasn't been paying attention." She brushes her lips over Charity's and sits back, surprised to see Charity's smile dimming. "Wh-what's wrong?"
"Hmmm?" Charity meets her eyes and smiles again, but it's not a proper smile. Her hands slide up from Vanessa's arse to link at the base of her back. "Nothing's wrong. I've got a seriously hot lady in my lap practically begging to be kissed at midnight on New Year. What could be wrong?"
Vanessa sighs, tilting her head to the side as she examines Charity's face. Despite only really getting to know the other woman over the past couple of months, she'd like to think she's learning to read her pretty well. And right now there's something Charity's not saying. "Hey," she begins, trailing her fingers along Charity's arm to her wrist and pulling her hand away from its resting place so that she can hold it. She looks into Charity's eyes as she continues. "We said we were doing this couple thing, right?" She waits until Charity nods. "Well, if we're a couple, then that means we need to talk to each other about the stuff that's going on up here." She taps Charity's temple with her finger.
After heaving a deep sigh and throwing Vanessa a resentful glare that Vanessa's only half sure is teasing, Charity relents. "Just...when you said about folk paying attention. Pretty sure our Debs hasn't got a clue." She shrugs. "Told you it was nothing."
"It's not nothing if it bothers you, Charity," Vanessa tells her, feeling guilty about her thoughtless comment. "And anyway, I was just blathering on. Don't pay any mind to me."
"Well, maybe she'll figure it out if she sees you snogging the face off me, eh?" Charity tugs her closer and sits up, wrapping her arms around Vanessa. "Maybe we should practise a bit. You know, before we go public."
"Practise?" Vanessa says, trying to sound offended, but smiling as Charity drags kisses along her neck. "I thought we were already pretty good at it, to tell you the truth."
"Oh yeah, definitely," Charity agrees, nipping at Vanessa's chin with her teeth. "But there's always room for improvement, right?"
Before Vanessa can respond, little footsteps thunder down the hall and Vanessa shoves Charity back onto the pillows so that their position isn't quite so compromising as Johnny throws open the door. When his eyes land on Charity, they grow wider than they had the previous day when he'd spied his pile of presents in the living room.
"Chatty!" He launches himself onto the bed, scrambling over so he can snuggle into Charity's side. Charity looks at her, an eyebrow raised before turning back to him.
"Hiya mate," Charity says, tickling him and making him shriek with laughter as he squirms away. Vanessa pulls the edges of the dressing gown Charity's wearing closer together over her chest, now acutely aware that she's not wearing anything underneath it.
"Uhhh, Johnny love, how about me and you make Charity some breakfast, eh?" Vanessa says, with a wide smile.
He frowns and looks to Charity, reaching to take her hand. He tugs it a little. "You come too?"
"I'm just gonna put some clothes on, darlin'," Charity tells him, squeezing his little hand. "Then I'll come down, okay?"
"Okay, come on Mummy!" He scrabbles off the bed and out into the hallway. They hear him bumping down the stairs on his backside. Vanessa shakes her head and blows out a breath. "We're gonna have to be careful about...how we fall asleep," Vanessa says, with a pointed glance at Charity's chest. "He does sometimes come through during the night."
"And the sight of my unfettered bangers would scar him mentally, would it?" Charity asks, smirking. She looks down at herself. "Didn't think they were that terrifying."
"Shut up, Charity. You know they're amaz-" She shakes her head, pressing her lips together. "That's not the point and you know it," Vanessa says, poking a laughing Charity in the side. "I just don't know all the rules for...this."
"For what?" Charity asks, her brow creased in question.
"For...you know." She gestures between them. "With Johnny. I haven't-" She fights down the blush she can feel creeping up her neck. "It's not like I've had to worry about him walking in on me and anybody else, is it?"
Charity sits up and wraps her arms around Vanessa, pulling her into a gentle kiss. "Hey, listen," she begins, her voice soft. "Kids just...accept things. He's too young to understand what us being in bed together means. He's just happy to see me here." She gives Vanessa huge smile. "Congratulations. Your boy has excellent taste." She tilts her head. "Or he's also too young to understand that he shouldn't be happy to see me."
Vanessa shakes her head, wrapping her arms around Charity's shoulders and pressing her nose into her hair. "I'm always happy to see you. And I'm old enough to know better."
A squeeze around her middle is her only answer, and they sit like that for a few moments longer before Johnny's voice shouting for his mummy to hurry up pulls them apart. Vanessa sighs, but climbs off Charity and stands.
"You can borrow something of mine if you don't want to put yesterday's clothes back on," Vanessa says, unable to deny the visceral thrill the thought of Charity wearing her clothes causes.
Charity raises her eyebrows. "Oh, spending a day in a pair of your frillies?" She bites her lip, letting her eyes roam up and down Vanessa's body. "Didn't realise you were so kinky, babe."
Narrowing her eyes, Vanessa picks up Charity's bra and chucks it at her, smirking when it hits her in the face. "You'll have to make do with that, though. Mine'll be too big."
Charity's indignant gasp accompanies her out of the room.
A couple of days later, she's at the shop picking up a couple of things. Tracy's ringing her purchases through while her Dad zooms Johnny around like an aeroplane, making the appropriate noises. She's been thinking about what she said to Charity, how anybody that's been paying attention should really know that something's going on between them. And the more she thinks about it, the more she's convinced that her family haven't been paying attention. Not one of them has mentioned the cellar incident and it's not like she's exactly brought it up. So they are probably in the same boat as Debbie. And she's not sure she wants them to find out by seeing them snog at midnight.
"What, uh, what's everyone doing for New Year's Eve?" she asks, attempting to be casual.
Tracy makes a noise that's half sigh and half groan. "Now, try not to get too excited when I tell you our plans," she says, with a roll of her eyes. "We will be spending New Year's Eve in...The Woolpack!"
"And you sound thrilled about it," Vanessa comments, as Frank joins them.
"Well, it's hardly special is it?" Tracy says, leaning over to tickle Johnny's knees. "We're in there every other day. I thought we might go to Manchester for the evening, or at least Leeds." She puts both hands up "But, oh no, we've got to spend it here with Queen Leyla since she's buggering off to Greece or whatever."
"She is Jacob's mum, darling," Frank says. "Of course he wants to spend time with her."
"Then let them go to the bloody Woolpack," Tracy says. "Me and David could've gone off and done something fun."
Vanessa exchanges a look with Frank. It's hard not to feel some sympathy for Tracy's situation with Leyla and David, but with Jacob in the mix, it's complicated. Vanessa offers her a tight-lipped smile and turns to her father.
"How about you, Dad? Pub for you an'all?"
"Megan and I are having a quiet night in, actually," Frank says. "Some wine, a nice film, a bit of mood lighting and then later perhaps-"
"And we don't need to be hearing about your perhapsing, thanks very much," Tracy says, her face scrunched up in disgust. She turns her attention to Vanessa. "What about you? Any big plans to make me jealous?"
"Uh, no, not really. I was just gonna head to the pub too," Vanessa says, her heart thudding in her chest, making her feel ridiculous.
"With Rhona?" Tracy asks, although it's almost not a question, it's an assumption. Vanessa opens her mouth to respond, but Frank interrupts.
"Do you need me to look after this one?" he asks, nodding to Johnny. "We'll have Eliza, so one more won't make any difference."
"Y-yeah, that'd be great, thanks," she says, with a small smile. "But, uh, I'm not going with Rhona. Well, she might be there, I'm not sure, I've not asked."
"You're not going on your own?" Tracy's clearly trying not to look horrified. "Look, you can hang out with us. Punch me in the leg if I give Leyla the evils too often."
"No, I'm not going on my own, actually," Vanessa huffs. "I've got a-" It's not exactly a date; Charity's working. Unfortunately, Tracy fills in the blanks on her own.
"Ooooh, you've got a date?" she practically squeals. "You've kept that one quiet. Right, I need details. Man or woman?"
"Tracy!" Frank scolds. "Leave your sister alone. She'll tell us what she wants to tell us, won't you Teeny?"
Vanessa sighs, this is not going well. "It's not a date, as such. I...just " She bites her lip, keeping her eyes on Tracy so she doesn't need to look at her dad. "It's Charity."
The way Tracy's face gradually falls into a frown is almost comical. Vanessa glances at her Dad, who is wearing a similar expression.
"Charity?" Tracy says. "Charity Dingle?"
"Know many other Charitys, do you?" Vanessa snaps, then winces at her own defensiveness. "Yes. Charity Dingle. I'm going to the pub so that...so that I can kiss her at midnight. Because she's the only person I want to kiss at midnight. But she'll be working so it's not a date. But we are, you know, dating. Each other. Me and Charity."
They both stare at her in silence that goes on too long to be comfortable. It's eventually broken by Johnny. "I like Chatty."
Tracy's eyebrows shoot up. "So," she begins, drawing the word out. "It's serious enough that your kid has formed an opinion on her, but you didn't think to inform us?"
"I didn't know it was serious," Vanessa protests, turning large pleading eyes on her dad. "It just...sort of crept up on me. All these feelings and I...well, like I said, she's the one I want to kiss at midnight."
Frank sighs. "I said to you before that I just want you to be happy, and that stands." He sits Johnny on the counter and puts his hands on Vanessa's shoulders. "She makes you happy?"
Vanessa nods. "She does." Her voice is rough and she swallows. "She really does. It's kind of embarrassing how happy she makes me, actually."
"Then that's good enough for me," Frank pulls her into a hug and she presses her face into his shoulder. She knows this isn't the last conversation she's likely to have with them about this. But for now, she'll take this acceptance. He kisses the top of her head and she pulls away, wiping at her eyes. Frank heads off into the back of the shop, and Vanessa's sure she hears him sniffling.
When she gets herself together enough to look at Tracy, her sister is smirking and shaking her head. "You have got the weirdest taste in women, V."
"Tell me about it," Vanessa says, with a half smile and a shrug.
"So, has this been going on since that first time," Tracy asks, as Vanessa picks up Johnny and then her shopping.
"Not...the whole time," Vanessa says. There were a couple of weeks where she managed to stay away. Maybe more like a week and a half. "But most of it, yeah."
"Wow, proper serious, then?" Tracy says, leaning on the counter and waving to Johnny.
Vanessa smiles. "I hope so."
New Year's Eve rolls around, and Vanessa decides to make a bit of an effort. She pays a little more attention to her hair and make-up than she normally would for a night in the pub. She slips into a little black dress and tarts it up with a glitzy necklace. Pulling on her leather jacket, she takes a final look in the mirror and decides she'll do. She's glad of the short walk to the pub, because it's bloody freezing and she hurries to the door, her heels clicking up the stone path.
The pub is warm and packed and it takes her a second to make it to the bar. Charity's speaking to Jimmy and Nicola at the other end of the bar, so she waits until she glances in her direction and smiles. It seems like her effort did not go to waste, as Charity's face slackens. Without ending her conversation, she walks over. She leans across the bar as far as it will allow, her head almost touching Vanessa's.
"Well, don't you look-" Her eyes dip to Vanessa's chest and she bites her lip. "-edible?"
"Thank you," Vanessa says, taking in Charity's outfit. She's gone for a red dress that shows off her figure to great effect. "You don't look bad yourself."
"Oh, I know babe," Charity agrees. "But you don't know the best bit yet." She beckons Vanessa closer with her head, placing her lips next to her ear. "I'm wearing your knickers underneath." A kiss is pressed to her cheek and then Charity's walking away, she turns and gives Vanessa a wink over her shoulder and it's only then that Vanessa realises her mouth is hanging open. She shakes her head at Charity, but can't help but smile when the other woman laughs.
The night passes fairly quickly. Paddy and Rhona come in and join her at the bar and she enjoys their easy chatter. Charity stops by every so often, sometimes joining in the conversation, sometimes just to touch Vanessa's hand or smile at her. Rhona and Paddy tease her about that and she doesn't care in the slightest. Tracy, David and Jacob come in and say hi before grabbing a table. When Leyla comes in a few minutes later, she excuses herself and goes to join them. Mostly to play mediator if required, but everyone manages to remain civil, friendly even. Noah comes by after a little while and sits with Jacob. Most of their communication appears to be about things happening on their phones, but they seem happy.
It's about half past eleven when the bell behind the bar rings out, silencing the buzz of voices. Chas holds up her hand.
"Right, I don't know about you lot, but I'm planning on having a right good snog at midnight. The bar will be closing between five to twelve and quarter past, so if your glasses need filling, get it done now."
There's a general movement towards the bar. Vanessa looks around the table, but everyone's glass is pretty much full, including her own. Swirling the liquid around to make sure the gin's fully mixed in, she necks the remaining liquid, ignoring Leyla's raised eyebrow.
"I...uh, need a drink, so " She points to the bar and gets to her feet.
"Enjoy," Tracy says, with a wink. "Try and drag yourself away long enough to wish your little sis a happy new year though, eh?"
"Course I will," Vanessa says, pushing her way into the crowd and emerging at the bar near the hatch.
Charity and Chas are working their way through the waiting punters methodically and Vanessa takes the opportunity just to observe Charity. It's not like she's just noticed that Charity is beautiful; she's been aware of that since she first arrived in the village. But it's definitely only recently that she's realised how attractive she is, how alluring, how enchanting. Everything about her is now like a beacon to Vanessa, screaming to be looked at. Or touched. It's like torture to be this close and not be able to touch.
It feels much longer than twenty minutes, but Charity eventually makes her way over to join her, two glasses and a bottle in her hands. As she draws nearer, Vanessa notes that it's the same brand of whisky they shared in the cellar.
"Feeling nostalgic?" she asks as Charity sets the glasses on the bar and opens the bottle, pouring each of them a measure. Chas is fiddling with the TV, and shouting at Victoria to turn off the music so they can hear the countdown.
"Maybe a little bit," Charity admits, holding out one of the glasses for Vanessa to take. "That's what New Year's for, isn't it? Looking back on what you've done over the year?"
"Or looking forward?" Vanessa suggests, as Charity comes out from behind the bar to stand beside her, they both sip their drinks.
"That too." Charity takes her hand and links their fingers together as Chas yells that there's one minute to go.
"Debbie not here?" Vanessa looks around, realising she hasn't seen her.
"Nope," Charity says with a shrug. "We might just need to go and kiss on her doorstep tomorrow. Maybe she'll figure it out then. No guarantees, of course."
Vanessa laughs, moving closer to Charity as someone jostles her to get past. Charity lets go of her hand and takes the glass from her other one, putting both of them on the bar. She then slides her hand onto Vanessa's back, pulling her in so that they're resting against one another as the countdown from ten starts. Neither of them join in, instead choosing to spend the last ten seconds of the year looking into each other's eyes. Big Ben chimes and cries of 'happy new year' ring out across the pub.
"Happy New Year, babe," Charity murmurs,
"Happy New Year," Vanessa responds, her hand moving to the back of Charity's neck to pull her into a kiss. It tastes of whisky and promises and Vanessa wants it to last forever. Too soon, Charity draws back a little, rubbing her nose against Vanessa's.
"D'you wanna nip down to the cellar?" she whispers. "Since we're being nostalgic?"
Vanessa laughs, but shakes her head, her arms winding around Charity's neck. "No. I wanna stay right here." Someone's started a rousing verse of Auld Lang Syne and Vanessa starts to sway until Charity moves with her. "And I wanna dance with you. And maybe kiss you a bit more."
Charity lifts her eyebrows, a pleased smile fighting its way across her mouth. "Is that right?" She tightens her arms around Vanessa. "Well, I suppose we could do that instead." She leans in close to Vanessa's ear. "How does it feel to be out and proud, then?"
Glancing around, Vanessa notes that no-one is paying them a blind bit of notice. She looks back at Charity and grins. She lifts a hand to cup her cheek, tilting her face down. Just before their lips meet, she whispers. "Bloody brilliant."
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