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You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth
By thegirl20


"That's you." Johnny points at the first of four indistinct yellowish-brownish blobs in the painting he brought back from nursery. He's seated on the bar, his legs dangling into the space between Charity and Vanessa where they stand on either side of the hatch. "An' that's Moses. An' that's a lion. An' that's some chips." Charity's eternally grateful that he's told her which is which because the one that's supposed to be her is virtually indistinguishable from the lion. Or the chips, if she's honest. She squeezes his waist.

"That is amazing, Johnnycakes." Charity lifts the painting, squinting at it and nodding. "And why do me and Moz have a lion with us?"

Johnny looks at her like she's stupid. "I like lions."

"Right, course, yeah." Charity exchanges a look with Vanessa over the top of Johnny's head.

"I was gonna do a dinosaur, 'cause of Moses likes dinosaurs." He frowns. "'But I didn't have no green 'cause Jamie S had took it. So I did chips 'cause he likes chips."

"He does like chips," Charity agrees. "I shall be popping this on the fridge first chance I get. A masterpiece, this is."

"No sign of his mother in that masterpiece, I notice," Vanessa murmurs, licking her fingers and spiking some of Johnny's hair up that's fallen a little flat.

"You've been edged out by chips, babe." Charity shrugs. "That's life."

"I'll do one of you tomorrow, Mummy," Johnny tells her. "I didn't have room left."

"That's okay, my darling." Vanessa leans in and kisses his cheek. "You paint what you want to paint, yeah?"

He nods and grins at her. "I'll do you and a puppy tomorrow."

"That's brilliant, love." Vanessa tells him, pulling her phone out of her pocket and narrowing her eyes at Charity. "I'll look forward to seeing it."

Charity squeezes him again, blowing a raspberry against his cheek. "So, are the two of you stopping here tonight or should I come over to you?" When no answer is forthcoming, she looks up to find Vanessa frowning at her phone. "Ness? Vanessa? Everything okay?"

"Eh?" It takes a few seconds for Vanessa to register what's been said and she meets Charity's eyes. "Uh...yeah. It's...it's my mum."

Charity immediately straightens up; Vanessa hardly ever talks about her mother. "Is she okay? Or…"

"Oh, no, it's nothing like that." Vanessa rushes to assure her. "No, it's just...she's going to be in the village tomorrow and she's asked to meet me for coffee." She hands Charity the phone so that she can read the text for herself.

Hello Vanessa. I'm going on a bus tour of the Yorkshire Dales tomorrow and one of the stops is your village! How funny. I wondered if you wanted to meet up for a quick coffee? If you're working it's fine, just thought I'd ask. Maybe see you tomorrow. Mum

Charity frowns at the weird formality of the message and hands the phone back. Vanessa's shaking her head. "You know, the whole time I've lived in Emmerdale, not once has she visited me. Not once."

"What..not even when you had His Nibs?" Charity asks, nodding to Johnny, not wanting to alert him to the act they're talking about something that makes Vanessa uncomfortable.

Vanessa shakes her head, running a hand over Johnny's hair. "Not even when he was so poorly I didn't know if he'd ever leave that hospital." She laughs, but it's bitter and brittle. "If I hadn't taken him down to hers, she'd never even have met him."

"Wow." In all honesty, she hasn't dedicated a lot of time to thinking about Vanessa's mother. She'd just assumed she was nice and normal and, well, motherly. Like Vanessa. "So...are you gonna meet her tomorrow?"

"Can't very well say no, can I?" Vanessa spits, and immediately looks contrite. She rubs Charity's arm. "Sorry. I didn't mean to...sorry."

"Babe," Charity begins, slightly wary of Vanessa's reaction. "If you want to, you know, talk or whatever, then-"

"No. I don't need to talk." She gives Charity an overly bright smile that worries her much more than the previous snappishness. "I'll meet her in here for a coffee and get it all over and done with in one go."

"Get what over and done with?"

"Well, for starters, telling her that I'm gay." She lifts her hand so that she can count on her fingers. "And that I've got a girlfriend. Introducing her to you. Telling her my Dad's lovechild lives in my spare room." She frowns, tapping her pinkie finger "There was another thing..." Her eyebrows shoot up. "Oh! And that I'm suspended from work for gross negligence."

Charity winces. "That's…quite a lot, yeah." Again, she finds herself surprised that Vanessa seemingly doesn't tell her mother anything. And has apparently not bothered to mention her at any point. "Not…not all of that is terrible stuff, you know."

"That's not how she'll see it." Vanessa quickly looks over at her, reaching for her hand and squeezing it. "You are definitely not terrible stuff, okay? I'm not ashamed of you, of us. You know that. I just-" She bites her lip and shakes her head, turning to look at Johnny. "I should get this one home for a bath."

"Ness." Charity keeps hold of her hand when she tries to pull her own free. When Vanessa looks at her, there's a plea in her eyes and Charity sighs. She won't push more, not here. "Fine. I'll come over when my shift finishes."

Vanessa shoots her a grateful smile and moves in to press a kiss to her lips. "Great. We'll see you later, then." She jiggles Johnny's knee. "Right, you, say bye to Charity and we'll get off home."

Johnny looks at her with that overly serious expression of his. "You're comin' over?"

"Yes, Master Woodfield, I'm coming over in a bit"

He nods. "I'll do you another picture for your fridge."

"That'd be brilliant." She presses her shoulder against his and whispers to him, loudly. "You know what I'd really like a picture of?" He shakes his head. "Me and you and Mummy. D'you think you could do me one like that?"

"Uh huh." He nods. "I can do one like that."

She glances up to find Vanessa looking at her with such undisguised affection that she has to look away again, kissing Johnny's cheek and bumping her head against his. "I can't wait to see it."

Vanessa helps him down from the bar and takes his hand. She purses her lips at Charity the way she does when she's trying not to smile. "I don't need pity artwork, Charity."

Charity tilts her head. "Look, it's bloody hard to compete with chips, yeah? I'm just giving you a bit of a leg up."

"Hmmm." Vanessa moves closer so that she's pressed against Charity's front. "And maybe later you'll get your leg over for being such a sweetheart."

As it always does whenever Vanessa says anything vaguely suggestive, Charity's whole body flares into awareness. She pushes back against Vanessa, their noses brushing. But Charity knows a distraction when she sees one. She drops a soft kiss on Vanessa's lips. "Go on. Get the little monster bathed. I'll see you later."

"See you later."

"Bye Charity!" Johnny waves at her so hard his hand looks like it might fall off. She responds in kind, earning a genuine laugh from Vanessa. As she watches them leave, her smile slowly fades. Vanessa's reaction to that text has unsettled her. Rodney gestures to her for a top-up and she resolves to get to the bottom of it later.

Charity dries her hands on a teatowel after doing the dinner dishes. Her eyes are drawn to the photos of Johnny on the fridge. She drops the towel on the counter and turns to look around the room.

There are photos everywhere. A multitude of Johnny, of course, but there's one of Vanessa with Rhona, and one of Frank and Tracy. There are a few new ones too, since their trip to Ireland; Moses and Johnny laughing with ice-cream on their noses, a selfie Charity had taken of the four of them when they'd snuggled together on the couch in the cottage one evening, a picture Johnny had snapped of her and Vanessa when he'd got hold of Vanessa's phone. All you can see is their legs and their joined hands, but Vanessa thinks he's bloody Lord Litchfield.

And then there's Charity's favourite. She lifts it up and smiles. It's a candid picture that Marlon took at Robert and Aaron's wedding, towards the end of the night when the dancefloor was nearly empty. He caught the two of them gazing into each other's eyes as they danced, like they were the only ones in the room, in the world, maybe. It's the cheesiest, most ridiculous photo ever. It looks like it could be the poster for some stupid romcom. And Charity adores it.

But there's not one single photo of Vanessa's mum or her life before Emmerdale.

Footsteps on the stairs pull her out of her reverie and she's just placing the photo back on the mantelpiece when Vanessa makes it to the bottom. Charity turns and smiles at her.

"Did he go down okay?"

"Yeah, barely a peep out of him." Vanessa comes to stand by Charity and picks up the photo frame. "Reminiscing, are you?"

Charity slides her hands onto Vanessa's hips, resting her chin on her shoulder. "It was good day." She starts to gently sway them. "Despite half of it being about Robert."

Laughing softly, Vanessa sets the frame down and turns, draping her arms around Charity's neck as they move together. "I could've danced all night with you."

"Alright Eliza Doolittle." She laughs. "S'pose you're a little more of a Dr Doolittle, eh?"

Vanessa's smile dims a little. "Not at the moment, I'm not." She rests her head on Charity's shoulder, forehead pressed against her neck. Charity gradually stops them moving until they're just standing in each other's arms.

Charity scratches at the nape of Vanessa's neck, under her ponytail. "You gonna talk to me about this thing with your mum or what?"

"There's nothing to talk about." Vanessa's words are soft and accompanied by a shrug.

"Really?" Charity moves her shoulder, urging Vanessa to lift her head, which she does, but she pouts about it. Charity lifts an eyebrow. "You've got an opinion on everything, but your mum texts out of the blue saying she's coming to visit you for the first time ever, and you've nothing to say about it?"

"There is nothing much to say about it, that's all," Vanessa says, pulling out of Charity's arms and heading to the kitchen. She flicks the kettle on and stand by it, looking out of the window.

Sighing, Charity follows her, leaning back against the counter beside her and folding her arms. "Look, babe, I know I'm not always great with, you know, the touchy feely stuff."

Vanessa smirks, an eyebrow creeping up. "I think you're pretty amazing at it, personally."

"Right, I'm worried now." She pokes Vanessa in the side. "I'm the one who's supposed to make smutty innuendos to get you to stop talking about serious stuff. This is a complete role reversal and I don't like it one bit, lady."

"Charity," Vanessa sighs. "There really is nothing to say. I promise." She smiles. "It's fine."

Charity watches as she fixes them both a brew. "I don't know anything about your childhood." Vanessa halts her stirring for just a second before continuing. "You know all about mine." She rolls her eyes. "Such as it was. I don't know anything about yours except that your Dad left and you had a copy of The Secret Garden."

Vanessa continues to fix their tea, resolutely not looking at Charity. A fleeting thought causes a chill to go through Charity's gut.

"Ness...she...she didn't...hit you, or anything?"

"What?" Vanessa's eyes are on her now, wide and shocked. "Oh, God, no."

Charity nods and lets out a breath. "Right, good." She would not have been able to stay civil if she'd found out the woman had laid a hand on Vanessa. "So what the bloody hell is it?"

Shaking her head, Vanessa sighs. "Look...it really is nothing." She hands Charity her mug and they make their way to the couch, settling at opposite ends, facing each other.

"Right," Charity takes a sip of tea and sets her mug down on the coffee table. "Start talking. Because you may have noticed that my mind's working overtime on what's bothering you, so you're best to just tell me before I invent something."

"I'm not lying when I say it's nothing," Vanessa says, playing with the frayed cuff of Charity's jeans. "We just...don't have a relationship. We never have had, really."

Frowning, Charity narrows her eyes; this isn't what she'd expected. "What? Not even when you were little?"

"Not that I can remember, no." Vanessa shrugs, glancing up long enough to give Charity a sad smile. "She was never, I dunno...motherly, I suppose. I mean, don't get me wrong, she didn't neglect me. She fed and watered me, put a roof over my head and kept it there after my dad buggered off. She made sure I was always presentable when I went to school and that." She laughs softly. "In fact, that was what she cared about; what people thought."

Charity catches Vanessa's hand, lifting it to rest on her knee, thumb rubbing over her knuckles. "Why is this so not how I pictured your childhood?"

"Dunno. You seem to think I was some spoilt little brat. Tracy does too." Vanessa turns her hand to hold Charity's, keeping her eyes on their fingers. "Must be how I come across to people."

"Well, I…" Charity shakes her head, trying to rearrange this mental picture she had of Vanessa's upbringing. "You...I-"

"It's alright, Charity." Vanessa's eyes come up to meet hers and she smiles. "I don't care if you thought I was some toff whose mummy coddled her."

"Toff? With that accent? No, babe, that's not what I thought." Vanessa slaps her leg. "I guess I just-" She shrugs. "Not many people round here go to uni and I suppose I just think people who do are a bit...yeah, spoiled. Thought you had one of them mums who was always on at you to do your homework and sent you to piano lessons and stuff."

"Only reason she even glanced at my report cards was so she could boast to her mates about how brainy I was." Vanessa rolls her eyes. "When she could be bothered to speak to me, she'd make sure to tell me that I got my brains off her. And that she could have gone to uni if she hadn't been shackled down by me and my dad."

"Sounds like a proper charmer." Charity shakes her head. "Can't wait to meet her."

Vanessa's eyes snap up and meet her own, as if she's surprised to be having this conversation. She pulls up that same smile from earlier, the one that's just too bright. "Listen to me going on. As if you need to be hearing my stupid sob story with all you've been through." She squeezes Charity's hand and pushes herself up, moving to the kitchen and picking up a tea towel, starting to dry the dishes Charity had washed earlier.

Standing up, Charity approaches slowly. "Is that why you haven't talked about your mum before? Because you think you're not allowed to complain? Because I had a shittier childhood than you?"

"No, it's not that." She glances at Charity over her shoulder before turning back to her task. "It's not...just that."

Charity moves in behind her, taking the towel out of her hand and setting it down before turning her around. She makes sure Vanessa's looking at her when she speaks. "It shouldn't be about that at all." She runs her fingertips down Vanessa's cheek. "You need to be able to talk to me, Ness. God knows, I've spoken to you enough. It doesn't work if it's not two ways, yeah?"

Vanessa looks at her for a long moment before smiling and bringing Charity's arms up around her waist. She folds herself into Charity's embrace, rubbing her face against her shoulder. "Told you you were good at touchy feely stuff."

Tightening her arms, Charity presses a kiss to the side of Vanessa's head. "Yeah, well, I'm a quick study." She smiles when Vanessa laughs, drawing back when she lifts her head.

Vanessa's hands come up to frame her face, in a move that's familiar and comfortable. She tilts her head, pulling Charity in for a chaste kiss, rubbing her thumb over her lips when they part. "I haven't talked to you about my mum because there really isn't much to say."

"That doesn't normally keep you from yakkin' on, does it?"

Huffing, Vanessa pretends to scowl. "The cheek I put up with from you, honestly."

"Chas does say you must be a saint." She boops Vanessa's nose. "Hey, you can tell me anything, okay? Even dead boring stuff. And I'll listen and nod and whatever else you need me to do."

Arms wrap around her waist again and Vanessa nods, sinking back into Charity's arms. "There'll probably be even less to say after tomorrow." Her torso rises and falls under Charity's hands.

Charity turns so that her lips are resting against Vanessa's forehead. "Why's that, then?"

"She's not likely to want much more to do with me afterwards. Not much to boast about to her social climbing mates these days, am I?"

"What are you talking about? 'Course you are."

Vanessa lifts her head, giving Charity an amused smirk. "Oh yeah, I can totally see her at the WI telling them all about her gay, single-mum daughter who's shacked up with her ex-husband's illegitimate kid and suspended from being a vet for nearly killing someone with horse tranquilisers. That'd go down a treat over tea and Victoria sponge."

Charity shakes her head, lifting a hand to cup Vanessa's cheek. "Hey. If she's not proud of her beautiful, intelligent, kind, loyal daughter, who owns a business, is a brilliant mum and a caring sister, then that's her lookout, isn't it?" She grins. "She's an alright girlfriend an' all."

Covering Charity's hand on her cheek, Vanessa smiles up at her. "I shouldn't actually give a toss what she thinks about anything." She drags Charity's hand down to rest on her chest, over her heart. "I'm the happiest I've ever been and her coming here and turning her nose up at my life won't change that."

"Happiest you've ever been, eh?" Charity says, her eyes falling away from Vanessa's to watch her own fingers draw patterns on Vanessa's chest.

"Yeah." Vanessa places a gentle finger under Charity's chin to urge her eyes back up. "I've got Johnny. I've got my Dad and Tracy. I own a business."

She pauses a little too long and Charity narrows her eyes. "And?" she prompts.

Vanessa laughs. "And I had all of that before and I wasn't happy, not completely." She looks up at Charity through her lashes. "So you must've been the missing piece."

"God," Charity says, rolling her eyes, throat throbbing. "You're soppy as hell sometimes."

"Only when I'm happy." She tilts her head. "So, yeah, pretty often at the moment, I suppose."

"Come here, you." Their lips meet in a soft kiss for a moment before Charity turns Vanessa in her arms and starts to walk her towards the stairs. "Now zen," she begins, in a terrible approximation of an Austrian accent. "You vill tell ze doctor all of your childhood traumas, yes? Ve vill fix you."

Vanessa leans back against her as they walk. "Well, doctor, it probably all started when I saw Anneka Rice leaping out of a helicopter in a tight jumpsuit…"

The following day, Charity watches Vanessa glance between her watch and her phone for the umpteenth time. Leaving Johnny to continue making a castle out of Coke cans, she makes her way over.

"Hey." Vanessa looks up at her, the worry in those big blue eyes makes Charity want to bundle her up in her arms and not let her mother anywhere near. She moves around the bar until her shoulder is pressed against Vanessa's. "Listen, these bus tours hardly stay any time, okay? Usually they're only here long enough for a wee, a mouthful of coffee and a gawp at where the plane came down before they're off to the next village."

Vanessa's nodding as she speaks and gives her a small smile, her hand briefly covering Charity's and giving it a squeeze. "Yeah, I know, that's right. Quick and painful, eh?"

Catching Vanessa's hand as she pulls it away, Charity threads their fingers together, scraping her thumbnail over Vanessa's knuckle. "We don't have to do the whole meet the parents thing today if you don't want to. You can take her along to yours and I can meet her the next ti-"

"Next time?" Vanessa frowns. "What? In another five years you mean?" She shakes her head. "If you don't meet her today, chances are the next time you'll see her will be at our wedding so-"

Charity's grip on Vanessa's hand slackens. "Our wedding?"

"Sorry!" Vanessa keeps a tight hold of her hand. "I'm just...I'm nervous, I was kidding, I didn't mean-" She turns large imploring eyes on Charity. "Please don't panic and go and flirt with every man in a five mile radius. Not today, eh? I don't think I could cope."

"Hmmm." Charity narrows her eyes, darting forward to press a quick kiss against Vanessa's lips. "Fine. But only because I like you." The lack of panic the word caused is actually probably the thing that's worrying her the most. She pushes that thought away and focuses on the matter at hand. "Your mum's not going to like me, is she?"

"Probably not." Vanessa shrugs. "But don't take it personally. She looks down on everyone. Including me."

"Babe, you're four foot three and a half. Everybody looks down on you."

"You're not funny, Charity." Vanessa's lips are twitching, despite the glare she's attempting.

Bumping their shoulders together, Charity leans in to whisper in her ear. "Why you smiling, then?"

Before Vanessa can respond, the door opens and a number of older people troop in, most heading straight for the loos. Vanessa tenses beside her and slips off her stool, straightening out her shirt. Charity immediately picks out Vanessa's mother in the crowd. She's short and slim, with blonde hair styled the way it probably had been since the mid-eighties and lacquered within an inch of its life. She's immaculately put together, chatting politely with one of her coach mates.

"I'll go and bring Johnny over, shall I?" Charity says, giving Vanessa's elbow a squeeze. "Don't want her to think you've got him working behind a bar at his age."

Vanessa makes some vague sound of agreement just as her mother lays eyes on her. "Vanessa!"

Charity stoops and picks Johnny up, standing and watching as Vanessa's mum sweeps across the room and grasps Vanessa by the arms, making a show of giving her a kiss on each cheek. Although, Charity notes, she never actually makes contact with her skin. Just air kisses.

"Hi Mum." Vanessa says, smiling in a way Charity doesn't recognise. That smile makes her uncomfortable.

Her mother frowns, flicking at Vanessa's ponytail. "You're still insisting on scraping your hair back off your face like a teenager, I see?" She shakes her head. "You should think about getting a fringe, dear, cover up some of those lines on your forehead."

Vanessa's hand immediately flies to cover the area in question and Charity's whole body tenses up. "Oh, Johnny," she mumbles. "Your grandma's a piece of work, isn't she?"

He frowns at her. "Who's my grandma?"

"Yeah. Exactly." She steps into the corridor, raising her voice. "Coach tour, all hands on deck!"

Marlon and Vic appear from the kitchen and Chas comes out of the living room, all heading to the bar. Chas stops by her shoulder. "She here?"



"She's been in less than a minute and she's already insulted Vanessa, so, you know." Charity wrinkles her nose. "Not brilliant."

"Right." Chas pats Charity's back and makes a face at Johnny, making him giggle. "Just try not to lamp her, eh? First impressions and all that."

"No promises."

Chas smiles and rolls her eyes as she walks away. "Listen, if Paddy can put up with my mother, you can put up with Vanessa's. Just be nice."

Charity raises her eyebrows at Johnny. "Okay, it's now or never, babes. Let's go."

"Where we going?" he asks.

"Nowhere exciting." Charity tickles his side. "But once we're done here, I'll get you some ice-cream, how's that sound?"

"With sprinkles?"

"All the sprinkles you can eat."


She takes a breath and steps back into the bar.

"-haven't taken the day off work just to come and meet me, have you?" Vanessa's mother is saying. "I don't think we're scheduled to stay very long."

"Uh, no." Vanessa's wringing her hands on the bar. "Well, yeah, technically I suppose. But I...I'm actually suspended at the moment."

"You're what?"

"Just in time for the fun, Johnnykins," Charity mumbles, plastering on a smile and heading over to join the pair.

Vanessa's mother glances at her, her eyes barely landing on Johnny. "Gin and tonic, please." She doesn't recognise him, Charity realises. She looks to Vanessa for guidance and Vanessa sighs.

"Mum, that's your grandson."

The woman turns and looks at him properly. "Oh, of course! John. I didn't for a second expect the bar staff to be looking after you." She holds out her arms. "Come and give your Grandma a kiss."

Johnny shrinks back, hiding his face in Charity's hair and shaking his head. "No."

Charity rubs his back and gives Vanessa's mother a pointed smile. "He's shy with people he doesn't know. I'll get you that drink." She looks at Vanessa's half-drunk coffee. "What about you, babe? Another coffee? Something stronger?"

"I'm fine just now, thanks." Vanessa's eyes are soft, even though her face is still carrying more tension than usual.

Nodding, Charity grabs a glass and moves to the optics to pour a gin, Johnny still clinging to her. She plants a kiss on the top of his head. "Nicely done, kid."

She tilts her head to listen to the conversation still going on.

"-obviously in here far too often. He looks quite at home wrapped around that barmaid."

Charity presses her lips together. Just wait until she hears what her daughter gets up to with the barmaid.

"Mum, don't st-."

"Anyway, what were you saying about being suspended? What did you do?"

Vanessa's mother has one of those voices that goes right through Charity. It's like Hyacinth Bucket on acid. Clearly trying to mask her own accent, which slips through on the odd vowel here and there.

"I lost some drugs." Charity winces, feeling that trickle of guilt she always does when that episode is mentioned. "Couple of kids nicked them out of my bag and put them in someone's drink. So I'm suspended for a year."

"Oh for goodness' sake, that's ridiculous. You're hardly peddling drugs at the school gates. They must be able to tell from looking at you that you're respectable. Can't you appeal?"

"No, mum. It's done now. I just need to wait it out."

"You never said anything!"

Charity finishes pouring the tonic, and lifts the glass, turning back in time to see Vanessa throw her arms up.

"When would I have said anything? We never speak! I could have put it in your birthday card, I suppose. 'Happy Birthday Mum. PS I've lost my job.'"

Hurrying over, Charity lays down the drink. "One gin and tonic. On the house." Vanessa's mother throws her a questioning look, but nods her thanks before returning to her conversation.

"Don't be facetious dear. And don't start with this guilt trip. You know very well me and Clive hardly get a minute to ourselves now he's retired." She takes a sip of her drink. "I may not ring you every five minutes, but that doesn't mean I'm not interested in your life."

"Interested in my life?" Vanessa laughs and shakes her head. "Okay then, how about I give you a little update on my life?"

"Uh oh," Charity says under her breath. She's seen Vanessa get like this before; really wound up and passionate about something. It's not always pretty. "Babe, are you sure this is the best-"

"First off, you should probably know that my Dad lives here in Emmerdale." Vanessa smirks when her mother's mouth falls open. "And so does his other daughter, my sister. She lives with me, as it happens."

"You...that...that slapper's kid lives with you?" Charity notes the accent has slipped a little. "In your house? With my grandson?"

"Who you didn't even recognise!" Vanessa counters. "Yes. She does. Her name's Tracy and I love her to bits. The other big news is that-" Vanessa swallows, throwing Charity a worried little smile. "-is that I'm gay."

Clearly still reeling from the previous revelation, it takes Vanessa's mother a second or two to realise what's been said. "I'm sorry, what? You're what?"

"Gay," Vanessa says.

"At your age?" It's the most absurd response to that admission Charity's ever heard and she has to disguise a laugh as a cough. "Oh, come on, Vanessa. It's a bit late for you to be going through this phase, isn't it? Shouldn't you have got that out of your system at university like other people?"

"Phase?" Vanessa spits. "Do you seriously think I'd be standing here saying this if it was a phase?"

A hand flutters over a rigid hair do, not quite touching it. "I just don't think people get to forty-five and-"

"I'm forty-two."

"-suddenly discover they are-" She glances around the room before lowering her voice to a whisper. "Gay." She clicks her tongue. "What's brought you to this startling conclusion anyway?"

"Me, actually." Charity steps forward, holding out her free hand and smiling with no warmth whatsoever. "I'm Charity. Vanessa's girlfriend."

"Barbara," Vanessa's mum says, on automatic pilot. She looks at Charity's hand, but doesn't take it. "You'll forgive me if I don't say it's nice to meet you. I'm...this is..."

"Yeah, sorry," Vanessa says to Charity. "Apparently common courtesy is just too much to hope for."

"Oh, Vanessa, please." Barbara shakes her head. "How would you feel if you'd just found out that your daughter's-"

"Landed herself such a catch?" Charity interrupts before anything more insulting is said. "Yeah, it's a lot to take in." She turns to Vanessa. "Listen, babe, why don't you take your mother through the back, eh? We can leave Johnny with Chas for ten minutes. I don't think this is the place to be having this conversation, do you?" Because if it keeps going in this direction, Charity's going to explode. And while she's not all that bothered about making a scene, she knows Vanessa doesn't particularly enjoy her business being shouted all over the pub.

"I quite agree," Barbara says, picking up her drink.

"You head through, I'll follow in a minute, yeah?" Charity leans in and kisses Vanessa softly, mostly to lend her support, but also just to annoy her mother.

Barbara's face flushes, the edges of her mouth turned down. She glances around to see if any of her fellow coach mates are watching. "Is there any need for that?" she hisses. "In public."

"Everybody round here knows about me and Charity," Vanessa informs her mother. "We don't hide how we feel." She turns back to Charity and smiles, going up on her toes to steal another peck on the lips. "Hurry. Please?"

"I will." Charity makes sure to scowl at Vanessa's mother as she's taken through to the back.

Chas finishes off serving the customer she's with before turning to Charity with a raised eyebrow. "You haven't hit her yet, then. That's pretty good going."

"Not sure how much longer it's going to last, to be honest," Charity says. "Can you look after this one for quarter of an hour?"

Chas frowns, glancing towards the back. "Doesn't Vanessa's mum want to see him while she's here?"

"Don't think she's bothered either way," Charity says, handing Johnny over to Chas. "But I don't want him to be there if I need to tell this old bat off." She kisses his cheek. "Be good for Chas, okay?"

"Then ice-cream?" he asks, eyes bright and hopeful.

"Then ice-cream. I promise."

She sticks her tongue out at him as she backs away and he copies her, making her laugh. She turns and heads through to the back, pausing outside the living room door when she hears raised voices.

"-more like your father than I'd realised. Certainly inherited his taste for tarty blonde barmaids, haven't you?"

Charity feels her skin crawl at the accusation. She's had words like that hurled at her her whole life. She pretends they don't affect her, but they do. Her heart lifts a little when Vanessa comes to her defence, as she knew she would.

"How dare you talk about Charity like that. You have no right to come here and make judgements about anybody. I'm happy. She makes me happy. Don't you care about that?"

"Oh, here we go. Putting words in my mouth."

Charity shakes her head. No wonder Vanessa avoids seeing her mother.

"Put words in your-...I'm doing nothing of the sort! I genuinely don't know if you want me to be happy or not. It doesn't seem like it."

"It's not about you being happy. It's about you being...well, about you thinking that you're..."

"Gay? Homosexual? A lesbian?"

"Now you're just trying to make me uncomfortable."

Charity's heard enough. She pushes the door open and enters, moving over to where Vanessa's standing. "No, actually, she's saying it because it's what she is. And it was bloody hard for her to admit it, even to herself, to begin with." She wraps an arm around Vanessa's shoulders, pulling her in. Vanessa's arms go around her waist and she feels her let out a shaky breath. "So you don't get to rock up here with your delusions of grandeur and make her feel bad about herself, alright? Because this is my pub and she's my girlfriend, and you won't be the first person I've chucked out for upsetting her." She notes Barbara's eyebrows rise when she says it's her pub. "Oh yeah, I own the pub." She tilts her head. "That mess with your 'tarty barmaid' image a bit, does it?"

Vanessa's arms tighten around her and she squeezes her shoulder to let her know she's alright.

Barbara flinches slightly at having her words repeated. She brushes something from the shoulder of her tweed blazer. "Well, that's an interesting way to speak to the mother of someone you claim to care about."

"Being her mother doesn't give you a license to say or do whatever you like," Charity tells her. "You earn the right to be someone's mother. And from what I've seen today, you don't deserve her."

"Charity-' Vanessa begins.

"No, babe," Charity says, meeting Vanessa's eyes. "You are the most caring, considerate, loyal, kind person I've ever met. And God knows where you get it, because it's not from Frankie boy, and it's not from her." Charity leans in and kisses her gently. "Guess it's just all down to you."

Barbara scoffs and Charity's head whips around to pin her with her eyes, daring her to dispute what she'd said. Instead, Barbara lets out a sigh. "Look...I just...I don't think I'm cut out for all of this-" She gestures at the two of them, her nose wrinkling in distaste. "-alternativeness."

Vanessa sighs. "I didn't expect you would be."

"Yeah, imagine having to be a decent human being and support your kids to be who they actually are." Charity rolls her eyes. "I don't think you're cut out for it either."

Barbara scowls. "Do you even have children of your own? Or are you content to inflict your lifestyle choices on my grandson?"

"Lifestyle ch-...what are you like?" Charity shakes her head. "And yes, as it happens. I've got four kids. All to different men. That's a bit more in line with your thoughts on barmaids, I'll bet." Vanessa hides her face in Charity's shoulder, but Charity can feel her laughing.

Nose lifting in the air, Barbara shakes her head. "And you're mother of the year, I suppose?"

"Far from it, but I'm trying." Charity's voice almost breaks on the truth of that statement. "And I'd never, ever, ask one of my kids to hide who they are for appearances' sake. And that includes Johnny, by the way."

"And you don't need to concern yourself with Johnny. He's just fine. He's got a family who loves him, and he knows it, which is more than I ever did," Vanessa puts in. "You saw him with Charity before. He adores her."

Barbara's face twists into a sneer. "And you're happy with him growing up like that, are you? No sense of what's normal?"

"And what is 'normal', mum, eh?" Vanessa asks. "Me and you?"

"I did my best by you, Vanessa." Barbara lifts her eyes to the ceiling, as if she's got the weight of the world on her shoulders. "It's not my fault your feckless father walked out, is it?"

"I'm starting to understand why he did, to be honest," Charity mutters, earning a very dirty look from Barbara as Vanessa continues.

"No, I suppose it isn't. But it is your fault that I've spent my whole life wondering what was wrong with me. Wondering why you didn't seem to love me like my friends' mums loved them." Vanessa steps away from Charity, towards her mother. "It is your fault that I did everything I could to try and make you like me." She swallows. "You think me being gay is a phase? I knew when I was fourteen, mum. Fourteen. And I pushed it away because I'd heard the way you spoke about those two ladies who lived a couple of streets over from us. I'd seen what your face did whenever Boy George was on Top of the Pops. And I didn't want to give you any reason to like me even less than you did." There are tears running down Vanessa's face now. Charity steps forward and puts a hand on her back, rubbing gently. She's never heard this before. "I went with lads to convince myself these feelings I had didn't exist or weren't right. And it was a bloody sad and lonely existence, I can tell you that."

"Oh, Ness." Charity slides her arm around Vanessa's waist and kisses the side of her head. Vanessa smiles at her before facing her mother once more.

"And now that I've finally been honest with myself, I've found someone who makes me happy. I'm really, genuinely, happy for the first time in my life." She wipes at her face with her sleeve and Charity's chest feels like it might explode with a dozen overlapping feelings. "And you don't get to take that away or make me feel bad about it. You've never taken an interest before, so you don't get to have an opinion now."

"And you think it's fair to just land this on me now, do you?" Barbara's face is flushed and her movements are jerky. "After years of not telling me anything, you expect me just to accept it?"

"I'm not sure you're listening," Charity says, when Vanessa looks at the ceiling and shakes her head. "Your daughter just told you she's happy. What is there to accept?"

"Oh for goodness' sake." Barbara throws her hands up. "I don't know what world the two of you live in, but in the real world, it's not quite as simple as that."

"No, Mum, in your world it's not as simple as that because all you care about is what the neighbours will say." Vanessa sighs. "I mean, imagine me walking up your path holding Charity's hand. Imagine me kissing her on your doorstep." Barbara's eyes close and her hand flutters by her neck. Vanessa nods. "Yeah, thought that might be your reaction."

"My God, if that's all you've got to worry about, then I envy you, Barbara. I really do," Charity says, her thumb stroking the back of Vanessa's neck. "But I think you should leave now."

Barbara ignores her, looking to her daughter. "You're being unreasonable, Vanessa. You're...you're expecting too much of me."

"Yeah, you'd think I'd have learned by now, eh?" Vanessa sniffs, grasping a handful of Charity's shirt. "I think-" She swallows hard and nods. "I think we should just say goodbye and...and leave it at that."

Charity looks at Vanessa quickly; she hadn't expected that. Clearly neither had Barbara.

"What? Forever? You're just going to cut me out of your life?" Her gaze shifts to Charity and she looks her up and down. "For her?"

"For me." Vanessa's spine straightens, her shoulders go back. "I'm doing this for me. If you can't accept the fact that I'm in love with a woman-" Charity's heart stops. "-then I don't want you in my life, judging me for living it the way I want to."

"I...I cannot believe this. I am your mother. I sacrificed everything to bring you up and make sure you made something of yourself. And this is how you repay me?" Charity notes that though Barbara's voice is high and whiny, her eyes are dry. "Cutting me out of your life? Out of my grandson's life?"

"Pretty sure you did that all by yourself, Babs," Charity says. "Now, I've asked you to leave once already, I won't be quite as polite next time."

Looking between them, Barbara adjusts her bag on her shoulder. "Well, I know when I'm not wanted."

"Do you?" Charity widens her eyes. "I was beginning to wonder."

"Is this really what you want, Vanessa?" Barbara asks. "Because I won't come grovelling. You know that."

"I do." Vanessa nods, resting her head against Charity's shoulder. "Bye, Mum."

For the briefest of seconds, Charity thinks she sees regret flicker across Barbara's face. But it's gone as soon as it comes, and she nods. "Well, goodbye, then. Enjoy your life with your lesbian lover and your convict father. I shan't darken your door again."

"Is that a promise?" Charity offers Barbara a cool smile. "Bye Babs."

Barbara marches out of the door they came in, nose in the air, slamming it behind her so hard it makes them both jump. Charity presses a kiss to Vanessa's hair.

"You alright?" she murmurs, squeezing Vanessa against her.

"I am, actually." Vanessa lifts her head and smiles up at Charity. "I thought I might not be but...I feel...so-" She shakes her head, hands drifting up Charity's back. "What happened doesn't change anything. She's never been in my life, so it's not like I've lost something." Her smile grows brighter. "And it felt so good to finally tell her who I am and not give a monkey's what she thought of it."

"You were amazing," Charity says. "I was dead proud of you."

Vanessa's eyes widen, like this is something she never expected to hear from Charity's mouth. "Were you?" she whispers.

"Yeah. I was. I am." She leans in and nuzzles Vanessa's cheek. "All the time."

Vanessa lets out a soft laugh and hides her face in Charity's neck. Charity pulls her close, a shaky breath ruffling Vanessa's hair as she exhales.

"So." Something in her voice gets Vanessa's attention because she lifts her head and meets Charity's eyes. The scrutiny almost makes her change her mind, say something else. But she thinks of how brave Vanessa was, standing in front of her mother. "I, uh, couldn't help noticing that you told your mum you were in love with a woman."

"Yeah. I did." An eyebrow creeps up Vanessa's forehead, the edge of her lips turning up. "Got something to say about that?"

"Well, that depends," Charity says, toying with the end of Vanessa's ponytail, twisting it around her fingertip.

"On what?"

Their eyes meet and Charity links her fingers behind Vanessa's neck. "On whether this woman is me or not."

Vanessa laughs, and shakes her head. "Course it's bloody you," she murmurs, pulling Charity in for a kiss. "You know it's you."

"Right. Good." She swallows, the beating in her ears lessening slightly at the confirmation. "Well, you might want to try saying it to me. Unless you fancy announcing it to anybody else first, of course."

Nodding, Vanessa takes a moment to look into Charity's eyes. And even if she didn't say the words, Charity would be able to see them. "I love you, Charity."

She'd thought she was ready to hear it. She'd heard Vanessa say it to her mother. If she's honest with herself, she already knew it to be the case. But hearing the words directed at her, so plainly and honestly, loosens a knot in her chest and makes her eyes burn. She smiles, trying in vain to keep the tears from spilling over. "Yeah?"

"Yeah." Vanessa presses a soft kiss to her lips. "I love you."

"Well," Charity shrugs, unable to think of any response other than the one she knows to be true. "I flamin' well love you too."

"I know that, you daft thing." Vanessa's arms slide low around her hips, tugging her closer.

"Oh, do you now?" Charity couldn't keep herself from smiling even if she tried. "Bit cocky, Ms Woodfield."

"Hmmm." Vanessa tilts her head, squinting one eye. "Just observant. Wouldn't you agree, Ms Dingle?"

Charity starts walking them towards the couch. "I've got a couple more things you might like to obs-" She stops so suddenly Vanessa stumbles. "Bugger."

"What?" Vanessa asks, running her knuckles down Charity's cheek to get her attention, quirking an eyebrow in question when their eyes meet.

"I promised Johnny I'd take him for ice-cream." Charity sighs. "So your observations will have to wait, babe."

Vanessa's eyes grow large and soft, her smile touching every part of her face. "Charity Dingle, turning down a fumble to take my kid for ice-cream?"

"See what you've done to me, eh?" Charity says, her laugh rough. "Bloody ruined, I am."

"No." Vanessa shakes her head, tipping Charity's chin down and brushing a thumb over her lower lip. "Bloody perfect, you are."

The End

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