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If you knew how I wanted someone to come along
(And change my life the way you’ve done)
Vanessa turns off the car and blows out a breath. It's after eleven and she's just back from a pretty harrowing call-out where she'd had to put down a dog who'd been trampled by cows. She'd tried to save him, but it really wouldn't have been a kindness to prolong his life. The family were, of course, devastated. Vanessa had shed a tear or two herself while they were saying their goodbyes, particularly the teenage son, who had broken down in sobs and had to leave the room.
She squeezes her eyes shut briefly and breathes in slowly, trying to leave her difficult evening behind before going into the house. She gets out of the car and heads up the path, noting that the lights are still on in the living room. She opens the door quietly, years of being on call have given her brilliant stealth skills, always conscious of not waking whoever else was in the house. Shrugging out of her jacket and toeing off her shoes, she glances through to the living room, and smiles. Charity's feet are propped up on the arm of the sofa, and soft snores can be heard from the other end.
After locking the front door, she heads through, ready to wake Charity up and drag her to bed, but she stops short; Johnny's lying on his front on her chest, asleep. His head is tucked under her chin, her arm draped over his little waist. It's possibly the sweetest thing Vanessa's ever witnessed and she covers her mouth to keep in the noise that wants to escape.
Not for the first time this evening, her eyes fill with tears, but for an altogether different reason. There was always a part of Vanessa that believed she'd never have this. Before she had Johnny, she thought she'd missed the chance to have kids. Even after Johnny came along, she never saw herself with this; with a family. And to think it came about because of a drunken snog with Charity Dingle in the Woolpack cellar.
Sometimes, not often, she thinks about what her life would have been like if she'd taken Megan's advice and not followed Charity that evening. She's so bloody thankful that she did, and that the lock was busted, and that the music was too loud. It would have been so easy for just one element to have not been just right. She's not one to believe in fate or destiny or all that bollocks. Not most of the time, at least. But whenever she thinks about that night, she can't help but be thankful for the stars aligning or something. Because otherwise she might just never have discovered that Charity was the right person for her. The only person for her.
She can't even really picture it anymore, can't remember what it was like before Charity and her messy, complicated, wonderful family landed in her life. Quieter, that's a given. And far, far more boring.
Blinking away her happy tears, she slides her hand into her back pocket and pulls out her phone, opening up the camera app. Adjusting her stance so that she gets them both in the frame, she snaps a couple of pictures of the slumbering duo before she has to wake them and disturb the perfect scene. She flicks through the photos, stopping at the last one and setting it as her screensaver. Charity lets out a particularly loud snore, followed by indistinct murmuring and Vanessa bites her lip. Johnny startles a little but Charity's arm tightens around him and he settles again, rubbing his cheek against Charity's shirt. Vanessa can't bear to wake them just yet, so she decides to go and get into her jammies and sorted for bed and then come back down for them.
Unable to resist a final moment of just staring at them, she finally drags herself away and up the stairs, where's she's surprised to see Noah's door open and light still on. She frowns, knocking lightly on the frame before sticking her head into the room. He's sitting on his bed, reading a comic.
"Hey," she says, softly. "It's a school night. Lights should be out by now."
"I know," he says, discarding the comic and throwing his ever more gangly legs over the side of the bed. He looks at the floor, flattening out a bump in his rug with his heel. "I just...it's hard to get to sleep when you're out on a call. I usually just wait until I hear you come in and then I turn out the light. I didn't hear the door tonight."
Her heart feels like it's too big for her chest by the time he finishes speaking, but she manages to keep the smile off her face. "Noah, you need your sleep for school. You don't have to be waiting up for me. I'm a big girl and I've been doing this for a long time."
"I know it's daft," he shrugs and looks up at her. "I just...worry."
"Oh, love," she tilts her head to the side, moving fully into the room and sitting beside him. She wraps an arm around him. It's not so surprising that someone whose had as many parental figures ripped away from them as Noah should worry when his family's not all in the same house and safe. He's such a sensitive little soul, when he's not being a stroppy teenager, and she hates that her job causes him concern. She squeezes him against her. "Hey, I'm always gonna come home, alright?"
He nods, but doesn't look convinced. He's probably had other people say that to him too, Vanessa thinks. She wishes his heart was less bruised.
"How was the dog?" he asks, turning to look at her, clearly keen for a change of subject. "Was it bad?"
She presses her lips together. Great, now she's going to have to tell him she killed a dog. She nods. "Yeah, darlin', it was bad. I tried to help him but...I...he was too badly hurt."
"Oh. Right." He looks away and nods.
She thinks back to that poor boy, sobbing over his dog, and suddenly he morphs into Noah in her mind. Her eyes prickle with tears and she swallows through a painfully tight throat.
"At least he's not in pain now, eh?" Noah says. He gives her a sad smile. "You made sure he wasn't hurting anymore."
"Yeah," she manages to get out in a rough whisper. She leans in and presses a kiss to the side of his head, his unruly hair tickling her nose. She gives him a final squeeze and then stands, quickly swiping at her eyes before she turns to face him. "Now get to bed. It's hard enough to get you up in the mornings."
He grins at her and climbs into bed. "Is Mum still downstairs? I didn't hear her come up."
Vanessa pauses in the doorway, lifting her eyebrows. "Well, unlike you, your mother has no trouble sleeping while I'm out on call. She's downstairs passed out on the couch. Snoring it up big style."
"She does, you know," Noah says, just as Vanessa reaches for the light switch. She quirks her head in question. "Mum. She doesn't sleep well when you're out either. Me and her sometimes have a brew or watch telly together." He winks. "But don't tell her I told you that."
Vanessa mimes zipping her lips closed, mostly because her throat has closed up again. She smiles and flicks off the light. "Night, love."
Once she's in her pyjamas, and has pulled back Johnny's covers ready to just slip him into bed, Vanessa heads back downstairs. Charity and Johnny are still in the same position she left them in and she crouches down by Charity's head, assessing the best way to go about this. If she tries to lift Johnny, Charity's likely to wake with a start and probably wake him as well. Waking Charity up slowly seems like the way to do it.
Lifting a hand to Charity's face, she gently rubs her thumb over the subtle lines between her eyebrows. Charity makes a humming sound and wrinkles her nose, but doesn't wake. Vanessa smiles. She runs her forefinger along Charity's eyebrow and down her cheek to her chin, tickling the skin there with her fingernail. Charity turns her face away slightly, huffing. Vanessa turns her face back, chin held between her thumb and forefinger. She leans in and brushes her lips over Charity's. Once, twice, three times. On the third, she feels Charity respond and pulls back, sitting on her haunches and watching Charity move towards consciousness.
Charity's eyes flutter open, briefly, and then close tightly. Her whole face scrunches up and she stifles a yawn. "Time's it?" Charity's arm moves, her hand splaying over Johnny's back protectively.
"It's about half eleven," Vanessa tells her, brushing a stray hair that's fallen over Charity's brow back behind her ear. "Time for the two of you to be in bed."
"Mmhmm." Charity twists her neck to try and see Johnny, but gives up. "I did mean to take him up earlier, but he fell asleep like this and I...just "
"Didn't want to disturb him?" Vanessa suggests. She knows that's not the reason. She knows Charity was just enjoying being close to him. But she knows Charity doesn't like to admit to such things out loud. Even with her own kids, she hides her affection behind jokes and banter.
"Yeah, that's it," Charity says, shifting and then freezing, her face contorted. "But I think you're gonna have to move him now, babe. My arm's gone dead."
Vanessa manages not to laugh at Charity's obviously pained expression, and she gently picks Johnny up, resting him against her shoulder. He shuffles around a little to get comfortable, but mercifully stays asleep. She heads for the stairs, smiling at the string of hushed swear words Charity is uttering as her arm wakes itself up.
She deposits Johnny in his bed, taking a few moments to watch him settle down, his face slack and his breathing even. Leaving his nightlight on, she moves silently out of the room. The downstairs lights are all off, which must mean Charity's in bed already.
Sure enough, when she goes to their room, there's a lump under the covers on Charity's side of the bed. She turns out the light and joins her, slipping under the duvet on her own side, moving across the bed until she's flush against Charity's back. She sweeps her hair aside and presses her face into the crook of her neck, inhaling deeply and drinking in her scent. And then, because she can't think of a reason not to, she whispers 'I love you' against Charity's skin.
"Love you," Charity mumbles back, clearly too tired to bother with teasing her first.
Vanessa smiles. She drops a kiss on Charity's shoulder and settles against her, more thankful than ever for that dodgy cellar lock.
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