DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
THANKS: To Ann for the beta.
Illuminations of the Past
"Kate? Is that you?"
I turned to see an overbearing matron rushing towards me, arms wide open, and a look of demented glee on her face. Bright red curls bounced with her every step, and as she engulfed me in her sickly sweet embrace, I felt as if my ribs were being crushed in a vice.
I was sure there was a polite way to disentangle one's self from random huggers, but I'd yet to master the skill. "Can I help you?" I asked, as I struggled free.
She looked at me expectantly. "It's me, Rhona, from Lady Margaret's."
Scribbs took that moment to make her presence known and eye my attacker with a mixture of irritation and glee. She was meant to be acting as my backup on this operation, but so far her protective skills had been somewhat lacklustre. For all she knew, the deranged redhead could have been a hitman for the suburban chapter of the Mafia and not a distant acquaintance I'd rather forget.
"You gonna introduce me?" Scribbs asked, motioning towards Rhona.
I'd rather have poked my eye out with a stick than introduce Scribbs to one of my old school friends, but I didn't really have much choice. "Rhona, this is... Emma." I tripped over the unfamiliar name. "Scribbs, this is Rhona Michaels."
Scribbs shook hands with the woman and proceeded to grill her on our acquaintance, only to have Rhona turn around and issue her own version of the Spanish Inquisition. I turned a deaf ear to most of it, but a particular phrase caught my ear.
"We've been partners for a couple of years now," Scribbs had said, as if the difference in our rank was a figment of my imagination. "Never a dull moment with Ash."
"Partners?" Rhona looked far too happy at that. "I always knew our Kate's bread was buttered on both sides," she confided, "especially after that incident with Julie Cavanaugh in the back of the school bus."
"It's great to see you again, Rhona," I cut in, clinging to the vain hope that Scribbs had missed the last comment. "What are you doing in Middleford?"
"Back of the school bus?" Scribbs chimed in, elbowing me out of the way, and taking Rhona by the arm, she escorted her to one of the benches that lined the pathway. "Tell me all about it."
It was a complete and utter disaster. The last thing I needed was for Scribbs to get wind of my past indiscretions. "Scribbs, we really should get back to work."
"You work together?" Rhona asked.
"Three years," Scribbs repeated, totally aware of the previous misunderstanding but disinclined to clear up the matter. "We're both detectives with Middleford CID."
"Detectives? Isn't that sweet."
I'd always suspected that Rhona was a little slow, and now I had my proof.
"What was this about a bus?" Scribbs nudged.
A park bench in the middle of winter was not the ideal place to swap gossip and ruin a woman's reputation, but it didn't seem to deter either of my companions. Within seconds, Rhona had launched into a tale of teenaged debauchery and sexual experimentation that left Scribbs wide-eyed and practically drooling.
"It's not as bad as it sounds," I assured Scribbs.
Julie Cavanaugh had been a nice girl, long limbed and eager to please, with a tendency to squeal when she got overexcited. Not that I'd had much opportunity to experience the squeal before we'd been interrupted by the bus driver and asked to either stop what we'd been doing or disembark from his coach.
I zoned back into the conversation and was mortified to realise they'd bypassed my adventure with Julie and had gone straight on to the incident with Stephanie and the PE equipment. It was too much. I had one madcap summer in my life, and suddenly, every single detail of those six weeks was being paraded for Scribbs' pleasure and future extortion attempts.
"It's been lovely seeing you again, Rhona, but we really have to be going."
Neither of them took any notice of me, and I was forced to physically drag Scribbs from the bench in my efforts to distance her from Rhona's continuing monologue of embarrassments. My grip on Scribbs' arm only lessening once we had passed the gates to the park and were well on our way back to the car.
"She seemed nice."
I wasn't fooled by Scribbs' offhand tone. I knew she was just biding her time until she could torment me about my little faux pas. The prospect that she'd hold them over me for the next three years was all too real, and if I didn't do something immediately to stem the tide of her mirth, I'd be left at her mercy.
As we came abreast of the entrance to a small alleyway, I pulled Scribbs to a stop and motioned her into the shadows. I didn't want to take the risk that some passer-by would overhear our conversation.
"Scribbs, I want you to promise me that you'll never mention what you just heard to another living soul." I stared her down, determined to convey the seriousness of the matter. "Promise me."
Scribbs' smile made me doubt she shared my sense of gravity. "And if I don't?"
It was just possible that I could take Scribbs in a fight, but I doubted it would do much for our working relationship if I gave her a black eye. That left only one option.
"Then I'll have to tell everybody about your affair with the barmaid at the Crown."
I shrugged, a smile pasted on my lips as I waited for her to appreciate the genius of my threat. Molly, the former barmaid of the Rose & Crown, had left the area suddenly last Easter amidst rumours of drunken orgies and the deflowering of the landlord's daughter. I was sure that half of the things that had been said about Molly were a load of rot, but without anyone there to deny them, the rumours flourished in ever increasing abundance.
I could tell that my smile had faltered from the look of relief on Scribbs' face, but I was determined not to let her get the upper hand. "I don't need to come right out and say you had an affair with her, I can simply mention how down in the dumps you've been since she left and leave the rest to everybody's imagination."
She looked far too cocky. "It'd take more than that, and you know it." She leant forward, her mouth close to my ear. "I've never even kissed a woman, unlike some people I could mention."
It was like she was taunting me on purpose, but even so, I couldn't stop myself from turning in her direction and pressing my lips against hers. The feel of her skin beneath mine was like nothing I remembered from my school days, and Scribbs' moan certainly put Julie's little squeals to shame.
After several minutes, I pulled back, my cheeks flushed scarlet and an embarrassed smile on my face, only to have it obliterated as Scribbs pushed me up against the wall and covered my lips with her own.
I lost count of the number of times the kiss appeared to come to an end, only for one of us to dive back in and resume the oral insanity that had arisen between us. It was as if we'd been overtaken by hormonal versions of ourselves, and no matter what we tried, the lure of another kiss was just too much to resist.
Rhona's voice was sharp against my senses, but it took a second repetition of my name before I was able to tear myself away from the intoxication that was Scribbs' lips.
"Rhona?" Normally, I would have been mortified at being caught in such a compromising position, but earlier events had already succeeded in outing my relationship with Scribbs, even before such a thing existed, which somehow enabled me to blazon through the interruption with little more than a passing thought to my smeared lipstick and compromisingly placed hands. "Is there something you needed?"
"I just wanted to..." She began rummaging in her bag, the blush on her cheeks intensifying as she became aware of just where Scribbs' left hand had wandered. "My phone number," she blurted, handing me a scrap of paper. "Perhaps, we could all get together one evening, the four of us?" She smiled at Scribbs, and suddenly I felt inordinately pleased at her easy acceptance and inclusion of my 'supposed' lover.
"We'd love to."
"Sorry to have..." Rhona gestured vaguely to our joined bodies, before waving a cheery goodbye and once again vanishing from view.
"We'd love to?" Scribbs asked, her smile far too smug for her own good.
At that moment, I really wished there was a manual that laid down the proper procedure for dealing with colleagues, who you'd inadvertently snogged, while avoiding former school friends with a penchant for spilling the beans about your childhood exploits with members of the same sex. "Do you plan on kissing me again?"
I've always hated it when she answered a question with a question. "I asked first."
Scribbs appeared to think about it for a moment, but I could tell from the twinkle in her eye that she was only doing so to annoy me. "Yes." She paused for a second. "Often."
A smile tugged at the corner of my mouth, and for the first time in my life, I was inordinately glad to have been the subject of mindless gossip. "Then what are you waiting for?"
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