DISCLAIMER: The characters below are owned by the BBC I am just borrowing them for a time, references to the Japanese as nips and Japs do not reflect any racism on my part they are historical terms used in a time of war and are only used in that context. This piece of fiction contains sexual scenes between consenting adults, if you are under 18, exit now.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Tenko refers to the roll call in camps.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Tracie L
Blanche Simmons chewed absently on a bamboo shoot that she had picked through the wire fence, which surrounded the camp compound. She stared out sightlessly to the jungle beyond, her mind travelling back as it inevitably did, to that time when her world crashed in on her and she had lost Rose. Her brow creased as she absorbed the familiar pain thinking about Rose always brought her. Rose Millar, 'posh bitch.' she had thought when they had first met. She was rich, pampered and completely self absorbed, the type of woman Blanche usually detested. Strange things happen to people when they are brutalised and live in terror every hour of every day, all the trappings of class and gentility vanish with the sound of flesh hitting flesh. It wasn't long before Blanche changed her mind about Rose; they clicked and did so in a way Blanch had never experienced with any one before. They had become friends.
Blanche remembered her pre-internee life through the same idealised soft focus lens all the women did. Yes it had been tough and sordid, she was often, cold and hungry, but she had been free, fed and master of her own destiny. Friendships had been rare and superficial; Blanche couldn't afford close relationships, life on the game never allowed that particular luxury.
"God I could kill for a fag." Blanche turned briefly to register the comment from her companion.
Dot Bennett kicked the dry ground at her feet and scowled into the jungle.
"No luck with the guards then?" Blanche asked knowing the answer but assuming Dot wanted a response.
"Bastards are as hard up as we are." Dot grumbled, "Have you seen the holes in their uniforms, pathetic lot. If it wasn't for the rifles there'd be no difference between them and us." Dot Smirked without humour.
"I'm sick to death of this place." She sighed and turned heading off to the cook hut. "Coming?" She called back.
"'Spose." Blanche responded, "Nothing else to do."
Blanche cast a last wistful gaze into the jungle depths then turned to follow her.
Things had changed, Blanche could feel it, something was very wrong with the Japs. She sat in the dirt outside her hut with hut mates, Kate Norris and Marion Jefferson.
"What do you think it means?" She asked Marion as they watched the Commandant's office.
Area Commander Yamauchi had arrived an hour earlier and was now in the office with Commandant Sato or Satan as the camp knew him.
"I'm not sure." Marion's clipped reply conveyed her anxiety.
Marion Jefferson was the leader of their particular group, a mixture of British and Australian women and children who had been thrown together four years earlier when Singapore fell to the Japanese. Marion had been elected into the role and despite moving to other camps, had remained their leader; the women relied on her to speak on their behalf to the Japanese.
Blanche respected and admired her unrelenting support of the women in their group, she owed her life to Marion, they all did.
"I've never seen Yamauchi so grim, I've seen him furious before but nothing like this." Marion chewed on her cracked lip nervously. "Where is Christina? Kate have you seen her?"
Kate shook her head, the Australian nurse looked nervous.
"I haven't seen her since she left this morning." Kate whispered shakily. She was scratching compulsively at a sore on her knee and looked oddly pale despite her tanned skin.
"Marion what should we do?"
"Wait, keep calm, ask everyone if they have seen Christina, let me know what you can find out."
Kate nodded rising and headed off to the sleeping huts, her posture now straight and purposeful. Blanche couldn't help but smile, Kate always thrived on activity.
Blanche watched Marion chew her lip some more before asking.
"You think Yamauchi may have told Christina what's going on?"
"No." Marion replied, "But Christina may have overheard something, that's why I'm concerned she's not here with him." Marion glanced at Blanche before continuing.
"Blanche could you gather everyone together in hut four? Let's aim for an hour after dinner."
"Will do." Blanche rose to her feet, Marion grabbed her hand.
"Keep it casual will you?" she asked.
Blanche met Marion's eyes and saw the glint of fear and something else; she couldn't place, in their hazel depths.
"Of course." She answered before turning to do as she was asked.
The meeting was conducted in hushed, harsh tones, the women anxious and frightened. Marion had revealed her fears to them and panic was simmering just below the surface.
"Are you certain?" Dr Beatrice Mason asked Marion.
"Christina is positive." Marion raised her voice slightly. "The Japanese have surrendered."
Christina Campbell sat trembling on her bunk; she nodded to confirm Marion's statement.
"They where all yelling at each other, it was awful." She stammered.
"I thought they would kill me when Yamauchi left," She paused for breath. "I couldn't believe it when we arrived here." She sipped her tea, her hands shaking as they held the cup.
Blanche sympathised, Christina could speak a little Japanese and as a Eurasian had been employed in Yamauchi's office as his secretary, but she was still a prisoner like all of them and therefore subject to the vagaries of their captor's whims and violence.
Blanche met Marion's eyes and asked, "What should we do?"
Marion gathered herself to present the women with her plan, "We don't know what will happen but we must be prepared for anything." She paused as she made eye contact with each of the women.
"We can't presume that the Japanese will honour the surrender terms." She paused as several women began to voice opinions.
"Bloody Japs will kill all of us if they get a chance." Kate's voice was harsh as she glared around the room. "What can we do, half the women are too sick to stand, let alone fight?" Marion raised her hand to calm everyone down.
"I know, I know, but we must assume the worst and be prepared for it." She met Blanche's eyes again, Blanche nodded imperceptibly.
"Well I for one won't bend over and be shot without a fight." Blanche hissed out.
"What can we do Blanche we have no weapons, nothing?" Christina asked looking helpless.
"Rocks, wood, anything you can lay your hands on." Blanche responded.
"I have a hoard of planks we can use." Joss Holbrook spoke up for the first time. "I certainly won't go out without a fight." The seventy year old raised her fist to emphasis her resolve.
There were several 'hear, hears' from the assembled women.
"Alright then." Marion resumed gathering strength from the meagre support. "We will start collecting weapons, the planks from Joss, rocks, and stones anything we can use to defend ourselves."
"When will it happen?" Dr Mason suddenly asked.
Marion thought for a moment, "At Tenko, no doubt, we will be easy pickings for them."
"That's what they think." Joss responded.
"We will need to put the strongest women in the front lines, the children towards the back." Marion continued.
Blanche watched the women gather strength, it was hopeless, they all new it, but damned if they would go out without taking, some of the bastards with them.
As plans were agreed to and strategies discussed, Blanche found her mind drifting once again to thoughts of Rose. Rose hadn't had a chance to fight; she had been shot in the back. Blanche shuddered as she always did, the image fixed in her mind. Rose's bloodied body being dragged into camp by Shinya and the other guards who had shot her and her lover Bernard, as they met together in the jungle.
Blanche had sat with Rose as she waited for Bernard to arrive. It had taken weeks to set up the illicit meeting. Local Chinese Malay had assisted them, acting as go betweens, they had delivered messages between the women's camp and the nearby men's camp where Bernard was interned.
Blanche felt the familiar nausea overwhelm her and reached out for the beam in front of her to steady herself.
'If only she had waited for Rose and not left her when Bernard arrived, she should have kept watch then she could have warned them, instead they had been caught'. The same litany of self-recriminations assailed her and Blanche had to fight tears of self-loathing from filling her eyes. She blinked roughly and forced herself to concentrate on the voices of the women around her.
"Are we in agreement then?" Marion asked the women. Murmurs and nods accompanied her question. "Alright then let's begin ammunition gathering at once, each hut will gather them for the strongest women to use. We will have to hide them in case of searches, maybe under the huts?"
Marion acknowledged the nods of assent.
"Alright then, let's get started."
Late August 1945
Later that night, Blanche lit the stub of the candle she had kept hidden for months and slowly rolled the last scraps of tobacco she had saved for a special occasion.
'Since I'll probably die tomorrow, might as well smoke it now.' She thought. She lit the cigarette and inhaled deeply closing her eyes; she leaned back against the hut wall and listened to the sounds of the hut. The chorus of coughs, snores, the low moans of pain and the weak murmuring of hungry children struggling to sleep with empty stomachs. The horrible lullaby of despair she had grown to find perversely comforting.
The Tenko field had been tense and quiet that afternoon, as the women bowed to the guards without incident, before being sent back to their huts. Marion believed that the morning or midday Tenko would probably bring the attack.
Yamauchi had left the camp at sunset, Christina had been told she wouldn't be returning to his office the next day and she had over heard him tell Sato he would see him tomorrow.
Blanche supposed she should be terrified, but she wasn't, the prospect of dying didn't concern her anymore. She, like so many others, had come close to dying. The camp had suffered from Berri Berri, Typhoid and Malaria; it was amazing to Blanche that any of them were still alive.
If it hadn't been for Dr Mason and Kate she knew many more of them wouldn't be. She finished her cigarette, savouring the last of it, as she inhaled the smoke as well as the odours of the hut.
The air was always thick and hot, the heat dry, as the wet season was still months away. But that also meant that water rations were meagre, the smell of unwashed bodies permeated the hut.
Blanche smiled as she remembered Rose's obsession with hygiene. 'That woman could manage to look clean and smell decent while everyone else reeked, she worked at it though.' Blanche had often marvelled at Rose's tenacity for water and soap scrounging, it had rivalled her own for cigarettes and food.
'At least Rose had died quick,' she thought, she had been alive when she was removed from the camp by Yamauchi, though she couldn't have survived. Beatrice said that she thought Rose had lost too much blood. Blanche had believed for months that Rose had somehow lived, but as no news reached the camp and Christina's attempt to ask Yamauchi ended in punishment, she lost hope.
'At least she missed out on the worst of it.' Blanche thought morosely.
The last year had been awful, lack of food, disease and over work had taken its toll on the camp, more women and children had died in the last year than in all the previous. Blanche glanced down at her legs, covered in festering sores and bites, her knees looked huge in comparison to her emaciated thighs.
'No it was better that Rose had been spared the worst of it.' Blanche sighed as she snuffed out her little candle and tried to get comfortable on her slate bunk, trying to ignore her ever present headache and hoping to get some sleep before the uncertainties of the morning dawned.
'Marion had been right,' Blanche thought grimly as she returned the baleful glare of the six guards who stood in front of the assembled women. Yamauchi stood with his hands behind his back watching the women closely as Sato ordered them all to bow. Blanche clutched the heavy stone she had been issued in her hand and turned her head slightly as she bowed, catching Joss's eye as she did, the older woman winked at her. Blanche almost laughed out loud at the absurdity of the situation.
The women straightened slowly as Yamauchi began to speak. The tension was palpable and Blanche's hands began to sweat so much so that she thought she might lose her weapon.
"Not yet." She heard Marion whisper, "Wait for my order." The frontline women all tensed.
Yamauchi was advising them that the glorious Imperial Japanese Army had fought long and bravely, but that the Allied forces had used a terrible weapon against them and that because of this the Emperor had decided to end the war to protect his country.
"Wait." Marion's voice reached them all as they waited for Yamauchi to continue.
"And so now you will all be prisoners no longer." Yamauchi continued. "Imperial Japanese Army will protect you until; Allied forces arrive to return you to your own countries. Women must stay in camp until Allied forces arrive." Although he tried to continue, realisation had finally dawned on the women. "It's over," Marion said loudly, "Oh thank God."
The women dropped their weapons and collapsed inwardly almost as one, sobs of relief and cries of happiness filled the field and women broke the lines to hug and hold each other.
Blanche couldn't move, her hand still held the rock as she glared at Yamauchi, 'he had killed Rose.' She thought suddenly furious, 'he had taken her away to die,' and now he was in front of her, she could walk up to him and smash his face in.
She shook violently and began to move forward, but a hand grabbed her arm, preventing her, she turned and met Marion's eyes.
"No Blanche," She said "let it go." Marion's words, so gentle and her eyes full of understanding and sympathy, undid Blanche and she threw the rock to the ground. She roughly pulled her arm from Marion's grip and turned, running blindly towards her hut, tears blurring her eyes.
It took three weeks before the camp was finally liberated, there were many internment camps, scattered all over Malaya and the island of Sumatra, and their camp was remote compared to others. 80,000 plus women and children had been interned throughout south East Asia and over thirty percent had died, it was horrible. Marion had arranged the immediate evacuation of the sickest women and children with the British forces when they finally arrived. The Japanese had been removed back to Singapore and now it was the remaining women's turn to leave.
Blanche stood silently at the foot of the pathetic little graveyard the women had created for the dead. She looked at each name and the faces of women and children now gone haunted her. They were not removing the bodies 'too difficult apparently.' So many graves in so many camps, all to be reclaimed eventually by the jungle, lost forever, disappearing like old faded photographs. She suddenly felt exhausted and so very old, she couldn't stop the thought though she tried, 'Where was Rose buried?' Somewhere out in the jungle, or in some lonely camp cemetery like this one. Blanche sobbed as she realised she would never find it; never see with her own eyes, the proof she so desperately needed. Rose was gone, like so many others.
Blanche rubbed furiously at the tears on her cheeks as she heard Dot call her.
"Come on Blanche, get a move on we're off."
Blanche turned away from the graves and briefly looked at the camp buildings, her home and her prison for the last two years, their third camp and now the last.
She hoisted her small pack of belongings onto her shoulder and headed towards the waiting trucks.
They were flown in to Singapore; Blanche couldn't help compare this arrival to her first. She had been given a cheap ticket on a passenger liner to Singapore five years earlier, curtesy of one of her regulars. He had told her that Singapore was a land of opportunity and Malaya would provide her wealth and security. She had stupidly believed him, seduced by the thought of warm weather and rich clients desperate for white women. It sounded like a great idea in war torn London, freezing, hungry, and dodging bombs. Blanche sighed in relief as the plane touched down and the internees were ferried to their new digs. She was amazed despite herself when they pulled up in front of Raffles Hotel.
They were processed and hustled into rooms by a female Army Captain, 'Phyllis someone, bossy woman.' All Blanche could think of when she Kate and Dot were shown their room was the hot water and the large tub in the bathroom.
After a tussle with Kate, they both ended up sharing the bath together. Blanche scrubbed herself fiercely, wanting to remove the dirt of years, Kate assisted by scrubbing her back.
They where all issued with army khaki uniforms and Blanche didn't care that they were ugly and dull, they were clean and soft and all hers.
Life seemed to speed up rapidly, there were medical checks, interviews with intelligence officers, meetings with Phyllis of the repatriation of prisoner of war and internees, or RAPWI, and the arrival of more and more internees, as more camps were found and liberated.
As things settled down, the group began to split up, Marion had been whisked away by her husband, Clifford, he was a Major in the British army and had returned to Singapore to assist in the task force to establish war crimes tribunals. He had returned Marion to their grand house on the outskirts of the city. Blanche was disturbed to see Marion diminish in the presence of her husband, and she longed to have their leader back. She found she missed the woman's strength and council.
Blanche was struggling with depression, she couldn't understand why, she was free finally and had survived, her sores were clearing up, her hair beginning to grow again, and she had even put on a little weight. They all had, she smiled at the memory of their first dinner at Raffles, they had all gorged themselves on food, alcohol and cigarettes, Blanche had made herself violently ill, she cringed at the memory, 'we were like starving dogs,' she thought.
She looked about her room now quiet and empty, Dot had moved out and into the bungalow she had bought before the war. Kate was offering her services to the hospital, treating soldiers from Changi. 'Poor Bastards,' Blanche had muttered when she had first seen them, 'walking skeletons some of them.'
In the camp she had longed for any time spent alone now she found it oppressive. Blanche grabbed a new pack of cigarettes from her bed and headed off to the main bar hoping to find some company, anything would be better than being alone with her thoughts.
She was sitting outside the hotel, sipping her gin sling, watching other internees walking through the gardens or sleeping on the lawns, and then she noticed Marion enter the bar.
"Marion." She shouted, standing up and gesturing for the other woman to join her. "Marion." she almost sobbed as the two embraced.
"How are you? It's been ages." Blanche was ecstatic at seeing the other woman. Marion laughed as though she was suddenly free again.
"Oh, I'm sorry; I've been stuck at the house, trying to contact my son in England." Marion explained.
"Did you find him?" Blanche asked.
"Yes, Yes I did, he's fine. You know he starts university next year. He was so polite on the phone, quite distant." Marion paused. "Very British I suppose." She said deflating.
"I'm sorry Marion." Blanche said, feeling horrible. Marion had often spoken about Ben, hoping he was safe and healthy. It seemed tragic that he and his mother were strangers now.
"He was still a boy when I last saw him, now he is a man, I don't know him anymore." Marion's voice broke as she struggled for control.
"A drink, that's what you need." Blanche hugged the other woman quickly.
"Sit down, relax and I'll be right back." Blanche took off to the bar and ordered a jug of gin sling for the two of them. She felt like getting drunk and Marion obviously needed some cheering up. Blanche was suddenly very happy, despite her friend's distress, she felt useful again and it was a wonderful feeling.
"What a beastly woman." Marion laughed as Blanche related an incident in which another internee had accused her of stealing.
"Well now she's a beastly woman with a black eye". Blanche laughed as well.
"So what are you going to do now?" Marion asked, and Blanche shrugged.
"I don't have a clue; probably go back to England, though there's nothing there for me." She smiled at Marion.
"What about you?" She asked.
Marion looked suddenly lost, "I don't know, Clifford wants me to leave Singapore, but I'm not sure I want to." Marion suddenly slammed her glass on the table making Blanche jump. "Damn it." she said, her voice rising. "I feel so useless, in the camps I was always so busy, I had no time to myself to think, I was always needed by someone, now.." She trailed off obviously frustrated at her loss of control. "Sorry Blanche." She murmured. Blanche reached out and touched the other woman's hand.
"It's alright, I know exactly what you mean, when I wasn't afraid or fighting to survive or stealing food, I was on work detail, there was always something to do, and something had to be done."
Blanche took a deep breath and added "now I'm all alone and I have nothing and no one left." She met Marion's eyes and new she understood.
"I miss Rose, I miss her so much, it seems so unfair, so many survived, I survived, and she should have to." She felt her throat tighten as Marion took both her hands in hers.
"I know, I miss her too." Marion smiled suddenly, "We could get Phyllis to check the internee lists, and maybe they have some record, something?"
Blanche shook her head. "She's dead Marion, I wish it wasn't true, but she is."
Marion watched the other woman as Blanche looked at their joined hands.
"That may be true Blanche but I'm going to ask anyway."
Blanche raised her eyes to Marion's and for a brief moment recognised the steely gaze that had got them all through the worst times.
"If you must." She murmured, refusing to allow the spark of hope Marion's words inspired.
It was two weeks later that the repatriation committee or RAPWI organised a dinner for the internees before the first group left to return home to England or Australia. A last goodbye for some. Blanche had been dreading it, over half her camp were leaving, though Christina, Joss, Kate, Marion, Beatrice and Dot were staying.
'Thank God.' she thought. She had resisted attempts by Phyllis to persuade her to return to England with the first group. Blanche felt lost and she new she needed to stay a little longer with the women who had become her family.
Blanche had lost her father when she was fifteen, her mother had left them when she was seven, and she had walked the streets to feed herself and her sister, until her sister died in 1936 of pneumonia, leaving Blanche alone in the world. 'No there was nothing in England.'
As the party got louder and the women paired off to dance with some Australian soldiers who had arrived several days earlier, Blanche headed outside; she lit a cigarette and sat on the steps leading to the Ballroom. She only noticed the woman when she was several yards away, her dark brown hair just visible under her broad straw hat, she felt her breath catch, as the woman raised her head and smiled at her. For a moment she saw Rose, smiling at her as she climbed the stairs, then everything went black.
Blanche had fainted 'she never fainted she had passed out before, that was different, being staked out in the sun when its 90 Degrees for days would do that to you. But no she had never fainted.'
"Blanche, Blanche can you hear me?" Kate's voice penetrated Blanche's thoughts and she opened her eyes slowly. Kate's brown face smiled down at her.
"There, you are alive then after all, too many gins aye?" Kate laughed pulling Blanche to her feet. Blanche looked around her quickly, regretting the movement immediately as her head spun again.
"Ooh not so good." She sat back down, her head between her knees, Kate rubbed her back gently.
"Take it easy girl" she was still laughing and Blanche would have punched her if she wasn't feeling so dizzy, 'Hallucinating, great now I'm losing my mind.' Blanche thought suddenly hating her weakness, her need.
"Come on girl, buck up, your missing everything, can't sit out here all sorry for yourself when you should be inside living it up with the rest of us." Kate's enthusiasm was becoming irritating; Blanche slowly raised her head to meet the young nurses blue eyes.
"You go back, I'm going to bed." She pulled herself to her feet and moved past the other woman, heading to her room. "Mad," she muttered to her self, "I'm finally going mad."
Blanche slept badly, her dreams dark and filled with images of Rose in pain and bleeding. She woke with a headache and to make matters worse had to care for a very sick and hung over roommate.
"Serves you right." Blanche muttered as Kate moaned her head covered in a cool towel.
"I heard that, what about all the times I had to clean up after you." Kate growled.
"Stay here, I'll get you an aspirin" Blanche left the other woman and headed off to the RAPWI Office. Phyllis was on the phone, so she waited for her to finish.
"Kate Norris is sick; would you have any aspirin for her?" She asked.
"Several." Phyllis smiled, "lots of sore heads this morning you know." She handed Blanche a bottle. "Here you go." As Blanche thanked her and turned to leave, Phyllis called her back.
"I have some news for you" Blanche tried not to groan, she was sick of RAPWI's attempts at sending her home.
"What is it?" she asked shortly.
"Rose Millar." Phyllis said simply. Blanche felt suddenly very cold.
"What about her?" She forced through clenched teeth.
"I thought you two were friends?" Phyllis seemed confused. "Marion said you were".
"We were friends, she died." Blanche tried to keep anger from her voice, what was the woman trying to do to her?
"Well I finally have her file, she was removed from your camp and placed in a Japanese military hospital, seems they were very keen to interrogate her, so they gave her a lot of attention."
"You mean she survived the shooting?" Blanche couldn't believe it.
"Oh yes, she is coming here today, took me ages to find her, but Marion was so insistent and... Blanche are you alright?"
For the second time in twenty four hours Blanche Simmons had fainted.
"Bloody awful nurse you'd make." Kate grumbled pressing another wet towel to Blanche's head.
"You're supposed to be looking after me you know." Kate slapped Blanche's arm.
Blanche sat up, she was in her room. "God it's another hallucination, I am going mad." Blanche felt sick.
"What are you talking about? You gave Phyllis a heart attack, took two Aussie soldiers to get you up here to me." Kate handed her a glass of water and almost spilled it when Marion rushed into the room.
"Have you heard, Blanche, she's alive, Rose is alive." Marion was shaking her by the shoulders. "Blanche she's alive, and she's coming here."
"Rose?" Kate asked, "Our Rose?"
"Our Rose Kate isn't it wonderful."
Blanche watched the two women as they hugged each other laughing and smiling wildly. Real this was real; she pinched her arm and yelped.
"When is she arriving?" She found herself asking with difficulty.
"Phyllis has arranged for her to be picked up from the airport at three o'clock, so she will be here at four I suppose. She will be in this room with you two of course." Marion smiled as she returned to sit on the bed next to Blanche.
"Oh Blanche it's a miracle."
"Yes a miracle" Blanche forced out, it wasn't true it couldn't be, she had spent the last year and a half dreaming, hoping, praying for this moment and now she couldn't believe it was really happening.
"Aren't you happy?" Marion asked confused by Blanche's reaction.
"Of course, I just, I'm a bit shocked." Blanche managed.
"Well, lets get everyone over here, I'll call Joss and Dot, Kate can you round up the rest of the group and Blanche, and maybe you can clean up in here." Marion was on her feet and in full leadership mode. "I'll meet you all back in the main bar at a quarter to four. Alright?" She was out the door before either woman could respond.
Blanche stared at herself in the mirror of the ladies bathroom at Raffles bar. She tried to recognise herself in the woman that stared back at her blue eyes, short cropped hair, her cheeks still hollow, though much better than they had been, most of the sores and scabs had gone, her skin was tanned now and freckled, years of working in the sun she sighed, running shaky fingers through her light brown hair. They all had short hair, some shorter than others; heat, lice and hygiene had dictated hair fashion in the camps. Blanche had been shaved by the Japanese as punishment several weeks before the end of the war. It was still very short, she remembered Rose's hair, long, beautiful, she had always tied it back in plaits, refusing to cut it.
"Wonder if she will recognise me?" Blanche asked herself. "I barely can, god I feel sick." She gasped as the full implications of what was about to occur hit her. Rose was about to arrive and she was terrified of seeing her again. What if she fainted again, what if Rose didn't even remember her or recognise her? What if. What if. "Stop it." she shouted at her reflection.
"Blanche you in here?" Kate stuck her head around the door. "Come on she's being driven up the drive now." Kate held out her hand and Blanche hesitated momentarily before grabbing the other woman desperately. They left the bathroom together.
Rose Millar staggered a little and was caught quickly by a RAPWI officer.
"You alright miss?" he asked concerned.
"Yes of course, thank you lieutenant." She stood a little straighter, "I'm perfectly fine."
He took her arm and led her up the stairway to the Raffles Hotel, It felt surreal, and Raffles had been a second home for her, dinners, and dances, drinks with Bernard.
She stopped herself quickly. 'No.' she chastised herself, 'not her home anymore.'
She moved carefully, the pain in her back and left leg was ever present, she had almost accepted it, almost.
'Damned if she was going to limp into the Raffles after four years away, get a grip old girl.' she told herself. And then she was inside, the cool air a wonderful relief from the overwhelming heat. She realised suddenly that she hadn't been cool since the war began.
Then they were in front of her, her friends, her only friends. She was suddenly engulfed in arms, warm and gentle laughter, cries all mixed up with hands, lips and tears. Christina, Marion, Beatrice, Joss and Dottie, they were here, all together again, it was wonderful and overwhelming. She was crying and hadn't realised it until a soft hand cupped her cheek and caught her tears, she turned slightly and stared into Blanche's incredibly blue eyes, bright and burning. "Blanche?"
She felt her legs begin to give out and was quickly caught by strong though thin arms. She was being moved towards a chair and she collapsed into it. "There ya go Rose." Kate smiled broadly at her and Rose grabbed her arms gratefully. "Kate you too?"
"Yep, all the old bunch, well most of us anyway." Kate kissed her cheek quickly.
"Kate get her a drink will you?" Marion's voice was as strong and as clear as Rose remembered it. She found herself laughing; she looked up into the happy and concerned faces surrounding her.
"God its good to see you all again." She laughed and received yet another round of hugs and kisses. A gin sling was suddenly thrust into her hand and a cigarette lit and placed in her other.
"Now I know I'm home." She almost sobbed as she closed her eyes drawing deeply on the cigarette and drinking the cold refreshing pink drink. She almost felt human again.
She opened her eyes and met Blanche's again. Blanche was kneeling before her, hands placed lightly on Rose's knees. Rose smiled at the other woman and out of habit passed her cigarette to Blanche, who smiled back as she took it and placed it to her lips, drawing the smoke into her mouth. Rose looked up at Blanche's cropped head and her smile widened.
"Love the do ducky, I'd get a new hairdresser if I was you?" she said ruffling Blanche's hair.
Blanche choked on her cigarette. "God it really is you." She gasped out, passing the cigarette back to Rose. Rose took the cigarette, a little bemused that these were the only words Blanche had uttered since she had arrived. She was also acutely aware that she had briefly forgotten about everyone else. She shook herself and looked around at the other women. "Well then where's the feast girls, its been a while since I've dined here but they do a great roast duck."
Laughter and gentle jostling accompanied Rose to the dinning hall. Rose was starving, she had been provided with extra rations when the war had ended, but she was still undernourished and desperate for some decent food. 'Meat' she thought, 'yes with gravy'. She was quickly seated and plied with more drinks and cigarettes until finally food arrived. She laughed loudly when she realised what was on the plate before her.
"What's up Rose, bangers and mash not quite your cup of tea?" Christina smiled at her.
"It's perfect." Rose felt suddenly pathetic, she was not going to cry over a plate of bangers and mash; she would rather die.
"Eat up Rose, its all your's." Blanche softly spoke, close to her shoulder, without thinking she reached out and grabbed the other woman's hand. Blanche pressed her hand gently rubbing her thumb over the Rose's knuckles, and then she released her.
"Eat." Blanche pushed her gently.
And she did eat, and it was the best meal she had ever had, 'well maybe the second best,' she reminded herself, remembering the marmite jar she and Bernard had shared before, before. 'No, she would not think about that not now."
She ate slowly, savouring every mouthful. She briefly acknowledged the absurd sense of comfort she felt from the press of Blanche's knee as it rested against her own.
The dinner ended and the women retired to the bar, Rose was exhausted, she had spent the last three hours catching up on the one and a half years they had been apart. So much had happened to these women, she was saddened by the deaths of so many; poor Sally, it was horrible. She had glossed over her own experience not wanting to upset the others. She had realised quickly that her survival had become almost symbolic for them, they didn't need to know about the pain and torture she had endured at the hands of the Kamputi the Japanese secret police. Maybe she would tell, them, maybe not, she sighed and found herself yawning.
"Bored already Rose?" Kate smiled at her.
"No darling, just a wee bit tired." She smiled back.
Marion stood suddenly and raised her glass. "Ladies a toast, to friends returned and to friends no longer with us." The women stood and silently raised their glasses.
Marion turned to Rose, "Blanche will take you to your room; I've asked Phyllis to leave you alone for at least one day."
Rose thanked her and hugged each of her friend's goodnights. She felt a hand on her arm and Blanche's voice in her ear. "This way."
She followed the other woman up the stairs to their room. It was large and cool, three beds and a bathroom. She longed for a bath but was so tired she didn't think she could keep awake.
Blanche turned down Rose's sheets and held out her hand to her, "Come here" she said simply.
Rose took the offered hand and stood in front of the other woman.
"I've missed you." Blanche said her eyes seemed too bright and Rose wondered if she was ill.
"I've missed you too." She reached out and ruffled Blanche's short hair again.
Blanche closed her eyes for a moment and then opened them gesturing to the bed. "In you get sleepy."
Rose smiled as she climbed into the bed, "Thanks Nanny" She smirked as she watched Blanche tuck in the sheets around her.
"Don't be cheeky." Blanche smiled down at her.
"Don't I get a kiss goodnight?" Rose asked as Rose moved away.
Blanche stopped and slowly turned back to look at her, her expression guarded.
"Have you been a good girl?" Blanche asked her softly.
Rose felt herself blush slightly, Blanche's tone made her think that this game wasn't quite what it appeared to be.
"Of course." She answered, trying to keep her tone light. Blanche sat beside her on the bed and brushed a lock of hair from Rose's forehead.
"Then I spose you deserve one." She was still speaking softly her expression oddly solemn. She slowly lowered her head and brushed her lips against Rose's cheek. Blanche raised her eyes and met Rose's, for a long moment their eyes remained locked.
"Goodnight Rose" Blanche left her side and disappeared into the bathroom. Rose let out the breath she hadn't realised she had been holding. 'Just a game.' She murmured as her exhaustion overcame her and she fell asleep.
Rose woke to the unmistakable but almost forgotten smell of bacon and eggs. She was too afraid to open her eyes, afraid she was still dreaming.
"Wake up sleepy head, breakfast is getting cold, and if you don't eat it I will." She opened her eyes and focused quickly on Blanche's smiling face. She sat up as Blanche fitted the heavily laden tray on her lap.
"Eggs, bacon, Sausages, tomatoes, toast and hot tea with real milk. Think that should be enough for you?" Blanch asked her.
"Do all the girls get breakfast in bed?" Rose asked her.
"Only the good ones." Blanche replied her voice softening.
"You've got the wrong girl then I'm afraid, I'm as bad as they come remember."
Rose quickly began eating, as much from the hunger in her belly as her desire to avoid feeling uncomfortable with Blanche again.
'Its teething problems, that's all' she told herself as she ate. 'It's been almost two years; so much has happened of course we're going to be awkward with each other for god's sake'.
"That's more like it" Blanche swiped her thigh gently, "you must be starving, your so thin."
"You can talk," Rose said through a mouthful of food. She had noticed how thin Blanche still looked.
"Rubbish I've eaten like a pig for the last three weeks; I've put on loads of weight." Rose told her mildly offended.
"Well you need to eat more then, you look just like you did last time I saw you. Rose paused for a moment, and then continued to eat more slowly remembering that last time.
Blanche had helped her out of the camp, sneaking out at night under the wire, they had sat for hours in the dark jungle waiting for Bernard to arrive, she had been terrified, Bernard had finally arrived and Blanche had left her, a silent ghost she seemed, as she slipped away in the night.
Rose lifted her gaze to rest on Blanche for a moment, the other woman was staring at her, her face expressionless again, it was her eyes that made Rose gasp and remove the tray from her lap. She had thought Blanche ill when she had first notice the brightness in Blanche's eyes, now she realised it wasn't that at all, it was pain, deep, emotional pain.
"Oh god Blanche." Rose exhaled, it all made sudden awful sense to her. Blanche was the last person to see her, and Blanche knowing Blanche would be blaming herself for what had happened. No wonder she was acting so strangely.
"It wasn't your fault." Rose told her gently, "It was mine, I shouldn't have risked it, I was selfish and stupid and now Bernard's dead, he's dead because of me." She stopped clutching her chest as pain engulfed her. "Because of me." She whispered.
Rose felt herself fold in on herself, the pain swallowing her. She had thought she had controlled it that she had almost overcome it. 'Stupid, stupid.'
She was only vaguely aware of Blanche reaching for her, her body collapsing against her. Blanche's hand was in her hair gently rubbing her head. Rose sobbed out her guilt and pain, as Blanche held her and rocked her gently.
Sometime later, drained and tearless, Rose lost consciousness.
Blanch Simmons soaked her body in a hot bath, bubbles surrounding her. She stared at the ornate plasterwork on the ceiling. She felt emotionally shattered; Rose had finally passed out and was now sleeping heavily in the other room. Blanche had asked Kate to check on her to confirm that she was sleeping naturally, Kate believed that she was.
Blanche had never seen Rose lose control like that before and it scared her. She had witnessed her anger and petulance, but never such intense sorrow and emotional pain, it left her feeling helpless.
Seeing Rose again had been wonderful and at the same time disturbing. Blanche had frozen when she first saw her. She had stared at her unable to move; it was only when she saw Rose begin to cry that she had felt her body respond. She was happy, so happy that Rose was alive and safe and here at last, but she felt so incredibly awkward and uncomfortable, the easy banter and teasing that was common place between them seemed now forced and unnatural. Blanche was frustrated with herself; everything Rose said to her seemed to contain hidden meaning. She new that wasn't the case but she couldn't seem to stop taking everything personally.
And now this. She had only wanted to surprise her with breakfast, make her smile again; instead she had managed to reduce the other woman to tears. 'Why was this so damn hard.' she asked herself. She felt her own tears well up and she brushed them away, angry at her weakness and selfishness. Rose needed a friend and Blanche needed to be that friend. She had been obsessing over Rose for eighteen months and it had obviously affected her in a way she hadn't anticipated. Blanche frowned as she analysed her feelings for Rose, everything had changed, she could feel the difference and it frightened her. She would force herself to be the Blanche Rose remembered and needed. And not the Blanche she had become when she thought Rose had died. Blanche doubted Rose would understand the woman she had become, 'How could she, she doesn't know me anymore.'
"I've become a stranger to her." she mumbled. 'Like Marion was to her son.' she thought. "What can I do?" she asked herself, she sank down under the water trying to think of a solution to a problem she didn't really understand.
Rose woke slowly; she stretched her body, the pain in her back and leg a low constant ache. She was surprised that after her breakdown she felt oddly refreshed. She had refused to allow herself to feel for so long, bottling up her pain at the loss of Bernard so tightly it was no surprise to her that it would have to explode at some time. She opened her eyes expecting to see Blanche; instead Kate Norris was standing at the foot of her bed. "Your awake then" She stated. "Feeling ok?"
Rose sat up and smiled at the other woman. "Yes I do actually." She looked around the room. "Where's Blanche?" she asked, suddenly needing to see the other woman.
"In the tub." Kate replied as she grabbed her shirt and began to button up.
"Well I'm off, my shift starts in an hour, don't want to be late. The matron is almost as bad as Beatrice." Kate smirked. Rose wished her luck as the nurse left the room. Rose stood and knocked softly on the bathroom door, there was no answer, so she opened the door. Blanche was submerged, Rose smiled as the younger woman suddenly emerged, her eyes were closed and she rested her head against the tub, oblivious to Rose's presence.
"Hey you." Rose spoke.
Blanche sat up quickly her eyes opening and her arms crossing over her chest. "Rose, sorry are you all right." Blanche spluttered.
"Much better thanks I was hoping to join you in the tub." Rose asked, annoyed that the strained politeness between them was back. 'And when did Blanche become shy about her body?' Modesty was the first casualty of the camps; nakedness was commonplace in the bath hut and around their own hut.
"No, I'll get out, you can have it to yourself then." Blanche began to climb out, while attempting to cover her body with her arms.
"Don't be silly." Rose snapped, she disrobed quickly and climbed into the bathtub facing Blanche. Resigned, Blanche sank back, drawing her knees up to her chest.
Rose emersed herself quickly making sure her hair was wet before resting back against the tub, she sighed in pleasure, as the warm water flowed around her. "God that feels good." she said smiling at Blanche. "I bet you've all been having two or three of these a day." She looked at Blanche and was bemused at the other woman's body language, arms wrapped about her knees, her eyes averted. Rose sat forward and touched Blanche's hand. "What's wrong?" She asked.
Blanche raised her eyes and met Rose's.
"I want to see them," Blanche said her voice strangled.
"See what?" Rose asked confused.
"..Where you were shot." Blanche's voice croaked out. Rose froze for a second feeling suddenly vulnerable then she met Blanche's eyes again and she nodded, turning slowly in the water so her back faced the other woman. She rose to her knees; and knelt, waiting for Blanche to say something.
The room was silent except for the dripping of water from Rose's back. Rose began to feel unnerved then she finally felt a slight movement behind her. The touch was a surprise but she clamped down on her cry not wanting to startle the other woman.
She remained silent as she felt Blanche's hand trace the scars on her back. Rose was shocked when suddenly Blanche's arms wrapped around her and she was pulled backwards into the other woman. Blanche's arms clasped her tightly and she covered them with her hands as they rested against her chest.
She felt more than heard Blanche's sobs as the younger woman rested her head against Rose's shoulder. Rose closed her eyes in sympathy; Blanche's tears moving her more than she was prepared for. She reached one arm behind her resting it on Blanche's head. "Shhh." She said softly, "Don't cry." She felt Blanche shake her head against her.
"I thought you were dead." Blanche choked out, "I thought I'd lost you." Blanche's words were almost indecipherable.
Rose disentangled herself from Blanche and turned around in the tub, facing the distraught woman, who refused to look at her, covering her face in her hands.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry." Blanche sobbed mortified at her reaction to seeing the scars on Rose's back. She needed to get away; she couldn't face the other woman. She tried to rise up to get out of the tub but she was held back as Rose grabbed her arms and pulled her forward. Blanche found herself trapped, as Rose quickly wrapped her arms around her, cradling her head against her shoulder. She gasped as she felt Rose's body against her own, Rose's legs wrapped over her own, meeting behind her back.
"I'm not letting you go, not like this." Rose whispered against her ear. Blanche stopped trying to struggle and allowed her body to relax against the other woman.
"I'm sorry." she sobbed again.
"Don't be silly." Rose murmured against her neck, "You don't need to apologise to me Blanche."
Blanche sighed and rested her head against Rose's neck. "I missed you, so much." Blanche admitted unable to hide her feelings any longer. Rose tightened her hold on the younger woman, surprised by Blanche's words, she was deeply moved by Blanche's response to her injury's, it had startled her initially, but she quickly felt herself responding to the other woman's distress, her heart swelling in her chest as she felt Blanche trembling in her arms.
'Like a child,' she thought idly, 'no not a child, more like a wounded animal, trying to escape, wanting to hide.'
She ran her fingers through the short hair gently and found herself softly kissing Blanche's neck and ear.
"I missed you to." Rose murmured, surprised at the depth to which she had actually missed Blanche.
She had shut down after the shooting and then learning of Bernard's death.
It had taken six months to recover from her injuries and another year to bury her emotions, now in less than two days everything was falling apart, her control slipping away. Instinctively she new it had a lot to do with the woman sobbing in her arms.
Blanche finally stopped crying, her body still and relaxed against Rose. She slowly lifted her head finally meeting Rose's eyes. "Does it hurt?" She asked quietly.
Rose smiled at her, her brown eyes softened, "Not every day, but often." She admitted sadly. Blanche raised her hand her fingers gently tracing Rose's cheekbone.
"We should get out, your skin is cooling." Blanche pulled away from Rose and stood. She reached down to pull Rose up and froze. Her eyes tracked down her own body glistening in the light, till they rested on Rose's face, looking up at her. She felt the surge in her abdomen first and blushed as it hit her groin. She prayed that Rose hadn't noticed as she clasped the other woman's hand and pulled her to her feet. She hoped quickly out of the tub. Blanche grabbed a towel for herself and threw one to Rose.
"See you in the room then." She muttered as she exited the Bathroom.
Blanche quaked inwardly as she replayed the events in the bathroom. She, Kate and Rose were eating dinner and although she contributed occasionally to the conversation her mind was pre occupied. She had never felt aroused by another woman before, if she was completely honest with herself, she couldn't remember ever feeling that way for anyone before. In her off and on again life as a prostitute, desire had never been a factor, work was work for her, money the only outcome.
She had never had a long-term sweetheart she had always been too busy or simply too exhausted. She found the concept of romantic love ridiculous, a fantasy indulged in by those with food in their bellies and time on their hands.
Real life survival never accommodated such luxuries.
She secretly watched Rose as she laughed at Kate's descriptions of pre war life on the wards.
She was still beautiful, Blanche thought. The privations of their internment had left their mark, she was too thin, her hair, shoulder length now and tied behind her neck, had lost its natural curl. Her eyes, a warm chocolate brown, now laughing, were still marred with dark circles and fine lines. Her forehead was smooth and brown but was marked with faint lines probably from pain, Blanche assumed.
She tried to remember how old Blanch was. She recalled bartering with a Dutch woman for some chocolate and presenting it to Rose on her 29th birthday.
She quickly calculated and was surprised to realise that Rose was only thirty-two, four years her senior. Somehow Rose seemed older, maybe it was attitudinal, Rose was always so controlled, her personality commanding and a little intimidating for some.
Blanche moved her gaze to Rose's hands as they played with her fork; she watched as Rose lit a cigarette and absently took it from her when Rose handed it to her. Rose's hands were long and thing, the nails, once long and manicured, were now short and clean, the gestures, so familiar to Blanche, like everything about Rose.
Kate got up to go to the bathroom and Rose turned to Blanche.
"What?" She asked her
Blanche looked up at her questioningly.
"What is it? You've been preoccupied with something for the last hour." Rose was frowning at her.
"It's nothing" Blanche stated.
"Rubbish, I know that look; I've seen it often enough, something's bothering you." Rose paused her tone softer, "Are you still upset?" Rose wasn't really up to discussing Blanche's emotional collapse in the bathtub just yet. Her own feelings about it were too confusing and raw.
"It's alright." Blanche assured her, also wanting to avoid that particular discussion.
"I was just remembering your birthday; you know when I scored that chocolate from Van Meyer?"
"Oh god yes." Rose responded, relieved "That was such a wonderful surprise, remember, we divided it up into tiny pieces so the whole hut could have a bit. Rose laughed at the memory.
"And Kate played happy birthday on her recorder." Blanche added smiling at the memory.
"Yes and she was awful." Blanche laughed harder as a whistling Kate returned
"What's so funny?" The Australian asked bemused.
Blanche watched Rose sleep, Kate was out with some of her friends from the hospital, she had asked them to join her, but Rose was still very tired. So Blanche had declined for both of them. Anyway she wanted Rose to herself, every moment seemed precious to her, that's why she sat now on the end of Rose's bed, idly smoking and watching the other woman. Rose had fallen asleep almost immediately, Blanche was glad in a way, she needed time to think, time to work out what to do, how to act around the other woman. Blanche realised that she loved Rose. Was in love with Rose. With that realisation came the certain knowledge that Rose couldn't return those feelings.
She needed to hide her feelings; she couldn't bare the thought of losing Rose again, not through her own actions.
She must control her desire for the other woman, sublimate it, she didn't think she could survive the heartbreak of Rose's rejection. She had to be careful. She suddenly realised how odd she must look sitting, staring at the other woman as she slept, so she quickly stood up, moving to her own bed, she had to be more careful.
Rose was confused, she didn't like confusion it was annoying. She had been at Raffles now for two weeks and had rested, eaten and RAPWI had been in contact with her aunt, who had contacted her and asked her to return to England to stay with her. It was a nice feeling having someone to return to. She had been issued a living allowance, pocket money, Blanche dubbed it, and had been clothes shopping twice.
She had quickly grown bored with the khaki uniforms issued to her. She stared at herself in the mirror, content with the way her new dress contrasted with her new shoes. She was still too thin, not cadaverous like some of the internees she had seen, 'thank god'. But not anywhere near the curvaceous woman she had been before the war.
Rose sighed still frustrated by her confusion "bloody minded woman." she muttered replaying again her argument with Blanche that was the source of her confusion.
"I just wanted her to try it on, what's so wrong with that?' she asked her reflection.
"Why she persists in wearing those awful army shirts and pants is beyond me."
Rose and Blanche had fought over clothes often in the camps, but then it had been about who could borrow or nick what. Blanche had a flair for clothes that Rose shared and they had always made the best of an awful situation making an effort to look good. Now Blanche didn't seem to care and it puzzled Rose.
When Rose confronted Blanche about her change in attitude to fashion Blanche had told her that camp was different, dressing up and wearing makeup had made her feel human, normal in spite of the situation.
"But you always dressed up." Rose countered, "I remember your gear when you first arrived in camp, you had amazing clothes."
"Of course I did Rose." Blanche snapped "I was a pro remember, they were my working clothes." Blanche had spun around and stormed off, before Rose could catch her.
That was hours ago and Blanche hadn't returned. Rose didn't want to feel concerned, they were adults and free now, and Blanche could do what she wanted. Nevertheless Rose was worried about her and found herself fretting.
"Damn pig headed woman." She growled, briefly wondering if she was referring to herself or to Blanche.
Rose was visiting Marion; Blanche had finally returned and ignored her, going to bed early.
'Right, fine I won't hang around worrying about her anymore, I'm going out tomorrow.' She told herself.
So here she was having tea with Marion Jefferson in her parlour.
"I'm so glad you came." Marion told her, pouring tea into a china cup. "I was beginning to feel isolated out here." Rose thanked her for the tea and felt a twinge of guilt over her motives for visiting Marion.
"You should come to Raffles more often, we miss you." Rose smiled at Marion.
"So tell me how is everyone, Kate still working in the hospital?" Marion asked.
They chatted for a while, Rose filling Marion in on the comings and goings of the remaining internees. Marion suddenly changed tack, taking Rose off guard.
"What's going on Rose?" she asked.
"What do you mean?" Rose asked.
"You haven't once mentioned Blanche, have you two had another row?" Marion smirked as Rose squirmed a little in her chair.
"Marion the woman is insufferable; I don't know what I've done this time." Rose finally vented.
"Rose she forgave you for betraying her to me remembers, so I'm sure she will get over whatever you've done this time." Marion re-assured.
"What I've done?" Rose bristled, "What makes you think I've done anything?"
Marion laughed "Because it's always that way, Blanche idolises you Rose, she always has and you can be very intimidating."
"Rubbish" Rose huffed. "Blanche can be very cruel when she wants to be, believe me I know." Rose still felt the sting from the many fights she and Blanche had in camp.
"I'm not saying she can't be just as brutal as you can be, I'm just saying that all your arguments were a consequence of something you did that upset her."
"That's not fair Marion" Rose sulked.
"Maybe, but its true" Marion said gently.
When Rose didn't reply, Marion continued "She was devastated you know, when you were shot, she was never the same after that."
Rose now curious looked up. "What do you mean?"
"She stopped fraternising with the guards for months, became quite introverted, no more singing off key in the bath house, no more spontaneous parties. She barely communicated with anyone." Marion continued. "I was very worried about her, I thought she might try and do something stupid. Marion Paused.
"Not Blanche, she would never do anything stupid." Rose added sarcastically.
Marion sighed. "Sally Markham did, she slit her throat in the bath house with a shard of glass remember."
Marion was rewarded when Rose flinched.
"I didn't mean I meant Blanche would never kill herself" Rose stammered.
"To be honest Rose I wasn't that certain; she changed so drastically, just like Sally did. I was worried. Marion sighed again.
"Well she's alive so obviously your concern was misplaced." Rose responded acidly.
"Yes she is alive, for which I and you should be extremely grateful." Marion snapped back.
"I'm sorry, I... Of course I'm glad she's... Oh god." Rose gave up trying to apologise for her comments.
"Rose all I'm trying to say to you is that Blanche cares about you and losing you changed her, fundamentally altered her. I'm actually not complaining, for me that change was eventually positive, in many ways she took over your role, helping and supporting me." Marion paused to take Rose's hand. "It was horrible when we thought we had lost you." Marion added wanting Rose to understand that she wasn't being attacked. Rose nodded, unable to respond as her throat constricted. Marion continued. "Just try to be gentle with her; I think she needs you very much." Marion stopped herself, Blanche's feelings for Rose were obvious to Marion and it surprised her that the usually astute woman seated before her seemed oblivious to them.
"Make it up with her Rose, life's too short, as we both know." Marion patted Rose's hand and ordered some more tea from her maid.
Rose returned to Raffles in a reflective mood, Marion's chat had left her feeling ashamed, had she always been the one, was it her fault that she and Blanche argued so often. She knew she was at fault for their first and most damaging fallout.
Blanche had asked Rose to escape with her and she may have gone with her if she hadn't found out that Bernard was alive and nearby in a men's camp. Blanche had seemed surprised when Rose explained why she wouldn't leave with her.
"I thought you didn't love him." Blanche had said.
"So did I." she had replied. She had been petrified all the days preceding Blanche's escape. She tried in vain to convince her not to go. On the last night, only a few hours before Blanche was set to leave, Rose was washing in the bath hut trying to calm her anxiety when Blanche found her.
"There you are." She exclaimed, her eyes bright with excitement. Rose slowly raised her eyes to meet Blanche's.
"Please don't go." She begged.
"I have to, you know I do." Blanche responded.
Rose stared at her helplessly, unable to say anything more. She turned her back to Blanche trying to compose herself, embarrassed by the tears she felt about to flow. She removed Bernard's ring from her blouse and turned to face Blanche who was watching her intently. Rose handed her the ring and Blanche took it and placed it on her finger without comment. Their eyes met and held. "Well then I'm off." Blanche finally broke the awkward silence. "You won't say nothing will you?" She asked Rose.
Rose shook her head in reply.
"Right then." Blanche seemed about to say something more, then shrugged and turned to leave.
"I'll miss you." Rose finally stammered out, her voice thick with emotion.
Blanche turned to her and in four quick steps was beside her. She grasped Rose's face in both her hands and kissed her hard on the lips. Rose began to cry and Blanche released her and just as quickly left the bath hut.
It wasn't until later that night when Rose realised that Blanche hadn't gone alone, she had taken fourteen year old Debbie Bowen with her. Rose was forced to speak to Marion about the escape. It was a difficult decision but Rose had to let someone else know, Debbie was only a child, she couldn't survive in the jungle. Marion had immediately gone to Yamauchi, hoping he would show mercy. Blanche and Debbie had been captured and staked out in the sun as punishment. Rose had wanted to die, everyone blamed her for betraying Blanche, Blanche had spat at her when she had been told, and she had tried to attack her but the Japanese guards had man handled her away. Marion worked on Yamauchi begging him to release Debbie and finally after three days he relented and allowed Debbie to return to the huts. Blanche however was a different matter as far as he was concerned she was the instigator and deserved her punishment. Rose was sickened each time she walked past the slowly roasting figure of Blanche tied to a pole in the middle of the camp, she had been given no water and her face was bloodied and swollen from the beating she had taken when captured. "I hope you're proud of yourself." she had croaked through cracked and parched lips when she saw Rose watching her. Rose horrified had turned away desperate to find Marion and work out a way to free Blanche.
Marion went to Yamauchi again, pleading for mercy and was surprised when he offered her a way.
He would consider releasing prisoner Simmons if the women could produce five hundred coolie reed hats within a week.
Marion returned to Rose and they approached the camp explaining the plan.
Night and day Rose worked, pleading, yelling, bullying everyone including the children as they attempted to make the hats as quickly as they could. Blanche was at least being given water at night while locked up in the punishment hut. It almost seemed like Yamauchi had decided not to allow her to die, at least before the week was out.
A desperate last effort met the Commandants requirements, and Rose and Marion released Blanche from the stake, she collapsed into Rose's arms and was carried by the two women to the Hospital hut. Blanche was a mess; it took her days to recover at least physically. Blanche refused to acknowledge Rose's existence for weeks and then when she finally did begin to speak to her again it was to deliver snide, sarcastic asides only. It wasn't until they where told that they would be moving camps that their relationship thawed and Blanche began to allow Rose close again. It had taken another six months before they were truly comfortable with each other again.
Rose couldn't bare the thought of Blanche hating her again; she remembered the numerous times she had tried to find a quiet spot to herself to weep over the loss of their friendship. She remembered being discovered once behind the cooking hut by Dr Mason. She was crying weakly after Blanche had let fly with a particularly stinging barb. 'Beatrice Mason was a funny old stick', Rose thought, she respected her though. She was a brilliant doctor, struggling to keep her patients alive, with no tools, medicines and little food.
"Blanche?" Beatrice had asked her simply.
"Blanche." Rose had replied morosely.
"She wouldn't hurt you unless she was hurting to." Beatrice said gently.
"She's a vicious, ungrateful, trollop." Rose hissed out.
"Then why do you care what she thinks or says?" Beatrice added.
Rose had stopped crying and sat dismally in the dirt.
"Because she's my only friend, the only person I've ever clicked with, except for Bernard. Doesn't she know I would rather have died than betray her, if only she hadn't taken Debbie with her." Rose beat the ground in frustration.
"Work it out with her Rose, I'm sure she is just as upset as you are and I'm sure she misses you as much as you miss her." Beatrice said, helping Rose to her feet.
"How can you know that?" Rose asked her.
"Because when she was delirious she kept calling for you." Beatrice smiled and left.
That was three years ago and yet the pain of that period still ached inside Rose. She steeled herself and entered the hotel room; Blanche was lying on her back staring at the ceiling.
"Hello." Rose started the conversation.
"Hello." Blanche responded.
Rose removed her hatpin and hat, placing them on her bed; she sat down carefully beside the reclining woman.
"Blanche I'm sorry, I never meant to upset you, I just wanted you to be happy, I thought if I bought you a dress..." Rose trailed off. 'God I'm useless at apologies.' she berated herself.
Blanche sat up slowly, hooking her arms around her knees and averting her gaze, mirroring her position in the bathtub, Rose realised.
Taking a chance, Rose reached out and touched Blanche's face, raising the other woman's chin so that she could see her eyes.
Blanche returned her gaze, Rose could see the bloodshot whites and new that Blanche had been crying, without a word she gently pushed Blanche back on the bed and stretched out beside the other woman. She raised her head on her elbow so that she could see Blanche face, then gently traced a tearstain on the other woman's cheek with her finger. "Why is this so hard, why do we always end up hurting each other?" She asked softly.
Blanche closed her eyes and shrugged her shoulders, acutely aware of Rose's body were it touched her own. She had regretted her outburst at the markets but was so confused by her reactions to Rose that she had shut down rather than confront them, She had been horribly upset when Rose had disappeared, she had felt panic and fear, 'what if something happened to her, what if I never see her again?' she had hated herself then for over reacting to Rose's comments the day before. Now the woman had returned and she found herself unable to say anything.
"Open you eyes, talk to me, look at me Blanche please." Rose had tried, to keep the pleading tone from her voice but had failed. Blanche slowly opened her eyes meeting Rose's concerned gaze.
"You're so beautiful." Blanche whispered, shocked suddenly when she realised she had spoken out loud.
"Rose smiled down at her. "So are you silly, it's why I wanted to see you in something other than these dire things." She emphasised her words by pinching Blanche's shirtsleeve.
Relieved that Rose had misinterpreted her comment, she smiled back.
"Where were you anyway, I was getting worried." Blanche admitted reluctantly.
"At Marion's," Rose paused "I was angry with you, I'm sorry I didn't tell you where I was going." Rose brushed her fingers through Blanche's hair, enjoying the feel of soft short hairs as they slipped through her fingers.
"Its ok" Blanche said calmed by the caress of Rose's fingers in her hair. "It's not like I own you or anything." Blanche smiled around the pain her words suddenly produced.
'Why was she so in love with this woman, why her." Blanche closed her eyes trying not to show her shifting emotions.
"Hmm." Rose murmured absently finding herself lost in the tactile sensation of stroking Blanche's hair. 'Blanche had said something, what was it?' Rose refocused and noticed Blanche had closed her eyes again, 'she seems so sad.' Rose thought and without analysing her reasons, she bent forward and touched her lips briefly to the other woman's. "Let's promise not to fight anymore." Rose whispered. When Blanche didn't respond she continued, "You ok?" she asked her gently.
Blanche slowly opened her eyes and stared up into Rose's. 'Rose had kissed her, Rose had kissed her, ok it was a quick friendly kiss but.'
"Blanche are you alright?" Rose was frowning slightly.
"Yes, sorry, just a bit tired." She forced out.
"Oh." Rose seemed disappointed.
"What?" Blanche asked her
"I was hoping we could have dinner downstairs, have a few drinks, I'm starving." Rose explained.
"Sounds wonderful." Blanche replied quickly and sat up. Glad to have some physical distance from Rose, she found her ability to function severely hampered by the other woman's proximity.
Rose stood and smiled at the other woman, "so we're alright then?" she asked Blanche quietly.
"Course we are, sorry I was so stroppy." Blanche quickly reassured.
"Let's get going then." Rose started to head for the door but was stopped by Blanche's hand on her arm.
"Um, maybe I can borrow one of your dresses?" Blanche asked a little shyly. "It is Raffles after all." She qualified.
Rose tried to restrain the burst of happiness she felt. "Of course you can silly, come on." She grabbed Blanche's hand and led her to the wardrobe where she had hung her recent purchases. "I know exactly which one will look great on you."
Blanche sighed in relief, back to the familiar old friendship, she had to be more careful, she must be more restrained, and she couldn't lose Rose, not again.
The weeks flew by; the internees began adjusting slowly to their new lives in a new Singapore. Communist rebels and Nationalist movements meant that the women were not permitted to leave Singapore without armed guards. Up country had become a dangerous place; many Malay no longer wanted their Dutch and British colonial masters to return to their plantations. In Singapore Dottie's bungalow had been graphitised and trashed by local militants. Joss and Beatrice had begun working at a native health centre set up by an old friend of Joss's and Kate continued to work at the hospital. When Rose wasn't spending time with Blanche she visited with Marion and went shopping with Christina, While Blanche helped Dot clean up her Bungalow and whenever possible Army intelligence officers attempted to interview the women regarding their former captors. Yamauchi was in Changi awaiting trial for war crimes and Marion's husband was braying for his blood.
Rose was watching Marion and Clifford argue over Yamauchi, Clifford had discovered Marion's camp diary and wanted to use it against Yamauchi at his trial. Marion didn't want the contents made public. Rose didn't blame her she new Marion had written about Blanche and Dottie's relationships with the guards and Marion was desperate to protect the women from public and military scrutiny.
It looked like Clifford was getting his way. 'Damn it.' thought Rose; she would have to warn Blanche. Clifford left the room in anger, the diary in his hands. Marion collapsed on her sofa, her head in her hands.
"Rose I'm so sorry you had to witness that." she murmured.
Rose sat next to her and placed and arm around her shoulders, "Have you forgotten where we have been for the last four years, as if I care about social niceties anymore." Rose assured Marion.
"No of course not, old habits I suppose." Marion raised her head and smiled at Rose.
"I'm going to have to talk to Blanche and Dot, let them know what was in the diary." Marion suddenly looked grim.
"I'll go with you." Rose took the other woman's hand. "They won't do anything to Blanche and Dot will they?" Rose asked, "They won't arrest them?" She added feeling ill.
"No Clifford promised me that, he isn't interested in the internees only the Japanese."
"Well that's something then." Rose said relieved.
"It's the people that will get to see the diary, that worries me, you thought gossip travelled fast in the camps, wait till you see how it fly's around the Raffles elite." Marion grimaced at her words.
Rose felt a chill at Marion's words and suddenly grew fearful for Blanche. "Look, the girls are at Dottie's Bungalow, I think we should go there, now." Rose said standing and pulling Marion up with her. She needed to see Blanche now.
"What the hell were you thinking?" Blanche exploded, she stormed around Dot's living room her blood boiling as she realised the implications of what Marion had just told them. "Why did you keep the damn thing?" she glared at Marion.
"Habit, I never meant anyone to read it, you must believe me Blanche, I would never have written a word if I thought it would hurt you or Dottie." Marion pleaded.
Rose watched Blanche pace backwards and forwards, 'like a caged tiger,' she thought, 'magnificent and very dangerous.' the thought gave her an odd thrill and she dragged her eyes away from the other woman and settled them on Dot. Dot was strangely composed; calm a complete contrast to Blanche.
"Oh well, what's it matter anyway." Dot said taking a drag on her cigarette.
"What?" Blanche barked at her. "Are you mad, what does it matter? It matters that half of Singapore will know everything about us in a matter of days. That's what matters." Blanche threw herself suddenly into a chair, running her hands through her short hair vigorously, before suddenly letting out a sharp exclamation of disgust.
"So what if they do, I don't care, let them think what they want, its my life now, no one else's and no one is going to tell me what to do, or how to act or what to think anymore." Dottie turned to Marion "Thank you for letting me know." she said. Dot stood up and returned to cleaning the walls in her hallway while Blanche stared at Dot as if she were insane. Rose stood up from Marion's side and walked over to stand before Blanche. "What do you want to do then?" She asked her.
Blanche looked like she was about to continue to rant, when she suddenly seemed to deflate, she placed a hand before her eyes. "Nothing, there's nothing I can do."
"I'm so sorry Blanche I really am." Marion said quietly, "There wasn't really that much in the diary, just a little bit really, about how you got medicines for the sick and extra food for the children." Marion added.
Blanche sighed and slowly stood up facing Rose "That's me, a real saint, the tart with a heart." She smiled without humour at Rose and then turned to Marion. "It's alright Marion, if that diary puts a noose around Yamauchi's neck, I can live with a few more snubs and whispers behind my back, from my betters." Her tone was bitter and Rose flinched at her words. She tried to reach out and touch Blanche but the other woman quickly avoided her touch and smiled brightly. "Well, me and Dot have a stack of work to do here, so unless you toffs are going to get your hands dirty I suggest you take your leave." Her eyes met Rose's "now."
Rose felt as if she had been slapped, she was about to grab Blanche when Marion took her arm. "Of course, sorry we interrupted you both, it's looking wonderful by the way." Marion smiled and manoeuvred Rose towards the front door. "Might see you both later at Raffles?" She asked not expecting a reply and not receiving one.
Before she realised what had happened Rose was outside the Bungalow and Marion was moving towards the street to flag down a taxi. "What the hell did I do wrong this time?" She suddenly blurted out. Marion looked at her quizzically. "Blanche all but told me I was a stuck up cow and somehow better than her." Rose explained.
"Oh I don't think that was it, I think she was just feeling exposed and lashed out." Marion responded casually. "She'll be fine with you by tomorrow" she added patting Rose's arm, "Its me I'm afraid she has lost respect for." Marion said a little forlornly.
"God I hope your right." Rose said without thinking. Then gasped, "Oh god, sorry that didn't come out the way I " She stopped and flapped her hands in front of her. "I'm not very good at this subtlety thing at all am I?" She smiled at Marion trying to reassure her. Marion laughed suddenly and took Rose's hands in her own. "No your not, but your pleasantly distracting and that makes up for it."
Rose smiled at the other woman. "Let's get a drink." She told her. She needed to get some distance between Blanche and herself, she didn't want to have another argument with her friend and yet all her instincts screamed for her to go back into the bungalow and confront Blanche. 'No.' she told herself, 'leave her alone, that's what she wants.'
"Sounds wonderful." Marion said and she flagged down a taxi for them. "Raffles please." she said as they entered the Taxi.
Blanche felt stretched as if her skin could barely contain the anger within, she attacked the walls of Dot's hallway with fury; everything she hated about her old life pre camp was suddenly confronting her again and through no fault of her own. She could imagine Clifford and his army buddies sharing the titbits and gory details of her life in the camp. God she hated them, stuck up hypocrites. She had forgotten what it was like, class had been broken down in the camps, and they were all prisoners together. Now they where back in the real world, for a brief moment she had felt free and gloriously happy, they were all staying at raffles, even Christina who was half Chinese, no one was pointing fingers and telling them who was better than who, they were all equals. She had Rose again and she had been content. Content not to leave Singapore, content to continue in her daily dream life, spending time with her friends and with Rose. Now it was all over and she felt sick with anger. In the real world Rose could never be friends with an ex prostitute from the east end. In the real world Rose would have afternoon teas in ladies parlours, go out to dinner with gentlemen who would pay for it all and yet never expect anything beyond a smile and maybe the chance to do it all again. Rose would never be hungry or cold, she would read on rainy days and walk in the Park in the sun. Blanche suddenly threw her sponge into her bucket; she collapsed against the wall and felt tears well up in her eyes. She had been living in a fantasyland, as if she could ever be Rose's friend let alone anything else. 'I've got nothing, nothing at all' she thought miserably as her anger dissipated and a nullifying depression took its place. 'So stupid, I'm so stupid' she berated herself.
She had no money, no family, no home to go back to, she was a prostitute that's all she was all, and she would ever be.
'God I don't think I can face her' she thought morosely convinced now that Rose would tire of her and return to England never to see her again. She needed to stop feeling for, thinking about and wanting Rose, she needed to grow hard again; she needed to become what she once was. They all thought she was anyway, so why not just do it; it was easy for her it always had been. 'Hell I might even make a living here in Singapore after all.' She told herself wondering idly why she didn't feel convinced.
Rose sat in the bar at Raffles waiting for Blanche to return from Dot's, Marion had left over an hour ago and Rose was drinking slowly, replaying Blanche's outburst. She felt uneasy about it all, she was worried about the other woman, something was very wrong, she knew that the moment Blanche had met her eyes and told her to leave. Her eyes had seemed almost dead and it frightened Rose. She glanced at the wall clock and realised it was nearly eight pm. "Where is she?" she asked herself, maybe she had returned and was in the room, she finished her drink and left the bar hoping the other woman was upstairs. She wasn't and she hadn't returned before Rose had finally fallen asleep well after midnight.
When Rose woke the next morning she looked up at Blanche's empty bed and felt chilled, Kate was still asleep having returned from a late shift at the hospital. Rose got up quickly, dressed and headed down to the dinning room; she hoped that Blanche was having breakfast. When she entered the room her heart sank. Blanche wasn't there, which meant she realised, that Blanche hadn't come home. She was surprised at the panic she suddenly felt, after all Blanche was a grown woman, she could do what she wanted to. Rose couldn't control the sense of dread she felt growing inside her, she needed to find Blanche; she needed to see her, know she was all right. Logic left her as she was driven by a desire to find the other woman, 'Maybe she was at Dottie's still,' she suddenly thought, "Of course." she berated herself. 'She probably worked late and decided to say there the night.' Rose breathed a sigh of relief. "That's it, she's at Dottie's." she told herself, feeling suddenly embarrassed. Rose was perplexed, why was she so concerned about the other woman, she hated feeling dependant on people it made her feel weak and needy. Maybe it was a good thing that Blanche and Dottie were spending time together, Rose didn't want Blanche to feel obliged to spend time with her, though the thought of Blanche no longer being there for her depressed Rose horribly. Not for the first time she tried to analyse her feelings for the other woman and was shocked to realise that she was jealous of Dottie, jealous of the time Blanche spent with her. 'For god sake you don't own her.' she told herself. Rose shook herself mentally, 'grow up, stop acting like a schoolgirl.' she thought sternly. She would go down to the centre and see Beatrice and Joss, 'I'm not going to wait around Raffles all day for Blanche like some lovesick puppy.' the thought made her laugh out loud. Having a purpose made Rose feel in control again and she headed off quickly before she changed her mind.
Blanche woke and stretched feeling relaxed and rested; Dot had a spare room and had offered it to Blanche for the night. It was the first night in years she had slept in a room by herself, it felt wonderfully liberating and some of her bad mood from the day before mercifully lifted. She closed her eyes enjoying the peace and quiet and the sheer luxury of the moment. 'I could get used to this.' she thought. She sat up suddenly, 'Maybe Dot would let her stay, permanently.' she thought. 'I could try and get work,' she was no longer convinced that she could so easily go back to prostitution. 'It would get me away from Rose.' she thought grimly, the last thing she wanted was to not be with Rose, but she had convinced herself that Rose didn't need her and would be better off without her.
She got out of bed, wanting to approach Dot with her proposal as soon as possible.
Blanche and Dot entered Raffles in high spirits, Dot seemed pleased with Blanche's suggestion that she move in with her and they had returned to Raffles to arrange the move and gather Blanche's things. Blanche had felt nervous on entering her room, dreading and desiring to see Rose. Luckily Rose wasn't there, Kate was and so Blanche explained the new living arrangements to her. "You lucky sod." Kate had grumbled. "Fancy having your own room, gosh I've forgotten what that's like, jeeze I need to get home." She looked at the other women enviously.
"When are you heading home Kate?" Dot asked her
"Who bloody knows." Kate replied. 'Phyllis says that they are sending a ship for all the Aussies soon, but she didn't know when it was arriving."
"Well you're welcome to come and visit any time." Dot smiled at her.
"Thanks." Kate replied "I would if I wasn't working so much, I'm on two shift's now, The matron says I have more medical knowledge than all her other nurses combined"
"I'm not surprised" Blanche told her "You and Big Bea we're miracle workers in the camps."
Kate blushed and punched Blanche's arm "Gaarn." she said
"It's true," Blanche yelped, punching the nurse back, "though that's the last time I give you a compliment."
As they were leaving Blanche paused, letting Dot go out first, so that she could ask Kate to let Rose know where she was, she was just beginning to explain why she couldn't tell Rose herself, when they both started at the screams that were coming from outside. They turned and ran out of the room. Dot was on the floor, two internees holding her down while another two were on top of her hitting and kicking her.
"What the hell are you doing" Blanche screamed at the women. She and Kate dove into the pack of women, clawing and hitting there way to release Dot.
"She's a filthy collaborator" one of the women yelled at them.
"She's a dirty slut." Another ground out.
"You don't know what you're talking about" Blanche yelled back at them as she wrestled with one of the women who was trying to kick Dot's head.
Kate had tackled one of the women holding Dot down, and Dot had been able to wrest free her arms and had begun to hit out blindly.
"Leave me alone you bitches." she screamed.
"What the hell is going on here?" Beatrice Mason's voice penetrated the melee.
Blanche looked up as did all the women, and wasn't surprised to see Rose standing at Beatrice's side looking down at her horrified "Perfect." she muttered to herself.
"She's a collaborator." the woman who appeared to be the leader of the pack replied.
"Don't be so stupid." Beatrice growled at her. "Get up all of you now." She demanded, her tone not broking any argument. The women stood slowly, Dot pulled herself free of the last woman restraining her and Blanche grabbed her quickly pushing Dot behind her own body to protect her.
"All of you leave now; I don't want to see any of you near Dorothy again." Beatrice ordered the women her voice menacing.
The fight and bravado now gone, the women grumbled to themselves as they reluctantly obeyed the Doctors command.
"Dottie are you alright." Beatrice's voice was suddenly soothing and filled with concern.
Blanche felt Dot fall against her back, and she tried to support the weight as Kate rushed up and grabbed the fainting woman before they both collapsed. Beatrice and Kate half carried Dot into their room while Rose gently took Blanche's hand in hers.
"You're bleeding." Rose said softly, she lifted her hand and let it hover over Blanche's lips.
Blanche sucked her bottom lip into her mouth and tasted blood. 'Perfect.'
"Come on." Rose pulled her towards the room. "Bea should look at that."
"I'm fine." Blanche protested, but she allowed the other woman to drag her into the room.
Dot was lying on Blanche's bed; she was conscious but looked shaken and white. She had several bruises already forming along her jaw and left eye. She caught Blanche's eye and smiled oddly at her.
"Looks like Marion's diary has reached a wider audience than she anticipated." She croaked out. Blanche felt Rose's hand tighten around her own, until that moment she hadn't realised that she was still holding it. She ignored her instincts and didn't pull away. Now was not the time, they were a family of sorts and they had been attacked, they needed to draw strength from each other. She glanced at Kate and giggled, the nurse's hair was dishevelled and her nose was bleeding. "What" Kate asked her bemused. "They tagged you" Blanche gestured to her nose. "Shit" Kate exclaimed grabbing a towel for her nose.
"Both of you sit down now" Beatrice gestured to Blanche and Kate.
"Rose see to Blanche will you, heres some iodine and cotton wool" Beatrice handed Rose a bottle and wool. "Kate sit down now" Beatrice forced the nurse down and pushed her head back to stop the bleeding.
Blanche sat on Rose's bed and smiled up at the other woman as she awkwardly poured iodine onto the cotton wool. "I think this may hurt me as much as it's going to hurt you." Rose quipped nervously as she gingerly dabbed the wool against Blanche's lip.
"You're doing fine." Blanche said trying not to move her lips.
"I bet you say that to all the newbie's." Rose smiled down at Blanche.
"Hmm." Blanche responded vaguely.
"Does someone want to tell me what that was all about?" Beatrice asked the room generally.
"They attacked Dot." Kate responded
"I gathered." Beatrice replied sarcastically.
"They have heard that I fraternised with the nips." Dot replied mater of factly.
"How?" Beatrice asked
Rose's eyes met Blanche's, and she felt a jolt almost electric, through her body. Blanche's eyes, far from being dead like they had been the day before, were glittering and raw.
"Marion's diary." Blanche said quietly her gaze not leaving Rose's.
"Clifford found it and is using it to prosecute Yamauchi." Dot explained. "Of course lots of people will have to read it, share all the juicy bits." Dot laughed mirthlessly.
"I'm just glad; I'm not living here anymore." Dot continued. "It's a good thing your moving out too Blanche, your well out of it" Dot said as she sat up slowly.
Rose frowned and turned her head to the side in a question. Blanche saw the gesture and nodded slowly. Rose stared at her a moment longer then turned away unable to look at her anymore. The jealousy she had felt earlier was back in force and now she felt betrayed as well.
'Why hadn't Blanche told her she was moving out?'
"I'm fine Bea." Dot pushed at the Doctors hands as she slowly stood, "I just want to get out of here." She started to move towards the door and stumbled slightly.
"No, you're staying her for at least another hour." Beatrice had adopted her firmest Doctor tone. Dot relented, her head spinning too much to accommodate movement.
Blanche took the opportunity to stand and touch Rose's arm. "Can we go somewhere and talk?" She asked her concerned.
"Alright, sure." Rose nodded unable to meet Blanche's eyes.
They entered the bar and Blanche glared at the women who had attacked Dot, they began to whisper amongst themselves as the two women passed their table and Blanche heard the word 'slut.' clearly. She paused prepared to strike the closest woman, but was stopped by Rose who grabbed her arm and dragged her towards the back of the room.
"They're not worth it." Rose hissed at her between clenched teeth.
"I know, but it would make me feel better." Blanche growled back.
Rose guided Blanche to an empty table and flagged down a waiter, ordering them both drinks.
"I don't want to see you in another brawl," Rose told her gently "you know I can't stand the sight of blood." she added jokingly.
Blanche smiled wanly at the woman sitting opposite her and then past her to the table of women she had fought with earlier. She felt her depression rise again.
"It's going to be like this from now on." She muttered disconsolately.
"What do you mean?" Rose asked her concerned with her friends mood change.
"Whispers and snide asides about me and Dot, they'll all be doing it soon." Blanche spoke slowly as she picked at the skin of her fingers.
Rose watched her silently for a moment then decided to broach the topic that concerned her most.
"Is that why you're moving out?" She asked her.
Blanche nodded "Mostly."
Rose took Blanche's hands in her own hoping to get her attention.
"What else?" she asked her.
Blanche sighed, she didn't really want to have this conversation, but she knew she had hurt Rose when she saw her turn away from her in the room. She hadn't wanted Rose to find out she was leaving like that.
"I'm just feeling a little lost." She admitted. "It's like I don't belong here anymore, I don't know where I belong." She added. Blanche watched as Rose's hands tightened around her own. How she loved the feel of the other woman's fingers curling around hers.
Rose immediately felt any resentment and hurt she had about Blanche not telling her she was leaving Raffles, disintegrate. Blanche seemed so frail all of a sudden, her usual enthusiasm all but gone. She hated seeing her friend like this and she wanted to make it better some how.
"You belong wherever you want to." Rose explained. "It doesn't matter what those girls think or say, it never will. The people that know you and care about you Blanche, that's where you belong, with us."
Blanche smiled to herself, Rose was always trying so hard to make things ok for her, 'I wonder why she bothers.' she asked herself.
When Blanche didn't answer her, Rose tightened her grip on her companion's hands hoping to impart some support, if not through words maybe by action. She was going to miss Blanche when she moved out, they had spent so much time together over the past weeks, 'I've taken it for granted.' she supposed. 'After all this isn't life, it's a holding pattern we are all in, waiting for the final trip home.' she thought. That part of her life the future seemed a long way off, but she new with every small change in her current situation that it was moving closer and it frightened her.
Raffles and RAPWI, her friends from the camp, Blanche, they cocooned her from the future, made her life feel safe and predictable and she realised she needed that. Rose needed to feel safe, after so many years of living with the threat of death, the past weeks of freedom had been wonderfully protective. She didn't want to lose that, she didn't want to lose any of it, and she was frightened now that she was losing Blanche. Rose didn't know how or why but her instincts were telling her that was the case. So she hung on to the other woman, holding her hands tightly not wanting to risk letting her go in case she vanished.
Blanche finally looked up and met Rose's troubled eyes 'God if only I could tell her, tell her everything.' Blanche mused 'It would be such a relief.'
"I need to tell you something." She began "I'm a bit scared how you might react." she added.
"You know you can tell me anything Blanche." Rose assured her.
"Blanche, Rose." Kate was yelling to them from the front of the bar, Blanche sighed and smiled at Rose. "Maybe some other time." she said.
Kate ran up to them her face contorted in distress. They both stood and waited for her apprehensively. "What's Happened?" Rose asked.
"It's Joss, "Kate gulped air. "She in Hospital, she was attacked near the centre, I don't know how bad it is yet, we are going over there now." Kate explained.
"God what a day." Blanche moaned. "Let's go then." She added.
Joss had been attacked by a thief, she had tried to fight him off and received blows to the head and arm; she seemed chipper despite her injuries.
"Don't know what all the fuss is about" she grumbled to the women surrounding her bed.
"Trust you to get yourself into trouble, wasn't camp punishment enough for you" Blanche teased her.
The assembled women laughed, Joss was over seventy and yet had fought her own minor form of guerrilla warfare in the camps. She was always plotting some form of madcap caper against the Japanese. Sabotaging trucks and vehicles a particular favourite. She was therefore often on punishment for something and the women loved her for it.
Joss cast a curious eye on Dot's bruised face, and then noticed the cuts and bruises on Kate and Blanche. "Seems like I wasn't the only one getting a beating today."
"Internee scuffles, some stupid women from another camp." Beatrice said quickly wanting to steer the conversation elsewhere, not wanting to upset Joss.
"Wish I'd been there instead, might have avoided this damn place." Joss chuckled.
They chatted with Joss for a short while until the matron shooed them away. Kate assured everyone that she would keep them posted since she was about to start her shift.
Blanche had grabbed her things before leaving Raffles and was helping Dot to the front of the Hospital where they were going to get a taxi back to the bungalow.
Rose caught up with them just before they entered a taxi.
"Blanche, you're off then." Rose stated the obvious.
"Yep, Dot's a bit shaken still; I'm going to tuck her in." Blanche said as she helped Dot into the Taxi.
"Will you be coming back to Raffles tonight?" Rose asked hopefully. "I wanted to continue our chat; you were going to tell me something remember?'
Blanche turned to Rose and smiled. "Not tonight, I'm tired, maybe tomorrow?" she told her.
"Ok, of course, well goodnight then." Rose wanted to pull the other woman into her arms and not let her go, but she felt suddenly awkward and embarrassed so she stood with her arms wrapped around herself instead.
Blanche wished her goodnight and got into the taxi; she turned and watched as the taxi pulled away Rose remained standing holding herself and watching the Taxi drive away.
Joss died the next day, years of deprivation and abuse, a cold, which she couldn't shake, and the shock of the attack on her, proved too much and her heart gave out while she slept. Kate and Beatrice broke the news to everyone and they all gathered at Raffles to mourn the loss of their friend. Rose had waited for Blanche to arrive, concerned about her reaction to Joss's death. Blanche and Joss had shared a larrikin bond in the camps, Joss often recruiting Blanche for some of her more complicated plots. Rose was worried about the affect Joss's death would have on the other woman. When she saw her arrive she approached her slowly trying to gauge her mood, she hugged Dot briefly before stopping in front of Blanche. "It's not fair." Blanche glared at her.
"I know it isn't." Rose agreed with her.
"I'm sick of losing people, sick of it." Blanche chocked out and Rose grabbed her fiercely holding her tightly.
Blanche resisted initially then allowed herself to be held, she rested her head against Rose's shoulder, feeling herself growing weak from grief, and she tried vainly to hold back the flood of tears that engulfed her. 'How many more would die before we get out of here.' she asked herself. "It doesn't make sense, how could she survive four years in hell only to die now." Blanche sobbed out. "What was the point of trying so hard to survive, why did we bother?"
"Because we had to, or none of us would be here now." Rose soothed.
"And what's the point of being here." Blanche asked pulling away from Rose slightly.
"Everything's changed, it may as well never have happened, everyone is changing, and it's all coming to an end." She said angrily through her tears.
"What do you mean?" Rose asked her "I don't understand."
"Your all going to leave, go back to your homes and family, but not me Rose, were do I go, what do I do." she pulled out of Rose's arms and rubbed her eyes furiously. "I don't belong here anymore, I don't belong anywhere." She turned on her heel and walked away from the group, unable to stand being with anyone.
Rose didn't follow her, she watched her leave and felt her heart sinking, Blanche was right, they were all drifting apart, and soon they would be leaving, separating and maybe never seeing each other again. The thought brought tears to her eyes and she allowed herself the luxury of grief, for Joss, for herself and for Blanche.
She felt arms enclose her and she turned to meet Marion's soft gaze. "Blanche taking it hard?" she asked.
"Like all of us." Rose hugged Marion to her briefly, needing to feel close to someone.
"I feel like I'm losing everyone Marion, just when I found you all again." She sobbed.
Marion held her close. "We're all here; we'll always be here if you need us Rose."
Rose pulled away and nodded her thanks as she drew herself up and shook off her tears.
"Thank you" She acknowledged, "I'm sorry Marion, Blanche got to me I suppose."
"She always does." Marion smiled sadly. Not wanting Rose to become more upset she took her arm and led her back to the group of grieving women.
Rose mulled over Marion's comment as she sat with her friends and shared fond memories of Joss. 'Why did Blanche get to her?' It was true, Rose always responded emotionally to Blanche she had from the very beginning. This time was no different Blanche was obviously in pain, not just from Joss's death, there was more to it, something was wrong; Rose new Blanche had wanted to tell her what it was. She only hoped that she would trust her enough to do so soon. She didn't think she could cope much longer worrying about the other woman.
Blanche walked furiously, she didn't care where she was going she just needed to get away from Raffles and the women in it, she couldn't bare it any longer the loss was too much. Joss was gone, soon they all would be gone, even Dot had been talking about leaving Singapore after the attack on her, she didn't want to think about Rose leaving but she knew she would be, just like everyone else. When she finally stopped it was almost dark and she was in the Indian quarter, she looked around her trying to recognise something, a landmark anything. She noticed a group of Australian soldiers enter a gaudily lit bar and followed them in. She scanned the dimly lit interior and walked slowly to the bar. She new exactly what type of establishment this was, she had worked in enough to know. She quickly identified the madam and watched her covertly over her drink as she managed her group of girls. She imagined several months ago the soldiers would have all been Japanese, she smirked 'nothing really changes.'
she thought, the old ways remained unchanged, this was the world she recognised, the one she understood completely. Her world, not the world of friendship and love, this was sex and business, she new this world. If she had ever a home she mused this would probably be it. The madam was watching her so she tipped her head and raised her glass to her. The madam smiled toothily and returned to watching her girls. 'Would it be that hard to return to this life.' she thought, 'maybe not?' She felt oddly at peace, no one was whispering about her here, it was all out in the open. Everyone new what they were here for, it was almost liberating. A soldier approached her and offered to buy her a drink, she smiled at him. "Why not?" she asked.
Mid November 1945
It was two days later that Joss's funeral took place; Rose hadn't seen Blanche until they had all gathered in the church on the day of the funeral. Rose thought she looked unwell, as if she hadn't slept in days. She wanted to speak with her but Blanche seemed to be avoiding her. They all met at Marion's afterwards, for tea and cake, the mood wasn't solemn rather it was gentle and light, each person remembering a fond moment they had shared with Joss. Rose watched Blanche as she studiously worked to avoid her. She didn't understand why, but she was not going to let her get away this time without talking to her.
They were all assembled in the drawing room when a Chinese gentleman rose and addressed the room. "Hello I am Mr Ling, I am a solicitor and I am here to read Lady Jocelyn Holbrook's last will and testament." The room fell silent in surprise. "I will read the complete document to you but first I would like to read the summary." He proceeded to read from the Will, Everyone new that Joss was a Lady but she had always been just Joss in the camps. Joss had left one thousand pounds to each of her friends, and had bequeathed fifty thousand pounds to the Health Centre with a yearly income to her friend Stephen and to Beatrice if they would continue to manage the centre. Everyone was shocked; Blanche was stunned, as the Solicitor continued to read the will in its entirety. She quietly stood and left the room, she needed to think. One thousand pounds, it was more money that Blanche had had in her life.
Rose saw Blanche leave out of the corner of her eye; she met Marion's eyes briefly and with a nod followed Blanche out of the room.
Blanche walked slowly down the hallway until she reached a small room at the end of it, she entered it, realising it must be Marion's son's room. She sat on the small bed and closed her eyes. She didn't need to open them to realise she wasn't alone.
Rose followed Blanche into the room and closed the door quietly behind her. She watched the other woman silently.
"What a thing to do." Blanche spoke quietly opening her eyes and looking up at Rose. "Why would she do that?" she asked Rose.
Rose shrugged "Because she was a wonderful woman and wanted her friends to be happy." She said simply.
"She was wasn't she? Wonderful." Blanche shook her head. "I've never had that much money before, what will I do with it?"
"Spend it wisely." Rose smiled down at the other woman.
Rose moved from the door and sat next to Blanche; she reached out her hand and ran it through Blanche's hair. They were both quiet for a while.
"What's been going on with you?" Rose asked gently.
Blanche closed her eyes she new this moment was inevitable she couldn't avoid Rose forever, the woman was far too incessant.
"I don't think you want to know." She replied.
"That's just it Blanche I do want to know." Rose responded.
Blanche raised her eyes and met Rose's "Why on earth do you care?" she asked.
Rose placed her hands on either side of Blanche's face, "Because I do, I just do." Rose told her.
Blanche sighed and closed her eyes, she wanted to pull away, deny herself this pleasure, this closeness, but she couldn't.
Rose scanned Blanche's face, her eyes were closed and she seemed to be holding her breath. 'She looks exhausted,' Rose thought 'and so lost.' that thought made her heart lurch and she leaned forward kissing Blanche's forehead softly. "Why won't you talk to me anymore?' She asked her.
Letting out the breath she was holding Blanche opened her eyes and stared into Rose's. This close to Rose she could see golden flecks in her brown eyes, she allowed her eyes to follow the sharp line of Rose's cheekbone to her soft lips. She had felt those lips twice before, she wanted to explore those lips now. Shaking herself mentally she tried to answer Rose's question. "I want to, I do, and I'm just not sure what good it would do." She finally replied.
"It might help." Rose said softly. "I know you're hurting, I know something's wrong, maybe I can help, if I know what it is?" Rose asked sincerely.
Blanche took Rose's hands in her own and kissed the palm of each one softly before looking up into Rose's eyes again. "Why are you always so kind to me?" she asked her.
"Because it's easier than being a bitch to you." Rose quipped then grew serious again." Tell me." she asked.
Blanche sighed deeply and dropped her gaze to Rose's hands, joined now with hers in her lap.
"I was so confused, I felt so alone, like the world was moving, but I wasn't anymore." She traced Rose's life line with her thumbs. "I thought I would have to return to what I was, before the camp." She spoke quietly with pauses between her words. "I even tried it, the other night, when Joss died." She felt mildly ashamed, as she explained to Rose how she had drowned her grief in drink and sex, she expected Rose to remove her hands, pull away from her, when she didn't Blanche continued.
"It didn't help, I thought I could do it again, but I can't, that world hasn't changed but I have." She dropped her head to rest on Rose's hands. "I've changed." She whispered.
"Is that such a bad thing?" Rose asked her as she gently raised one of her hands so that she could run her fingers through Blanche's hair.
"I don't know, maybe, at least I knew who I was before the camps, now I don't know who I am, what I am anymore." Blanche kept her head bowed.
"Well let's see." Rose began, "You're the best thief I have ever met, a wonderful mimic, a great debating partner." Rose continued to list the things she loved about Blanche in the camps, until the other woman finally lifted her head and looked at her. Rose's list grew sillier and more outrageous until Blanche began to laugh, "When did I ever bake a chocolate cake in camp." She asked.
"Well maybe not baked, but you scrounged up the cardboard and stole that glazed cherry from Van Meyer to put on top of the cardboard, which you then formed into a cake like structure." Rose laughed at the memory. Blanche had made a cake for one of the children in the camp on her birthday.
"It's the thought that counts, any way she can eat the cherry." Blanche had told Rose when she had dared to suggest that the child may find the fake cake a little inedible.
"And most importantly." Rose continued taking Blanche's hands in her own again. "You're the only person who meant more to me than myself." Rose stopped speaking and waited for Blanche to respond.
Blanche decided to take the words at face value, "you were never that selfish." She smiled at Rose.
"Bernard would have disagreed" Rose said sadly.
"I'm not Bernard" Blanche said softly.
Rose looked into the other woman's eyes, 'Blanche really did have beautiful eyes', she thought. "No, you're not Bernard." She finally responded. "And I think I am that selfish, otherwise why haven't I been here for you? Why haven't you been able to come to me, talk to me?" Rose tried to keep the resentment from her voice but new she had failed when Blanche flinched slightly.
Blanche shook her head slowly then reached out to Rose and touched her face gently. For the first time she realised how her actions had affected Rose, Rose blamed herself for the tension between them; she didn't understand why Blanche kept pushing her away.
"Your not selfish Rose, and why would you think it's your fault that I haven't talked to you. I've been avoiding you; I'm the one who refused to talk to you." Blanche smiled sadly at the other woman.
"Why?" Rose asked, "I don't understand." she was frustrated; she didn't understand what was wrong.
"Because of thi.s" Blanche whispered, she took Rose's face in her hands and kissed her softly on the lips. Rose frowned, then suddenly she understood what Blanche was trying to tell her and she closed her eyes in shock. She didn't pull away, she allowed Blanche to kiss her.
Blanche pulled away slowly, her thumbs gently stroking Rose's face.
Rose opened her eyes and looked into the face inches from her own, it all made sense to her, this is what she was hiding, this was why she couldn't talk to her, why she kept running away. Blanche was terrified that she would reject her.
"Oh Blanche." she sighed out the other woman's name, her heart swelling with compassion.
"I know, I don't expect anything from you, I just, I just wanted you to know why it's been so awkward, why I haven't been able to spend time with you. Why I haven't been able to talk to you." Blanche explained, her voice resigned and full of sadness.
"I didn't want to lose your friendship; I didn't want to lose you." She continued her voice breaking at the end. Her head dropped to her chest as she held back tears.
Seeing her friend so distressed Rose felt horrible, how could she have been so blind, the signs were all there, she had missed everything? 'God I'm so obtuse.' she chastised herself.
She reached out and lifted Blanche's chin, raising the other woman's head so she could see her eyes. Blanche needed her, she never realised just how much, the thought made her feel light headed and she briefly wondered why.
"You can't lose me, I'm the one always chasing after you remember." Rose tried levity hoping to lighten her friends mood.
Blanche smiled wanly, acknowledging Rose's attempt.
"It's ok Rose, I'm fine, I'm relieved actually, I hated hiding this from you." Blanche smiled genuinely.
"I'm glad." Rose said, she reached out and brushed her hand over Blanche's cheek, taking away a stray tear as she did so. "No more secrets ok?" She asked softly.
"No more secrets." Blanche nodded.
They sat together silently, both aware of the change in their relationship but unsure how it would affect their friendship.
"Won't to go back in?" Rose asked Blanche, she didn't care wether they did or not but she needed time to process what had just happened and she wanted the distraction of others so that she could do so without seeming to shut Blanche out.
"I suppose we should, Marion might think I'm stealing the silver." Blanche stood up, holding out her hand for Rose, who took it and allowed Blanche to pull her to her feet. They stood face to face for a moment; before Blanche could become embarrassed, Rose pulled her into a quick embrace. "We're going to be fine." She whispered, "I promise." she released the other woman and taking her hand drew her towards the door.
Blanche was back in her seat next to Dot and Rose was acutely aware of the furtive glances Blanche threw her way, She met the other woman's gaze and gave her what she hoped was a reassuring smile. Rose had promised Blanche that they would be ok, but what did that mean. She had no experience of this; she had no point of reference to draw on. She recalled a conversation she had had with Kate regarding Nellie, a nurse and friend of Kate's, in their first camp. Nellie and Sally had formed a close friendship so close that rumours about the nature of that friendship had started to circulate. Rose had asked Kate what she thought about it. Kate had laughed explaining that Nellie had gone out with a different man every week. Rose frowned at the memory, 'just like Blanche.' she thought.
She remembered Dottie and Blanche arguing about it, Dot said it was unnatural and Blanche had retorted angrily "Well at least they care about each other," She had shouted at Dottie, "What else are we supposed to do for sex in this bloody place?"
Rose wondered now if something had been going on between Sally and Nellie. She glanced up and met Blanche's eyes again. She wondered when Blanche first knew how she felt about her. That thought brought back another memory, Blanche had cut her hair in the first camp and Rose had sniped at her about it. "Men don't like women with short hair." Rose had said.
"Good." Blanche had snapped back "I've been thinking about giving them up when I get out of here anyway."
'Was it that early' Rose asked herself, It was not long after that that Blanche had asked Rose to escape with her. She felt stupid, how could she have not noticed, the more she remembered the more she realised Blanche had been feeling this way for a long time.
She remembered again her conversation with Kate about Nellie, Kate had said that "Nellie was as normal as you or I.´Rose remembered clearly what her response had been.
"That's just it; I don't think I know what normal is anymore." Rose suppressed a gasp. She hadn't known, she still didn't. Why had she been so curious about Nellie and Sally, why had she actively sought out confirmation or denial? Why wasn't she appalled that Blanche had a 'thing' for her and obviously had for some time? Rose had spent so long denying her feelings, refusing to feel, that she suddenly realised that she didn't know what she was or how she felt anymore.
People where moving around, she shook herself slightly and looked up, it was time to leave, Marion was hugging Dottie and wishing her goodnight, that meant that Blanche would be leaving too. She stood up and looked around for Blanche, shocked to find her standing beside her.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you, I just wanted to say goodnight." Blanche said quietly.
Rose met her eyes and could see now the hopeful patience that must always have been there. She swallowed before trying to speak. "No, um, you didn't startle me I was just, lost in thought."
Blanche nodded "Well, goodnight Rose." She said pausing, waiting for Rose to respond.
Rose was aware that her heart rate had speed up, and her palms were sweaty, she was nervous, she realised. 'God girl, get a grip.' she told herself. She took Blanche's arm and brushed her lips lightly against her cheek. "Night." she said simply.
Blanche smiled at her then left with Dot.
Late November 1945
News arrived that Dottie's mother had died in London over a year ago; she had been shopping when a V2 rocket had exploded on the shop she was in. Dot had never really liked her mother, in some ways she was relieved, "Now I won't have to tell her that her granddaughter is dead." she told Blanche.
"But Dot its your mum, its alight to grieve." Blanche had tried to reach Dot but the other woman was adamant. "What's the point, we all die Blanche, and at least she was spared what we went through. At least she won't find out how I disappointed her." Dot continued packing her things. Dot now owned a house in London, her mothers, so she had decided to return home to England and to sell the bungalow.
"Look I'm sorry Blanche, but I can't stay here anymore, I want to get back to London, all those people, not one of them knowing who I am or what I've done"
"What will you do?" Blanche asked her.
"I might open a shop, antiques maybe, If I could sell myself I can sell anything." She turned and smiled at Blanche who didn't smile back.
"You can stay here until I sell it, I'll be leaving in a week, but you don't have to move out until it's sold." Dot tried to cheer her friend up.
"Thanks, but I don't care about the bungalow, Dot, I'm going to miss you, seems every one has somewhere to go but me." Blanche explained.
Dottie hugged Blanche to her. "I'll miss you to." She said showing a brief flicker of emotion before releasing Blanche and continuing her packing. "Besides you'll be back home again soon, it's only because of that fracas with those bitches that Phyllis got me a ticket so early."
"Have you thought what you're going to do with the money Joss left you?" Dottie asked.
"No idea," Blanche told her. "I still feel a bit queer about it all." She explained.
"Why, it's a gift you should enjoy it, Joss wanted you to. I'm going to use it to open my shop." Dottie prattled on about her plans, Blanche realised it was the first time she had ever seen Dot so animated. 'At least she's happy.' she mused as she watched the other woman packing her few belongings away.
'Ten little internees in their Tenko line, one caught an early crate and then there were nine.' Blanche hated her rhythm, it was becoming morbidly unfunny, and still she couldn't stop humming it to herself in the week leading up to Dot's departure.
The women had planned a farewell party for Dot at Raffles, of course and Blanche had decided to move back in, rather than stay alone in the bungalow, she didn't really want to go back because it meant seeing Rose on a daily basis. After her revelations at Joss's funeral, there had been a definite change in their relationship. Rose had said nothing would change but she had lied. Ever since that day, Rose had treated her differently almost immediately, she didn't reject her as she had feared, if anything she was extremely attentive almost painfully so. It saddened Blanche deeply because it felt so unnatural, Rose was so careful with her, she seemed frightened of saying or doing something that could upset her, expecting Blanche to have a breakdown at any moment.
Despite this Blanche couldn't help but want to spend time with Rose, so she would return to Raffles on the day Dot returned to England.
Dottie's farewell was bittersweet for Blanche, yet another of her friends was leaving her and she felt abandoned, she was happy for Dot, despite her own insecurities and fear of the future. She knew that very soon Rose would be gone too. She searched out the other woman in the crowd and found her chatting with Christina, her heart fluttered as it always did when she saw the other woman. Sighing she hailed a waiter and took a drink, and debated with herself wether to approach Rose or brood alone. As she was making up her mind she felt the familiar presence of the other woman and smiled to herself.
"Have you moved your things back in yet?" Rose asked her.
"Already taken care of." Blanche responded without turning.
"Want to take a turn in the gardens with me; I'm starting to get claustrophobic." Rose asked her.
"Why not?" Blanche replied finally turning to look at the other woman.
They walked arm in arm in silence in the warm humid air, enjoying the relative temperature drop from the close atmosphere of Raffles.
"Could we stop for a moment, I'm feeling a little faint." Rose asked.
Blanche led her to a bench and helped her sit down. "Are you alright?" Blanche asked as she squatted in front of Rose.
"Think I might be coming down with something, maybe it's the flu." Rose smiled down at her. "Don't worry," she added seeing Blanche's immediate concern. "I'm fine." She patted Blanche's hand as it rested on her knee.
Blanche sat next to Rose on the bench, and reached out to touch her forehead; "You're a little hot," She told her, "maybe I should get Big Bea?" she asked her.
"No, don't be silly, I'll be fine, its nice out here, do you mind if we sit a while?" Rose asked her.
"You don't have to be so polite you know." Blanche tried to keep the impatience from her voice. "It's me remember, I've seen you in far worse conditions than this."
Rose smiled apologetically "I know, I'm " She paused and met Blanche's eyes. "I just don't want to upset you; I seem to do that all to often though don't I?" She asked pensively.
"No you don't" Blanche reassured her, then taking a chance she slid closer to Rose and placed her arm around the other woman's shoulders. "I just want you to be comfortable with me and you don't seem to be since, well you know," She added.
Rose met Blanche's eyes and smiled ruefully at her, "I'm sorry, it's not as easy as I thought it would be." She saw the sudden pain in the other woman's face and reached up to touch her cheek.
"Don't be hurt, please," She asked softly. "I can't bare to hurt you." She lifted her lips to Blanche's and pressed against her for a moment.
Blanche closed her eyes enjoying the brief intimacy before it was all too quickly gone. She opened her eyes and sighed she took Rose fully into her arms and held her gently.
"It's ok Rose, "I'm not hurt." She murmured against her neck.
Rose closed her eyes and relaxed in Blanche's embrace, how natural this felt, she thought, like coming home. 'Why was that?' She thought idly, she could feel Blanche's breath tickling her neck and nuzzled closer to her. She was looking forward to Blanche moving back into Raffles, she found that she missed the other woman; she knew that things had changed between them and that was primarily her fault. She wanted to make it right with Blanche, she just didn't know how to do that, she didn't want to fight with her anymore; she didn't want to feel awkward or uncomfortable with her. She wanted to feel like she did now, safe and loved, she new it was selfish but she also new she wanted it more than anything else. She had thought of little else since Blanche had revealed her secret to her, it had caused Rose to question her feelings for the other woman and she found that she was just as confused as ever, all she was sure of was that this relationship was real and it meant something to her, she didn't want to avoid it or pretend it wasn't there, but she didn't know if she could give Blanche what she wanted.
She sighed, frustrated with her own confusion, she felt so tired, bone tired, maybe she was getting sick, all she wanted to do was fall asleep in Blanche's arms and forget about everything.
Blanche could feel Rose's body relax further against her own; it was wonderful and painful at the same time. Her body ached from need for the other woman, but she knew that this was all she could ever hope for between them. It was extremely frustrating.
Rose's breathing had become deep and regular and Blanche realised that she had fallen asleep. She felt the heat from Rose's body and new it was not normal, Rose had a fever, she needed to get her inside and into bed. She shook her gently.
"Rose, wake up sweetheart." she shook her again. "Come on, I need to get you inside."
Rose moaned her protest then woke slowly, "Sorry, I'm so tired."
"It's alright, come on I'll tuck you in." Blanche helped her to her feet and they walked slowly back to the hotel.
Blanche said goodnight to Dot who was also staying in the hotel that night, her Boat left the next morning. Then she helped Rose to their room, she undressed her and helped her into bed. She coaxed her to drink water and placed a cool wet towel on her head to help reduce her temperature. She had asked Beatrice and Kate to check on her before they retired for the night, she found herself fighting panic, in the camps fever often meant malaria, in some cases it meant death. 'She'll be fine, she's just a bit rundown, that's all.' she rationalised.
When Rose reached out for her, she only hesitated for a moment, before lowering herself into the bed and manoeuvring herself so that Rose was lying beside her with her head resting on her shoulder. "That's better." Rose murmured before falling asleep.
"You get better." Blanche told her softly, she tried to relax, though she new her anxiety about the other woman would probably keep her awake all night; she certainly hadn't envisioned this when she had thought about her first night back at Raffles.
Kate had woken Blanche, when she came in after the end of the party, "She ok?" She whispered, gesturing to the sleeping woman still resting on Blanche's shoulder.
"She still feels very hot, what do you think?" Blanche asked her, unconcerned about how her current position may appear to Kate.
Kate felt Rose's forehead then took her pulse, "Definitely running a fever." She said quietly, "you stay put, I'll get another cool towel for her head, has she had anything to drink?"
"I got her to drink some water before she fell asleep." Blanche told her.
"Ok well let's see how she is in the morning then." Kate returned with the towel and wrapped it gently around Rose's head.
"You gonna be alright like that?" Kate gestured to Blanche's position for the first time.
"I'm fine, she wanted me to hold her, I don't want to move in case she wakes." Blanche replied keeping her tone casual.
"Well goodnight then, wake me if she gets worse ok?" Kate said, yawning she turned out the night-light and settled into bed. Blanche relaxed a little, at least Kate was here now and she didn't seem too concerned, she adjusted the wet towel so that it covered Rose's forehead, then settled back to try and sleep.
Rose felt hot and stifled, she could feel the burning pain in her back and leg, they had told her Bernard was dead then beat her when she didn't tell them what they wanted to hear, she felt numb inside, Bernard, he had come to see her, risked everything to see her again, now he was dead and it was her fault. The Japs could hit and torture her, as much as they liked, she deserved it. She was glad now that she hadn't asked Christina more about the Chinese Malay who had arranged the meeting. She probably would have told the Japs everything if she had. But she wouldn't betray Christina for playing courier or Blanche for helping her escape, she would rather die. She moaned as they threw her to the floor of her cell, she didn't know where she was; it wasn't anything like the internee camps she had been in before. They had been makeshift huts and where in the jungle, this had proper buildings and was in a major town, she could hear the sounds of vehicles and people nearby. She was imprisoned alone and that was the worst thing about the place. She hated being alone, at least in the camps she had friends, she had Blanche, now she had no one and now she knew that Bernard was gone, he hadn't escaped, he wasn't being interrogated here in this place. He was dead. She heard whimpering and realised after several seconds that she was crying.
Blanche woke, she could feel Rose struggling minutely against her, she was crying softly in her sleep. Blanche gently removed Rose from her shoulder and moved away from her slightly, loosening the sheet that covered her, she debated wether to wake her or not, she was obviously having a nightmare, she reached out and removed the towel, now hot from her head and gently soothed her brow with her hand, it seemed hotter than before. She leaned forward and kissed Rose's forehead. "Its ok, your ok," She murmured softly. Rose wasn't responding to her so she carefully got out of bed and wet the towel in the bathroom, returning to place it on Rose's head again. She turned on the night-light and began wiping the tears from Rose's face. "Shh, sweetheart, it's going to be ok." She told her gently. Kate stirred "What's up?" She asked.
"I think she's getting worse I'm not sure if she delirious or just dreaming." Blanche told her.
Kate got up and quickly checked her pulse, "Thready." she said, she shook her gently. "Rose wake up Rose." She raised her voice "Rose can you hear me?" Rose didn't respond.
"I'll get Bea." Kate said disappearing from the room. Blanche felt a cold dread clutching at her heart. She grabbed Rose by the shoulders and shook her. "Don't you die on me, not now, not after everything we've been through?" Her voice rose and she tried to control herself. "Please Rose, please wake up." She begged softening her voice.
"Step back Blanche." Beatrice's voice gave her a jolt and she moved out of the way albeit reluctantly.
Beatrice had brought her Doctors bag with her and took Rose's temperature and listened to her heart.
"Will she need to go to hospital?" Kate asked.
"No" Blanche said quickly, "Joss died there I want to look after her here"
"Joss was old Blanche, it's hardly the same thing." Kate argued.
"Will you two please be quite?" Beatrice asked them.
Beatrice continued to examine Rose for several minutes before removing her stethoscope and turning to face the other women.
"Its influenza or something very like it, she has a temperature but it isn't too high at this stage." She looked at Blanche. "She can stay here for now, but if this gets worse we could be looking at pneumonia and she will need to be hospitalised."
"What do we do?" Blanche asked.
"Fluids, as much as she can keep down, I'll order some juices from the bar, Aspirin, I've got some somewhere, oh and keep her cool, cold compresses like these are fine." She gestured to the towel. "And let her rest, she is delirious, but hopefully she will get some recuperative sleep as well."
Beatrice left to organise assistance from the hotel, Kate gathered towels together and ran them under cold water. Blanche lifted Rose into her arms holding her tightly for a moment before manoeuvring behind her and resting Rose back against her body so that she could support her upper body. Kate returned and they placed towels around her shoulders and head, Kate filled a glass with water and aspirin and between them they got her to drink some of it.
Blanche leaned against the headboard, Rose rested against her chest, she was uncomfortable but she didn't care she was in the best position to help Rose drink and she was going to help her to do so all night if she had to.
The Raffles staff had arrived with jugs of fruit juice and ice and Kate used the ice to soak towels, which she passed to Blanche to replace the old ones. After several hours Rose seemed to improve slightly, her temperature wasn't getting higher and she was sleeping soundly again. Blanche reluctantly released her and settled her down on her pillows. She stretched her aching body and turned to Kate, "You should try to get some sleep" she said.
"Can't, its nearly eight o'clock, Dottie leaves in two hours" Kate said yawning.
"God it can't be?" Blanche said, she walked to the window and opened the blinds, light streamed in. "I didn't realise." She said.
She was exhausted and worried but at least Rose was sleeping, she would see Dot before she left but she had decided that she would stay with Rose rather than go with the rest to the dock.
"You will come and see me if you decide to come home." Dot asked her as they hugged each other goodbye. She passed Blanche her address and kissed her quickly.
"Make sure you take care of that stuck up bitch, she's a pain in the arse, but I know you like her, so give her my love when she wakes up." Dot smirked at her and then left with the rest of the women who where going to the dock to see her off.
Blanche pocketed the address, shaking her head at Dot's parting shot, she ran back upstairs uncomfortable that she had left Rose alone for so long.
Rose felt herself lifting, flying up into the clouds she felt her stomach lurch at the exhilaration of movement, she skimmed past the camp, watching the internees toiling in the garden, she flew across the jungle to the sea, she sped above the waves feeling the spray on her cheeks, she could taste the salt on her lips. She wondered if she could fly all the way to London. She felt excited at the prospect; she turned to see the island diminish in size behind her, such a small place really, she thought, small and yet so full of pain.
She turned away wanting to return home to England, to escape forever from that awful place. As she sped through the cool air, she saw a seagull, dipping in and out of the waves below her; she smiled as it saw her and approached. It carried something in its mouth, she squinted as the sun glinted on it, as the gull flew closer she realised it was a ring. She felt a sudden surge of pain in her back and leg and faltered, her body began to plummet towards the waves below, she struggled to remain aloft but she had lost the power of flight, she looked up and saw the gull with the ring still in its beak, flying away back towards the island. She screamed as she fell towards the sea.
Blanche was lying beside Rose, watching her sleep, Beatrice had checked on her and been pleased that her temperature had dropped and her heart rate had returned too normal.
She had left Blanche with instructions to let Rose sleep, and to keep her cool. Kate had returned from seeing Dottie off and had slept for several hours before heading back to the Hospital for the night shift. Rose had drifted between deep sleep and mild delirium for most of the day, now she seemed to be sleeping normally. Blanche new she should try and sleep herself but was too anxious, so she had curled up next to the other women and contented herself with soothing Rose's hair with her fingers. She noticed the change in Rose's breathing immediately; she lifted herself up and leaned over the other woman, stroking her face gently. "Rose." she whispered. Rose opened her eyes slowly, Blanche watched as she seemed to struggle to focus, "Rose it's me, can you hear me?" She asked her.
Rose moved her head slightly and her eyes focused on Blanche. She coughed and tried to sit up, Blanche quickly helped her, putting an extra pillow under her head.
"Rose?" She asked again.
"What time is it?" Rose asked her voice raspy.
"Nearly midnight." Blanche told her
"I missed the party then" Rose said blinking and shaking her head, trying to clear the fog that seemed to cloud her memory.
"That was last night Rose, you've been ill." Blanche explained gently
"Ill?" Rose looked confused "I can't remember." She frowned as she tried to recall the last thing she remembered; she had been dreaming, such strange dreams, awful dreams. She looked at Blanche seeing her clearly for the first time. Blanche looked exhausted, her eyes rimmed by dark circles, she reached out and touched her cheek. "You look awful." Rose murmured.
"Thanks." Blanche said relieved that Rose seemed her old self again.
"Dot's gone then?" Rose asked
"Yep, she said to give you her love." Blanche smiled
"I wish I could have said goodbye." Rose said sadly.
"Would you like something to eat? A cup of tea?" Blanche asked her
"Tea would be lovely." Rose smiled as Blanche jumped out of bed.
"I'll be right back, don't move, Bea says you need to rest." Blanche said to her as she headed out the door.
A hot cup of tea and some fruit later, Rose felt a lot better, Blanche had filled her in on what had happened she was surprised she had been so sick, she felt fine now, just very tired. "You haven't slept have you?" She asked Blanche.
"I was worried about you" Blanche said shrugging slightly. "And besides who, else was going to keep force feeding fluids down your throat." She added.
Rose grimaced "You didn't?" She asked her.
"Don't blame me, Big Bea's orders, I was just the lackey." Blanche grinned at her, suddenly happier than she had felt in days.
Rose smiled up at her "come here, my necks hurting having to look up at you all the time." She patted the space next to her on the bed.
Blanche didn't hesitate, but leapt over the reclining figure to land beside her. "Hows that?" she laughed.
Rose hit her playfully "Better."
Blanche turned on her side facing Rose; she reached out and adjusted the towel on her head. "You need to keep this on, your still running a slight temperature." She chided.
"Yes nurse." Rose smiled at her, she turned to face Blanche. "I'll be good if you promise to get some sleep." she reached out and traced Blanche's cheekbone. Blanche took her hand and placed a soft kiss against her palm. "I promise," She breathed. She leaned over and kissed her forehead lightly.
Rose felt a sudden surge of something she didn't recognise, her body thrummed with tension; she felt her palm burn where Blanche had kissed her, she curled her fingers around Blanche's hand and held it tightly. Maybe she was still sick she thought.
Blanche felt Rose's hand tighten almost painfully around hers.
"Rose you alright?" She asked her.
Rose blinked and released her grip on Blanche's hand, "Sorry, I'm fine, really." She smiled.
"I think we should both try and sleep." She added.
"Right then, turn over." Blanche ordered her.
Rose did as she was told, and closed her eyes; she was only mildly surprised when she felt Blanche's body press against her own, her arm circling her waist. "This ok?" Blanche asked her quietly, her breath warm on Rose's shoulder. Rose swallowed as the surge intensified and she realised what had caused it both times. "It's fine." She croaked. "Now go to sleep," she added.
She was acutely aware of Blanche's body as she felt it relax against her own, the arm going limp around her waist. She lifted her own arm and placed it over Blanche's feeling safe. She thought she understood now what she was feeling, it surprised her and she didn't know yet how she felt about it. For now she was going to just live each day as it came, she didn't want to think about the past or the future and she didn't want to think about these new feelings, not yet. She closed her eyes and drifted slowly into a comfortable and deep sleep.
The following morning Rose sat smoking and watching Blanche eat breakfast; she had woken with a full bladder and returned from the bathroom to find Kate had arrived from the hospital. Blanche was still asleep so Kate offered to order breakfast for them both while she was in the dining room. Rose had attacked her food ravenously; she only woke Blanche after she had finished her own and was tempted to eat Blanche's as well.
"You look better." Blanche said between bites.
"So do you." Rose told her.
"You feel up for an excursion?" Blanche asked.
"Why not, what do you have in mind?" Rose asked her
"I want to check Dot's bungalow, make sure its still in one piece, she'll be right stroppy if it's been vandalised before she sells it." Blanche explained.
They dressed and caught a taxi to the bungalow, Blanche still had a key and she let them in, the place was exactly as she had left it, Dot had left the furniture and kitchen utilities intact, so Blanche made them both a cup of tea and they sat in the kitchen smoking and chatting.
"Why didn't you stay here when Dottie left?" Rose asked her
"Didn't want to be here by myself." Blanche admitted, "And to be honest I missed seeing you." She smiled shyly.
Rose returned the smile, "I'm glad you decided to come back, I missed you too."
Blanche blushed at the admission and then took a deep breath, "I want to ask you something, and I'm sort of dreading it." She said frowning.
"You can ask me anything Blanche you know that." Rose re-assured her.
"I was wondering about your plans, I mean, when you get back to England, that's if you're going back." She stammered not sure she wanted to receive an answer.
Rose sighed "I don't really know, I haven't thought about it, I suppose I will go back to England when RAPWI can find me a berth. What about you?" She asked curious to know were this was leading.
"I can't decide, I don't know wether to stay here or go back, I don't have anyone in England, not like you." Blanche told her.
"I've only got an aunt in England, my parents are dead, remember." Rose reminded her.
"Sorry, I knew that, I " Blanche paused losing her courage.
"Blanche what are you trying to say?" Rose asked her gently
"I know you don't feel the same way about me, and that's fine, I just would like to be in your life somehow." Blanche lit a cigarette nervously. "If you don't want me around...?" She stopped unsure whether she could go on.
"I want you around very much." Rose said smiling at Blanche. "I just don't know what I'll do when I get back to England, I can't seem to think that far ahead, I don't really want to."
She stood up and gestured for Blanche to do the same. She held out her arms and Blanche moved into them. They held each other for several minutes. "I can't think that far ahead Blanche I'm sorry, I do know that right now I want to be here with you." Rose told her quietly. Blanche tightened her hold on Rose and nodded. "That's fine with me." She said.
She was terrified of a future without Rose in it, Rose hadn't given her the answer she wanted but it was enough for now, it had to be.
Blanche was surprisingly happy; despite having no idea what she was going to do with her life and had no real commitment from the woman she wanted to spend her life with; she smiled across the dinner table at Rose who smiled back, Blanche had decided to live each day as if it were her last, no plans for the future and no dwelling on the past. There was only this day, now.
And right now she was enjoying eating and drinking and laughing with the woman she loved.
Christina had suggested a Chinese Restaurant that was good and safe for Brits, and Blanche had taken Rose out to Dinner. The food was excellent and very cheap; Blanche had decided to be adventurous and ordered nothing she had ever heard of before. The result was better than she had anticipated.
Rose had been sceptical to begin with but after Blanche had convinced her to try some of the dishes she became an eager participant and she ordered the most exotic dishes she could find.
They drank beer and ate far too much food, and laughed till they cried.
"God do you remember when we fried up grasshoppers and ants?" Blanche asked.
"Yes, wonderfully exotic, but didn't quite taste like this darling." Rose laughed as she placed a piece of unknown seafood into her mouth.
"Oh I don't know, I still dream about Sylvia's jam pudding." Blanche smiled fondly, Sylvia had died early on, 'cholera', Blanche remembered, that woman could cook like no one else.
"Wasn't she wonderful, poor Sylvia." Rose added becoming momentarily pensive.
"No, no more camp talk." Blanche said firmly.
"Alright, so what do you want to talk about?" Rose asked her.
Blanche thought for a moment, "well we could talk about what we could do tomorrow." she asked hopefully.
"We could" Rose smiled "What would you like to do?" She asked
"I was thinking it might be nice to have a picnic, we could steal some food from Raffles and grab some beers and go out to the botanical gardens. What do you think?" Blanche asked.
"Why not" Rose agreed and lifted her glass to Blanche, "Cheers." She toasted.
"Cheers." Blanche smiled, 'Yes she was very happy.'
Less than a week later everything had changed, Kate was leaving, the Transport had finally arrived for the Australian Internees and she would be leaving in three days. Marion and Beatrice had decided to return to England before Christmas, Marion wanted to see her son and Beatrice wanted to see her father and Sister, though they would both be returning to Singapore in the New Year.
Rose and Blanche were being asked by RAPWI to leave with the other women, they didn't believe there would be another ship before Christmas and wanted to transport as many internees back to England as possible. Life spent living for the day was over for Blanche; the reality of imminent separation was overwhelming her. She would lose Rose; it was all she could think about, even if she went to England with Rose, what then? Rose would go off to live with her aunt until her finances were sorted out and Blanche? Well at least she wouldn't have to live off the streets for a couple of years thanks to Joss's money. Rose's aunt was in Bath, Blanche had never been to Bath, she had only ever lived in London, she couldn't think of a reason or excuse to move there except to see Rose. And Rose may not want to see her once the got back to England. Blanche wanted to ask Rose what she was going to do, but couldn't bring herself to do so, she was dreading Rose's answer.
Blanche wanted to confide in someone, but her closest friend was Dottie and she was gone. She couldn't see herself revealing something like this to Marion or Kate, not for the first time Blanche was feeling alone and isolated. If she stayed in Singapore she could make Joss's money last a lot longer, it was the economically smarter thing to do, but she would probably never see Rose again, she didn't know what to do, she couldn't make a decision.
Rose had decided to go back to England with Marion and Beatrice, she had been dreaming of snow for two nights and felt a desperate need to see England again. They had always joked in the camps of getting home before Christmas, as the years went on it became a wishful dream a distant possibility, now she really would be home before Christmas. Preparations for Kate's farewell where in hand she would be leaving three days before the rest and so her farewell would act as a goodbye party for them all. Rose's aunt had wired her some money and Rose had been shopping, she had bought presents for her friends and French champagne for Kate's party. She found herself looking forward to leaving, an excitement she hadn't felt in a long time the only thing that marred her current mood was the subdued response of Blanche to these changes. Since RAPWI had advised the women of the departures Blanche had become more and more reserved, Rose new that Blanche was worried that they wouldn't see each other again, but Rose was confidant that they would, once they were both back safe and sound in England, they could sort something out. Blanche had some money now and could get work in London; they could visit each other whenever they wanted. Blanche had only smiled at her sadly when she tried speaking to her about her plans, and had changed the subject back to planning the party for Kate.
Rose refused to allow Blanche's mood to upset her, she was going to enjoy her last few days in Singapore despite Blanche. There would be heaps of time to deal with Blanche on the long voyage home.
Kate's farewell was a raucous and tearful event, RAPWI had persuaded Raffles to provide beer and wine to the revellers and the night was filled with dancing, singing and reminiscences. Kate teetered between gleeful enthusiasm and tearful silence; she was longing to return home but was keenly aware of the pain she felt at leaving her friends, possibly forever. Beatrice had given her a fob watch she had carried through out the camps and had told her she would make a fine Doctor someday if she felt the inclination. It had been high praise indeed and Kate had been deeply moved. Rose moved through the crowd of friends, trying to avoid staring at Blanche who was drinking at the bar and chatting to a friend of Dottie's, an Indo Brit, Rose couldn't remember his name, a dodgy individual Rose thought, refusing to acknowledge the odd pang of jealousy their intimacy generated. Thankfully she noticed that Marion seemed subdued and moved towards her, "What's up?" she asked her.
"I suppose its all finally hitting me, all this, Kate leaving, the rest of us heading home in a few days, I'm not sure how I should feel about it." She smiled sadly at Rose. "Clifford is staying here, it's been so awkward and strange being together again, and not at all how I had pictured it, all those years in camp." Marion smiled as Rose took her hand and squeezed it. "I'll be fine, at least I'll have you and Beatrice, and I get to see Ben."
"Of course, you must be looking forward to seeing him again." Rose asked her.
"Yes of course, I'm just nervous about it, he and I have both changed so much. I don't know what I'll say to him." Marion shrugged her shoulders trying not to worry about seeing her son again.
"You'll be fine Marion." Rose hugged the other women briefly.
"I know, I'm just being silly." Marion smiled at Rose.
"And you'll have Blanche as well as Beatrice and me, though hopefully she'll be in a better mood." Rose frowned slightly as she thought of her friend.
"Blanche is coming?" Marion asked surprised.
"Of course she is." Rose responded.
"When did she change her mind?" Marion asked
"What are you talking about?" Rose asked her confused.
"I spoke with Phyllis, she told me Blanche had refused a ticket and would be staying her in Singapore." Marion paused as she saw the stricken look on Rose's face. "She didn't tell you?" Marion asked concerned.
"No she bloody well did not" Rose forced out.
Marion grabbed the other woman's arm preventing her from rushing off. "Look, don't go off half cocked, did Blanche tell you she was coming with us?" Marion reasoned.
Rose thought for a moment. "No she didn't, I just assumed she was coming, she didn't say anything one way or the other." Rose said thoughtfully.
"Oh dear, I've put my foot in it then haven't I? Maybe she wanted to tell you in her own time?" Marion supposed.
"If she was going to say anything at all." Rose said bitterly. "Knowing Blanche she would have kept silent until I was on the bloody boat." She added.
She glared over at Blanche, her gaze becoming more baleful as she witnessed Blanche's male companion, caress her arm and lean towards her to whisper something in her ear. She grimaced as she watched Blanche react with laughter and order another round of drinks for the two of them.
Marion moved in front of her gaze and touched her arm lightly. "Don't confront her tonight, please Rose, it's a party, remember?" She said softly.
Rose sighed raggedly as she tried to control her anger and jealousy, 'damn her, damn her.' She thought,
"Your right, of course, she's not bloody worth it anyway." Rose hissed out.
"Rose" Marion chastised, "You know you don't mean that."
"Don't I?" Rose challenged.
"No you don't." Marion said seriously. They stared at each other for a moment until Rose looked away embarrassed by the compassion she had read in Marion's eyes.
"Come on, lets get a drink, I heard you bought some French Champagne?" Marion took the other woman's arm and led her away from Blanche and back to the main ballroom.
Blanche was enjoying chatting with Jake, he was a smooth character, Dot had liked him, she could tell, and he had liked Dot, pity she had left so early, they may have got together Blanche mused. He was telling her about a deal he was organising, buying cheap antiques and goods from property seized from the Japanese, which they in turn had seized from the colonial plantation owners. He was hoping to sell it back to said plantation owners as they returned to their properties, at a handy profit naturally.
"That's criminal, poor blighters, its not like they haven't lost enough to the Japs, without the likes of you shafting them as well." She said.
"Its only what some of them deserve, damn colonialists." He grinned at her wickedly.
She laughed and ordered another drink, deciding to enjoy this night and not think about what it actually represented, she didn't want to think about losing Rose, not tonight.
She would have months to grieve the loss of the other woman, just as she had in the camps, tonight, she was going to drink and laugh and forget.
As the party wound down, Rose hugged and kissed Kate goodnight and said farewell to several women who would not be seeing the boats off. She was tired and depressed and wanted nothing more than to collapse into bed. She said goodnight to Marion and Beatrice and headed back to her room. She noticed as she passed the bar that Blanche was no longer there, 'maybe she had gone to bed as well?' She thought, wanting to see the other woman but was dreading the inevitable confrontation.
She entered the room slowly and was relieved and annoyed that Blanche wasn't there. She sighed and shrugged out of her clothes, collapsing into bed and falling asleep within minutes.
Blanche and Kate wondered into the room together, having met up for a final round of drinks before everyone left for the night. They were laughing as they entered the room, and quickly quietened when they realised Rose was asleep. Kate headed off to have a bath, arguing that she wouldn't get a decent one on the ship. Blanche undressed and stood for a moment beside Rose's bed, 'god she's so beautiful.' She thought drunkenly, she reached out and moved a lock of loose hair from Rose's forehead. Rose stirred slightly and mumbled in her sleep. "I'm going to miss you, so much." Blanche whispered. She leaned over slowly unable to stop herself and brushed her lips against Rose's. "I love you." She breathed against Rose's lips. Rose smiled in her sleep and Blanche smiled in return. She moved to her own bed and turned to watch Rose, until she fell asleep.
Kate left the next morning, Blanche, Rose, Christina and Beatrice met Marion at the dock and waved frantically at their friend until they could no longer make her out amidst the crowd gathered on the deck.
"That's going to be us in three days." Marion spoke breaking the silence that had settled on the gathered friends.
"Not all of us." Rose muttered, glaring at Blanche, she had wanted to speak to Blanche when she woke, but Kate had been running around in a panic trying to get ready to leave and she hadn't had an opportunity. That wasn't the case now, she was going to confront Blanche whether she liked it or not.
Blanche frowned at her, but didn't say anything. Marion looked worriedly between the two women; she didn't want to witness another fight between her friends and hoped that they could sort out the mess that was their relationship quickly. She didn't relish having to deal with a depressed Rose all the way to England. It amused and frustrated her no end, they obviously loved each other deeply but seemed incapable of establishing an accord. She could see that Rose was still in denial about her feelings for Blanche and she didn't know how to help the other woman. She invited all the women to come back to her house for tea, hoping she could diffuse the brewing storm at least for a few hours.
Blanche accepted along with Beatrice, Christina had to go back to the centre; she had started teaching there and had a class. Rose wanted to get Blanche to herself and became immediately frustrated when Blanche accepted the invite. She was going to rudely refuse until she met Marion's intense gaze and realised that she was being silently ordered to attend. She accepted reluctantly.
They sat in the shade of the gardens of Marion's house enjoying tea and cake, chatting civilly about the work at the centre, Christmas preparations and the looming voyage home. Blanche was understandably quiet, she sat, sipping her tea and watching Rose from beneath heavy eyelids. So Rose had finally twigged to the fact that she wasn't leaving after all, 'Took her long enough.' Blanche thought angrily. 'It's not as if I lied to her, don't see why she has got all upset about it, she wanted to leave, she never asked me if I was leaving with her'. Blanche frowned at her thoughts; she had never lied to Rose, just kept certain things to herself. She had decided to stay when Rose had agreed to leave, Rose hadn't asked her to come with her, Rose hadn't offered her hope, its all she had wanted, she had told Rose how she felt, had told her how much she wanted to be in her life. She had revealed her heart; her deepest desire and Rose hadn't returned those desires. Rose had needed her yes, and she had been there for her, now Rose was fixated on England and Blanche felt that she was expendable.
"So Blanche what are your plans, here in Singapore?" Marion asked her suddenly.
Blanche sat up, realising she had to answer, "I hadn't thought that far ahead actually." Blanche answered acutely aware of Rose's eyes boring into her.
"You must have some idea, some plan?" Marion prodded.
"Well Jake has a few ideas, he has offered to take me under his wing so to speak, help him out with his business interests." She added reluctantly.
"I'll bet." Rose muttered.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Blanche couldn't help bite back.
"Oh please, I saw you both last night, I'm not stupid." Rose said angrily.
"Blanche, Rose please don't argue." Marion pleaded. "I think you both need to discuss this in a civilised manner" She added.
"Civilised?" Rose laughed humourlessly "Blanche doesn't understand the meaning of the word." She spat out.
"Thanks, nice to know what you really think of me." Blanche murmured sadly.
Blanche stood up slowly, "Thanks for tea Marion, I think I need to leave." Blanche said quietly.
"Oh no you don't, your not running away." Rose said rising as well and moving to intercept Blanche.
"Rose sit down." Marion yelled, causing all three women to start. Marion rarely raised her voice.
"Blanche I'm so sorry, I'll see you again soon I hope?" Marion asked her gently.
"Maybe" Blanche replied and turned to leave. Beatrice stood turning to Marion "I'll take her back to the Centre with me." She nodded to Marion and headed off after Blanche.
Marion watched them for a moment before turning to glare at Rose.
"You and I need to talk." She said grimly
Rose opened her mouth to protest, but Marion silenced her with a wave of her hand.
"But first you need to listen to me." Marion said firmly.
Rose couldn't believe it, Marion was treating her like a child, 'how dare she.' she thought angrily, 'couldn't she see that Blanche was the one acting petulantly.'
"I can't believe how ridiculous your behaviour is, you're like a child being denied a toy." Marion told her. "What is wrong with you?" Marion asked her, "She's staying in Singapore, what's so wrong with that?" Marion asked.
"She lied to me." Rose muttered.
"She didn't lie to you Rose, she just didn't let you know her plans and frankly if she knew you would react this way it's no wonder." Marion said perplexed.
"Friends tell each other things." Rose tried to explain herself.
"Yes and friends accept their friends decisions no matter how unfortunate or illogical." Marion responded.
"I don't understand why she won't come home." Rose said finally. "All those years in camp always talking about getting home, getting back to England and now this." Rose shook her head helplessly. "I don't understand." She added sadly.
"And you think insulting her will get her to explain to you why?" Marion asked her.
"I don't know. No obviously not." Rose said morosely.
They were silent for a moment.
"You're going to have to let her go Rose." Marion said gently.
She waited as her words impacted the other woman and she winced at the sudden pain she saw engulf Rose's body, she seemed to collapse in on herself. When she began to sob Marion collected her into her arms and held her tightly. "It's alright, its going to be alright." She murmured as she rocked Rose slowly in her arms. "I can't, I can't." Rose sobbed.
Marion sighed sadly, "Rose you have to tell her how you feel."
Rose shook her head against Marion's shoulder. "I can't, I can't." She sobbed unable to fully comprehend what was happening to her.
"You need to talk to her Rose, you need to tell her." Marion continued. "You need to be honest with her, for both your sakes."
Marion held Rose gently, allowing the other woman to process her words.
Rose pulled away from Marion slightly meeting her eyes for the first time. "What do I say to her?" She asked helplessly.
Marion brushed a tear from Rose's cheek, "What's in your heart." She said simply.
Rose closed her eyes; she had been so blind.
She had to see Blanche, she had to speak to her, and she only hoped she hadn't ruined everything.
Rose waited anxiously in the hotel room waiting for Blanche to return, she was worried that Blanche would find somewhere else to stay the night, like she had before. Rose winced; she couldn't stand the thought of Rose spending the night with some man she picked up. Maybe she was with Jake, that friend of Dottie's she had been so friendly with. The thought made her ill. It all made horrible sense now to Rose, the jealousy, the anger, her desperate need to be physically close to Blanche. Why hadn't she seen it before, why had she been in such denial? She knew why, she was terrified of falling in love, she always had been, 'Poor Bernhard' she thought, he had loved her and she had never told him that she loved him, not until that last night, before he was shot. She didn't understand why it was so hard for her to let go, allow herself to feel and experience what everyone else seemed to take for granted.
She had always resented feeling vulnerable and that was how she felt when she loved someone, it made her angry and she had often taken that anger out on her partners. She realised she had attacked Blanche because she felt emotionally exposed, she had felt too much and she had lashed out at the cause, she only hoped she hadn't driven Blanche away. She had been waiting for two hours, she stubbed her eighth cigarette in a row and crossed her legs, and she was seated on her bed facing the door, as she waited for Blanche to return. Her heart leapt to her throat when she heard footsteps outside the door, she found herself leaning forward tensely, and her fingers gripped the bed covers tightly.
Blanche stood at the door to her room and leaned forward listening intently, she couldn't hear a thing, so she opened the door carefully, she was unnerved to meet Rose's intense gaze on the other side of the door, she paused for a moment, she considered closing the door and leaving, but something raw and desperate in the eyes that held her own, persuaded her to stay and enter the room.
She walked slowly towards Rose, seating herself opposite on her own bed, unconsciously mimicking Roses position. They silently regarded each other for several minutes. Rose found her eyes leaving Blanche's to follow the line of her jaw; she had never really looked at Blanche before, not like this anyway. Blanche's hair was growing slowly; she usually wore a scarf around her head to hide the short length, but not today. Her eyes were an incredible blue, Rose loved Blanche's eyes, she always had she suddenly realised. She allowed her eyes to travel down Blanche's body, taking in the colour of her skin, the shape of her waist, the length of her legs. She finally returned her gaze to meet Blanche's and was surprised to see a blush form on the other woman's cheeks.
"Got a cigarette?" Blanche asked her suddenly.
Rose nodded and passed her one, throwing her a box of matches to light it with. She watched as Blanche drew in a mouthful of smoke and released it soon after, her eyes squinting slightly. She felt like she was seeing Blanche for the first time and that thought suddenly made her feel ridiculously shy,
She quickly lit a cigarette for herself.
Blanche watched Rose nervously light her cigarette, she wasn't sure what Rose wanted to say to her, at least she had calmed down and wasn't abusing her anymore, she had felt embarrassed when Rose had let her eyes rove over her body, it had made her feel exposed and yet aroused at the same time.
Rose had never looked at her that way before, she was feeling very confused, she wasn't sure if she was reading more into that look than was actually there 'wishful thinking.' she surmised. She had briefly considered taking up Jakes offer of staying with him that night, but she wanted to see Rose. This was there last few days together and she didn't care if they spent them arguing she needed to be with the other woman for as long as she could. After all she probably wouldn't see her again.
After several minutes of silently smoking Rose butted her cigarette and steeled herself to speak to Blanche.
"I'm sorry for what I said to you at Marion's, it was uncalled for and childish." She said pausing to see if her apology was accepted.
She waited as Blanche stared at her for a moment, her expression guarded; Blanche closed her eyes for a moment before responding by nodding her head.
Rose sighed in relief, but she soon realised she had a lot more to explain to the other woman.
"I was angry with you for not telling me you weren't coming home with me." She explained her voice catching slightly. She felt very nervous and held her hand together tightly so Blanche couldn't see them shaking. "That hurt." she continued "but what really cut me was realising that I wouldn't be seeing you anymore." She dropped her eyes to her clenched hands, feeling suddenly more emotionally vulnerable than she had since she was a teenager. She realised that Blanche was still watching her and slowly raised her eyes to meet the other woman's. She didn't think she could go on if she saw resentment or anger in the other woman's face.
Blanche watched Rose struggle with herself, she could see how difficult this was for her but was unsure what Rose wanted her to say. She sighed inwardly realising that Rose needed her to respond in some way, she couldn't find words so she thought actions would have to do. She stood slowly and moved towards Rose, she sat next to the other woman and gently took her hands in her own; she unclenched them and held each in one of her own. Rose watched her, her eyes settling on their joined hands.
Feeling suddenly very weak and alone, Rose stared at their entwined hands until they began to swim before her eyes, she felt herself fall against Blanche who released her hands and caught her in her arms. Blanche held her gently as she collapsed against her, resting her head against Blanches shoulder. "I'm sorry." Rose sobbed.
Blanche held her closer her hand rubbing slow circles on her back, she didn't speak; instead she lifted Rose's face so they were eye to eye and looked deeply into Rose's eyes. Blanche moved forward slowly until her lips touched Rose's cheek, she kissed away the tears as they fell.
"I'm sorry." Rose whispered again, unable to vocalise how affected she was by Blanches actions.
Blanche nodded gently and smiled slightly, her eyes had softened and her expression was no longer guarded, Rose looked into the other woman's eyes and saw only compassion and incredible sadness, she felt her heart constrict and she grabbed blindly for Blanche, needing to hold her close wanting to take away that sadness. She felt Blanche respond to her embrace, holding her so tightly to her chest she could hear her heart beating. She clung to Blanche desperately, her arms wrapped around her waist, her head pressed against her chest, she didn't want to move ever again. She felt Blanche's hand caress the back of her neck and then cup her chin lifting her head so she could meet her eyes again. Rose opened her eyes and stared into Blanche's concerned blue gaze." I'm sorry." she whimpered, seeing the sadness still there.
"Don't" Blanche said gently, "You don't need to keep apologising." Blanche gently traced a tear with her thumb, allowing her touch to linger on Rose's cheek. Rose closed her eyes relishing the soft touch, she felt Blanche's lips touch her forehead and she lifted her face to meet Blanche's lips with her own. As she felt Blanche begin to pull away she opened her eyes and grasped Blanche's neck holding the other woman still. "Please." She found herself asking. Blanche's eyes were searching her own, she was frowning slightly, Rose realised that Blanche was confused; she wanted to end the confusion as quickly as she could, and she pulled Blanche toward her and tentatively pressed her lips to Blanche's. She closed her eyes concentrating on the feel of soft lips, she found herself pressing forward wanting to intensify the kiss. Blanche was still not responding. "Please." She asked again.
"Rose?" Blanche asked.
"Kiss me Blanche, please." She murmured against the other woman's lips. "I need you to kiss me." She almost begged.
Blanche suddenly sighed and clasped Rose's face between her hands. "Your sure?" She asked her voice low and serious. Rose opened her eyes and looked directly into Blanche's. "I've never been so sure of anything." She answered.
Blanche stared intently into Rose's eyes, desperately looking for anything that would indicate that Rose didn't really want this, all she could see was need, a painful aching need. "Rose." she whispered, her heart was pounding, she had been frozen by Rose's actions, unsure what the other woman was doing, she couldn't trust her own senses, she wanted Rose so much she thought that she was projecting her desire on the other woman and it couldn't possibly be returned; now she wasn't so sure. She had never seen Rose like this; she had no yardstick to gauge against. The last thing she wanted was to alienate Rose by forcing her to do something she really didn't want to. But Rose was begging her to kiss her, it was almost to good to be true, she wanted to pause and talk to the other woman, find out what had changed, what was going on in her head, but Rose was insistent and she found her resistance crumbling under the weight of her own desire.
"God." She gasped finally losing control, she pushed Rose back on the bed, pressing her body down with her own, she kissed her hungrily, her hands grasping the other woman's face between her them, she showered her with soft kisses, until she pressed her mouth against Rose's forcing the other woman's lips apart and tasting her for the first time. She had wanted this for so long, she couldn't suppress a moan and began to pull away again, fearful that she may have gone too far, she was halted by Rose's arms now wrapped around her shoulders.
"For god's sake don't stop." Rose sobbed, pulling Blanche back down to her.
Blanche took a deep breath, she needed to control the pace, and she gently kissed Rose, wanting to sooth the other woman's distress, she allowed the kiss to deepen again but more slowly, she focused on Rose's responses wanting to please her, she was frightened of her own intense reactions to the other woman, she wanted this to be about Rose, not about herself.
Desperate, that's how Rose felt, she had never been so desperately in need of anyone before, not like this, she wanted to pull Blanche's body inside her own, she wanted to devour her, her body was shaking uncontrollably as Blanche continued to explore her mouth with her tongue, she had almost burst into tears when she thought Blanche was going to stop, she didn't think she could bare it. Her nerve endings were tingling, alive with sensation, she ached to feel Blanche's skin against her own, she found herself grasping at Blanche's shirt, anxiously pulling it away from her pants, moaning softly as her fingers found the flesh they sought. She felt Blanche arch under her hands and moan into her mouth, she felt a shot of hot desire flush her entire body in response. She pulled Blanche's body closer to her own needing to feel the weight of her, the heat of her. She began pulling frantically at Blanche's clothes, Blanche took hold of one of her hands and pressed it to the bed, raising her head slightly and breaking the kiss." What is it?" She asked her.
"Skin, I need your skin on mine." She gasped out.
""Ok, its ok." Blanche's voice soothed her.
Blanche sat up and quickly disrobed, Rose watched her for a moment, before pulling her own clothes off, she was fumbling with her buttons, when Blanche gently took over and finished the job for her.
She grabbed at Blanche pulling her towards her; Blanche pushed her back gently before lowering herself slowly onto her body. Rose gasped as she felt Blanche's skin touch her own, she wrapped her arms around the other woman forcing her full weight down, she needed to feel all of Blanche, she felt her resist slightly, holding some of her weight on her arms. "Let go." Rose asked her "I want to feel you."
Blanche looked at her dubiously, "Please Blanche, I need to feel you, let go." She asked her as she pulled her towards her again. She closed her eyes as Blanche lowered herself completely, she moaned as she felt the full weight of the other woman pressed against her body, she held her tightly, kissing the other woman's shoulder and neck, nuzzling against her, drawing in her scent and tasting her skin with her tongue. "You feel wonderful." she murmured against Blanche's neck. Blanche responded by capturing her lips again and kissing her deeply, Rose felt her body begin to melt as Blanche began sucking on her neck and ear lobe, she could hear her own moans become louder as she began to lose control, her body ached and burned as she pressed herself against Blanche, desperate for as much contact as she could get, Blanche was kissing her again smothering her moans, sucking her tongue slowly in and out of her mouth in a rhythm that was driving Rose crazy. Rose grabbed at Blanche's back her fingers digging into taught muscle and flesh. She gasped when Blanche pulled away and grabbed her hands pulling them away and up above Rose's head, "hold onto these." Blanche told her indicating the iron bed head. Rose complied not sure what Blanche wanted her to do but wanting to please her.
Blanche watched as Rose grasped the wrought Iron bar with both hands, the sight was incredibly erotic and she took a deep breath exhaling slowly to control her reactions. This was about Rose she reminded herself, She lowered herself back down onto the other woman and began kissing her again, softly and slowly, she moved downwards kissing Rose's neck and chest, resting her head briefly so that she could hear the other woman's heart beat, she ran her fingers along Rose's sides, smiling as she felt the body below her shudder in response. She lifted her head slightly and took Rose's nipple into her mouth holding it there for a moment before rolling her tongue around it and sucking it slowly. Rose arched her body and moaned, Blanche closed her eyes at the sound, and almost sobbed as she felt hot liquid pulse from her body, she had never felt so aroused in her life. She turned her attention to Rose's other breast, lathing the nipple with her tongue until it grew hard in her mouth then slowly sucking it until she received another moan from Rose. She lifted her body again and moved up to Rose taking her lip between her teeth, biting her gently then kissing her passionately. She paused before continuing, meeting Rose's eyes, confirming that she wanted her to continue, Rose's eyes burned into her own, her hands gripped the iron bar in a death grip, Blanche realised that Rose was desperately aroused, she soothed the other woman's brow gently with her hand and kissed her lips softly. "I love you." She whispered against her lips, before moving down Rose's body. She returned to Rose's breasts licking and kissing her, she slowly moved further down, tracing Rose's stomach with her tongue. Blanche caressed Rose's outer thighs with her fingers while manoeuvring her body between Rose's legs. She felt Rose tense slightly so she planted soft kisses against her hip bone, lightly running her fingers over Rose's stomach. "It's ok, I won't hurt you." She murmured softly. She didn't raise her head to meet Rose's eyes, she was too frightened, she didn't want to stop not now, and she wanted this more than anything. She wanted Rose to climax, she could feel the other woman's arousal, she could smell it, and she knew Rose needed this almost as much as she did.
Blanche moved her fingers down, stroking Rose's inner thighs, she followed her fingers with her mouth and tongue exploring and tasting the soft flesh. She rested her head against Rose's hip as she allowed her hand to fall from Rose's thigh; she moved it slowly upwards until she met the soft wet skin between Rose's legs. Blanche closed her eyes at the sensation, and she smiled as she heard Rose's sharp intake of breath, she let her fingers slowly move through slick wet folds, marvelling at the softness, she followed her hand with her mouth, placing her tongue directly over her fingers, she lowered her mouth onto Rose's soft flesh, she was stunned at the taste, softer and sweeter than she had expected, she opened her mouth and took more in, she could hear Rose crying out so she intensified her movements, alternating between sucking and licking she quickly identified the most sensitive spot, and concentrated on it sucking it into her mouth and rolling her tongue over it. Rose was pushing up into her mouth; her hips had started a constant rhythm, which Blanche matched. Blanche moved her fingers down until she could feel the opening she was searching for; she entered Rose slowly with two fingers, quickly finding the same rhythm. Blanche opened her eyes and looked down Roses body as she writhed and rocked against her, Rose was still grasping the Iron bar with both hands her head was back and her eyes closed, Rose thought that she looked more beautiful than she had ever seen her before. She increased the rhythm, watching as Rose's body responded immediately, she wanted Rose to climax; she wanted to see her face as she did. She watched Rose closely, her body and face were flushed, her body tense, she increased pressure and watched as Rose responded, her body suddenly going rigid her hips raised and tensed, Blanche instinctively slowed her movements, making them slow and hard, she felt Rose begin to shudder and watched in awe as she began to shake uncontrollably, she felt Rose climax as the flesh under her tongue and mouth turned to liquid. Rose thrashed wildly for a moment, her hands covering her face and Blanche quickly released her, climbing up her body until she was hovering over her. "Rose?" She asked tentatively, concerned that she had done something wrong. She touched the other woman's hands as they shielded her face. "Rose? Are you alright?"
Rose was in a state of shock; her hands covered her face partly in embarrassment, partly to avoid looking into Blanches eyes, frightened of what she might see reflected in them. She felt incredibly vulnerable, she was no shy virgin, obviously, but she had never experienced that level of pleasure before, she had lost control of herself completely. What would Blanche think of her, Blanche who was so experienced? 'She must think I'm pathetic' she thought. But it had been amazing, her body had exploded, her mind was left behind and her body just took over, she had never experienced anything like it before. Sex had always been pleasant naturally, but she had never ever felt like this before, her hands still shook as did her body, trembling from the waves of pleasure that had flooded her. She had never known it could be like that. She became aware that Blanche was calling to her, she slowly came to her senses, and Blanche was tugging gently at her hands. "Rose sweetheart what's wrong, did I hurt you?" Blanche asked, her voice sounding strained.
Rose allowed her hands to be drawn away; she opened her eyes slowly, dreading what she might see.
Blanche was staring at her intently. "Did I hurt you?" she asked again, her eyes pained.
"No" Rose struggled to find her voice. "No I'm not hurt." She lifted her hand and touched Blanche's cheek gently, catching her breath sharply when Blanche captured her hand and kissed her palm softly.
"I'm so sorry, I don't know what came over me." Rose stammered, she closed her eyes feeling suddenly overwhelmed with emotion; she felt hot tears burning her eyes.
"Was it that awful?" Blanche asked her softly.
Rose opened her eyes and saw the pain in the blue eyes so close to her own. She was hurting Blanche, she didn't know how but she was. She reached out with both hands cupping Blanche's face and meeting her eyes. "Blanche it wasn't awful, it was it was." She found herself faltering unable to describe what she was feeling.
"Not what you expected." Blanche said sadly, "I'm sorry, I wanted to make you feel good, I've never done this before, with a woman that is." She sighed, dropping her head.
Rose looked at the other woman and her heart ached, she felt oddly comforted by Blanche's confession, she gently ran her fingers through the short hair as it rested on her chest. "You made me feel incredible." She murmured, "You made me feel something I've never felt before, I was just " She struggled trying to explain the experience.
"Overwhelmed." She finished. She closed her eyes, enjoying the weight and warmth of Blanche's body and the feel of the soft short hairs against her fingers. She felt as though she could fall asleep, she almost had when she felt a warm wetness against her chest. She reached out and touched Blanche's cheek, it was wet with tears. "Blanche." she whispered, trying to lift the other woman's head from her chest, Blanche resisted shaking her head.
"Look at me please" Rose asked gently, trying to lift Blanches head from her chest. "Please." she pleaded.
Blanche raised her head slowly, she met Rose's eyes reluctantly, Rose gently traced the path of a tear on her cheek, and then she surprised Blanche by lifting her head and kissing her softly on the lips. Blanche closed her eyes, losing herself in the feel of soft lips against her own. She felt emotionally shattered, she was confused by Rose's reactions, she seemed at first ashamed of what had happened; now she seemed ok about it all. She needed to know what Rose was thinking; she pushed the other woman back gently and rested her head on her hand staring down at Rose.
"I wanted to make love to you Rose, I didn't want to upset you or hurt you, I think maybe I did?" She waited for Rose to respond; watching as Rose blushed at her words.
"You didn't hurt me; I was just a bit embarrassed." Rose admitted slowly.
Blanche frowned. "Why?"
Rose squirmed slightly then sighed before answering. "It's just that... I've never felt that way before."
"What way?" Blanche asked her.
"That way." Rose said obviously uncomfortable.
Blanche regarded the other woman in silence for a moment, and then it hit her.
"You mean you've never climaxed before?" she asked her gently.
Rose closed her eyes mortified by her inadequacy "Obviously." She whispered.
"Oh Rose, I'm sorry, I didn't realise, I just assumed." Blanche reached out and caressed Rose's cheek.
"Do you think I'm pathetic?" Rose asked quietly.
"God no, of course I don't." Blanche shook her head to emphasis her words. "I love you." She added reaching down and kissing her softly. Rose opened her mouth inviting Blanche to deepen the kiss, which she did. Blanche felt the heat between them intensify and pressed her knee between Rose's legs pushing them apart, she moved her hip and thigh until she could feel the heat and wetness from Rose's sex against her, she began to rock her hips slowly.
Rose moaned into her mouth and she lifted Rose's knee so that she could feel her thigh against her own hot, wet flesh. Blanche could feel the tension between them rise, she slid her hand between their bodies until she cupped Rose's sex in her hand, she explored her with her fingers, entering her slowly and pressing her thigh against her hand to increase the pressure. Rose cried out, her head falling back against the bed, Blanche closed her lips over Rose's neck, feeling the pulse under her tongue; she began to suck and lick the sensitive area fighting the urge to bite down and taste the other woman's blood, feel her life in her mouth. She had never desired anyone the way she did Rose, she wanted to devour her completely and it frightened her. She forced herself to pull away from Rose's neck and turned her attentions to her lips, sucking her tongue into her mouth as she rocked against her body. Rose's hands had moved to her back trailing down her sides and making her shiver when they settled in the small of her back pulling her closer, She could feel her release building quickly, she closed her eyes concentrating on her fingers stroking deeply inside Rose, she moved her thumb in circles over the sensitive nub, wanting Rose to experience her second climax, before her own. Rose was beginning to writhe under her, her body was slick with sweat and had begun to shudder, her movements were driving Blanche closer to her own release, Blanche moved her lips to Rose's ear and whispered "I love you." before taking the lobe in her mouth and sucking it.
Rose had begun to sob, her hands clutching painfully at Blanche's back and bottom. "god, god," she repeated, her eyes closed and she saw flashes of red behind her lids, it was happening again, this incredible explosion of feeling, she didn't fight it this time, she new what to expect, she could feel Blanche's arousal as a hot slick wetness against her thigh and she raised her own to increase the pressure, she felt Blanche shudder as she did so and it made her moan, she grabbed Blanches head pulling her away from her neck and begged her to kiss her. Rose opened her eyes and looked into Blanches face, her eyes were closed her brow furrowed in concentration, her short hair wet with sweat, Rose pulled away slightly "Look at me." she demanded. Blanche opened her eyes and stared down at her. Rose looked into the blue depths above her own and shivered at the intensity of Blanches gaze. "Now kiss me." she croaked her throat dry, Blanche complied keeping her eyes fixed on Rose's. Rose felt the build up of tension in her body increase dramatically, she was panting between kisses as Blanche switched between licking and sucking her tongue and lips, Blanches fingers were moving inside her claiming her and filling her, she was seconds away now, she could feel her body begin to shake uncontrollably, she wanted Blanche to know what she was doing to her, she grabbed the other woman's face in her hands breaking the kiss, her breath was coming fast now leaving her body and sounding like sobs, she tried to form words wanting Blanche to know how she was feeling, But she couldn't, she was too far gone. Her head fell back and her mouth opened, her body convulsed and she heard herself crying as the waves of release engulfed her. As she became aware of her body again she could feel Blanche still moving against her, she opened her eyes and focused on Blanche's face, she was close, Rose realised and she quickly moved her hand between their bodies until she reached Blanche's sex.
She watched in amazement as Blanche shuddered at the touch, "Oh God." Blanche sobbed; her breathing had become harsh and shallow. Rose pulled Blanche towards her, kissing her roughly; she couldn't believe how aroused she was seeing Blanche like this. She moved her hand against Blanche, pressing her thigh upwards to meet Blanches rocking hips. Blanche cried out as her body suddenly tensed and then collapsed. Rose held her tightly, kissing her gently now, wanting to comfort and sooth her. "I love you, I love you so much." Blanche sobbed against her shoulder.
Rose closed her eyes against the rush of emotion Blanche's words caused. She wanted to tell her she loved her to, she had tried earlier but couldn't, she didn't know why it was so hard. She tightened her hold on the other woman instead, kissing her shoulder and neck trying to impart how she felt through action. She was suddenly exhausted and soon found herself drifting in and out of consciousness. She was dimly aware of Blanche repositioning their bodies. She sighed contentedly as she felt Blanches arm wrap around her from behind, she smiled to herself as she fell asleep.
Warm, wet, aroused, Rose moaned in her dream, she was being made love to and her body was burning up. She woke slowly, not wanting the dream to end, she opened her eyes and was momentarily disorientated, the room was dark, then she became aware of her body, "God." she moaned and reached down encountering Blanche's short hair, "What are you doing?" she gasped.
Blanche didn't stop her ministrations, in reply she grasped Rose's hand and held it tightly, her other hand was buried inside Rose, moving in and out of her, her mouth sucking and licking her towards another climax. Rose closed her yes and felt herself collapse inwards as her body shuddered its release.
She pulled Blanche up over her body, enjoying the heat of the other woman's body on her own. Blanche touched her face in the dark, and then began kissing her. Rose could taste herself on Blanches lips, she wondered if Blanches tasted differently.
Blanche rolled off Rose pulling her with her so the Rose's head was resting on her shoulder, she sighed in satisfaction, she couldn't believe what had happened, she had wanted Rose for so long she never dreamt that this could ever happen, she new that Rose didn't love her, but it didn't matter, she had this day and maybe two more, it was enough for her. Rose kissed her neck softly and she smiled at the shiver that coursed through her body. She tightened her hold on the other woman kissing her lightly on the head.
"Blanche, we should talk about this." Rose asked softly. Blanche sighed, she didn't want to talk not now, she wanted to hold Rose and sleep. "Not now, lets just sleep, ok?" She asked.
Rose was silent for a moment and then nodded. "Alright, in the morning then."
Blanche agreed and felt Rose relax against her body, at least she had tonight, she thought before drifting off to sleep.
Rose opened her eyes, light was streaming into the room, she had slept for hours, not surprising she thought a little smugly. She stretched her back, the dull ache that was her constant companion only a minor irritation. She realised suddenly that she was alone, sitting up she looked around the room.
"Blanche?" she called out. Silence greeted her and she frowned, 'Where is she' she asked herself.
She climbed out of bed and headed off to the bathroom, hoping Blanche would be back soon, she needed to talk with her, everything had changed, she had never felt like this before. Her body was thrumming with tension, desire, lust, she didn't know how to describe it. Years in the camps had removed all sexual feelings from her body, malnourished and sick most of the time had meant that sex was rarely on her mind. Blanche had changed all of that, she had changed everything. Rose shivered as she remembered waking to Blanche making love to her; she grabbed the sink as a wave of desire engulfed her body. She closed her eyes waiting for it to dissipate, opening them, she stared at her reflection for a moment, her hair was dishevelled, her lips red and bruised, she could see marks on her neck left there by Blanche, "God I look a fright." she murmured then laughed.
She washed her face and hands then cleaned her teeth, she was drying her face when the door slowly opened, she looked up and met Blanche's amused gaze. "Morning beautiful." Blanche smirked.
"Don't look at me, I look awful." Rose replied.
Blanche stepped forward and stood behind Rose for a moment staring at their reflection in the mirror. "You look beautiful." She said softly, placing her arms around Rose and kissing her shoulder.
Rose felt the surge return as she watched Blanche in the mirror; Blanche met her eyes and smiled at her before placing a series of gentle kisses along her neck. Rose felt the heat building and she bit her lip as she continued to watch Blanche's reflection. She watched as Blanche lifted her hand and cupped her chin, her fingers caressing her cheek and lips, she watched herself take Blanches index finger into her mouth and moaned as Blanche moved to her ear, licking her lobe and then biting it gently. She gasped as she felt Blanches other hand move down her body tickling her as she ran her fingers down her stomach, she saw her head turning towards Blanche who moved forward slightly to capture her lips. Blanche's hand moved over her pubic bone and dipped into her swollen sex, she groaned against Blanches lips and fell forward slightly grabbing the sink to support herself, Blanche pressed her body against her, her fingers entering her as she did so. Rose felt her body begin to shudder as Blanche increased the speed of her movements; she rested her head against the mirror, her breath misting it as she began to pant, Blanche's other hand had moved to her left breast and was pinching her nipple, her mouth pressed against the nape of her neck, her hot breath sending chills down Rose's spine. Rose could barely stand, she felt as if her body was turning to liquid, "Blanche she gasped out, "God Blanche, help me." She begged. Blanche turned her around quickly pushing her against the bathroom wall, she kissed her quickly, deeply, then dropped to her knees in front of her. Without removing her hand she joined it with her mouth, Rose cried out as she felt Blanche's hot wet tongue stroke her sex, she reached down with one hand and held Blanche's head pressing her closer. She watched fascinated as Blanche made love to her, she moved her hand from the back of her head and began caressing Blanche's cheek. Blanche opened her eyes and met her own, her blue eyes as intense as Rose had ever seen them. Rose felt her heart swell painfully in her chest, she loved Blanche, she knew it, felt it like a hammer blow. She tried to keep eye contact but Blanche had increased the pressure, and she felt herself begin to melt as the climax took her. She could no longer keep upright her legs gave way and she slid down the wall, Blanche caught her as she landed on the floor, she leaned her head against Blanche's shoulder her breath coming in short gasps. "What you do to me" She murmured "God what you do to me" Blanche pulled her into her arms holding her tightly and rocking her gently. "I love you." Blanche whispered, "I love you."
When Rose had recovered Blanche led her back into the bedroom, "Ta da." She said dramatically pulling a white cloth away from a silver tray laden with food. "Breakfast is served my lady."
"You really are spoiling me rotten you know that don't you." Rose said still feeling shaky.
Blanche took her shoulders and pushed her gently onto her bed.
"I haven't even begun to spoil you." Blanche said grinning at her, she lifted the tray onto Rose's knee's and removed the plate warmers. "Eat up then, I have some champs to wash it down with."
"Champagne, at this hour?" Rose laughed.
"Champagne at any hour darling." Blanche smiled as she removed the bottle from its ice bucket and worked the cork out.
She poured two glasses and handed one to Rose.
"To spoiling you for another two days" Blanche raised her glass to Rose.
Rose sipped her drink slowly, she was leaving in two days and Blanche was staying, nothing had changed after all, she had expected Blanche to change her mind and return to England with her. Obviously that wasn't the case, she suddenly felt intensely sad, she swallowed a mouthful of Champagne, hoping it would remove the lump that had formed in her throat.
How could Blanche stay, after she had said that she loved her, repeatedly, how could she be so cheerful knowing that they would probably never see each other again? Maybe Blanche didn't love her at all, she thought morosely. It wasn't as if she hadn't been in this situation before, her first fiancé had professed true love and so she had sex with him, only to have him happily break off the engagement after a few weeks. She felt suddenly glad she hadn't told Blanche how she felt about her; she didn't think she could cope with the humiliation of being rejected, not again.
She met Blanche's eyes for a moment, Blanche smiled at her and she smiled back automatically, did Blanche love her? She wanted to believe that she did, she certainly loved Blanche, more than she thought possible. She had only been in love with two people in her life; one was dead the other she would never see again. She had wanted to talk to Blanche, tell her how she felt, how Blanche had made her feel, now she was feeling vulnerable and unsure of Blanche's true intentions and feelings.
'Why was every interaction between them fraught with confusion? It was always like this, one moment to the next, push me pull you, fighting, making up, fighting again.' Rose sighed softly. She felt emotionally shattered, the last twenty-four hours had changed her forever, and she could feel it in the core of her being. Rose realised in a moment of clarity what she needed to do. She stood slowly and moved away from Blanche, she looked at the champagne fizzing gently in its glass and quickly poured it down her throat. She turned around slowly to face Blanche who was sitting on the bed staring at her quizzically.
"Rose?" Blanche asked smiling.
"Why two days Blanche?" Rose responded, "Why not ten, hell why not one thousand?" She waited for Blanche to answer.
"You know why." Blanche replied softly, unsure what point Rose was trying to make. She tried to gauge Rose's mood but found it impossible. Rose stood very still her face calm and yet Blanche could see the muscles working in her jaw. 'Rose is holding something in.' She thought.
"What's wrong Rose?" She asked gently.
"You told me you love me, in fact you said it repeatedly." Rose said matter of factly.
Blanche nodded in response. "I do love you." Blanche said.
"If that's true then why have we only two days?" Rose responded.
Blanche frowned, she was starting to feel anxious what was Rose getting at, surely she new nothing had really changed. "Because you're leaving in two days." She said.
"And you're staying." Rose stated flatly.
Blanche nodded slowly.
"After last night?" Rose added her voice steely. She clenched her teeth again trying to control her emotions.
Blanche sighed, how quickly it was all unravelling, she had hoped to avoid this conversation, make it through to d-day, losing Rose day.
"I don't know what you want." Blanche stood extending her arms, her palms upwards in resignation.
"How can you ask that?" Rose hissed through clenched teeth, "not after, not after..." She faltered, she felt like screaming, frustration building with each passing moment.
"After what Rose?" Blanche spoke warily, knowing the answer but unsure of its meaning for Rose.
Rose forced air through her mouth, the sound sharp in the still room. "Stop it." She finally exclaimed.
"Stop pretending you don't know what's happening here." She placed her hands on her hips and glared at Blanche. "Do you love me?" She asked again.
Blanche stared at her for a moment, confused, she took a step closer. "I love you Rose." She said simply.
"If that's true why do we only have two days? Why are you so content with that?" Rose reasoned.
"Why would you think I'm content?" Blanche asked her voice cracking. "I hate that you're leaving, I hate it." Blanche choked; she turned away from Rose, wrapping her arms around herself. 'Why was Rose pushing this' she thought, 'she knows how I feel; she knows'. Blanche closed her eyes tightly wanting to shut everything out. 'She doesn't love me, she may want me, but she can't love me, she can't say it, she can't feel it, not for me.' Blanches thoughts tortured her, maybe she could leave just walk out now, stop the pain now.
"Then why won't you come to England?" Rose asked
"And what would I do there Rose?" Blanche asked turning around and looking at the door. 'escape now' she told herself. 'Before she tells you she can still see you occasionally, before she goes on about Joss's money, before she admits she loves you as a friend.'
Rose sighed, she rubbed her forehead in frustration, she wanted to understand why Blanche seemed so reluctant to commit to leaving, to commit to being with her. "You've got Joss's money, you can get a job, we can..." She hesitated wanting to express her desire to be with the other woman, but finding it hard to be vulnerable, frightened of rejection.
"God." one word, thready and shattering, escaped from Blanche as she ran for the door and fled the room.
Two days, two days without Blanche, two days waiting and then searching, two long sleepless nights that Rose could never get back. She had been stunned at the agony in Blanche's voice, the pain etched on her face as she ran from her. Rose hadn't moved for several moments and when she finally went in search of Blanche she was long gone. Now two days later and Rose was packed and waiting to leave Singapore. In two hours Marion and Beatrice were meeting her at Raffles, then together to the docks, then the boat then home. She sat on her bed staring at Blanches empty one, she stood up and pulled the pillow from Blanches bed hugging it to her, she buried her face in it, inhaling deeply, desperate to find some trace of the other woman still lingering there.
Not for the first time she questioned her need to return home, should she stay, should she try and find Blanche and be with her, stay with her. "God, god." She sobbed hugging the pillow to her chest. "Where is she, why won't she see me?"
"Maybe she's frightened."
The voice started Rose and she looked up into Marion's kind eyes. "I didn't hear you, sorry." Rose quickly wiped her eyes and attempted a smile that resembled a grimace, and then the words registered.
"What do you mean frightened?" Marion smiled sadly and sat opposite Rose, she reached out and took Blanches pillow from Rose's lap, she stared at it for a moment and then met Rose's red rimmed eyes.
"She's safe; by the way, she's been staying with a friend." Marion said.
"Jake." Rose couldn't help the shudder that ran through her, the surge of jealousy too powerful to hide.
"Yes" Marion responded matter of factly.
"I knew it." Rose spat angrily, standing suddenly, she began to pace. "I know I couldn't trust her, I knew it."
"What are you talking about?" Marion asked wearily.
"There's always a port in the storm for Blanche, isn't there, never tied down, always on the hop, I know it wasn't real I knew it." Rose continued to rage against Blanche her anger and jealousy poisoning her words. "She got what she wanted and now she's off and running, always running away." Rose paused as her mind flashed on an image of tears and pain, of Blanche running, running from her. "Always running away." she said quietly her anger suddenly forgotten. She turned to face Marion. "Have you seen her?" She asked.
Marion nodded, Rose watched her closely, why was Marion here so early, why did she look so strained, Rose felt a creeping dread and she sat back down opposite Marion. "What's going on?" She asked her.
Marion stared at Rose for a moment then spoke. "Jake called me yesterday, Blanche was at his place, he had found her in a bar, drunk, he took her home, he was worried about her, about her state of mind, so he called me and I went to see her." Marion paused and caressed the pillow on her lap briefly. "She was in quiet a state when I got there; she almost looked as bad as she did when she was dragged from the punishment hut, dirty, bleeding, and bruised." Marion paused again and watched Rose for a moment, and then continued.
"She wouldn't tell me what had happened to her, she didn't seem to care, all she kept repeating was why, why, over again." Marion sighed feeling utterly depressed; she watched Rose intently and waited.
Rose stared back, she felt sick, what had happened to Blanche, was she hurt. 'Why did she run away, why?' "Where is she now?"
"With Jake." Marion replied.
"I want to see her." Rose stood suddenly.
"Wait" Marion said taking her hand and pulling her back down next to her. "We need to talk first."
Rose sat reluctantly.
"What happened Rose?" Marion asked.
Rose sighed, she didn't want to confess to Marion, she felt too raw.
"We fought." She said briefly.
"Obviously, what about?" Marion asked.
"She wouldn't tell me why she wanted to stay in Singapore." Rose murmured.
"Why is it to important to you that she doesn't stay, that's the issue here or am I missing the point?" Marion asked her.
"We've already had this conversation Marion." Rose said heatedly. "Remember?"
"Do you remember Rose? Did you listen to your heart as I suggested?" Marion asked knowing the answer already.
"I thought I did." Rose said frowning suddenly not so sure.
"And did you let Blanche know, did you tell her?" Marion prodded gently.
Rose froze, her heart fluttered and she felt faint. " I..." She stammered "I don't know." She whispered.
"That's your answer then." Marion said softly.
Rose sat silent, trying to process the meaning in all that had occurred between Blanche and herself.
"Blanche was obsessed really." Marion said conversationally. "Every day from when they took you away and I mean every single day, she spoke of you, in the first few months it was every hour."
Rose closed her eyes as Marion continued. "We all knew you had been close, but then it became this constant eulogy, unrelenting really. I realised when others didn't that she felt guilt, guilt over what had happened. I suppose that's how I rationalised it. Blanches way of dealing with that guilt." Marion paused and seeing that Rose was listening intently she continued.
"After a while I changed my mind and I concluded that it wasn't simply guilt, it was far more compelling, Blanche was grieving, she had lost someone so dear and precious to her that she had to keep that memory alive, keep you alive. So she spoke of you every day, to keep you close to her, alive in her." Marion stopped, feeling horribly saddened, her imminent departure for home almost forgotten. She looked at Rose and reached out to her brushing away the tears falling on her cheeks. "Blanche loved you so much Rose, losing you almost drove her mad, my god it's a wonder that we all didn't go mad in those blasted camps. But she survived and somehow held that love inside so that in the end it strengthened her, gave her life meaning."
Rose wiped her eyes opening them slowly, she met Marion's.
"Now she's losing you all over again." Marion said softly.
"She doesn't have to, that's the point." Rose spoke finally.
"Did you tell her that?" Marion asked.
Rose didn't respond.
"Did you tell her how much she means to you, how much you would miss her, how much you love her?" Marion asked.
"No." Rose whispered, she hadn't said any of those things, she had thought them, she had wanted to but her own fear and cowardice got in the way. Her overriding instinct for self preservation had prevented her from sharing her feelings with Blanche.
"She must hate me." Rose struggled with the words, her throat constricted.
"No that's the point, isn't it? She doesn't hate you, she adores you Rose, and she always has." Marion sighed; she was so tired, so sick and tired of it all. She had led these women for over three years, through hell and out the other side or so she had believed. But even now hours before leaving for home, she was still trying to save them. For the first time Marion didn't want to anymore, she wanted to rest, to become anonymous, to have no responsibility, no fear of death and its consequences. 'God to go home' She thought sadly.
Rose began to sob and Marion took her into her arms. "Do you love her Rose?" she asked.
Rose nodded against her. "Yes of course I do."
Marion hugged the younger woman fiercely for a moment then released her.
"Will she see me?" Rose asked plaintively.
"I don't know Rose." Marion shook her head wearily. "We are leaving in an hour you don't have much time."
"I need to say goodbye to her, I need to tell her, so many things." Rose stammered.
"Well then let's go." Marion stood and took the other woman's hand in hers. "We'll get a taxi, let's go."
Blanche sat on Jakes balcony her head ached, she held a cool cloth to her forehead, apart from the pain her body experienced she felt numb, emotionally drained. She knew now what day it was, somewhere deep inside her she also knew her heart was breaking, but she couldn't feel anything anymore, nothing.
So it was with the barest of nods that she acknowledged Rose and Marion as they approached the house. Marion hung back as Rose climbed the few stairs to reach her. Blanche watched her approach vaguely acknowledging a faint sensation deep within her chest.
"Blanche, my god your face, what happened to you?" Rose was kneeling in front of her; she thought it only polite to respond.
"Can't remember, doesn't matter." She murmured.
Rose reached out tentatively and stroked her bruised cheek.
"Does it hurt?" Rose asked softly.
Blanche shook her head, the sensation of skin on skin made her uncomfortable. Rose removed her hand.
"I'm leaving soon Blanche, I wanted to see you, to say goodbye to you." Rose said her voice becoming strained as she received little response to her words.
"I'm sorry if I hurt you." She continued, her eyes searching Blanches trying to make contact.
"Please Blanche, please look at me." She pleaded.
Blanche closed her eyes in response, the words and tone making her more and more uncomfortable.
'Why was she here?' She thought. 'Why, why?' Blanche shook her head trying to clear her thoughts, trying to ignore the mantra that had been filling them.
Rose felt helpless, she leaned her head forward until her forehead touched Blanche's knees. "What can I say?" She whispered. She took a deep breath, braver now that she didn't have to look at Blanche's bruised face, the pain etched on her features and her eyes studiously avoiding her own.
"I need you to know how much you mean to me, how much I miss you, will miss you. She felt the tears well in her eyes and let them fall onto Blanche.
"I should have told you, I should have been honest and told you, but I was frightened Blanche, I'm sorry." She swallowed her throat felt dry and constricted.
"I love you." She whispered.
"I love you Blanche." She repeated gaining strength from the admission; she raised her head hoping to meet Blanche's eyes. She was disappointed to see them closed.
"Blanche?" She pleaded. "Please Blanche"
There was no response.
Rose wiped her eyes and sat motionless for several minutes. Blanche was lost to her, she was touching her and yet there was no reaction. 'As if Blanche wasn't even there.' Rose closed her eyes trying to shut out the pain, her heart felt like it was shattering into cold shards. She had to leave she couldn't bare it any longer; she had been terrified of this, terrified of rejection.
She stood slowly and leaned forward, she kissed Blanches' unresponsive cheek, letting her lips linger then with a whispered goodbye, she turned and stumbled towards Marion who grabbed her, helping her quickly into the waiting taxi. Jake who had been watching silently from inside moved purposefully onto the balcony.
The following hour flew past in a blur of seconds and minutes, Rose was half carried half pushed into Taxis and onto the dock, she was dimly aware of people hugging and kissing her, wishing her luck and saying goodbye, 'just as she had said goodbye, No, don't think, don't think.' She repeated dully to herself. It was only when her feet stumbled onto the boat ramp that she became slowly aware of her surroundings. "Dear god." she mumbled.
"Come on Rose, nearly there." Beatrice pushed her forward gently and Rose looked up to see Marion ahead turned towards her, hand outstretched.
"It's alright Rose, come on." Marion's voice seemed to reach her from a great distance.
She stumbled forward and Marion caught her, helping her onto the deck. "You're here love, you're going home Rose." Marion consoled
Beatrice and Marion gently manoeuvred Rose towards the rail as the last passengers made their way up the ramp. "Look Rose you can see everyone from here." Beatrice said laughing as she spotted Stephen and Christina, she began to wave furiously.
Rose watched in growing horror. "god." she moaned, she wasn't there, the one person she needed to see, the one human being she felt connected with wasn't there, it was wrong, it all felt so wrong. She felt sick. Rose turned to Marion and grabbed her arm. "Cabins?" she groaned.
"Deck 6, 21." Marion said concern etched on her face.
"I can't..." Rose stopped, tears flooding her eyes, she turned blindly and headed into the Liner, desperate to get away, to be alone.
Marion watched her leave feeling drawn to follow her and yet knowing she could offer no relief. She turned instead to say her last farewells, to say her goodbyes and to shed her own tears for the loss of so many friends and so many years.
As the Liner pulled away from Singapore Rose lay on her bunk staring out the pothole at the great and battered port slowly diminishing in size. She was relieved that no one else had entered the cabin, it was a two person berth but she was alone in it. Beatrice and Marion were across the hall, they had briefly looked in on her. 'Making sure I hadn't done anything silly.' she thought bitterly.
'I should have stayed.' She kept telling herself. 'Just to be near her, even that would have been enough.' She allowed herself to cry, not bothering to wipe the tears away. "How will I go on?" She sobbed.
She groaned when she heard the door to the cabin open and turned away quickly so that the interloper couldn't see her face. She fought the irrational anger at the thought of sharing the cabin, she wanted to be alone."Not to be." She murmured.
"What's not to be?" Rose shook her head, the woman had sounded just like Blanche. She closed her eyes and apologised to the newcomer.
"Sorry I was talking to myself." She heard the woman move towards the bunk.
"First sign of madness, don't you know." the woman responded.
Rose turned slowly her body responding to the voice even as her mind refused to.
Blanched smiled down at her. "Why are you crying Rose?" she asked her gently, as she sat on the bunk beside her.
Rose stared back at Blanche unable to accept what she was seeing.
"I've lost someone." She finally answered.
"Who did you lose?" Blanche asked her softly, reaching out as she spoke and wiping the tears from Rose's cheeks.
"You." Rose whispered.
Blanche stared at her intently for a moment her blue eyes almost brittle in the dimly lit cabin.
"Me? but I'm, right here." Blanche said slowly. She picked up Rose's right hand and kissed the palm gently before continuing. "I was a bit lost Rose, then you came, you told me you loved me. Do you love me Rose?" Blanche leaned towards her, eyes bright. "Do you love me Rose?" She asked again.
Rose closed her eyes, reality or dream she no longer cared. "Yes I love you." She opened her eyes and met Blanches now within inches of her own.
"God I love you." She whispered as Blanche closed the gap between them and kissed her gently. "About bloody time." Blanche murmured against her lips. Rose laughed despite herself, pulling Blanche to her and holding her tightly.
"I'm not letting you go." Rose gasped, "Never again, no more running away alright?" she increased the pressure, desperate to hold on.
"Alright, I promise, no more running away, now let me go, I can feel my ribs cracking." Blanche smiled as she disentangled herself from Rose's arms. She sobered when she saw the rawness in Rose's eyes.
"I'm here, really, I'm not going anywhere." Blanche said seriously.
Rose sat up and touched Blanche's bruised face. "It's really you?" She murmured, "How" Rose asked her.
"Jake, he got me here, see I never did cash in my ticket with Phyllis, I kept it, just in case." Sadness creeping into her voice.
"But you were practically comatose when I left you, you didn't even acknowledge me." Rose stammered.
"I knew it was you, I was there, just shut off. When I saw you leave with Marion I shook it off, Well Jake shook me first and then I shook it off." Blanche smiled ruefully. She lifted a strand of hair from Roses shoulder and held it to her lips. Rose sighed at the intimacy of the gesture.
"I'm so sorry Blanche, I wanted to tell you how I felt, I did, it's just, and it's hard for me." Rose stopped unable to explain, frustrated.
Blanche dropped the lock of hair and gathered Rose into her arms, rocking her gently. "It's alright; we're going to be alright." She murmured.
Rose closed her eyes listening to the steady rhythm of Blanche's heart.
She had a new mantra now.
"Yes, we are going to be alright." She murmured "And we're going home."
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