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We're looking for something dumb to do
It's half-eight on a Saturday morning and Charity Dingle has no business even being awake at this time, let alone downstairs brewing tea and making toast. But between Noah clomping around like a fairy elephant and Vanessa singing in the shower, there really wasn't any point in trying to get back to sleep. Not that the Woolpack was ideal; sharing a bathroom with Chas and whatever other relatives had needed a room in any given week was problematic to say the least. But the one thing it did have going for it was the distance from her room to Noah's room and the bathroom. Tug Ghyll does not have the advantage of square footage, which leads to more early mornings than Charity would care for.
That said, if pressed, she might say she actually enjoys the madness of mornings in their household. The noise and frantic running around after two toddlers and a teenager who doesn't always remember he has homework until morning can feel overwhelming until she compares it to other periods in her life, when she had nobody to make toast for, or convince that socks aren't evil, or kiss goodbye. After almost three years with Vanessa, well, if you count the six months neither of them were willing to call it a relationship, Charity can't even imagine going back to those silent, lonely days.
Still, she thinks as she butters a slice of toast and adds it to the pile on the plate, she should be allowed to sleep in on a Saturday. Moses is with Ross and Johnny stayed overnight with Tracy and David after some outing to a soft play place with Amba. So if ever there was a time to have a lie in, it would be today. But no. Noah's football practice and Vanessa being on the Saturday shift put paid to that idea. She's shaken out of her self-pity by Noah clattering down the stairs.
"Morning!" It's weird how he can be so chipper on mornings when he doesn't have school whereas during the week, he's a zombie.
"Morning," she mumbles. "Tea's in the pot." She picks up her own cup, along with the plate of toast and moves to the table, taking her usual seat. He pours himself a cuppa and joins her, grabbing a couple of slices of toast. They sip tea and chew in silence for a few minutes, the only noise being Vanessa moving around upstairs. The singing has stopped so she's finished showering.
"Mum. Can I ask you something?"
The tone of his voice twangs something in her chest that immediately puts her on alert. She raises her eyebrows. "Sounds serious."
His brow scrunches in thought then he nods. "Well...yeah, I guess it is."
Her heart has started to thud heavily in her chest now as a hundred scenarios run through her mind. She sends up a brief prayer to a God she's long since lost touch with that he hasn't gone and got some little girl pregnant and needs the number of an abortion clinic.
"Well. What is it?" She tries her best to keep the panic from making her voice squawky, but she's only half successful.
He shifts in his seat, as if unsure what he's going to say, despite frightening the life out of her by announcing he's going to say something serious. He lifts his head and looks her in the eye. "Are you and Vanessa gonna get married?"
It takes a second or two for her brain to catch up with her ears and she stares blankly at him. "That's the serious thing you wanted to ask me?" She needs clarification, because the question, although unexpected, does not fall into any of the horrific categories she'd come up with. He nods and she swallows, her throat sticky all of a sudden. "Where's this come from?"
Noah lifts a shoulder and lets it drop. "Dunno. I just...thought it might be nice if the two of you got married. It'd make us a proper family."
Her stomach twists at his words. She's never been able to give him that. Maybe with Jai, for a while. The closest he's had to a 'proper' family was while she was in prison and she wasn't part of it.
"You don't need to be married to be a proper family, love." She gestures around them. "You just need...I dunno, people who you know are there for you, and you're there for them." That doesn't quite cover it, that sounds like an obligation. "People who you like spending time with, who you want to be with. And we've got that here, haven't we?"
"Yeah, I know we do," Noah agrees. "But I just thought you getting married would make it, like, a permanent thing."
"Oh, darling," Charity reaches over and grasps his forearm, squeezing. "You know as well as I do that a wedding doesn't mean anything's permanent. It's just a day where you dress up nice and say some stuff that you might or might not believe at the time. After that, it's anybody's guess."
"But...but you must like being married, right? I mean, you've done it enough times!"
"Yes, thank you, Noah." She huffs and takes a drink of tea. "I didn't get married any of those times because I liked being married. Not like I just got a taste for wedding cake."
He wrinkles his nose. "It's horrible. Especially the yellow bit."
"Anyway it's...those other times...it wasn't the same as it is with Vanessa." Each of her marriages, when she looks back on them, was about security. About knowing she had a roof over her head and a means to support herself and her children. People might've thought she was a gold-digging bitch, but what she was really after was an assurance that she'd never be out on the street in the cold again. That's why she went for men with money. And yeah, she managed to convince herself that it was love with each of them, but it never was. Not love as she's come to understand it this past year or so, at least.
"It's different because you love her more than you did them, right?" Noah asks, as if that's a normal question for a kid to ask his mother.
She rolls her eyes at this simplistic, though fairly accurate, summing up of the situation. "Whatever." She shrugs. "Yeah, if that's how you want to look at it."
"So " His face looks like it does whenever Vanessa tries to help him with his biology homework; utterly confused. "Why wouldn't you want to marry someone who you love more than all those blokes you married?"
"You don't have to say all those blokes, Noah." Charity scowls. "And...it's not...it's not that I don't want to marry Vanessa. I just...the two of us haven't even spoken about it."
"Then you should." He nods, like it's been decided.. "I think Vanessa would be well up for it."
"Oh?" One of her eyebrows creeps up. "And what makes you think that?"
"Just, you know, the way she is with you." Noah explains, looking a little embarrassed. "She's, like, proper loved up."
"Who is?" They both turn at the sound of Vanessa's voice, eyes wide at being caught. Charity curses her earlier thoughts about the house and everything making too much noise. Not when it matters, it seems. Vanessa makes her way over from the stairs, looking between them, confused. "Okay, what have I missed? Who's loved up?"
"You are," Charity says, mouth twisting into a smirk. "According to Noah."
"Mum!" Noah hisses, his face bright red.
Vanessa's mouth forms an 'o' but no sound comes out, cheeks tinged with pink. Then she lets out an embarrassed chuckle. "Well, we can't fault the boy's observational skills, eh?"
She sits down in her usual seat and nabs Charity's cup of tea, taking a quick swig.
"Oi!" Charity complains. "That's mine! There's plenty more in the pot. Pour your own!"
"No time, babe," Vanessa says, with an apologetic smile, grabbing a piece of toast and taking an enormous bite, talking around it. "Not if I want to get this one dropped off and then back to the surgery in time for opening."
Charity rolls her eyes and slumps back in her seat, but doesn't insist on her beverage being returned. She's still giving Vanessa the evils when Noah pipes up, out of nowhere.
"Before you came down, I was just asking mum if you and her were gonna get married."
Vanessa freezes mid-chew, her eyes locked on Charity's. Charity holds her gaze for a long moment, before her eyes flick to Noah, who looks incredibly smug.
"Right. Just for that, you're grounded."
"What? That's not fair!"
"Keep talking and there'll be no XBox either."
"But " He turns to Vanessa. "Ness, can you tell her that's not fair?"
"Charity, that's not fair," Vanessa says, apparently recovered from her shock. "Unground him."
"No," Charity folds her arms. "He did that out of spite because I told you what he said about you."
Vanessa reaches over and squeezes Noah's shoulder. "We'll sort this out later, don't worry about it." Charity almost interjects, but Vanessa's still talking. "And as for the other thing, the marriage thing, I think that's something your mum and me would need to talk about, just the two of us, okay?"
"That's what she said too," Noah huffs, his arms crossed over his chest.
Vanessa turns a half smile on her. "Well, at least we're on the same page. And neither of us ran for the hills at the suggestion."
Charity feels something stir in her gut at Vanessa's tone. Previously, when heavy subjects come up in Charity's relationships, it ended in a screaming match or somebody walking out. But Vanessa has such a calm, measured response to most things that they can, mostly, talk about stuff like adults. Not to say they haven't had their share of barneys, but they're far more easily and quickly resolved than with anyone who came before.
Noah seems encouraged by this reaction, sitting forward and leaning his arms on the table. "So, if you did get married-"
"Noah," Charity warns, shaking her head at him.
"No, but if you did, would I be Noah Woodfield?" he asks, grinning at Vanessa. "I think that sounds proper posh. Like a detective off the telly or something."
Vanessa's nodding along with him as she continues eating her toast. "Noah Woodfield. P.I. Suits you."
Charity exhales sharply through her nose. "Yeah, well, get that notion out of your head. Because Charity Woodfield sounds like a bunch of tree-hugging environmental do-gooders."
Vanessa's nose crinkles. "Oh, it does an'all. Yeah, that's no good."
Charity can't quite believe they're having a hypothetical discussion about what their married name would be and that it's not causing her more panic. What she'd said to Noah was true; it's not that she doesn't want to marry Vanessa. In fact, she can't see herself being with anyone other than Vanessa ever again. So in terms of spending their lives together, that's very much in Charity's plan. But weddings and marriages have never gone well for her and she'd hate to jinx this wonderful thing she has going by making it 'official'.
"I did suggest to Robert that him and Aaron smoosh their names," Charity ventures, entering into the spirit of the discussion a little. "What'd that be for us? Woogle?"
They all burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of the name and it helps to settle the last of the lingering tension.
"That or Dingfield," Vanessa says, still laughing. "And that's not much better." She dabs at the corner of her eye where a tear is threatening to escape. "I s'pose I'd just have to be a Dingle then."
"Vanessa Dingle," Noah says, testing it out. Hearing it out loud kind of makes everything inside Charity melt. "Johnny Dingle." He nods. "They both work. You should definitely be Dingles."
"Like half the bloody village, eh?" Vanessa says, with an affectionate roll of her eyes. She looks at her watch, her eyes going wide. "C'mon, you, we're gonna be late." She gulps the rest of Charity's tea down and stands up. "Go on, get your kit and get in the car. I'll be out in a minute."
She chucks the car keys to him and he catches them as he stands up. He hesitates before following her instructions, looking instead to his mother. "Am I still grounded?"
She keeps her face neutral, narrowing her eyes slightly as she looks at him. While she was annoyed that he brought up the subject in front of Vanessa, it hasn't turned out so badly. She sighs. "No."
"Yes!" He fist pumps and she rolls her eyes, but is taken aback when he swoops by and drops a kiss on her cheek. "Thanks mum. See you later!"
Vanessa waits until he's grabbed his bag and run out of the house before she moves around the table and crouches down by Charity's seat, placing a hand on her thigh. Charity looks down into her eyes and can't help returning the soft smile she's presented with.
"So," Vanessa begins. "That wasn't quite what I thought the topic of conversation would be this morning."
"Me neither." Charity covers Vanessa's hand with her own, tracing gentle patterns over her knuckles with her fingertips.
Vanessa takes a breath and holds it for a second. "Look, I know what you're like. So, please don't work yourself up into a tizzy about this or make it a bigger deal than it is." Her eyes are large and imploring and she squeezes Charity's leg. "We can talk about it later if you like, but I want you to know now that I don't need a ring or a fancy frock or twelve and a half bridesmaids." She tilts her head to the side and smiles. "I just want you. And the kids. That's all I need, okay?"
People have said nice things to her in the past, made flowery promises and lavished her with compliments. But she always took words with a pinch of salt, never fully believing anything. It was usually an attempt to get into her knickers anyway.
But she believes in Vanessa's words. She trusts Vanessa's words. And Vanessa's words are exactly what she's always wanted to hear, but never has.
She shakes her head and laughs to cover up the sheen that's come across her eyes all of a sudden. She brings her free hand to Vanessa's face, cupping it and stroking a thumb over her cheekbone. "You know," she confides. "Sometimes I think you're this adorable on purpose, just to make me go all soft."
Vanessa smiles, like she hears what Charity's not saying. The way she always seems to be able to. She shrugs, offering up a cheeky smile. "Maybe I am."
Charity leans down, guiding Vanessa's face up to allow their lips to meet in a gentle kiss that lasts a few moments, but settles the flurry of activity in her mind. "You better go," she murmurs when they part. "Noah'll be beeping the horn in a minute."
"Mmhmm." Vanessa steals another, more chaste kiss before standing up. "Nothing to do with you not wanting to continue a soppy conversation then, eh?
"Course not," Charity agrees. "I love talking about my feelings before I've even finished my first brew of a morning."
Vanessa laughs and bends to kiss Charity's forehead. "I'll see you later." She makes as if to leave, but stops just before she reaches the door and turns back. "Charity." Charity looks over at her and sucks in a breath at the sincerity shining in Vanessa's eyes. "My answer's yes. You know, if you do decide you wanna ask at some point. It'll always be yes."
"That's...useful to know," Charity croaks.
Vanessa winks at her. "I'll see you at dinner time."
Then she's gone. And Charity's left contemplating the morning's revelations. Never in her life did she expect to be in a position where a kind, intelligent, beautiful woman wants to marry her for no reason other than she loves her. No scheming, no games, no ulterior motives. She just loves her. And Charity loves her back, fiercely and truly. Of that she's absolutely positive.
And maybe that's all she needs to know.
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