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Mine is the Sunlight, Mine is the Morning
She's awake before the door opens, but she keeps her eyes closed. Two sets of little feet pad across the room and hoist themselves onto the bed beside her. Johnny was too little to do that just a couple of months ago. Moses climbs over her and four little knees press against her upper arms. She can feel them above her, looking down, still she keeps her eyes closed and her smile hidden.
"Mummy," Moses whisper shouts very close to her ear, prodding her shoulder for good measure. "Wake up."
"Char'ty wake up!" Johnny's whisper is a little softer, and not accompanied by any physical jostling.
"She's not wakin' up, Ness!" Moses whines.
"I fink she's very too tired, Mummy." Johnny, bless him. "I fink she needs to sleep more."
"Oh, I think she'll wake up." She should have known Vanessa was behind this. And from the tone of her voice, she's well aware that Charity's faking sleep. "Boys, try tickling her-"
"I'm awake!" Charity sits up and grabs the boys in an arm each, tickling their ribs and making them squeal and wriggle. Vanessa moves from her spot in the doorway and sits on the bed just as Charity stops her assault, all three of them collapsing in a heap of giggles and hiccups. Johnny snuggles against her, his nose pressed into her neck, while Moses bounces on her other side.
"C'mon, Mummy! Get up 'fore the eggs is all gone!"
"We've a kitchen full of eggs, baba." Charity frowns. "And since when did you start asking for eggs for breakfast?" She shifts her gaze to Vanessa. "You've finally done it, Ness. He's forsaking Paw Patrol cereal for something healthy. Well done on corrupting my kids."
Vanessa rolls her eyes and leans in for a quick kiss. "He's talking about chocolate eggs, Charity. So no, I haven't quite managed to win them over yet."
Johnny pushes himself up on his elbow and smiles at her. "The Easter Buddy put eggs in all the places and we need to find them."
Laughing softly, Vanessa reaches over and sweeps Johnny's hair off his forehead. "It's the Easter Bunny, darling."
"Yeah. He's a really really big rabbit," Moses tells him, helpfully. He stands up on the bed and puts his hands as high up as he can reach. "Bigger than Marlon."
Turning to Johnny, Charity finds him looking up at Moses with wide, worried eyes. She presses her lips together to stop from laughing, because, really, a Marlon sized rabbit does sound fairly terrifying. She pulls him closer and kisses his cheek, remembering his trepidation about Santa possibly still being in the living room after delivering the presents. "Don't worry, babes. That bunny's long gone by now."
He turns his big eyes on her. "Is he?"
Charity nods. "He's off on a plane to America, isn't he? To deliver all the eggs over there. He's definitely not in Emmerdale anymore."
She barely sees his smile before Moses plants his hands on her chest, pushing her back down onto the pillows and grinning in her face. "But he leaved us eggs! Come on! You have to help us find them!"
Making a show of groaning and rolling her eyes, she relents. "Okay, fine. But you're sharing your chocolate with me."
Both boys nod enthusiastically and scramble off the bed, picking up little baskets they'd discarded on the floor and running out onto the landing. Charity throws back the covers and swings her legs out of bed, accepting the hand Vanessa offers to pull her to her feet where their lips meet easily in another kiss.
"How come I'm enlisted to help in the great Easter Egg Hunt of 2019 and you're not?" Charity asks as she quickly pulls on yesterday's jeans and grabs a clean blouse out of the wardrobe.
"Because I wrote the clues. It'd be cheating." Vanessa smiles and holds out her hand, wiggling her fingers. "C'mon. Debbie's downstairs making you a coffee as we speak. Jack's gonna help out in the hunt too. She couldn't shift Sarah out of bed and I've not even tried with Noah."
Widening her eyes, Charity nods as they head downstairs. "No. Best not to, babe. We'll chuck half an Easter egg in his room at about lunchtime. That might lure him out."
Johnny and Moses are chattering away to Jack when they get into the living room, with Paddy offering the occasional opinion on whatever it is they're talking about. Vanessa takes a seat at the table where Chas is sipping a cuppa. Charity joins them and Debbie presses a cup of coffee into her hand with a smirk.
Charity narrows her eyes. "What?"
"Nothing." Shaking her head, Debbie picks up her own cup and takes the last empty chair at the table. "Just never thought I'd see the day Charity Dingle would be up at the crack of dawn to go and look for chocolate eggs, that's all."
"No, me neither," Chas agrees. "Vanessa's rubbing off on her."
"Chas!" Charity tuts. "What have I told you about listening through our door, eh?"
Hiding her smile behind her mug, Charity attempts to look innocent, but rolls her eyes at Vanessa's glare. "Fine. Yes. Whatever. Vanessa's slowly but surely moulding me in her image, is that what you want to hear?"
"I'm not." Vanessa shakes her head, her ponytail whipping back and forth, nose wrinkled. "I don't want to make you into a clone of me. Or of anybody else. I want you to be you. That's who I fell in love with."
The matching 'awwwwws' that Chas and Debbie let out make Charity squirm in her seat, but she pitches forward and kisses Vanessa's cheek, muttering 'soppy cow' under her breath. Vanessa just smiles that daft smile that Charity loves before turning to Chas and striking up some conversation that Charity has no intention of following or taking part in. She sips her coffee, content to let the noise buzz around her. Soon enough, there's a tug at her sleeve and she finds Moses looking up at her.
"Can we look for the eggs now? Please?"
Charity can't help but smile at the enthusiasm on his face. Noah used to look at her like that, before she disappointed him too many times and he stopped expecting things from her. She really hopes Moses never feels that way about her. And, with Vanessa around to help her, there might actually be a chance of that happening.
Jack and Johnny come over to join Moses. Johnny's holding a yellow basket while Jack is trying to hold three at once.
"Right, come on then." Charity finishes off the coffee in her mug and sets it down before getting to her feet. "Let's go and find some chocolate so we can have it for breakfast, yeah?" Three voices chorus 'yay!' and she takes the pink basket Jack offers her. "Okay...where do we start?"
Vanessa clears her throat. "Maybe check the letterbox? See if the Easter Bunny's left anything there to start you off?"
"Right boys. Let's check out the front door, eh?" They all scarper out and Charity glares around the room at the amused expressions trained on her, pointing at each of them in turn. "One of you lot is doing this next year."
A small hand slips into hers and she looks down to find Johnny standing there. Little mite's probably still terrified of encountering a six foot bunny.
"Right, Johnny B. Goode. Let's go before them other two take all the choccies, yeah?"
He nods and they head through to the pub, only to encounter Moses and Jack barrelling back through. "We found a letter!" Jack thrusts it at her. "Open it, Granny!"
Taking the envelope, Charity barely manages not to roll her eyes. It's bright yellow and decorated all over with stickers of eggs and chicks and other vaguely Easter-ish things. She crouches down to the kids' level and opens the envelope, pulling out a piece of paper, reading it out loud for them.
"Well done for finding my letter!
But I think you can do even better.
I've hidden clues for you to find.
You'll really have to use your mind.
And also your arms and your legs.
To get all of those yummy eggs."
Charity presses her lips together, murmuring under her breath. "Don't give up your day job, Ness."
"What did you say?" Jack questions, immediately.
"Nothing, babe," Charity smiles. "Just enjoying the Bunny's poem, aren't I?"
"Where's the eggs?" Moses demands.
Charity looks back down at the paper, noticing more writing near the bottom of the page. "Oh, look. The first clue is here."
"What's it say?" Jack asks, getting swept up now.
"Let's see shall we?" Charity widens her eyes. "Let's get started, I don't want to tease. Your first egg might make you freeze!"
"The freezer!" Jack shouts. "C'mon!"
He sprints off, followed by Moses. Johnny toddles along beside Charity, holding onto her pinkie. Jack pushes open the heavy kitchen door and they troop inside. Charity helps Jack open the freezer and all three gasp when they see four Cadbury's Creme Eggs sat on one of the shelves, along with another obnoxiously yellow envelope. Jack distributes the eggs into each of their baskets while Charity opens the envelope.
"Read it! Read it!" Moses begs.
Charity smiles as her eyes scan the words. "Hold your nose in case it's smelly. This one's in a great big welly!"
"Ewwww!" The boys chorus before bundling out into the hall. Charity smiles when she sees Johnny's now joined the other two and isn't hanging back with her. She follows them and when she catches up, Johnny's already brandishing the next envelope.
"We got it, Char'ty!" he announces. "It was in Paddy's welly!"
"And more eggs!" Moses chucks one into her basket.
Charity wrinkles her nose and takes the envelope from Johnny between the tips of her thumb and forefinger, opening it while trying not to touch it in any way. She discards the envelope as soon as she can, straightening out the clue and reading it aloud.
"Get your shoes on, you're going far. The next is in a little blue car!" She looks over at the excited trio. She frowns as if she's thinking. "Hmmmm. Who's got a blue car?"
"Ness!" Moses shouts. "Ness has got a blue car!"
Charity gasps. "So she has!" She plucks two jackets off the hooks and nods to Jack. "You go and ask Ness for her keys and we'll be ready for when you come back, okay?" He nods once and runs off into the living room. She can hear him politely ask Vanessa for her keys as she wrestles the two younger ones into their jackets and then Jack's back. She takes the keys from him and the four of them head out into the car park. She clicks the lock on Vanessa's keys to open the car and they find the next lot of eggs, and the clue, on the passenger seat.
"How'd the Easter Buddy get in Mummy's car?" Johnny wonders out loud as Charity opens the next envelope.
"Magic, prob'ly." Moses says and Johnny nods.
Charity smiles and reads the next clue. "Eggs usually come in a carton. Why not look in the new beer garden?"
They're off before she even gets the sentence out and she jogs after them, smiling.
Several eggs later, they find a clue in Zak's tankard and Charity is glad to see what it says. "Okay boys, listen up." She waits till they quieten down. "Last one, now, we're nearly there. These are underground, on a chair."
All the boys look confused for the first time since they started the hunt, but Charity knows exactly where these ones are. She taps her chin in exaggerated thought. "Hmmm. How can we go underground...do we have any steps or anything that-"
"The cellar!" Jack shrieks and takes off, Moses and Johnny just a step behind him. When Charity makes it to the bottom of the stairs, they've found three full-sized Easter eggs sat on the old chair and are divvying them up. A Jurassic World one for Moses, a Paw Patrol one for Johnny, and something Charity's never heard of for Jack. Whatever happened to plain old Cadbury's Buttons eggs, anyway?
"Well done, boys!" Vanessa's voice comes from behind her and she turns to find both her and Debbie have followed them down. "You found all the clues the Easter Bunny left, then?"
The boys rush over and start regaling the other two with tales of their hunt. Jack even remembers some of the clues off by heart.
"Wow!" Debbie widens her eyes at the three of them. "How about we all go to the park for a bit, eh? Give old Charity here some time to recover, yeah? You can each bring one of the little eggs with you, if you like."
Charity frowns. "Oi, you. What do you mean 'Old Cha-"
"That would be lovely, thanks Debbie," Vanessa cuts in, flashing a brilliant smile. "Off you go, boys. Have fun and listen to everything Debbie says, okay?"
Once they've gone, Vanessa turns to her with her eyebrows raised. "Well, that seemed like it went well?"
"They had a ball, babe. They're high as kites now, right enough." She takes Vanessa's hand as she heads for the stairs. "Thank God Debs took them away or they'd be bouncing off the ceiling all morning and I am knack-." She's jerked to a halt when Vanessa doesn't follow and she turns back with a questioning frown. Vanessa lets go of her hand and reaches up onto one of the high shelves running along the wall, bringing down another bright yellow envelope, along with a large chocolate egg in a presentation box.
"There's...uh...there's one clue left." She holds it out for Charity to take, a hint of pink running along the top of her cheeks.
"This some mucky limerick, is it?" Charity raises her eyebrows as she takes the envelope. "That why you got rid of Debs and the kids?"
"Just open it and see, will you?" Vanessa mumbles, shoving her hands in her back pockets and rocking back on her heels.
Charity opens the envelope and pulls out the clue, written on the same paper and in the same hand as all the others. She clears her throat and reads it aloud, using the 'children's TV presenter' voice she'd used with the kids.
"A battered old chair, a bottle of whisky,
Down in this place, where you first kissed me.
And since I'm going to be your bride,
There's one more egg with something inside.
Okay, I know, rhymes aren't my thing,
So just crack the egg open and find the..."
Charity trails off, heart hammering in her chest. She takes the egg from Vanessa and slides it from the box before cracking it open carefully. Inside is a piece of paper rolled up like a scroll. And keeping the paper rolled up, is a ring. An engagement ring, to be precise. A white gold band with three emeralds and three diamonds set in it. Even in the dim light of the cellar, it's sparkling. It's beautiful.
Charity meets Vanessa's eyes, which may be shining even brighter than the ring. She tilts her head. "Ness. What's all this? You didn't have to-"
"I know." Vanessa's voice is rough and she coughs to clear her throat. "I know I didn't. Just...just read the note, please."
With shaking hands, Charity slips the ring off the note, and holds it in her fist as she unfurls the paper. This is handwritten in script rather than the blocky uppercase Vanessa had used for the Easter Bunny clues.
"I never got the chance to ask you to marry me, since you beat me to it." Charity laughs, looking up to see Vanessa's smiling too. "But if I had, I like to think that I'd have been suave and sophisticated and made a brilliant speech about all the feelings I have about you. But who are we kidding? I'd probably have started crying after ten seconds and blubbed my way through it. So, to avoid that, I wrote it all down. Here's what I'd like to have said..."
Charity stops reading and wipes at her cheeks, wet with tears she didn't realise were falling. She sniffs and holds out the paper to Vanessa. "Will you read it to me?"
Vanessa's face is also already tearstained and she tries to glare at Charity. "Didn't you just see that bit about me not being able to get through it without blubbering?"
"Please?" Charity whispers.
Vanessa swallows and takes the paper, blowing out a slow, shuddering breath before she starts to speak.
"I'd have told you that I've never met anyone like you. I've never met anyone who could make my heart flutter with just a glance. Or who could make me laugh when I'm at my lowest. Or who could make everything better, just by putting their arms around me." Vanessa looks up from the paper and gives her a little embarrassed smile. Charity moves closer, the need to touch Vanessa suddenly overwhelming. She puts a hand on the back of her neck, under her ponytail, stroking her thumb back and forth.
"I'd have told you that I never thought I could feel the way you make me feel. I never thought I'd find the kind of love that people write songs and poems about, but I did. And it's just as amazing as they made it out to be." Charity's sure something in her chest just burst open. An artery or something else that's vital. Her heart's still there, though, because when Vanessa meets her eyes, it speeds up. "More so, because it's you."
"Oh, babe," Charity murmurs, but Vanessa keeps going, her eyebrows lowered with determination to get to the end.
"I'd have told you that I love just being with you. Doesn't matter if we're out dancing or doing the dishes. I just want to be with you all the time." She looks up from the paper, holding Charity's eyes as she continues. "I've said it before and it's still true; wherever you are, that's my special place."
Her hand slides from the back of Vanessa's neck to rest over her heart, unable to find words to convey how much she understands and agrees with that sentiment.
"I'd have told you that you are the strongest, funniest, bravest, cleverest, naughtiest-" They both laugh softly at that. "- and beautifulest person I know. And that I love every single bit of you. Even the bits that you don't like." There's a pause. "Maybe especially those bits."
Fresh, warm tears spill down Charity's cheeks at the truth in those words. Vanessa's seen everything, heard everything. She knows everything. And she's still here. Charity moves in, resting her forehead against Vanessa's. Vanessa lowers the paper, no longer reading from it, instead she's looking into Charity's eyes.
"I'd have told you that there's nothing I want more than to spend my life with you. To raise our children with you. To be your wife." Their hands fumble together and Vanessa takes the ring from her. "So, please, will you wear this ring to remind you of all of these things I'd have told you, if I'd had the chance to ask you to marry me?"
It takes Charity a minute to realise that Vanessa's expecting a response from her. "Of course I will," she manages to push through her tight throat.
Her hand is shaking almost as much as it was when she was the one doing the asking when she lifts it to allow Vanessa to slide the ring onto her finger. They both look down at it, then at each other, and they laugh. And kiss. And cry. And hug. It's messy and it's wonderful and it's just them. Charity pulls Vanessa in for a kiss, cupping her face and holding it when they part. Vanessa smiles, shyly.
"Was that okay? And do you like the ring? I know it's not a normal kind of engagement ring and I was going to go for just diamonds but the emeralds made me think of your eyes and I just-"
"Babe." Charity waits until Vanessa's mouth snaps shut. "The ring is perfect. What you said was perfect." She pauses, biting her lip and shaking her head. "You are bloody perfect." She allows one eyebrow to creep up her forehead. "Although, I'm a little disappointed the speech didn't rhyme, if I'm honest."
Vanessa narrows her eyes and swats at Charity's shoulder, pulling away from her. "Oh, shut up, you." She lets Charity drag her back into her arms and kiss her neck.
"I'm kidding. It really was beautiful, Ness. Put my pitiful attempt to shame, anyroad."
"Oi. No putting yourself down, right? You were brave enough to ask in the first place," Vanessa tells her.
"True." Charity nods, deciding to avoid mentioning the fact she was brave enough to ask twice, after getting no response the first time. She squeezes Vanessa's waist and smiles. "So. How long is Debbie keeping the boys for? Have we got time to nip upstairs and...celebrate?"
Vanessa flushes. "Well, she knew I was going to do this...so I asked her if she could take them to hers and give them their lunch and we'd pick them up this afternoon." She looks up at Charity through her lashes. "I had a feeling you'd be in a celebratory mood."
"Got it all planned out, haven't you?" Charity kisses her softly. "You know me so well, babe."
"I do," Vanessa nods. "And I love you."
Charity feels herself physically soften, melt in Vanessa's arms, and isn't frightened or ashamed of that. "I love you too," she whispers. "Even if you are crap at poems."
Their laughter carries up the cellar stairs.
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