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And if that mockingbird won't sing
He hates folk staring and whispering. Thanks to his mum's behaviour over the years, he's had pity, concern, suspicion, contempt and everything in between. He's not sure what this is, just now, but he hates it anyway. He wishes he'd never let Vanessa drag him here. He told her that he wasn't hungry, but she'd insisted and sometimes it's just easier to go along with what she wants or she looks at you with them big, sad eyes of hers. He's pretty sure that's why his mum agrees with her so much; to avoid those eyes.
Letting out a sigh, he folds his arms and glares when Brenda looks over at him again. He's been trying not to think about his mum. Last thing he needs is to be getting upset in front of this lot. He has no clue if his mum pushed the old bag or not, but it can't be good that she spent most of the night yelling threats at her in front of loads of people.
Vanessa was trying to be upbeat about it before they left the house. She was smiling too much and telling him that his mum would be home before they knew it, ranting about victimisation and complaining that she'd spent the whole night in her dress and heels. He's not sure Vanessa's been with his mum long enough to know that things hardly ever work out for the best, though. Bad things happen all the time, and Vanessa probably needs to start getting that into her head.
That said, she was there all through the trial. And he's pretty sure that his mum spoke to Vanessa about all that horrible stuff more than she spoke to any of the rest of them. So maybe she does have a fair idea about what her life is like. And she's stuck around for a while now, he supposes. Always flaming there, she is. At first he only used to see her at the pub, mostly in the mornings, sometimes at night. But all at once it seemed like she was just there all the time.
Thing is, his mum never actually told him that she'd even started seeing Vanessa. He'd had to pick it up from stuff Chas and Paddy were saying, and then he'd asked Debbie, because it didn't sound right. And then he'd started seeing them together and it was just...weird. They were all lovey-dovey and always touching and whispering to each other. And he couldn't figure it out. Because usually his mum went after blokes, for starters. And usually rich blokes, at that. Well, and Cain. And Vanessa wasn't any of those things.
He'd expected it to be over pretty quickly. Vanessa's nice and his mum...well, she's not always nice. But over time, he'd grudgingly started noticing how well they work together. How Vanessa seems to calm his mother down, just by being close to her. How Vanessa doesn't blow up and storm around like some his mum's exes. And it's not just all the one way, either. Like, how his mum can make Vanessa's smile brighter just by walking into a room. And that's definitely not a thing that happens with everyone.
All these 'family' things they've been doing lately, that's down to Vanessa. His mum would never suggest going on a picnic or anything like that. And he doesn't hate it.
Glancing over to the counter now, he can see Vanessa frowning at whatever the other ladies are saying. He sighs. He's not even sure why he didn't go back to the pub last night, after the police took his mum away. It's not like he doesn't have a room there. But instead he found himself with Vanessa's hand on his back, herding him towards Tug Ghyll after they got out of the taxi, shushing Tracy who was babbling all the way up the path. He didn't protest because he didn't want to be by himself. He wanted to be with someone who was just as worried about his mum as he was. So he spent the night on a blow up mattress in Johnny's room, instead of in his own bed at the pub.
Even now, he could go to the Woolpack. Vanessa's not holding him hostage. He could go over the road and stick his headset on and play some game that let him shoot things and forget that his brother doesn't care about him and that his mum might go to prison again. But he stays. Because Vanessa's solid and hopeful and he needs that right now.
"Right, c'mon then."
Vanessa's voice startles him and he looks up at her. She's wearing that face she sometimes does; the one that means she's determined to make something happen. She was wearing it the day she kidnapped him for the picnic. She wore it pretty constantly at the beginning, too, when she was trying to convince him that she was sticking around. He gets up at follows her to the door of the cafe.
When they get to her gate, she stops and turns to him.
"Here." She drops a key in his hand. "You go inside." She thrusts the takeaway bag and coffee holder she's carrying at him. "Those are for you and Tracy. I'm going to get your mum."
He frowns. "So...they've let her go, then? Did she call you? You never said-"
"No. No, she hasn't." She presses her lips together and meets his eyes. "But I'm going to get her and bring her home." His face must give away the fact that he's not convinced because she squeezes his arm and smiles. "Trust me, okay?"
He can feel the instinct to disagree well up in his chest. He's trusted so many people before and been let down every time. He trusted Joe, and look where that got him. But there's something about her eyes that makes him want to believe his mum. She's different, she'd said, all those months ago. And she is. She genuinely cares about his mum. She genuinely cares about all of them. He'd seen her yesterday, running around after Debbie and trying to make things better. He's seen her with Moses, wiping snot off his face and singing him to sleep. He's seen her with Ryan, telling him off when he gets a bit too sarky. It's not everyone who could fit into their weird family, but she's slotted herself in like the missing piece of a jigsaw.
He nods. "Okay." She smiles at him and he can tell she wants to say something soppy, but she's getting better at not doing that so much.
"Great. I'll be back as soon as I can." For a minute, he thinks she's going to kiss his cheek or something, but she just squeezes his arm again and shoves him in the direction of the house. He heads up the path and turns when he hears her engine start up, nodding when she waves. She really believes that she's going to bring his mum home.
Who knows? Maybe she will.
Once he gets inside, he finds Tracy sprawled on the couch. Well, as much as you can sprawl out on that tiny thing. She opens one eye and wrinkles her nose.
"I think I might have died during the night. I feel dead." She throws her arm out. "Check my pulse."
He grins and ignores the instruction, holding up the bag he's carrying. "I'll eat this bacon butty then, shall I?"
"No!" She sits up quickly, but immediately puts her head in her hands, groaning. "Oh, Noah. Never drink, okay? Never."
"Yeah, okay." He sits down beside her and opens the bag. As suspected there are two wrapped up butties to match the two coffees. He rolls his eyes. Vanessa's determined he's going to eat something. He sets the coffees on the table and hands her one of the breakfast rolls. She takes it with both hands, smiling at him like he just handed her a million quid.
"Grease! Yes! You're a little godsend, Noah Dingle," she says as she unwraps her treasure. "Did you know that?" She takes a huge bite and makes a weird moany noise.
He shrugs. "Vanessa bought them, not me."
"But you delivered them, and that's the important thing." Tracy looks around as she chews, like she's only just noticing he's by himself. "Where is she anyway?"
He picks up the remote control and flicks the telly on. "Went to pick up mum at the police station."
She frowns. "At the…" Her eyes get wide. "Oh! Course, yeah! I'd forgot about your stepgranny's Tom Daly impression." She touches his arm. "Sorry, I didn't mean-"
"S'fine." He shrugs. "She were a right cow."
"She was." Tracy takes a sip of coffee and nods. "But they're letting your mum out, so that must be good, yeah?"
"Dunno. Vanessa said she hadn't rung or anything to say she was getting out." He flicks through a few channels. "But she seemed pretty sure she was going to bring her back."
Tracy looks at him. "Right...so...when you were at the cafe, V didn't order a big cake with a chisel in it, did she?"
He laughs, unexpectedly. "No. Not that I saw."
"Good." She rolls her eyes. "Because I wouldn't put a jailbreak past her, you know. She's that loved up with your mum."
He settles back against the couch cushions and nods. "Yeah. I know."
"Oh! Leave this on!" Tracy's yell almost makes him jump out of his skin. "I love a bit of Jezza when I've got a hangover."
Once the episode of Jeremy Kyle finishes, they find repeats of old episodes on another channel and they're on their third one when he really starts to feel uneasy. Vanessa's been gone ages and they've not heard anything from either of them. Tracy's been trying to keep him distracted, he knows that. Making funny comments about people on the telly and talking about what topics people in the village might end up on the show for. But it doesn't take away that growing pit of worry in his stomach.
So when the front door opens, he's on his feet and moving before he's even realised it. Vanessa enters and gives him a wink and a grin. His eyes follow the arm that's trailing behind her, her fingers tangled with another hand and then his mother comes into view, wearing the same dress she'd had on the night before and looking tired, but none the worse for wear.
He barely gives her time to shut the door behind her when he launches at her, throwing his arms around her neck. She stumbles back a couple of steps, but wraps her own arms around him squeezing him tight.
A third hand squeezes his shoulder briefly and he turns to see Vanessa smiling at the pair of them. She pats his back. "I'll stick the kettle on."
He watches her cross the room and he knows there's been a shift in how he looks at her. They were on their way there already, but she did what she said she'd do. She brought his mum home, like she said she would. He gets it now, why his mum trusts her.
He turns back to his mum. "They let you go, then? They don't think you did it?"
She rolls her eyes. "Ness broke me out."
He looks at Tracy, who widens her eyes at him and mouths 'told you'.
"What? Really?" He addresses his question to Vanessa who's leaning back against the kitchen counter, arms crossed. She shakes her head.
"No, not really." She looks like she's blushing a bit. "I just...told the police I was with your mum when Kim fell."
He wrinkles his nose at his mum. "Thought you told them you were in the loo?"
"I did. I was." She moves past him into the room, shoving Tracy's legs out of the way so she can sit down on the couch. She flicks a thumb in Vanessa's direction. "This one said she was in there with me."
"Why would they believe you'd go to the toilet with someone else?" Noah asks, regretting it as soon as it's out of his mouth when his mum wiggles her eyebrows.
"There's a lot you can get up to in a bathroom the size of the ones up at Home Farm besides having a wee, babe." She shakes her head. "That must be why that copper was blushing when he was giving me back my stuff."
"Well, if you need me to say owt to back you up, just let me know." Tracy yawns. "Everything's a bit of a blur for me anyway." She leans her head back against the cushions. "And sneaking off for a quickie is definitely something people would believe about the two of you."
"Thanks, kid." His mum nudges Tracy's knee with her own. "It's appreciated."
Tracy shrugs. "You had my back with...well, you know." She smiles. "I've got yours."
Mum nods and sighs before sitting up. "Never mind that brew, babe. I need to head over to the pub and get out of this outfit and shower the smell of police cell off me." He watches as she does something with her head, like a little nod in his direction, and Vanessa smiles.
"Yeah, course. I need to go and collect Johnny anyroad."
Mum gets up and moves over to where Vanessa's standing, grabbing her by her jacket and pulling her close. "Right, Al Capone, no more lawbreaking until I'm back here to supervise, yeah?"
Vanessa laughs. "I'll try and keep on the straight and narrow."
"Straight? You?" She leans in and plants a kiss on Vanessa's lips. "No chance of that, is there?"
Noah rolls his eyes and looks away. But there's a warm feeling in his chest that he's started noticing lately when they do stuff like this.
"Thank you. Again." He hears them kiss. "I'll come over once I've...showered and that."
"'Kay. I think we'll have a lazy day and get a takeaway later on, eh? Don't suppose any of us got much sleep last night. Well, except Tracy."
Noah gathers up his stuff and his mum ruffles Tracy's hair on the way past. "You might want to think about showering too, Trace. Smells a bit ripe in here."
"Cheeky cow," Tracy mumbles.
They say their goodbyes and head outside to make the short walk back to the Woolpack.
"Ness said you stayed at hers last night?" He can tell she's trying to be casual about it, but he knows she's probably thrilled. She's always on at him to spend time with Vanessa.
"Yeah. She made me. You know what she's like." He glances at her and gives her a little smile, to make sure she knows he's not being horrible. She returns his smile and nods.
"Yeah. Yeah, I do."
Something's niggling at him from what was said back at the house, and he takes a breath, holding it in for a second before he speaks. "So...Vanessa lying to the police for you…that's bad, innit?"
Mum tips her head to the side and sighs. "It's not...great." She takes his arm, linking her own through it as they walk. "Remember when I went to prison? That was for perverting the course of justice by telling the police something that wasn't true."
He stops walking and she turns to face him. "So...she could go to prison?" The thought grips his stomach and twists hard. Vanessa can't go to prison. She's the one that holds them all together. She makes his mum laugh and she cooks real tea for them. She helps him with his hard biology homework. If she goes to prison, his mum might go back to how she was before. "She can't go to prison for that tiny little lie, can she?"
Mum rolls her eyes. "I've already yelled at her for it, the daft cow." Her lips are twitching into a smile, though, like she's pleased about the fact Vanessa did something so reckless for her. And he is too, at the edges of his panic. He knows she was protecting his mum, protecting their family. But she was putting herself at risk. "And since I didn't actually do anything...it should all be fine." She squeezes his arm and pulls him so he starts walking again. "Don't worry about it, okay?"
"Okay." They walk on a bit. "So...if you didn't do it, who do you think did?"
He feels her pull in a long breath. "Let's...let's just get inside, eh? We can talk about it there."
Nodding, he picks up his pace, getting to the back door before her and holding it open for her and smiling as she walks past him. He's glad she's home. He's glad Vanessa brought her home, like she said she would.
Yeah, his mum was definitely right. She is different.
He can't believe it. His own mother thinks that he's capable of shoving someone off a balcony. Of trying to kill someone.
He storms out of the pub and into the cool air, blinking too fast because he's definitely not going to cry over this. If she thinks that little of him, that's her own fault. Judging him by her standards. He swipes at his face as he trudges round to the front of the building, annoyed that his stupid tears have escaped. He's not going to school. For the briefest of seconds, he starts to head to Joe's, before he remembers that Joe's not there. Joe left him.
He stands for a bit, weighing up his options. He could go to Wishing Well, but that would just lead to questions and people trying to help. He could go and sit somewhere until school's finished then find one of his mates. But he knows where he's going to go, even as he considers these other choices. With a sigh, he turns and heads down the road to Tug Ghyll.
He knocks and then walks in; Vanessa insisted a while back that he stop waiting on the doorstep for her to let him in. As he's hanging up his jacket, he hears Vanessa call through from the kitchen.
"Blimey, you're keen aren't you?" Footsteps move across the room. "I've barely got Johnny back fr-" She stops short when she sees it's him. "Noah…I-"
"Sorry." He looks at his feet, fiddling with the strap of his rucksack. "I…I didn't mean to get in your way if you-"
"You're not!" She grabs his arm and pulls him into the living room. "Never, okay? I've told you you're welcome here any time."
"Hi Noah!" Johnny comes over and holds up his hand. "You come play with me?"
Smiling, he takes the offered hand. "Yeah, mate. I'll play with you."
"Uh, finish your snack first, Master Woodfield." Vanessa points to the bright green plate on the coffee table with slices of apple and banana on it. "Then you can play with Noah."
"Okay mummy." He trots back to the table and crams a bit of banana in his mouth, grinning at Noah all the while.
Vanessa shoves him towards the couch, watching as he sits down. "Do you want something to eat? Or a cuppa?"
He shakes his head. "I'm fine, thanks." He feels like he should explain why he's here. In fact, he's surprised she's not asked, or asked where his mum is, at least. Frowning, he looks up at her and it hits him; she already knows. "Oh, I get it. She already told you. I bet you think I pushed her an'all?"
He goes to stand up, ready to storm out for the second time that morning, but her hand is firm on his shoulder, pushing him back down. He meets her eyes.
"I'm guessing your mum's had a word with you, then?" She settles on the arm of the sofa and sighs. "And no. I don't, as it happens."
"Well, she thinks I did it," he spits, his eyes growing warm with tears again. "Said I'd go to a young offenders."
Vanessa moves from the arm to the other side of him, resting her hand on his back. "She…isn't always the best at putting things across, Noah. You know that more than most." She sighs. "She's just…she's worried about losing you, losing any of you. So her mind jumps to the worst case scenario and works backward from there to try and fix things. Because she loves you."
He shakes his head. "You're just trying to make it sound better. She thinks I shoved someone off a balcony!"
"What she saw last night was some old wi-" She pauses and presses her lips together, shaking her head. "Some woman turn up and say horrible things to her little boy and throw him out of his home. And she understands lashing out, does your mum, so she just got scared that you might've…done something hasty, without thinking."
He exhales noisily through his nose. "But you don't? Think I did it?"
"No. I don't." She tilts her head, smiling softly.
"And you said that to her?"
He sniffs and wipes his nose. "And what did she say?"
Vanessa rolls her eyes. "Something like 'That's nice, babe, but we don't all live in a world of rainbows and unicorns.'" He laughs a little at her terrible attempt at doing his mum's voice. She squeezes his arm. "Like I said, Noah, her worst fear is losing one of you. And she's jumped straight to trying to protect you and stop that happening."
Sighing, he nods. He does kind of get that. It's not like she thought he did it and then ran straight to the police to tell them. She was gonna stick by him and help to cover it up. And, to be fair, he wasn't sure if she'd done it or not. He looks at Vanessa.
"Did you think she'd done it? Is that why you lied to the police?"
She shakes her head. "No. I knew she hadn't done it." She wrinkles her nose. "Them in the café this morning were…well, they were suggesting things." She shrugs. "And I knew she was innocent, so I just…helped the police come to that conclusion a little earlier than they might have."
That's pretty cool. Being that sure of something, of somebody. There's not many people round here that would think that about his mum. "She says she yelled at you for doing it."
Vanessa grins. "Yeah, she did a bit." Her eyes drift over to Johnny and her smile fades a bit. "And she's right, I never thought it through properly, but…" She shrugs, looking at her hands. "She's been through enough this year. I didn't want her going through more if I could help it."
"Because you love her?" he asks.
She looks at him with bright, serious eyes and nods once. "Because I love her."
"People have said that before, you know?" He bends to pick a bit of dirt off the front of his trainer. "That they loved her. Some of them said they loved me, an'all. But they-"
"Hey." She puts her hand on his knee and waits for him to look up. "I don't care about what or who's gone before." Her brow is creased, eyebrows lowered. "All I care about is us, and now, and what we've got." She bumps his shoulder with hers. "And I don't say things I don't mean."
He nods. He hasn't seen anything that could prove otherwise. Just today, she told him she'd bring his mum home and she did. She's put herself at risk, just to make sure his mum didn't have to go through more police and court stuff. He can only take her at her word and believe her when she says these things.
A little hand lands on his knee and he looks up to find Johnny grinning at him, bits of banana stuck to his cheek. "I eated all my apples. We play now?"
"Yeah, mate. Let's play now." He lets Johnny lead him over to the toybox where they start unpacking the wooden train set. He laughs when Vanessa comes over with a baby wipe and cleans a squirming Johnny's face. They settle into building the track, with Johnny directing him to put the bridges and the station in certain places, when the front door opens and all three of them look over to see who it is.
"Only me, babe." Vanessa raises her eyebrows at him as they listen to her getting out of her jacket and boots. "That talk with our Noah didn't go brill-" His mum appears in the doorway and freezes when she sees him. "Oh. You're…here."
He shrugs. "Looks like it."
"Char'ty!" Johnny runs over and wraps his arms around her legs, looking up at her. She rubs his hair and widens her eyes.
"Oh no. A Johnnysaurus has got me!"
He grins. "Raar!"
Noah smiles when she bends and kisses his head and pats his back. He toddles back to where Noah's finished putting the last sections of track in place.
Mum hesitates a bit in the doorway, but steps forward, stopping by the sofa. "Listen, Noah...I...I'm sorry for what I said, what I thought." He looks up at her. "I just...I panicked, babe. I thought...I was scared that-"
"Yeah, I know. Vanessa said." He takes the green engine Johnny hands him.
Mum looks surprised, turning to Vanessa, who winces abit. "Sorry...I didn't mean to speak for you, I was just...I wanted him to know that you just didn't want to lose him."
Mum frowns and nods. "Yeah...well...she's right." She raises an eyebrow at Vanessa. "Nosy, but right."
"I'll leave the two of you to chat, shall I?" Vanessa moves over to mum and rubs her arm.
"You don't have to go," he hears himself saying. "There's nothing to talk about. It's fine." He sees them exchange a look and he rolls his eyes. "I didn't do it."
"I know." Mum nods. "I know that, babe."
Vanessa looks surprised and Mum shakes her head at her.
"Good. Then there's nothing to talk about." He laughs when Johnny crashes a train into the one he's holding.
"Uh...okay." He hears her walk across the room and then a kiss is pressed to the top of his head. "You know, if you had pushed the old bat, we'd have got through it, yeah?" She ruffles his hair and stands back up. "Between me and the criminal mastermind over there-" She flicks a thumb in Vanessa's direction.
Vanessa rolls her eyes. "Oh, give over, Charity!"
"-we'd have come up with something"
Looking up at her, he nods. "Yeah, I know, mum."
She returns his smile, and he goes back to playing with Johnny. From the corner of his eye, he sees her go over and pull Vanessa into a hug, kissing up the side of her face, murmuring things in her ear.
He reckons Vanessa was right when she said that what matters is what they've got now. Yeah, he's mad at Joe for leaving. And he's sure it won't be long before him and his mum are at odds again. But right now, he knows that he's got two people who have his back and who'd stick by him, even if he launched an old lady off a balcony.
Because they love him.
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