DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No infringement intended.
CHALLENGE: Written as part of the 1001 Nights Challenge - children
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Ash liked children. She did. They were small people who had yet to learn the intricacies of wife-swapping or the right dose of sleeping pills to administer so your unsuspecting spouse was kept in a semi-coma while you cavorted with the nubile next door neighbour and squandered the life savings. They were innocent. Sweet. Cherubic.
"You can ease back on the false smile," Scribbs whispered. "The little devils have gone."
"I don't know what you mean." With a subtle stretch of her jaw, Ash realigned her facial muscles. "I love children."
"No you don't."
"Yes I do." She took out her handkerchief to wipe away the stain of child fingers from the desk. "They're innocent. Sweet -"
"Cherubic, I know." Scribbs looked down the corridor in the direction of the little angels. "I think that ginger haired one spat in my coffee cup."
Ash looked nauseous. "I'm sure you're mistaken."
"There was a definite phlegmy noise." The cup in question was thrust in Ash's face. "What do you think?"
With a sudden burst of speed, Ash excused herself from the desk and hid next to one of the filing cabinets. Not that she'd consider it hiding; she needed a file that was all, a very important file. The whole case could depend on it.
"What are you looking for?"
"Papers." She brandished a file. "It's called police work."
Canting her head to the side, Scribbs read the label on the file. "I think you'll find it's called the tea roster."
"I know that!" The file was stuffed back into the drawer. "We've wasted enough time already today, I think we should -"
"You thought it was a waste of time?" Scribbs again looked in the direction the children had departed. "I thought you loved children?"
"So long as they don't come to work?"
"A police station really isn't the place."
"That's true." The cup waved lazily in Scribbs' hand; her thoughts deceptively free of sarcastic rejoinders and subterfuge. "But I suppose when they start calling you 'mummy', they'll be here all the time."
Ash's jaw twitched.
"What with their dad having such unpredictable hours, and the station being near the school, and all."
The thought of chocolate stained faces grinning at her from the other side of the desk while she tried to work, frayed on Ash's last nerve; it was bad enough when Scribbs did it, she couldn't face the same from two miniature people.
"Mummy Ash, it's got quite a ring to it."
Ash's temper rose, along with her blood pressure. "I will not be called Mummy Ash."
"What I could never figure out was if she didn't want them to use wire coat hangers, why did she buy them in the first place?" She waited several seconds for Ash to answer the non-sequitur, but when she didn't, Scribbs asked, "I mean, would you buy your kids dodgy hangers?"
"They are not my kids!"
All further conversation on the subject was cut short when Ash picked up Scribbs' mug, threw it in the bin, and stormed out of the building. Naturally, Scribbs gave chase.
"Your kids, step-kids, it's all the same." Scribbs decided not to take the door slammed in her face personally. "Once you and Keith tie the knot, they're going to be all yours," she continued, alighting into the car park.
Ash stopped three feet from the car, her back rigid and a look on her face that could sour milk in the udder. "I am not their mother."
"No need to panic, I'm sure the whole motherhood thing's a piece of cake once you get started." Scribbs opened the car door and waited patiently for Ash to unwind enough to make it the three paces to the vehicle. "And you've only got them until they're eighteen."
Ash looked like she was going to be sick.
"And, I'm sure the ginger one will have outgrown the whole spitting in cups thing by then."
Keith answered his mobile after twenty rings. He finally got off the phone after his fiftieth plea.
Ash turned to her partner. "Keith and I have decided to call it a day."
"We were growing in different directions."
"That's a shame."
"I'm sure we'll remain good friends."
"You could baby-sit."
With slow deliberation, Ash turned to glower at her partner. "Don't think I don't know what you were doing."
"Just because I've split up with Keith doesn't mean we're getting back together."
"I'm relieved to hear it."
"What we had is over."
"Dead and buried."
"We both agreed to move on and see other people."
"People with kids," said Scribbs.
The twitch returned to Ash's jaw. "Dating colleagues is unprofessional. We agreed."
"Highly unprofessional." Scribbs reached into her inside pocket and withdrew a lollipop. "Still, at least with me, you knew you were guaranteed adult conversation."
The look of childish glee on Scribbs' face was too much. "Stop the car!"
"Stop the car."
It had taken Ash two months to find the perfect candidate for her next boyfriend. Eight and a half weeks of listening to Scribbs describe all the great sex she was having with her new, and temporary, boyfriends. A sixth of a year convincing herself that she'd made the right decision when she'd broken things off with Scribbs. All ruined in one afternoon, just because her so-called partner was a childish, inconsiderate, moronic little twerp who looked far too sexy sucking a lollipop for it to be legal.
"You need to promise me no kids."
"No nephews. No nieces. No pitter-patter of tiny feet."
With a shrug, Scribbs said, "Okay."
"No sex talk in the office."
"Oh," she whined.
"Okay, okay, no sex talk."
"And no trying to corner me in the ladies' loos."
"You're taking all the fun out of it."
Ash knew that Scribbs wouldn't keep her promises just as she hadn't kept them the last three times they broke up and got back together. There would come a day when something Ash did, however innocent, would set off a little bell in Scribbs' tiny mind, and she'd feel compelled to try and steal a kiss in the locker room. It was inevitable. Just as inevitable as her lies about other partners and Ash's choice of the absolute worst date to take her place. Games played to deny the obvious; that they belonged together.
"How about sex in the car?"
"Only if you're wearing a seat belt."
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