DISCLAIMER: All the characters used within this story are the property of either Shed Productions or the BBC. We are using them solely to explore our creative abilities. Lyrics belong to the Beatles.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the authors.
BETAED: by Jen.
A Question Of Guilt
By Kristine and Richard
Part One Hundred and Fifty One
When John and George got into John's car and roared away, they both knew that they were heading straight for George's house, and straight for her bed, if they could last that long.
"I do enjoy seeing you put him thoroughly in his place," George said with satisfaction.
"From what I heard before I appeared," commented John. "It sounded as though you were doing perfectly well on your own. Is what you said to him really true?"
"What, that he didn't give me an orgasm in the whole time I was with him? Well, I'd say that was for me to know, wouldn't you?"
"So you won't just satisfy my curiosity?"
"No, I won't. Just forget about Neil. I wish this car could drive itself," She said, her voice dropping to a seductive suggestiveness as she laid a hand on his thigh. Trying to decide which was the lesser evil, being done for screwing George in his car at the side of the road, or internally combusting with sexual frustration, he gently removed her hand and said,
"Well, as this car won't drive itself, please don't do things like that whilst I'm driving."
"I do like it when you're masterful," She said wickedly, taking his hand that was casually resting on the gear stick and leading it to her breast.
"Are you trying to drive me mad?" He asked, though giving in to her request to be touched.
"Of course," She replied lasciviously. "I thought you'd have known by now that it's one of my missions in life, to make you give into my every whim." John laughed.
"Undo your skirt," He said. "There are far better things I could be doing, which are less likely to get me done for touching you in public." Bowing to his suggestion, George unfastened the button and zip at the back of her skirt. This enabled John to move his hand under the waistband, and to push aside the pitifully tiny scrap of silk and lace she called underwear. When she felt his finger and thumb gently seek out that perpetually warm and silky place between her legs, she stretched them out slightly to give him better access. With his left hand otherwise engaged and his right firmly on the steering wheel, George had to change gear for him whenever he asked her too.
"So," She said, trying to keep her voice under control. "That's why you always drive with one hand."
"Of course," He said with a grin. "It just involves a little more concentration, that's all." Her hand was back on his thigh, but higher up this time. Having John do this to her whilst he was also driving, was giving her a feeling of supreme naughtiness, and a distinct hope that they wouldn't get caught. She writhed occasionally against his wandering fingers, and he could feel just how much she was enjoying this. Her hand was moving on the outside of his trousers now, coaxing him to full hardness and no longer receiving any protest from him. When he pulled up somewhat haphazardly in her driveway, they were out of the car and standing at her front door as if of one mind. Holding her skirt up with one hand and ferreting for her keys with the other, George smirked at the bulge in John's trousers, which presented far more damning evidence than her dishevelled state. As soon as the front door was open, they were inside, the door was shut and their hands were back on each other, this time determined to remove their clothing as quickly as possible.
"I need you," John said as they moved erratically towards the stairs.
"And I can't wait as long as it would take to get up there," George said as he unsnapped her bra. They ended up on the floor in the lounge, between the sofa and coffee table, thankfully screened from the bay window by the open lounge door. No initial touching was necessary, as this had been thoroughly accomplished in the car. When John sank his length deep inside her, George knew that this was what made her the woman she was. No matter how much she loved what she had and what she did with Karen, George knew that this type of straight, glorious, almost primeval fucking was what she would always come back to. When John felt her internal muscles squeezing him, he almost lost control there and then.
"If you want me to last much longer," He said through gritted teeth. "Then don't do that."
"I don't care," George said, and John could tell by her voice that she was as close as he was. As he thrust again and again in to her, he knew that no woman he'd ever slept with, not Karen, not Francesca Rochester, not even Jo, had ever been able to sexually ignite him with as much passion as George. As his movements became faster and more erratic, she clung to him, urging them both on to more frantic gasps of ecstasy. When they simultaneously came, George wasn't the only one to cry out. They had both sincerely enjoyed being part of the performance of The Creation, but the immense adrenaline needed to keep them going had manifested itself in extreme sexual arousal and frustration. Afterwards, John briefly rested his face against her neck as their breathing returned to normal. He might be currently making it difficult for her to breathe, but George loved having his full weight resting on her after they'd made love. But when he made a move to withdraw from her, they both realised just how much sexual secretion they'd managed to accumulate between them. As John reached for the box of tissues on the coffee table, George said with a smirk,
"I think you enjoyed that, didn't you."
"I didn't hear you complaining," He said dryly, giving her a handful of tissues, which she rammed between her legs. Getting to her feet she said,
"Would you like to join me in a bath?" Saying that he would find them some wine, John turned his face away from her so as not to see her make her extremely undignified way up the stairs.
When they were lying in the bath, sipping from glasses of the Chablis George had left chilling in the fridge for whoever might come home with her, John turned his lips to hers and said,
"I was proud of you today."
"No more than I was of you," She said, blushing at his understated compliment.
"I know how much you originally didn't want to do it," He continued. "Yet you still did."
"Oh, and as if you'd have left it alone if I hadn't," She said in mock disgust.
"I wanted Charlie to come and see it."
"And I suppose you told her everything about it, that you, and Jo and Daddy were taking part, and she was all for it. Then, you will have casually dropped in the fact that I was playing Eve, and Charlie would have instantly gone off the idea. Am I right?"
"I wanted her to be proud of you too," He said, his avoiding the question nevertheless telling her the answer.
"Oh, John," George said softly. "You know that isn't going to happen. Far too much water has gone under the bridge for Charlie and I to ever have the kind of relationship that she has with you."
"I used to think that about you and me," He said, thanking god that he had come back to her, and that she was now reclining in the crook of his arm, as close to him as she had ever been.
"It was different with us," George explained. "We were both partially to blame for the failure of our marriage. Charlie certainly isn't to blame for why she only comes to me when she wants something that you won't give her."
"And neither are you," He protested vehemently.
"Don't let's go into all that now," She admonished him gently. "This afternoon was the most exhilarated I've ever felt out of bed, and I want to go on enjoying it."
When they eventually emerged from the bath, after some prolonged touching and George being brought to orgasm, George had the mischievous urge not to cover herself up with as many clothes as she'd had on before. Removing the robe Jo had bought her from the wardrobe, she slipped it over her shoulders.
"Now that, I definitely approve of," John said, his voice caressing her just as his hands had done.
"Yes, it is rather eye-catching, isn't it," She said, tying the belt in front.
"But don't expect me to be able to keep my hands off you, if that's all it has to fasten it," He said with a smirk when she turned to face him.
"Oh, I'm not," She said with all the confidence she possessed. "In fact, I shall be heartily disappointed if you even attempt to keep your hands off me." Leaving him in mid smirk, she walked downstairs, and began thinking about what they might eat for dinner, all the time feeling the silky softness of the robe sliding over her skin.
Digging some king prawns that needed eating out of the fridge, plus some vegetables, George began chopping in preparation for a stir-fry. She put on one of Karen's Alison Krauss CD's, the cheerful combination of violin and guitars fitting her mood. When John appeared in the kitchen, he topped up her glass of wine, and stood in the doorway watching her. Her eyes were bright, happy, with none of the darkness of depression that he saw in her far too often.
"You look happy," He said with a smile.
"Yes, I am," She confirmed, making a detour on her way to the cooker, to plant a quick kiss on his lips.
"Do you think we'll be missed?"
"I shouldn't imagine that anyone will be in the least surprised," She said knowingly. "I'll go and see Daddy tomorrow. He's the only one who might be particularly disapproving."
"He's not quite as much of a dinosaur as you think he is, you know," John said fairly, thinking of the conversation he'd had with Joe a few weeks before. George would have a fit though, if she thought her father knew about Karen.
"Daddy wouldn't be Daddy if he wasn't," She said fondly. Putting some rice on to boil, George lowered the heat on the stir-fry and leaned against the kitchen unit, taking a swig from her glass. As she raised her arm, the material of the robe clung slightly closer to her figure, giving John an excellent view of her prominent nipples. Being totally unable to resist, he walked slowly over to her, removed the glass from her hand, and undid the belt that held the robe together.
"I wondered how long it would take you," she said in that sultry, sexy tone that always made him as stiff as a board.
"Oh, this was all a ploy, was it," He mocked her gently, running his hands over her uncovered breasts, lightly tweaking at her already sensitive nipples.
"But of course, my Lord," She replied as he kissed her. When he dropped to his knees, and she realised what his intention was, her eyes widened in anticipation. They'd had sex in here before, but not for a very long time, not since they were married. Gently parting her legs, he began dropping feather-light kisses over her labia, for the moment avoiding the pinnacle of her clitoris. But when he inched his tongue into her entrance, she gasped, the sight of him on his knees before her making her feel incredibly naughty. This was John, this was the high court judge, whom others usually obeyed. She hadn't asked him to do this, but here he was, in the most submissive position he could adopt for her. That tongue of his was so warm, that it set every one of her nerve endings on fire. Reaching over to switch off the cooker, George was glad that the kitchen unit was behind her, because she knew that her legs would be incapable of supporting her in a very short time. He gently held her hips to keep her in place, eventually moving his tongue up and around her clitoris. They could both hear the music playing in the lounge, the pure, clear voice of Alison Krauss insinuating its way into their senses. George didn't say a word as he kept on bringing her closer and closer to the edge, almost as though she didn't want to break the atmosphere. She almost whimpered as he delicately nibbled on her clitoris, not wanting to make more noise than was absolutely necessary. He loved the tiny sounds she made, knowing that he was the cause of every one of them. When she eventually came, her whole body shuddered with the effort it took for her not to cry out. John tenderly licked away every bit of her sexual secretion, savouring it as he had the Chablis in his glass. When he rose to his feet, she pulled him close, kissing him as thoroughly as he'd just done her, taking her taste from him.
"You know," She said between kisses. "I'm getting almost as hooked on doing that as you are."
"Now that is something I would like to see," He told her, his own arousal evident in his voice.
"Not with Karen, I hope," She said with a laugh.
"Perhaps," He admitted sheepishly. "But I'd give anything to see you do that to Jo."
"Oh, would you now," She drawled seductively, thinking that if everything went to plan, he might just get his wish one of these days.
As George switched the cooker back on and finished the preparing of their meal, John began to take notice of the music she had on. The current piece was without words, just a couple of guitars, joined by a particularly skilful violin.
"I know this," He said, after listening to the violin part. "Roisin quite often plays it when she's warming up."
"I can imagine her liking this," George replied, thinking that Roisin playing this, no matter how unobtrusively, would certainly teach the stuffier classical players a thing or two. "If I know Roisin, she can probably play the guitar part as well."
"Now that would turn a few heads," John said with a smile, taking in just how difficult the Choctaw Hayride really was.
"Karen says she has a beautiful voice," George added, draining the rice.
"Like someone else I could mention," He said fondly. They sat at the kitchen table to eat their meal, the homely surroundings of George's kitchen bringing back pleasant memories for both of them.
"I wish you'd play more music like this," George said, Alison Krauss's violin again taking over when she wasn't singing.
"Not really my thing, George," He told her, after swallowing a mouthful of the stir-fry. "It's pleasant enough to listen to, but you'd never catch me putting my Strad through something like that."
"That's just prejudice," George said enthusiastically. "Against something that's just a little bit different from what you're used to. This kind of music can be just as skilful, just as complicated and difficult as classical music, but you don't want to admit it. All it would take is a little bit of guts." He knew she was goading him, and he was forced to acknowledge that her point did have merit, but it still didn't mean it was for him. Just out of interest, he began paying greater attention to the violin part of the song which was playing.
"Are you sure that's only one violin?" He asked after a while.
"Certain," She said firmly, seeing that he was at least entertaining the idea, even if he wasn't about to say so.
"But you'd need to have the fingers of a contortionist to maintain that amount of double stopping," He said almost in horror.
"Oh, believe me, darling," She drawled thoughtfully. "Your hands would be well up to the job."
"Cassie Tyler must be one extremely lucky woman, if Roisin can play music like this," John said with a wicked grin at George's compliment.
"Well, with the amount of finger exercise you get with both Jo and me, you shouldn't have anything to worry about." Even though they knew they could have each other at a moment's notice, they still flirted like this, teasing each other with as much verbal encouragement as possible.
"That would be my ultimate fantasy," He said, putting his knife and fork together. "To have you and Jo at the same time."
"Actually, I wouldn't have thought two girls would really work for you," She said, getting up and beginning to put the plates in the dishwasher.
"Neither would I, a few years ago," He agreed. "But you live and learn." Then, fixing his eyes on the view that was being presented to him as she filled the dishwasher, he added, "Your legs look even better than usual in that robe. I don't know what made you buy it, but I'm heartily gratified that you did."
"I didn't," She said, straightening up and turning to face him. "I got it for my birthday."
"What, from Karen?" He assumed.
"No, not Karen."
"Then who?" He asked, now thoroughly intrigued. George laughed.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," She said, knowing that she couldn't give Jo's secret away, not yet.
"Try me," He invited.
"I promised I wouldn't," She said, which wasn't strictly true, but it would do for now. "But it's no one you need to feel jealous over."
"I hope not," He said quietly but firmly, drawing her closer to him as she returned to the table to pick up her glass of wine. When he kissed her, she could feel all the passionate need that he was trying not to betray in his voice. "Do you remember the time we made love on this table?"
"Vividly," George said dryly. "I had bruised shoulder blades for days afterwards." Then, looking deep into his eyes, she saw the unspoken question. "No, John, absolutely no way," She said firmly, though with a broad smile lighting up her face.
"Oh, that's a shame," He said mildly. "I quite fancy it."
"Now, what would the rest of your brethren say to such evil thoughts?" She almost crooned, the wickedly sinful laugh just below the surface.
"I don't care," He told her, his hands again beginning to wander. But before he could go too far, she detached herself from him and took his hand.
"Come on," She said, pulling him up from the chair. "We might at least take this somewhere more comfortable."
When they moved to the sofa, he imagined they were simply there for a long and luxurious cuddle, that may or may not lead to a further pursuit of their pleasure, but he was wrong. Once John had seated himself at one end of the sofa, George lay down with her head in his lap.
"You really don't have to do that," He said, realising exactly what her intention was.
"John, can we get something straight," She said, looking up at him. "I only ever do this when I feel like it, and I certainly wouldn't do it if I didn't. So please just shut up and relax."
"That's me told," He said with a smile as she undid his fly. "You really are behaving badly today, aren't you," He added, as she withdrew his length from his trousers. Yes, more than you know, George thought to herself, as her lips encircled the head, contemplating the gloriously sensual kiss she'd shared with Jo before the performance. But thinking of Jo, and doing this to John, had a most unfortunate effect on George. It gave her the positively orgasmic mental image, of herself doing this to John, and Jo looking on in something akin to awe. When he saw the blush inflame her cheeks, he gently detached her from him and said,
"What are you thinking?"
"Something that really ought to send me to confession immediately," She said with a smirk. "Even though I spent the entire afternoon in a church."
"Go on, it can't be that bad," He encouraged, knowing that it would have to be really bad for her not to tell him.
"I've just had the rather startling mental image," She said carefully, with her face turned away from him. "Of me doing this, and being watched by someone else." John laughed.
"It's all that adoration from the audience today, going to your head."
"So you don't think it's highly terrible then?"
"Oh, I think that such a sinful thought, deserves nothing less than instant fulfilment, followed by six of the best for wanting such a thing."
"John, stop it," She said, feeling her own arousal inexorably building at his words.
"Why?" He asked with a smile. "You know you like it." To avoid answering his question, George again lowered her head to him, lavishing every attention she could think of on this beautiful, velvety organ she knew so well. She knew he was amused by her occasional liking to be punished, as if she had committed a misdemeanour, simply by becoming aroused by his voice. She knew that now and then she did have fantasies that were a little kinky to say the least, but John had never minded. He'd never criticised her for occasionally wanting him to try something with her, always having been up for anything new. When she felt his hand creep inside her robe, she still kept on going. His skin was so clean, so smooth, that if it hadn't been for the end result, George would have done this for him as often as he'd wanted. His hand was between her thighs now, no doubt discovering just how much his voice had aroused her.
"You really would like to be watched doing that, wouldn't you," He said softly, his fingers seeking out all her favourite pleasure points. Having her mouth full, George simply smiled up at him. "The question is," He continued silkily. "Who would you like to see you in such a submissive position. Now, Karen would be an obvious choice, though I suspect that wouldn't quite be bad enough for you. So what about Jo?" He could see the heightened colour in her face, and feel the increasing wetness surrounding his fingers, telling him that he'd hit the nail on the head. Her breathing had quickened and her movements on him were becoming a little erratic. "What would she think to see you doing what you're doing now?" he asked her, though knowing he would get no answer. "Would you want me to be touching her as you were doing this, or would I be right in suggesting that you would want to do that yourself?" At her almost indecipherable whimper, John's eyes widened. So, she really did want Jo in that way. His beautiful, wicked, utterly sensational little minx really did want to do all those lovely things to Jo that she did to Karen. Now if only Jo could feel the same way.
When George detached her lips from him, she was breathing hard.
"I'm sorry, John," She said between gasps, as he continued to move his hand on her. "But I can't keep doing this. I need you, now."
"And it would be criminal of me to refuse," He replied, knowing that her saying that she needed him, was her way of saying that she needed to reach orgasm now. Swiftly divesting himself of his clothes, he joined her on the hearthrug, reasoning that there would be more room here than on the sofa. Spreading her legs wantonly and pulling him to her, George showed him just how much space was necessary this time. She was like a wild thing, writhing under him with all the abandon of a bucking bronco. John thought he may as well increase her pleasure even further.
"Would you like Jo to watch us doing this too?"
"No," She said between gasps. "I'd like to watch you and her doing this." John hadn't been expecting this reply, and the thought of it made him speed up his thrusts, grazing her G spot every time. He'd never thought he would like an audience all that much, but now George had suggested it, he had to admit that it had distinct possibilities. As they galloped nearer and nearer to the cliff edge of desire, George could feel all the blood rushing from every part of her body, all centring in on the part of her that connected so perfectly with John. She thought she might have screamed when she came, but she just managed to curb the impulse into a shout, though she didn't think he would have minded. As the turbulent waves of her orgasm washed over her, she passed out, the intense rush of adrenaline having been just a little too much.
Gently withdrawing from her, John lay beside her, holding her in his arms and waiting for her to gradually return to him. They'd had some utterly incredible sex when they were married, and during the last eighteen months or so, but never in all that time, had he ever made her pass out. When her eyes flickered open, she saw him smiling softly down at her.
"Are you back with me?" He asked fondly.
"I've never done that before," She said a little groggily.
"And I've never made anyone do that before," He told her, gently brushing her fringe back from her face. When the tears began raining down her cheeks, he held her even closer, not entirely sure what was wrong.
"I love you," She said through her tears.
"I love you too," He said, kissing away some of her tears.
"I'm sorry I said that about Jo."
"Why?" He asked in surprise. "It obviously worked."
"I shouldn't feel like that about her," George protested, the full weight of what she was in the middle of almost crushing her. Not only was she leading Karen up the garden path, but in another way, she was also doing the same to John.
"You can't help what you feel, George. Does it really matter so much that you clearly find her attractive?"
"Yes," She insisted. "Because it wasn't ever supposed to happen." John wasn't sure as to the source of her grief, but he gradually soothed it away, knowing that there was something she certainly wasn't telling him, but in his post-orgasmic state, he was wholly unable to work out what it was.
Part One Hundred and Fifty Two
The closely packed crowd in the church hall had gradually thinned out, as one by one, people had slipped away with expansive farewells to those who were
left. The drinks table still had plenty of glasses and bottles of wine set out. The post performance celebrations had been fuelled entirely on adrenalin
release rather than alcohol, and now the mood had wound down to that of cosy intimacy.
"Did anyone see which way the Judge went?" Helen asked out of mild curiosity.
"Last I saw of him, he was going to act as minder for George, to see off that wanker of an ex of hers," Nikki sarcastically replied. Karen and Jo exchanged
glances and carried on talking.
"We're going to have to pick up the children some time," Roisin volunteered partly against her will.
"Good, that makes a good excuse to carry on the party at Yvonne's, if she doesn't mind," Cassie smugly replied. "Is everyone coming?" Nikki and Helen's
faces brightened at the prospect.
"Do you want to come as well, Jo?" Karen asked with a smile, to which the other woman nodded her ascent. She might as well go with the flow.
"Hold it, what about the church hall?" Nikki asked. Years of running a club made that instinct kick in, helped by her present security oriented job.
"Right, this hall has more than just the one big room. Can you, Nikki and Helen, check out all the windows? I'll find the front door keys and you, Cassie
and Roisin, check out the lights," Karen immediately decided.
"Yes, boss," Helen retorted half saluting and grinning.
"Is she always like this at work?" Cassie asked a big grin all over her face.
"Sometimes she's worse," Helen said with a straight face.
"Just looking after Henry's church hall. Someone has to," Came Karen's rye answer, in response to a chorus of laughter. "We'd really better be going, if
that's alright with everyone." As Jo led the way to her car, she noted in passing that John's car was no longer there. Soon the cars set out in convoy,
Cassie leading the way, and they wended their way along the country lanes. By coincidence, their route took them passed George's house, both Jo and Karen
noticed John's car parked outside the front door. Both of them felt a little left out and excluded by the way that John and George had shot off together.
The cars all crunched to a halt on Yvonne's drive, and Cassie led the way.
"It's nice to go out somewhere with company, instead of going back to an empty house," Jo smiled turning to face Karen.
"Yeah, let's make the most of it," Came Karen's definitely answer. Before Yvonne could open her mouth as she opened the door, a fast moving shape shot ahead
of her and ran into Crystal's arms. Holding Zandra in the crook of her arm, Crystal followed Yvonne who led everyone into her large, luxurious living room.
"Where's Josh?" Asked Crystal.
"Letting Michael and Niamh run rings round him by the pool," Answered Yvonne with a big grin. "Nice to see you all. I'll get you a drink if I've got a spare
pair of hands," She added hastily.
"Let me hold Daniel," Helen urged with a pleading look in her eyes.
"That's all right with me, Helen." Jo flopped down in a comfortable armchair. Now that she was seated, she was pleasantly tired out, and just wanted to
relax. She smiled benevolently at everyone in general. The sight of Daniel who was little and adorable, and Crystal's naturally motherly posture connected
immediately with Helen.
"You're all staying for something to eat. Do you fancy spaghetti bolognese?" the satisfied sounds in response to the idea of Yvonne's home cooking was a
ready reply. Yvonne was happy with a house full of close friends and children. It was her idea of heaven. At that point, a four-legged friend who was more
inquisitive than anyone, even John, made made his presence known. This was his idea of heaven as well.
"So no Judge tonight?" Yvonne asked with a smirk on her face, thinking that Trigger would definitely have given the game away if the Judge had appeared.
"He appears to be otherwise engaged," Said Jo with a straight face, which made Karen laugh.
"Do you want any help, Yvonne?" Nikki asked tactfully.
"I'll give you a shout when I'm ready." Yvonne made her way to the kitchen and rustled up carrots and onions to peel and dice.
"Roisin and I will go out to the pool and see how the children are getting on. I hope they're not wearing Josh out."
"That takes me back a few years," Jo laughed looking at Karen.
"I suppose I can remember happier days." Karen's reply was accompanied by a wan smile. Too much water had gone under the bridge in the last few years. "I'm
tired." Helen looked away, feeling very uncomfortable. It was at moments like this that she came up against one of the disadvantages of her profession,
when it intruded into her private life. She continued to make a fuss of Daniel as something to focus on. Nikki had looked curiously at Helen as she cradled
the little boy. He looked so small and innocent and was made to be held. She had seen Helen before with Daniel, but it was as if she had been looking through
the wrong end of a telescope. It wasn't in her nature just to be an observer of human life all around her. There had always had to be something more than
"Let me hold Daniel for a bit, Helen," she said softly. "It'll give you a break." Helen looked quizzically at the curious expression in Nikki's eyes, that
she had never seen before and realised that she meant it. Crystal nodded her encouragement at a moment when Nikki, wing Governor of Larkhall, appreciated
Josh was splashing about in the pool with two excited children. Michael then climbed out of the pool and jumped in splashing Josh with a fountain of water.
"Kids, give Josh a rest," Asked Roisin.
"Oh, Mum, don't be such a spoilsport," Michael called back to her. "Look, he's enjoying it."
"Spare the poor man, Michael, he looks worn out," Roisin persisted, noticing a very exhausted looking Josh who was gamely trying to keep up with two lively
"Come on, Michael," Niamh asked him kindly, as she could see that her near adolescent brother Michael sometimes didn't know where to stop.
It had been a lovely summers day, but the shadows were starting to lengthen across the lawn from the trees nearby. It started to take the heat out of the
day but the sunbeams were pleasantly dazzling and made for a delightfully lotus eating sensation, at least for anyone not in the swimming pool.
"Want to go outside, the fresh air would do us good," Karen asked Jo quietly. The terrace overlooked the pool where they could see Josh still cavorting
around in the pool with the children. Both looked back distantly and backwards into their past to when life was simpler, however much hard work it had
"I've heard some bad news today, that I have to share with someone. Barbara told me that Henry has lung cancer. You saw for yourself how ill he looked."
"Oh, no, poor Barbara. How bad is it?"
"I don't know the details." A shadow seemed to pass over the enjoyment of the day and their view of Yvonne's back garden. For those who hadn't heard the
news, time passed slowly while they sat and talked at their ease, while Yvonne prepared the meal.
"Come on, kids, you have to get out of the pool. You'll both catch your death of cold," Roisin's shrill voice carried through the still air of Yvonne's
back garden, but was unheard by the children.
"Dinner's ready," Yvonne's stentorian voice carried out of the kitchen window. Immediately, the two children splashed their way to the steps out of the
pool. Their skins were goose pimpled and ice cold to the touch, and they padded their way up the flight of steps, Josh trailing behind them.
"Typical," Roisin exclaimed to Cassie, while Karen and Jo smiled.
Part One Hundred and Fifty Three
A few weeks later, on the fourth of July to be precise, George drove into the car park of her GP's surgery, wondering just why she was here. After having a routine smear test a couple of weeks before, she had been asked to return to discuss its results. She felt fine, she reasoned to herself. But she wasn't so naive to think that this didn't mean something wasn't wrong with her. They hadn't asked her back here for nothing, after all. The last few months had been wonderful, gradually getting closer to Jo, still enjoying what she had with Karen, and the run up to the performance of 'The Creation'. She knew that she was approaching the point of no return with Jo, that time when a decision, one way or the other, had to be made, to minimise Karen's hurt if nothing else. She'd almost told John about Jo, on the day of the performance. God, it still aroused her to remember how he'd made her feel, and in that moment of pure clarification of her feelings, she had almost told him of Jo's reciprocation of her attraction. Telling him that she fancied Jo, and wouldn't mind being with John and Jo together had been quite bad enough though, making her blush every time she thought of it. This wouldn't solve anything, she thought to herself, getting out of the car and locking the door with resigned determination. Whatever it was, she would deal with it.
George just couldn't believe it. As she stared at the doctor, a blush of combined fury and humiliation covered her face. Chlamydia! The legal profession's answer to Professor Higgins, both in and out of bed, had given her Chlamydia!
"It happens," The doctor simply said to her.
"Well," Said George decisively, "The man who gave this to me is going to wish it hadn't." After handing her a prescription for a course of antibiotics, and telling her that she would need to return in a fortnight's time to make sure the infection had gone, the doctor watched as she walked out of his office, feeling a certain amount of sympathy for the poor blighter who was about to feel the wrath of this woman's anger.
As George waited in the chemist for her prescription to be made up, the caldron of her anger began to simmer, to gradually obtain momentum. But before she allowed it to boil over, there was someone else who needed to know about this. She blushed all the way to Jo's office, wondering just how she would go about telling her that John had not only gone back on his promise to stick with just the two of them, but that he'd given certainly her and probably Jo as well, a sexually transmitted disease. Things like this just didn't happen to people like her. It was unthinkable! After all, that was the only conceivable explanation for this, wasn't it, that John had picked this up from one of his innumerable conquests.
When she drew up in the car park in front of Jo's office, George just sat there for a moment, trying to marshal her thoughts, to put them in to some sort of order. As she walked through reception, she wondered fleetingly if you could tell just by looking at a person, that they had such an utterly unmentionable infection germinating inside them. Shuddering slightly at this thought, she climbed the stairs and walked along the corridor to Jo's office, all the time praying that she didn't have company. When Jo heard the firm tap on the door, she called,
"Come in." She was surprised to see George at this time of the day. It was early afternoon and they should both be busy. But as George came in and closed the door very carefully behind her, Jo could see that something was different.
"What's happened?" She said as a form of greeting. George stood for a moment, her hand on the handle of the closed door, just staring at Jo, trying to find the right words to tell her. "Sit down," Said Jo, trying to put George at her ease. George moved to sit in one of the low armchairs in front of the window.
"I think we've got a problem," She finally said. Jo had swivelled her desk chair to face George, and she simply waited. "This is quite awkward," Went on George, clearly uncomfortable with the situation. "I need to ask you something that may seem unduly offensive."
"This must be bad, if you're giving me prior warning that I'm not going to like it," Said Jo with a shrug, but George didn't smile at her attempt at humour.
"Since we made the deal with John that he would stop sleeping with every random woman who caught his eye, and that he would stick to us and only us, have you slept with anyone else?" Jo simply raised an eyebrow.
"No," She said. "Why do you ask?"
"I thought not," Said George. "But I had to check. I think it's fair to say that John's gone back on his promise."
"Explain," Jo said, remaining outwardly calm, but inwardly feeling an ice-cold fear touch her heart. At this prompting, George began to look even more uncomfortable. Her eyes wouldn't keep still. They constantly flitted between the door, Jo, the computer on Jo's desk and back to the door again. "George, what's happened?" Jo cajoled, dreading what was coming. Taking a deep breath, George brought out the words.
"John, with his usual level of thoughtlessness, has given me, and probably you too, Chlamydia." Jo found herself blushing in sympathy with George.
"How do you know?" She asked, and then could have kicked herself. "Sorry," She said, clapping a hand to her mouth, "Stupid question."
"I had a routine smear test a couple of weeks ago," Enlightened George. "I was asked to return to discuss its results. I was worrying about all sorts of things, and it turns out to be some dodgy disease picked up from his latest conquest."
"I'll kill him," Said Jo, in that low, menacing tone that George was relieved not to have aimed at herself.
"No," She replied decisively. "Go and get yourself sorted out, and then we'll both kill him." Jo looked absolutely thunderous.
"Why," She said furiously though still relatively quietly, "Will he never ever learn. I'd have thought that what happened with me all those years ago would have perhaps made him think that safe sex was at the very least, possibly a good idea." George just rolled her eyes.
"He's always gone with the heat of the moment," She said derisively. "I know it sounds ridiculous," She continued, "But I've always had the attitude that people like us, barristers, high court judges, you name it, weren't stupid enough to get things like this. I even thought that applied to complete and total reprobates like him."
"Oh, grow up, George," Said Jo scornfully. "Anyone who sleeps around as indiscriminately as John used to, or clearly still does, is always at risk of something like this. I take it you haven't slept with anyone who could be responsible for this?"
"No, of course not," Said George indignantly. "The only other person I've slept with since this three way thing began is Karen, and I'm almost sure she hasn't slept with anyone else during the time I've been seeing her. Besides, I'd have been pretty bloody unlucky to have picked anything up from her."
"Anything's possible, George. But yes, it's far more likely to be from John."
"How could he do it, Jo?" George asked in total despair. "How could he go back on his promise?"
"I don't know," Jo replied miserably. "But he'd better have a bloody good reason for it."
"I've never been so humiliated in my life," Said George furiously. "I wanted to sink through the floor."
"You'd better tell Karen about this," Said Jo.
"Oh, absolutely bloody marvellous," Said George. "Karen has always been okay with the arrangement I have with John, and because she didn't want anything particularly heavy or committed from me, it didn't bother her. She might change her mind now. I'm just amazed, that with his record, something like this hasn't happened before."
"If it has," Said Jo, "I've never been aware of it. The only time I've ever known him to be forced to acknowledge the consequences of his actions, was when I found out I was pregnant."
"He owes you better than this," Said George vehemently.
"George," Said Jo gently but firmly, "He owes both of us better than this."
"It's not the same and you know it," Replied George.
"Once upon a time, I might have agreed with you. But you're as much a part of his supposed level of commitment as I am."
"I wonder who he caught this from?" Said George, trying to change the subject.
"As long as it's no one I know, I couldn't care less," Replied Jo.
As George drove back to her office, she dialled Karen's mobile number.
"Darling, it's George," She said, and Karen could hear the anger and tension resonating in her tone.
"Hello," She said, "Talking to you definitely beats wrestling with budgets."
"I'm not sure you'll still think so when I tell you why I phoned," Replied George, feeling the blush suffuse her features even though Karen wasn't actually there.
"Should we be having this conversation if you're driving?" Asked Karen, realising that this was something serious.
"No, probably not," Said George, "But I need to be back in the office for an appointment. Sweetheart, I'm sorry to have to do this to you, but there's the slightest possibility that you might have Chlamydia."
"What?" Came the sharp response.
"I know, I know," Said George, "Please don't say it. I can't prove it yet, but I'm pretty sure I've picked it up from John."
"But I thought he was only sleeping with you and Jo, and Jo doesn't strike me as the straying kind."
"Quite. Jo's getting herself tested and I think you should do the same. Before I accuse John without the slightest possibility of being wrong, there isn't anyone else I should know about, is there."
"No, of course not," Karen said, though not sounding in the least defensive. Hers and George's relationship had always been pretty carefree, mainly because George wasn't prepared to go back on her arrangement with Jo and John, and because Karen didn't want anything remotely heavy. "The last bloke I slept with was John, and that was over eighteen months ago. Since then, there's been only you." George felt a brief fluttering of pleasure when Karen said this. Whilst she'd never give up what she had with John for anyone, what she had with Karen was still incredibly special to her.
"I'm sorry about this," Said George, hating the fact that John was putting her through this.
"It's not your fault," Said Karen practically. "What was Jo's response?"
"I think her words were, I'll kill him."
"Yeah, well, if I have got it, he'll get a roasting from me too." George laughed.
"Usually, three strong minded women all in one go would be his idea of heaven. But three very angry women might just be too much, even for John."
"I'd have been pretty unlucky to pick it up from you," Said Karen thoughtfully.
"I know," Said George, turning in to the car park in front of her office. "But go and get tested anyway." As she walked up the stairs to her office, she wondered if John had any idea of what he was probably carrying around inside him. Did he even know what Chlamydia was, and that if left untreated, it could make a woman infertile? Sure, neither she nor Jo had any plans to have any more children, in fact George would rather cut out her own eyes than do that again. But that didn't mean that John could play fast and loose with anyone's sexual health, especially not with the two women he so often said he loved.
Part One Hundred and Fifty Four
George hated everything for the next few days. She couldn't sleep with John, and she couldn't sleep with Karen. The doctor had warned her not to sleep with anyone, man or woman, until she was completely cured. This meant that her usual level of frustration and tactless comments was exponentially increased. Her secretary was almost ready to resign, and anyone who represented the people her clients were fighting, found themselves coming under the verbal knife at every possible opportunity. Everyone who worked with or alongside George had thought she'd mellowed down a lot in the last eighteen months or so, but they were all beginning to question their judgment on this point, after a few days of a distinct return to the old Georgia Channing. But, on the fourth day after her utterly humiliating confirmation from the doctor, she received two phone calls. The first was from Karen, to say that no, she didn't have anything resembling a sexually transmitted infection, which definitely meant George and possibly Jo had picked it up from John, not her.
"This is driving me mad," Said George, and Karen could hear George's resolve beginning to crack. "I really didn't think that a simple case of sexual frustration could drive someone completely insane." Karen laughed.
"How long are the antibiotics for?" She asked.
"A fortnight," Replied George miserably.
"Oh well," Said Karen cheerfully. "Only just over a week to go, and then I'll give you the best night you've had in a long time," She said, lowering her voice to that husky, incredibly sultry, sexy level that never failed to turn George to jelly.
"Don't talk to me like that when I'm in the office," She said, half amused, half pleading. Her office door was firmly shut, but she wasn't about to be caught half-aroused in the middle of the working day.
"Perhaps that's the answer," Said Karen contemplatively.
"What is?" Said George, her frustration almost palpable.
"Well, if your secretary is going to get the slightest chance of a moment's peace from you," She said, a smile in her voice. "Then you need to release some of that tension that's coming off you in waves."
"Well, at the moment," Said George, the old bite returning to her voice. "That's pretty bloody impossible."
"In the normal way," Continued Karen unperturbed, "Yes, it is. But seeing as my voice appears to turn you on at the merest suggestion, maybe it could be put to good use." A slow, wicked grin crossed George's face.
"Good god," She said in realisation. "I haven't done that since I was married to John and he spent so much time travelling all over the country defending anyone at a moment's notice." She stretched like a cat, thinking that Karen's suggestion definitely held possibilities.
"So, will that thought keep you going till tonight?" Asked Karen with a smile.
"Definitely," George replied, in the slightly exaggerated upper class drawl that had attracted Karen to her in the first place.
The second call she received was from Jo.
"Yes," She simply said, "I have got Chlamydia."
"And Karen hasn't, so I think we know where and who we got it from."
"I haven't felt so humiliated since the day I had to go and ask for a termination," Said Jo, and George could hear the resurface of some of Jo's worst memories.
"Are you all right?" Asked George in gentle concern.
"Yes," Said Jo, making an effort to keep it together. "I'm just angry, quietly but murderously angry. I don't think I've been this angry since John told me he'd slept with his therapist."
"Well then," Said George decisively, "I think it's time we poured some of our combined fury over his head. Don't you?"
"Oh, yes," Replied Jo. "He's not going to forget this in a hurry."
"Why not ask him over this evening?" Suggested George. "Make him think he's got a relaxing evening in store, and hopefully he'll go away thinking that his fights with me when we were married, were a picnic compared to what's coming to him."
As it was a Friday, Jo asked John to come over that evening. She asked him to come later, making work the excuse for her not cooking for him. Jo knew that she certainly wouldn't be able to sit through a meal with John, with all the anger and hurt churning away inside her, and she thought that George's ability to eat full stop would have disappeared completely. All day, as she dealt with clients and prepared her opening speech for the trial that was starting on Monday, her thoughts kept going back to John. Just where or from whom had he caught this? And more to the point, how long had they all had it? The doctor had told her that a disease such as Chlamydia often had no symptoms whatsoever, meaning that she could have had it for ages without knowing. He had also said that if left untreated, it had the potential to make the infected woman infertile. She was forty-three now, and no, having any more children certainly wasn't something that she thought of as being on her personal agenda. But that did not give John the right to put her at risk like this. George had been having similar thoughts, spontaneously breaking into bouts of sheer fury at the thought of it. However, as she had to wait all through the day before tackling John, her fires were allowed to build, the coals of rage being stoked up in readiness to release her wrath.
When she arrived at Jo's just before nine that evening, she was relieved to see that John wasn't there yet. She needed some time, and a very large, very dry Martini before she began on him. When Jo let her in, she could see that George was as tense as reinforced concrete. When she'd closed the front door, and they were moving towards the living-room, Jo put a hand on George's shoulder, turning her to face her, and enclosing her in a pair of gentle arms. No words needed to be said, they were both feeling hurt, angry and betrayed. George returned the embrace, resting her cheek against Jo's neck, taking in the warm, subtly female fragrance of her skin.
"Are you all right?" Jo asked, gently running her hands over George's back, easing some of the tension out of her muscles.
"I am now," George sighed almost contentedly, wishing she could stay here forever. "But I've been verbally scrapping with everyone all week." Jo laughed softly into George's hair.
"I should feel sorry for your secretary."
"She'll resign if I'm not careful." When George drew slightly back from her, Jo could see the question in her eyes. George clearly wanted to kiss her, but she wasn't sure if such a gesture would be welcome in their current situation. When Jo gave her a soft encouraging smile for an answer, George reached up to tentatively place her lips on Jo's. The last time they'd done this had been just before the performance of 'The Creation', and it felt as though they'd waited far too long to do it again. Their lips were soft and gentle, exchanging a warmth that went far beyond the texture of their skin.
"I needed that," George said when they eventually came up for air.
"Could you do with a drink?" Jo asked, fondly touching her cheek.
"Definitely," George replied. "A positively enormous martini might just help me to give him his just desserts."
When John arrived, about half an hour later, George breathed an inward sigh of relief. Yes, she knew that the coming row would be a huge one, but she couldn't go on waiting as she had been doing. She'd been lighting one cigarette from another, the tension positively exuding from her every pore. John was surprised to see George's car in the drive, because he hadn't been expecting her to join them.
"I wasn't expecting to see you tonight," He said when he walked into the lounge.
"Surprises come in many forms, John," She said sardonically. As he moved to kiss her, she jerked away from him, walking away to put the coffee table between them.
"What have I done?" He asked, sitting down on the sofa, and getting that old familiar feeling of apprehension that usually preceded one of George's tirades.
"Oh, he's learning, Jo," George said with a brittle smile. "Mind you, he's had years of giving us both the run around to acquire the practice."
"All right," John said impatiently. "Cut to the chase. We've all had a hard week, and could no doubt do without your particular form of verbal sparring."
"Would you like me to pour you a glass of wine, John?" Jo asked almost sweetly. "Because I think you're going to need it," She added with more bitterness than he'd heard in her for a long time. This worried him far more than George's sniping. Putting out every one of her spiky barbs, was George's raison d'etre. She lived for fighting, both in court and out of it. Even though she had mellowed down significantly over the last couple of years, it didn't mean that she couldn't be riled up in an instant if necessary. But Jo was different. John positively hated it when Jo was angry with him, because he could always see her hurt just below the rage.
"You better have one too," He said to George. "It might help to quell some of the smoke that's coming out of your ears." He knew he was goading her, but until he had been accused of something against which he could mount a defence, he would go on giving just as good as he got. Instead of seeking to put out her fire, George lit up another cigarette. She couldn't stay still, her body like a coiled spring, getting ready for the kill.
"A couple of weeks ago," She began, once John had been given his glass of wine, and Jo had sat off to the side in an armchair. "I had a routine smear test. I was then written to, and invited to return for further consultation. Now, why do you think that could be?"
"I've no idea," John replied, his tone belying the fact that he was fervently hoping that she was all right.
"Well," George went on, taking a long and satisfied drag. "I was politely informed, that casually germinating away inside me, is a lovely little disease called Chlamydia."
"Ah," John said quietly, the thoughts slowly and painfully coming together, to tell him that he had given it to her.
"Oh, you know what it is, do you," She said scornfully. "Well, I suppose that's a start. You see, not only did you give it to me, but you also gave it to Jo. The only respect in which you have been lucky with this, is that Karen didn't manage to pick it up from me, though I am told that could have been possible. So, what was her name, John, or are you going to tell us that she isn't relevant. I do hope for your sake and hers, that it isn't someone either of us knows." His thoughts briefly straying to the Sunday afternoon he'd spent with Yvonne, John tried to formulate an answer.
"I think her name was Angela," He said eventually, for the moment not looking at Jo because he couldn't bear to see the hurt in her face.
"Oh, a real little angel she must have been," George said sarcastically. "Is she your only conquest since this relationship began, or is she one of a few?"
"She's the only one," John told her, knowing that if either of them ever knew about Yvonne, he really would be for the high jump. As George took another drag, John used the opportunity to start apologising. "I'm sorry," He said, looking between her and Jo.
"Oh, really," Jo replied scathingly. "So why did you do it?"
"I thought this relationship actually meant something to you, John," She continued, furious tears rising to her eyes. "Let's face it, that's why it originally began, to keep you on the straight and narrow. I don't want to hear the apologies, I don't want to know how sorry you are, because you've been saying that for as long as I've known you. I just want to know why, so that we might both have some idea of how to stop you doing it again."
"Or shall I take a shot in the dark," George put in, bringing his gaze back on her. "Because I can think of only one thing that might have made you wander again after all this time."
"You make me sound like a roving tomcat," He said disgustedly.
"Oh, and do you blame me?" George retorted hotly. "Would I be right in suggesting, that you picked up this little angel of death to fertility, on the night we had that awful row?" She could see immediately by his face that she was right.
"But... You..." Jo just stared at him, the clashing thoughts in her mind removing her capacity to formulate a coherent sentence. "I all but accused you of doing that, the night after that rehearsal, where you and George..." She didn't finish the description. "I said to you, how do I know whether or not you did exactly that, and you said you hadn't." John felt terrible. He knew he'd been skating on the thin edge of truth that evening, when she'd told him how bad things had been for George that weekend.
"I'm sorry, Jo," He said, the weight of guilt for what he'd done to her pressing down on him.
"Do you know what Chlamydia does, John?" George continued. When he didn't answer, she said, "If it is left undiagnosed and untreated for a significant amount of time, it can render the woman infertile."
"Well," He responded without thinking. "You're not planning to have any more, are you?"
"And do you think that makes what you did any less actionable?" She demanded.
"No, perhaps not," He replied, growing tired of her prosecution. "But you've only had it three months, less than. I'm sorry that I didn't live up to expectation, though quite why you still expect me to after all these years is beyond me, but I can't turn the clock back. I'm assuming you've both been given a course of antibiotics for this, so I'll go and get some for myself. I really am sorry for breaking my promise, but your shouting at me isn't going to achieve anything."
"So, what you're saying," George strove to clarify his assertion. "Is that if we hadn't argued as furiously as we did that night, you wouldn't have gone out and screwed some random tart?"
"I wish you wouldn't talk like that," He said almost as an aside. "But yes, if you like, that argument got to me more than I'd thought it would. Forgetting about it for a while seemed to be the best solution at the time."
"What did she look like?" George threw back at him, using the increasing hurt to fuel her anger.
"You don't need to know that," He told her, not wanting to admit that the girl, Angela, had looked just like George at twenty-years-old.
"No, go on," Jo prompted. "I'm interested. It would be nice to know precisely what you find attractive these days." Looking straight into George's eyes, where she stood across from him, John took the bull by the horns.
"She looked very much like you did, when I first met you," He said quietly. This hit George smack in the gut, making her stand stock-still, staring at him in horror. Feeling the tears mounting in her throat, and the hurt at his actions almost choking her, she rounded the coffee table and moved swiftly towards him. As she raised her hand to deliver the slap, Jo saw in an instant what she was about to do.
"George, no," She protested, but it was too late. The crack of George's hand connecting with John's cheek was a sound that none of them would ever forget. It had been easy for George, because she was standing, and John was sitting on the sofa. As a result of George's exponentially increased stress levels, she'd not eaten much all week, and this had meant that she'd lost even more weight than she normally managed to maintain. The delicate sapphire ring of her mother's that she always wore on the forth finger of her right hand, had slid round her finger, so that the jewel was on the inside. As her frightened eyes flitted between her upraised hand and the cut on John's cheek, she could feel all the anger draining out of her. There was a long, awful pause, as they all took in what George had done. John just stared at her, not knowing what on earth he could say. Not even during the countless times he'd played away during their marriage, had she ever done anything like this. His face stung where that sapphire had caught him, and as he became aware of the slight trickle of blood running down his cheek, he rose from the sofa, barely sparing either of them a backward glance, and strode out of the front door.
Part One Hundred and Fifty Five
As John drove away from Jo's house, he couldn't believe what had just happened. Yes, he knew that George was furious with him, but to strike him as she had done, that was something else altogether. Jo had seen what George had been about to do, and she'd tried to stop her. That surely meant that Jo wasn't as angry with him as George, but he secretly knew that this was clutching at straws. George had exhibited the anger of their situation, Jo the hurt. It caused him a physical pain to see such a feeling of betrayal in Jo's eyes, it always did. So why did he keep on doing this to her? What he'd said to George had been right, if they hadn't argued as bitterly as they had back in April, he never would have picked up Angela, and they now wouldn't be in this predicament. Did that make it his fault, or George's? He wasn't sure, not entirely his at any rate. But the Chlamydia hadn't been why she'd slapped him, that had been due to the fact that he'd picked up a girl who'd looked very like George, when he'd first met her at that New Year's Eve party when she was only twenty years old. God, he thought to himself that was nearly thirty years ago now. So much had happened to all of them in that time, so much that he'd done wrong, and couldn't really put right.
When he drew up outside Karen's flat, he wondered for a moment why he'd come here. She obviously knew about the Chlamydia, because she would have been tested for it herself. Hoping that he wasn't about to see a similar performance from her, he locked the car and rang the doorbell. When Karen opened the door and saw the blood running down his face onto his pristine white shirt, she grinned broadly.
"Did George do that?" She asked in greeting as she let him in.
"It's not funny," He insisted, following her up the stairs.
"No, of course not," She replied, trying to force a serious expression onto her face and failing.
"Not in all the fights we've had, has she ever done anything like this," He said as they reached the lounge.
"Well, now you know how I felt when Denny did similar to me," Karen said matter-of-factly.
"That's different," He protested disgustedly. "George wasn't out of her mind on speed."
"Anger can be just as powerful, John, and she's been building up to this row all week. Add a hefty dose of hurt and sexual frustration to the mix, and there you are."
"Have you got some cotton wool or something?" He asked, wanting to remove the evidence of George's wrath as quickly as possible.
"Sure," Karen said, leading him towards the bathroom. "And then I'm going to give you, the most humiliating lecture you've ever had in your life," She promised firmly.
"Oh, I'll look forward to it," He replied sardonically, seeing that she hadn't even started yet.
When John had cleaned the cut on his face, and joined Karen back in the lounge, she poured them both a glass of wine and they sat on the sofa.
"So," Karen said, lighting a cigarette. "Are you going to tell me what this was all about?"
"Back in April, when George and I had that fairly bad argument, I got over it by picking someone up in a bar after George threw me out. Her name was Angela, and no, I don't know her last name. I'm not proud of it, but I thought it was just one of those things."
"Is there anyone else, who ought to go and find out if they're carrying around the same nasty little surprise?" Karen asked silkily. "Such as Yvonne for example?" John stared at her. No, she couldn't, she couldn't possibly know about Yvonne!
"Please tell me that neither Jo nor George know about that?" He asked almost hoarsely.
"No, and they never will. I only worked it out, because I know you far better than you think I do."
"How long have you known?"
"Since about the middle of April. So, if that was when you picked up this woman, Yvonne doesn't need to know about the Chlamydia."
"I can't believe she slapped me," He said, the shock only just sinking in.
"Yeah, well, if you'd managed to give it to me too, I'd have been tempted to give you one on the other side," Karen said firmly. "They're hurt, John," She added more gently. "Hurt and angry. George will probably be just as shocked as you are that she slapped you, and she'll probably feel incredibly guilty for it. Give her a day or two, and she'll almost certainly come and apologise."
"I know I shouldn't have broken my word, but it's not as if I've never done it before," He tried to reason with her. "And it's not as if Chlamydia isn't curable. I'm not entirely sure I know what all the fuss is about." Restraining the urge to wring his neck, Karen replied with an ever-decreasing supply of patience.
"John, do I have to treat you like my son?" She demanded curtly. "Because I can assure you that right now, you really are behaving like him." John opened his mouth to tell her precisely why he was behaving nothing like her son, and then closed it again. Tonight wasn't the night for revelations that it wasn't his place to provide. "Not to put too fine a point on it," Karen continued. "You've given Jo and George, something that you picked up from being inside another woman. Now, they've both had this for almost three months, which means they will both have been going over and over the times they've slept with you during that time, wondering precisely when you passed it onto them. I'm sure that some time this evening, one or the other of them has pointed out to you, that Chlamydia can make a woman infertile, if left long enough. I know that neither of them has any plans to have any more children, but that does not give you the right to take that kind of risk with their health. I don't want to frighten you, though perhaps I ought to, but something as catastrophic as HIV can be passed on in exactly the same way." Again John's thoughts strayed to Ross. Had she ever given him this type of lecture, told him how to keep himself and others safe from that particular infection? Yes, she almost certainly had. "John," Karen added regretfully. "If you insist on picking up nameless, faceless women, even though you've got more love and commitment at home than most people find in their entire lifetime, then you must, be, careful. I cannot impress that on you too strongly."
"Am I supposed to feel humiliated?" He asked after a long, thoughtful pause.
"Yes, to a certain extent," Karen told him matter-of-factly. "So that in future, you might spare the most fleeting of thoughts to possible consequences." After taking a swig of his wine, He said,
"I don't think it was this that made George slap me. They wanted to know what she looked like, and I don't think George was very happy with the response." Karen simply raised an eyebrow, inviting him to continue. "She looked just like George, when she was only twenty, when I first met her. She had hair right down her back, and was wearing a skirt that was virtually non-existent." Karen winced.
"Then I'm hardly surprised she slapped you," She said bitterly. "Knowing that you'd picked up someone who resembled what she used to be, that would have hurt her immensely, John."
"I know," He said regretfully. "I think I picked on her, because I wanted to remember a time when George had been happy with me, when she hadn't begun to question who I was."
"We all change, John," Karen said quietly. "Believe me, there is nothing I would like more, than to go back to a time when Ross still appreciated my existence, and didn't disagree with me purely on principle. But I can't, and you can't do the same with either George or Jo." It hurt John immensely to hear her talking so regretfully about her son, because she didn't know the half of it.
"Your son doesn't know how lucky he is," John said vehemently, with a depth of emotion in his voice that Karen couldn't place.
"I'll send him to see you, when we have our next row," She said philosophically.
"You do that," John said quietly, fervently hoping that one day, she could.
When John had left, they listened as his car roared away. George was standing where she'd been when John had stalked out, just staring at the hand she'd used to slap his face. After a moment's silence, Jo got up from her chair and slowly walked over to George, seeing such an expression of appalled bewilderment on her face that she instantly forgave her. Taking George's still upraised right hand in hers, Jo swivelled the sapphire ring round to face the right way, and gently persuaded George to sit down beside her on the sofa.
"I can't believe I just did that," George said into the silence, her hand still in Jo's.
"Yes, it was something of a shock," Jo said in that understated fashion that right now, was necessary.
"Jo, I didn't mean to do it, just... I... I just saw red when he said that she'd looked like me."
"Which is perfectly understandable," Jo said reasonably.
"No, no, it isn't," George protested vehemently. "I did precisely what Neil did to me nearly two years ago. I reacted without thinking to something that really riled me. That's just what he did. That makes me as bad as him. I should go and find John right now, and tell him I'm sorry." She had tears in her eyes by this time, and all Jo could do was to put her arms round her.
"Listen," She said slowly and deliberately, trying to calm George down. "Talking to John tonight is the last thing you should do. You both need to calm down, which means that you both need some space from each other. Let him lick his wounds, and go and see him in a day or two. You're not the only one who'll have some grovelling to do."
"But don't you get it?" George asked in complete despair. "This was my fault. Most of the bitterly horrible things that were said between us back in April, most of them came from me. If I hadn't said some of the things I did, he might not have picked up that girl, and we wouldn't be in this situation now. You've ended up with this utterly disgusting disease, all because I don't know when to keep my mouth shut."
"George," Jo held her at arm's length and slightly shook her. "I am not going to let you do this. Arguments happen, even terrible ones that you instantly regret for whatever reason, but it's how we deal with them that counts. Going out and picking up the first woman to catch his eye, was the worst way of dealing with an argument that John could have chosen. You always have to find a reason to feel guilty, even when it's clearly not you who needs to feel it. This, is, not, your, fault, and I will not let you blame yourself for something John has done. That's John, not you, not me, but John. No, you shouldn't have slapped him, but he will forgive you, I know he will."
"I hope so," George said quietly, grateful for Jo's unending wisdom.
"Who's was the ring?" Jo asked, touching the jewel that had cut John's face.
"It was my mother's," George said regretfully. "Daddy wouldn't be very pleased that I'd inadvertently used it to hurt someone."
"You'll lose it if you're not careful."
"It usually is a bit loose, but I've not eaten much this week, so it's acquired even more room for manoeuvre," George said dryly. Jo knew that George's assertion of not having eaten much was probably on the conservative side, but she didn't comment.
"Do you feel like eating something now?" Jo asked, hoping she would though not banking on it.
"Thank you for the concern, darling," George said with a fond smile. "But eating is definitely the last thing I want to contemplate."
"You can't blame me for trying," Jo said a little sheepishly.
After putting on some soft music and topping up their glasses, Jo returned to the sofa, she and George slipping into the type of closeness that neither were used to with the other, as if they'd been doing it all their lives. Few words needed to be spoken, as it was the closeness that mattered. With her head on Jo's shoulder, George could hear the reassuring sound of her breathing, together with the slow, regular thud of her heart. Jo smiled to herself when she realised that she was running each strand of George's hair through her fingers, knowing that two years ago, this would have been unthinkable. Each woman was submerged in her own thoughts, the soft music and their gentle embrace, serving to relax them both.
"I could get used to this," George said, breaking in on their mood of growing tranquillity.
"Is there any reason why you shouldn't?" Jo asked softly.
"Yes, at the moment there is," George said regretfully. "Karen. I can't go on keeping her in the dark like this, Jo." Taking in a long, slow breath, Jo had to admit that she was right. "I've got to tell her soon," George persisted gently. "You know I have."
"Yes," Jo said quietly. "I know. I suppose I'm just not ready to tell John quite yet, and we can't tell one without the other."
"Darling, I'm not trying to pressure you," George assured her. "I just want you to give some thought to it, that's all."
"Thank you," Jo said gratefully, briefly touching her cheek.
"I almost told John, the day of the performance," George admitted with a wry smile. "I didn't, but I came very close to it."
"Oh, and what led to such an impulse?" When George blushed, Jo laughed. "If you can't talk about it, George, then you certainly shouldn't be contemplating doing it."
"I'll remember that one, thank you," George said with a smirk, thinking that she might one day have to turn that little saying back on Jo.
"I'm not sure you'll really want to know," George added, wishing she hadn't started this conversation.
"You've started now," Jo goaded her. "So finish."
"I was lying on the sofa, giving John oral, which isn't something I do very often, and I was presented with the rather tantalising image, of me doing that, and being watched by you."
"Well, well, Ms Channing, how positively deviant of you," Jo said grinning broadly.
"Don't you start," George said blushing even further. "That's pretty much what he said."
"Oh, well," Jo said philosophically. "I suppose you could always show me how it's done."
"Have you never tried it?" George asked, without an ounce of scorn or disbelief in her tone.
"Once or twice, but I've never found it that appealing, and I've only ever taken it so far."
"Well, believe me, the end result is definitely anything other than appealing. Whereas doing that for a woman, well, I personally think it's one of the most erotic pastimes in the world." George had drawn slightly back from Jo, so that she could look straight into her eyes, and after proclaiming her particular liking, she ran the tip of her tongue across her upper lip, leaving Jo wondering just what else she could do with it. When their lips met, the exploration was deep and lingering, possibly the most sensual they'd yet shared.
"Did you really find that idea worth thinking about?" Jo asked, when they came up for air.
"Oh, yes," George said firmly. "The eventual orgasm was so mind blowing, that it made me pass out, not something I've done through sex before. But it was when I came round that I nearly told him about us. It just struck me that this was all getting far too complicated, at least far more complicated than it was ever supposed to be. I know it's going to hurt Karen, and that's the last thing I want to do, but unfortunately, it's unavoidable. There will never be a good time to do it, so no, I'm not in any great rush." They stayed like this for a while, softly kissing, and murmuring gentle words of affection. Glancing at her watch a good while later, George said,
"I should go, whilst I can still drive."
"I'd rather you didn't," Jo said quietly, not altogether sure how George would take her invitation.
"You want me to stay?" George clarified.
"Yes," Jo told her simply. But when George's eyes widened in surprise, she added, "Just to sleep."
A while later, when she'd leant George a nightie and a toothbrush, Jo was lying in her soft, double bed, listening to George taking a quick shower. She'd had a bath earlier in the evening, trying to make herself relax a little before the row began, though it hadn't really worked. When George appeared in the bedroom doorway, Jo glanced up at her and laughed.
"You look ridiculous," She said, as George crossed to the bed. George was wearing one of Jo's nighties, and as a result of Jo's greater height and slightly fuller build, it almost hung off her.
"I've no doubt," George said with a laugh of her own, as she turned back the duvet and slid in beside Jo. She was lying on Jo's left, presumably where John usually did. How would it work if there were three of them? George couldn't begin to imagine. It seemed so natural to move into each other's arms, though this was the closest they'd ever been. The contours of their bodies appeared to fit together like a jigsaw, leaving no gaps between them.
"This feels odd, but right, if that makes any sense," Jo said, smiling a little at her confusion.
"I know," George agreed with her. "It does, the first few times." When they kissed, they could taste the other's toothpaste, their own distinct flavour becoming gradually familiar. Jo's hands occasionally moved on George's back, coming into contact with her very prominent and bony shoulder blades. But after a while, she said,
"I have an almost overwhelming urge to touch you," watching George's face for any sign of disapproval.
"You already are," George replied, laughing softly. Then, at Jo's slight look of embarrassment, she added more seriously, "Darling, there's no one here telling you not to." Very slowly, gazing into George's endless blue eyes as she did so, Jo gradually moved her hand round to the front of the nightie George was wearing. George's breast was undoubtedly smaller than hers, but its size suited George's slighter frame. It was so soft under the cotton of the nightie, really the only fleshy part of George's body. George began to relax under Jo's tentative caresses, and when she felt Jo's finger graze over her nipple, she gasped. It was odd, Jo thought, that George's nipple could be so hard, so erect, compared to the softness of the rest of her breast. Jo wasn't sure what made her do it, but after a short time of doing this to George, she felt for George's hand, and led it to her own breast. Perhaps she didn't want to be the only one doing this, or perhaps she simply wanted some of what she was doing to George. This hadn't really surprised George, but before accepting Jo's invitation, she exchanged a questioning glance with her, just to make sure that this was what she wanted. Jo's chest was definitely fuller than her own, though not as extensive as Karen's. When Jo felt George's gentle hand on her, she stopped what she was doing for a moment, because the sensation was so new to her. No man had ever been so gentle, so delicate, so sensitive to each and every pleasure point.
"You do realise," George said between kisses. "That because of the Chlamydia, we really can't take this much further."
"Would you want to though, if it was possible?" Jo asked, wanting to be sure.
"Without a doubt," George said unequivocally. "Would you?"
"Yes." They continued like this for a while, exchanging long, glorious kisses, and gentle though nonetheless arousing caresses, until Jo tentatively slid her hand inside the low-cut V-shaped front of George's nightie. When George felt Jo's beautifully smooth, infinitely female fingers on her skin, she couldn't help but emit a moan of pleasure. Jo moved her hand to the other breast this time, coaxing that nipple in turn to full hardness. Following Jo's actions, George slipped her hand under the cotton, finding Jo's warm, soft skin ready and waiting for her. Their hands began stroking in rhythm with each other, moving over soft flesh and teasing at nipples. Jo couldn't believe she was finally doing this, that after all this time she was actually touching and arousing another woman. George's breathing had noticeably quickened, her kisses becoming more frantic. Jo had let out a cry of surprise when George had encountered her bare nipple, but other than this, she hadn't made hardly any sound at all, usually being fairly quiet in bed. Realising that George was approaching a climax, Jo altered her position so that she could give George attention from both hands, gently rolling her nipples between finger and thumb. George felt incredible. Not for more years than she cared to remember, had she been in danger of coming just from this. But here she was, fast approaching an orgasm, just from having her nipples played with, and by someone who'd never done anything of the sort in her life. When she came, her whole body stiffened, her teeth clenching so as not to let out the cry of abandon that she might have under normal circumstances. Jo watched her in fascination, the sight of George reaching orgasm possibly the most intensely bizarre thing she had ever witnessed. When George let out a long, satisfied sigh, pulling Jo against her, Jo kissed her and smiled.
"Sorry about that," George said sheepishly.
"Oh, my pleasure," Jo said dryly. "That was certainly something of an eye opener to say the least."
"I should have waited for you though," George said apologetically.
"Whilst trying not to cast aspersions on your unquestionable skill," Jo said with a fond smile. "I don't think you would achieve the same result with me, just from that. It usually takes an awful lot to get me to go that far."
"I can try, if you want me to."
"No, not tonight. Just having you here, is more than overwhelming enough." As they lay cuddled in each other's arms, contemplating the entire evening's events, they both wondered how this whole complicated tangle of feelings would eventually pan out. Karen would be hurt, John would be confused, and would they all be able to come through it. As Jo watched George's eyes finally close, she reflected on how far they'd come in the last two years. Instead of sniping, bitching, fighting at every possible opportunity, she and George were now sleeping in the same bed, held safe in the other's arms, and destined one day to do far more.
Part One Hundred and Fifty Six
When Jo awoke on the Saturday morning, George was sprawled sound asleep next to her, breathing softly, and with a look of total tranquility on her face. She looked so peaceful in sleep, that Jo could barely put this woman lying here, with that of the furious being of last night. She knew why George had been so angry, and in truth, she had also felt the rage building in her at John's blatant disregard of the seriousness of the situation. But George shouldn't have slapped him. Jo knew that George had felt guilty for reacting in that way, and she also knew that George would eventually summon up the courage to apologise to John. Would she, Jo, have slapped him, she wondered? Had she ever been angry enough with him to do something like that? She didn't know. Almost as if she could feel Jo's wandering scrutiny, George gradually opened her eyes. George felt so comfortable, lying here in Jo's bed, the inviting warmth of her body only inches away.
"You look so peaceful when you sleep," Jo said quietly, seeing that George was awake.
"I suppose there has to be a first time," George replied with a yawn. They moved into each other's arms, both feeling that drowsy, early morning softness that demanded no urgency. Nothing needed to be said, because no words were remotely adequate to express how content they felt. They could hear the birds gently twittering through the open window, the soft, early morning breeze promising another hot July day.
A few hours later when she eventually tore herself away from Jo's gentle company, George felt that lazy, sultry type of relaxed that only a sunny day could bring. After dropping in at home to change her clothes, she thought she might just call on Daddy. It was funny, she mused to herself, that whenever she had something to confess, she always sought out her father, even if she didn't really want to tell him what she'd done. If it hadn't been for the memory of what she'd done to John weighing a little on her mind, she would have born that aura of serenity that made her eyes shine with happiness. But she had done wrong, and when she was ready, she must ask forgiveness for it. But in the meantime, it probably wouldn't do her any harm to seek Daddy's counsel.
It was almost one o'clock, and she found her father sitting out on the patio eating lunch. Looking very pleased to see her, Joe was about to rise to his feet, when she waved to him to stay where he was.
"Come and join me," He invited, gesturing at the bread and cheese on the table in front of him. Retrieving a coffee cup from the house, George poured herself some of the steaming, black liquid from the ornate pot.
"This is an unexpected pleasure," Joe said, cutting himself another slice from the crusty loaf.
"I've done something that I suspect you will highly disapprove of," She said, helping herself to some Edam, and taking a few grapes from the bowl. Joe smiled.
"And since when has that prompted you to appear at my table? On the contrary, it usually makes you avoid my company for as long as possible."
"Daddy, have you ever slapped a woman, in the heat of an argument, I mean?" suddenly putting his knife back down on the plate with a clatter, Joe said,
"No, certainly not," Making George wonder if she should ever have broached this subject at all. Then, calming down a little, Joe began spreading butter on his bread, and asked, "What happened?"
"I had a row with John," George told him miserably. "And no, believe me, you really don't want to know the details."
"That's hardly a surprise," Joe said dryly.
"Anyway, it all got a bit heated, and I slapped him. I didn't mean too, at least not really, and I felt terrible immediately afterwards." Joe held up a hand.
"George, why are you telling me this?" After taking a sip of her coffee, George replied with,
"Why do I ever tell you anything slightly suspect about my life, because you usually have something sensible to say on the subject, because occasionally, I need to be told how stupid I am, and because you always listen." Joe thoughtfully munched on his bread and cheese, mulling over what she'd said. It always touched him when she reaffirmed how much she valued his opinion, and he knew he would always listen to her, no matter what it was she had to tell him.
"Unless I am very much mistaken," He began slowly. "John has never raised his hand to you. Now, whilst I don't doubt that he is perfectly capable of making you furious enough to react violently to whatever he might have done, that does not give you an excuse. You, must, apologise, and then try to find a far more amicable way of sorting out your differences."
"Yes, I know," She said regretfully. "And I will apologise, really I will. I just feel as though, well, as though everything's becoming a bit too complicated." Her voice had descended into that tight, quiet tone that told him there was a lot more to this assertion than met the eye. Gently removing the coffee cup from her hand, because all in all, he was rather fond of his Royal Doulton, he took her hands in his and asked,
"Is... Is this anything to do with Karen?" Immediately, George went absolutely still, the ice cold sweat of fear spreading over her body. Her face assumed the blank, thoroughly noncommittal expression that belied her tension. But she couldn't prevent her eyes from flitting around the garden, looking at everything but him. Tentatively clearing her throat, she said,
"What, has this, to do with Karen?" The beginnings of a laugh rumbled away in Joe Channing's chest.
"Did you really think, that I wouldn't find out about her?" Joe asked her seriously.
"I hoped you wouldn't," George said a little hoarsely, not having been prepared for this little shock in the slightest. Then, furiously withdrawing her hands from his, she tried to dash a few angry tears from her eyes. "How, Daddy, how do you always manage to do this? Why is it, that you always seem to know everything, even when I do my damnedest to keep it from you?"
"George," Joe tried to reassure her, putting a hand out and laying it on her shoulder. "You don't need to be quite so afraid of my disapproval. Am I so much of an ogre, that you don't feel able to tell me why you've been, for the most part, so much happier over the last few months?"
"I didn't think you would understand," She said quietly, feeling a certain amount of guilt and stupidity that she hadn't trusted him.
"And I'm not entirely sure that I do," He said fairly. "But what I do know, is that as far as I am aware, you are happy, and I'm not about to severely disagree with that. I don't understand how you could want more than one person in your life at a time, and I don't understand how or why you would want to be involved with another woman, but I'm not about to alienate my only daughter, just because she is living a life I will never quite understand."
"That means a lot to me," George said hesitantly, laying a hand over his where it still rested on her shoulder, signs of affection never having been all that common between George and her father. "But how did you find out?"
"Ah," Joe said carefully, not wanting to completely drop John in it. "You mustn't blame John for this."
"John told you?" George demanded in outrage.
"Not directly, no," Joe tried to placate her. "I am quite capable of making deductions without assistance, you know. During the first rehearsal we had for 'The Creation', I saw the expression on her face when you began to sing. I don't think I've ever seen anyone look quite so enchanted as she did then, except perhaps you, when you stood next to John at the altar. That, and other minor occurrences were what led me to believe that there was far more to your friendship with her than met the eye. At the end of May, when John came to see me about something else, I rather unkindly put him on the spot. I was very impressed. He managed to walk that extremely thin line, between giving me the answer to my question, and yet preserving your confidence by not telling me directly. He said something very enlightening to me that day. He said that this was something you had probably thought about for most of your life, but that you were only now getting round to exploring that side of your character." George blushed.
"I sometimes think he knows me far too well," She said a little ruefully.
"John also said, that as long as you were happy, he would never want to stand in the way of that, and I happen to think, that this is a sentiment which should not be thrown away in a fit of anger. There aren't many men, George, who would allow you the freedom to discover this particular facet of your personality, at the same time as trying to maintain a relationship with them. I never thought I would say this about John, but his love for you, is something that ought to be protected and encouraged, not violently dismissed, just because I suspect he has been up to his old tricks again." After a moment's silence, she said,
"Daddy, why do you always make me feel so humble?"
"Because that is one of the duties a father is there to perform," He replied with a warm smile, thinking that no matter how old his daughter might be, he would always think of her as the errant, impetuous young girl, whom he had hopefully brought up to value everything she had.
Part One Hundred and Fifty Seven
Eventually, John took his leave from Karen to make his leisurely way back to his digs. He drove very sedately back to his digs and his mood was subdued and thoughtful. He quietly let himself in. made himself a cup of tea and sipped it gradually while he lay back in his favourite armchair and surveyed the length of the dining table as it slanted away from him. That view of the length of the room always pleased him, especially when the summer sun brightened up the room. It made it easier for him to contemplate his
He had never before conceived that his sexual experiences over the years had any consequences over the years except from the very painful and 'one off' experience of when he had made Jo pregnant and that fateful day when he had driven her to have a termination. That memory was one which he had succeeded in blotting out from his conscious memory apart from when it stole its way into his dreams when his spirits were low and his defences were down. There had been so many women in his life and pleasurable experiences as part of a journey in his life, which had been a life affirming confirmation of whoever he was supposed to be. The morning after, he had felt sexually replete as he sprawled contentedly in a tangle of the quilt as he lay on his back. He had presumed that the nameless, faceless blondes felt the same way as he did. Being younger than he was, single and fancy free as far as he was aware, he supposed that they were as agreeable for his departure as he was. In that second, as he walked out that particular door, they were frozen in time. They did not exist beyond that point and somehow, there were no untoward consequences. The saying 'je ne regrette rien' could have summed up his attitude to his experiences over the years. It had become more of a habit in his life than he had cared to contemplate and had carried on up until the point when he became as bound as any legal contract to his three-way relationship. He thought he had behaved impeccably months ago when Jo had broached that very unconventional idea. After all, he had freely given his consent.
Karen's stern, precise clinical treatise had shaken his equilibrium as much as George's hurt anger and Jo's seething rage. She was a friend, after all, and he had been accustomed to his male friends in expressing opinions on impersonal matters with a certain reticence. What further unsettled him was the mobilisation of facts in an area of learning in which she was his superior. This forced him against his will to acknowledge that there was no one who was his intellectual superior. The events of tonight had been an unpalatable lesson that not even he was impregnable.
Unusually for his habits, he helped himself to a large measure of spirits and lay back in contemplation. He had to give ground on this matter as Karen's pitiless logic was framed in terms of real friendship, for his sake as much as for George and Jo and finally herself.
That was a sentiment that he could appreciate however unpalatable the message. Perhaps he needed to rethink his ideas a little. It was just that if he were confronted with an image of himself, which he did not like to look at. It was fortunate that the conversation had eventually shifted away from that awkward topic onto safer areas, or so he had first thought. A sharp sense of mingled pity and guilt was next to come to the surface as he remembered that he knew something about Karen's life that Karen herself did not know. He knew that he was naturally inquisitive and that went with his profession. For the first
time in his life, he had come into possession of knowledge that he wished that he would sooner not have come by and he was sure that Joe Channing felt likewise. For all their august red robes and emblems of a high and ancient calling, that did not give them universal wisdom. At that moment of laying the problem before the older man, which revealed that Joe himself had similar moments of self-doubt. He sensed that grim events were being played out in Karen's son's life all the time that he led his own parallel existence. He felt impotent as he was utterly unable to influence what was going on, only to watch and wait for who knows what. It was not like him to entrust his destiny to any external force, presence or being but this time, he was compelled to in exactly the same relentless way that he was being forced to examine the consequences of one ill advised impulsive decision. Who knows but one day Karen would come to him for comfort and support and he vowed that if that should happen, he would behave as unselfishly to Karen as she had behaved to him. Truly, sound advice from a good friend could wear the strangest disguises.
Suddenly, a verbal collage of accusing words whirled round his senses, alternating between George's hurt anger and Jo's seething controlled rage " .you wouldn't have screwed some random tart ."" ..it would be nice to know precisely what you find attractive these days ." " .do you know what Chlamydia does, John .."" ..oh really, so why did you do it .?" In this moment when he was at his most tired from a hard week's work and when past events were cruelly forced back into the present, untypically his memory haunted him. Neither George nor Jo should deny that what he had said in his self-defence was not factually correct but that it fell short of the situation that he was starting to see through their eyes. This was most disagreeable, or to put it more accurately, more haunting. It challenged the very basis of who he thought he was.
Suddenly he noticed the piece of scrap paper that had appeared in his hand, something which he had unconsciously been crumpling as he had been immersed deep in thought. The same room was there before him, much as it had been since he had entered it. He threw it in the direction of the wastepaper bin but it just missed its destination. He would have to apologise for his bad behaviour and make the decision that was being forced on him entirely his own. It was only just that he should. He would see Jo first and then George. There was no rhyme or reason as to his choice, it was just random instinct. But what could he say to her? He felt as if he were going to debase himself, to swallow that pride which was such a driving force of his whole personality. He would have to be a supplicant with no mitigating case to present.
He looked at his watch. Had it been so long that he was lost in contemplation? He didn't realise that his deep brooding could take so long and take it out of him. He had not had the easiest of weeks, he conceded to himself but he was forced to admit that there was more to the situation than he had first concluded. He resolved to sleep on the matter.
The next day, it was a hot summer day and he slept in late as he lay in a half dream, half wakeful state of mind. He needed that rest which he normally denied to himself. The sash windows were part open and they lent a soothing fresh breath of air to take the edge off the heat, which he appreciated. When he was ready to get up, he was curiously refreshed, with a purpose in his life. For the rest of the weekend, he had a quiet, almost ascetic existence of perusing the trial papers for the directions finding hearing, which was set for the Monday. The listings sheets indicated that, fortunately, neither Jo nor George would be appearing before him. Instead, the dull and plodding Neumann Mason-Alan and the more fiery though reactionary Brian Cantwell were appearing before him, acting out their ritual moves including asking leading questions and letting their prejudices show. He could handle both of them though since the performance of 'The Creation' their once barbed exchanges had mellowed down to more of a muted ritual. If he couldn't handle them, he smiled ruefully, he must be slipping. Of more concern was the lunchtime break when he made his way back to his chambers and picked out his mobile and nervously punched out the familiar number.
A friendly voice intoned in her familiar voice in a way that wasn't quite the human being on the other end, the product of new technology which addressed a human being wanting contact by a pre recorded voice.
"This is Jo Mills. Please leave a message and I'll get back to you."
"Hello, it's John. I really want to talk to you and make up for my bad behaviour ." He could hear his voice stiffen as the last words came out of his mouth. "Please phone me. If you see fit to meet me, I'll see you wherever you choose."
The deed was done, he said to himself. All he has to do is to maintain his resolution and let the words choose themselves. He did not exactly know what he was going to say but trusted to whatever in life he trusted to.
As he intoned the formula to bring both parties back at a date, which suited both Cantwell and Mason-Alan and the respective attendant solicitors, the court usher noted the court record book and laid claim to the courtroom for that slot in time. Such mechanics are easy in contrast to what is required in private life. He smiled briefly, closed the court and went back to his chambers to lie down and take it easy.
All at once, the jangle of his mobile disturbed the silence of his chambers.
"It's Jo," Said that very real voice of Jo. "I've got your message and I'll see you in chambers in half an hour. It's as good a place as any. So long as you know that you've got a lot of explaining to do."
"As bad as that?"
Jo's keen hearing detected the distinct undertone of fear in his attempted debonair response. I know you, John Deed, better than you think I do. She smiled briefly to herself but she was only making it light. There was a real sense of anger and betrayal and she was not sure on what she was going to say. It all depended on the way John was going to behave.
The time passed slower than he was accustomed as if the second hand on the wall clock was being dragged back and he became a little apprehensive, not that Jo wouldn't turn up but what she would say when she did. This was an experience that was new to him, as his self-assurance with women from an early age had not even allowed himself to ever ask either question of himself. Presently, there was a knock at the door and within seconds, Jo was standing inside the room, her lips pursed and her face expressionless.
"I've said it before, John, that you phone me and I come running."
"This time, I anticipate that matters will be a little different." There was a slight nervous laugh to accompany his reply that was new to both of them. "Take a seat, Jo."
"Such formality after knowing you so long," Jo's teasingly arch tones held an undertone of meaning and was clearly playing with him. This made him feel more uncomfortable than ever.
"Let's come to the point, Jo."
"This must be a first," Jo cut back, unconsciously borrowing a phrase from Nikki that she had overheard once. It had that cutting quality that suited her mood right now.
"It is a first, Jo," John said with a slight tremor in his voice. "I know that I have some explaining to do."
"You can say that again, John. Okay, let's hear what you've got to say for yourself."
"First of all, I feel dreadful when I realised what I had done to both you and George .."
" and nearly Karen also "
"I realise now why you were both so upset about the way that I went off the rails a bit. It happened at a bad time for me after having that almighty row with George. I felt that I wasn't loved."
There was a slightly woebegone look on John's face that called to a primeval comforting instinct within Jo to clasp him to her bosom like a child and say, there, there, I'll soothe all your troubles away. It came natural to her and women like her as emotional nurturers to follow this blind instinct, from her own sons and probably growing up as a girl. She couldn't put her finger on it, or set out the evidence but she knew that it was there. Somehow, some chance thought in her mind pulled her away from this train of thought. Even John's overwhelming charm, that infuriating ability to make her feel sorry for him did not quite work this time. She remembered George and Karen and felt that she owed them a debt to them 'not to go soft on John'. The moment she arranged those very last words in her mind was the finishing touch. Her arms which had been ready to reach out for John held back.
"A very good performance, John, but not quite good enough," she finally spoke in stern tones. "Let's look at the facts, the evidence and see where that leads us. That's what you trained me to do so many years ago."
John gulped. He was in for trouble and he knew it.
"You freely entered into an agreement with George and I that you would share a bed individually " She spoke in an exaggerated legal tones to counteract the effect of John's bullshit and nearly added the phrase 'severally' but she wasn't ready to get into that contentious area. "You have kept your side of the agreement apart from one lapse which could have had serious consequences for us if George hadn't had quite by chance a smear test which immediately cast the finger of suspicion on you, quite rightly as it turned out. The worst part of the matter has been that none of us would have known that we were infected with Chlamydia for months if not years if it had not been for that chance event. Your feeble excuses have been to assume probably rightly that George and I are beyond the age of considering having any more children and that it is easily curable. That does not detract from the point that both of our health were at risk due to your irresponsibility. The fact that you have been ignorant of sexually transmitted diseases only makes you more blameworthy. At your age, you should have known better."
If John had felt uncomfortable during Karen's lecture, Jo's controlled incisive anger
made him feel as if an ice cold bucket of water was thrown over him with considerable force. He had received her hurt and anger before but this forceful, clinical dissection of his moral deficiencies was the most severe scorching lecture he had had in his life. When he was much younger, he had someway verbally wriggled his way out of his transgressions. His spectacular failure to do so this time had a cataclysmic effect.
"You know, I never realised how totally lethal you are in your summing up speeches in court," he murmured. It had always been someone else taking the fury, not him.
"I meant it to be this way. I told you once that you have an addiction and the only answer is tough love. For this reason, I'm not apologising for one syllable of what I've just said. Got that clear?"
It was unfortunate that a nervous habit made his word sound ironic. For once in his life, the very assured debonair man was stripped of his defences but it did not look that way to Jo.The pressure cooker finally blew apart and her feelings of hurt and anger came to the surface.
"You make absolutely sure that you stay on the wagon for the indefinite future. There are only so many chances that George and I will give you."
It was Jo's turn to cast off any layers of assumed roles and theatrical props. Her blue eyes were large, angry and riveted John's attention with her sheer anger. John looked into her. She meant it.
"I'm truly sorry to you and George. I mean every word I say. I couldn't bear to lose either of you as friends much less as lovers. I couldn't bear it."
Jo looked deep into John's soul. He had had a really bad scare and she believed his simply delivered words. At last she believed him.
"Just as long as you keep your word. Your word is all you've got, as you told Roe Colmore once."
John remembered those words he had uttered vividly. He had meant every word he had said. It shook him for those words to be turned round on him like lethal weapons.
"Am I forgiven?"
Jo shook her head in exasperation at that little boy look of his but the first real smile spread across her face.
"You are impossible, John. I won't forget but I'll forgive you on condition. You know what I mean. George and I don't want to lose you, that's all. "
John melted into Jo's arms. She had driven the toughest bargain in his life and he felt drained but curiously relieved at confessing all. He was relieved deep down at retrieving that false step in his life. It was just like him that the words had to be dragged out of him to say so.
Part One Hundred and Fifty Eight
On the Thursday evening, George finally decided that it really was about time she broke the silence between her and John. But as she drove over to the judges' digs, she wondered how he would be towards her. He would probably do what he always did after they'd had one of their rows, be unbearably polite whilst waiting for some sign or signal from her, to either relight her anger, or banish it altogether. It was a very clever ploy, she thought wryly to herself, to force her to make the decision as to how they would behave. As she walked up the carpeted stairs and along the corridor towards his rooms, she could hear his violin. So, he was playing, which would definitely mean that he was at least relaxed. Not wanting to disturb such a beautiful sound, she slipped silently through the unlocked door, and stood in the shadows, just taking in the purity of his art.
John was standing with his back to her, but he was immediately aware of her presence, by the subtle aroma of her familiar perfume. He knew why she'd come, and he could feel her tension in the air around him. She was frightened of the reception she would receive from him, and she felt unbearably guilty for slapping him on the previous Friday evening. He knew George so well by now, that he could nearly always interpret her feelings, simply from being in the same room as her. She wasn't trying to hide them tonight, which made it all the easier. He kept on playing, letting her think that he wasn't aware of her being there, letting the music gradually seep into her soul and persuade her to relax. He was playing one of the Mozart violin concertos, fervently wishing that he had an orchestra to accompany him as he sailed rapidly through the many pages of the score. Purely to please his audience, he added an extra poignancy to the slow movement, trying to express his own apology through the music. George wasn't the only one who was sorry for what she had done. John had been accorded quite enough time to feel some sense of regret for his reckless actions back in April, a regret that he had expressed to Jo only two days ago.
When he reached the end of the fast and furious third movement, he still didn't break their silence, instead making his way over to where the violin case lay open on the table, and laying his instrument and its bow gently down in the padded satin lining. When he'd fastened the silver clips of the case with slow deliberation, he walked over to stand in front of her, fixing her with his soft inviting gaze. They stood like this for some moments, neither knowing quite what to say. Their eyes seemed to be saying everything for them, the two pairs of endless orbs telegraphing their every emotion. He could see equal amounts of need and hesitation battling in her expression, as she didn't know whether to seek his embrace, or to maintain her distance. The look of sheer relief that passed over her face when he gently put his arms round her, touched his heart, but still they didn't say a word. Their eyes were fixed on each other, as if never to be torn asunder ever again, the growing electricity crackling between them, forming an arc along which so many varied feelings were projected, from need, to apology, to plain and simple love. When, by a single move, they clung even closer together, their lips furiously crushing against the other, determined to leave no space unfilled, it took both their breath away, and seemed to release the words they had so far been unable to express.
"I'm sorry," George said almost desperately, her voice very unsteady with the depth of feeling coursing through her.
"So am I," John replied, equally unsteadily, the relief at having her back in his arms again throwing him temporarily off balance. They moved haphazardly over to the couch, mouths and hands perpetually wandering, the instinctive attempt to remove the other's clothing a predictable part of their usual pattern. But when they were lying in each other's arms on the long sofa, John's hands trying to undo the buttons of her blouse, George suddenly remembered the seriousness of their current situation.
"John, we can't," She said a little feverishly, taking his hand in hers and halting his progress. "We can't, not until it's gone." Inwardly cursing every lack of thought that had made him pick up this damned disease in the first place, John stopped what he was doing with a significant amount of effort. She could see the battle going on inside him, the suppressing of his desire, fighting against the desperate need to let it run its course. When his pulse had calmed somewhat, and he was back in control of his body, he simply lay there, breathing in the familiar smell of her hair, and revelling in the feeling of having her close to him again.
"I think we need to talk," She said eventually, knowing that they couldn't stay like this forever. Still keeping his arms round her, as if he was afraid that he might lose her again, he agreed.
"All right," He said, dropping feather-light kisses along her jaw line. "Tell me why you slapped me." Before she fulfilled his request, she ran a delicate finger along his cheekbone, to where the tiniest mark bore evidence of the cut her sapphire ring had given him.
"I couldn't bear the fact that you'd cheated on us with someone who looked like me, or at least who looked how I used to, when you first met me, far too many years ago. It felt as though you'd wanted to completely eradicate everything that's happened in between, which I suspect, for a time, you probably did. When I thought about it afterwards, part of me couldn't really blame you, because I was far nicer, and far less complicated at twenty, than I am at nearly fifty, but then the saying is absolutely right, the truth really does hurt. I felt guilty for being the cause of not only you picking up the Chlamydia, but for reacting in the way I did, and then I was cross with you for making me feel like that."
"George," He said, fondly kissing her. "Yes, you are complicated, but I really wouldn't have you any other way. Yes, you have the capacity to irritate me to distraction, and you also possess the ability to make me blisteringly angry on occasions, but that doesn't mean that I don't love you, or that I would rather the last thirty years hadn't happened. That argument we had, it was one of the worst we've had in a long time, and I think I wanted to hurt you, which I probably did a little too successfully."
"I know, and if you'd only given the Chlamydia to me and not Jo, I'd have been cross with you for being so irresponsible, but I would probably have left it at that. But Jo got caught up in it all as well, and she certainly didn't deserve that." After a moment's silence, John tentatively said,
"You feel a lot more for Jo, than you are really prepared to admit, don't you."
"What makes you assume such a thing?" George asked, her body stiffening in his grasp, and immediately giving away her true answer. John laughed softly, loving the utter transparency of her.
"Because the amount of highly irrational anger you showed towards me last Friday, is born out of nothing less than true, sincere loyalty of the highest kind, and," He added, kissing her more deeply this time. "Because you are now, trying far too hard to hide it from me, and given that this would add a further, very significant complexity to everything, I can hardly blame you."
"John, I don't want to talk about that," George said carefully, her feelings for Jo still being far too new to her to discuss them honestly with anyone as close to the situation as he was.
"Sure," He said mildly. "But you won't be able to hide from it for ever."
They lay there for quite a long time, softly kissing, occasionally talking, both of them trying to regain the feeling they were used to having for each other, trying to assuage some of the hurt they'd put each other through. When his hand tentatively moved to begin caressing her breast through her blouse, a slow smile of satisfaction spread over his face.
"You really shouldn't come here, without wearing a bra, when you know I can't make love to you," He said between punctuating kisses. George laughed evilly.
"Oh, I'm just putting My Lord's willpower to the test, that's all."
"Now that really is positively cruel," He said in mock disapproval, his hand still moving over her silk covered skin, his thumb grazing over a steadily hardening nipple. But as he did this to her, it made George almost painfully aware of the night she'd spent with Jo last Friday. Jo had touched her like this, perhaps not with anywhere near as much skill, but with just as high a level of intensity and feeling.
"This is so unfair!" She said in sheer exasperation. "I'm so frustrated, I could scream." John laughed.
"Then I suppose I ought to do something about it, oughtn't I."
"But that's the point, you can't," George replied acidly.
"Remember all those other times I couldn't touch you?" He said with sudden inspiration. "Nearly every month you'd feel like this, desperately craving release, yet not being able to achieve it in the normal way. We usually managed to get round it then."
"Oh, how right you are," She drawled in smirking memory, beginning to undo her blouse without further delay. When she had cast the cream silk aside, he briefly leaned over her to reach the remote control on the coffee table, flicking on the stereo, which currently contained Lohengrin.
"There," He said as the music began. "Now you don't need to be quiet."
"Think of every eventuality, don't you," She said with a sultry smile.
"No, not always," He said a little ruefully. "As Karen forcefully pointed out to me."
"Oh, dear," George said, trying to curtail her laugh into something not quite so mocking. "Did she lecture you?"
"I felt as though I was fourteen again," He said, only now relinquishing the embarrassment he had felt.
"Oh, you poor darling," She said without a hint of sincerity. But as he began kissing her again, cutting off further expressions of her amusement, she immediately abandoned any thought of further prolonging his humiliation. Dipping his head, he enclosed one of her nipples in the soft, warm, agile lips she knew so well. As he slowly encouraged her nipple to rise to a pinpoint deliciousness, she groaned in steadily increasing ecstasy.
"Just try and picture Jo doing this to you too," He said, briefly detaching his lips from her, and beginning to stimulate the other nipple with his fingers. This was almost too much for George, because she had been thinking the exact same thing when he'd suggested it. Glancing up at her, John could see the faint blush on her cheeks, telling him that she'd been thinking it too. She could see it now in her mind's eye, John doing this to one breast, Jo to the other, and she almost came at the thought of it.
But just as George was approaching that point of internal combustion, there came a knock on the door. Sitting up slightly, though making no attempt to remove his hand from caressing the fleshy softness of her breast, John bade whoever it was to enter. When Jo walked into the room, she took in the sight of John and George lying in each other's arms on the sofa, and George's discarded silk blouse not far from them on the carpet. The slight glisten of saliva on one of George's nipples, made it all too clear what they'd been doing before she arrived. To break the slightly awkward pause, George said dryly,
"I wish you wouldn't do that, you never know who it might have been."
"I recognised the knock," John said confidently, completely unaware that his hand was still gently sweeping over a small area of George's left breast, until she removed his hand and held it in hers.
"I'm pleased to see that you two are quite obviously speaking again," Jo said with a soft smile, desperately trying to keep her fascinated gaze away from George's chest.
"Come and join us," John invited provocatively. Opening her mouth to reply, Jo found that she didn't quite know what to say. Foregoing any direct response, she asked,
"Would you like me to go?"
"No, certainly not," George replied, sitting up and reaching for her blouse to cover herself up. When John also rose to his feet, and moved to put his arms round Jo and to kiss her, Jo took one look at him and grinned.
"I can see you've gone without sex for far too long," She said matter-of-factly, gesturing to the bulge in his trousers.
"I think that's supposed to be my pennants," He said ruefully, kissing her for as long as it took for George to do up the buttons of her blouse. Jo found herself fancying that she could almost taste the distinctive flavour of George's skin on his lips, but this must be in her imagination.
They all sat close together on the sofa, with John in the middle, sometimes talking, but mostly just enjoying being relaxed in each other's company. When John glanced at the clock, and saw that it was nearly eleven, he had an enormous desire not to let either of them go home tonight.
"Will both of you stay?" He asked quietly, hoping that he wasn't going to get the same response he had last time he made this suggestion.
"How observant are your keepers these days?" Jo asked seriously, badly not wanting another encounter with the professional conduct committee.
"They're far more relaxed than they used to be," John replied, knowing what she was worrying about. "Besides, they can't prove that I didn't sleep on the sofa, now can they."
"Oh, so that's why you bought this sofa," George said with a self-satisfied yawn. "To maintain the pretense of propriety, whilst carrying on your illicit activities on the quiet."
"Of course," John told her blandly. "Why else?"
"Oh, and I thought it was so that you could be like this with both of us at once," Jo quipped in a mockingly petulant tone. She looked so defiantly cheeky, that it made John laugh.
"You'd never have won with the PCC if you'd looked like that," He said in amusement. Then, turning serious again, he said, "I'm in Monty's good books at the moment, so no one will be any the wiser."
"The things we do for you, John Deed," George said fondly, as he switched off the stereo, drew the curtains and followed them both upstairs. A little while later when they were all lying in his large double bed, Jo on his left, George on his right, both clad in only their underwear, John thought he must be in heaven. He had an arm round each of them, and they had their arms around him, making him feel happier and more content than he ever had done in his life.
"I can't believe I'm finally getting my wish after all this time," He said quietly.
"Only half your wish," George replied drowsily, tucking one of her legs over his.
"A man can dream," John said philosophically, gently running his fingers through George's hair, as he ran a softly seeking hand over Jo's skin.
"Someone ought to be calling out all rise," George said with a laugh, laying a hand over his boxer-covered hardness.
"Don't, tease," He said firmly, lightly flicking his finger against her cheek.
"At least you've never been presented with that particular reaction whilst in his chambers," Jo said with a smirk.
"Ah," George said knowingly. "But has he ever said that he'd quite like to take you in his court, on the bench no less?"
"John, you didn't," Jo said in half awed amazement, half shy disapproval.
"That was a very long time ago," John said with more than a little embarrassment. "Anyway," He added when neither of them appeared to be taking his word for it. "I wasn't the only one who wanted to try that, we just never got round to it."
"Only because you weren't a judge in those days," George replied, determined to have the last word.
"He always did prefer to live dangerously," Jo put in fondly.
"Look who's talking," John objected with a laugh. "After all, how do I know that both of you being here is just to please me? You might be fulfilling some bizarre little fantasy for all I know." Again finding herself slightly tongue-tied at how close to the truth John was getting, Jo was heartily grateful at George's continued bickering with him, it very usefully covering up her inability to form a coherent sentence. They grew quiet after a while, all three of them gradually drifting towards sleep. But just before the peace overcame them, he said,
"I love you both," So openly and so sincerely, that it demanded a response from both of them.
"And we love you too, darling," George said sleepily, as Jo leaned over to kiss him, both the words and the actions coming simultaneously from each of their hearts, uniting the three of them in this one, deeply held sentiment.
Part One Hundred and Fifty Nine
Over a week later, George still couldn't get the memory of that night out of her mind. She, Jo and John had all slept in the same bed, closer than they'd ever simultaneously been on any occasion. George had been the first to wake early on the Friday morning, and had found that her hand was entwined with Jo's, their interlocked fingers lying on John's bare chest. This simple act of closeness had displayed such a level of intimacy to her that it had almost been frightening. As John and Jo had still been asleep, George had slipped out of bed, silently put on her clothes and gone quietly downstairs. She'd left a note on the table just to let them know where she was, using a discrete departure from the digs as her excuse. She had needed to go home for a shower and a change of clothes, but she knew that she could have stayed longer if she'd wanted. But she didn't want any of that awkwardness that might have existed between them if she'd still been there when they'd woken. This way, she was saving all three of them a certain amount of perfectly natural embarrassment.
But here, now, on Saturday the twenty-third, most of her was happy. She'd seen both Jo and John over the last week, and they were all three of them back to the way they'd been with each other, before the fiasco of the Chlamydia had come to light. The only steadily growing concern that was slightly marring her feeling of contentment, was the knowledge that she was fast approaching that highly volatile day, when she would have to make a decision, one way or the other about Karen. Though, she conceded, decision was really the wrong word, because she couldn't halt the progression of her feelings for Jo if she tried. But Karen needed to know, and soon. It simply wasn't fair to keep her in the dark like this.
She cooked dinner for her father this Saturday night, and it was something of a break for her to have his emotionally undemanding, yet intellectually stimulating company. Joe Channing could see that his daughter had something that was weighing on her mind, but unless she ventured to tell him about it, he wouldn't probe. George was still trying to get used to the idea of his being aware of Karen's position in her life, and even though she had talked to Karen about this, it was still very new to her. Daddy wasn't supposed to know about things like this, not about his one and only daughter anyway. John had looked a little sheepish when she'd mentioned this to him, as he had been partially responsible for Joe's knowledge of George's extended private life. But George had gone through more than enough recent conflicts with John to even think of starting another one. George and her father had eaten the meal she'd cooked, and they were now sitting in the lounge, Joe nursing a large glass of port. It wasn't long after nine, and George found herself relaxing, even under her father's scrutiny.
When the doorbell rang, Joe looked up in surprise.
"It's probably Karen," George said, getting to her feet. "She's been working today, and said she might call round this evening." When George opened the door, Karen looked tense, tired, but as though she'd certainly been home to change before coming here. But as Karen moved to kiss her, she saw the slight stiffening in George's body.
"My father's here," She said quietly, at which Karen understandingly settled for touching her cheek. As they moved through the hall, George observed, "You look as though you've been fighting." As she said this, she gestured to a faint bruise on Karen's cheek, most of which had been cleverly concealed by make up.
"Er, restraining where necessary, if you don't mind," Karen corrected with a wan smile. "Yes, it has been one of those days."
"Restraining who where necessary?" Joe asked in amusement as they entered the lounge.
"A violent new inmate with a nice little line in crack dealing," Karen told him without demur. Then, lifting a hand to cover a yawn, she added, "Just what you want on a Saturday afternoon, and because we always end up short staffed at the weekend, I usually end up getting far too involved."
"Would you like a drink?" George asked, this question being pretty much superfluous after a day like this.
"A large scotch would go down a treat," Karen replied, almost in hunger, digging out her cigarettes.
"I'd clap that one in irons and leave her to stew, if you ask me," Joe concurred with a rumble of disapproval.
"You know, Joe," Karen said wearily. "After a day like today, I might just agree with you."
"I wouldn't let John hear you talking like that," George said, sitting down at the other end of the sofa from Karen. "Or he'll put you down as a thoroughly lost cause."
"It's all right for him," Karen said, knowing she was goading Joe in the process. "He only hands down the sentence."
"Very rarely without good reason," Joe replied ominously, immediately rising to her less than subtle bait. "The sentence any judge chooses to impose, is built upon years of experience and not without the due process of thorough consideration."
"Oh, sure," Karen said lightly, taking a long drag of her cigarette. "But dealing with inmates on the ground as it were, doesn't usually allow for the time necessary for the due process of thorough consideration. Decisions have to be made at a moment's notice, and as far as possible, must be right every time. There is very little room for human error, when you're dealing with a confined quantity of women, who are as volatile and unpredictable as the atom bomb. At least when a high court Judge, or any Judge for that matter, makes a mistake, the appeal court is there to rectify that mistake. We don't have that sort of safety net."
"That's as maybe," Joe said dismissively, not actually wanting to consider his role in the appeal court too closely at this point. "But my question is, that if those such as your officers are as professional as you say they are forced to be, why, in the grand scheme of things, is the prison population continually growing?"
"Oh, I didn't say that all my officers were professionals, anything but," Karen said with a broad smile. "Half the time, it's like running a ship where not enough of the crew are willing and able to do the job. Far too many of them see it as ample opportunity to take out their anger against the world, on some of the most vulnerable members of society."
"That's very open and honest of you," Joe replied, liking her candor. "But why do you put up with such a lackadaisical approach from so many of your staff?"
"It's all about finding sufficient grounds for disciplinary action, Joe, you know that. Trust worthy evidence isn't just the be all and end all of the judiciary. It's the lack of such evidence for dismissal that keeps some of my staff in a job. The other consideration is, that if I were to have all the witless and incompetent members of my staff suitably dealt with, I'd be hard put to find enough enthusiastic individuals to take their places. That is, of course, if I were actually given the go ahead to find replacements."
"What makes you cast such doubt on that inevitability?"
"Because the home office expects us to perform bloody miracles, under an increasingly dwindling budget." When she saw the soft expression on George's face, Karen asked, "What are you smiling about?" And gently touched her cheek, remembering too late that George might not want her to show such a sign of affection in front of her father.
"You sound just like John," George said almost in wonder, briefly taking Karen's hand in hers. "It's usually him being so forthright about the failings of the system."
"I often sat here with John, arguing like this, didn't I," Joe said in fond memory.
"Yes, I remember it well," George said dryly, thinking just how much times had changed. This wasn't John, and she and Karen weren't married, but in all other respects the situation was the same.
Their discussion continued in the same occasionally heated vein, for roughly another hour and a half. But when Joe finally decided that it was time for him to be making tracks, George went upstairs to find a jacket to put on to drive him home. She'd picked him up earlier, so that he could drink and relax. Whilst she was upstairs, Karen and Joe were left in companionable silence. Nailing her briefly to the spot with his penetrating gaze, Joe said quietly but firmly,
"I love my daughter." Softly smiling back at him, Karen replied,
"And though she doesn't know it yet, Joe, I love your daughter too." Having obviously obtained the answer he'd been looking for, Joe relaxed back into his chair.
"Why don't you tell her, if that's the way you really feel?" He asked, thinking that it was possibly the most legitimate question he'd asked that evening.
"Because I don't think she's quite ready to hear it," Karen told him, without adding the suspicion that she didn't think George would ever be ready to hear that particular sentiment from her.
Saying that she wouldn't be long, George left with her father to drive him home. Karen took her glass out into the garden, taking in the cool evening air, her thoughts lingering over the slowly growing question of how long this relationship with George would really last. She wasn't stupid, she could sense that George's attention was somewhere else at the moment, but George didn't seem able to tell her. Well, that was the point of a fairly free and easy relationship, wasn't it, but Karen found herself realising that this was no longer what she wanted. She wanted everything, the commitment, the difficulties, everything, and at the same time knowing for sure that she wouldn't get it.
In the car, George and her father were quiet for the most part, but when Joe asked,
"I assume she is staying?" George came out of her quiet contemplation of the road ahead of her.
"Daddy," She protested with a blush, always highly embarrassed at any of her father's fairly obvious enquiries into her sex life. Joe laughed.
"And just how do you suppose you came into the world, young lady?"
"My, 'coming into the world', as you put it, is something I'd really rather not contemplate," She replied tartly, making Joe laugh even more.
"It happens to us all, you know," He said fondly.
"Yes, I am very well aware of that, thank you," She said with an emerging grin of her own. Then, to put him in his place for embarrassing her, she added, "And yes, Karen is staying with me tonight, and I should imagine I will enjoy every minute of it."
"Stop, right, there," Joe said firmly. "I have no desire whatsoever to know the details."
"Well, then, don't ask," She quipped back, as ever determined to have the last word. They lapsed into silence again, until they turned into Joe's gravel driveway. When she brought the car to a stop by the front door, he put out a hand and briefly touched one of hers.
"Don't take Karen too much for granted," He said gently, causing her eyes to widen in response.
"You were testing her, weren't you," She said in realisation. "That's what this evening was all about."
"Not really," Joe replied evasively. "Karen was clearly looking for an outlet after a very frustrating day, and when deftly prodded into a heated discussion, she reacted with admirable finesse. If I took advantage of that invaluable opportunity, to assess the woman my daughter has become involved with, you can hardly blame me. All I am trying to say to you is, that in not wanting very much from her, you are in fact expecting an awful lot."
"I don't understand," George said quietly, wondering just what he'd managed to deduce from this evening.
"You go away and think about it," Joe told her, always wanting her to work the puzzle out for herself if she could. But as he reached for the door handle, she put out a hand to stop him.
"Daddy," She said softly. "Don't get too attached to her, will you?"
"Just you think about what I've said," He replied cryptically, getting out of the car and walking towards the house, leaving her with more than one niggling question in her mind. As she drove away, she knew that in another couple of weeks, perhaps even less, the time would come, to end what was between her and Karen, to shatter all the pointless hopes her father seemed to have for her in that direction, and to make the way clear for she and Jo to bring John up to speed with the unstoppable progression of their feelings. But this wasn't going to happen tonight, not if she could help it. For tonight, George wanted to be with Karen, and only Karen, to make love with her, to exchange the touches and kisses and murmurs of pleasure that had become so familiar to both of them.
Part One Hundred and Sixty
Friday, the twenty-ninth day of July, was to prove the beginning of Karen's longest, most horrific nightmare. The rape, what had happened with Ritchie, they wouldn't even come close. She and George had been out for a meal, neither of them feeling like cooking after a hard week at work. Karen was driving, with the top down, as the evening was very warm, a light breeze blowing around them. George yawned luxuriously, anticipating nothing more strenuous than some utterly blissful lovemaking once they reached Karen's flat. But when the insistent tone of Karen's mobile broke in on their mutual contemplation, it seemed to irrevocably shatter their peace.
"If that's Larkhall, they can cope without me," Karen said, lowering the roof back into place to cut out the noise of the traffic.
"It's not," George told her, glancing at the screen of the mobile. "It's Helen."
"Hello," Karen said with a smile, leaving the phone on hands free as she was driving. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"Are you in the car?" Helen asked without any further greeting.
"Yes," Karen replied, hearing an undertone of enormous weight in Helen's voice.
"Will you pull over for a minute? I've got something to tell you." Karen couldn't be certain, but she thought she could hear the threat of tears.
"The phone's on hands free," She told Helen. "So as long as whatever it is can be said in front of George, go ahead."
"Karen!" Helen snapped exasperatedly. "Will you listen to me for once in your bloody life, and get off the road!" The command was given in Helen's broadest accent, it always being far more defined when she was angry. Turning off the road they were on into a side street, Karen switched off the engine.
"What's happened?" She asked, taking the phone off hands free. Helen didn't know where to begin. How on earth do you give a mother such a piece of news as this one?
"Sweetheart, I'm sorry for shouting at you," She began, "But I don't think you should be behind the wheel of a car, to hear what I'm about to tell you." Helen hesitated at this point. "How long is it," She asked carefully. "Since you last spoke to Ross?" Karen's eyes widened in astonishment. What could Helen have to tell her that had anything to do with Ross?
"A couple of months ago. Why?"
"And how was he when you spoke to him?"
"Belligerent and aggressive, because I refused to give him money, until he started sorting himself out. But again, why?"
"So, he didn't tell you anything about what he'd been up to lately?"
"Helen, what does my son have to do with whatever you want to tell me?" Karen cut straight to the point.
"For the last four months, he's been a patient of mine."
"Go on," Karen invited, knowing there was a lot more to this than her son having sought any form of psychotherapy.
"Karen, he came to me, not for psychotherapy, but for help with drug addiction."
"So," Karen said in dawning realisation. "That's what his behaviour over the last few months has been about. In a funny kind of way, it makes sense. But if he's been coming to you for four months, I'll assume it hasn't so far been successful?"
"No, not as such," Helen said evasively, seeing the point of no return creeping nearer and nearer like a treacherous tide.
"Did you have to make him an in-patient? Is that why I haven't heard from him in over two months?"
"Yes. He asked for it, because he knew he couldn't stay away from it if he didn't."
"Why the bloody hell didn't he tell me?" Karen demanded in total despair.
"I don't know," Helen replied somberly, knowing that she did, but thinking that this wasn't the time for it.
"Helen, why are you telling me all this now?" Karen asked, a sneaking, terrible suspicion beginning to inch its way into her mind.
"Sweetheart, I don't know how to tell you this," Helen said, the tears rising to her eyes.
"I don't care how you say it," Karen told her almost desperately. "Just tell me!"
"Ross, killed himself, about an hour ago." Karen felt like something had kicked her very forcefully in the chest, pushing all the breath out of her, and making it almost impossible for her to draw another one. When George saw the colour drain from Karen's face, she knew that something terrible had happened.
"How?" Was all Karen found herself able to ask.
"He cut his wrist," Helen told her, both of them knowing just what a painful, drawn out way to die this was. Karen couldn't say any more, she couldn't bring herself to even contemplate any other detail. "Sweetheart, talk to me," Helen pleaded with her, but Karen couldn't. Switching the phone off, she put it back into its slot on the dashboard. But when she reached to start the car again, George stopped her, taking Karen's hand in hers.
"Darling, what's happened?" She asked, seeing no sign of a return of colour to Karen's cheeks. Karen opened her mouth to tell her, but the words simply wouldn't come. How could she say it? How could she sit here, and tell George that Ross was dead, that he had died by his own hand? She tried several times to get the words out, but not a single sound would pass her lips. When she again reached for the ignition key, George said,
"I'll drive." Karen couldn't argue with her, so she got out of the car and they swapped places. George moved the seat forward to accommodate her shorter legs, and drove them towards Karen's flat, wondering what on earth had taken place to give Karen the look of a ghost.
Karen didn't say a word as they mounted the stairs, but when they reached her lounge, she did something that George at first found peculiar, but held greater significance later on. Karen picked up the nearest picture of Ross from the sideboard, one of him at eighteen, looking healthy, exuberant, and very alive. She sat down on the sofa, cradling the picture between her two hands, gazing with an expression of pure pain at his face. Seeing that she wasn't going to be enlightened any time soon, George made them some coffee. But when she put a mug down on the table next to Karen, it was barely given a glance.
"Darling, please talk to me," George said gently, trying to break in on Karen's all too evident misery. But Karen didn't seem to notice that she'd even spoken. Gently turning Karen's face towards her, George was shocked to see the almost total lack of expression. Karen's eyes looked haunted, dead, as if all the happiness had suddenly gone out of her world. Knowing that Karen wouldn't take any notice of what she might say, George picked up the phone and called the man she always turned to in a crisis.
John was sitting on the balcony that adorned his rooms in the digs, drinking a glass of wine and listening to some soft classical music. Jo was away this week at a conference, so he was at something of a loose end. When his mobile rang, showing Karen's number on its screen he answered it with,
"Hello, this is a nice surprise."
"It's George," She told him, before he could say anything else in that flirtatious drawl of his. "Are you busy, because I need you to come over."
"What's happened?" He asked, her tone of extreme seriousness bringing him back down to earth.
"I don't know, that's the point. We'd been out for a meal, and were on the way back here, when Karen got a call from Helen, who told her something terrible. I think it was something about Ross." John took in a slow, deep breath. So, that day had finally come, had it, that day when Karen would discover what he and Helen had kept from her for far too long.
"But you don't know exactly what Helen did say to her?"
"No, but she seems to have gone into some kind of emotional shock. I think you might be the only one who can pull her out of it."
"You place too much faith in me, George," He said somberly, because George didn't know the half of it. "I'll be right over."
Switching off his stereo, John was down the stairs and in the car within what felt like seconds. As he drove across London, he punched in Helen's number, because he needed to be put in the picture before he got to Karen's.
"It's John Deed," He said when she answered.
"Where are you?" She asked, and he could tell that she'd been crying.
"On my way to Karen's. George says she's gone into emotional shock, but that she doesn't know why. I thought you might be able to tell me."
"Ross is dead," Helen told him bleakly. "He cut his wrist, and there wasn't a bloody thing anyone could do about it."
"Oh, God," John said very quietly. Helen laughed mirthlessly.
"Oh, yeah, we could have done with a look in from him."
"When did this happen?"
"Nearly two hours ago. I got a call from the night staff at the clinic when they couldn't resuscitate him. Karen was always listed as his next of kin, but I'd left strict instructions that only I was to be the one to inform her, if ever that became necessary."
"Well, thank God for small mercies," John said, hearing the threat of slightly hysterical rambling in Helen's words.
"Do you realise," Helen continued. "That if just once, either you or I had chosen to do what was morally right, rather than what was legally right, this might never have happened?"
"You can't think like that," John insisted, trying to calm her down but knowing that she was right.
"Don't you feel any guilt, Judge?" She demanded. "Don't you think that maybe this time, the law didn't know best? Because I can tell you that I sure as hell do."
"Yes, I do feel guilty," John retorted hotly. "Because I know exactly what she's going through. But wishing we could turn the clock back isn't going to help Karen, and it isn't going to help either you or me. How much does she know?"
"She knows that Ross had been coming to see me for four months, and that he'd been an in-patient for the last two. She doesn't know that you knew about it, but we both know that she'll have to some time. This hiding things from her that she needs to know, ends whenever she begins to want answers, and that's not negotiable."
"Is someone with you?" John asked, wanting to make sure that Helen would be all right as well.
"Nikki's here, waiting for me to explain everything to her. It's not just Karen who's been kept in the dark all this time."
"Well, just, just take care of yourself," He said quietly, the fact that he'd been the one to insist she kept it to herself, ever uppermost in his mind.
When George heard John's car arrive, she briefly left Karen to go downstairs and let him in.
"How is she?" John asked, walking up to her.
"Still not talking, still barely acknowledging her own existence."
"I think I ought to fill you in, before we go back upstairs. I talked to Helen on my way here. Ross is dead. He's been one of Helen's drug rehab patients for a while now, but because of the law surrounding patient confidentiality, she couldn't tell Karen. He's been an in-patient at the clinic where Helen works for the last two months. George, he killed himself."
"No," She said, the tears immediately rising to her eyes. "How could he do that to her?"
"I don't know. But what we've got to do now is to first of all make her start talking again, and then just to be there for her, because this isn't going to get better." When they returned upstairs, Karen was exactly where George had left her, still gazing into space and still holding Ross's picture. John moved to sit down next to her, putting his right arm around her shoulders, and gently trying to remove the picture frame from her hands. Her grip tightened on the wooden frame, but John was determined to remove the immediate focus of her attention.
"Let go," He told her quietly, and when she did, he put the picture down on the side table out of her line of vision. "I talked to Helen," He continued gently. "She told me about Ross. I'm so, so sorry," He finished, softly stroking one of her hands that lay empty in her lap. He saw the briefest of flickers in her eyes, and knew that he was getting somewhere. George was sitting in a chair off to the side, watching John desperately try to work his magic on Karen. "I'd like you to talk to me," John cajoled. "Just to prove to me that you're still here." George winced, but she knew that hitting her with a remark like that was the only way forward. Karen focussed on him, her eyes briefly losing their mask, to show the depth of the hurt beneath.
"Do you have any idea how much I wish I wasn't?" She answered bleakly, making John inwardly breathe a sigh of relief that it had taken such a short time.
"Tell me," He invited, not willing to let her slide back into her hiding place. But she shook her head.
"You'd have me sectioned if I did," She said, without a single fragment of humour in her tone. Then, turning her gaze on George, she added, "Sorry if I frightened you."
"Oh, darling," George said, unable to keep her tears at bay any longer. "You don't have to be sorry." She moved to sit on Karen's other side, her arms going round her to offer any comfort she could.
"I don't know how to deal with this," Karen said eventually, feeling an immense amount of support coming from both of them.
"Well, hiding, and keeping it all in here," Said John, briefly touching her cheek. "Certainly isn't the way."
"It's not quite that easy, John," She said carefully. "If I am to go on functioning, inside is precisely where everything I feel needs to stay."
"And what do you suppose that will achieve?" John asked despairingly. "Karen, I am not letting you end up like..." He stopped, knowing he'd gone too far.
"...Like my son?" Karen finished for him. "I'm already there, John, so however I choose to pull myself out, is well and truly my decision."
"Not even you can argue with that, John," George said fondly, trying to break the ice.
"Did Helen say anything else I need to know?" Karen asked him, grateful for George's smoothing of ruffled feathers.
"She needs you to go and identify him some time tomorrow, if you feel up to it."
"It'll probably be the most peaceful I've seen him in a long time," Karen said darkly.
"When did you last see him?" John asked, bypassing the almost macabre quality of Karen's remark.
"Towards the end of March, but I spoke to him at the end of May. He always wanted money, and now I know what for. Maybe I should have been more insistent about knowing what it was for. Maybe if I had, he would have told me about going into rehab, and..." She stopped, entirely unable to finish the chain of self-blame.
"Karen, doing the what-ifs, isn't going to get you anywhere," George insisted.
"You told me the same at Lauren's trial," Karen reminded her.
"Yes, I probably did. I meant it then, and I mean it now. It really won't do you any good. I did years of what-ifs, and all it achieved was to make me wish I'd never existed. I know it's easier said than done, but please try not to do it." John listened to George's words, and heard a level of sincerity and affection in them that he'd never heard her bestow on anyone else. He was proud of her that night, proud of how strong she could be for someone else, if not for herself.
A good while later, when Karen decided to go to bed, she asked both John and George to stay. So, whilst George snuggled up next to Karen, trying to take some of her fears of the night away, John dug a spare duvet and pillow out of the airing cupboard, and lay on the sofa, watching News 24 with the sound turned down. How on earth was he going to tell her that he'd known all about Ross's drug addiction since round about the last time Karen had spoken to her son? The weight of the coming confession settled on his heart, making him wish he'd gone with his original conviction, and not taken his ex-father-in-law's advice. Glancing at his watch, he saw that it was nearly one thirty, but he couldn't sleep. So, it seemed, neither could someone else. He looked up as Karen's bedroom door opened, and saw George emerge into the light cast by the TV screen.
"Couldn't you sleep either," He said as she came over to him.
"No, not really."
"What about Karen?"
"I gave her one of my knock-out pills."
"Probably the best thing under the circumstances," He said, lifting a hand to cover a yawn.
"Can I have a cuddle?" She asked, feeling a little guilty for asking.
"You don't need to ask," He told her affectionately, lifting the duvet so that she could slide in next to him.
"How do I help her through this, John?" She asked as their legs entwined, and their arms went around each other.
"You're doing pretty well already," He said, gently kissing her. "But I think all any of us can do, is to take one day at a time. She's going to find this the most difficult hurdle of her life."
"I just feel useless," George said with tears in her eyes.
"No, you're not," He told her softly. He held her against his strong, hard chest, until her long, blonde eyelashes began to drift down onto her cheeks. Gently kissing her awake, he urged her to go back to bed, leaving him with his thoughts and most of all, his regrets.
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