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Scribbs Goes Surfing
James Henry bucked hopefully in his puschair, gaze fixed firmly on Kelly's ice cream van.
"Cornets all round, is it?" Louisa asked jauntily, already sure of the answer.
"Salmonella in a cone. And all those empty calories!" Martin looked aghast. Right on cue.
Ice cream dripped down James' chubby hand, matching the mess all over his face as Louisa manouevred the pushchair over the walkway. Martin winced and glared at Louisa.
"Don't you think you should wipe him?"
"Might as well wait until he's finished it. He won't eat all of it any way."
Poor Martin. Red faced in his suit. The sand looked soft and inviting, the surf thundering in silver bright. James was bucking in his safety harness, thrusting his legs forward as he dropped the cone into his lap. Louisa scraped up the remains into a plastic carrier she'd packed for just that purpose and thrust it into Martin's disgusted hands as she finished the job with baby wipes.
"That's better, Poppet!" She grinned into James' smiling face, tapping his nose before popping the wipe into Martin's hands. "Daddy will put it in the bin."
"Come on, let's have a little walk." Louisa unbuckled James and put him down carefully on his feet. He wobbled for a moment then lurched forward, gaining momentum as he stumbled on to the beach.
"Look after the pushchair," Louisa yelled as she scurried after her son, certain in the knowledge only a medical emergency would draw Martin on to the sand in his leather brogues and summer weight suit.
Ten metres later, right on cue, James fell on his front in the soft sand but Louisa was right beside him, scooping him up just as his face began to crumple. "Allez oops!" She swooped him up and whirled him around as he laughed down at her. Setting him back on his feet, Louisa kept a firm grip on his hand as he toddled off again towards the rocks.
Once they had made their target, James was content to explore a grey crag that thrust up through the sand, pressing his hands against it as he held himself up and shifted crabwise along. Looking back at Martin, Louisa could see him wiping his hands over and over, no doubt appalled at having come into close proximity with a public bin.
Looking forward, she felt the mesmerising pull of the sea. Free-spirited surfers were riding the waves, a few of them on shore calling out and commenting to each other about their performances. One young lad seemed to be doing pretty well, speeding along with good balance until the wave broke and he dived gracefully into the surf. For some reason this caused a roar of approval from his companions. As he waded out of the water, his board tucked under his arm, the surfers surged forward to hug him and pat him on his back.
Friendly and laid back as the surfing crowd were, Louisa was taken aback by the warmth and encouragement bestowed on the young surfer. She watched him laughing back at his friends, returning the high fives with a self-deprecating smile.
"Dada," James reminded her, tugging at her dress. Holding his outstretched hand she began to walk slowly back to where Martin stood on the safety of the concrete walkway.
The young surfer passed by them, shouldering his board. He was shortish and slender and wore his blond hair slightly long, held up by a band in the metro sexual style made acceptable by David Beckham and much copied by the surfer dudes. He headed for a battered Ford Escort with a kayak on the roof rack. Louisa watched him open the boot and balance his board on the open door. He began to pull his wetsuit down to his waist and suddenly everything made sense. This dude was a lady. She wore a bikini top under her suit, the cool blue colour setting off her tanned shoulders. She tied her wetsuit arms around her waist and took a cloth out of the car boot, wiping down her surf board in a business like way.
"Later, Emms!" The surfer guys walked by her to their own cars to sort out their boards. Louisa saw her grin and wave. She wasn't so young, either, perhaps in her mid-thirties, close to Louisa's own age. She had a cheerful, friendly face.
In contrast, Martin stood ill-at-ease with the pushchair. "Here we are then." Lousia buckled James in and adjusted the sun shade as Martin looked grumpily at the surfers.
"They invite skin cancer and stomach bugs then they come to my surgery and wonder why they're ill."
"Oh, Martin! They've got to have some fun. You're always saying people should get more exercise."
"A brisk twenty minute walk every day combined with a sensible diet provides optimum health benefits."
Louisa smiled, "Yes, but where's the fun in that?"
Emma felt a familiar rush of adrenalin course through her midriff as she knelt then stood on her board, shifting her weight as the wave surged on, speeding to shore. She used her stance to steer along the crest, getting the maximum ride before the wave crashed and she had to dive. As she stumbled out of the surf she heard the cheers and saw Steve waving the stop watch.
"Nice one, Emma! Enough to qualify for next week."
Emma was elated. She was in the competition. Maybe it was the Ladies' Over 30s, but what the hell, she was a contender!
As she stumbled through the hugs of her new young friends Emma looked towards her car and felt her heart stop. There, by one of the rocky outcrops, stood 'Her'. Only it wasn't her. Of course it wasn't her. Just a woman with long dark hair and a pretty dress with a toddler hanging on to her hand.
From elation to emptiness in thirty seconds. She thought she'd stopped seeing her everywhere. Sod it, she'd got on with her life! No more dark eyed, dark haired beauties were going to screw things up; only room for one little beauty in her life.
Emma rushed up the beach towards her car, careful not to look left or right. Surf sense took over look after your equipment. Instead of strapping her board straight to the roof rack she did the right thing and began to wipe it down. Of course, peripheral vision was not affected by surf sense. From the corner of her eye she saw Martin Ellingham stiffly propelling a pushchair towards her dark haired nemisis.
Shit! So that's who it was. Louisa Glasson. Headteacher of the local primary school and significant other to Doc Martin, suprisingly competent local doctor.
"Are you sure you don't mind?"
"Of course I don't mind. He's my son and I'm perfectly capable of looking after him."
Louisa smiled. Martin's attitude had improved as he got used to fatherhood, albeit on a part time basis.
"Would you like some more wine?" He held the bottle up, his eyebrows raised in question. Another step forward he usually managed to imply that a glass of wine with dinner was the first step to alcoholism.
"No, thank you. I'll have one at the Crab and Lobster. Don't want to get light-headed." Louisa returned to chewing her food. Red snapper with green beans. One of Martin's favourites. No doubt for its nutritional benefits rather than the taste.
James began to giggle for no discernable reason. He was squeezing a fishfinger in one fist and a green bean in the other. Martin looked at the discarded toddler utensils with a slightly helpless expression. James put the fishfinger on his head.
"Will you be coming back later?"
"Would you like me to? Would you like me to stay over?"
"Yes, yes I would. There's no surgery tomorrow. We could take James for a day out."
Louisa smiled. She felt good. They were having dinner, much like a normal family. In half an hour she was meeting Sheila, school secretary and close friend, for drinks. That meant no time for Martin to say the wrong thing, no time for a monumental misunderstanding, no time for an argument , no time for her to have to storm off to her own house. If she returned at ten, there was every chance that they'd go to bed and make love. Despite his awkwardness, Martin was a surprisingly good lover; attentive and generous. On the rare occasions they actually made it to the bedroom, Louisa was never disappointed.
Louisa felt content as she sat on the terrace nursing a white wine spritzer. Sheila was easy company and they managed to avoid talking shop. Another hour and she'd be ready to go back, fortified by a pleasant evening of adult company.
The noise from the bar became raucous. Leaning forwards a little she could see why. The surfer dudes were in and they were in celebratory mood. The blonde from the beach walked in and the noise rose to a crescendo as the guys cheered and congratulated her. She held a large silver cup in her hands and this was placed on the bar.
Louisa sat back and turned her attention back to Sheila. Ten minutes later she looked up to find Joe Penhale looming over her.
"Evening both." He smiled down at them, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet. "Enjoying your evening?"
"Yes, thank you Joe. Are you?"
"I will be." He grinned, tapping the side of his nose. Louisa had the uncomfortable conviction that he was dying to tell them something.
"Are you all set for Thursday?" She was determined to change the subject.
"People Who Help Us Day," Joe confirmed. "Must say, I'm a bit nervous about it. I'm used to dealing with dangerous criminals, not ten year olds."
"I'm sure you'll rise to the occasion. We've got every faith in you."
"Well, actually, I'm expecting a bit of help."
A sudden cheer from the bar caused Joe to spin round. "Excuse me, ladies. Might need the calming presence of a police officer to restore order."
He strode purposefully into the bar, much to the 'ladies' relief.
A cool breeze started to blow. "Shall we go inside? Do you think Joe has restored law and order by now?" asked Sheila.
For some reason, Louisa felt a slight reluctance. However, she picked up her glass and in they went.
They found a corner table and settled in. Purely by coincidence, Louisa found herself sitting with her back to the wall and a good view down the entire length of the bar. The surfers were hogging the pool table - they seemed to be obsessively competitive. The blonde was in the thick of it, of course. Louisa could not see the shots but found herself watching the blonde play. She held her cue with a certain nonchalence and took her time over her shots. Her jeans showed off her small, firm buttocks and her t-shirt rode up a little as she leant forward, exposing her flat midriff.
Whoa! Lousia mentally shook herself. Why was she looking at this woman so closely? There were plenty of fit young guys if she wanted to perv. Not that she would. Must be a female thing, comparing a similar-aged woman's body to her own. Yes, that must be it. Anyway, Louisa was a mother and so entitled to a few womanly curves, no matter what Martin said about chocolate biscuits.
The blonde was doing a little victory dance when Joe made his appoach. Louisa saw him talk to her with a particularly beseeching expression on his usually gormless face. The blonde looked alarmed for a moment. Joe's usual effect on women. Then her face softened and she patted him on the arm. Obviously agreeing to something by the relieved expression on Joe's face. Louisa decided it was time to go.
Emma felt painfully aware of her presence as soon as Louisa Glasson came inside the pub. Where she had been happily going with the flow, flirting a little in a harmless way with the young and not so young guys, she suddenly felt a little too loud, a little too vulgar. She shouldn't be with this noisy crowd, she should be drinking wine and wearing a pretty dress.
No way that was going to happen any time soon.
A little later she stood washing her hands in the Ladies. She examined her reflection she'd pinned her fringe to one side and her hair stuck out a little. She began to water it down. Her face was quite tanned from the sun and wind; she'd lost her London pallor. Her eyes looked browner and her teeth looked whiter better than the other way round!
A toilet flushed and out of the cubicle stepped Louisa. Their eyes met in the mirror as Louisa stepped up to the sinks. As Louisa smiled, Emma felt a warm flush spread from her cleavage, up her neck and all the way to the roots of her hair.
"Enjoying your evening?" Louisa asked politely.
"Having a great time, thanks!" She squeaked in reply, before rushing out through the double doors back to the safety of the pool table.
"You absolute wally!" The voice inside her head was direct and to the point. "Now she's going to think you're some kind of nutter. Like Uncle Fester in Addams' Family Values."
Emma manouevred herself around so that she could look up the bar without being too obvious, just in time to see Louisa walking out with her middle-aged companion.
Thank God for that. No more chances to make a pratt of herself. Nevertheless, Emma felt a bit deflated.
Two large firefighters stood in the school hall surrounded by breathing gear. Next to them a milkman, decked out in peaked hat and overall, guarded a crate of silver tops. The school cook and the lunchtime supervisor, compete with whistle, kept checking their watches. Martin stood to one side and clutched his medical bag to his body like a shield.
"Have you been offered tea or coffee?" Louisa stood before him, proferring a plate of digestives.
"I don't want a drink. I want this over with."
"You're only staying for the assembly!"
"Yes, well I've got patients to see."
"You could do with some patience!" Louisa smirked and moved on.
PC Penhale brushed past her, resplendent in his uniform which for some reason included a stab vest and riot helmet. What was he planning on telling the children about his role as local policeman? Louisa did a double take. Joe was not alone. He was ushering a female police officer in front of him, practically sweeping people out of her way as he half-bowed over her. The poor woman seemed to shrink away from him, emitting a giggle that sounded somehow familiar.
Louisa watched as the policewoman held her hand up to Joe, obviously telling him to back off. The woman turned and Louisa's jaw dropped. It was 'the blonde'; hair tucked up in a french plait under her cap, resplendent in a uniform which involved an inordinate amount of silver.
"I'd like to introduce you to my colleague. Well, she's not exactly my colleague. But she is a fellow police officer." Joe seemed to swell with pride as he made his introduction. "Ms Glasson, headteacher of Portwenn Primary, this is Detective Inspector Scribbins."
"Louisa." "Emma." They spoke at the same time, clasping hands.
"A detective inspector in Portwenn!" Louisa smiled brightly. "Who'd have thought?"
"Oh no, I'm not working here. I'm based in Truro. I just live here, away from the job."
"I thought she'd be a great example for the girls," Joe explained. "Show them they've got choices." He beamed adoringly at Emma. "She even agreed to wear her dress uniform."
"I didn't think the kids would be very impressed by my usual clothes," Emma shrugged.
"Well, they'll be impressed now alright!" Detective Inspector Scribbins looked amazing. She seemed taller in her uniform and exuded an air of authority that was decidedly sexy.
Where did that thought come from?
"Thanks so much for giving your time," Louisa took herself off, mentally shaking herself as she made sure all was ready for the day.
Hours later, Louisa did her rounds before lunchtime. Most of the 'People Who Help Us' had gone, leaving behind excited children writing or completing quizzes and artwork around the things they'd learned. The coastguard and lifeboat crew were booked for another day, their work being too integral to the life of the village to be lumped in with the rest.
Louisa let herself into the Foundation base. Everywhere she looked the children were busy, learning through play in each dedicated area.
Thomas Good clumped up to her in a large pair of black shoes and gave her a smart salute from under a peaked cap. Molly Green stood painting at the easel, her gingham dress protected by an over-sized black jacket.
Over in the book corner, a larger than usual group were gathered around Detective Inspector Scribbins who sat in what was left of her uniform, her legs tucked under her as she read 'Burglar Bill' to the enthralled children.
With a smile to Helen, the Foundation teacher, Louisa let herself out quietly.
Much to her surprise, Emma found herself enjoying the morning immensely. The kids were polite but keen, still at that stage where they wanted to please you as long as you gave them the attention they needed. Her uniform was taking a bit of a battering but, what the hell, she'd taken worse stains than poster paint to the dry cleaners.
She told herself she'd only agreed to come because
a) Joe pleaded with her
b) she'd be doing her bit for girl power
c) it fitted in with her plan to become an integral part of village life, no more suburban anonymity.
Actually, she had to admit there might be a d, e and f factor as well, most of them centred round one village headteacher.
The woman seemed to be everywhere, efficient and charming at the same time. Wherever she was, in her cool floral frock and bright smile, she spread sunshine effortlessly. Adults and children alike pulled themselves up straight and turned towards her like so many sunflowers.
This morning's assembly had gone smoothly in spite of so many professionals and semi-professionals being included, barring Doc Martin's painfully shy and awkward tirade about spreading germs by wiping noses on sleeves. Louisa had intervened by having the whole school demonstrate how they had learned to 'catch' sneezes in their elbow creases, in line with government guidelines to stop the spread of flu.
The visitors rotation around the classrooms had been well-organised but Emma found herself catching glimpses of Louisa constantly. Fair enough, the school was very small and Louisa was obviously a hands-on leader, not the type to shut herself in her office, but Emma began to suspect that she was looking for the woman, the barest glimpse making her heart race in a way that was both exhilerating and alarming.
Singin' Susie was in full flow as Louisa steered James Henry's pushchair to the semi-circle of library seats. As usual , the crowd of mums and one or two self conscious dads were trying to join in, adult voices struggling to stay in a high enough key for 'The Wheels on the Bus.'
Five tots stood up front, gamely approximating the actions to go with the song or making up their own. One little boy, the youngest of the Wellborn family if Louisa was not mistaken, was flailing wildly, clearly enjoying himself. A dark haired girl, no more than two years old, was frowning at him slightly as she performed each action correctly and in time. Obviously going to be a fast learner in Louisa's professional opinion. She didn't recognise the child most of the under threes in Portwenn were easy to categorise into their family groups she must be a incomer or a tourist.
"Thank you, that was lovely!" Singin' Susie beamed at her little helpers. "Perhaps we could swap over now, so everyone gets a turn. Who would like to be a currant bun?"
Most of the children stayed put, waiting to be claimed by a parent, but the little girl went straight over to her grown up. Who welcomed her with a hug. Who was blonde and cute in a halter neck and shorts which showed off her fit, slender body. Who was DI Emma Scribbins.
"Down!" James demanded, just as Louisa was toying with the idea of slipping away quietly. Sighing, she released him from his pushchair and he climbed on to her lap before wordlessly but loudly joining in with 'Five Currant Buns in a Bakers' Shop'. At least he had the tune, and Louisa was pleased to note he was beginning to get the idea of some of the words. Not so hopeless for thirteen months. And certainly not as shy as his dad.
When all the currant buns, round and fat with sugar on the top, had been purchased James struggled to climb down and pointed over to the picture books. Emma and her companion were already there, the little girl holding a book the right way up and turning one page at a time as Emma whispered the words to her.
Louisa had no choice but to join them as James charged over and was stopped abruptly by a large floor cushion that he proceeded to roll on, giggling. The little girl looked at him, seriously, and held her finger to her lips before leaving Emma and going over to take his hand and lead him to a train-shaped bookcase.
"Fancy meeting you here!" Louisa smiled, trying not to look put out by her own lack of originality.
"Yep! Another Portwenn hotspot!" Emma smiled back, similarly disturbed.
"Mummy, he's eating the books!"
Louisa and Emma rushed over to where the little girl was trying to organise James onto the train seat in the bookcase. James was busy sucking a plastic Postman Pat book.
"This is my son, James Henry," Louisa smiled as she hoiked him up on the seat and gently pulled the book from his mouth.
"And this is my daughter, Katie," Emma answered as she patted her proudly. Katie sat herself next to James and began to turn the pages of the book for him, making up a story to go with the pictures.
"So, a career woman and a mother!" Louisa exclaimed, raising her brows and smiling to show this was not meant as an insult.
"I could say the same about you!" Emma grinned back.
Louisa glanced down. No wedding ring. Her own left hand was similarly bare. She was beginning to like this woman.
"So, if you don't mind me asking, how do you manage the day to day?" Louisa asked as they sat side by side on the harbour bench eating ninety-nines. James was happy in his pushchair and Katie sat close to him on the bench, dividing her time between her own cone and sorting him out with his.
"I moved here to be near my sister. She owns a campsite near Delabole. She's divorced, no kids. She looks after Katie while I'm on shifts. What do you do with James?"
"Childminder," Louisa replied shortly. "I'm looking for a good nursery."
"Let me know when you find one. Katie's desperate to be with more kids. Look how she is with James."
It was true. Katie and James were at the peepo stage, giggling in that unself-conscious way only the very young can.
"She's lovely," Louisa smiled, "and very with it for her age. How old is she, about two?"
"Two next month," Emma confirmed. "A bit serious for her age. My fault, I think. It's just me and her. I sometimes talk to her like she's a grown up."
"Funny," Louisa couldn't help herself. "You don't seem like you take yourself all that seriously. I mean, in spite of your job ..."
Louisa sensed she was getting herself into deep water.
Emma looked at her, eyebrows raised, half grinning. Adorable.
"I mean, you look like you're fun; like you enjoy life. You don't look like everyone else ..." Louisa petered out, tongue-tied.
"That's okay," Emma laughed, letting her off. "It's not the first time I've been called immature. My old DI thought I was positively childlike."
"That must have been annoying. Was he sexist?"
"He was a she. And no, she was just a bit blinkered."
"Well, now you're the DI," Louisa countered."So you must have done something right."
Emma Scribbins meandered through Trelissick Garden admiring the azaleas. Her companion was a tall, well-made redhead, his arm draped possessively over her shoulders.
"So, how's village life treating you? Fitting in?"
"Starting to. The locals are friendly and Katie really likes it. Easy tiger!"
A large hand had made its way to her buttocks.
"Just going for realism."
"You keep going for realism, DS Gibson, and you'll have a realistic broken wrist!"
"Aw! You wouldn't!" Joe Gibson grinned, but returned the offending paw to her shoulder.
Emma twitched, just enough to signify the suspect was in sight. A well-dressed middle-aged woman, resplendent in a Hermes scarf, wandered through the rhododendrons.
"If I didn't know you were gay, I'd think you were after my bum. Perhaps you short of a date, and you are after my bum!"
"Well, it is a nice bum. Have you found a good woman to appreciate it yet?"
"Maybe," Emma looked sad. "I've found a good woman, but I don't think she's interested in my bum or any of my other parts."
"Then she's a fool. "
Emma put her arm around his waist as their target brushed by a gentleman in a tweed suit. The large hunting bag he carried was suddenly transferred to the woman. Emma pressed the radio attached to Joe's belt.
"Contact's been made. We're in pusuit!" No point in subterfugue now. Emma raced after the woman as Joe apprehended the man.
"Police! Stop right now if you oof...!" Emma doubled over as the huge leather bag hit her in her midriff. Clutching it to her she curled herself around it as her assailant tried to grab the strap and pull it back. For endless moments she was rocked back and forth, clinging on for dear life, then the uniforms arrived and her job, barring the paperwork, was done.
Doc Martin sighed audibly as he examined the purple and green bruising on Emma Scribbin's ribs.
"I don't understand why the bruising hasn't gone by now," Emma whined.
"No, you don't understand. That's because you're not a doctor."
Emma showed no signs of umbrage as Martin carefully felt her ribs, looking for signs of discomfort.
"When your ribs were cracked there was some internal bleeding. Nothing major, but the bruises take a while to come out. Bruising is not as easy to date as people think."
"Okay, thanks. You can give me the all clear to go back to work though? I've got a lot on."
"I'm sure the criminal population of Cornwall can get on without you but, yes, as long as you're sensible and take your pain killers you should be fine."
"Thanks, Doc." Emma beamed.
"I prefer Doctor Ellingham!"
"Of course you do."
Louisa popped out to her car to fetch a file. She watched as a now familiar blonde made her way down from the surgery. The battered escort was parked in the harbour so Louisa wandered over and rested her hip against it, clutching the records file to her.
As Emma rounded the wall Louisa saw that she was wheeling a pushchair, an unusual sight as Katie usually walked.
Katie's little face looked miserable but she raised a smile as she drew near to Louisa, a smile that Emma echoed.
"Morning," Louisa looked directly at Katie. "What brings you here today?"
"Doctor's a bad man!" Katie said very definitely.
"Oh no, darling!" Emma said quickly. "He's helping you. The doctor gives you an injection and it stops you getting poorly."
Katie looked unconvinced and rubbed her arm, scowling.
"Immunisations?" Louisa asked.
"Yes. I've had Katie's done one at a time rather than grouped when she was very young. I thought the Doc would object. The fella in London moaned like hell. Your Martin just got on with it, good as gold."
"Ah well. There was a time he'd have given you chapter and verse about unfounded mistrust of the vaccination programme. Then we had James. Now he's happy to let parents decide. It hasn't done him any favours with the health board. Then again, he doesn't care what people think."
"You've got him well trained," Emma laughed.
"Oh no, he does his own thing." Louisa felt strangely reluctant to take credit for 'her Martin'.
"So, Singin' Susie and ice cream on Saturday?"
"Sorry!" Emma looked genuinely regretful. "Can we take a rain check?"
Louisa began to back away. "Of course, no big deal."
"Only I'll be on duty. Big case to finish. Katie will be staying with my sister." Emma talked quickly, before Louisa got the wrong idea. "Give me your number and I'll phone you when it's over."
Mollified, Louisa punched her number into Emma's phone while Emma collapsed the pushchair and strapped Katie into her safety seat.
"Bye bye!" Katie waved politely.
For two weeks there was no sign of Emma Scribbins in Portwenn. Two long weeks.
Louisa found herself turning when she caught sight of a blonde head in the narrow lanes, only to find it was a tourist. Twice she found herself taking James over to Porzeath to watch the surfers, hoping Emma was taking a break and letting off steam.
Finally, on a Friday night, her cell phone rang.
"Remember me?" Emma's voice sounded different over the phone, younger somehow.
"Hello stranger!" Louisa joined in with the game. "I do vaguely remember you. How's things? Did you finish your case thingie?"
"All done and dusted. I'm fetching Katie from my sister's in the morning so if you're up for Singin' Susie I'm your woman!"
"You're on. What are you doing now?"
"Just chilling. A bottle of wine and a takeaway. Perhaps a dvd."
"Sounds perfect. "
"What are you doing?"
"Well, I'm at Martin's. He babysits for me on a Friday night so I can have some me time. Only I haven't arranged any me time. I'll probably go to the pub for a glass of wine. There's bound to be someone I know."
"I've got wine. You could come over here," Emma sounded hopeful. "You could even choose the movie."
"Rom com or thriller?"
"That's the right answer. Half an hour okay?"
An hour later Louisa found herself sharing the couch in a charming little cottage in the neighbouring hamlet. The coffee table was littered with Indian takeaway and one empty wine bottle. Emma was busy opening a second. She looked pale and exhausted.
"I don't have to stay, you know. You should get some sleep."
"I'm enjoying your company. You're not police. You're not a drug dealer. You're a nice, normal woman."
"Yes, yes I am. And you're very tired."
"Which one do you fancy?" Emma nodded at the tv screen. They were watching 'The Wedding Date.'
"I bet you fancy the big blond, what's his name, Jeffrey."
"Why do you say that?"
"Because you're with Doc Martin. He's a big blond, or he was. Must be your type."
"Does that mean you fancy Nick? He's darkly handsome. Katie's dad must look like him."
Emma looked thoughtful. "Actually, Katie's dad looked like someone else I fancied. Dark and intense. I didn't now him that well. He freaked out when I told him I was pregnant."
"Oh my goodness! That must have been awful for you."
"Not so much. He was right, I guess. I was just using him, I didn't mean to get pregnant. Condoms aren't always the best."
"Tell me about it!" Louisa's smiled wrily. "I didn't mean to get pregnant either. Martin and I were going to get married but we both failed to turn up at the church."
Emma looked stunned.
"I'd left for London before I found out James was on the way."
"Is that why you came back? Were you hoping to make things work?"
"I suppose so. It's always been rocky. Martin's a good man but he's hopeless with relationships. At least he's good with James. More confident. Better than his parents were with him."
"He must be okay. You love him and he's James' dad." Emma was yawning, tucking her head into the wing of the couch as if to relax. Within seconds she was asleep.
Louisa waited for ten minutes before gently lowering Emma's head on to a cushion and lifting her feet up. She took the throw off the back of the couch and covered her up. Looking down at Emma's tousled head she felt an explicable tenderness. She stifled the urge to kiss her, that would be too much. Instead she crept into the kitchen to call a taxi.
While she waited she went softly upstairs to use the bathroom. She passed a room that was obviously Katie's, all decked out with nursery rhymes and mobiles. Emma's bedroom door was open too. Louisa found herself walking in. The room was lovely, very feminine with broderie anglaise covers on the white wooden bed. She ran her hand over the soft white pillows and imagined Emma laying there.
For some reason she'd imagined Emma's room would be more tomboyish, probably with clothes on the floor and a dartboard on the back of the door.
Louisa pulled her hand back as if she'd been stung. She was acting like a stalker, creeping around Emma's bedroom. Really, it was time to pull herself together.
"Martin, we need to talk."
Martin's brow furrowed as he left his laptop on stand-by. He'd been reading a very interesting article on type two diabetes. Looking over at Louisa, he noticed the strained expression on her face. What had he done this time?
"Well, I need to talk. I don't know whether you're going to want to talk or not."
"Martin, do you remember when we found out about Phil Pratt?" Martin looked nonplussed. "He's gay but he was married for all those years."
Martin nodded, already bored.
"Do you think he was always gay or do you think he changed?"
"How should I know?"
"Come on, Martin, don't be obtuse. I'm asking for help here!" Louisa was becoming increasingly agitated.
"Okay. All I know is that occasionally patients come to me, either in denial or looking for a cure. Homosexuality is not an illness and it is not a pathology. The sooner people accept themselves the healthier they will be."
"You don't judge them, then."
"I judge people all the time, but not about perfectly healthy expressions of sexuality."
"When did you get to be so tolerant?"
"Boarding school. Some of the boys grew up and got married. Some didn't. Actually, they could do now."
"Were you gay at boarding school?" Louisa felt strangely cheered.
Martin frowned. "I wasn't pretty and I wasn't sporty. So, no. I was bullied but not buggered." Martin had expected Louisa to either laugh or wince, instead she looked like a rabbit in the headlights.
"What's this all about?"
"It's about me. I've been having feelings. I thought I knew who I was, what I was. Now I'm not so sure."
"Feelings?" It was Martin's turn to look scared. "What kind of feelings?"
"I think I'm attracted to a woman."
"Women in general or a particular woman?"
"A particular woman."
"That new woman, the detective?"
"How did you know?"
"Well, she's new. She's good looking, a professional, a parent ... And you've been different since you met her. You mention her quite a lot."
"Does she know how you feel?"
"Goodness no! She'd probably run a mile. I don't even know if it's real; I might be over-reacting to making a new friend. Anyway, I wouldn't approach her that way without sorting things out with you."
"You don't need my blessing."
"I know that! Whatever this thing is between us," Louisa waved her hand in an open gesture. "Whatever our relationship is, I'm not two-timing anyone."
"I can't make you happy, Louisa. We both know that. My mother threw away her best years; she's a nasty, bitter woman. I don't want that for you. I don't want it for James. "
"There's other things to take into account, even if she was interested. There's my job, for a start. How would Portwenn take to having a lesbian for a headteacher?"
"These people love you, Louisa. You're good at your job. They'll get over it." Louisa looked sceptical. "Peter Cronk passed on some very good advice, if I remember. 'You have to let them tease you. After a while, they'll say you're okay.'"
"And what about you, Martin? People will laugh behind your back if I dump you for a woman."
"You mean they'll think I'm more of a tosser than they already do?"
Louisa smiled. "You're not going to make it easy for me to back away from this, are you?"
"I think you need to find out what you want, one way or another. I don't want to be your default option." Martin looked serious. "There's no reason for us both to be miserable. There might be someone waiting out there for me too."
"Has Edith been sniffing around again?"
Martin looked alarmed. "I'd sooner take my chances with Bert Large. I hear he likes them tall and blond!"
Ten minutes later Louisa went up to bed. Martin promised not to disturb her. He went back to his e-journal for a moment before sighing and turning the laptop off. His grandfather's clock came out of the cabinet and he slowly and methodically took the mechanism apart, spreading the parts on his desk.
"Roll up. Roll up!" Bert Large addressed all and sundry in the harbour area. "Portwenn Players Midsummer Madness. Come and get your tickets before they're all gone. Numbers are limited for health and safety reasons. All the profits go to local charities. Don't miss out on your chance!"
"I'll take a ticket, Mr Large," Emma offered politely.
"Bert to you," he smiled. "Two tickets, a bargain for only £10. There must be some handsome stud you can bring with you?"
"I assumed you were already spoken for, Bert!"
Emma wondered what she would do with her second ticket. It was no good inviting her DS; gentle flirting with the locals was one thing but she wanted to be herself in her new home and not give the impression she was seeing a bloke.
She popped into the Chemist for Katie's liquid paracetomol. A familiar pony-tailed figure waited at the counter, talking to Mrs Tishell.
"And will Martin be taking you to the dance, Louisa?" There was something rather pointed about Mrs Tishell's question, as if it had a double meaning.
"Oh, you know Martin. He'd sooner sit in a ditch than go to one of those things," Louisa replied lightly but Emma sensed tension between the two women.
"I've got a spare ticket," Emma piped up before she changed her mind. "Bert bushwacked me. I don't really want to go on my own."
"Oh!" Louisa's eyes lit up as she turned to find Emma behind her. "Are you sure? It would be fun. I haven't been for a couple of years."
"You're on. I'll meet you in the Crab at 7.30 and we'll go together."
Emma was out of the door before she realised she'd forgotton the paracetomol. As she turned back she nearly bumped into Louisa, who was carrying three huge bottles of mouthwash.
"Special offer," Louisa explained before scurrying away.
Louisa's stomach clenched nervously as she entered the pub. She knew she looked nice, but she hadn't dressed up for anyone in over a year. And she'd never dressed up for a woman. What if she'd over done it?
She spotted Emma at the bar and her heart fluttered. She looked stunning in a silver dress, her loosely curled hair framing her face. Louisa relaxed, no longer feeling out of place in her floaty blue Stella McCartney.
"Wow!" Emma looked her up and down appreciatively.
"Likewise," Louisa grinned.
"Fancy a game of pool?" Emma asked hopefully.
"I'm a bit rusty. Haven't played since college."
"I could help brush up your skills."
Louisa's throat went dry. The thought of Emma leaning over in that dress to take a shot, or maybe even helping her to line up her cue, was too much.
"Maybe next time," she offered, before realising she was assuming they'd go out again.
"I'll hold you to that."
Perhaps Emma would be wearing a polo neck sweater, or better still a large sack, next time and Louisa would be safe. Chances were she'd still look good in a sack.
Things were hotting up in the village hall when they arrived. Some older children were still there and Louisa was greeted by several of her Year 6s and ex-pupils.
Emma launched herself straight on to the dancefloor where The Ketchup Song was in full swing. For some reason the twelve year olds stopped chasing each other round the edges of the hall and sliding on their knees. Instead they fell into place and began copying the moves.
Mambo No. 5, YMCA, The Cha Cha Slide and The Macarena followed in quick succession. Louisa was enjoying herself, joining in with what was essentially a school disco without being responsible for discipline or smooth running.
By the 10 o'clock children's curfew, Louisa was beginning to tire. She settled by the bar and watched as Emma danced with Al, Ross the lifeboat guy, and Joe. The woman was a machine, taking on everything from Rhianna to Dizzee Rascal. As Madonna's Don't Tell Me started, Emma ran over and pulled her on to the floor.
"Come on, it's a line dance. Everyone's joining in," Emma insisted. Everyone under forty was on the floor. Louisa fell in beside Emma and picked up the steps quickly, enjoying the feeling of community. Very different from her outing with Mark Mylow, where he'd definitely been the star of the show.
Louisa felt like she could take on the world and stayed on the dance floor through the next few songs. The tempo changed again and she found herself free-styling with Bert to La Bamba. It was obviously the golden oldies section. Looking over, she saw Emma dancing competently with Roger Fenn. The woman seemed to make friends with everyone.
"Dance with me?" Emma demanded more than asked, sweeping Louisa into a jive for Blue Suede Shoes. Some of the older women were also dancing together, their husbands either drinking at the bar or chatting by the door. It felt strange to be whisked back and forth by another woman, strange but really good.
Adele began to sing Turning Tables and most of the couples left the floor, a few left clinging to each other as they slowly rotated. Louisa and Emma stood still for a moment, staring at each other, then silently turned to the bar where a half finished bottle of wine waited for them.
"Let's take it outside," Louisa said, grabbing the bottle and leading the way. Outside, they linked arms and walked down to the harbour. The midsummer sun had gone down at last but the air was still warm and the sea was bathed by a lingering, mellow light. The tide was out so they pulled off their heels and walked down to the rock pools. In the gathering gloom they could just see other couples making out among the rocks.
"This'll do," Emma pulled herself up on to a shelf and offered her hand to Louisa. They settled comfortably, looking out to sea as the sky darkened midnight blue and the stars came out in force. They passed the bottle in companionable silence. Louisa thought about all the times she had tried to seduce someone Danny had been so easy, Martin so difficult yet this felt like the single most romantic moment in her life.
She looked down to where Emma's left hand lay on the rock. Slowly and deliberately she placed her right hand on top. Emma's fingers opened automatically and grasped her own in a gentle squeeze.
Oh well, here goes nothing. "Emma, would you say we're going to be friends? Only, if we are, there's something I've got to clear up first," Louisa spoke in a rush.
"We are going to be friends," Emma said slowly, a feeling of dread in the pit of her stomach.
"Then I have to tell you that I'm gay," Louisa did her best to watch Emma's expression in the moonlight. She saw her eyes widen and her mouth open slightly. Classic signs of shock.
"I had thought, you being from London, you wouldn't be too fazed!" Louisa heard the hurt in her own voice.
"I'm not!" Emma exclaimed. "I'm just surprised. What about the Doc?"
"We've talked about it. He understands".
"Oh! Okay. Well then, who's your girlfriend? Have I met her?"
"No. I don't have a girlfriend."
"Then how do you know you're gay?"
"Because I want one!" Louisa felt defensive now, pulling her hand out of Emma's and crossing her arms.
"Right," Emma looked thoughtful. "I was in love with my best friend for the longest time. Two years. I went out with a lot of guys but it was always her."
"You were in love with a woman?"
"So what happened?"
"She married fabulous guy."
"Who's fabulous guy?"
"You know. Six foot four, square chin, solid muscle."
"Oh, him! Did she know how you felt?"
"Maybe. I never had the courage to ask. We used to joke about growing old together. When my promotion came through I decided to move away, to find a better life for Katie and avoid casual relationships."
"How's that working out for you?"
"Well, it was going really well but then I met this woman."
"What? Here? When?" Louisa felt cheated, like she'd just missed out on something.
"Now!" Emma leaned forward, placing her hand gently on Louisa's cheek. Slowly, very slowly, she touched her lips to Louisa's, backing off immediately.
Louisa found herself grabbing both sides of Emma's face and pulling her back in. Tentatively at first, then with more assurance, she kissed her. Every nerve in her body seemed to come alive, united in a rush of pleasure.
When at last they drew apart, Louisa waited for the moment to be ruined. Emma was smiling like a cat with the cream.
"Was that okay?" Louisa had to ask.
"More than okay. You're amazing. Let's go again."
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