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I'm gonna shine like the sun (When these clouds run away from my door)
"Right, Johnnyboy." Charity leans her arms on the side of the bath where Johnny is barely visible amongst rolling hills of bubbles. "Time to come out and get into your jim jams, yeah?"
"Awww, Charity! Not yet!" Johnny divebombs one of his boats into the water, causing water to splash on Charity's top and face, a glob of bubbles dangling from her nose. She goes cross eyed and Johnny giggles. "You got a bubble nose!"
"And whose fault is that, eh?" She picks up a handful of bubbles and blows them at him, making him close his eyes and scrunch up his nose as they land all over his face and head. She smiles at his easy joy. "C'mon, time to come out. Else your mummy will come home to a prune instead of a little boy, won't she?"
He stops zooming boats around the water and frowns at her. "What's a prune?"
"It's a little thing that's all wrinkly." She picks up his hand and points to his fingertips. "See? It's starting already! Best get out quick."
Johnny looks at her for a long moment before he smiles. "You're silly, Charity."
"Yep, that's me." Charity gets up and grabs one of Vanessa's huge towels, shaking it out. "Silly old Charity." She tilts her head. "Well, not old."
"What age are you?" Johnny asks, standing up and letting Charity scoop him up an wrap him in the towel. "I'm three." He holds up three fingers.
"So you are," Charity says, sitting on the lid of the toilet and settling him in her lap as she rubs gently at him. "What age do you think I am?" He can only count to ten; it's bound to be a flattering answer.
His brow creases in thought as he looks up at her. "I dunno. Mummy's four, I think." He holds up three fingers again and Charity uncurls his pinkie, nodding when he has the right amount on display.
"Listen, if Mummy's gonna lie about her age, she should at least stick with something realistic." She shakes her head. "No, babes, Mummy is forty-two. Same as me."
"Four and two?" Johnny looks at his fingers, trying to figure out what that might look like.
"Ummm…" She shrugs. "Yeah, that's...close enough for tonight."
"Charity?" His voice is shaky from the movement of his head where Charity's giving his hair a final rub.
"Yeah?" She makes her voice mirror the inflection he'd used for her name. She stops rubbing his hair, satisfied it's as dry as it's going to get.
He tilts his head at her. "Is Grandad Frank more than four and two?"
Barking out a laugh, she shakes her head. "Oh, I think Grandad Frank is a lot more than four and two." She leans in close, making her eyes go wide. "I think he's a hundred."
Johnny gasps and nods. "Yeah. A hundred. 'Cause of he's got Santa hair." All those Christmas adverts have gone to his head and it's barely November.
"That is exactly right." Charity nods, seriously. "You are a clever little thing, aren't you? And it's time for clever little things to go to bed, so you go and pick out some pyjamas and I'll get rid of all these bubbles and boats."
He flings off the towel and runs out of the bathroom, stark naked. Charity rolls her eyes. "Just like his mother," she mutters as she lets the bath run away. Satisfied that the bathroom is tidy enough for Vanessa not to complain at her, she heads through to Johnny's room to find him with his head stuck in the armhole of his pyjama top. She hides a smile and goes over to help, easing his head through the correct hole and helping him slide his arms in. "I see we've gone with the Rubble ones. Just for a change."
"They're my favourite," Johnny says, pulling at his top to see the picture. "Rubble's got his shiny jacket on. Auntie Tracy got me a shiny jacket just like Rubble's!"
"I know, I've seen it." Charity widens her eyes and nods as she encourages him into his pyjama bottoms. "Nearly needed my sunglasses to look at you, didn't I?" She sighs in relief as she finally gets the bottoms on and up; home stretch now. "Okay, we did your teeth before your bath, so it's time to-"
"I get a story first," Johnny says, before she can even finish. "I always get a story."
She sighs. "Fine. We can have a little story, and then it's bed, okay?"
"Uh huh." He scampers off to the packed bookshelves over by his wardrobe, lying down on his belly to look at the titles on the bottom shelf. Charity takes a seat on his bed and waits for him to return. "This one!" He selects a book, pulling it out from the others with difficulty.
Charity's eyes widen when she sees the size of it. She'd been expecting one of those little thin books for kiddies. This is a hardback tome he can barely carry. "Uh, Johnny, I didn't agree to read you War and Peace, babes."
He frowns at her and dumps the book on her lap. It's a book of Aesop's Fables, so it's not just one story, it's dozens of little ones. She brushes a hand over the cover; it's not a new book. In fact, it looks years old. She quirks an eyebrow as she flicks to the inside cover and, sure enough, its owner has written their name.
Vanessa Elizabeth Clayton. Age 6 and ½
She rubs her finger over the wonky, uneven letters and smiles. She's seen pictures of Vanessa as a kid and she was the cutest little thing. Tiny and skinny with big blue eyes that took up almost half her face. Not unlike Johnny, who's currently clambering up on the bed beside her, pressing against her side.
"I'll show you the one I like." He starts flicking pages, his hands a little clumsy and Charity worries that he's going to rip them, but he doesn't and he soon arrives at the page he's looking for. "This one! With the sun." He settles against her, his little body warm and soft as she puts her arm around him.
"I don't think I know this one, Johnnybobs." She traces a thumb over the intricate drawing of the sun in the top corner of the page. It has a round, smiling face and its beams are leading down to the text.
"S'really good," Johnny tells her. "See the sun and the wind are fightin' to see who's the strongest." He points to the opposite corner, where the wind is depicted as an angry, blue cloud, blowing a stream of air out of its mouth. "And see the man?" His finger traces down the page to the bottom, where a man stands looking up at the sky. "They try to get him to take off his jacket."
"Oh really?" She scrunches up her brow. "And how do they do that, then?"
"Well. The wind blows on him really, really hard...like this." He purses his lips like the wind in the picture and blows as hard as he can.
She presses her lips together as she watches him. He's so enthusiastic about everything. Moses is mostly content just to toddle along and do his own thing, but Johnny wants to involve you in the things he likes. He wants you to understand why he likes them and he wants you to like them too.
"And does he manage to blow the bloke's coat off?" Charity asks.
"No." Johnny shakes his head rapidly. "He can't. He blows and blows but the man keeps his coat on."
"No wonder, eh? He must be flamin' freezing if the wind's blowing right at him." Charity rolls her eyes. "That was a bit of a daft plan."
"Yeah. But then the sun says it's his turn to try." Johnny's finger traces across the page to the picture of the sun.
"And what does the sun do?" Charity asks.
"He shines on the man and it gets warm and a bit more warmer and more warmer." He pauses and looks up at her. "But he does it all gentle."
"I see." Charity nods. Her throat starts to throb a little, eyes tickling. If she didn't know better, she'd assume the little sod picked this story on purpose. If she looks hard enough, the face on the sun morphs into Vanessa's. The stooped figure into herself. "And does the sun manage to get him to take his coat off?"
Johnny breaks out into a grin. "Yeah!"
She smiles at his exuberance, blinking her tears away. "And what do you think the story's trying to tell us, eh?"
He frowns, looking down at the book briefly and then back up at her. "You should take your coat off when it's warm?"
She laughs and pulls him close, kissing the side of his head. "Spot on, Johnny. Spot on." She squeezes him against her for a moment before letting him go. "Right, well since you read me a story, it's definitely time for bed."
For a second it looks like he might protest, since he didn't actually get a story told to him, but he shrugs. "Okay, but you forgot to say the magic words."
Rolling her eyes, she stands up, sets the book aside, and pulls back his duvet. "Fine. Johnny, it's time for bed, please."
"That's not the magic words!" Johnny shakes his head. "Mummy always says the magic words 'fore I go to bed."
Charity thinks back. She's been here a number of times when Vanessa's put Johnny to bed, but hasn't paid too much attention to their rituals; usually she's been pottering around in the bathroom or Vanessa's bedroom if she's been upstairs at all.
"Well, you better tell me what they are, hadn't you?" She plants her hands on her hips. "So I can say them."
He looks at her like she's stupid. "You can't just tell people magic words. You just have to know magic words."
She huffs, wracking her brain. "Is it abracadabra?"
He shakes his head.
"Uh...piff paff poof?"
He giggles. "That's a funny one."
She smiles, but it quickly fades. She's never going to get the little bugger to bed. "But...how are people supposed to know the words if people don't tell them the words in the first pl-" The sound of the front door opening interrupts her and she looks over her shoulder in exasperation. "Well, there go my brownie points for having you washed and in bed by the time she got back."
"Hello?" Vanessa's whisper shouting up the stairs.
"Hiya mummy!" Johnny bellows.
Charity turns back to him and narrows her eyes playfully as Vanessa's footsteps bound up the stairs and she appears in the doorway to Johnny's room. She raises an eyebrow at Charity, dropping a kiss on her cheek as she passes.
"Hello my darling." Bending, she kisses the top of Johnny's head, breathing in. "You smell lovely."
"Charity let me use all the shampoos!" Johnny tells her excitedly. "We mixed them all up and made a potion!"
"Did she now?" Vanessa glances back at her with a smile.
"Oi, you," Charity scolds him. "You're giving away all our secrets here."
"Mummy," Johnny says, tugging on her hand. "Charity didn't know the magic words for 'fore bedtime."
"No, else he'd have been in bed before you got in," Charity says. "And apparently he can't just tell me the magic words." She throws up her hands. "Because that would be too easy, wouldn't it?"
Vanessa smiles at her then crouches down beside Johnny. "Shall I give Charity a clue? And maybe she'll guess what they are?"
"Okay." He yawns and rubs at his eye.
Standing back up, Vanessa moves over to her, placing her hands on her hips. Charity lifts an eyebrow and Vanessa smiles. "Okay, what did you say to me, by mistake, a couple of months back when you were kissing me goodbye?" Charity blushes. "Followed by a flamin' meltdown and then by you grovelling on my doorstep with your toothbrush and slippers in your hand?"
Charity knows exactly what words Vanessa's referring to. "Really? That's it?" Charity groans. "Might've known it'd be something like that with the pair of you."
She turns around and bends down to Johnny's eye level, happy to have figured out his secret. She lifts an eyebrow. "I love you."
He grins and throws his arms around her neck. "I love you too, Charity."
Her smile slowly drops as she wraps her arms around his little body, falling to her knees as she hugs him close, her face buried in his shoulder. When she'd said the words to him, she was just playing along with his game, unlocking the key to him going to bed.
She didn't know that she meant them until she heard him say them back to her. So freely and easily. She feels Vanessa's hand squeeze her shoulder. Johnny lifts his head and she swallows hard, trying to get herself under control enough to smile at him when their eyes meet.
"Will you 'member for next time?" he asks, seriously.
"Oh, yeah. I don't think I'll forget them in a hurry." She squeezes his waist.
Vanessa rests her chin on Charity's shoulder. "Bed. Now." She leans in and kisses his cheek. "I love you."
"I love you, Mummy." He climbs into bed and Charity shuffles forward on her knees to pull the covers over him.
"Night, babes." She kisses his forehead. Vanessa flicks on his nightlight and then slips her hand into Charity's as they head for the door. Charity glances over at Johnny, finding that his eyes are already closed, his breathing deep and even. She smiles and switches off the light. On the landing, she turns to face Vanessa. That look is on her face. Tracy calls it her Beauty and the Beast look. They'd both been quite insulted by that until Tracy had pulled up 'Something There' on YouTube. And then only Charity had been insulted. It's there now. All big sparkly eyes and soft smile. Charity sighs and rolls her eyes.
"Yeah, fine, I love the kid." She crosses her arms over her chest.
"I knew that already. Same as I knew you loved me," Vanessa tells her, sliding her hands down Charity's arms, untangling them and wrapping them around her own waist. "Still nice hearing you say it, though."
Charity leans in and kisses her, just a soft brush of lips, before pulling back. "Johnny told me a story tonight."
"Oh yeah?" Vanessa's eyes are trained on her mouth. "What story did he tell you?"
"It was about the sun." She plays with the collar on Vanessa's shirt. "Making some bloke warm enough to take his coat off."
"The North Wind and the Sun." Vanessa rolls her eyes. "He loves that one."
Charity hides her smile, unsurprised that Vanessa's oblivious to the significance of the story; that she's the sun in Charity's life. The one, the only one, who was gentle and patient and who made Charity warm and safe enough to peel off her layers of armour.
"Mmmhmmm." Charity leans in again, stopping just short of Vanessa's mouth, their noses bumping gently. "Well, Little Miss Sunshine." She nods to Vanessa's bedroom door. "How about we go in there and see if you're hot enough to get me to take anything off, eh?"
Vanessa breathes a laugh against her lips. "Great. I'll never be able to read that story to him again now."
Charity closes the tiny space and presses her lips to Vanessa's, feeling her smile.
"You can read it to me instead."
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