DISCLAIMER: Not mine. I promise I'm only borrowing them and will return them to their rightful owners whenever they ask for them back. My imagination took a flight of fancy.....my bank account stayed empty. (Not mine, no profit, just some day-dreaming I wrote down - everything belongs to the BBC and Sally Wainwright).
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is gentle fluff - it has neither angst nor high drama but gently potters along and is almost certainly a little bit sugary and 'neat', but that's what this pairing triggers for me and I make no apology. Reading all the other stories in this 'verse is now assumed to be vital. To make things work, I've decided Kate went to Cambridge University (to compliment Caroline's Oxford University pedigree) and William is now there himself. Lawrence is about 14 and in his last year before embarking on the two year GCSE courses (UK school years 10 and 11). John is still being brattish but the divorce is progressing to plan and very much 'off screen'. I assumed (based on the references to A Level exams, that the first series ended in June/July and that therefore, this story centres on the Easter School holidays that follow.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
CHALLENGE: Written for Epic Proportions 2013.
FEEDBACK: To ncruuk[at]gmail.com
Some Dances in Harrogate
"He'll want to go on the ski trip!"
"Okay." Abandoning her book, Kate relaxed back into the armchair, prepared to enjoy whatever seemingly random panic had triggered Caroline's telephone call at twenty past ten.
"Skiing's not like rugby," Caroline dropped wearily into the couch, resisting the urge to put her feet up she might never stand up again if she were to get that comfortable. Was it possible for someone to return from a five day rugby trip with more clothes than they'd left with? Evidently, returning with anything not caked in mud was an impossibility.
"No, it's not," agreed Kate cautiously, having absolutely no idea where this conversation was headed.
"But it's less muddy, which has to be a good thing right?"
"I think you're going to need to start at the beginning Caroline " encouraged Kate gently, unable to keep up the pretence of following her girlfriend's comments anymore.
"Don't be Lawrence enjoyed himself?"
"Yes he played all the matches, wasn't teased because of me .sounds like he even made a couple of new friends, oh, and he sprained his wrist."
"His wrist? How?"
"The last match something to do with a mauling ruck or something " Caroline and rugby only had a passing acquaintance, " apparently it's no more serious than a bad bruise he's got to wear a bandage for a couple more days," explained Caroline, remembering the gist of the obligatory note the School Nurse had sent Lawrence home with, a note which basically every boy on the rugby tour got for one bump or bruise or other. Fortunately, there hadn't been anything more serious to report to the Headmistress on the trip's return that lunchtime.
"Why wouldn't I be?" Caroline sounded genuinely perplexed by Kate's question.
"You are allowed to do the whole 'upset mother thing'," prompted Kate gently, reminding Caroline of the little speech she'd given the sports' teacher on the first night of the trip.
"Oh." Understanding Kate's point, Caroline tucked her feet up under her as she settled back into the couch, all earlier plans to resist getting comfortable abandoned as she considered her girlfriend's observation, "I think it's relief actually," decided Caroline finally.
"Relief that it wasn't more serious?" Kate knew that wasn't the reason but couldn't quite identify another reason she was confident enough to suggest over the telephone.
"Yes, well, no. I mean obviously, I'm his mother, I don't want him to get hurt at all "
"Course not," murmured Kate, knowing Caroline would get to her point eventually, happy to picture her girlfriend curled up on the couch, probably fiddling with the edge of her jumper as she worked out what she wanted to say.
"It's just he's so different to William " Kate decided now wasn't the moment to list off all the ways she found the two brothers to be similar, " not that I don't love William, love both of them " Caroline was starting to sound a little bit panicked, prompting Kate to interrupt.
"Society establishes behavioural clichés."
"What?" Kate's sudden interjection served its intended purpose by stopping Caroline from starting to disappear into her own, half verbalised thoughts and instead pulled her back into more of a discussion with Kate.
"We're all brought up expecting to see behavioural clichés and stereotypes fulfilled," started Kate, pausing to see if Caroline was going to interrupt her or whether she needed a bigger hint: she needed a bigger hint. "The obvious ones are that girls will like boys and boys will like girls "
"And boy's baby clothes are blue whilst girls' are pink?"
"Quite. Another one is that mothers should expect their sons to be physical and athletic rather than quiet and bookish," commented Kate, pleased Caroline was getting her point.
"As a teacher, I know that is ridiculous and regularly tell parents that gender has no greater bearing on personality than any other of the myriad of influencing factors." Caroline had definitely got Kate's point, at least professionally.
"But as a mother " Kate wasn't sure how far to push the point, so waited for Caroline to make it for her.
"As a mother, I'd always wondered if it was somehow my fault "
"You know it doesn't work like that," chided Kate gently, wishing she was able to provide physical comfort to Caroline by sitting next to her but also recognising they would probably not be having this conversation tonight if Kate had been at Caroline's, with Caroline often finding it easier to talk about such things if she couldn't see or be seen by Kate.
"Intellectually, I've always known, but emotionally? I forget sometimes," admitted Caroline quietly, causing Kate to smile.
"So we just need to remind forgetful emotional you that intellectual you is always right," teased Kate, trying not to remember a similar conversation she'd had months earlier with Celia whilst it had had a happy outcome, the events that had lead up to it were painful memories still.
"Mmm." The noise from Caroline was indistinct, and Kate couldn't work out what Caroline was saying, unless
"Did you just stick your tongue out at me?"
"Maybe?" laughed Caroline, genuinely relaxing now.
"Incredible!" joked Kate, pleased her words had been the right ones and that Caroline was calm again, and, more crucially, that she'd shared her uncertainty and doubt with Kate.
"He had so much fun Kate "
"Good, I'm glad." They'd both been worried that the five nights away would have been too much for Lawrence not because of being away from home but because they both knew, from experience, that the teachers could only completely supervise behaviour some of the time and what was often acceptable and tolerable as a little bit of friendly banter for a few minutes one lunch time could rapidly turn into full on bullying away from the routine of the school day.
"He's going to want to go on the ski trip," repeated Caroline, their conversation coming full circle.
"Has he asked before?" The ski trip happened every February half term and was open to anyone in Years 8-10. Lawrence was currently in Year 9.
"No I don't think he really noticed it last year, certainly none of his friends had skied and this year the forms didn't come out at a good time," said Caroline hollowly, recalling how horrible the start of the school year in September had been for all of them with John reacting so very badly to the start of the divorce proceedings.
"Has he mentioned it?" Kate deliberately tried to not them dwell in the past, however briefly.
"Not specifically, just very enthusiastic about sports trips generally and hoping he can be on next year's rugby trip."
"I'm sure he will be, he's evidently quite good," agreed Kate, recalling the various discussions she'd overheard in the staff room and what she'd seen and heard when they'd gone to watch some of his matches at the school Lawrence Elliot was definitely not on the rugby team because his mother was Headmistress.
"Which is why he'll go on the ski trip!"
"How do you know? Isn't it always oversubscribed?" Kate was struggling to work out exactly what was driving Caroline's worry.
"Yes, but he'll meet the criteria he's not been before, is physically fit and active, no disciplinary record, average or better grades in the majority of his subjects;" Caroline's automatic recitation of the criteria the school used to shortlist the pupils was hardly a surprise considering she was the final Judge and Jury for any parent who couldn't accept the Sports Department's decision. "It wouldn't matter that he's never skied before."
"Ah." And suddenly, Kate understood the problem. "It's quite unusual for Year 10s to apply if they've never skied before, isn't it?"
"Yes, and usually they're disqualified for one reason or another, usually the disciplinary record."
"Only interested in the après-ski?" guessed Kate, probably able to name three or four such pupils if she really thought about it.
"Mischief makers," confirmed Caroline.
"Lawrence isn't that though."
"No! But he might not be any good rugby isn't skiing."
"It would be too easy " agreed Kate, all too readily able to picture the generally amiable (especially when compared with the average teenage boy) Headmistress' son being picked on by the younger pupils who were all proficient skiers whilst he struggled in the ski school sessions.
"He might be a natural," reasoned Kate, an idea forming, though she had no idea how Caroline would react to it.
"He might be Bambi on ice!"
"So let's find out?"
"What?" Kate's perfectly calm suggestion had caused Caroline to sit up properly on her couch.
"Let's see if there's a last minute deal to a good resort and offer the boys a week skiing," suggested Kate adding, "we were talking about trying to get away for a week, altogether."
"I was thinking the Caribbean "
"I know you were "
"How?" Caroline was sure she hadn't begun dropping hints yet.
"You talked in your sleep on Saturday morning."
"Oh oh!" Caroline blushed as she remembered that dream and how her mother had interrupted it Celia still hadn't rung her yet.
"We could go skiing " repeated Kate thoughtfully, allowing Caroline to get over her momentary embarrassment, " that way, if Lawrence hates it, he doesn't need to bother with the school trip and, if he likes it, he's not a total beginner."
"Is a week enough?"
"If it's done right," said Kate with a conviction that hinted at past experience.
"You can ski, can't you?"
"Only sport I mastered, other than running," admitted Kate, wondering how Caroline would react.
"Are you real?" That was not what Kate had expected.
"Think so felt pretty real when I put most of 9T in detention this afternoon, and felt very real this morning when you were " Kate couldn't finish her gentle teasing.
"Yes, well, what I meant was " Now it was Caroline's turn to be interrupted.
"Caroline, I'm not superwoman I read French and Italian Literature in French and Italian because I studied those languages and continue to use them in my job. I have one hobby, which is playing the piano and organ. I'm hopeless at all sports except skiing, which I'm only any good at because I spent part of a Gap Year being a Chalet Girl and had no choice but to learn, and I was only a Chalet Girl in the first place to improve my French and Italian."
"Sounds rather dull when you put it like that," agreed Caroline, accepting Kate's underlying point.
"This from a woman who knows how to make explosives and nerve gas!"
"I've a doctorate in Chemistry " protested Caroline before conceding, " which is exactly your point.
"Do you want to sleep on it?" suggested Kate, conscious tomorrow was going to be a long day for both of them, what with the school concert in the evening.
"I've never skied."
"Have you ever wanted to?"
"So don't ski doubt William will want to ski if there's a log fire, books to read and his Mum for company." It was all too easy for Kate to picture the scene.
"That sounds lovely," agreed Caroline, unable to articulate how much she had missed her eldest son whilst he'd been at university: seeing him at the weekend had only made her realise how much, although it had been wonderful to see him, "you sure you don't mind?"
"Mind going skiing if he likes it you'll get no peace," said Caroline, remembering what Lawrence had been like when, with Kate's help, he'd first discovered the Asterix books.
"Depends " pondered Kate, regretfully realising she had to think about going to bed.
"On how many massages you'll give me."
"I think I might like you going skiing " muttered Caroline, suddenly getting some rather attractive images flashing through her mind.
"I'll have a look, see what's available?" asked Kate, trying to get their conversation back on track.
"I won't say anything," agreed Caroline, not wanting to get Lawrence's hopes up.
"Okay then " Kate wasn't entirely sure how to finish the conversation but Caroline's unexpected yawn solved the problem, " bed, for both of us."
"I'm going to miss waking up with you," admitted Caroline, not caring if she sounded silly spending the last five nights with Kate had been blissful.
"Me too," confirmed Kate, trying not to dwell on the significance of that statement realistically and practically, they were still a long way off being able to think about changing living arrangements.
"I'm going to fall asleep here," confessed Caroline after she'd yawned a second time.
"We both have beds time to use them," decided Kate, standing up.
"Night, love you ."
"Go to bed Caroline."
"Yes yes " Sleepily, Caroline stood up, "I'm standing up, I'm going to bed."
"Good " Kate smiled as she pictured a sleepy Caroline starting to turn out the lights ready to retreat to her bedroom, " I love you too, now, sleep well."
"And you, night." And, with a discipline that always surprised them, they both hung up the phone after all, they'd both see each other in the morning, even if it wasn't really the same as waking up together.
"What do you think?" Kate occupied herself with filling the kettle in Caroline's kitchen whilst she waited for Caroline to finish looking at the resort details she'd printed off from the internet.
"I think I don't care if the boys want to come or not," decided Caroline, shuffling through the papers until she found the two she was particularly interested in, "for that fireplace and bathtub? I might even try skiing."
"Really?" Admittedly, Kate had found a chalet that had a master bedroom with its own fireplace and decadent en-suite bathroom to help make her case, but she hadn't thought it would make her case that well.
"Well no, but I can certainly see myself enjoying a week relaxing there I think I'm too old to worry about starting to ski now."
"Caroline! You are not too old," objected Kate as she turned the kettle on, "have you ever wanted to ski?"
"Well then, age has nothing to do with it," decided Kate, moving across the kitchen to find some mugs for the tea.
"Why is it so big?" Apparently the lodge slept 10, which seemed a bit excessive for just four of them.
"I was trying to find one with two other bedrooms that didn't have bunk beds didn't think either William or Lawrence were the bunk bed type."
"No, I think you're right," laughed Caroline, finding the photograph of the one bedroom that did have bunk beds, "although knowing Lawrence he'll decide it's 'awesome' and want that one," she acknowledged, holding up the picture.
"I thought we could let Lawrence invite Sam and William invite Matt " Kate focussed intently on making their tea now the kettle had boiled, " might be a good way for Lawrence to get to know Matt?"
"I think that's a wonderful idea," agreed Caroline, crossing the kitchen and standing behind Kate, enabling her to wrap her arms around her girlfriend's waist and press a kiss to her neck, "I don't think Sam's ever skied before either," she muttered, trying to recall if Lawrence had ever mentioned his best friend going skiing.
"What about John, do you have to " As much as Kate hated bringing up John, she knew that, even with the divorce nearly finalised in spite of numerous spoiling attempts on his part, it was important they did everything by the book, and taking Lawrence abroad for a few days would certainly require a phone call to Caroline's solicitor.
"Ask his permission? No, but I will get the lawyers to tell him," acknowledged Caroline, remembering the detail of the latest temporary custody arrangement which, thanks to John's generally woeful behaviour in the past was decidedly in her favour. "How are we going to get there?"
"I've always driven, but 6 won't fit in your Jeep, not to mention William " Fortunately, William had discovered that as long as he was driving, he wasn't car sick, but it would be cruel to make him drive all the way to the Alps in order to avoid being a passenger.
"Drive in one go? From here?" Caroline's rather sketchy European geography was deserting her, but it felt a long way to the French Alps from Harrogate.
"Not in one go, that's not much fun." Tea making forgotten, Kate was content to relax in Caroline's embrace and explain. "If you have lots of drivers you can do it in one go, but it's nice to stop for the night around Lyon somewhere only a couple of hours away from the resort."
"Because it means you'd wake up in the morning and arrive at the resort a couple of hours later, the car full of good food and, depending if you stopped North or South of Lyon, a few bottles of Burgundy or Côte du Rhône plus you get into the ski rental ahead of the crowds who arrive in the afternoon from the flights and trains."
"We could suggest Matt and William fly?" said Caroline, liking the idea of driving through France with Kate like many people, her geographic grasp of France was almost non-existent but she knew a significant bit about the country's food and wine.
"What about Sam and Lawrence?"
"Gives them time for Sam to get used to not calling you Miss McKenzie," teased Caroline, pressing another cheeky kiss to Kate's neck, " and it will be good practice for the ski trip that's all by coach."
"Mmm, he calls you Dr Elliot," pointed out Kate, trying not to be distracted by the kiss, "anyway, hadn't we better ask them first?"
"In a minute," agreed Caroline, loosening her grasp on Kate's waist just enough for the other woman to be able to turn slightly, enabling them to both enjoy a brief, languid kiss that didn't really go anywhere (it couldn't, not with the boys in the other room) but didn't need to, being extremely enjoyable just as it was.
"Boys, can you turn off the TV please?" asked Caroline as she and Kate entered the sitting room to see William and Lawrence half watching some rugby game, Lawrence evidently explaining something to his older brother.
"Mum " Lawrence's protest was only a token one, and everyone knew it, as William turned the TV off.
"It was only highlights," explained William, earning him a dirty look from his younger brother.
"Kate and I were wondering if you'd like to go away for a few days, before term starts again for all of us," began Caroline, sitting down on the footstool so she could keep a close eye on both their reactions.
"Where?" asked William as, simultaneously, Lawrence asked "why?"
"French Alps to ski, if you want to," Caroline fully expected Kate would have to take over explaining soon.
"You hate skiing," declared Lawrence, frowning.
"I hate being cold and don't see the point in doing something guaranteed to make me fall over," clarified Caroline before adding, "and your father hates skiing," she corrected gently, wondering how Lawrence would interpret that he was still rather unpredictable when it came to reacting to references to his father.
"He used to swear at Ski Sunday " remembered William, glancing sideways at his brother, clearly trying to pre-empt an automatic negative reaction.
"Oh yeah! And any ski adverts on the TV didn't he light the fire with the ski bits of the paper?" asked Lawrence, evidently remembering enough about his father's attitude to winter sports to accept his mother's statement without an angry defence of his absent father.
"Why now?" asked William, not entirely against the idea of a few days away, but only as long as he didn't have to ski he was inclined to agree with his mother on that.
"I ski, skied a lot when I was at university thought you might like to have a go Lawrence; William, if you like, but you don't have to, ski I mean," explained Kate, trying not to start to ramble when she felt herself becoming nervous.
"Really? Awesome!" It seemed Lawrence was sold on the idea, "and then I can do the ski trip next year, right Mum?"
"We'll see you might not like it " teased Caroline, resisting the urge to mouth 'I told you so' to Kate.
"William?" asked Kate, watching the thoughtful young man with interest.
"I don't want to ski."
"Neither does your mother." William considered Kate's response for a moment, clearly weighing up the agony of spending time with his brother somewhere cold against having time with Caroline, without Lawrence in the way.
"Okay, sounds good, sounds great, thank you." As acceptances went, it was quieter and calmer than his brother's but no less committed.
"Okay then, said Caroline, preparing to stand up and let them get back to their rugby watching or whatever it was they were doing, "oh, Lawrence - you want to invite Sam?"
"Really? Cool..." Seeing his mother frown, he quickly amended his response, "that would be wonderful Mum, if you're sure?"
"It's up to his parents, but yes, Kate and I are sure," agreed Caroline before turning her attention to her eldest, "do you want to invite Matt?" she asked, one eye trained on Lawrence in case he decided to act inappropriately.
"I'd like that," agreed William, adding, "I think he knows how to ski Kate, so maybe you can have some company."
"Sounds good," agreed Kate, like Caroline, waiting to see how Lawrence would react.
"Do you think he could teach Sam and me that tackling thing he was telling me about?" asked Lawrence, surprising everyone, including William.
"Why don't we wait to see if he wants to come first, okay?" suggested Caroline gently, trying not to laugh at the look of surprise on William's face. Of all the reactions from Lawrence they might have had, that clearly wasn't the one he was expecting.
"I'll go and start booking it," said Kate, preparing to head to Caroline's study where the computer was.
"Can I ring Sam?" and, rugby forgotten, the Elliot household was full of activity as suddenly they were all galvanised into action - they were going on holiday!
"Can I ask you a question?" called out Caroline as she put a glass of water down on the bedside table that was gradually becoming 'Kate's'.
"Course..." replied Kate, remaining focused on removing her make up in the en suite bathroom which, based on the array of foundation colours lined up on the counter, was gradually becoming 'theirs'.
"Why do you only read English books in bed?"
"Pardon?" Of everything Kate might have anticipated Caroline wanting to ask her at that moment, that hadn't made even the top twenty of possible questions.
"Sorry, I'm being nosy..." apologised Caroline, misunderstanding Kate's lack of an answer.
"No, you're not," corrected Kate, coming into the bedroom, bottle of moisturiser in her hand, "just hadn't heard the question properly - something about books in bed?" Leaning against the wardrobe, she began methodically rubbing the moisturiser into her face and neck whilst she waited for Caroline to repeat her question.
"In bed, you always read English books?" This time, the context of the question was provided by Caroline holding up the book she'd had to move in order to put down the glass of water.
"Habit from University," said Kate automatically before, with a wry smile when she saw Caroline's rather pointed look, elaborated, "I found if I was reading in French or Italian I then dreamt in French or Italian. You do not want to know how 'shouty' my dreams were."
"Shouty?" Caroline frowned, not quite grasping Kate's meaning.
"Exuberant, voluble, dramatic..." Kate's elaboration was accompanied by an exaggerated Gallic 'shrug' and flailing arm gesticulation.
"Just generally irritating...and confusing," concluded Kate, putting the lotion back in the bathroom.
"Oh?" Caroline was intrigued - although her subject had intruded on her dreams, latterly replaced by her job and family and then, most recently, Kate, it clearly had a rather different impact on the dreams of her linguist.
"I don't think you'd make much sense as a flamboyant Italian," stated Kate as, bathroom in darkness, she made her way across to the bed, only realising once she was in bed and Caroline was still sat on the bed that her comment had managed to render Caroline speechless and generally dumbstruck.
"Caroline?" Rolling over, she reached out to put her hand on Caroline's back.
"You dream about me?"
"In Italian? No...generally? Yes." Sensing this minor comment was turning into an accidental mini-revelation about 'normal' relationships, Kate stretched further so she could get Caroline to turn around and look at her, "I'd kind of assumed you were dreaming about me..." she said quickly, relieved to see Caroline's troubled expression break into a smile, "you did call me the girl of your dreams..."
"Not in Italian I'm not!" Although it was meant as a joke, Kate recognised it for what it was, which was Caroline's attempt to regain her equilibrium.
"Who is Zanzibar Buck Buck Mc-something?" asked Kate, shifting across the bed so she was lying diagonally against the pillows, better able to converse with Caroline who seemed content to stay sitting on the side of the bed.
"Who?" For a moment, Caroline was baffled before blushing when she remembered. "Umm, you remember when William was telling us about Matt?" began Caroline slowly, trying to work out how to explain without mentioning that horrendous dinner.
"Yes..." Intrigued, Kate reached forward and began playing with the edge of Caroline's pyjama top, pleased her random question was seemingly generating a topic change.
"And we asked if he was Welsh?"
"Seemed an obvious question with a surname like Jones."
"I had a similar conversation with my mother, about you once..." hedged Caroline, watching Kate's fingers fiddling with the grey fabric, "only with added sarcasm."
"Not unreasonable," conceded Kate, smiling at the sarcasm comment - Celia really did spark Caroline's sarcastic side.
"I can't believe I never told you this..." Caroline, seeing how she was going to finish explaining herself without needing to mention that horrible dinner, started to relax.
"Go on..." encouraged Kate, lifting up the bedclothes when she realised Caroline was now preparing to actually get into bed as she talked.
"So I say you're called Kate and Mum says something inane like 'oh, she's called Kate is she' and I said no..." Caroline paused in her retelling to get comfortable, eschewing the pillow for Kate's shoulder, "she's called Zanzibar Buck Buck McFate but Kate was easier."
"Wow." Kate was trying not to laugh but not doing a particularly good job.
"Unsurprisingly, I don't think she believed the Nigerian bit until she actually met you..." Caroline winced when she realised she'd potentially put her foot in her mouth after all.
"I'm not surprised!" teased Kate, wrapping her arm around Caroline's shoulders as she gently guided Caroline into a marginally more comfortable position, a task made harder by the odd angle she was still lying at.
"How'd you even know?" asked Caroline, trying to remember how they'd ever got onto this.
"You sometimes mumble in your sleep."
"Ah, oh, you said so when we first talked about skiing," remembered Caroline, trying to work out why Kate's shoulder wasn't as comfortable as it usually was.
"My feet are cold." It was Caroline's turn to be thrown by the non-sequitur.
"Pardon?" Caroline tipped her head back to look up at Kate's face.
"My feet..." Kate pointed to her foot which she'd stuck up in the air, enabling Caroline to see they were actually lying at an odd angle still, with Kate's feet hanging off the side of the bed.
"Oops." Sheepishly, Caroline rolled off Kate, enabling both of them to have a quick shuffle before settling in what had become their established sleeping position, Caroline snuggled into Kate's side, Kate's shoulder serving as her pillow.
"Speaking of Matt..." began Kate conversationally once they were settled again, "...Lawrence...does he..."
"Mmm, he knows, has done for a few weeks," said Caroline, idly tracing random patterns on Kate's stomach through her pyjama top.
"But we, I mean, you..." Kate's ability to form a coherent question appeared to have deserted her, not that it stopped Caroline from understanding.
"It seems William texted Lawrence at the start of term asking him something about rugby; Lawrence asked him why he cared and William told him, about Matt."
"Just like that?" Kate was amazed.
"Seems so..." Caroline trailed off as she thought for a moment, "I think Lawrence kind of knew - he was rather unpleasant with how he taunted William.
"They're brothers - I was no better with my sister," reassured Kate, remembering some of the 'moment's that had her mother wondering if there would ever be peace in the McKenzie household.
"...but I think it was, originally, a real wish to know. It just became a bit..."
"With added brat," agreed Caroline, taking automatic advantage of the gap in between the top of Kate's pyjama bottoms and the bottom of her pyjama top in order to continue her random patterns directly onto her lover's stomach.
"And you're okay? With Lawrence knowing and not saying anything?" Kate couldn't work out from Caroline's calm whether she was actually okay or numb.
"Yes, well, now I am. I wasn't, but, whilst you were on the phone with the chalet people..." Caroline paused, "...or Matt's mother, one of the two..." At Matt's suggestion, once he'd said to William he'd love to come, Kate had a long chat with his mother during which the Nigerian family trees had been dutifully reviewed and discussed, including a comparison of elderly, Nigeria-based grandparents. Suffice to say, not only had it resulted in Matt's mother deciding William was 'almost a good Nigerian', but it had given Caroline, William and Lawrence plenty of time to talk, "...William had wanted to tell me in person, tell us in person and he'd also got Lawrence to agree it wasn't his news to tell me, that he had to let his brother do it. I'm mainly just relieved they're talking to each other and not lying."
"It's probably easier...now..." Caroline's patterns were becoming increasingly distracting for Kate.
"Now John's gone?" suggested Caroline, all too aware of how, rather than mediating the relationship between the two brothers he'd often actually stirred it, taking advantage of Caroline's position to cast her as the disciplinarian.
"Now William's at university - my mum would tell you we were horrible once both of us were at Senior School but we seemed to become friends again the minute I went to Cambridge."
"Your sister's four years younger?" remembered Caroline, her fingers starting to creep higher up Kate's body towards her ribs.
"Yeah..." Pleased Caroline seemed okay with the discovery that Lawrence had known for a few weeks longer than they had and, sensing their conversation had probably reached a natural conclusion, for tonight at least, Kate allowed herself to stop fighting her instincts finally. "...Caroline?"
"If you want to talk about our families, you need to move your hand." Caroline obliged, sort of. "Not that way," ground out Kate through gritted teeth.
"And if I don't?" she asked cheekily.
"We really, really need to stop talking..."
"Mmm..." and, not disagreeing, Caroline did exactly that.
It was at times like this that Caroline truly appreciated the fact that not only was Kate in her life, but that she was actually a morning person. It was half past six in the morning and, without any argument or discord, they were about to set off on the drive to Folkstone with a minor detour to Matt's to drop off William.
"You okay?" asked Kate, interrupting Caroline's thoughts as she came into the kitchen.
"Really?" Kate was immediately suspicious she'd spent enough mornings with Caroline to know that 'marvellous' was not how Caroline generally considered the world to be this close to dawn, unless it involved a particular activity they definitely hadn't had time for this morning.
"Really," confirmed Caroline, smiling in reassurance at her girlfriend before explaining, "just thinking how much I love that you're a morning person."
"That's a new one," laughed Kate, not remembering Caroline ever making that particular compliment, "you sure you're okay?"
"Perfect," confirmed Caroline, pressing a rapid kiss to Kate's lips, "how are the boys?"
"William's just programming the sat-nav so it doesn't shout the directions at him; Lawrence and Sam are working out how to sit." The sat-nav comment Caroline understood William found the sudden announcements unsettling when he was driving and he wasn't going to need to rely on them with Kate acting as his navigator.
"There's a seating plan?" Surely it was fairly clear she, Lawrence and Sam were sat together in the back, all given permission to go back to sleep once they'd set off it was their agreed reward for all getting up and dressed at 6am without protest.
"Sam is trying to decide what is least horrifying falling asleep and drooling on his best friend or his headmistress," said Kate, clearly amused by the teenager's apparent dilemma, "and don't make fun of him I'm not sure he's entirely recovered from the spare room conversation last night."
"I'm praying he just thinks that makes me even more scary," joked Caroline, remembering with distaste family holidays when the two boys were small and, on aircraft with seats in rows of three, she'd always ended up in the middle seat between them. The only pleasant (and that was a relative term) outcome usually involved both boys fast asleep against her, trapping her arms so all she could do was glare at John or the ceiling. She didn't imagine it would be much more enjoyable now.
"Be nice " warned Kate, stealing another kiss, " once we've dropped William off you get to escape the back seat." They both knew William's nerves would not cope with the motorway traffic and his mother in the front seat, but it was very kind of him to offer to drive a leg meaning both Caroline and Kate were fresher for the long drive down through France later in the day.
"I'll be very nice," agreed Caroline, wondering if Kate would indulge her in one final kiss before they set off, "is he still embarrassed?"
"Sam? Yes I'd expect to have to answer to Dr Elliot, at least until France; he's calling me Miss McKenzie again."
"Have you said anything?"
"No thought we'd see what happened later once everyone's properly awake. It might just be because he's half asleep."
"But your instinct is probably right," sighed Caroline, feeling sorry for the boy it had been a totally innocent comment over dinner by the well-mannered boy who, noticing the bed in the spare room opposite Lawrence's room was unmade, had offered his assistance so that, as he said to Kate, 'you can go straight to bed and sleep quickly.'
"Let's not worry about it now William will probably be ready now anyway."
"Mmm one for the road?" asked Caroline, trying not to think how many hours it might be before she was able to enjoy a 'proper' kiss again Sam wasn't the only one struggling to adjust to a non-teacher/pupil relationship.
"Mmm not to mention the tunnel " agreed Kate, sharing her girlfriend's thoughts completely. William could wait five minutes
"How you doing?"
"Fine Mum, Kate's a good navigator," said William as he walked across the Service Area car park with his mother, heading back towards the car where Kate had stayed with the two sleeping teenagers.
"And you're a good driver," complimented Caroline, wrapping her arm around her eldest son's shoulders.
"You were asleep, I saw, in the mirror."
"And I wouldn't have gone to sleep if I didn't think you were a good driver," explained Caroline, knowing William was familiar with her inability to sleep in most forms of transport except under the most relaxed or exhausted circumstances, "so stop arguing," she teased.
"Yes Mum," agreed William, slipping from her grasp as they approached the Jeep and headed for the front passenger door having spotted Kate leaning against the rear bumper.
"They still asleep?"
"Yup think William's getting the incriminating evidence now," joked Kate, recalling the rather unexpected sight of Sam and Lawrence fast asleep and leaning against each other, Sam having volunteered Lawrence for the middle seat to eliminate the risk of using his Headmistress as some combination of pillow and teddy bear.
"Ah, probably best I don't know that," decided Caroline, happy to relegate that knowledge into her very selective memory, "how you doing?" she asked, instinctively reaching out to play with the edge of Kate's jacket, not wanting to be more demonstrative in the middle of a motorway service area car park but wanting some sort of contact.
"Fine William's done really well but I'm going to drive the next bit, unless you?"
"All yours I'm enjoying my naps too much," and, much to her surprise, Caroline did really mean that she was enjoying the fact that she had actually been able to fall asleep shortly after William had joined the motorway, the combination of the early start and not having to worry about John's rather erratic driving clearly helping with that.
"Okay unless we hit traffic, I think next stop is going to be at Matt's house," decided Kate, please with the progress they were making, "then you can drive us onto the train, since I'm guessing it's my turn in France?" speculated Kate, knowing Caroline had been adamant that Calais would be as bad as any airport for trying to exit and it made sense for the fluent French speaker to be driving.
"Don't we need petrol?"
"Full tank you all slept through that probably best to stop again before the Tunnel though."
"Should I just shut up and go back to sleep then?" asked Caroline, amazed at how soundly she'd evidently slept if she'd managed to miss them stopping for petrol.
"Mmm, you clearly needed it," agreed Kate, looking at Caroline's eyes which were brighter and clearer than Kate had seen for a few days as, determined not to bring any work with her on their holiday, Caroline had, if anything been working harder and sleeping less than she did in term time. However, her reward, which was actually everyone's reward, was that that she didn't have to worry about anything school related until the pre-term staff day, a reward that everyone was looking forward to enjoying.
"You sure you don't mind driving?"
"I'm sure. Anyway, I'm not sure Lawrence would sleep through using me as a pillow I know I wouldn't," commented Kate, smiling as she remembered looking back at the sleeping pair whilst William drove. Like William, she'd quietly taken some pictures which, at some point she would share, but not just yet.
"You sleep through me using you as a pillow "
"So different, so very different," laughed Kate, "now, time to continue..." and, with a quick kiss to Caroline's cheek, she set off to the driver's door.
"You do know you're magnificent?" called out Caroline quietly, stopping Kate in her tracks, not used to hearing Caroline use that word, "I mean, I know you think that about me but you are, too, magnificent as well as amazingly pretty and pretty amazing " Caroline came to a stop just behind Kate, " I haven't said that for a while, but it's true, you are " Not quite sure what she might say next, Caroline just stood by the car door awkwardly, waiting for Kate to respond.
"If we weren't in the middle of a long drive with three teenagers I'd turn around and we probably wouldn't move for a while," admitted Kate hoarsely, completely wrong-footed by Caroline's spontaneous declaration, "but we are, so I won't, because I only have so much restraint " Kate's eyes closed as she felt Caroline's hands slip around her waist and her chin come to rest on Kate's shoulder, " which you are sorely testing " she grumbled good-naturedly, knowing that Caroline really wasn't going to push this moment any further than she already had.
"I love you, and I love this holiday and the fact we couldn't do this without you, and not just because you can speak French really, really well "
"I love you to, and although I've missed you and missed this " Kate patted Caroline's clasped hands to emphasise her point, " this last week I'm really looking forward to the rest of the holidays now."
"Tonight's place is a chateau or something?" asked Caroline, knowing they really needed to get back on the motorway.
"Or something," agreed Kate, unable to recall the specific architectural history of the place they were staying in.
"But it's old? And solidly built?"
"Umm, yes?" Kate wasn't understanding Caroline's reasoning, but the place was certainly solidly constructed.
"Good I plan on celebrating your magnificence." Although no one could overhear them, she nevertheless whispered the comment, punctuating it with a quick kiss on Kate's neck, " now, hadn't we better get back on the road?" she asked cheekily.
"Evil " Smiling at the sudden turnabout, glad that her girlfriend was relaxed enough to goof around a little even if it was at Kate's own tormented expense, Kate opened the driver's door and got in there was a long drive still ahead of them but hopefully, if everything went in their favour, there would be an enjoyably long night too .
"So according to the directions, the next junction is ours," said William quietly, risking a quick scan of the email Matt had sent him whilst the car was stationary in the traffic jam.
"You going to be okay being my navigator?" asked Kate, inching the big car forward as the traffic started moving again.
"I think so seems fairly easy and I've memorised it," confirmed William, pleased Kate didn't mock him or get cross about his travel sickness the way his father did.
"We should wake them up then," said Kate, taking advantage of the once again stationary traffic to turn and look back at Lawrence and Sam who were still fast asleep. She didn't need to turn around to take in Caroline's snoozing form, with the rear-view mirror making that an enjoyable distraction during the otherwise uneventful motorway drive that had finally become extremely dull during the last few minutes of crawling traffic, "you got any ideas?" she asked, beginning to see that William had quite a mischievous streak if only a quiet enough opportunity presented itself.
"Radio 1 really, really loud should do it?" he suggested, already reaching for the car radio.
"Let me wake your Mum up first we do not need scary Dr Elliot in this car," instructed Kate, letting the car drift forward another few feet before quickly taking the opportunity to change lanes in preparation for their exit.
"Good point, she's all yours," decided William, moving his hand away from the radio as he also realised he'd actually never seen his mother be woken up in a car because he couldn't actually remember seeing her asleep in one prior to today's journey.
Glad they were crawling along at closer to five rather than seventy-five miles per hour, Kate reached behind her with her right hand until she could find Caroline's ankle which she proceeded to lightly tickle, watching her girlfriend's reaction carefully in the mirror.
"Mmph." Not fully waking, Caroline reached forward instinctively in an attempt to brush away the irritant, only to come fully awake when her fingers brushed Kate's arm and the seat belt stopped her leaning fully forward, " hello " she mumbled, waking fully and catching Kate's eye in the mirror.
"Hi okay William, time to wake the boys." Kate's reflected smirk was the only hint Caroline got that something was about to happen her son wasn't the only mischievous one in the car.
"Waah!" The ten second ear splitting burst of whatever Radio 1 was broadcasting served its purpose brilliantly, with Sam and Lawrence both immediately waking if only to work out what had been rude enough to interrupt their sleep in the first place. As an added advantage (for William anyway), they awoke so abruptly they sprang apart, leaving them none the wiser that they'd slept leaning on each other.
"Good morning," said Caroline dryly, resisting the urge to elbow Lawrence as hard as he'd just elbowed her.
"Where are we?" asked Lawrence, unaware of the incriminating evidence now on William's phone.
"About 15 minutes from Matt's house," said Kate just as the traffic began accelerating back up to conventional motorway speeds, meaning their exit was fast approaching.
"But we're not picking up Matt right?" asked Sam, still a little bit hazy on the details having been a bit too embarrassed to really pay close attention last night.
"Correct Sam we're dropping William off and picking up Matt's skis and bags we'll pick them both up from the airport tomorrow," explained Caroline kindly, glancing at her watch to see the time and realise that less time had elapsed since their service station stop than she'd thought.
"We probably shouldn't stay too long though," cautioned Kate, glancing at the clock on the dashboard.
"Long enough to use the bathroom Mum?" asked Lawrence, starting to feel a little uncomfortable now he was awake enough to notice.
"I should think so," confirmed Caroline, looking out the window so her son wouldn't see her smile she may have slept in the car for most of the journey and she may have managed to avoid being drooled on but some things would appear to never change bathroom breaks were a must!
"Umm, Miss McKenzie?"
"Yes Sam?" Kate turned away from watching Lawrence and Matt strap Matt's skis and snowboard to the Jeep's roof-rack and looked at the teenager who, taking advantage of Caroline and William being occupied with Matt's mother at the front door, was her only immediate company in the neat front garden.
"I'm sorry, about last night. I didn't mean to I mean, I didn't mean to assume about " Sensing he'd basically stumbled to a halt, Kate smiled and helped him out.
"About the spare room? Don't worry about it."
"I didn't think, I'm very sorry " he studied the gravel path carefully before asking finally, " is Dr Elliot very mad?"
"Caroline? Far from it " It was now Kate's turn to pause as she struggled to decide what to say next, since she wasn't entirely certain she could succinctly explain that his assumption about Kate sleeping in the spare room had impressed Caroline (she could only hope Lawrence would be as observant and courteous if he was staying at Sam's) and come as a great relief to them both as it suggested that their sleeping arrangements had at least managed to avoid the Year Eight gossip grape vine which, after Josephine Connor's outburst at the end of term, was a small blessing.
"Oh, good " Sam trailed off in relief, not quite understanding Kate's answer but not wanting to be on the bad side of Dr Elliot, only to realise what new transgression he might have now committed, " I mean, that is "
"Relax Sam," encouraged Kate, laughing at the knots he was seemingly determined to tie himself in, before adding conspiratorially, "I find 'Dr Elliot' scary too and have no wish to see her on my holiday either."
"Ah. Oh. Cool." Sam shoved his hands deep into his pockets as an awkward silence descended on them.
"Yes Miss McKenzie?"
"You've not been this nervous around Caroline before " began Kate, remembering a couple of occasions when she'd been around whilst Sam had been visiting the Elliot Household, " is it me making you nervous?"
"Umm " The very fact that he didn't know how to answer her question was, in itself, an answer for Kate.
"Is it because I'm your teacher?" Unlikely was Kate's guess but she didn't think he'd answer her if she asked her hunch directly.
"Not exactly," he mumbled, finding the gravel path fascinating.
"Is it because Caroline is " Kate paused to come up with a way to describe what she thought his difficulty was, " not like Dr Elliot but also not like Lawrence's mum?"
"Kinda " came the embarrassed, muttered mumble.
"She can be a bit silly, can't she?" asked Kate adopting the tone of a fellow conspirator again, remembering how Caroline had flicked soap suds at her whilst soaking the roasting tin last night.
"She's not as "
"Yeah, headmistress-y as she was, before " Sam didn't know how to mention the divorce but guessed Kate would be okay with that and just avoided it totally.
"It took Lawrence and William a bit of time too," agreed Kate, relieved to see him stop staring at the gravel and actually look up in her direction.
"She's really nice when she's happy oh!" Mortified, Sam looked in horror at Kate, who laughed.
"Don't worry, I know exactly what you meant," she agreed, smiling when she saw him relax. "You think you might be able to remember to call her Caroline now?"
"Or at least not call her Dr Elliot," he agreed, feeling a lot better now he'd talked about it it hadn't felt like something he could say to Lawrence.
"I'll have a go Kate," he said shyly, smiling nervously.
"Excellent." And, with a final shared grin of understanding, Kate and Sam settled into what was now a comfortable silence as they waited for everyone else to finish getting ready to head for the Eurotunnel they had a skiing holiday to get to!
"Throw gently please!" was Caroline's final plea as, rugby ball in hand, Sam and Lawrence slammed the doors of the Jeep shut, leaving Caroline and Kate to watch them start to gently pass the rugby ball Matt had lent them, keeping the throws about waist height and no longer than a couple of metres down the side of the Jeep which, despite being a large car, didn't fill their space on the train, giving them plenty of room to move around and stretch their legs.
"They'll behave," decided Kate, shifting in her seat so she could almost face Caroline, "and if they don't, I'll go all 'Miss McKenzie' on them," she declared, only half joking.
"I have no idea why you are considered to be the scarier teacher by my children and their friends," began Caroline, copying her girlfriend's example and shifting so she was almost facing Kate, " and I don't want to know," she continued, forestalling any chance Kate might have had to protest her innocence, "it's just nice not to always be the fierce one."
"You're a big softie," teased Kate gently, reaching out for Caroline's hand, "but your secret is safe with us," she continued, pleased to see Caroline beginning to smile.
"Sam's back to calling me 'Caroline'," observed Caroline as she started absently tracing patterns on Kate's knuckles, "and he's stopped calling you 'Miss McKenzie' but I haven't heard a 'Kate' yet."
"Give him a chance," encouraged Kate, having noticed he was more at ease with Caroline after they'd left Matt's and driven to Folkstone for the Eurotunnel, spending a few minutes actually sharing a joke or two about the recent rugby trip with her whilst they waited to drive onto the train, "he'll be okay soon enough having Matt around will help as well."
"You talked to him?"
"While you and William were saying goodbye," confirmed Kate, wondering if she'd get away with such a non-answer.
"Ka-ate " Judging by Caroline's sing-song elongation of her name, she hadn't.
"Can't a girl have her secrets?" she joked, wanting to make sure Caroline wasn't about to overreact.
"About teenage boys?" Kate didn't need any help recognising the sarcastic scepticism in Caroline's tone and took the implied hint to continue.
"He was struggling to cope with my relaxed girlfriend throwing soap bubbles around her kitchen. I think he used to believe he was just as likely to get a detention and loss of house points in your kitchen as in your office," she explained carefully, wondering how Caroline would react.
"Oh." Caroline considered this but, being Caroline, also considered what Kate hadn't said, "so he's okay with you? With us?"
"He's okay with me specifically, seems okay with us in general terms his entire muddling up seems to come from never really separating Lawrence's mum from his headmistress. He doesn't seem too bothered otherwise."
"Is there anything I should do? Do I talk to him?" asked Caroline, finally having thought not just about yesterday but the other times Sam had been round to visit Lawrence, and in particular those times when John had still been around.
"What does Matt have to do with making it easier for Sam?"
"He only knows you as William's Mum," started Kate, only for Caroline to interrupt her when suddenly everything made sense.
" and you as my girlfriend, which makes all the difference."
"But I said " It was now Kate's turn to be slightly baffled by the sudden change of direction.
"Sam's problem is he's never seen me not being headmistress-y, something which I don't do at home now," continued Caroline, remembering the conversation with Kate right before Lawrence's parents' evening, the day William had invited them to Oxford, when they'd discussed how Caroline was rediscovering the parts of her that weren't always the Headmistress, the disciplinarian, "because I have a pretty amazing and amazingly pretty," they both smiled at the familiar compliment, although Kate's was tinged with embarrassment and Caroline's with pride, "girlfriend who is just generally wonderful and doesn't deliberately antagonise me or goad the boys."
"They're kissing," observed Sam quietly, seeing Caroline and Kate through the untinted windscreen.
"Yeah, they do that sometimes," confirmed Lawrence, tossing the rugby ball back to Sam.
"No, I mean really kissing, like Tamara Randall and Jackson Brough."
"Yeah, they do that too, but generally only in Mum's room I'm really loud on the stairs if I get up before they've gone to her room though," explained Lawrence, remembering with a slight shudder the couple of times he'd seem them kissing on the couch, shudders that had nothing to do with them being two women and everything to do with the fact that one of them was his mother. "Apart from hugs and stuff they're quite shy, not like Tamara and Jackson!"
"You okay with it?" asked Sam, self-preservation making him hang onto the ball for a moment.
"With what?" Lawrence had too much sense (from his mother) to immediately get angry with his best friend and so tried to understand Sam's question before he got angry.
"With your mum spending time with something who isn't your dad," said Sam, having finally worked out exactly what he'd been struggling with.
"That? Yeah, now I am. Didn't get it when Mum and Dad first split up but Dad wasn't being nice to Mum and, well, she's happy with Kate and Kate's cool."
"Yeah " agreed Sam, tossing the ball back to Lawrence, happier now he'd heard Lawrence's explanation and seen how similar it was to Kate's earlier one, "Kate's very cool."
"They still kissing?"
"Yeah. Wanna swap?" asked Sam, having belatedly realised that his friend couldn't see into the front of the Jeep and was thus unable to see something which was a blessing for most 14 year old boys, Sam included.
"Hell no! That's my mother!" A protest that earned Lawrence a good natured but nevertheless quite firm rugby ball thrown at his stomach!
Reaching out with her left hand, Kate silenced the alarm and picked up her watch before, in what had become a practiced manoeuvre, slipped it onto her hand so that it hung loosely about her wrist which she then let rest on her stomach next to Caroline's hand.
"Mmph." Caroline was much slower to respond to the alarm's waking call, and was generally more likely to wake as a result of her 'pillow' waking rather than the alarm itself.
"Morning." Smiling at her girlfriend's sluggishness, Kate was content to tease some strands of blonde hair through her fingers whilst she waited for Caroline to become fully awake.
"What time is it?" Even as she asked the question, Caroline was reaching for Kate's watch which she automatically fastened for her.
"6.45." As expected, this news was not greeted with enthusiasm by Caroline.
"Why?" As if confirming her objection, Caroline attempted to snuggle deeper into Kate's loose embrace.
"Why did you wake me so early?"
"How did I wake you?" asked Kate, amused.
"No you're not," huffed Caroline, sensing insincerity on Kate's part.
"No, you're right," agreed Kate, threading the fingers of her left hand through Caroline's so their joined hands were now resting on the top of the bedclothes on her stomach.
"We told the boys to be ready for breakfast at 8.30," continued Caroline, still primarily focussed on the cruel deprivation of a precious hour of sleep.
"I know," said Kate, wondering how long it would take for Caroline's brain to really get into gear.
"So we don't need to be up for at least another hour," grumbled Caroline, studying their joined, contrasting hands, "less if we share the bathroom."
"Or more " interrupted Kate quietly, giving Caroline's brain a gentle nudge.
"Or more what?" Confused, Caroline shifted on the bed so she was no longer lying on Kate and therefore better able to talk to her since she could actually see her confusing lover.
"You're being incredibly slow this morning," teased Kate, "and no, you don't need your glasses," she added, anticipating Caroline's usual excuse when something wasn't making sense.
"You're being too awake this morning," grumbled Caroline, sensing from Kate's demeanour she was missing something obvious.
"Good morning grumpy," tried Kate, wondering if starting the conversation properly would help, reaching forwards so she could kiss Caroline briefly.
"Mmm, why couldn't you have started with that?" asked Caroline, leaning in so she could initiate another kiss without straining her neck.
"No, you woke me up earlier than " It took all of Kate's willpower to stop herself bursting out in laughter as the proverbial light bulb went on for Caroline, " oh."
"Mmmm." Caroline ran a fingertip down Kate's nose, " oh."
"Very good oh," agreed Caroline, now very much awake and understanding the advantages the earlier alarm had given them.
"I was beginning to worry you'd gone off me," joked Kate, tracing patterns on Caroline's shoulder through her pyjama top.
"You confused me," protested Caroline weakly, mirroring Kate's random patterns on Kate's stomach.
"You don't normally wear your watch "
"We don't normally have the risk of embarrassing ourselves by missing breakfast "
"True " Caroline squinted at the watch, seeing they had some time, but not masses, especially if, as Kate noted, they needed to make sure they didn't turn up late to breakfast, " thank you."
"You're very welcome."
"You don't know what I'm thanking you for."
"Yes, I do," corrected Kate gently.
"You do?" Caroline was confused again, and this time, it wasn't because she was half asleep.
"Yes, because I've missed this too," admitted Kate quietly, running her thumb over Caroline's knuckles as she watched Caroline put the pieces together. As much as she loved spending the days in Caroline's company and the nights asleep with her in her arms, the stress and effort involved in organising a family holiday (with added teenagers) and making sure Caroline could really have a holiday, not to mention having to do all of this with William and Lawrence in the house what felt like all the time because of the horrible weather, had all conspired to eliminate any opportunity for them to enjoy any lazy starts to the day, a start that usually involved some tickling and teasing and general playfulness as, away from any audience, both of them abandoned their 'adult' personas and responsibilities.
"I love you " declared Caroline, knowing she'd said it last night in the throes of passion, knowing Kate had said it as they were preparing to set off on the drive to France but also knowing that each time it was said in a different context and meant in a different way.
"Me too " but, before Kate could add anything heartfelt or emotional, Caroline's fingers had managed to find Kate's elusive ticklish spot.
"Ooof!" exclaimed Kate, trying to bat away Caroline's insistent fingers whilst trying to gain the upper hand.
"Gotcha!" crowed Caroline, enjoying catching Kate unawares, something that didn't always happen as Kate was only ticklish in one small, hard to find spot only to realise her grave tactical error as, unlike Kate, Caroline was
"Ooof! Okay, mercy!" a much easier target!
"What was that all about?" asked Caroline when Kate returned to their breakfast table having had a reasonably animated but evidently good natured conversation with 'Madame le Proprietaire.'
"Shopping plans it's only a couple of hours drive to the chalet where the food is much more expensive because of the ski resorts, so I thought we could get most things here," explained Kate, sipping her coffee.
"Do we have to come?" asked Lawrence, having the typical teenage reaction to the thought of having to go shopping.
"Of course how else were you proposing to practice your French?" asked Caroline, causing Lawrence to look at her in shock: he'd been supremely confident it was going to be French teacher Kate nagging him to practice, not his mother.
"Why were you talking about taxis?" asked Sam quietly, having paid closer attention to Kate's conversation than either of the two Elliots.
"Because I was arranging with the owner to leave the Jeep here and take a taxi to the centre of town where there is a supermarket as well as today's market." Seeing everyone still looking confused, Kate continued, "we can't just park the Jeep on the street, not with all the ski equipment on the roof too easy to steal."
"So taxi into town, taxi back with the shopping and then set off?" asked Caroline, liking the plan.
"Yeah thought we could split up to be quicker," confirmed Kate, glancing at Sam, hoping Caroline understood. She did.
"Boys, are you packed yet?"
"Almost Dr Caroline," stumbled Sam, causing Caroline to smile at the almost slip.
"Okay go finish packing and be ready at the door in thirty minutes; Lawrence, you and I will take your French and tackle the supermarket leaving Kate and Sam to lay siege to the market."
"Mum " groaned Lawrence, not appreciating the second dig about his French in as many minutes.
"What?" Caroline's innocence was too genuine, making Sam suspicious.
"You do speak French, don't you?" he asked, suddenly realising he'd perhaps made an assumption that wasn't wise.
"Not really," admitted Caroline around her coffee cup, studiously avoiding anyone's eye.
"What do you mean 'not really'?" It was Lawrence's turn to be suspicious.
"I mean I remember about as much French as Kate probably remembers Chemistry," grumbled Caroline, apparently embarrassed at having to make this admission.
"How much Chemistry do you remember Kate?" asked Sam, amused to see his usually stern and serious Headmistress squirming a bit and, unlike the soap suds incident, this time he was confident enough to join in the teasing.
"Water's made of nitrogen, right?" she asked teasingly, earning her a growl from Caroline, a growl that probably would have been more menacing than amusing if they hadn't had their dose of playful silliness earlier.
"Wow, you're really bad at Chemistry!" decided Lawrence, suddenly feeling a little better about his limited and very 'schoolboy' grasp of French compared with Kate's easy fluency. Of course, it hadn't occurred to him that he was being given this confidence by a strategic downplaying of his mother's own French.
"Thank you, I think!" joked Kate, using her coffee cup to mask her own smirk yes, she was no Caroline when it came to Chemistry but she was a little better than Lawrence was currently giving her credit for.
"So, do we have a plan?" asked Caroline, surprisingly relaxed at the teasing she was on the end of, pleased to see the nods of agreement from Sam and Lawrence. "Good, so, see you at the door packed and ready to go in twenty minutes?" More nods.
"Is there anything you can't eat Sam?" asked Kate, remembering him carefully ordering the plain roast chicken last night but not being able to work out if he ordered that because it was what he fancied or because he was trying to avoid something.
"No, not really."
"Anything you don't like to eat?" Based on his answer, she realised she'd asked the wrong question.
"Mushrooms, at least, not like we get them at school. And prawns."
"I think we can manage to not cook mushrooms so they resemble school dinners and Matt's apparently allergic to shellfish, so you're safe on both fronts," declared Caroline kindly before pointedly looking at her watch, encouraging both boys to get to their feet and, with polite and careful 'Merci, au revoir' to the owner who was standing watch at the breakfast room door, headed to their room to finish their packing.
"Water's made of nitrogen " scoffed Caroline once she was sure the boys were out of earshot.
"What?" It was Kate's turn to act innocent.
"Your chemistry is better than that "
"So's your French " observed Kate mildly, " though not by much."
"Hey!" Protested Caroline, although she knew she couldn't argue with Kate, having stopped learning or using her French, such as it was (and it was an A at 'O' Level, but that wasn't the point) some thirty years ago.
"You'll both be fine, do Lawrence good to use his French a bit," declared Kate before, with a quick glance at her watch added seriously, "do we need to work out a shopping list?"
"Yes love?" asked Caroline, pausing in her study of the flour to pay attention to her youngest son.
"I don't mind "
"Don't mind what?" Caroline was reasonably confident his ambivalence had nothing to do with plain versus self-raising flour.
"You and Kate " Lawrence stumbled to a halt and stared into the trolley.
"Hey what's brought this on?" Caroline put the flour in the trolley, interrupting her son's glazed staring in the process, so that she could focus on him.
"Nothing it was nothing," hedged Lawrence, trying to change the subject.
"What's the matter love? Has your father said anything?" asked Caroline, concerned. She was reasonably confident John had stopped being a complete idiot but total maturity was never going to be possible, it just wasn't one of his strong suits.
"No, it's not Dad, well, not anything he's said " Frustrated, Lawrence looked at his mother, " don't get mad and don't interrupt?" he asked, realising he did want to say something and the middle of a tiny supermarket in France where no one spoke any English was probably as good a place as any.
"Okay " A baking ingredients aisle wasn't where she would have picked to have a heart-to-heart with her younger son but at least neither her mother nor almost-ex-husband could interrupt him or twist her words.
"You and Kate I I like her, and I like how she makes you it took a while, to realise that you didn't really like Dad anymore, and I get that " It took a lot of willpower to not interrupt, but obediently, Caroline stayed quiet, recognising it wasn't easy for Lawrence to talk about his parents like this, " he's okay as 'cool Dad' but he's really, really bad at all the other stuff, stuff he always knew you'd do because you're, well, you." As compliments went, it was slightly backhanded but Caroline understood what he meant. "Kate's good at the cool stuff, but she does the other stuff too her pancakes are amazing " Lawrence was momentarily distracted by the memory of the breakfast she'd made on the last day of term, giving Caroline a quick opportunity to realise she should probably buy some syrup, just in case Kate was persuaded to make pancakes again, " and she helps you to do cool stuff too, like tickle fights and Mario Kart races " Much to Lawrence's surprise, his mother was irritatingly good at Mario Kart, " that was the weirdest bit of everything really, you being, well, goofy. You were never like that when Dad was around." There was a long silence during which Caroline tried to work out if he'd mind her speaking before she decided to risk it.
"It's not something I'd ever really done with your father or anyone else," she admitted gently, beginning to understand that Lawrence's adjustment to life with his parents split up was mainly centred around how she'd changed as his mother rather than the arrival of Kate specifically.
"It's good, a bit weird, but good. You're happy, and you don't need to always hide Mum, I don't mind it when you and Kate are silly "
"Ah, okay, thank you." Caroline was positive she was blushing.
"Not the kissing, that's pretty gross, but you're good at not doing that in public," he continued as only a fourteen year old boy could.
"Would you believe me if I said I had no plans to change that anytime soon?" she asked dryly, "not everyone's an extrovert."
"Like Jackson and Tamara? They're really bad," agreed Lawrence, pulling a face that made his mother laugh, " you and Kate? I'm happy with it, you don't need to be Dr Elliot and Miss McKenzie all the time."
"Thank you." It wasn't what she probably should have said in response to her son telling her he now recognised the flaws in his father and had no problems with her girlfriend, who was also potentially his teacher, being in his life but then she hadn't exactly had any time to prepare.
"Why are you buying so much flour?"
"What? Oh " and just like that, their sensitive mother-son moment was over and they were back to dry-goods shopping in a small supermarket in France, " thought I'd bake some cakes and biscuits for the hungry skiers."
"If that's what you'd like best," and, with a shared smile, they set off to find the rest of their shopping list, both feeling unexpectedly better after their unplanned chat.
"Wow this is massive!" exclaimed Lawrence, stepping out of the Jeep and standing in front of the Chalet that was to be the Elliot household's home away from home for the next week, echoing the thoughts of Sam and his mother, although in Caroline's case she had been prepared for a larger than necessary chalet as Kate had sensibly remembered that most contrived to boost their bed count by having rooms with bunk beds whilst this might have been fun for the boys when they were eight or nine, now they were all teenagers, forcing them into bunk beds would have guaranteed the start of a week of family rows.
"Mmm, plenty of space to avoid each other," agreed Caroline, standing by the bonnet, taking in the general view back down the valley that Kate had driven them up.
"This is awesome " agreed Sam, scuffing the snow with his boot, the spring sunshine making it sparkle, " thank you for letting me come Caroline."
"You're very welcome Sam," said Caroline, looking towards Kate who had now exited the driver's seat and was coming around to join them, sunglasses obscuring her eyes, "but it's Kate we all need to thank, this was her idea."
"Yeah, thanks Kate, this looks amazing!" declared Lawrence before catching Kate completely by surprise and throwing his arms quickly around her in a rough but heartfelt hug, the spontaneity of which caused Caroline to be grateful that, like her girlfriend, she was wearing reflective sunglasses that meant no one could see the moisture collect in her eyes at her son's affection for the linguist.
"You're welcome " began Kate, patting Lawrence awkwardly on the back, his latest growth spurt saw him now almost as tall as her but not quite she still had a couple of inches on him, " can you and Sam start unloading the food please?"
"The food?" asked Sam as Lawrence immediately let go of her and obediently headed towards the back of the Jeep to open up the tailgate.
"I need to leave again in 45 minutes to pick up William and Matt from the airport, so it's food to the kitchen, ski gear to the store then suitcases to the bedrooms. At that point, and only then, can you take jackets off and think about discovering what channels the TV gets," declared Kate in what was recognisable to all as her teacher's 'not to be argued with' voice.
"Incredible " observed Caroline, watching as Sam stopped Lawrence from opening the back of the Jeep up just in time as, the way the food shopping had been carefully put into the car, just throwing open the back door wasn't going to be the smartest thing as the bottles of local wine would almost certainly fall straight out.
"What is?" asked Kate, holding out the keys she'd collected from the resort reception so that Caroline could lead on up to the front door and do the honours.
"You they're not arguing, just getting on with it," remarked Caroline, threading her arm through Kate's and walking up towards their temporary front door.
"Just lucky I guess," shrugged Kate, not wanting to try and over-analyse a straightforward moment of school-boy obedience: she was sure that, just as he'd petulantly defied her in the past, claiming 'you're not my mother', Lawrence's moments of rebellion would come again.
"I'm the lucky one " insisted Caroline, putting the key in the lock and opening the door, " wow "
If the outside was awesome, the inside was impressive. The large central living space contained a fireplace with the obligatory inviting rug in front of it that actually looked big enough for all six of them to sit on, should they get cold enough to want to hug its warmth; the armchairs and couches laid out across the room all looked comfortable and inviting, and, as you'd expect in a chalet that slept ten, there was enough 'spare' that there wouldn't be fights for the same armchair or couch, nor would someone be relegated to sitting on one of the chairs from the polished wooden dining table.
"Dibs on the couch by the fire " murmured Kate, taking in the room.
"Only if you're sharing " agreed Caroline, taking it all in.
"Only with you " she teased, following Caroline's gaze, " the kitchen's through there, then the ski store is behind that."
"I have no interest in the ski store, that can be your kingdom," declared Caroline, having not wavered from her opinion that she'd left it too late in life to start worrying about skiing, although she did go into the resort ski store when Kate had taken Sam and Lawrence in to get measured for their equipment. That alone was enough to confirm to her that really, she didn't feel she was missing anything.
"Then I guess this must be your kingdom," decided Kate, opening the kitchen door to reveal another large room that had another large wooden table in it that they'd probably end up using for breakfast as well as a gleaming cooker, polished granite worktops and windows that gave a magnificent view back down the valley they'd just driven up.
"Only if you cook pancakes one morning," bargained Caroline, already moving around the room, opening cupboards and mentally cataloguing the kitchen equipment, already planning what she was going to cook. Whilst on paper it might not seem like a particularly exciting holiday for the headmistress, the luxury of being able to enjoy herself in a well-stocked kitchen without having to worry about washing up (that's what the boys, the dishwasher and, if necessary, the morning cleaning service were for) was, for Caroline, a treat in itself.
"I could be persuaded " agreed Kate, before gladly accepting the kiss that Caroline initiated, a kiss that might have gone on for longer had it not been for the extremely noisy and rather untimely arrival of Lawrence, carrying a large bag that appeared to contain three chickens.
"Where do I put stuff Mum?"
"Just dump everything on the table love," decided Caroline, looking at the chickens with interest.
"Three chickens?" she asked, looking at Kate in surprise they'd hurriedly scribbled a pair of shopping lists that, together, would give them a reasonably well stocked kitchen but, based on the fact that Caroline was buying the 'dry goods' from the supermarket with Lawrence whilst Kate and Sam tackled the butcher, baker, greengrocer and countless other fresh food stalls in the market, meant there was always going to be an element of surprise or random pot-luck in the shopping.
"Cheaper than buying one chicken and extra joints," explained Kate, deciding not to mention that the butcher's stall had been particularly good value, not least because the proprietor's mother, who had been serving them, had been completely smitten by Kate's 'son' and his careful French, a declaration that had caused Sam to blush and make Kate promise not to tell Lawrence or Sam's sister, " how much flour did you buy?"
"Enough to make you energetic skiers some cakes and biscuits you did buy eggs?" asked Caroline, distracted now by working out where she could store everything and what would and wouldn't need to go in the fridge or freezer.
"2 dozen should be in the bag with the cheese for fondue how much oil did you buy?" asked Kate as she rescued a bag of apples from Lawrence's latest shopping bag that was in danger of splitting and rolling across the floor.
"A fair sized bottle, why?"
"Because I thought we could do a fondue night, with the cheese and oil chocolate cake?"
"You're as bad as Lawrence," teased Caroline, turning back to the table where the accumulated heap of food was growing at an impressive rate as Sam and Lawrence continued to bring in the bags of bread, fruit, meat, cheese and other treats one or other of them had decided to 'surprise' the others with.
"Who's as bad as me?"
"Kate, wondering if I'd make chocolate cake," explained Caroline, clearing a space on the table for Sam to put the box of wine he'd brought in on.
"You're making cake?"
"Not this second I'm not, but yes, at some point. What's your favourite flavour Sam?"
"Vanilla, with jam and cream icing! Gran makes the best!" He might be fourteen and trying to appear sophisticated and grown-up when in the ski store picking out ski equipment, but when there were no girls to impress and cake to be discussed, Sam was clearly still very much a kid.
"Then I shall have to make you one and you can let me know how I do," declared Caroline magnanimously, pleased to see all signs of his earlier nervousness gone as he'd become comfortable with her as Lawrence's mother and Kate's girlfriend.
"Awesome! Will you make pancakes Kate? Mum bought syrup!" asked Lawrence, his sweet tooth clearly in overdrive already.
"Did she now?" asked Kate, arching her eyebrow at Caroline in mock surprise, making Lawrence laugh and Sam smile.
"Only a small bottle, and I can use it in sticky toffee pudding " protested Caroline, entering into the teasing by looking slightly worried.
"With custard?" asked Sam quietly, Caroline clearly having hit upon a particular favourite of his.
"I think we can manage custard," agreed Caroline, enjoying the look of consternation on Lawrence's face.
"But what about the pancakes?" he asked, clearly concerned that a sticky toffee pudding, as good as that was, might use up all of the syrup and mean no pancakes.
"What about them?" asked Kate, putting the bottles of wine onto the wine rack she'd found.
"Are you going to make them?"
"If your mother will let me anywhere near her kitchen " teased Kate, reminding Lawrence how protective Caroline was about the kitchen at home even Celia knew better than to start cooking in it, and as for John Lawrence really didn't want to be reminded of that morning in a rush.
" Kate's making pancakes," reassured Caroline, unable to keep up the pretence and teasing any longer, especially when Lawrence appeared to be taking the teasing seriously.
"Is there anything else food related in the car?" asked Kate, conscious that time was once again ticking on.
"In which case, time to bring the ski gear in " declared Kate, glancing at her watch.
" you're just scared of Mum when she's rearranging the kitchen," teased Lawrence, moving out of Kate's reach when she moved to playfully shove him out of the kitchen, causing Caroline to laugh at their antics.
"Maybe " laughed Kate, disappearing from the kitchen with the two boys whilst she probably wouldn't incur Caroline's territorial wrath in the same way the teenagers might, she really wasn't about to chance it!
"That was wonderful Caroline, thank you," said Matt, looking slightly longingly at the serving dish, having just lost out on the last roast potato to a rather sneaky Lawrence.
"It was only roast chicken, Matt, nothing fancy," dismissed Caroline, only to feel a rather pointed kick in the shin from what felt like Kate's sock-clad foot, "but thank you anyway I'll get more adventurous as I get used to the kitchen," she added, pleased to see Kate's half-smile appear from behind her wine-glass.
"It was really tasty, and the potatoes were brilliant," added Sam, following Matt's gaze to the now empty dish.
"I'll cook more next time," promised Caroline, mentally reviewing exactly how much she'd cooked and realising that with four hungry teenagers, whose appetites were only going to increase as they skied and generally enjoyed the fresh, crisp Alpine air, either she and Kate were going on a diet or she needed to increase the quantities a bit, "but there is pudding."
"Pudding?" Suddenly Sam wasn't as worried about losing out on a fifth potato to his best friend.
"Well, something sweet there are some biscuits," admitted Caroline, remembering the baking trays she'd shoved in just as she was taking the chicken out; by the time she'd finished getting ready to call everyone to the table to eat, the biscuits had been cooked.
"I'll help clear!" volunteered Lawrence, realising a split second before anyone else that the first person into the kitchen would get the best opportunity to steal an extra biscuit.
"No, you don't need to " called out Caroline, trying not to laugh as she watched all of them start to scramble to take something into the kitchen under the guise of being 'helpful', "I made plenty " she added, mainly to herself.
"One way to get them to clear the table " observed Kate wryly, standing up and heading around the table so she was standing beside Caroline, wine glass in hand.
"Mmm why'd you kick me?"
"It wasn't a kick, more of a nudge," clarified Kate, slipping into the seat that had been occupied by Sam.
"Okay, why'd you nudge me?"
"Because you need to be better at accepting compliments "
"I " Caroline's words of protest died on her lips when Kate cut them off with a fleetingly quick kiss.
"Don't argue I don't think Matt's family are cooks."
"I'm hardly " began Caroline, instinctively wanting to shrug off the compliment.
"Ah " Kate punctuated her point with a playful tap on Caroline's nose, " just say 'thank you' next time?" she asked, not wanting to belabour the point."
"Yes Miss," replied Caroline sassily, earning her a pointed look from Kate, prompting her to be serious, "I promise, I'll try to just say 'thank you' if one of the boys says something nice about my cooking, even if it's only roast chicken and some chocolate biscuits."
"You're magnificent," said Kate warmly, pleased that, even if she didn't understand why it might be important to the boys for Caroline to just accept their friends' attempts at small talk (it was another of those things 'normal people' did which hadn't really been part of Caroline's childhood), Caroline was prepared to just accept the advice and try.
"You're " Caroline was distracted by Kate's rather violent yawn, " tired. You should go to bed."
"Not yet " disagreed Kate, yawning again but rather less dramatically.
"But nothing. I'll go to bed when you do." Kate didn't really feel comfortable explaining what her real reason for wanting to delay going to bed was.
"Okay " Caroline wasn't really buying Kate's plan, but knew better than to debate it, especially when she suspected the boys would rejoin them in a moment, " I was going to suggest we watch a DVD for a bit then early bed anyway."
"DVD?" Kate didn't remember seeing any DVDs in the chalet, nor did she remember Caroline packing any.
"Mmm, asked the boys to each bring a couple so we had some to choose from," explained Caroline, standing up and pulling Kate up with her, "but I also grabbed a few," she continued, moving towards the couch they'd identified earlier as being the ideal one to make 'theirs'.
"Oh?" It hadn't occurred to Kate that some DVDs might be useful, although she had already noticed the chalet came with scrabble and monopoly sets so she was braced for a board game marathon at some point, probably at William's instigation.
"Have they not seen it?" asked Kate, spotting the box set of all the series resting on the shelf next to the large flat screen TV.
"Lawrence definitely hasn't, don't think William has either," said Caroline as she sank into the couch, pleased to discover it was a soft and comfortable as it looked.
"I feel old," sighed Kate, following Caroline's example and sinking into the couch, taking care not to spill her wine.
"I meant the fact that William and Lawrence don't know Blackadder," chastised Kate, deciding she really didn't care what the boys might think, she was curling up against Caroline.
"Comfy?" asked Caroline when Kate had finally stopped shuffling.
"Mmm, so, which Blackadder were you going to start with?" The straightforward question threw Caroline into a small panic.
"Not the first one?" she asked cautiously.
"Do they know much about the Middle Ages?" Kate rarely talked to the History Department but, from the little she'd picked up in the staff room, she didn't think it was on the school curriculum at the moment.
"Not as much as the First World War " Kate could feel Caroline's body relaxing, indicating that the moment of panic was passing, " why don't we start there?"
"Sounds like a plan."
"What's a plan?" asked William, Matt alongside him, holding a plate with some biscuits on it, Lawrence and Sam clearly already a biscuit or two ahead of everyone else if the crumbs on their clothes were any indication. If anyone was surprised to see Kate and Caroline on the couch together, no one commented as they all found places to sit with only playful tussling for the same chair by Sam and Lawrence, tussling that amused Matt and relieved Kate, who was sensing that Sam had finally overcome his nervousness and was back to being the version of Sam she saw at school.
"We thought we'd watch some Blackadder have you seen it before?" asked Caroline, wondering who would answer.
"Yeah, I got the box set for my birthday they're brilliant!" declared Matt, happy with the plan and, realising he was the nearest to the TV, he pushed himself to his feet, clearly prepared to sort out the DVD player and TV.
"Is this the Olympics guy?" asked Lawrence, remembering the introduction to the 'Olympics guy' on Comic Relief that had mentioned Blackadder.
"Yeah, and the QI guy," added Sam, who'd seen a bit of an episode.
"Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie," said Matt, trying to work out how to make the remotes work, before deciding it might be helpful to add, "the guy from House."
"Okay " Lawrence wasn't entirely convinced, but seeing that Matt thought this cool, he was prepared to give it a try rather than object just because it was his Mum's idea of a good show to watch, " what's it about?"
"It depends, which one did you want to watch Caroline?" asked Matt, holding up the box set.
"Why don't we start with the last?" suggested Caroline, prompting a grin from Matt, who clearly thought that was a good idea as Kate took up the explanation, knowing Lawrence had no idea and guessing from Sam's blank expression he didn't entirely know what it was about.
"Each series is set in a different period of history this one is in the First World War," she began.
"Trenches and stuff?"
"Right." She resisted the urge to try to expand or improve on Lawrence's extremely succinct summation of 4 years of global history. "Blackadder in this series is a Captain, commanding a trench." She paused, wondering what else she could say that wouldn't either spoil it or take too long.
"I think you just need to try it Lawrence," said Matt, just as he managed to get the technology to work, "you never know, you might enjoy it!"
"Have the boys gone to bed yet?" asked Caroline, emerging from the en-suite bathroom to see Kate already in bed, her current English novel lying open in her lap.
"I heard Matt call good night to Sam and Lawrence couldn't decide if that means they're all in bed or just those two," said Kate, before admitting honestly, "although I wasn't exactly paying attention."
"Oh?" Intrigued, Caroline turned out the bathroom light and crossed to the bed, pausing only to put her watch and reading glasses on the bedside table before she slipped between the covers.
"Mmm, just remembering your birthday." As she spoke, Kate abandoned her book to the bedside table and began to shuffle down the bed, clearly no longer interested in reading.
"Why?" asked Caroline, knowing better than to even pretend she had any idea what Kate was talking about: as far as she could remember, it wasn't a birthday that was memorable for the right reasons and she couldn't think what had happened to make Kate remember the wrong reasons.
"It was the first time I had dinner with the boys " recalled Kate, automatically moving her arm so Caroline could settle against her side in what was their familiar and comfortable sleeping position.
"Yes, yes it was," agreed Caroline neutrally, still not sure why Kate would be thinking of that now, "did I ever tell you how long those flowers lasted? My study was all the nicer for them for at least a couple of weeks " She didn't know why she said that.
"I'm glad." If Kate was surprised at the comment, neither her body nor voice gave any hint of it, "did you ever drink the champagne?" Kate didn't remember seeing the bottle in the wine rack, but nor did she recall drinking it with Caroline either, although, following their New Year's Eve moment, it was unlikely they'd be drinking champagne again on their own, not now Caroline knew how badly it disagreed with her.
"No " Kate was curious as to what was causing Caroline to tense, but she guessed being drunk was not the answer to her next question.
"What happened to it?"
"Caroline it's okay, whatever happened, it was only a bottle of champagne " Kate was now slightly concerned, she really hadn't meant to bring this up now, and certainly not if it was causing Caroline to get this nervous and tense.
"No, it's not I'm being silly, not telling you." Taking a deep breath, Caroline said flatly, "it was one of the things John threw that that night."
"Ah." There wasn't really anything else for Kate to say the night John had come around, after he'd received the divorce papers from Caroline's solicitor, that night hadn't gone well and a number of items in the kitchen had been used by John in a violent fight that had ended with Alan calling the police: it had been the first and only time that they boys had stayed in Kate's flat, with William in the spare room and Lawrence camping out in her sitting room for the remainder of the week whilst locks were changed and the mess cleared up.
"It broke and went everywhere all over his laptop and papers " recalled Caroline, remembering coming in late to discover John sat seemingly calmly at the kitchen counter supposedly working, waiting to fight with her.
"Sticky." Although Kate had known about the fight, with Caroline telling her the specifics about what was said and observing that he'd thrown things, badly, she'd never really known the details about the violence, horrified it had happened but relieved that the only person hurt was John, and his hurt was to his standing and reputation, damage that was making the divorce proceed firmly in Caroline's favour.
"Mmm, it was on the counter, next to the pineapple that made it worse."
"He threw a pineapple?"
"Apples, oranges and some bananas, followed by the fruit bowl and the bread tin," remembered Caroline, seeing the funny side now, "the oranges bounced why are we talking about John?"
"We're not, not really..." corrected Kate, happy to change the subject away from him, pleased Caroline didn't seem as tense now the confession about the champagne was over.
"You were thinking about my birthday?"
"About your birthday dinner, it was the first time I had dinner with the boys," reminded Kate, trying not to let them get distracted again.
"Lawrence was being obnoxious," recalled Caroline, remembering him trying to push his luck with her about drinking some wine.
"Mmm I didn't know what to say, about anything William was quiet "
"He was quiet tonight "
"Different sort of quiet " corrected Kate, tangling her fingers with Caroline's, their joined hands resting on her stomach.
"You or William?"
"Both " mumbled Caroline, beginning to become distracted from their conversation before remembering Kate's earlier yawns and deciding that sleep was the more sensible decision, " at dinner I mean " she clarified, not wanting to think about her son and his boyfriend being 'relaxed' anywhere else.
"That's what I was thinking about " continued Kate, finally providing enough random pieces for Caroline to follow.
" we've come a long way, and I don't mean to France," agreed Caroline, having caught on to Kate's point.
"Dinner, tonight, made me realise " Kate found there was a lump in her throat but she continued, hoping Caroline wouldn't pick up on her croakiness, " it didn't feel awkward, hasn't for a while even with Matt and Sam it wasn't tense "
"It was a family supper."
"It was just roast chicken " repeated Caroline, causing Kate to smile, unsurprised that Caroline had not only forgotten her earlier promise to try to just accept compliments, but that she'd also missed Kate's point completely.
"I wasn't talking about the food I was talking about it not being awkward, having me at your table " Kate wasn't sure she could go as far as saying the words 'making me part of your family' but the thought was hanging in the air between them.
"I'm the one who needs to thank you " corrected Caroline gently, pushing away from Kate just enough to enable her to turn so she could look straight in her lover's eyes, " you helped me and the boys become a family, our family." It sounded trite and sweet and Caroline meant every word of it. Kate was right, they'd come a long way since that birthday dinner when no one really knew what to say or do, two brothers faced with their mother and her friend, a friend who saw a parts of their mother their father couldn't cope with, parts their mother couldn't bring herself to hide and ignore anymore, parts their grandmother no longer blamed herself for. They were a long way from perfect and still had a lot of bumps and bends in the road ahead of them that would bruise and batter them a little, life was like that and both ladies were realistic enough to recognise that, but they'd already come a long way and survived the worst.
"I'd never pictured myself with children "
"At least they sleep through the night " joked Caroline, eyes sparkling with a mixture of mirth and tears.
"They're wonderful boys, take after their mother "
"I love you, we all love you " whispered Caroline, leaning forwards so she could softly kiss Kate's lips.
"I love you, and I love your boys " Kate returned the kiss.
"Our boys "
"Our boys," agreed Kate, smiling as she reached out to pull Caroline back into her embrace, not liking having even a few inches separating them.
"Who will be up at dawn ready to take on the mountains " said Caroline, sensing Kate was starting to lose the battle with sleep, the early starts and lion's share of the driving catching up with her.
"Mmm, not tempted?" asked Kate, sounding sleepy as once again Caroline shuffled around until she was snuggled into Kate's side having waited a moment for Kate to reach out and turn off the bedside lamp.
"By you? Always "
"Mmm ditto " mumbled Kate, finally losing the battle to sleep, and hopefully, if the boys had any sense, they were now sleeping too. Tomorrow would be a big day for the skiers in the family, something Caroline was still completely uninterested in and would not, under any circumstances, attempt, but that really didn't matter, not least because, when it came to taking on mountains, for Caroline Elliot, lying in bed in a chalet in the French Alps, Kate McKenzie fast asleep next to her, her biggest mountains were behind her. It was time to start living her future time to live and love, as a family, a family that she couldn't imagine ever having without Kate; it was the 21st century the ladies had indeed landed!
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