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You're gonna see it's our destiny
Your mate's bladdered. Come and get her before I chuck her out.
Vanessa groans as she reads the text from Charity. Johnny's just freshly bathed and ready for bed and she doesn't really want to take him back out in the cold. She jabs at the screen on her phone, punching in a reply.
Can't Paddy come and get her?
A few seconds pass, but she can see Charity's typing a response so she waits. Tried that. He's got Leo in town at the pictures. You're up, buttercup x
Vanessa makes herself sigh to cover up the dopey smile that threatens to appear just because Charity put a kiss at the end of the stupid message. She looks over at Johnny, all shiny and clean and in his favourite Paw Patrol jammies, his eyelids heavy with the need for sleep.
"Hey love. D'you want to go over to the pub for a minute?"
His eyes light up, like she knew they would, all traces of tiredness gone. He adores Charity and jumps on any opportunity to spend time with her. "To see Chatity?"
"Mmmhmm," Vanessa hums, smiling at his pronunciation. "Just for a little bit, though, okay? We're just gonna get Rhona and walk her home, but you can see Charity for five minutes. But we have to get wrapped up first."
"Okay mummy." He busies himself collecting whatever toy he wants to take while Vanessa gathers his jacket and boots and gets him into them before they head out into the evening.
Johnny happily plods along by her side, clutching her hand and talking about whatever comes into his head. She makes the required noises of agreement, but she's only half listening, thinking instead of how she's going to persuade a drunk Rhona to go home.
It's a difficult situation with Rhona; she's going through a bit of a tough time at the moment because she's lonely. And there's not much that Vanessa can say or do to help, without feeling like she's being a patronising twat. Vanessa knows what it's like to feel like you'll never meet anyone again and that you'll be alone forever. She knows that smug people in relationships saying 'It'll happen when you least expect it' is of no help whatsoever. Even if Vanessa is the living embodiment of that statement.
She does what she can. She makes sure to spend time with Rhona, just the two of them. She includes her as much as she can in family activities. She even invited her over on Valentine's night to make sure she wasn't alone. Charity was not amused about that one. Thankfully, Rhona had the good sense to turn that particular invitation down, opting instead to spend the night with Marlon and the kids, watching Disney films.
But this drinking alone thing is new and she needs to nip it in the bud. She doesn't want Rhona slipping down a slope it'll be hard to climb again.
They're nearing the pub now and Johnny starts to run, tugging her hand. "C'mon mummy, faster!"
"Mummy's old legs can't go any faster," she tells him, amused as he tries with all his might to make her move at a speed he deems appropriate.
She pushes open the door and the warmth of the pub wraps around her, making her shiver at the abrupt change. Her eyes land on Rhona at the far side of the bar. Johnny has spotted someone else, though.
Charity glances in their direction and smiles, heading over to greet them. Johnny bounces in place with his arms up, desperate to get up on the bar. Vanessa shakes her head, but lifts him and sits him on the edge. Immediately he spins around on the shiny surface, throwing his legs over the other side just as Charity arrives.
"I never seed you for ages!" Johnny exclaims, wrapping his arms around her neck.
"You saw me this morning, babes, but okay." Charity rolls her eyes at Vanessa over his shoulder, but hugs him tightly and blows a raspberry on his cheek. Vanessa leans on the bar, appraising Rhona, who still hasn't noticed her as she appears to be concentrating very hard on her phone.
"How long's she been in?" Vanessa asks, in a low voice.
"Too bloody long," Charity says, shifting Johnny onto her hip. He lays his head on her shoulder and starts to play with her hair, twirling her curls around his finger. It's one of his habits when he's tired. "She's just been sitting there babbling rubbish to anyone who'll listen. She even bored Rodney enough that he left her alone eventually."
Although she sounds uncaring, Vanessa knows that Charity was showing concern when she sent that text. While she and Rhona aren't exactly 'friends', they do get along fine most of the time and Charity understands how important Rhona is to her.
Vanessa sighs and squares her shoulders. "Right. Well. Wish me luck."
"Good luck," Charity singsongs, resting her head against Johnny's and turning her upper body from side to side, rocking him.
Vanessa's lips twitch into a smile at the pair of them before she turns and heads over to Rhona. She's halfway round the bar when Rhona finally notices her.
"Ness!" She waves. "You're here! What are you drinking? Pint?" Vanessa reaches her side and Rhona leans heavily on her, bumping her forehead against Vanessa's temple as she attempts to whisper in her ear. "I've had a couple already."
"A couple, eh?" Vanessa shakes her head, propping Rhona back up when she starts sliding off the stool from leaning too much to one side. "I think you've probably had enough. C'mon, time to get off home. I'll walk you." She's already decided not to take Johnny, because she can't carry both him and Rhona. Johnny will need to stay with Charity until she deals with Rhona, then she'll come back for him.
Rhona shakes her head, blowing out a breath in an attempt at a scoff. "Home? I don't think so." She frowns. "You've not even had a drink yet! You can't come to a pub and not have a drink. What's the point in that?"
"I didn't come for a drink," Vanessa tells her. "I came to take you home."
"What? Why?" Rhona looks thoroughly confused. "When did you turn into such a killjoy?"
"When I asked her to come and get you out of my sight," Charity says, coming over with Johnny now totally asleep against her shoulder.
"Asked is maybe a bit of an exaggeration," Vanessa mumbles.
Rhona's mouth falls open as she looks between them, her eyes taking a little too long to focus each time she shifts them. "You're ganging up on me. The pair of you!" She points at Charity. "And you...you're supposed to want me to drink myself into oblivious-...obliviousness."
"Oblivion," Charity corrects. She inclines her head towards Vanessa. "And do you think this one would forgive me if I let you do that?"
Love surges through Vanessa's chest like a wave crashing on the beach as she looks at Charity, cradling her sleeping son and showing her own brand of kindness to her friend. She cannot believe there was ever a time when she doubted the sincerity of Charity's feelings for her. Beside her, Rhona lets out a wistful sigh.
"I wish I had someone who looked at me like that," she says, poking at Vanessa's cheek.
Vanessa jerks away from the uncoordinated movement, catching Rhona's hand and keeping hold of it. "Like what?"
"Like I hung the moon," Rhona sighs.
Charity lets out a soft laugh at that and shrugs her free shoulder. "Well, who can blame her, really?"
Vanessa wrinkles her nose and narrows her eyes at Charity, but Rhona's not done. "It's really lovely that you both found each other. So late in life."
"Uh, not that late in life, cheeky cow," Vanessa says.
"No, but you know what I mean. It's just neither of you were even looking and you found each other anyway by mistake. And nobody, nobody, would've ever pegged the two of you as a couple-"
Charity's eyebrows shoot up her forehead. "Are you gonna shut her up before I do?" she asks, but Rhona continues as if she hasn't spoken.
"-but you're so great together! I mean, who would've guessed?" She thuds her elbow down on the bar and props her head up in her hand. "D'you believe in soulmates?"
"Oh my God," Charity rolls her eyes and looks to Vanessa. "Are you listening to this drivel?"
Vanessa opens her mouth to respond, but Rhona beats her to it again.
"No, but, do you, though?" Rhona continues. "Do you think we all have that person out there that we're meant to be with? Where it's just...right and it's not hard and it doesn't hurt?"
Rhona looks so hopeful that it makes Vanessa want to cry. She hasn't had anyone since her disaster of a relationship with Pierce, except that brief thing with Paddy, and even that was more a way to feel safe, Vanessa thinks. It must be so difficult to even think about putting herself out there, and take that risk of being hurt, being violated. She wraps an arm around Rhona's shoulders and pulls her close.
"I don't know about soulmates," she begins. "But I think there's absolutely someone like that out there for you. You're brilliant, there are probably hundreds of people like that who'd kill to be going out with you."
"Just one would be nice," Rhona mumbles.
"Take my advice, babe," Charity interjects, and Vanessa looks up, interested to hear Charity's take on romantic guidance. "Don't look for a soulmate. Look for someone who makes you laugh and who's a decent snog." She winks at Vanessa. "That's a good start. Build it up from there."
"Jesus," Vanessa mutters, trying to hide a smile. "You're a proper romantic, you are."
"Worked with you, didn't it?" Charity grins, fluttering her eyelashes.
"Oh, I think it was more than that," Rhona says, looking between them. She settles her gaze on Charity, leaning heavily on the bar towards her. "D'you know what Vanessa said to me after the pair of you slept together the first time?"
Vanessa was not expecting that. Charity's eyes and smile are large as she nods. "Yes. Yes, I absolutely do want to know that."
"No, you don't," Vanessa says. "And I think it's past time Rhona got off home." She elbows her in the side. "Now!"
"Hey! Leave her be." Charity scolds with a frown. "This is the first interesting thing she's said all night and I wanna hear it."
"Rhona." Vanessa shakes her head. She's not all that bothered about Rhona telling Charity what she said. It's more the fact that she's doing it in the pub, where other people can hear. And that she'll have to put up with Charity's gloating for days. Rhona, clearly enjoying herself now, ignores the clear warning in her voice and turns back to Charity, lowering her voice to a stage whisper.
"She said," Rhona leans closer, lifting herself up off her stool. "That nobody had ever made her feel that way before in her whole life."
"Is that right?" Charity looks at Vanessa in fake shock. "Well, fancy that."
"She did," Rhona confirms with a pleased nod. "And she has a lot to compare it with because she's had plenty of se-"
"Rhona!" Vanessa hisses, yanking her back onto her seat and looking around to see who's listening. "For God's sake."
Rhona sighs. "I wish I could have life-changing sex."
"Hey, listen, I'm flattered, Rhona, but I don't think Vanessa would be too happy if I-" Vanessa reaches over and slaps the shoulder that Johnny's not snoozing on and Charity mouths 'ouch' at her.
"Right, time to get you home," Vanessa says, shoving her arm under Rhona's and hoisting her off the stool. Rhona's legs buckle as soon as any weight is placed on them and Vanessa only just manages to keep them both upright.
"Ness," Rhona whispers, as if sharing a confidence. "I don't think my legs are working very well."
Vanessa lets out a frustrated groan.
"Look, if you try and take her home, one or both of you is gonna end up needing an ambulance," Charity says with a sigh. "Just take her through the back and get her set up on the sofa for the night. She can make her own way home in the morning."
There's that daft rush of unadulterated love again. Vanessa mouths 'thank you' to Charity as she begins to manoeuvre Rhona behind the bar. Charity just rolls her eyes and shifts Johnny in her arms, dropping a little kiss on his forehead.
Vanessa half pulls, half carries Rhona to the living room, relieved when she finally lets her down onto the couch. Rhona immediately curls up, her eyelids heavy. Vanessa takes a seat by her feet and works on getting her boots off.
"S'comfy," she decides, resting her head on a cushion. "It was nice of Charity to let me stay. It's nice that she's nice. Sometimes I worry she's not nice enough for you "
"She's just the right amount of nice for me," Vanessa assures her, dropping Rhona's boots on the floor and reaching for the blanket draped over the couch, shaking it out and draping it over Rhona.
"Tha's good, then," Rhona yawns. "I thought she must be a bit nice, otherwise you wouldn't like her."
"C'mon now, never mind all that." Vanessa crouches by Rhona's head. "Get some sleep and you'll feel better in the morning."
Rhona blinks at her. "Ness d'you ever think about "
"About what?" Vanessa asks, though she knows she probably shouldn't be prolonging this conversation.
"About us? About what might've happened if I'd " Rhona's eyes drift closed and stay closed for a little too long before opening again. "If I'd let it."
She tries not to betray her surprise on her face. While it's never been something they swept under the carpet, Rhona's never really spoken about their brief affair in terms of her own feelings before, just Vanessa's.
"Honestly?" Vanessa pushes Rhona's hair away from her forehead. "I used to." She nods. "I used to think about it a lot."
"But not anymore," Rhona says with a sad smile. "You really love her, eh?"
"I do," Vanessa says, her throat tightening at the truth of those two tiny words that feel too small to convey her feelings. "With all of my heart. Including some bits of it I didn't know existed."
"That's good. I'm glad." She pats Vanessa's cheek, clumsily. "You deserve that."
"So do you, Rhona," Vanessa tells her. "And I hope you find it, if that's what you want."
Rhona's eyes close again and this time they stay closed. Vanessa watches her for a few moments before leaning in and kissing her forehead. She tucks the blanket more securely around her and then pushes to her feet. She jumps slightly when she sees Charity standing leaning against the doorway. Charity's wearing a soft smile that Vanessa can't help but return.
"You heard all that, I take it?" Vanessa whispers, moving to the door.
"I did." Charity confirms, standing aside as Vanessa pulls the door closed behind herself.
"And?" Vanessa lifts her eyebrows. "Not gonna make fun of me for being soppy?"
Charity tilts her head to the side, that soft smile reappearing. She takes a step towards Vanessa and fits her hands around her hips, drawing her closer. Vanessa's arms go around Charity's waist as she allows herself to be hugged. Charity's head falls to her shoulder, her lips touching the pulse point in Vanessa's neck. Not kissing; just touching, just there. Vanessa closes her eyes and rests her head against Charity's. She loves moments like this, when it's just the two of them enjoying being close to one another.
"Where's Johnny?" Vanessa asks, her fingertips drifting under Charity's top to trail along the bottom of her back.
"I put him down in Moses' bed while you were seeing to Rhona. Chas is gonna close up for me." Charity's lips turn up against in a smile against her neck. "I thought you'd probably be staying over for some of that life-changing sex you enjoy telling people about so much."
Vanessa laughs, just a soft exhalation against Charity's ear. But she can't let the moment pass with a joke. Cupping Charity's cheek, she gently encourages her to lift her head so that their eyes can meet.
"It wasn't the sex that was life-changing."
The edges of Charity's lips twitch, but her face remains serious when she nods. "I know."
"Good." Vanessa smiles and urges Charity forward, their lips meeting in a gentle kiss.
"Ness?" Rhona's voice floats through from the living room, causing them to part and Charity to glare at the closed door. "I think I'm gonna be sick."
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