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This is mostly scene setting and character development. Feedback would be very welcome.
The hammering came on the front door of the flat, loud and urgent, and Sarah woke from her afternoon nap with a very literal jump. There was a blossoming shadow of panic growing quickly at the back of her mind in direct response to the sound and her heartbeat accelerated as a flood of adrenaline washed into her bloodstream. As she began to put her thoughts together, already rising toward a state of panic, she started to seriously consider whether the building was on fire.
There had been a series of tragic fires in the aging tower blocks spread across London over the last couple of years. Everyone around town who made their home higher than about the second floor was living with an elevated level of day-to-day paranoia, and everyone had, after their periods of reflection for sympathy and survivor guilt, quietly thought out their own plans in case the next disaster were to strike closer to home. So Sarah wasted no time and was immediately on her feet heading out to attend to the knock.
Her wife Ray (and it was still so new and so wonderful to be able to say wife, and she’d try to keep it that way for as long as she possibly could) had always taken a very practical attitude to planning for emergencies. This meant, amongst other things, that there had been grab bags full of essentials packed for each of them since long before this recent cause for concern. They were stored unobtrusively under the side table in the hall next to the front door. Ray even spent a few earnest minutes every month or so (she had a calendar alert to remind her about it) making sure they were still readied to her satisfaction and that the perishables were up-to-date. Or present at all for that matter, Sarah did have a habit of stealing the cereal bars when she was hungry.
Today though none of this careful organisation was going to be needed because when Sarah opened the door it was only Lizzie standing there. Only Lizzie with her eyes puffy and red, moss green hair bedraggled and darkened almost to black by the rain. Only Lizzie looking desolately in at her and pleading wordlessly for refuge and support. So what was she going to do but hold out her arms and gather the poor damaged creature in.
They stood there in the doorway while Lizzie took her time, and shook and sobbed into Sarah’s shoulder. Sarah could vaguely feel the small prickly area of hot breath and tears soaking through her summer top, as well as the more widespread cold clammy dampness leaking through from LIzzie’s drenched clothing. Even more all-pervading than that though she could feel the waves of despair resonating out from the other woman. Despair, and beneath that loathing, and a sort of shame. Sarah used her weight to rock them slowly from side to side where they stood and she hummed in long, drawn out tones, quietly and resonating deep in her chest so that Lizzie could hear and take comfort from the sound.
Well Lizzie and Amy had finally reached the end of the line and split up then, Sarah thought. There seemed no doubt of that. But there was something much worse lurking down there as well. She could catch the basic shape of it and she had thought initially that Lizzie might have caught Amy sleeping around. Maybe that Amy might have found someone else, decided to move on, and not as it were, kept her affairs in proper order. But that didn’t quite seem to fit the shape of the emotion. No, there was something she wasn’t reading properly, something even more miserable which she didn’t yet understand.
She kissed Lizzie on the side of her head right above her ear, to remind her that she was still there, then she edged them back from the doorway into the flat. The sprung door which she’d been propping open with one foot swung to a close behind them and the latch clicked shut. Manoeuvring them clumsily into the living room she guided Lizzie over to the sofa, and sat them down there, side saddle. They drew back a little from their embrace and looked toward each other. Sarah stroked Lizzie’s arm and smiled across at her wanly.
“We don’t have to talk yet if you don’t want. You just have a sit down here and I’ll go make us something to drink ok?”
This proved to be a rare misstep from Sarah, and she winced, realising her own carelessness before she’d even seen the chagrin flash across Lizzie’s face. She recovered impressively quickly and nodded nervously in acknowledgment of the comforting tone in Sarah’s voice and in acceptance of the basic plan. Still though, the message Lizzie had taken from those words, which had made all the rest largely incidental to her, was that sooner or later she was going to have to talk.
While making the tea (peppermint for both of them she decided, caffeine wasn’t going to be anyone’s friend right now) Sarah kept moving back over to the kitchen door to spy on Lizzie. Each time she was still sitting hunched forward and motionless where she had left her. She was worried casino oyna that the other woman might lose her nerve and run away while she wasn’t looking, and she didn’t intend to let that happen if she could possibly prevent it. Lizzie was obviously very fragile right now and needed somewhere safe and someone who could look after her. Her unfortunate slip of the tongue notwithstanding, Sarah was entirely confident in her ability to provide that place and be that person. She dropped Ray a quick line at work while she waited for the tea bags to finish steeping in the hot water.
Hello Wife of mine, Lizzie’s here and she’s not doing well, she’s pretty upset. Can we give her the spare room for a bit if she needs somewhere to stay? x
The reply came back almost immediately – it always did.
No problem, chuck my kit up on the wardrobe in our room, I’ll buy extra for dinner.
Sarah smiled happily to herself as she read the message. Even these few words, ordinary as they were, could still manage to make her heart skip. They summed up Ray so perfectly for her that they could practically have been a love letter. Her Ray would get things organised first, then deal with the complex emotional issues she found more difficult once everyone was fed and rested. Or actually these days she’d more likely leave Sarah to sort that side of things out – so she had better get back to the living room and see what she could do to help.
Ray and Sarah had first met the other couple at one of the first of the many barbeques which Angela and Andy, their friends in common, had been holding since the weather had turned warm. Amy was introduced as some kind of friend of Angela’s younger sister. She had been gifted the invite as a way of getting to meet a few people in a new city and she’d brought Lizzie along as her plus one.
They had been the only two same sex couples there that day but it wasn’t really that which had brought them together as a group – it had been far more about their ages and social links. They had all been rather on the periphery of the mix, so the way it had panned out was that everyone had seemed to know everyone else pretty well with the exception of the four of them. Naturally enough in the circumstances they had ended up joining forces and they’d staked themselves out a beachhead within easy striking distance of the food and drinks.
After enjoying each other’s company for the afternoon they’d gone through the dance steps of exchanging contacts and this in turn had spawned the inevitable Whatsapp group. Then following on from that they’d met up for the evening at a friendly pub a couple of weeks later. It turned out they lived in adjoining boroughs of South London so it had been easy enough to decide on a spot which was relatively convenient for both parties. The conversation that night had again flowed easily and they’d all had a good time so these evenings out had gone on to become a regular series of events.
The two of them had made an attractive couple. Amy was tall, sporty and blonde haired, her fair skin had built up a deep golden tan over the years in the Australian sun. Lizzie by contrast was small, barely taller than Sarah, and slight, topped by a shock of long hair which would change colour with dizzying frequency. Her dark skin was the legacy of a heritage her family still traced back to the Caribbean. Barbuda via Beeston – though she’d never visited the tiny island her great grandparents on her mother’s mother’s side had first called home. Back before they’d traded the sun for the mills and the mist.
That was all ancient history now of course and Lizzie was urban Yorkshire through and through, her brogue a minor novelty in London, even more so than Amy’s drawl. Her parents still lived up there in their stone home in a suburb of Bradford, but she’d wanted her independence, so she’d come south when the time came to further her education, and ended up sticking around.
Amy was stereotypically loud and extroverted; Lizzie definitely the more accommodating of the two. That shouldn’t be taken to mean she was shy though, after all it was Lizzie who had maneuvered her way into Amy’s orbit on a night out with friends – summoning the courage to latch onto her and make her interest clear. Happily Amy had been delighted by the approach, they’d gone back to her home and to her bed at the end of the same evening, and that had been the beginning of Lizzie and Amy.
Since then Lizzie’s compliant nature had left her quite content to be pulled along in Amy’s slipstream as she tore around soaking up everything she could want from London. Making the most of the many opportunities available to enjoy an inexhaustible series of parties. Both of them very much living their lives for the weekend.
For Amy this was absolutely fine, in fact it was kind of part of the master plan. The subtext had always been that she was on an extended holiday really and that sooner or later she’d be returning to Australia. Once she was back there she’d canlı casino presumably be swapping her focus into doing something constructive with her degree; switching up a gear or two and getting on with the rest of her life. But for the time being she could burn both ends of the candle and indulge in all kinds of exotic pleasures in a foreign city.
Lizzie though was something of a lost soul; there was an edge of desperation to her hedonism. Sarah in particular had been quite worried when she’d noticed this because she liked Lizzie very much. Through a little tactful digging she’d managed to establish that there had been some kind of catastrophic family upset a few years ago. Reading between the lines this had devastated Lizzie and she had come off the rails quite seriously for a while after it had happened.
Whatever had been behind this (and in the absence of a professional relationship between them Sarah couldn’t really push any further than she already had) it had all coincided with the key third year of Lizzie’s degree and downgraded the first class honours in economics she’d been headed for into a meagre third instead. Up until then it sounded as if Lizzie had been quite a high flyer, but she’d not managed to regain anything like the same momentum since.
In fact having failed so spectacularly to capitalise on her opportunities she had ended up stuck in something of a career backwater. She’d had to take the first job she could get, rather than find something she wanted, so she’d ended up where she was now – working long days for low pay as an office junior at a prop shop and brokerage firm based in the City.
There she was unappreciated, neglected, and understandably bored out of her mind. So she’d been drawn in by that all too common vicious circle. Trapped doing the bare minimum she could get away with to keep her in the job she still relied on but had long ago grown to despise. And all this while she was sleepwalking deeper into her twenties – treading by increments further down the path of least resistance instead of following her dreams.
It had been clear to Sarah that Lizzie was stifling some very important parts of herself and that she would only be able to keep a lid on them for so long. They would inevitably find a way to break out and demand her attention sooner or later.
How this might manifest Sarah hadn’t been able to tell; all she could do was position herself as an approachable friend and hope for the best. So she was relieved to find that Lizzie had turned up at their place today. Now that whatever had taken place between her and Amy had apparently tipped her over closer to the crisis which had been growing in the closed off areas of her life for all this time.
Sarah fished out the tea bags and picked up the mugs from the side. Walking back through to the other room she found Lizzie waiting for her. Lizzie’s demeanour had changed entirely and her face was now fixed with determination.
Right, time to talk then is it, Sarah thought. She took her seat again, placing the drinks on the coffee table while Lizzie steeled herself to speak.
“We were talking about what it might be like to start a family.”
This came as a surprise. Sarah had always taken it for granted that Lizzie and Amy’s relationship wasn’t the type which was headed in that kind of direction any time soon. From what she had seen it had been clear their partnership was founded very solidly on their shared focus on making the most of the going out and having fun aspects of life.
She could certainly see how Lizzie’s deciding to shift the goalposts all of a sudden would have caused some friction between them. And she couldn’t imagine Amy had been the one to bring it up either. Sarah tried her best to be generous, and to see the good she could in people, but in spite of her best intentions she tended toward the circumspect when it came to Amy.
This sudden change in her understanding of Lizzie made Sarah want to talk about her own desire for children. She’d known for as long as she could remember that she wanted to be a mother one day. Now that she and Ray were married she was beginning to suspect that it might be time to take steps to make that happen for them. The moment could hardly have been more wrong to start on that particular conversation though. So she put the thought aside for now with a mental note to try to bring it up again when things were more settled with Lizzie.
Lizzie went on, “We were just having another evening at home you know. Dinner, a bottle of wine, shouting at the idiots on the telly, the usual. I can’t really remember how we got onto the subject in the first place but I suppose it was probably me who bought it up. I’ve been thinking about that kind of thing more recently, because it’s been going so well…”
She tailed off.
“Well because I’d thought it was going so well anyway. And I could tell straight away that there was something wrong. She was holding back. You know how you can tell, kaçak casino when someone’s holding back.”
Sarah nodded evenly, not wanting to interrupt the flow of Lizzie’s words by speaking up, but yes, she knew.
“And I was wondering if maybe she thought it was too soon, to be planning ahead that far I mean, because we’ve not really talked about that kind of thing much. So I asked her whether that was it and she said that it wasn’t. She said it was something different.”
Lizzie’s voice cracked there and she paused for a drink. Her throat was raw from crying and when she swallowed she could feel the sharp ache as the little liquid bolus of tea forced its way down and stretched the damaged flesh. She took a second sip anyway, because despite the pain the peppermint was soothing, and because the process of drinking gave her the momentary distraction she needed. Sarah sat across from her motionless, patient as a stone, but with senses finely tuned and taking everything in.
“She said,” Lizzie went on quietly when she was ready. Her voice was low and steady now, tightly reined in. There was yet another hesitation as she reviewed one last time the enormity of what she was about to share. Even now it felt absurdly as if she was betraying Amy by breaking her confidence.
“She said that she wanted her children to have a proper father. She wanted to have a normal family. That’s what she said.”
There weren’t a lot of things which could leave Sarah speechless. As a therapist she’d pretty much been making a career out of always being able to find the right words for the occasion; even if it was only something to fill a gap which would do no actual harm. For a long minute though she couldn’t frame a response at all and so the ugliness hung there in the air between them.
Lizzie was looking blankly off downward and to the side, eyes ostensibly resting on some random patch of the polished wooden floor. She obviously wasn’t really in the room at all though. She was back at home last night, reliving that dreadful loop over again, and making it if possible even more monstrous this time around. Finally Sarah spoke, not because she knew how to reply, but because the alternative was worse.
“She shouldn’t have said that.”
Lizzie jerked as if she’d been shot and let out an explosive burst of breath. It took Sarah a moment to realise this had been supposed to be a laugh.
“Yeah but that really isn’t the point is it Sarah,” she spat out bitterly. “The point is she shouldn’t have fucking meant it.”
Sarah understood this completely as well. That simple deeply unpleasant assumption on Amy’s part unravelled so much. She was slightly taken aback that Lizzie had reached the same level of insight and come to terms with it so quickly though. She’d seriously underestimated the woman.
“After that I just went to bed Sarah. I couldn’t sit there and pretend it didn’t matter, but I didn’t have the stomach for a fight either. And then when she came in later she tried to fuck me. Can you imagine. I’m still good enough for that but I’m not good enough to bring up her children with her. I guess you’ve got to draw the line somewhere right.”
She didn’t need to tell Sarah that she’d gone along with it. That she’d lain there on her back while Amy had crawled up between her legs and fucked her that one last time. And that she’d even come. She was glad she’d at least had enough self respect not to demean herself further by returning the favour. She could take what tiny comfort there was in that at least. No, afterwards she’d curled up with both duvet and darkness wrapped around her, and she’d worked things through in her mind, while the stranger she’d thought had been her girlfriend slept beside her.
In the morning she had woken up early, but had feigned sleep until the slam of the door and the silence which followed told her that Amy had left for work. Then she’d dragged herself out of bed and showered. She’d phoned in sick, hoping desperately that this wouldn’t be the final straw that made them give up and dismiss her. Then she’d sat around the house still trying to figure out what she could possibly do next.
Instead, all that had kept repeating endlessly through her head was the refrain from some infectious tech house anthem. They’d been dancing to it when they’d been out just the weekend before. She remembered a thousand grinning faces flicking in and out of visibility under the chaos of the banks of rotating lights. The thick heat of the air, the stink of sweat partly masked by the chalky, fruity, scent of the smoke machine and all shot through with the citrus spicy flavor of psychoactive herbs. The slightly disgusting intimacy of the drops of condensation raining from the ceiling onto the crowd. The wall of beautiful angular sound thumping out of the speaker stacks.
Everyone had been goading each other on to dance with greater and greater focus and energy. A thousand feet stamping down, then bouncing back up off the wooden floor, arms signalling out into the air. And all the while that rolling, funky, beat which twisted and slid around them, warping through various sequences of squelch and distortion. Slapping out its staccato melody.
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