An obnoxious ringing cuts through the warm, soft embrace of sleep to rouse her unceremoniously. As always when a phone rings in the night, her heart starts thudding painfully, reverberating through her chest to her ears and she forces her eyes open. The body against her own is already shifting, allowing a cold chasm to form where skin had been pressed to skin seconds before.
“‘S’happening? Wha’s wrong?”
“Shhh, it’s fine. Go back to sleep.” And then. “Hello? Vanessa Woodfield.”
Charity groans and scoots forward to press herself against Vanessa’s back again, seeking out the comfort of the slumber that has been cruelly ripped away. She’s sure Vanessa can feel her racing heartbeat as the adrenaline fades. A hand covers her own where it rests on Vanessa’s stomach, thumb sweeping back and forth as Vanessa continues to speak.
“How long has it been since she started labouring? Right. And the calf’s not presenting at all? No problem. I’ll be there as soon as I can. Okay. Bye.”
The light from the phone goes out and Vanessa pats her hand. “I have to go.”
Charity slides her arm further around Vanessa’s waist, pulling her tighter against her body. “Can’t they call Paddy? Why do you have to go?”
“Because I’m the one that’s on call. I told you this earlier. I asked if you wanted to give it a miss tonight.”
She doesn’t want to dwell too long on the fact that she was given the power to avoid this rude awakening and chose to risk it. She presses her face into the back of Vanessa’s neck. “Yeah, but I didn’t think anyone would actually call. It’s the middle of the bloody night!”
“Tell that to Mr Northam’s poor cow.” Vanessa wriggles to get free and Charity holds onto her just a little bit longer than necessary. She tells herself it’s to annoy Vanessa, and ignores the thought that it could be some other reason.
Finally released, Vanessa sits up and switches on the lamp, making Charity hiss and turn her face into the pillow. “Well, tell Mr Northam’s cow that it’s interrupting my beauty sleep.” Vanessa’s laugh tells her that she’s heard the muffled words.
“I will.” The bed moves as Vanessa stands up and starts moving around. “Not that you need it.”
Charity’s teeth clench at how easily a few throwaway words can make her heart speed up again. She turns her face out of the pillow and is disappointed to see that Vanessa is almost fully dressed. She comes back and sits on the edge of the bed to put on her boots and tie them. Charity reaches out and slides her hand into the gap between Vanessa’s jeans and her t-shirt, fingertips dancing across her lower back.
“How long will you be?” She was aiming for casual, but the lateness of the hour and the rapidly cooling sheet beside her lend more depth to the question than she’d like.
“Dunno. Depends on the cow.” Vanessa sits up and turns to look over her shoulder with a smile. “I’ll probably just go home after I’m done. Don’t want to disturb you twice in one night.”
Something twinges in her chest at the thought of Vanessa leaving and not coming back. Perhaps because of how their relationship began. Or perhaps because of how far they’ve come. She pulls her arm back under the covers, burrowing deeper beneath them.
“Yeah. Fine. I’ll probably get a bollocking from Chas about phones going off and doors slamming in the middle of the night as it is.”
“I’m not planning on slamming any doors, but I’ll apologise to her when I see her.” Vanessa sighs, turning so that she’s sitting with one knee on the bed. She lifts a hand and pushes some of Charity’s hair back, letting her fingers trail down her jaw before falling away. “I…I don’t want to go, Charity. I have to go.”
This mind-reading malarkey is annoying at the best of times, but it’s worse when she’s not had near enough sleep and Vanessa’s looking at her like that, the glow of the lamp making her eyes shine with questions that Charity can’t answer. Won’t answer.
For a moment, it looks like Vanessa’s going to say something else. Her lips part and she takes a breath and Charity knows if she says the words that are on her tongue, everything will change. She surges up and removes the danger with a kiss. When she feels Vanessa melt against her, she knows the words will remain unsaid and they can stay in this safe place, where feelings don’t exist. Or, at least, they aren’t talked about.
The problem is that this has never happened to her before. It’s never been this easy to just be with someone. There’s been no trouble, no tears, no worry. It feels far too easy to be anything real. Real love is hard and confusing and it hurts. This thing with Vanessa is the opposite of that. Because it’s not real. It can’t be.
“You’re not making it easy to leave,” Vanessa mumbles against her mouth, fingers digging into the bared skin at her hip.
“And I’m supposed be flattered that you’d rather be here than out in the cold sticking your hand up a cow, am I?” She bites Vanessa’s bottom lip, briefly. “Bet you won’t buy her dinner first either.”
Vanessa pulls back and Charity’s mouth goes dry. Here she is trying to prevent Vanessa from crossing any lines, only to go and fling herself over them.
“Is…is that something you-”
“You better go.” Charity gathers the duvet up around her chest, suddenly feeling the chill in the air. “It’s been easy five minutes since your phone went.”
Vanessa nods once, professionalism taking over from emotion. She leans in and presses a soft, slow kiss to Charity’s lips. She pulls back a little, a hand on Charity’s chin making sure she doesn’t look away.
“If I’m finished before dawn, I’ll come back here.” She smiles that smile that fills up the cracks in Charity’s heart. “Can’t promise I’ll smell very pretty, mind.”
“Well, you know where the shower is.” The voice that comes out of her is a ragged whisper.
“Mmhmm.” A final kiss is brushed over her lips and then Vanessa is standing up again, tightening her ponytail and smiling down at her. “I’ll try not to wake you.”
She should make a quip. Something biting to undercut this atmosphere. Her mind refuses to focus on anything but how much she wants to be woken up by a tired Vanessa, fresh from the shower, crawling into her bed. She just nods instead, settling herself back down against the pillows.
Vanessa bends to turn off the lamp, her soft smile the last thing that Charity sees before the room goes dark. Vanessa’s footsteps are quiet and she opens the door slowly so it doesn’t squeak. And, stupidly, the care the other woman puts into those little tasks makes Charity’s eyes burn and her throat ache.
If she pulls Vanessa’s pillow closer it’s only because her neck is sore from lying tangled around another body for most of the night. If she presses her face into the fabric and inhales, it’s not to smell Vanessa’s shampoo or her perfume. And if she wraps her arms around it, it’s because her body has forgotten how to sleep alone.