It hadn't been easy trying to extract Jodie from Tina's bath. Lockwood might be as thin as a rake, Posner observed with envy, but she was also five foot nine and blessed with ample bosom, which made her heavier than a sackload of concrete when she couldn't move her limbs properly.
They'd propped her up in the back seat, leaning against the window. Every so often Jodie would stumble into something resembling sobriety, and throw out something about needing to be home soon. Esther shuddered- the heating in Crowther's car was always infamously broken. There was suddenly an ear-splitting shriek throughout the car- Dakin was messing with the radio from the front passenger seat.
Posner kicked it, at not too gently, either. "Fuck off with the radio, Michelle."
Dakin gave her the finger from the front seat. "Piss off. At least we brought you."
"And I bet that was all your idea, was it?"
Michelle didn't say anything, but left the radio alone and propped her feet up on the dashboard. It was silent for a while, with only the hard splatter of the rain on the roof and windows of the car bashing through the quiet. When the periodical flashes of light from the streetlamps ran over their faces, Esther could see that Michelle was pouting like a child whose hand had been found caught in the biscuit tin. So obviously Michelle hadn't planned on taking Esther home. And judging by the juddering in the shoulders of the figure of Donna driving the car, revealing the desire to giggle, Posner could tell who had gotten her this lift back to the north end of town.
Scripps braked for a red light on the main road, and Lockwood groaned, forehead leaned against the cold and condensation-covered window. "How much further to mine?"
Dakin squinted out into the rain. "We're at the top end of the town centre now, Jodie, up by the Wheatsheaf pub."
Donna opted for a more coherent answer. "Fifteen minutes."
Jodie grimaced, and Esther didn't blame her. Not to say the Scripps's driving was bad- it was objectively the best out of all eight of them- but the roads at the town centre were actual pieces of shit, and Posner had been lifted out of her seat by the car running against the huge potholes more than once. She could feel the food in her stomach swish about, making her feel vaguely queasy, and Posner was only in the middle-range of tipsy. Lockwood had been rock-bottom shitfaced, and Posner was more than ready to lean over and speed-wind Jodie's window down if needs came.
With Scripps concentrating on not crashing the car in the rain and Dakin whistling through her teeth in lieu of radio, there wasn't much conversation. Posner found herself awkwardly holding Jodie's hand in her own two, giving it the occasional sympathy pat.
Esther didn't usually let herself get this close, but Lockwood seemed to appreciate the gesture of comfort, giving her hand random squeezes. Posner tried to keep herself at a safe physical distance from the others if she could help it- but everyone had their moments of weakness. And she'd be lying to herself if she said that holding Lockwood's hand wasn't making her heart flutter, just a little bit.
She took what she could get and then hoped she wouldn't regret it on a later day. Esther supposed that's what she'd do from now until the day she died- look, love, and hide, all from a safe distance. The path of loving Michelle Dakin had been trodden once before, and had ended reasonably, considering. Miserable, but delightfully, poetically miserable. 'Have more than you show; speak less than you know.'
But Esther Posner was also not one to blatantly lie to herself- she was a realist, but not one devoid of hope. On sad days where she sat in parks or lazily read Emily Dickinson in bed or found herself dumbly staring into the middle distance she entertained herself, imagining a pretty little kitchen with herbs on the window-sill, two fat cats flopping around on the sofa, a safe job in the civil service and a beautiful, comfortable lady who loved her.
But like she said; a realist, not an optimist. More than likely there would be a succession of Dakin's, adored from afar and comfort only for nights alone. But for now, she had friends who sort-of-knew and sort-of-didn't-care, so whilst she had a pretty girl's hand in hers, she'd allow herself an indulgence.
Donna took the left turn onto the Highfield estate, and Jodie's block of flats came into view. Scripps pulled up in the car park at the base of the tower, not concentrating on staying in the lines of the space. Scripps went to unbuckle her seatbelt, but Michelle stopped her.
"If you get out of this car it'll be freezing when we get back- I'll take Jodie back to the flat. You and Posner stay here."
Esther wasn't sure how leaving her and Donna here was going to contribute anything to the temperature of Crowther's icebox of a car, but Dakin had that look on her face, the one that meant 'I'm going to get my own way whether you like it or not.'. Posner had seen that look multiple times, and it usually meant that Michelle had planned something, and Dakin's plans were rarely pleasant.
Donna and Michelle were currently playing an intense game of mental table tennis from the front of the car, judging by the looks they were shooting across at each other. Dakin still had that intent face, and Scripps looked like she was either going to throw a punch or burst into tears. It only lasted a few seconds, but it was an intense few, before Scripps leaned back in the driver's seat and practically whispered "Okay."
Esther had never seen Michelle move so fast- okay, maybe not, there was the time when they got a reasonably attractive supply teacher for PE for a few months, which coincided exactly with when Michelle got really into athletics- but Dakin was dragging a groaning Lockwood up into the building at record speed, with nothing but the rain pattering on the roof of the car between the remaining girls.
There usually wasn't awkward silence between Posner and Scripps, but Michelle's hurried exit had made it so, and Donna seemed increasingly reluctant to talk as the seconds ticked on, making the silence in the car even more oppressive than before. Esther tried to breach the uncomfortable atmosphere by quietly singing the first song that came into her head.
" Raindrops keep falling on my head, but that doesn't mean my eyes will soon be turning red..."
Donna laughed down her nose, and turned to the backseat. "Do you want to come up front?"
Scripps rolled her eyes. "Dakin's got out of the car, she's forfeited the right to the front seat."
Fair enough, thought Posner as she clambered through the gap in the chairs, being careful enough to not get stuck on the gear stick, and plopping herself in the passenger seat next to Scripps. Esther pulled her coat further across her- it really was freezing in the car.
Donna noticed, and made to take off her cardigan, and Esther tried to refuse, but Scripps raised an eyebrow and her resolve melted, wrapping the giant knitted monstrosity- probably homemade, by the looks of it- over the top of the thin jacket she'd come out in.
The silence continued as they shivered together. Dakin was taken far too long, even if the lift in the flats was broken and she'd had to drag Jodie up the stairs. Posner wasn't a naturally suspicious person, but when it came to Dakin is became somewhat of a necessity.
Scripps coughed. "Rain's still coming down hard-"
"What's Dakin planning?"
Donna's eyes widened in shock. "I don't-"
"It's Dakin. She's always planning something."
Scripps groaned, and leaned her head on the steering wheel. "She's really not that subtle, is she?"
Esther scoffed. "I'm not sure Michelle knows the definition of the word. But you're avoiding the question."
Donna didn't move her head off the wheel. "She wants us to... talk."
Posner's mouth suddenly went dry. "About what?"
"Something. With me." Scripps's voice was barely more than a whisper. "And you. I suppose. Tangentially. Tangentially about you."
Esther heard Donna's voice tail off from a whisper to barely audible, and she was just opening and closing her mouth wordlessly, like a goldfish. It was like the words hurt to say or there weren't really words at all or they were blocked by something bigger than her will to say them.
Posner knew that feeling. It was the one that stabbed her in the heart whenever she went to a wedding, it was the one that screamed when she saw couples holding hands, and it was the one that cried when she saw any of the other girls with puppy-eyed, adoring faces that she knew she would never receive.
She could barely hear her own voice when she filled in Donna's reluctant words for her. "You're like me."
Scripps's silence was answer enough.
Esther didn't know what to say- it wasn't ever like she'd had to say it. In fact, that might have been the first time she'd admitted it out loud. But everyone had already known with her, but she'd had no idea about Scripps. Did anyone? Well, Dakin did, apparently, but Dakin knew most things.
Scripps's head shot up. "What for?"
Esther shrugged, dumbfounded. "I don't know Scrippsy. That we're the same, I suppose."
"What's that got to do with you?"
Posner shrunk into herself, feeling guilty over what was logically nothing but felt so irrationally enormous. "I don't know."
She went to open the door of the car, Scripps noticed. "Where are you going?"
"I'll walk- you can't want me around after that, I'm sorry-"
"No! Esther, stop, it's pissing it down!" exclaimed Scripps, grabbing onto Esther's arm, which was reaching for the door handle. "I don't- I want you, Pos, for fucks sake, I like you. " Donna was choking the words out like it hurt her very soul to say them, clutching Posner's arm like it was painful to let go. "I like you."
Posner could feel her heart turn to lead in her chest, weighing her down. "Why?"
Donna gave a long, beleaguered, tired sigh. "I don't know. You're just... you. You never paint your nails neatly and you sing so well and you're subtle as a brick wall. Your plaits are always loose and your blazer a size too big, and you are the only person left in the year who still wears their skirt the right length. I don't know, Pos. I just want you, and I hope that's okay."
Esther gave it a second, and then said her part, a soft little "Okay."
Scripps gaped. "What?"
Posner fidgeted, tugging at the end of the sleeves of Scripps's cardigan. "I mean... it's not like I haven't thought about it. More that I've never considered it a possibility. With all due respect, you're a lot better at hiding things than I am."
"You did come to school when you were seven and tell everyone you were going to marry Judy Garland."
Posner cringed, then giggled. "Exactly. But... considering everyone I know, well, I'm glad it's you. And... I'd like to give it a go. If you're okay with me more growing into it."
Donna's hand cupped her face, pianist fingers soft from flowery soap. "I'm okay with whatever you're able to give."
Then Esther kissed her, slowly, nervously, like lowering herself into a hot bath. It was short and soft, and surprisingly chaste, but it was the start of something bigger, and Posner found herself quite comfortable with it.
When they broke away, Scripps was grinning like an idiot, but shook herself sensible, grabbing the car keys. "Home?"
Posner nodded. "Home." Then she remembered their third passenger, who still had not come back.
"What about Dakin?"
Scripps turned the keys in the ignition. "Fuck it. Let's leave her."
The next day, Scripps was sat in her garden when Michelle came trudging around the corner still wearing last night's clothes. She glared at Donna, who grinned back at the other girl and put up her middle finger. Then quite suddenly, Dakin's face morphed into its usual triumphant smirk, and she raised an eyebrow before turning into her own front garden.
Posner had walked out of Scripps's door, into the garden, sighed, sat down next to Donna, still wearing a borrowed pair of Scripps's pyjamas, clutching a mug of tea. "Are you sure she deserved that? Walking home, I mean."
Scripps pondered. "Probably not. But let me have this."
Esther snorted down her nose and took another sip of her tea. Watching Dakin exhaustedly struggle with her front door key, she giggled. "I suppose there's a certain schadenfreude to it."
As Michelle finally stumbled into her house, Donna snuggled up close to Esther on the bench in the garden, laying her head on Esther's shoulder.
"If these delights thy mind may move..."
Scripps could almost feel Esther rolling her eyes, before Posner snuck her hand around Donna's back bringing them even closer together, and responding,
"Then live with me, and be my love."