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The Luckiest Girl in the World

Chapter Text

‘Delia Busby, you must be the luckiest girl in the world!’

Delia looked up as she bustled through the door of The Poplar, wondering what on earth would make Val say that, given that she was very late, soaking wet and utterly exhausted. Days when she had classes, observations and work pushed her normally limitless energy reserves to the brink, and she hoped she could make it through her six-hour shift without falling asleep at the taps.

She took off her drenched woollen coat, holding it up away from her body as it dripped onto the floor, ‘Why am I lucky? I certainly don’t feel it right now.’

Val smiled as she wiped down the counter, gesturing with her head towards the clock on the wall, ‘Phyllis hasn’t come down yet to check on us. Hurry up and get back here before she comes. You know how she feels about promptness.’

As if summoned by Val’s words, the sounds of someone stomping down the back stairs echoed through the quiet pub.

Delia muttered ‘Cach!’ under her breath as she flung her coat onto the rack and made a run for the bar. Ducking behind it, she caught the martini glass and rag Val tossed towards her as she sprinted to her spot. When Phyllis burst in, she was calmly inspecting the glass, looking for all the world like she’d been there prepping for the last twenty minutes. It appeared she might avoid getting in trouble, despite her lateness. Maybe she was lucky.

‘Evening ladies, I wanted to check in with each of you about your plans for the holidays. Now I know that…’ Phyllis trailed off, staring at Delia, looking a bit bewildered, ‘Delia, what on earth is the matter with your hair?’

Delia glanced at herself in the mirror, seeing that her hair was so wet that long tendrils had snuck out of her tight ponytail and her fringe was matted messily to her forehead, ‘Umm…I’m sorry Ms Crane. I got caught in the downpour on the way from the bus stop. I’d prepared for snow, but I wasn’t expecting rain.’

‘And you’ve decided you’re simply going to bartend this evening looking like you’ve just been pulled from the Thames?’

‘Well…no. I just thought I’d help Val get prepped before fixing my hair.’

Phyllis sighed, ‘Delia, I know it’s a challenge to manage classes and observations and working here, and you’re an excellent bartender who the patrons love, but I really need you to be prompt and professional. This is a nice pub with a reputation to uphold.’

Delia looked down at the ground, feeling thoroughly chided, ‘Yes, Ms Crane. It’s just that the bus from the hospital was late.’

Phyllis narrowed her eyes, ‘I don’t like excuses, kid. The world needs more nurses, but I need a reliable bartender. Now, why don’t you pop up to your flat and spruce up while Valerie finishes prepping. You can pay her back by doing clean-up this evening. We’ll discuss holiday scheduling at a later date.’

Delia sighed and began making her way towards the back stairs when she was brought to a halt by Phyllis calling out.

‘Oh, and Delia? Do bring this coat up with you before it creates a small pond by the door.’

Delia grumbled to herself as she grabbed her coat and trudged up the back stairs. If she was the luckiest girl in the world, she truly felt bad for everyone else. Though she had to admit, Phyllis’ exacting standards notwithstanding, she still had a pretty nice setup. She was in a good nursing program, she had a job that paid the bills, and the small flat above the pub she shared with Val was well within her budget.

All she needed to do was not lose her bloody job because the bus always ran late. Maybe she should get a bicycle; that would probably be faster.

She quickly changed into dry clothes and made herself look presentable before making her way back down to the pub.

Val smiled warmly at her as she ducked back behind the bar, ‘I still don’t think she has any sense of just how late you were, so that’s a plus.’

Delia rolled her eyes and shot Val a small smile, ‘Silver linings and all that. Hopefully the bus won’t be late too many more times or you’re going to be getting a new roommate.’

Val waved her hand dismissively, ‘Are you kidding? Phyllis loves you. She just has to appear all stern and intimidating to keep up appearances. She’s really a marshmallow.’

‘I hope you’re right.’

Delia set about making sure the well was set up the way she liked it, feeling herself calm as she looked at the neatly organized row of bottles and dishes of citrus, olives and herbs. She really did enjoy this job. Getting to chat with people while she created delicious drinks was a great way to unwind and clear her brain after a stressful day of observational rounds. And, much to Phyllis’ chagrin, The Poplar never got outrageously busy, so it never felt too hectic.

Also, today was Wednesday, which meant that the midwives would be coming for their weekly Wednesday social. Which meant that Patsy would be here. Delia loved any opportunity to see Patsy, and it would be a special treat to get to see her two days in a row. Delia felt herself flush with pleasure as she recalled the previous evening. At one point, Patsy had told Tony that Delia made the very best Old Fashioned in all of London. In all of London! When she’d heard that she’d been filled with such a bubbly happiness she thought she might float away. Patsy thought her Old Fashioned was the best!!

God, she had such an utterly hopeless crush. Patsy was just so…interesting. And kind. And funny. And gorgeous. And an already established nurse who lived in a nice flat and wore stylish clothes and drank fancy drinks and wouldn’t even begin to be interested in someone like Delia, who was young and just getting started in her career and who couldn’t even manage to read a weather report so she wouldn’t show up at work looking sodden and unprofessional. Delia bet that Patsy had never shown up at work looking like a bedraggled stray.

But still, knowing that Patsy was out of her league didn’t stop her from looking…and hoping. And, somewhat shockingly, Patsy actually seemed interested in talking to her. They would often chat when the midwives would come to The Poplar, and last night they’d actually gone to a film together. Well, it was a group trip to the cinema, but still…she and Patsy and Tony had actually hung out together all evening and it had felt easy and normal and fun. Really, the only down side was that it had made her crush even bigger, which she hadn’t been sure was possible.

Oh well, she’d long since resigned herself to a life of hopeless pining, so she might as well enjoy every opportunity she got to bask in Patsy’s presence.

 

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Valerie prepped extra citrus as she watched Delia fiddle with various bottles, lining them all up just so. She was dying to know how Delia and Patsy’s movie night had gone, but she had to find a way to ask so as not to seem suspicious.

It had been Trixie’s idea, trying to surreptitiously get the two of them on a date. The blonde was convinced that they were both utterly infatuated with each other but neither would admit it, so she’d declared that the group needed to hang out outside of The Poplar and organized a ‘group night at the cinema.’ Then she arranged for everyone else to conveniently have to cancel, leaving Patsy and Delia to spend the evening together. Valerie had dutifully texted Delia to say she’d had something come up, and now she wanted to know if the ruse had worked.

She cleared her throat, ‘By the way, I’m sorry I had to cancel last night. I’d completely forgotten I told my friend I’d meet up with her. Did you still have a good time at the cinema?’

Delia seemed to flush slightly as she smiled and nodded, ‘Mmhm. It was wonderful. Trixie and Barbara had to cancel as well, so it turned out to be not so big of a group.’

‘Oh no!’ Valerie hoped that her concern sounded convincing, ‘Was it just you and Patsy then?’

Delia shook her head, ‘No. Patsy had invited her friend Tony from the hospital, so it was the three of us.’

Did Delia seem disappointed? Valerie couldn’t tell. She knew she was disappointed.

‘Oh…that’s good then. I’m glad the three of you had a wonderful time.’

Delia simply nodded, though Valerie noted she seemed to be blushing.

Before she had a chance to follow up, a large group bustled in through the front door, calling out hellos as they took off their dripping coats. Valerie called back her greetings and took a deep breath. It was time to get to work.

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Trixie leaned up against the bar feeling thoroughly irritated. Her plan had been flawless, and then Patsy had to go and invite Tony. How could she possibly have planned for that?

She made eye contact with Val, who hustled over to her, looking as if she had a secret to share.

Val spoke in an exaggerated whisper, ‘Trixie! I talked to Delia and it turns out it wasn’t just the two of them because Patsy invited –’

‘Tony, I know. Patsy told me.’ Trixie cut her off dryly before sighing dramatically, ‘Ugh. They’re just so impossible. I need to get them alone so they can realize how in love with each other they are.’

Val smiled and rolled her eyes, ‘That seems a bit dramatic.’

‘Not at all. I mean, look at them.’ Trixie gestured over to where Patsy and Delia were chatting at the other end of the bar. Taking in their flushed features and giddy smiles and shining eyes, Trixie wasn’t sure how it could possibly have been more obvious. Surely everyone else wasn’t blind.

Val cocked her head to the side, ‘I suppose they do look happy to see each other.’

Trixie shot her a disbelieving look, ‘Are all of you lesbians this hopeless? It really is amazing you ever start relationships at all.’

‘Hey!’ Val feigned insult, though she smiled good-naturedly.

‘Regardless, we need to figure out how to get them alone where they can’t invite anyone else and they’ll have plenty of time to get over all of their various insecurities.’ She watched Patsy walk back to join Barbara, Cynthia and Chummy at their table, considering her options. She could try to arrange another group outing, but it would be too suspicious if they all cancelled a second time. She could try yet again to talk to Patsy, but that route had been utterly fruitless thus far and she didn’t see why now would be any different. No, the time had come for drastic action. She turned back to Val.

‘Valerie, what are Delia’s plans for Christmas?’

‘She’s going home to Wales to spend it with her family, why?’

Trixie shot her a meaningful look, and Valerie immediately paled, ‘Trixie, no. That’s too much.’

‘On the contrary, I think it’s just enough.’

‘How would you even make that happen? There’s no way Patsy would invite herself to Delia’s family’s holiday.’

Trixie smirked devilishly, ‘She won’t have to because Delia’s going to invite her.’

‘Trixie, I really think this might be crossing a line. Family holidays are a big deal.’

‘Yes they are. Full of love and warmth and presents and mistletoe. It’ll be absolutely perfect.’

‘If they’re really so in love with each other, can’t we just wait for them to figure it out?’

‘We’ve all known each other for a year, Valerie, and they’re still just obliviously flirting with each other. If we wait for them to figure it out, we’ll all be retired by then. No, it’s time for drastic action. Anyway, Delia’s always talking about how she wishes she had a friend to act as a buffer when she’s around family, and Patsy hasn’t had a proper Christmas in…well, maybe ever. At worst, they’ll just bumble awkwardly through the holidays together.’

Val still looked profoundly sceptical, ‘I don’t know, Trix.’

‘Come on,’ Trixie pouted, shooting Valerie her best puppy-dog eyes, ‘Don’t you want Delia to be happy?’

Val stared her down for a moment before letting out an exasperated sigh, ‘Fine!’

Trixie beamed and clapped her hands together with glee, ‘I knew you’d agree to it.’ She lowered her voice and leaned conspiratorially across the bar, ‘Alright. Here’s what we’re going to do…’

Chapter Text

Patsy narrowed her eyes in concentration, trying to ensure she didn’t spill any of Cynthia’s sparkling water as she made her way back to their table. Delia had said she’d bring Chummy and Barbara’s drinks over once she’d finished making them, so Patsy had been spared trying to balance four beverages, which was such a relief. She didn’t want to look like a clumsy fool or pour things on herself in front of Delia.

She slid back into her chair to find Chummy in the middle of a story about her date last night with Peter. Rather than try to get caught up, Patsy took the opportunity to simply phase out for a moment and daydream about Delia.

Last night had been so wonderful. And also torturous. But mostly wonderful.

She and Tony had just arrived at the theatre when she’d gotten Trixie and Barbara’s texts cancelling, and she had to admit she’d been a bit disappointed that she’d invited Tony. Sometimes, when Tony went to the loo or to buy popcorn, Patsy had pretended in her head that she and Delia were there alone, just the two of them, on a date, and it had filled her with a nervous, bubbling excitement.

God, she had such an utterly hopeless crush. Delia was just so…charming. And hilarious. And determined. And beautiful. And a young, hip bartender with cool friends and an active social life who wouldn’t even begin to be interested in someone like Patsy, who was older and preferred staying in and was brusque in a way that always managed to lightly insult people, even though she never meant to. Patsy bet that Delia would never be reprimanded for telling children in the waiting room to quiet down.

But still, knowing that Delia was out of her league didn’t stop her from looking…and hoping. And, as Trixie pointed out, Delia was always extremely friendly to her. Then again, Delia was a bartender, she was friendly to everyone. Well, to women, at least. Men had the annoying habit of trying prove that they knew more about cocktails than she did, though Delia always put them in their place in short order. It was extremely satisfying to watch, actually. Patsy felt herself flush as she remembered one time when Delia had made a hipster with a big handlebar moustache apologize to her before scuttling away with his drink. It had been quite the turn on.

Trixie slid gracefully into the seat next to her just as Chummy was finishing her story.

Patsy eyed the blonde with a smirk, ‘Were you successful in your mysterious mission to get your drink from Valerie instead of Delia?’

Trixie seemed unphased by Patsy’s gentle ribbing, ‘Patsy, you know perfectly well that while Delia is a wizard with alcohol, Valerie makes the most creative virgin cocktails.’

‘Trix, you have a plain orange juice.’

‘I changed my mind,’ Trixie shrugged.

Just then, Delia arrived at their table, proudly brandishing cocktails, ‘Alright, I’ve made some new things for you ladies to try. Babs, I know lollies are your favourite, so I’ve tried to make this one taste as much as possible like a creamy lolly,’ she reached across and handed the drink to Barbara, ‘It’s fruit punch flavoured.’

‘That’s my favourite flavour!’ Barbara looked at her in gleeful amazement.

‘I know. Patsy told me,’ Delia turned and shot Patsy a wink and the redhead was sure she was going to dissolve into a puddle right then and there.

‘And for Chummy, Patsy was telling me you’ve been feeling cold all day, so I made you a warm cocktail. It’s bourbon and hot cider with a rosemary fig nutmeg syrup I’ve been experimenting with. It should make you feel nice and cozy.’

‘Oh, well, that sounds simply delightful!’ Chummy reached for it eagerly, taking a small sip and breaking out into a beaming smile, ‘This feels like getting a warm hug…but alcoholic! I love it!’

‘Mine’s also delicious!’ Barbara cut in, ‘Thank you so much Delia…you spoil us!’

Delia beamed back at them, ‘I love having an opportunity to try making fun drinks…and to perfect the classics,’ she smiled down at Patsy who felt her heart thump a bit faster in her chest as she held up her Old Fashioned.

‘It’s marvellous as always.’

Trixie turned to Delia, an understanding smile gracing her features, ‘It appears you’ve outdone yourself tonight, Delia. I hope it helps you feel a bit better, after how your evening started.’

Delia’s brow furrowed and she looked a bit confused, ‘Oh…yes…I suppose it does…thanks,’ she paused for a moment, seeming a bit thrown off before continuing, ‘Well, enjoy your drinks, everyone.’ She turned and made her way back to the bar.

Patsy watched her go before looking at Trixie, curious and a bit concerned, ‘What happened to Delia earlier? She didn’t mention anything.’

Trixie’s face was sympathetic, ‘Valerie was telling me that Delia’s extremely worried about having to return home by herself this Christmas, because being around her family is difficult for her. Earlier tonight she asked Valerie to come with her to act as a bit of a buffer, but Valerie can’t because she already has plans. Apparently, Delia was quite upset that it looks like no one is going to be able to join her.’

Patsy felt her stomach clench at the thought of Delia being upset.

Chummy made an understanding noise, ‘Yes, Delia’s mentioned her mother can be a bit challenging for her. I can certainly empathize.’

Trixie sighed, ‘Yes, but it’s not as if she can’t return home. It’s far too late for her to cancel her plans.’

They all sat in silence for a moment, Patsy’s heart aching in confusing ways at the thought of Delia feeling trapped and unhappy.

Suddenly, Barbara exclaimed, ‘Oh, I know! Patsy, you don’t have any plans this year. You could volunteer to go home with Delia!’ She took a victorious sip of her drink, looking exceedingly proud of herself.

Patsy felt a bolt of panic shoot through her. She couldn’t go home and be alone with Delia for several days. She’d almost lost her cool and blurted out that she liked Delia when they’d been alone for a few minutes last night, ‘Barbara, I can’t simply invite myself to Delia’s family Christmas, that would be unspeakably rude. And even if it wasn’t, I’m scheduled to be on shift over Christmas.’

Trixie waved her hand, ‘We could solve the shift problem quite easily, but the invitation problem is another matter altogether. Patsy’s right, she can’t simply invite herself,’ she shook her head, looking forlorn, ‘No, I’m afraid that sometimes there are issues we simply can’t solve. I’m sure she’s just feeling nervous and it’ll be better when she actually arrives.’ She gave her head a little shake, ‘But enough of this sad talk, I believe I walked in on the end of a Peter story, and Chummy, I’m afraid I must demand that you repeat if for me.’

Chummy happily launched into a re-telling, but Patsy was only half-listening. She glanced over towards the bar, where Delia was deep in conversation with Valerie. A wave of sadness swept over her. It seemed so patently unfair to have a family to have Christmas with, only to have that family make it stressful and hard.

Her mind wandered to thinking about what Delia’s family Christmas might be like. Did her entire family come? Did they have a big Christmas dinner, all together around the table? Did the house smell of spices and cookies and evergreen? Would there be a proper tree with tinsel and ornaments? Would there be lights and festive decorations and stockings and gifts?

She felt herself getting excited about the prospect, momentarily forgetting about Delia’s troubles. Patsy had never really had a proper Christmas, not that she could fully remember, at least, and she found all of the rigmarole around it highly intriguing. Trixie always declared that she ‘didn’t have the energy for all of it’, so they never decorated their apartment beyond a few little lights Patsy hung on the mantle. She’d gone home with Barbara once, but while that had been lovely, it had been a relatively sparse, religious affair. Based on the stories she’d heard, though, she guessed that Delia’s mother embraced all of the traditional culinary and decorative elements of the holiday with zeal. Patsy thought that Christmas at the Busby household might be quite fun.

She shook her head, bringing herself back to reality, and immediately felt bad for considering how bright and full of holiday spirit Delia’s family’s house would be. The important thing was that Delia was stressed about going home, and there was nothing Patsy could do to make it better. Not that it was really her job to make anything better. She was just some random woman with a crush on her bartender. Everyone probably had a crush on Delia. Still, she hated feeling powerless to help.

Patsy glanced towards the bar again, watching for a moment as Delia chatted animatedly with a jolly-looking man as she put together his drink. She sighed and turned her attention back to the table, where Chummy had just finished up her story for the second time. She needed to trust that Trixie was right, and that it would be better once Delia actually arrived back at home.

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Delia ducked back behind the bar and, seeing that there was no one waiting for service at the moment, made a beeline for Val.

‘Val, did you tell Trixie about my getting a talking to from Phyllis? She made an odd comment when I went over to drop off drinks at their table.’

Valerie looked immediately apologetic as she nodded, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you. It’s just that Trixie was telling me what a difficult day Patsy had, and so I mentioned that your evening hadn’t started out that well either.’

Delia’s brow furrowed, her own mild embarrassment immediately forgotten, ‘Patsy had a difficult day? She didn’t mention anything earlier. Did Trixie tell you what happened?’

‘Umm…’ Val looked a bit uncomfortable, ‘I’m not sure I should say. Trixie said herself she shouldn’t be telling me, but she was worried about Patsy and needed to let it out to someone.’

Delia fixed Val with a hard stare.

Val fidgeted uncomfortably for a moment before throwing her hands up in exasperation, ‘Fine! But don’t tell anyone else, okay?’

Delia nodded, so Valerie continued, ‘Apparently, not having any family to spend Christmas with is really hitting Patsy hard this year. They talked about it this morning, and then today Trixie found her in the loo at work,’ Val lowered her voice to a whisper, ‘looking as if she’d been crying.’

Delia’s eyes went wide and her heart clenched. Patsy didn’t seem like the crying type and it made Delia’s heart ache to consider how upset Patsy must have been to make her lose her composure like that, ‘She doesn’t have anywhere she can go?’

Valerie shook her head, ‘She went home with Barbara once, but this year Barbara’s father is away on a mission in Papua New Guinea,’ Val sighed, casting a forlorn glance towards the table where the five midwives sat, ‘No, sadly, it’s just Trixie and Patsy again this year, though Trixie says she’ll put in a bit more effort into the season, so hopefully that’ll make Patsy feel a bit better,’ she paused for a moment, her brow furrowed, ‘It really is too bad about Barbara’s father. It’d be so nice for Patsy to be able to have a proper family Christmas this year.’

Delia glanced over at Patsy, noticing that the redhead did seem a bit preoccupied as she listened to Chummy.

An affable voice cut through her thoughts, ‘Hullo Ladies! Ms Busby, could I trouble you for one of your concoctions?’

Delia snapped to attention as she turned to Fred, one of her regulars, ‘Of course, Mr Buckle, what are you in the mood for this evening?’

She chatted politely with him as she made his drink, but a thought kept niggling in the back of her head. She had a family that celebrated what would generally be considered a ‘proper Christmas.’ What if…?

Handing Fred his drink, she began putting a load of glasses in the washer, her mind whirring. Could she really hold it together for several days with Patsy? She’d come perilously close to revealing her feelings last night, and if she slipped up while she was at her parent’s house it would be unbelievably awkward after Patsy inevitably let her down gently. Would Patsy even enjoy coming with her? Her mam could be a bit…much, though she usually maintained her politest facade around Delia’s friends. In fact, it might actually be nice to have Patsy there, as a buffer of sorts, to spare Delia the constant commentary on her ‘unsavoury’ employment, London’s ‘inferiority’ to Wales, her ‘barely adequate’ flat. And it would certainly provide Patsy with the ‘family’ experience she desired. After all, weren’t overbearing parents a timeless Christmas tradition?

She shook her head. Was she really even considering this? Did she really want her crush to meet her mother? To see her childhood bedroom? And anyway, inviting her would undoubtedly be a little…weird. After all, Patsy was just a customer who came in once a week who she had a crush on. Hell, everyone probably had a crush on Patsy. Asking Patsy home would likely be crossing some sort of line.

She furrowed her brow, chiding herself for being selfish and thinking only about her own feelings. The important thing was that this would prevent Patsy from having a sad, brooding Christmas, a prospect that was making Patsy so sad she was crying in the loo at work.

She sidled up to Val and cleared her throat, ‘So, about what we were just discussing…do you think it would be unprofessional or weird if I invited Patsy home with me?’

‘Unprofessional how?’

‘Well, she’s a customer…a regular. It just seems like there’s…I dunno…a line there?’

Val shrugged, ‘Delia, you went to the cinema together. I’d say you’re more friends now. The bigger issue really is that Trixie told me about Patsy in confidence, and Patsy seems like a proud sort. I’m not sure she’d take kindly to feeling like you were inviting her out of pity.’

‘It’s not out of pity! It’s more out of…concern, I suppose. I just don’t want her to be sad. But I suppose you’re right. I don’t want to make her feel awkward.’

She pondered the situation for a moment. Delia trusted that if Val didn’t think an invite would be strange, then it wouldn’t be. I mean, she and Patsy had gone to see a film together, so it would be like helping a friend. Delia felt her heart get a bit lighter at the thought that Patsy could be considered her friend. But Val was also right that she needed to find a way to help Patsy without hurting her feelings. But how? Suddenly, she lit upon an idea, ‘I know! I can make her think I’m inviting her because of me.’

Val looked sceptical, ‘Because of you?’

‘Yeah! I can tell her I need someone to act as a buffer between my mam and I. Patsy knows how hard it can be for me to be around my mam for long periods, so I’m sure she’ll believe me. That way Patsy will think she’s coming as a favour to me, and she’ll be spared any damage to her pride.’

Val looked pensive, ‘You know, I think that might actually work. Good thinking Delia!’

Delia felt herself puff up with pride. She’d figured out a way to make Patsy happy…or at least to make her less sad.

She glanced over at Patsy again, watching as the redhead listened intently to something Cynthia was saying. The thought of Patsy feeling sad and lonely made Delia’s heart hurt…but there was something she could do to help. Delia took a deep, fortifying breath and hardened her resolve. She was going to invite Patsy to come home with her for Christmas. She would figure out how to control her feelings and survive their few days together unscathed. It was going to be hard, but she was going to do it…for Patsy’s sake.

Chapter Text

‘Who’s ready for another round?’ Patsy surveyed the table, getting a nod of affirmation from everyone. She stood, looking down at Trixie, ‘Did you want me to get you another orange juice, or are you going to insist on getting your refill from Valerie?’

Trixie smirked and handed Patsy her glass, ‘A refill would be marvellous, thank you.’

Walking towards the bar, Patsy noticed that, while Val wasn’t busy, Delia was helping someone else, so she diverted towards the jukebox and pretended to be interested in choosing a song. Delia took long enough that eventually Patsy had to actually slide some money in and select a tune in order to not make her loitering suspicious.

Finally, Delia was free and Patsy approached her, unable to stop the broad grin from spreading across her face.

Delia’s expression mirrored hers as she wiped her hands on a rag, ‘Back for another round?’

Patsy nodded, ‘The same for Barbara and Cynthia, Trixie wants an orange juice, Chummy said she loved the drink but she’s warmed up now and wants a pint of lager.’

Delia nodded her understanding, ‘And for you?’

‘Well…the Old Fashioned was, of course, utterly delicious but I think now I want to put myself in your capable hands and request a bartender’s choice.’

Delia beamed at her, a mischievous glint in her eye, ‘I was hoping you’d say that.’ She reached down into the under-bar refrigerator and pulled out what looked like a small ball of cling film, ‘This,’ she brandished the ball at Patsy as if it were a precious gem, ‘is what’s left of a spiced butter I made this past weekend.’

Patsy wasn’t quite sure what to say to that so she settled for, ‘Oh?’

‘It’s intended to go into the drink I made for Chummy, but I only had one serving left, so I saved it for you to try. The drink is fine without it, but the butter just adds a delicious creaminess and the cinnamon brings out the nutmeg in the syrup in a really interesting way.’

Patsy felt a blush creep across her face, ‘Oh, Delia, you didn’t have to save it for me.’

Delia waved her hand dismissively, ‘It was no problem. I know how much you like tasting new and different cocktails, so I wanted to give you the chance to try this one in its intended form.’

Patsy felt like she must be radiating happiness. Delia had set aside something especially for her. She watched, enraptured, as Delia efficiently gathered together the elements of the drink.

When the group of midwives had first started coming to The Poplar a little over a year ago, Patsy honestly couldn’t have cared less about the nuances of fancy drinks. She liked a good cocktail, but all of the hullabaloo about foams and fancy syrups and bits of herb seemed the height of pretension. It reminded her of the parts of her youth she remembered the least fondly.

Then she had met Delia, and the small brunette’s enthusiasm had immediately drawn her in. Delia didn’t seem to think fancy cocktails were better, she simply thought they were fun. At first, Patsy feigned interest in them pretty much solely to have an excuse to talk to Delia. She felt like she could listen to the Welshwoman gush about infusions and syrups and types of whiskey for hours. But what started as a pretence to be close to the mesmerizing brunette slowly but surely morphed into a genuine appreciation for the drinks themselves, not just the woman who made them. Though her appreciation for Delia hadn’t faded even one bit.

‘Alright, tell me what you think.’ Delia placed the glass gently down on the bar. She seemed to be almost bursting with anticipation as she waited for Patsy to try it.

Patsy took a small sip, the warmth and flavours melding together to create something absolutely exquisite, ‘Delia! This is exceptional!’

Delia practically puffed up with pride, ‘I’m glad you like it! I worked for a while on getting just the right proportions so it isn’t too sweet.’

‘Well, you’ve succeeded with flying colours.’ Patsy settled down on a barstool to watch Delia make the remainder of the drinks, ‘Have you ever considered entering any of your cocktails into contests or travelling to learn more? You’re really quite talented.’

Delia blushed and shook her head, ‘Bartending is really more of a hobby for me. I don’t want to do things that take too much time from my nursing studies.’ She went to fill Chummy’s pint and returned, placing the glass on the bar, ‘And I can’t travel to any of the big contests anyway. I don’t even have a passport.’

‘You don’t have a passport?’ Patsy couldn’t hide her shock, ‘I thought pretty much everyone had one at this point.’

Delia shrugged, looking embarrassed, and Patsy immediately felt like an idiot. The brunette began to prepare Barbara’s drink, ‘My parents never really saw a reason to get me one. The farthest they’ve ever been is Jersey, and they’ve never understood why anyone would want to go further. Even London seems terribly distant to them.’

‘What do you think?’

Delia looked a bit pained, ‘I think it would be fun to travel, once I can afford it. But it’s hard. I have my birth certificate, but in order to get a passport I need my mam’s too. Or my tad’s and their marriage certificate.’

Patsy felt a compulsion to try to solve Delia’s problem; to bring back her smile, ‘Have you asked your mother for hers?’

Delia shook her head, ‘Our relationship doesn’t really work that way.’ She took a deep breath and seemed to re-set herself, ‘It’s not worth worrying about now anyways. It’s not as if I’m going to be going on a holiday anytime soon.’

Despite wanting to continue brainstorming solutions, Patsy decided to respect Delia’s obvious desire to move on, ‘Well, I’m sure that by the time you’re ready for a holiday, you’ll also be ready to ask her. I’ve found that’s often how these things work.’

Delia gave a small, slightly sad smile, ‘Thanks. I hope so.’

Delia poured Barbara’s cocktail into its glass, ‘Okay, would you like me to help you carry these over or…’

Patsy shook her head, ‘I’ll just take two trips.’

When she returned to get the last two, Delia was loitering by the drinks, ‘Hey, Patsy, can I ask you a question?’

Patsy paused, curious, ‘Of course.’

‘So, speaking of my mam, I know I’ve mentioned before how she can be hard for me to be around, especially for long periods, and I’m going to be home for Christmas and I know you usually have to strong-arm Trixie into doing anything remotely festive and I didn’t know if you wanted to maybe…come with me? To be a buffer of sorts. Someone I can talk to, I suppose, when mam gets to be too much.’

Patsy’s mind was reeling. Was this really happening? ‘You want me to come home with you for Christmas?’

Patsy’s shock must have made her tone slightly negative because Delia suddenly looked a bit anxious, ‘Umm…yeah. It would just be Christmas Eve through Boxing Day, so not too long. My family really goes all-out for the holidays, and I know you get excited about festive things and…well…I think it’d be nice to have a friend there with me.’

Patsy couldn’t believe it…Delia was actually asking her to come home with her for Christmas! She thought that spending Christmas with Patsy would be nice!? She thought of Patsy as a friend!?! This was incredible!

She hoped her voice wasn’t shaking as she tried to contain her nervousness and excitement, ‘Wow, Delia, I’m honoured you would think of me. I’d be happy to serve as a bit of a shield. And I do appreciate festive touches, so Christmas with your family sounds absolutely lovely.’

Relief flooded Delia’s face, ‘Really?’

Patsy nodded, ‘I’m currently scheduled to be on shift for those days, but I’m sure I can work something out. Can I check in with some colleagues and let you know tomorrow morning?’

‘Absolutely,’ Delia pulled her phone out of her back pocket, ‘Why don’t you put your number in here and I’ll text you so you have mine. That way you can just send me a text to let me know if you can make it.’

Patsy felt like she was buzzing with excitement as she took Delia’s phone and typed in her contact information. She was getting Delia’s number! Cute Bartender Delia had invited her for Christmas! A Christmas with a tree and decorations and stockings and gifts!

She handed back the phone, ‘There you go,’ her heart thumped happily in her chest as she took in Delia’s beaming face. She had been able to do something to help, and it was making Delia smile again, ‘I’ll let you know, but I think it’s a safe bet I’ll be able to make it.’

Delia nodded, ‘Thanks. And thanks so much for agreeing to do this.’

Patsy picked up the remaining two glasses, ‘It’s my pleasure. That’s what friends are for, after all.’

As she made her way back to the table, Patsy couldn’t help the beaming grin that crept across her face. Delia had invited her for Christmas! Delia had thought of her!! Well, she had thought of Valerie first, but still, she’d thought of Patsy second! All Patsy needed to do now was not slip up and blabber out her feelings. Delia had just said Patsy was her friend…Patsy didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize that. The last thing she wanted was for Delia to be trapped at home with her overbearing mother and some awkward older woman with an unrequited crush. That would be terrible…for both of them. No, she was going to have to keep her crush secret so as to not make things awkward. It was going to be hard, but she was going to do it…for Delia’s sake.

________________

 

Delia’s heart thumped happily in her chest as she watched Patsy walk to her table. It had been surprisingly terrifying, but she had survived asking. And Patsy had said yes! She’d said that she was honoured to be asked! Patsy had been honoured that she had asked!

Delia allowed herself a moment to bask before considering how she was going to tell her parents. She couldn’t tell them Patsy had been feeling sad or else her tad would good-naturedly mention something and Patsy would be embarrassed. But she also couldn’t tell them what she’d told Patsy, for obvious reasons. No, she’d just have to tell them Patsy didn’t have any family to spend the holidays with and then make up some reasonable excuse why Patsy was coming home with her.

That, and she’d call just before they’d be sitting down to dinner because it would increase the likelihood her tad would answer, and telling him would be a hundred times easier than telling her mam.

Chapter Text

Eilwen Busby glanced impatiently at the clock on the wall as she bustled into the kitchen. Huw was taking his time again. Probably had stopped to chat with the Roberts’ about repairing the old stone wall. She just hoped he hadn’t popped in for some of Sioned’s Welsh cakes. That man was forever ruining his supper.

She’d just reached into the oven to pull out the pie when the side door popped open and Huw came trundling in, his cheeks rosy from the cold.

‘Hullo cariad! It smells delicious in here.’

She didn’t bother to turn to him, instead checking the beans that were steaming on the cooker, ‘You’re late. You almost missed the pie coming out of the oven. What if it had gotten cold?’

‘Ah, but it didn’t, did it?’ He came up and gave her a peck on the cheek, ‘I’d never be late for one of your pies.’

She smiled in spite of herself. Huw did always have a way of mollifying her. Though she wasn’t going to let him off the hook that easily.

‘Actually, you are late. You were supposed to come home in time to set the table.’

‘Already being done!’ He called out as he carried placemats and silverware into the dining room.

And get the fire started so the dining room will be fit to sit in. Last night it was so cold I had to be wrapped in a blanket at the table.’

‘Already being done too!’ His voice called out from the next room over. She heard the rustle of tinder and paper being arranged in the fireplace.

She shook her head, mumbling to herself as she set about dressing the salad. She loved this old house, but it was unbearably draughty in the winter. Huw always told everyone how much his Eilwen loved to bake, but the truth was she simply wanted an excuse to spend the winter near the warm oven. And the neighbours never complained about the steady supply of baked goods that appeared on their doorsteps.

Suddenly, the phone rang out in the living room, its harsh tone making her cringe. Why couldn’t the phone companies make the sound more pleasant?

She heard Huw answer it, his voice jovial as ever, ‘Hello, Busby residence…Delia! What a pleasant surprise.’

The sound of her daughter’s name brought Eilwen bustling into the next room, a bolt of panic shooting through. Delia never called on a weeknight. Something must be wrong. ‘Why is she calling on a Thursday? What’s happened? Did something happen at that job of hers? I’ve always told her a pub is no place for a girl like her to work.’

Huw turned his back to her and waved her off, ‘Sorry, cariad, your mam was saying something, so I couldn’t hear you…Oh no, she’s fine. She’s just curious about why you’re calling on a Thursday. Is everything alright?’

Huw was quiet for a long time after that, only making small humming sounds or noises of agreement. Eilwen waited patiently for what she considered an impressively long time before the suspense was finally too much, ‘Huw! Tell me what she’s saying! Is she alright? Do we need to go to London? Is she in hospital?’

‘Hold on just a tic, Delia, your mam is worried you’re in hospital. Let me fill her in…no, because it’s a Thursday,’ He turned to Eilwen, ‘She’s absolutely fine. She’s just explaining that she’s invited a friend home for Christmas.’ Huw went back to the phone, ‘Alright, cariad, you can continue.’

Eilwen’s mind went into overdrive. A friend? Delia had never invited someone home for Christmas before. Could this be...could Delia finally be bringing someone home to meet them? Eilwen felt a twinge of nervousness and excitement.

She knew she’d reacted poorly several years ago when Delia had come out to her, well, at least not in a way that was conducive to fostering an open, communicative relationship with her daughter. She knew that her reaction had come from a place of love, really. She wanted her daughter to be happy, to be able to have a family, and all of the depictions of lesbianism on the telly made it look so…sad. And Eilwen knew what had happened to other people in the village with deviant proclivities. She didn’t want her daughter to have a hard life where she had to be hidden and constantly fearful. Though she had to admit, in retrospect, forcefully declaring, ‘No! You can’t be like that’ was perhaps not the best way to relay that complex mix of emotions.

As a result, Delia had never even so much as mentioned dating during any of their visits or calls. Eilwen assumed she must have been seeing people…Delia was an attractive young woman, after all, and it was well known that everyone in London had loose morals. Eilwen assumed the city must be full of other similarly-inclined women eager to take advantage of her daughter’s naïve innocence. But Delia never said anything about it, and Eilwen certainly wasn’t going to pry into things she’d honestly rather not know about. But that didn’t mean she wasn’t curious. And maybe this could be an opportunity to make up for her mistakes of the past. To have a second chance.

She was disturbed from her ruminations by Huw wrapping up the call, ‘Well I’m glad you were able to provide her a place to be…of course it’s alright, the more the merrier. We’ll get Dafydd’s room ready for her…It’s no problem. We’ll look forward to seeing both of you on Sunday evening. Love you too, cariad. Ta.’

The instant he hung up the phone, Eilwen pounced, ‘She’s invited a friend?’ She tried to give the word obvious weight, but Huw seemed oblivious.

He went back to trying to get the fire started, ‘Yep. Apparently this woman, Patsy, doesn’t have family of her own and wanted to see what a Welsh Christmas was like.’

Eilwen furrowed her brow. That seemed like a transparently terrible excuse, ‘And you believe that?’

Huw shrugged, ‘Of course. It’s what Delia said.’

‘Huw, you don’t think it’s significant that Delia’s invited a female friend home for Christmas?’

He looked confused for a moment before a look of understanding spread across his face, ‘Wait…you think?’ He shook his head firmly, ‘No, she would’ve just told us.’

‘Are you sure about that? We didn’t react in the best way when she came out, for five years we hear nothing about anyone, and suddenly she just happens to invite a woman home for Christmas? That seems unlikely.’

‘But why pretend she’s just a friend?’

‘Because she’s worried we’re going to react poorly. She’s probably waiting to see how we treat this Patsy before telling us.’

Huw furrowed his brow and seemed to be considering her words, ‘I suppose we haven’t done much to make her think bringing home a girlfriend would be particularly pleasant.’

‘Exactly!’ Eilwen’s feeling of satisfaction at being proved right immediately transformed into a bit of guilt regarding what she was being proved right about. She wanted her home to be a pleasant place for her children.

‘Well…what do we do about it? Should I call and tell her that –’

‘No!’ Eilwen cut him off, ‘We’re not going to make a big deal out of this. We’re simply going to be as polite and kind and welcoming as possible. We’re going to show her that there was nothing to worry about. That this is a safe place for her to bring girlfriends.’

Huw nodded, ‘That makes sense. I’ll make sure Dafydd’s room is in top shape for her. We can move all his old junk into our room for the time being.’

‘Huw! We’re not going to make Delia and her girlfriend sleep in separate rooms. That would be just the kind of thing she’d be expecting us to do. We need to be supportive.’

‘But—’

‘Did she suggest Dafydd’s room, Huw, or did you?’

‘I suppose I did.’

‘See? We’re already off to a bad start. Now she thinks we don’t want them to share a bed.’

‘I don’t think it’s a bad start. She said Patsy was a friend, how was I supposed to—’

‘We don’t need to wallow in regret, Huw. I’m sure Delia will forgive you. But we’re not going to be doing anything with Dafydd’s room. Delia and Patsy can share Delia’s room. It’s what supportive parents would do. Now, let’s eat before supper gets cold.’ With that, Eilwen turned and made her way back into the kitchen, tutting over the now overcooked beans.

As she plated up the pie, beans and salad, she realized Delia must have told Huw more about her girlfriend. She called out, ‘Huw! What did Delia tell you about this Patsy?’

Huw’s voice was muffled as he worked in the fireplace, ‘Not much, honestly. Just that she’s a midwife and Delia met her at the pub.’

Eilwen felt her suspicion flare. Did she want Delia dating the kind of person who hung out at pubs enough to get to know the bartenders? And why was a midwife drinking anyway? Didn’t she have to have her wits about her to help her patients? No, this Patsy required keeping a close eye on to make sure she was worthy of her Delia.

She carried the plates out to the table, feeling her resolve harden. She was going to be scrupulously welcoming and friendly. But she was also going to be watching Patsy very carefully to make sure that she was going to make Delia happy. That she was good enough for her Delia. Somehow, Eilwen doubted that anyone from London was going to fit the bill.

Chapter Text

Delia hung up with a sigh of relief. That hadn’t been so bad. She was extremely happy that her tad had answered the phone; her mam would undoubtedly have had a million questions. And he seemed to take her ‘Welsh Christmas’ excuse at face value.

She lay back on her bed and stared at the ceiling, the reality of what she had done fully sinking in. Oh God. She’d invited Patsy, Gorgeous Midwife Patsy, to her house for Christmas. To meet her mam…to spend time with her mam. What had she been thinking?

Last night, it had seemed so essential; she’d needed to make Patsy feel better. But now, she could see how impulsive it had really been. It wasn’t that she wasn’t excited about spending more time with Patsy…she was. But she just wasn’t sure she’d fully thought through which version of herself Patsy would be seeing.

Because while she liked to think of herself as a mature, independent, strong woman, Delia had to admit that she just wasn’t her best self around her mam. Hell, she’d even scheduled the call precisely so she wouldn’t have to talk to her. And she wasn’t sure she wanted Patsy to see that side of her. It wasn’t a part of herself she was particularly proud of.

Oh well…it was too late now. She’d just have to hope that maybe her mam had mellowed since her visit over the summer. She let out a little chuckle as she hoisted herself up and made her way to the kitchen. That seemed highly unlikely…what had her tad said? Her mam thought she was in hospital because she’d called on a Thursday? She could see it now, her mam hovering nervously around her tad as he tried to talk to Delia on the phone.

Suddenly, her phone buzzed, and she was surprised to see a message from Patsy.

 

Hello Delia! Are you free to talk for a moment?

 

Delia furrowed her brow as she looked over the message again. That sounded ominous. Was it ominous? She was surprised by the extent of the sadness that spread through her at the thought that Patsy might be cancelling. She typed out a response.

 

Yes, I’m free.

 

Her phone started ringing almost immediately and she took a deep breath before she answered, trying to keep any worry or trepidation out of her voice.

‘Hey Patsy! How’s your evening going?’

‘Splendidly. How’s yours?’

Patsy sounded so transparently happy and relaxed, Delia immediately realized that cancellation wasn’t a concern, ‘Good. I just got off the phone with my tad, actually, and he said there was absolutely no problem with you coming. He’s going to get my brother Dafydd’s old room all set up for you.’

‘Oh, I hope he isn’t going to go to too much trouble.’

‘Not at all. It’s just shuffling a bit of junk around.’

‘Well, as long as they know I don’t need any bells and whistles.’

Delia chuckled, ‘Don’t worry about that at all. They’re not really bells and whistles types. I wouldn’t expect anything more than clean and simple.’

‘That sounds perfect. And actually, that’s related to why I called. I know tonight’s one of your nights off, and I don’t want to bother you for too long, but tomorrow is my last day off before we’re leaving, so I wanted to chat with you about gifts.’

‘Gifts?’

The excitement in Patsy’s voice was unmistakable, ‘I was trying to think of appropriate gifts for your parents and I realized it would be much easier if I knew a bit more about them.’

‘Oh gosh, Patsy, you don’t need to get any gifts.’

‘Don’t be ridiculous, I can’t come to your house emptyhanded for Christmas. Gifts are the best part!’

‘But you’re our guest.’

‘Exactly…and gifts are the best way to thank your parents for welcoming me into their home.’

‘Patsy, I don’t want you to feel obligated.’

‘Oh, I don’t. I want to. I don’t normally have anyone but Trixie to get gifts for, and all she ever wants is for me to agree to go clothes shopping with her. Now, let’s begin with your father…what kinds of things does he like?’

Delia couldn’t help but smile at Patsy’s determined persistence, ‘Umm…let’s see, my tad likes old cars and photography and music, particularly 80s ballads, and just…I don’t know…odd stuff. In many ways, he’s like a twenty-something hipster in an older man’s body, only without any sense of irony. He just genuinely loves hipster-y stuff.’

Delia could make out Patsy mumbling back what she had said and she could picture the redhead carefully jotting down notes. It was a fairly adorable image.

‘Alright, I should be able to do something with that,’ Patsy paused for a moment, ‘One follow-up. Does he have a vinyl collection?’

‘Oh absolutely. He’s very proud of it.’

‘Mmhm. Noted. Excellent. Now, what about your mother?’

‘Ah…she’s a little trickier. I don’t know that I’ve ever been able to get her a physical gift she’s really enjoyed. I would say that she only thing that she cares about with any level of consistency or certainty are Wales and her grandchildren.’

‘Grandchilden?!’ Patsy’s excitement was almost palpable, ‘There are children to buy gifts for?’

‘Patsy, you really don’t need to –’

Patsy seemed to not have heard her, ‘How old are they?’

‘Umm…my niece is five and my nephew is…let’s see…six months?’

‘Excellent, excellent,’ Patsy seemed to largely be muttering to herself, ‘Hipster things, Wales, grandchildren, five and six months. Mmhm. Mmhm.’ Suddenly her voice got markedly louder as she addressed Delia again, ‘Yes, that should be plenty to work with. Now, how are you getting there?’

‘I have a train ticket for Sunday afternoon, leaving at around two, that gets into Tenby late Sunday night.’

Delia heard Patsy muttering to herself again for several moments before she spoke up, ‘The Virgin Train through Birmingham?’

‘Umm…let me see.’ Delia checked the print-out she’d posted on their reminder board, ‘Yep. That’s the one.’

‘Alright, I’ll book myself on the same train.’

‘Do you want me to try to add you to my reservation?’

‘No, I should be able to work it out. I know my way around the trains quite well.’

Delia furrowed her brow. What on earth did that mean? In their year of knowing each other, Delia had seen several versions of Patsy, but exuberant and cryptic weren’t traits she’d ever encountered before. It was really quite endearing.

‘As long as you’re sure.’

‘I am. Thank you for the information on your family. I’ll be sure to let you know when I’ve booked the ticket. Oh…and Delia?’ Patsy’s voice got softer, ‘Thank you again, for thinking of me. I really am honoured.’

Delia beamed, ‘Thank you for agreeing to come. I really appreciate it.’

‘You’re welcome. I’m looking forward to it. See you on Sunday. Bye.’ Delia could tell from Patsy’s voice that she was smiling and it made her own smile even larger.

‘Bye.’

Delia hung up the phone and shook her head slightly. Well that had been a whirlwind. But it had been a perfectly-timed whirlwind. Patsy’s eagerness and excitement helped dispel Delia’s doubts. The prospect of having Patsy engage every aspect of Christmas with this level of enthusiasm made the spectre of her mam pale in comparison. Perhaps Patsy would actually provide the buffer Delia had been hoping for.

There was, however, one thing that this phone conversation added to her to-do list before Sunday. She needed to think of a gift for Patsy.

Chapter Text

Patsy stood anxiously on the train platform, waiting for Delia. They had agreed to meet at 1:30 for their 2:00 train, but that time had come and gone and Delia was nowhere to be seen. Patsy wondered if she’d somehow gotten the wrong 2pm train to Birmingham. She was about to pull up the train table on her mobile, just to be sure, when she saw Delia, a bit red-faced and out-of-breath, rushing towards her. Her heart skipped as she took in the brunette’s flushed face. Strands of hair had escaped their bun to fall haphazardly around her face, perfectly framing her sparkling blue eyes. It took Patsy aback, just how beautiful Delia looked.

Delia screeched to a halt next to her, ‘Sorry, sorry. The bus was running late and super packed and my mobile was in my pack and I couldn’t reach it. I hope I didn’t make you worry.’

‘What?’ Patsy shook her head, pulled from her stupor, ‘Oh, no. It was fine. I mean, I was a little worried, but only that I had the wrong train.’

‘No, you’re in the right place,’ Delia eyed the train sceptically, ‘I hope we can still get seats next to each other.’

‘Oh, that shouldn’t be a problem. I hope you don’t mind, but I went ahead and added you to my reservation and got us reserved seats for all three legs.’

Delia whipped her head around to stare at Patsy, looking shocked, ‘What? You changed my reservation?’

‘Only the seats,’ Patsy felt a bit of panic creep in. Trixie had told her she should tell Delia, but she hadn’t wanted to bother the brunette on busy weekend nights. And anyway, she’d sort of wanted it to be a surprise, ‘I have a connection of sorts with the train company, so I thought it would be a nice treat to get us reserved seats, as a little surprise, so we wouldn’t have to be stressed about finding two together.’

‘A connection?’

Patsy was relieved to see that Delia looked more curious than angry. She nodded as they both began making their way to the train, ‘Mmhm. Some time ago, I had a patient who needed a very particular, very rare medication that all of the pharmacies in London were out of…the nearest place they had it in stock was Liverpool. It was during a postal strike, so I called in sick and took a train up north to fetch it. I got in a bit of trouble at work, but the press got hold of it and it turned into a bit of a public relations coup for the train company. Anyway, as thanks for all of the free press, I get a few little perks when I take the train now, like reserved seats.’

Delia stopped in her tracks, looking at Patsy with disbelief, ‘Wait…you’re The Train Angel?!?’

Patsy rolled her eyes, ‘I always hated that little moniker. But yes, I am the nurse who took the train. I refused to give the tabloids my name, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that they came up with something ghastly.’

Delia shook her head in disbelief, ‘I can’t believe we’ve known each other for a year and you never mentioned that you were once the subject of a tabloid frenzy.’

Patsy shrugged, ‘I wasn’t, really, it was more about the Glennons and the train company, which was exactly how I wanted it. Though I’m not sure Trixie has ever really forgiven me for not allowing her to leak her name to the press. Being the subject of tabloid rumours is one of Trixie’s life goals.’

Delia chuckled, ‘I can imagine.’

They made their way through the train until they found their seats, Patsy stowing away their big bags on the upper rack before taking her seat next to Delia and pulling out her bag of food. She began looking through it in search of her lunch when she noticed that Delia was eyeing her with a smirk.

‘What? Have I done something funny?’

‘Patsy, there’s enough food in that bag to feed an army for a month. You know food exists in Wales, right?’

Patsy was far too hungry to be embarrassed, ‘It’s a seven-hour train ride and I’ve been up since noon yesterday! I’m hungry!’

Delia watched on, obviously amused, as Patsy fished a sandwich and bag of crisps out of the bag and began eating, ‘I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve seen you eat an entire basket of The Poplar’s garlic chips entirely by yourself…the family size.’

‘Those were extenuating circumstances!’ Patsy protested, ‘I’d just had to pull a day shift directly after a night shift because three nurses called in sick, my lunch was nicked from the staffroom, and then someone insisted that I try a new cocktail she’d made the instant I arrived at The Poplar. No one can be held responsible for what they consume when they’re exhausted, ravenous and tipsy.’

‘And your excuse now?’

Patsy narrowed her eyes at Delia’s sly smile, ‘Two out of three is plenty of justification for me to eat as much as I’d like. Now, before you can continue to malign my eating habits… now you know I’m the supposed Train Angel, so you have to tell me something about you.’

Delia smiled, ‘But I’ve never been lionized by the tabloids.’

‘It doesn’t have to be something big. Just…something I don’t know about you yet.’

Delia tilted her head to the side, considering for a moment, ‘Well, I suppose the closest I ever got to tabloid stardom was when I was nine, I climbed up a tree to rescue a kitten, but then got stuck in the tree too so we both had to be rescued. The whole incident got a write-up in Tenby’s local newsletter.’

‘That sounds like an incredible story. I want to hear all the details.’

Patsy happily munched on her lunch while Delia launched into a thoroughly detailed retelling. The brunette was a phenomenal storyteller, and the way her eyes shone with mischief and joy as she told the tale filled Patsy with warmth. The conversation meandered on naturally from there, covering stories from Delia’s childhood, Patsy’s time as a midwife, and Delia’s move to London. Patsy was astounded at how effortless talking with Delia felt.

She’d been concerned that the train ride was going to be a bit awkward, considering they’d never really spent time alone before, but talking with Delia felt natural in a way Patsy had never really felt before. Though she had to admit, the effortlessness may have been aided by the fact that she was almost giddy with exhaustion, significantly lowering her inhibitions.

As the ride drew on, however, Patsy found that the effects of her extreme tiredness weren’t entirely positive, and the combination of lack of sleep and a full stomach meant that by the time they reached Cardiff, she was fading. She cursed Trixie for making her take two night-shifts in a row in exchange for her Christmas shifts. Patsy wanted to take advantage of this rare opportunity to have Delia entirely to herself. But she also didn’t want to get so tired as to get snippy.

As they settled in on their local train in Cardiff, she turned to Delia, her voice apologetic, ‘I don’t want to be rude, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our conversation thusfar, but…I’m just so exhausted. Would you be terribly offended if I took a short nap? It’ll make me feel more human when we meet your parents.’

‘I won’t be offended at all,’ she elbowed Patsy lightly and gestured towards her satchel, a mischievous glint in her eye, ‘After the amount you’ve eaten, anyone would need a little lie-down.’

Patsy narrowed her eyes, feigning insult, and Delia beamed up at her, ‘Hey, no judgement here, especially as you were kind enough to share your second package of biscuits with me. Enjoy your nap.’

Patsy smiled before settling in for some much-needed sleep. She marvelled at how relaxed she felt, how easy being with Delia was. As she dozed off, any lingering concerns about accepting Delia’s invitation eased away. No matter what her family was like, Christmas was going to be fun because Delia was going to be there.

 

_________________

 

Delia looked up from her book once again to stare at Patsy as she napped. She felt a bit bad, like she was objectifying the redhead somehow, but it was so freeing to have the opportunity to simply stare at Patsy for as long as she wanted. To have the time to take in her well-defined cheekbones and the strong line of her jaw. The way several loose strands of hair had fallen down and were resting on the smooth porcelain skin of her cheek. God, she was so incredibly beautiful.

Delia shook her head. This was a terrible start if her goal was keeping her raging crush under control. Not that any part of this trip so far had been helpful in that regard. Talking with Patsy had just been so…wonderful. The redhead was an incredibly good listener and the small mischievous smirk that appeared on her lips when she told an amusing story was heart-meltingly adorable. Hell, even silences with Patsy felt comfortable, and Delia was quickly learning that the size of her crush didn’t appear to have an upper limit.

She chided herself. She needed to remember that Patsy was only here because she thought she was doing Delia a favour as a friend. She couldn’t be muddying things up with her feelings. The trip had just started, for God’s sake! She needed to get herself under control. She couldn’t handle her mam if she was also obsessing about Patsy.

Ugh. Her mam.

While her preoccupation with Patsy had prevented her from perseverating about her mam earlier in the trip, as the train chugged closer and closer to Tenby, a tight, gnawing worry took up residence in her gut.

It wasn’t that Delia didn’t love her mam…she did. It was just that she didn’t love herself when she was around her mam. Eilwen had the remarkable ability of knowing exactly which wounds to prod to cut the deepest, and while Delia could fend off the most patronizing of men at the pub, she lost the ability to stand up for herself when her mam was involved. Her mam would dish out barb after barb and Delia was powerless to respond. It made her feel weak and vulnerable and like a child and she hated it.

Her stomach tightened into even more of a ball as she thought of Patsy seeing that version of her. Meek and cowed and small…nothing like the fun-loving bartender Patsy seemed interested in befriending.

Patsy stirred, making an incredibly cute mewling sound as she stretched, opening her bleary eyes and looking out the window, ‘How long was I asleep?’

Delia checked her phone, ‘About three hours. We’re about an hour away.’

Patsy nodded, stretching some more.

Delia watched her for a moment, captivated, before she realized that maybe if Patsy was prepared for how she was around her mam, it wouldn’t be so shocking. Maybe Patsy would still want to be her friend if she knew what was coming.

‘Hey, Patsy. While you were sleeping, I realized that there’s something I think you should be prepared for…for while we’re at my home.’

Patsy furrowed her brows, looking concerned, ‘Prepared for?’

Delia nodded and looked down at her hands, feeling suddenly shy and a bit ridiculous, ‘I just…I want you to know that sometimes I get a little…different…around my mam. She…well…she makes me a more tentative version of myself, I suppose, and I don’t want you to be surprised by that.’

Patsy smiled at her warmly, ‘Delia, it’s completely alright. I expected your relationship with your mother to be…complicated. It’s why I’m here, remember? To provide a buffer,’ she leaned over until Delia made eye contact with her, her eyes exuding comfort and support, ‘Please, don’t let me be a cause of stress, okay? I’m not going to judge you…I’m here to support you.’

Delia felt her heart swell as she nodded. She had told Patsy she was a buffer as an impulsive excuse, but Patsy was taking it seriously.

‘Now,’ the redhead continued, ‘Surely this isn’t going to all be time spent with your mother. Tell me what else we have to look forward to over the next two days.’

Delia smiled, grateful for the distraction, ‘Umm…let’s see. Tomorrow will mostly be preparation for Christmas. Running errands, maybe some holiday things, then in the evening we’ll decorate the tree before going to that Welsh language carol service I told you to bring the nicer outfit for.’

‘The tree’s not already decorated?’ Patsy looked elated.

Delia shook her head, ‘The rest of the house is, but we’ve always done the tree itself Christmas Eve. Christmas Day is presents for the adults in the morning before my brother Dafydd and his wife Preeti arrive with the kids. Then we’ll eat the Christmas meal and do presents for kids…so basically family time. And then the day after that we leave.’

‘So you’ve just the one brother…and he has two children? Is he much older than you?’

‘A year younger, actually. He went to university, started dating Preeti in September and they were married in June, so he’s gotten an early start.’

Patsy smiled warmly, ‘That sounds rather romantic.’

Delia chuckled, ‘Well, they were married in June and their daughter Bhavi was born in September, so I’d say it was more pragmatic than romantic, but they do seem really happy together.’

‘Oh…’ Patsy’s eyebrow shot up and her eyes took on a mischievous glint, ‘That sounds rather scandalous.’

‘Oh it was, though a lot of my mam’s potential irritation was quelled with Bhavi. She absolutely adores her granddaughter. And she was glad that Dafydd stayed in school…and more importantly that they live in Wales. She wishes they lived closer than Swansea, but it’s not too far of a drive, so they see each other fairly regularly. I think Preeti appreciates having a little bit of distance.’

‘Well, I look forward to meeting them. And decorating the tree. Are there lights?’

Delia nodded, ‘And ornaments and tinsel.’

The excited glow in Patsy’s eyes was phenomenally endearing, ‘Well, I think it sounds like an absolutely lovely few days. And don’t worry, I’m here if your mother gets to be too much, alright?’

Delia nodded happily, suddenly feeling quite good about her impulsive decision to invite Patsy. She realized that, with Patsy by her side, she was more excited for Christmas than she had been in years.

Chapter Text

Eilwen shuffled nervously around the house, eagerly awaiting Huw’s return from the station with Delia and her friend Patsy. Friend. Eilwen mumbled to herself irritably as she re-straightened the Christmas figurines on the mantle. Really, this ruse of her daughter’s bordered on insufferable. Eilwen may have made mistakes when Delia came out, but that was years ago. Was she really such an unapproachable mother, that even after all this time Delia still felt the need to lie?

Eilwen had proven herself since then. She’d accepted Preeti into the family despite her unusual background and the less-than-ideal circumstances of their marriage. She’d not put up too much of a fuss when her son’s family had settled in Swansea rather than Tenby. Delia should have seen those things and known that Eilwen had grown. No, this was simply a case of Delia not having seen how much her mam had changed. But Eilwen had a plan to fix that.

When they arrived home, Huw would take Patsy into the sitting room, and Eilwen would make an excuse for Delia to join her in the kitchen. There, Eilwen would show her just how unnecessary this little farce was. She would be warm and she would listen and Delia would see that there was no need to keep the true nature of her and Patsy’s relationship a secret. Delia would see that all Eilwen had ever wanted was for Delia to be happy…and safe…and preferably in Wales, but if she couldn’t have that final one, then at least happy and safe.

The crunch of tyres on the drive brought her out of her musings. They were here. She took a deep breath and bustled to the kitchen to get the tins of biscuits out of the cupboard. It might be too late for supper, but she could at least offer a snack.

She heard the front door swing open, the sound of Huw banging suitcases against the walls echoing through the house. She sighed. He was trying to carry too many things at once. Surely the girls were capable of helping him. Why did he always insist on trying to do too much? He was going to throw out his back, and then where would they be?

‘Hullo cariad! We’re home!’ Huw’s jovial, if slightly strained, voice rang out through the house.

Eilwen strode purposefully into the hall, a smile that she desperately hoped read as genuine pasted across her face. She might still be supremely sceptical of this Patsy, but it was integral that she appeared nothing but welcoming.

Taking in the figures tromping through the door, Eilwen was immediately struck by just how tall Patsy was. And put-together. And shockingly feminine. Somehow, Eilwen had expected a city lesbian to be more…roguish? But far from being the knavish figure she’d imagined, Patsy carried herself with a self-assured, classical beauty. It threw Eilwen off for a moment, before she realized that there were many ways someone could be a rogue.

‘Cariad! It’s wonderful to have you home, even if it’s for such a short visit this year.’ She approached and wrapped her daughter in a brief hug before turning to Patsy, ‘And this must be Patsy. It’s very nice to meet you.’

‘It’s a pleasure to meet you as well, Mrs Busby. Thank you so much for welcoming me into your home.’ Patsy’s smile was gracious, her bearing and accent refined, and Eilwen was immediately on edge. Delia had gone and gotten herself a posh girlfriend?! What on earth had a woman like Patsy been doing in a pub like The Poplar? What was she doing dating an innocent country girl like Delia? She kept her face as impassively friendly as possible as she reminded herself that her goal here was to be welcoming.

‘It’s our pleasure, dear. I’m glad we could provide you a place to experience a Welsh Christmas.’ she saw her daughter’s brow furrow, and wondered what she had said wrong.

Patsy also looked thrown off for a brief moment, though she recovered quickly, ‘Yes, well, Delia always speaks so highly of all things Welsh, so I’m sure it’s going to be absolutely lovely. I’m already impressed by all of the decorations.’

Eilwen searched for any hint of mockery in Patsy’s voice, but found none. This posh city lesbian actually did seem impressed with her holiday decorating. That fact, combined with Patsy’s mention that Delia spoke highly of Wales, mollified her a bit.

Before she could respond, Huw came tromping back down the stairs, ‘All right ladies, your bags are all settled. I know it’s late and you must be tired, but would you like to join us in the sitting room for a bit?’

Eilwen noticed that Patsy was the one to answer, ‘That sounds delightful, Mr Busby. Thank you.’

As they began making their way into the next room, Eilwen put her plan into action, ‘Patsy, you go along with Huw. Cariad, would you mind coming into the kitchen with me to help put together some snacks?’

‘Umm…sure.’ Delia followed her uncertainly, settling in on the far end of the counter where Eilwen had placed the tins.

‘Do you mind putting those biscuits on a plate while I make some cocoa?’

Delia nodded and began carefully placing the biscuits while Eilwen fetched some milk, putting it on the stove to warm. She glanced at her daughter out of the corner of her eye and noticed that she looked tense. She guessed that it was from having to hold in her great secret.

‘So, cariad, how have you been?’

Delia kept carefully arranging the biscuits, not making eye contact, ‘Good. Things have been good. I’ve been very busy.’

‘Oh? Busy with what?’

‘Well, we’ve started observational rounds in addition to classes, so that takes up a lot of time, especially because I have to get from the university to the hospital and then back to work. I’m thinking of getting a bicycle…just to make it so I’m not as reliant on the bus.’

‘A bicycle? In busy London traffic? Is that really safe?’ The words spilled out before Eilwen had a chance to stop them, and she immediately chided herself when she saw her daughter flinch. She was supposed to be being welcoming. To make her daughter think she was safe to share things with. She took a deep breath, ‘I just want to make sure you’re being safe, cariad. But you know London and its drivers. I trust you to make a good decision.’

It was strange, how alien it felt saying those words. Did she trust Delia to make a good decision? She wasn’t sure. Her daughter was so young and could be so reckless. How could she forget the incident with the kitten and the tree?

Delia seemed almost as uncertain as she did, and was eyeing her dubiously. Eilwen decided to push on.

‘So, school, observational rounds and work…is that all?’

‘Pretty much, yeah. Other than a few little social things like my book club.’

Ah yes, the lesbian book club Delia had joined. Eilwen held her tongue, deciding that commenting on Delia’s choice of reading material probably wasn’t the best way forward at this point. Anyway, the point of this interrogation was to get to the truth of her relationship with Patsy. She decided to play dumb.

‘So, did you meet Patsy at your book club?’

Delia shook her head, ‘No. I met her at The Poplar. She comes in with a group of midwives for their weekly Wednesday social.’

Delia picked up a biscuit and took a small bite. Eilwen stopped herself from commenting that the biscuits were for the sitting room.

‘So that’s the only way you know her? Because she comes into the pub where you work?’ Eilwen couldn’t quite believe her daughter thought this story was believable. No one invited someone they only sort of knew through their job as a bartender home with them for Christmas.

Delia nodded, ‘Yeah. Valerie and I have kind of become friends with the whole lot of them. Trixie and Barbara and Cynthia and Chummy and Patsy. They’re all really wonderful.’

Determining that the milk was warm enough, Eilwen began mixing in the cocoa powder and sugar, ‘But the whole lot of them aren’t here with you for Christmas, are they? Just Patsy is.’

Delia furrowed her brow, seeming confused, ‘Patsy was the only one who didn’t have a place to spend Christmas. Well, I suppose Trixie didn’t either, but she doesn’t really care about the holidays. Patsy loves the idea of a proper Christmas.’

‘You invited a woman who you know casually because she comes into your pub once a week to come home with you to the very far end of Wales simply because she likes the idea of Christmas?’

Her daughter was beginning to look noticeably more uncomfortable, and Eilwen figured that she was finally going to get the truth.

‘Well…yeah. I mean, isn’t that what the holidays are about? Spreading joy?’

Eilwen clenched her jaw and held in her annoyance. This wasn’t working. She decided to take a different tack. Removing the pan from the stove, she turned to Delia, her voice sincere, ‘Cariad, I know that we haven’t always had the closest relationship, but I hope you know that all I want is for you to be happy.’

Delia froze mid-bite, her mouth hanging open in shock, ‘What?’

‘And I hope that, in the future, I can be someone you can talk to. Even about…well…things like girls. I want you to feel comfortable talking to me.’

‘You do?’ Delia sounded both sceptical and thoroughly confused.

Eilwen was a bit thrown off by the reaction, but forged ahead, ‘Yes. I’m safe to talk about these things with.’ She gazed meaningfully at her daughter, who stared back blankly.

Several long moments of silence passed before Delia muttered out, ‘Umm…thanks, mam.’

Eilwen’s mounting frustration threatened to boil over. Did Delia really think her mother was that gullible? Did she really trust her that little? Trying to calm herself, she turned and filled four mugs with cocoa, but it did nothing to quell her exasperation. She placed the pan back down a bit too firmly and turned to her daughter, ‘Really, Delia, I know I didn’t react the best when you told me about your…’ she paused, uncertain of how to phrase it. Eventually, she decided to be direct, though she lowered her voice to a whisper, as the word still felt like one she shouldn’t say too loudly, ‘lesbianism, but that’s no reason to punish me now.’

‘What? Punish you?’ Delia looked so utterly baffled that Eilwen almost questioned her conviction that her daughter’s story was a ruse.

But no, there was no other explanation that made logical sense. People didn’t simply invite acquaintances home for Christmas with three days’ notice. And casual acquaintances wouldn’t accept such an invitation. There was something more to their relationship, and Eilwen had every right to be hurt that her daughter wouldn’t share. She’d told Delia she was safe to talk to, just like the website she’d read on speaking to your gay child had suggested, and Delia still wouldn’t talk to her.

She held her head up high as she picked up the tray of mugs, ‘Yes, cariad, I may have made mistakes, but I’ve grown. I can be supportive and I don’t deserve to be lied to.’

‘But mam –'

Eilwen cut her daughter off, not ready to hear any more lies, ‘Let’s go join your dad and Patsy in the sitting room. We’ve left them alone for long enough and I don’t want them to feel abandoned. Bring the biscuits.’

As she stormed out of the kitchen towards the sitting room, she wondered if Huw had had any more luck getting the truth out of Patsy.

Chapter Text

Huw was thoroughly enjoying his conversation with Patsy. He’d started out asking about her choice to be a midwife, and though she’d answered politely, without him quite knowing how it had happened he soon found himself chatting animatedly about his recent tribulations with his shop’s landlord. Patsy was an incredible listener, asking prescient follow-up questions and seeming genuinely interested in the various quirks of small business ownership. Though they’d only been speaking for a few minutes, his first impression was that his daughter had managed to snag quite a catch.

Then again, perhaps all lesbians from the city were this adept at casual conversation. Or maybe all lesbians in general. Or maybe all city folks. Huw didn’t really have much experience with either group, let alone someone who was both. It was exciting, really, to get to talk to someone so very different from his neighbours or usual clientele.

As he finished up a story about his shop’s awning, Huw reminded himself that Eilwen had instructed him to try to get Patsy to reveal the true nature of her and Delia’s relationship. Personally, he thought it unlikely that Patsy would disclose their secret, but he supposed it didn’t hurt to try.

Anyway, he wanted to know more about how Delia and Patsy had met. Huw had only the haziest of ideas how one would go about meeting a prospective romantic partner in the city, let alone a lesbian girlfriend. Were there special places one went? Was there some kind of code?

‘So, Patsy, enough about my little shop. Tell me a bit about how you met our Delia.’

Patsy smiled, her eyes filling with warmth, ‘My good friend Trixie was looking for a new place for our little group of midwives to have our weekly social outing, and she decided to try The Poplar. Delia was there working that evening, and she made me simply the most delicious Old Fashioned I’d ever had…it really was love at first taste.’

‘So it was her Old Fashioned that started it?’

‘Well, that and the fact that she’s really quite an excellent bartender…creative and friendly and informative. I think if she’d not been such a nice person, we wouldn’t have been so keen on making it our regular haunt.’

Huw was curious how it had gone from a casual bartender-customer friendship to something romantic, but he knew he had to be careful not to let Patsy know he knew their secret. He aimed for vague, ‘And when did you two become…closer friends?’

‘It just kind of happened slowly over time, I suppose. Through conversations about my work and her school and various cocktails.’

Huw was struck by how comfortable Patsy seemed to be discussing this. He wondered if Delia had even told her that he and Eilwen didn’t know they were together. Patsy certainly didn’t seem to be acting like it was supposed to be a secret. He tried for a more direct question, to ensure there wasn’t some kind of misunderstanding, ‘And how long has this been going on, then?’

‘About a year.’

A year?!? Huw was shocked. Delia had been dating Patsy for a year and had never even mentioned having a girlfriend? A year was a long time to be with someone…Dafydd and Preeti were married with a child by then. No wonder Patsy felt comfortable talking about it. It must have been quite a serious relationship.

‘So you two have been seeing each other regularly for a year?’ He hadn’t meant to ask so bluntly, but his shock had somewhat dulled his discretion. He hoped he hadn’t spooked her.

Patsy, however, seemed entirely unphased, ‘I suppose you could say that. Her creativity just always keeps me coming back for more. I never quite know what she’s going to have in store for me, and it’s fun to have someone who keeps me on my toes.’

Huw smiled. Yes, he could imagine his daughter being quite the rambunctious partner. Though he hoped there was more to it than that, ‘It is good to have someone to keep you on your toes. Mind, it’s also important to have some stability in there as well.’

‘Oh yes, I couldn’t agree more. But Delia’s also quite adept at the classics.’

The classics? Huw was confused. Weren’t they talking about Patsy and Delia’s relationship? What did ‘the classics’ mean?

Patsy continued blithely on, ‘That’s why I usually have her mix it up a bit…start with something a bit more traditional before trying whatever new thing she’s thought up.’

Huw was completely baffled and, frankly, a little ruffled. His mind raced. They had been talking about their relationship and now they were talking about…what were they talking about? A small, highly embarrassed voice in his head suggested that, maybe, Patsy was talking about sex? It would be a shocking thing to be talking about, but then again, maybe it wasn’t shocking for lesbians? Or at least city ones. He desperately wanted to change the subject, but remembered that he was supposed to be being welcoming, and if this is what Patsy wanted to talk about… He decided to keep things very general.

‘You mix it up?’

Patsy nodded, ‘So I get something traditional and something new every week.’

‘She thinks up new things every week?’ While he very much didn’t want this much information, Huw was also completely flummoxed as to how there could possibly be that many things to do.

Patsy chuckled, ‘I’m sure she thinks up multiple things, but I only get to experience one of them.’

Huw could hear that his voice had gotten very small and high pitched, ‘Only one?’

‘Mmhm. On Wednesdays.’

This conversation was quickly teaching Huw that he must really not have any idea how lesbian sex worked. Was it always scheduled? Did all lesbians try new things weekly? What even were the classics?

Patsy continued, ‘Yes, you daughter really is quite talented. For example, this last week she made this warm bourbon-cider cocktail with a spiced butter and a rosemary-fig-nutmeg syrup that was simply exquisite. Like drinking a warm Christmas evening. I’m always telling her she should enter her creations into contests, but she ensures me it’s more of a hobby.’

Wait…what? A cocktail? Huw felt a flush of embarrassment climb up his neck. Patsy had been talking about cocktails. Oh god. He quickly ran back through the conversation, hoping that he hadn’t said anything inappropriate, but finding that in his rising panic, he couldn’t remember what he had said…or what Patsy had said…or really anything that had happened beyond the fact that he’d misunderstood terribly. But when had the shift happened?

His distress must have been showing because Patsy was looking at him with concern, ‘Mr Busby…are you alright?’

‘What? Oh…yes. I’m fine. I’m just…’ he scrambled for a reasonable reason for his current state, ‘realizing that I’ve never actually tried one of Delia’s cocktails before.’

‘You haven’t?’ Patsy looked completely shocked.

‘No. She’s never really talked much about her job…Eilwen doesn’t really approve of her working in a pub…so I hadn’t realized just how important they were to her. Or how much I’ve been missing out on.’

‘Well, perhaps you can remedy that this trip. I’m sure she can make up something for you. They really are absolutely exquisite.’

Patsy’s pride in Delia’s drink-making abilities was evident, and Huw found it quite endearing. He was about to respond that they didn’t really have any spirits in the house when Eilwen stormed in holding a tray laden with four mugs of what he assumed was hot cocoa. A flustered, confused-looking Delia followed closely behind bearing a small plate of biscuits.

Eilwen gave him an aggrieved look, followed by a questioning eyebrow raise. Huw sighed internally…it appeared Delia hadn’t felt comfortable opening up to her mam. It was understandable, but it did mean that the next several days were going to be substantially more awkward. He knew that his wife wanted to know if he’d made any leeway with Patsy, but Huw honestly wasn’t quite sure what had transpired over the last several minutes of their conversation, so he settled for simply shooting his wife a passive smile.

She replied with a small irritated eyeroll before pasting on a smile and turning to Patsy, ‘I’ve made some hot cocoa. Here you go, dear,’ she handed the mug to Patsy, ‘And Delia’s brought in some biscuits if you’d like a small snack.’

Patsy took the mug with a polite smile, though Huw noticed she was looking a bit worriedly at Delia, who had settled in on the far end of the sofa from the redhead. She didn’t make any move towards her, though, instead turning to face Eilwen.

‘Mrs Busby, these biscuits look absolutely delicious. Did you make them?’

Eilwen nodded and Huw interjected, ‘My Eilwen absolutely loves baking. Spends the whole winter making biscuits and cakes and pies,’ he patted his belly good-naturedly, ‘Luckily for me, our neighbours help us eat them all.’

Patsy picked up a biscuit and took a bite, humming approvingly when it hit her tongue, ‘These really are exceptional.’

Eilwen gave a tight smile, though Huw could tell she was pleased, ‘Thank you.’

Several moments of awkward silence fell over the room as Patsy munched on her biscuit and Eilwen stared pointedly at Delia, who seemed to be trying to disappear into the sofa.

Eilwen finally broke the silence, ‘Do you bake, Patsy?’

‘On occasion, when I have time. I enjoy the precision required.’

‘Well, I’m sure Delia enjoys getting the fruits of those labours.’

Patsy furrowed her brow in confusion and looked as if she might say something, but Eilwen continued on before she had the chance, ‘I’m always telling Delia that I’m happy to give her baking lessons, but she never seems to have the time.’

Delia sank further into the sofa, and Huw felt a small bolt of irritation shoot through him, ‘Our Delia’s very busy, love.’

‘Yes, well…I’m sure she’d working very hard on becoming a nurse. I just worry that all of my baking knowledge will be lost. Many of the more traditional Welsh recipes aren’t necessarily written down,’ she looked over towards Delia, ‘Your heritage is important, cariad.’

Huw was about to respond when Patsy’s voice rang out, ‘Writing them down sounds like it could be a very rewarding project. I can tell you have an interest in preserving older things. Many of these decorations look like family heirlooms.’

Patsy’s tone was friendly, but the look in her eye was challenging, and it was clear to Huw at least that this was an attempt to get Eilwen to leave Delia alone. Perhaps Patsy had been more prepared for this visit than Huw had thought at first. Or maybe she just had a natural inclination to protect Delia. Either way, it made Huw happy to see it.

Eilwen looked a bit taken aback for a moment before replying, ‘Yes, many of them have been in the family for generations.’

‘Tell me about them.’

Eilwen pointed to the small statue of the angel Gabriel on the mantle, launching into a story of how it had been given to her great-grandmother by Kier Hardie’s doctor’s sister from when the Labour founder represented Methyr Tydfil. Huw doubted Patsy had any real idea what any of those things meant, but if she was confused, she didn’t show it. Instead, she continued to ask interested follow-up questions, keeping Eilwen successfully distracted for the next twenty or so minutes.

Throughout the conversation, Huw kept glancing over at his daughter, who looked profoundly nervous and uncomfortable. He wondered what had happened in the kitchen. Eilwen had assured Huw that she was going to be gentle with her interrogation, but he knew that gentleness wasn’t her strength. It saddened him that Delia always seemed to feel so out-of-place in her own childhood home, but he’d never really known how to support his daughter when his wife was involved. Eilwen was such a powerful force.

However, when Eilwen began pontificating on the superior merits of traditional Welsh needlework patterns as displayed in his grandmother’s ottoman, Huw decided that it was time to intervene. Patsy had an obvious skill for small-talk that, now that he thought about it, probably came from training during a presumably posh youth. But the intricacies of Welsh needlework was a topic that would tax even the most well-trained conversationalist, and Huw figured there was no need to torture her.

‘Eilwen, love, I’m sure the girls are exhausted after their long trip. There will be plenty of time to continue discussing décor tomorrow. Why don’t we let them go up to bed?’

Patsy spoke up, the barest hint of relief in her eyes, ‘Yes, I’m very much enjoying learning about all of these traditions, but I worked the overnight shift last night, so I’m afraid I am fading a bit. I’m sure I’ll be much more capable of enjoying the intricacies tomorrow morning.’

Eilwen looked a little perturbed, but nodded, ‘I suppose that makes sense, dear.’

She began to stand in order to clear away the mugs and remaining biscuits, and Huw was tempted to simply let the evening end there, but he wanted to make sure there was some kind of verbal acknowledgment that they knew Patsy and Delia were together before they were shown to their room. So that they knew they weren’t being judged. That this was a safe space.

‘Very quickly, before you go up, I just want to say that both Eilwen and I are very happy that both of you are here,’ he looked meaningfully at his daughter, ‘We want this to be a safe space where you two can feel comfortable being yourselves, without fear of judgement.’

Surprisingly, this little speech only succeeded in making Delia turn a worrying shade of green on top of her already obvious discomfort. Patsy stared at him for a moment before looking at Delia in confusion. A long, awkward silence fell over the room and Huw began to worry that perhaps he’d said something wrong. But this was exactly what the website he’d found on speaking to your gay child had suggested.

Patsy’s tentative voice eventually broke the silence, ‘Umm…Mr. Busby. I very much appreciate the sentiment –’

Suddenly, the phone rang out loudly beside him, making everyone in the room jump. He remembered that Dafydd had planned on calling when he got home from work to discuss the menu for Christmas. No one wanted a repeat of last year when Preeti had made a delicious traditional Indian dish and Eilwen had nearly had an aneurism because it ‘didn’t blend with the rest of the meal.’

He smiled at Patsy, ‘It’s no problem at all. We just want both of you to feel safe. Now, this’ll be our Dafydd, and I really should take it. Eilwen, why don’t you show them upstairs?’

Patsy looked a little flustered, but nodded as Huw picked up the phone and greeted his son.

______________

 

Eilwen shot up as soon as Huw mentioned Dafydd’s name, but her husband was sitting right beside the phone, so he got to it first. Drat! That would be the call to finalize what he and Preeti would be bringing for Christmas dinner, and Eilwen wanted to control that conversation.

‘Is that Dafydd? Let me speak to him.’

Huw waved her off, ‘Dafydd and I need to talk about our plans for the old wall first, so he knows what supplies to bring. Why don’t you go show the girls to their room, and then the two of you can discuss menu details after.’

Eilwen narrowed her eyes sceptically. Surely Huw wasn’t going to try to work on the wall in the winter? He would catch his death of cold. But he was already immersed in a discussion about types of stone, so she acquiesced with a huff.

She turned to Patsy and Delia, who were still sitting looking a bit overwhelmed on the couch, ‘Shall we go and get you two settled in your room?’

Eilwen took off towards the stairs at a rapid pace, wanting to get back before the phone conversation transitioned to food.

‘Mam!’ She heard Delia’s loud whisper and turned to see that her daughter had skittered across the room to catch up with her. Delia spoke incredibly softly, clearly not wanting Patsy to hear, ‘What do you mean ‘your room’?’

Eilwen suppressed an eye roll and began climbing the stairs, Delia hot on her heels, ‘We’re not going to make you and Patsy sleep in separate rooms, cariad.’

‘But tad said he was going to get Dafydd’s old room ready.’

‘Oh no, you’re not to go in your brother’s room. It hasn’t been touched and is in quite a state.’

‘But mam –’

Having reached the door to Delia’s room, Eilwen turned to face her daughter, cutting her off, ‘Delia, your father and I are trying to be supportive. Please, give us a chance.’

Delia simply stood there, her mouth hanging open. She looked stunned.

Eilwen looked up at Patsy, who’d finally caught up with them, ‘There’s one shared bathroom at the end of the hall, dear. I’m sure Delia can help you find most everything, but if there’s anything you might need, just let Huw or I know.’

Patsy looked uncertain as she stood at the door to Delia’s room, ‘Ummm…thank you, Mrs Busby.’

Eilwen gave them a both a brief nod before making her way hurriedly downstairs to wrest the phone from Huw.

_______________

 

Patsy looked in bafflement at their suitcases set neatly next to each other at the foot of the room’s solitary double bed. What on earth was happening?

She turned to Delia, ‘Delia, do your parents think that we’re…together?’

Delia sounded a bit shell-shocked as she stared at the space in the hallway where her mother had just been, ‘It certainly looks that way.’

Chapter Text

Delia’s mind raced as she stared at where her mam had just been. She couldn’t quite believe what had just happened. Her mam had said she was trying to be supportive. She’d said that she wanted Delia to give her a chance. A chance to do what? To earn Delia’s approval? Delia’s trust? She almost burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of it. Her mam asking her for a chance.

Eilwen had never before expressed the least bit of concern for what Delia might have thought of her. For what Delia might have wanted. But now she wanted Delia’s approval. Her tone had bordered on plaintive. It made Delia feel an almost heady rush.

She heard Patsy’s question through a hazy fog, ‘Delia, do your parents think that we’re…together?

‘It certainly looks that way.’

And that was the key, wasn’t it? Her mam thought she and Patsy were dating. That Delia had brought her girlfriend but had been unwilling to tell her mam the true nature of their relationship. That had been the reason there hadn’t been any comments on how nursing was beneath her or how a pub was a dangerous place to be working or how she deserved better than a shared studio flat above said pub.

In fact, her mam had said she trusted her to make a good decision. Her mam. Had said that. It was mind-boggling. It had never dawned on her that she could have that kind of power.

At first, when she’d realized her parents’ mistake, she’d been paralyzed with embarrassment. She’d felt powerless, sitting on the couch knowing what they were thinking but unable to say anything to contradict them for fear of her mam’s reaction. It was like her worst nightmares come to life.

Hell, her mam had just talked at Patsy for half an hour about bloody heirloom Christmas decorations and Delia hadn’t been able to do anything. She’d felt so incredibly grateful her mam wasn’t scolding her that she’d felt powerless to intervene to save Patsy. It had even reached the point where her tad had had to intervene.

But maybe things could be different…

Patsy’s voice drew her from her thoughts, ‘Why do your parents think we’re together?’

Delia turned and the suspicious look in Patsy’s eyes immediately put her on edge, ‘I certainly didn’t tell them we were!’

‘What, so they just assumed?

She considered for a moment. What had both of her parents said? That they wanted her to feel safe?

‘My coming out was pretty disastrous, so I’ve never even mentioned anything to them about dating. When I said I was bringing a female friend home, they must have just assumed you were my girlfriend but I didn’t feel safe telling them.’

‘Well we need to tell them they’ve made a mistake.’

Delia considered that. Telling her mam that Patsy was actually just a friend. Taking away any need Eilwen might feel to earn her approval.

She turned to Patsy, her voice hopeful, ‘But…what if we didn’t?’

Chapter Text

‘What?’ Patsy felt her heart shoot up into her throat. What was Delia talking about?

Delia’s eyes were beseeching, ‘Patsy, my mam’s never been this nice and patient with me.’

Patsy furrowed her brow. That was nice and patient?

Delia continued, ‘In the kitchen, she told me she wanted me to be happy. That she wanted me to feel comfortable talking to her about things. And just now she said they were trying to be supportive. She’s never said anything like that before.’

‘And you think this has to do with the fact they think we’re dating?’

Delia’s body seemed to be buzzing with a frenetic excitement, ‘Yes! Well, with the fact that she thinks I didn’t tell her we were dating. She’s assuming I didn’t trust her…that I was scared of her.’

‘But aren’t you a bit scared of her?’

Absolutely. But maybe that could change. Maybe things could be different. Maybe she’d be nicer to try to earn my trust. Maybe I can actually learn to speak up for myself with her.’

Patsy didn’t have the greatest grasp of how families worked in general, and had absolutely no sense of how the Busbys functioned in particular, but it seemed highly implausible that resolving decades of tension could really be that simple.

‘Delia…I’m not sure –’

‘Please, Patsy,’ Delia’s pleading voice cut her off, ‘I don’t want to be scared of her anymore. I want to try standing up for myself. And there’s never been an opportunity before…there’s never been any kind of opening, but now there is. There’s a chance, and I don’t want to lose it.’

For a brief moment, Patsy felt inclined to point out that the chance was there if Delia felt it was there, regardless of what Mrs Busby did or didn’t think, but Delia looked so utterly desperate that Patsy bit her tongue.

‘So you’re proposing that what…we simply let them think we’re together?’

Delia nodded before cocking her head to the side, looking pensive, ‘Though they’ll have told my brother too, so there are probably going to be some questions over Christmas dinner. We may need to do more than simply not tell them they’re mistaken.’

‘Such as?’

‘We’d have to pretend to be dating.’ Delia said it with such certainty. As if it would be easy and solve every problem in the world.

Patsy felt her stomach clench. This was a disaster, ‘You want us to pretend to be in a relationship?’

‘Well…yeah. But only for two days.’

Patsy needed to figure out how best to relay what a terrible idea this was. She couldn’t possibly keep her feelings under wrap if she had to pretend to have those feelings, ‘Delia, if you’ve invited me home for the holidays to your parent’s home…parents who you were scared of telling…that would mean our relationship was quite serious. It would be hard to fake something like that.’

Delia was silent for several long moments, her brow furrowed as she appeared to be considering this information. Finally, she took a deep breath, ‘You’re right…’

Patsy sighed in relief that Delia was finally seeing sense.

‘…we can’t just casually pretend to be dating. We’re going to have to put some effort into it.’

‘Effort?’ Patsy could feel her face growing warm as she thought about the different kinds of effort she’d want to put into a relationship with Delia.

Thankfully, Delia seemed entirely pre-occupied as she paced the little room, so she didn’t notice that Patsy was flustered, ‘Mmhm. We’re going to have to sit down and hash out the details of it all. First date. Likes and dislikes. I should probably know how you take your coffee.’

‘I prefer tea, actually.’

‘See! That’s the kind of thing I would know about you if we were in a serious relationship!’ She went to the small desk in her room and rummaged through the top drawer, pulling out a pad of paper, ‘We have a lot of work to do if this is going to be believable to my mam.’

Patsy realized that, if she wanted to have any kind of agency in this situation, she was going to have to try to break through the wall of panic that was fuelling Delia’s current impulsivity.

‘Delia,’ she stepped forward and rested her hand lightly on Delia’s arm. Delia froze for a moment before looking down at it and then up into Patsy’s eyes. Patsy smiled at her warmly, ‘I know I said I’d support you, but I want to have a say in this. And if I’m going to sit and share things about myself, then I want to do it when you’re calm enough to be able to really hear them. Not just to jot down notes to fool your mother, but to really get to know me.’

She felt a bit foolish saying it…it made her sound needier than she would have liked…but it felt like radical earnestness was the only way to really break through right now. Much to her relief, it seemed to work, as the preoccupied franticness left Delia’s eyes. It was replaced, however, with a look of horror.

‘Oh my God, Patsy. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to…I just…I’m so sorry. My mam. I just can’t…’ she trailed off, looking ashamed.

Patsy’s voice was kind, ‘It’s alright, Delia. It seems like she’s really overwhelming for you. I understand why thinking that could change would be exciting.’

Delia stared resolutely at the floor for several moments before closing her eyes and sighing deeply, ‘This is what I hate. How she makes me forget about everything else…about everyone else’s feelings. I’m sorry.’

Patsy gave her arm a little squeeze, ‘It really is alright.’

They stood there in silence for several long moments, Delia looking miserably at the floor. Patsy felt that niggling compulsion to solve Delia’s problems return. What if them pretending to date really could help Delia’s relationship with her mother? Delia obviously needed as much support as possible in that regard. And Patsy had to admit that in addition to the impulsive franticness, there had been a real hope in Delia’s eyes.

She thought for a moment about what it would be like to pretend to be in a relationship with Delia. Could she survive two days faking a relationship with the person she’d been hopelessly infatuated with for months? It would be excruciatingly difficult.

But as she took in Delia’s despondent face, she realized that it didn’t really matter how hard pretending would be. Watching Delia be made miserable by her mother for two days would be infinitely harder. It had been difficult enough seeing Eilwen pick on her downstairs…brushing off the work that went into being a nurse, accusing Delia of not caring about her heritage. Seeing Delia look so uncomfortable had activated all of Patsy’s protective instincts.

She took a deep fortifying breath, ‘Do you really think it would help your relationship with your mother? Us pretending to date?’

Delia gave a little shrug, still looking down, ‘It’s not a fair thing to ask you to do.’

‘Delia, if you really think it will make a difference, I’m willing to give it a try.’

Delia’s eyes shot up from the floor to meet Patsy’s and Patsy was taken aback by how her heart skipped when she saw the hope and wonder shining from them.

‘Really? You’d be willing to do that for me?’

Patsy shrugged, hoping her blush wasn’t too noticeable, ‘It would only be for two days. I think I can manage that if it means you improving how you interact with your mother for the rest of your life.’

The broad, beaming smile that greeted this statement strengthened Patsy’s resolve that she had made the right choice.

Delia was almost vibrating with excitement, ‘Oh gosh, Patsy. Thank you so much! I just know this is going to make a difference.’ She turned back to the desk, fishing out a pen before pausing and looking uncertainly at Patsy, ‘Are you…would you be willing to share some things and to craft a backstory? I promise it wouldn’t just be to fool my mam. I…well…I’d love to know you better just to know you, like you said.’

Patsy found Delia’s bashfulness quite endearing and shot her a little smirk, ‘If we’re going to do this, we might as well do it right. And anyway, you’re forgetting that I also get to learn things about you. Given the stories you were telling on the train, I think I’m getting the more entertaining end of the deal.’

Delia chuckled as she climbed onto the bed, settling by the foot, ‘Sorry to disappoint, but I’m not going to be sharing any more stories. This is more about general likes and dislikes you’d know about someone if you were in a serious relationship with them,’ she gestured for Patsy to settle down opposite her, ‘So, do you not like coffee at all? Because if I’d known that, I would never have made you all of those cocktails with Kahlua in them.’

Patsy settled in at the head of the bed, ‘Coffee’s fine. It’s just, if given the option, I prefer tea with just a hint of milk.’

Delia nodded, ‘Well I’m a coffee girl myself, much to my mother’s chagrin. With lots and lots of milk.’

Patsy feigned horror, ‘Oh no, you’re not one of those people who makes what’s in essence mildly coffee-flavoured warm milk!’

Delia let out a laugh, ‘Guilty as charged. Though I don’t add any sugar, so I think that makes me at least 50% less of heathen.’

Patsy narrowed her eyes, ‘Hmmm…30% less at most.’

‘I’ll take it. Alright then, your turn. There must be something you like that I can mock you for.’

Patsy paused to consider, ‘Well, I don’t know if it’s mockable, really, but I do have a fondness for marmite on toast.’

Delia made a face, ‘Marmite?!? Ugh! We’ve been fake dating for two minutes and our relationship is already on the rocks!’

Patsy laughed, ‘I only indulge in marmite once in a while. And anyway, I have an excuse. It’s very popular amongst British expats where I grew up in Singapore, so I’ve been eating it since I was very young. You have your watery coffee milk every day and have no such excuse.’

Delia looked shocked, ‘Wait…you grew up in Singapore? I didn’t know that. When did you come to London?’

Patsy felt a little bolt of panic shoot through her. She’d been so caught up in the conversation that she’s momentarily forgotten that mentioning her childhood would lead to follow-up questions. She needed to change the subject.

‘Not until much later. And it’s not something I ever really discuss, so we don’t need to worry about getting up to speed on it now. We should focus on things that will get us through these next few days. So, you don’t like marmite…what else should I know not to give to you?’

Delia was eyeing her with a look Patsy couldn’t quite place, and for a moment she was concerned Delia was going to push her on her past. But instead, Delia simply gave a small nod and began to list a not insignificant number of things she didn’t particularly enjoy. She was careful to point out, however, that she wouldn’t turn up her nose at most things if they were lovingly offered.

The subsequent half an hour was spent getting on the same page about their general likes and dislikes. Patsy admitted that, despite her best efforts, it was unlikely she was going to be able to keep track of all of them, so they came up with a code for if she accidentally mentioned something Delia hated. Delia assured her that the only truly important things to remember were that she’d never particularly liked cake and that she hated turnips.

They both agreed they could be laxer with Patsy’s likes and dislikes, given that no one else here knew her to contradict Delia if she made a mistake. Still, Delia listened with rapt attention as Patsy shared her favourite spots in London, foods, music, things to do in her free time. It made Patsy feel quite warm and cared for, actually, as she basked in the novelty of being the sole focus of Delia’s attention for such a long period of time. Despite the fact that this was all in service of crafting a deceptive plot, Delia seemed to really care, and Patsy felt herself opening up more than she usually would in such a conversation.

Eventually, however, the exhaustion of the last hour began to catch up with her, and Patsy found herself stifling a yawn.

Delia glanced at her mobile and immediately looked apologetic, ‘Oh gosh, it really is quite late. I need to let you get to sleep. But first, we need to hammer out the basic details of the relationship itself.’

Patsy nodded, ‘Ah yes. Well, I think if we’re going to embrace the whimsical nature of this entire endeavour, we should invent a suitably auspicious story. Perhaps we met when I heroically saved your scarf from blowing into the Thames on a blustery day?’

Delia chuckled, ‘While that would have been very dashing, I suggest we keep things as rooted in truth as possible. That’ll make everything easier to remember.’

‘That makes sense, especially since your father knows we met at the Poplar,’ Patsy paused for a moment as she realized that Huw had thought she and Delia were together during their entire conversation. Oh god. She’d been babbling about cocktails to the man who thought she was dating his daughter. She must have seemed so shallow. She was glad she’d have two days to try to make a better impression. One good thing, she supposed, was that she’d unwittingly made one element of their fake relationship easier to establish, ‘Oh, and I’m fairly certain that after our conversation he thinks we’ve been together for a year, so that sets that date.’

‘Ooo! A Christmas anniversary. We’re such romantics.’ Delia’s eyes sparkled with mirth and Patsy laughed, feeling shockingly relaxed, given that they were discussing a hypothetical relationship she’d very much have liked to actually be in.

‘Well, Miss Mount,’ Delia continued, ‘Who asked who out a year ago? I absolutely guarantee you Preeti will ask.’

‘I’d imagined—' Patsy stopped herself short, realizing that admitting that she’d imagined multiple variations of Delia asking her out would, in fact, not be the smoothest move if her goal was keeping her feelings under wraps. She cleared her throat and somewhat haltingly restarted, ‘I’d imagine that this part will be much easier if we simply toss a coin.’

‘That’s a great idea!’ Delia leapt off the bed and retrieved a coin, ‘Do you want to be heads or tails?’

‘Heads, of course.’

‘Why is that an of course?’

‘Because heads is objectively better.’

Delia cocked her head to the side and smirked as she crawled back up onto the bed, ‘A whole year together, and you’re still a mystery,’ She tossed the coin in the air, ‘Tails! Alright, so I asked you out. And our first date?’

‘The cinema?’

‘That makes sense. It was our first time hanging out outside of the Poplar. Though we need to find a film that came out last year.’

‘I’ll look up some films,’ Patsy picked up her mobile, only to realize she had no connection to data. No service either. Well, she supposed they were a fair distance out into the country, ‘What’s your parents’ wireless password?’

‘I have no idea…something long and complicated. We’ll get it tomorrow. I’ll research the films.’

Delia looked up the previous year’s December releases, and they picked one they had both seen. They hammered out a few more details, having to toss the coin several more times, before Delia was finally satisfied that they had enough to convince her family that they truly had been together for a year.

‘Alright I think we’re finally set,’ she gave a satisfied nod as she looked at the pad of paper, ‘My tad usually stays up late watching telly, so I’m going to go and talk to him now. Just so it doesn’t have to be a big thing tomorrow.’

Patsy nodded, well aware that the ‘big thing’ would be having to tell Eilwen directly, ‘That sounds fine. While you’re down there, could you ask him for another blanket?’

Delia furrowed her brow, ‘Do you get very cold when you sleep?’

‘Not particularly. It’s just that, if we have to share a room, I thought it would make sense for me to sleep on the floor, and the blanket would make it a bit warmer.’

The floor?’ Delia looked horrified.

Patsy nodded, ‘I’ll be perfectly comfortable.’

Delia shook her head in disbelief, ‘Patsy, this house is an icebox. Sleeping on the floor is going to be like lying in a wind tunnel it’s so draughty. You’ll freeze to death. I’m sure we can manage to share. I promise I don’t bite.’

Realizing that there was really no graceful way to say no, she gave a strained smile, ‘Of course. I’ll take the right side, if that’s alright.’

Delia looked relieved, ‘That’s just fine. I’ll just go talk to my tad and be right back up. The bathroom’s at the end of the hall,’ she took several steps to the door before turning back, ‘Oh, and I’m sorry if the whole Welsh Christmas thing my mam said when we came in caught you off guard. It’s the reason I gave my parents for why you were coming…because I couldn’t tell them you were a buffer.’

‘It was no problem. I am excited to experience a proper Christmas, and we are in Wales, so I suppose it’s not untrue.’

Delia beamed back at her, ‘Thanks Patsy...for everything. I really am lucky to have you as a friend.’

Patsy could only smile back as she desperately hoped the low lighting in the room was successfully hiding her blush. Despite the fact that they’d just decided to pretend to date, she still couldn’t quite believe Delia thought of her as a friend. She watched Delia leave before turning and staring at the double bed, releasing a long, slow sigh.

Having only one bed was an absolute disaster. In fact, it transcended disaster to officially be a catastrophe. Pretending to date was one thing, but she couldn’t share a bed with Delia.

But it was too late now. She had to.

The bed seemed to shrink as she stood staring at it for several long moments, trying to get her anxiety under control. She knew that she needed to play it cool. Lots of girls shared beds. Not even the nuns at her boarding school would have batted an eyelid. The only thing that would make it weird is if she had a bloody gigantic crush on the girl who she was sharing a bed with. Which, of course, she did. What if she talked in her sleep or woke up looking horrid or had a terrible nightmare or, heaven forbid, accidentally touched Delia during the night? What would Delia think? She’d probably be horrified.

She sighed, steeling her resolve. She’d just have to sleep on the very edge and hope she didn’t unwittingly do something that would make Delia uncomfortable. It was only three nights. She could survive three nights. And tonight she was so utterly exhausted that she was almost certain she’d fall asleep quickly, so that was a small blessing.

Still, what had promised to be a delightful, if odd, Christmas holiday had suddenly gotten quite a bit trickier. But as she gathered together her toiletries, she remembered the hopeful look in Delia’s eyes and realized that, as long as it helped Delia, it would be worth it. After all, it was only two days.

Chapter Text

Huw was sitting in his armchair watching the telly to wind down when he heard soft footsteps coming down the stairs. Turning, he saw his daughter appear at the bottom of them, looking a bit ill.

‘Everything alright, cariad? Do you need some water?’

‘No, tad, I’m fine. I just…’ she paused, looking down at her feet for several long seconds before taking a deep breath and raising her eyes to meet his, ‘I just wanted to tell you that Patsy isn’t just a friend of mine from London. She’s my girlfriend,’ her voice cracked slightly at the word ‘girlfriend’ and she gulped audibly before continuing, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t tell you and mam before I came. I just…I was just worried that you wouldn’t approve. But it seemed tonight as if you’d already guessed.’

Huw smiled warmly at his daughter as he nodded, ‘We had. But thank you for telling me now. I’m happy that you felt comfortable inviting her and I’m excited to get to know her better over the next few days. It’s clear she cares about you a great deal.’

A look of confusion flitted across Delia’s face before she gave a small nod and looked at the floor again, kicking the rug with the toe of her slipper. Her voice was very small, ‘Will you…will you tell mam for me?’ she looked up, her eyes anxious as words tumbled rapidly out of her mouth, ‘She’s going to be so angry that I didn’t say anything before, and she’ll ask so many questions and I just –’

Huw held up a hand, cutting her off, ‘Of course I’ll talk to your mam, cariad. Don’t worry about her. She’s not going to be angry. She wants Patsy to feel welcome here.’

Delia stayed silent, still looking stubbornly worried as she stared at the floor again.

Huw sighed, ‘Why don’t you go get some sleep? Everything always looks much brighter after a good night’s rest.’

Delia nodded and turned to make her way back up the stairs. She’d just reached the foot of them when Huw called out, ‘Oh, and cariad?’ She turned to look back at him, ‘I’m proud of you for inviting Patsy here. She seems wonderful, and if being with her makes you happy, then you really are the luckiest girl in the world.’

Delia gave him a wan smile, ‘Thanks, tad. I’ll see you tomorrow.’

She trudged heavily up the stairs and Huw hoped her demeanour was simply a result of a tiring day. He’d been sad that they’d felt the need to sit on opposite ends of the sofa when they’d arrived. They could have barely touched each other if they’d reached out. He hoped that, now that their relationship wasn’t a secret, Delia and Patsy could both relax and feel comfortable here.

 

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Delia lay in bed staring at the ceiling, feeling profoundly uncomfortable.

Why had she been so bloody nervous when she’d told her tad? She’d felt so confident when she’d been in the room with Patsy, but as she’d made her way down the stairs she’d felt her anxiety rise. Sitting in a room with Patsy talking about pretending to date felt…hypothetical. And safe. But making her way to tell her tad, she’d realized that once he knew, there would be no going back. It would make it real. And if something went wrong and her mam was left thinking that she had a horrid relationship with Patsy? Well, that would be an utter disaster.

Oh god. All of this was a horrendous idea. It put both her and Patsy in terribly awkward positions, and why? So that she could get better at standing up to her mam? Considering she hadn’t even been brave enough to tell her to her face that she and Patsy were together, that didn’t seem any likelier than it had been this morning.

But it was too late now. Her tad had been told, and there was no going back. Patsy was here with her for Christmas, and now they were stuck faking a relationship for her mam for the next two days.

Delia felt like things were spinning wildly out of her control, and yet she had been the one to orchestrate everything. No one had forced her to invite Patsy here. No one had forced her to ask Patsy to pretend to date her. She felt trapped in a whirlwind entirely of her own making, which somehow made it worse.

Actually, what made it the absolute worst was that she’d returned to the room to find Patsy already in the bed, lying straight as a board on her side on the very edge. It looked as if the slightest breeze could make her topple onto the floor. Delia couldn’t think of any way to interpret it other than that Patsy was profoundly uneasy sharing a bed with her. Which made Delia incredibly anxious.

Patsy had been so kind and understanding, and was willing to do so much to help her, and it made Delia feel terrible that she’d put Patsy in a situation where she was so uncomfortable. She tried not to focus too much on what Patsy’s discomfort undoubtedly meant: that Patsy didn’t want to be near her physically. She probably viewed her as some kind of child…not the kind of person she’d ever even consider romantically. Though Delia supposed she couldn’t blame her after tonight. Delia certainly hadn’t been the most mature version of herself this evening.

But regardless of how she viewed Delia, Patsy’s positioning did mean that Delia needed to be very, very careful. She knew she had a tendency to toss and turn, and she needed to make absolutely sure she didn’t touch Patsy during the night. The last thing Delia needed was to make Patsy think Delia wanted to snuggle with her. Which, of course, she did, but Patsy couldn’t know that. Given how far away she was trying to lie, she would undoubtedly be horrified if she knew exactly what Delia wanted to do with her.

Delia let out a quiet groan as she rolled over onto her side, facing away from Patsy. What on earth had she done? Had she thought that she’d pretend to date Pasty and magically become brave enough to face her mam? That her mam would suddenly shower her with pride and affection?

And now she was stuck sharing a bed for three whole nights with a woman she’d very much like to share a bed with all the time, though in a much less awkward circumstances. This entire ruse made it much harder to hide her feelings. And it guaranteed that, even if there had been the potential for something to eventually happen, it was never going to now. There was no way Patsy would want to enter an actual relationship with someone who was so scared of their mam that they’d forced her to pretend to date them.

Ugh. This was a disaster. In fact, it had transcended disaster to officially become a catastrophe.

What had her tad said? That she was the luckiest girl in the world? Delia bit back a laugh. If she was lucky then everyone else must have accidentally set themselves on fire for Christmas. At least she’d only metaphorically set any potential for a future relationship on fire.

She felt her heart rate elevate as she began to panic. She needed something to help her calm down, something to focus on to prevent her from completely succumbing to the horror of what she’d done. She latched onto the one incontrovertible fact that brought a ray of happiness to her panicked mind: Patsy cared about her.

Patsy had shown it with her actions, with her willingness to embark upon this endeavour in the first place. And even her tad had seen it, which was a bit perplexing in and of itself. She wondered what had happened in the living room while she and her mam were in the kitchen. Had Patsy said something, or had Huw simply seen what he was expecting to see? He’d never been the best at reading people.

Regardless, Delia had put Patsy in a truly awkward situation, and the redhead had responded by being unquestioningly supportive, almost unbelievably so. Even if she was simply trying to be a good friend, it was clear that she cared enough about Delia to put in the effort. Delia felt herself calm as she realized that, if nothing else, she’d found a truly amazing friend.

She still had to survive a Christmas dinner with her endlessly curious brother, a carol service with her nosy neighbours and, most terrifyingly, two days with her mam. But she didn’t have to survive them alone. She had a supportive friend here with her. Someone who cared enough about her to agree to this ridiculous plan.

Patsy cared about her, and, as Delia drifted off to sleep she realized that, right now, that was enough to keep her fears at bay.

Chapter Text

Eilwen shuffled over to the griddle to flip the Welsh cakes, pleased with the way they were browning. Making her way back to the vegetables she’d been preparing for tea's cawl, she glanced at the clock. 8:30. The first weak rays of sunlight were beginning to make their way across the countertop. She wondered when Patsy and Delia were going to get up and come downstairs. Or maybe her daughter was just planning on avoiding her all day. She’d avoided her last night, after all.

Eilwen sighed as she carried the leeks over to the sink to wash. She was trying not be hurt by Delia’s refusal to speak to her about Patsy directly. She’d told Delia she wanted to be supportive. She’d told Delia she was safe.

But, as Huw had pointed out, there was a difference between saying you were safe to talk to and showing it. And, at some level, Eilwen knew she hadn’t done the best job of showing Delia she was someone she could open up to.

It was one of the reasons she was making Welsh cakes. She’d originally intended to make porridge this morning, but realized that cakes would be more welcoming. Patsy, after all, had probably never had a chance to try them, so cooking them for her would show Delia that she was making an effort. And she knew she needed to show her daughter that she had changed.

The problem was, she wasn’t entirely sure how to come across differently. She was unapologetic about her conviction to keep Delia safe. There were myriad dangers out there in the world, and Delia was far too young to be able to understand all of them. Heck, even she didn’t understand all of them, but it was her responsibility as a parent to make sure that Delia was aware of and constantly considering all of the ones that Eilwen did understand. And all of the ones that Eilwen suspected were there, or had read about, or had seen on the telly.

She was also determined to put Delia in the best position to be happy. And a lifetime of experience had taught her that the things that made you happy were safety and stability, having a family with a caring husband, and living close to your support systems. It was endlessly frustrating to her that Delia refused to heed her advice on how to bring those things to fruition. Being a lesbian, going to London, and deciding to train to be a nurse were all moves that, it seemed to Eilwen, moved Delia further from being truly happy.

She had eventually come to terms with the idea that Delia could perhaps be as content with a caring wife, but London seemed an unlikely place to meet suitable candidates. She’d been a few times and had found it unpalatably dirty. And frenetic. And full of people who all seemed to have some kind of agenda or scheme. A kind, good-hearted person like Delia simply didn’t fit in such a place. And she certainly wouldn’t thrive with a partner who had that London sensibility.

Suddenly, the phone rang out in the sitting room, disturbing her from her musings. She put down the leeks and glanced over at the griddle, determining that the cakes weren’t quite ready yet. She grumbled to herself as she made her way into the next room. This batch had better not burn because of some telemarketer. It should be illegal for them to call over the holidays anyways.

‘Hello, Busby residence.’

‘Good morning, Eilwen! This is Sioned.’

Eilwen felt her curiosity spike. Why was Sioned calling so early on Christmas Eve morning? She wondered if there had been a change to the schedule for the carol service this evening. Or perhaps the old stone wall between their properties had finally collapsed.

‘Good morning, Sioned. Is everything alright?’

‘Oh yes, I’m having a perfectly wonderful holiday. I was just wondering if Delia happened to bring a friend home with her for Christmas this year.’ Sioned sounded so transparently self-satisfied that it put Eilwen on edge even as her shock left her quite unable to answer coherently. How on earth could her neighbour have possibly known that?

‘What?’

‘Perhaps a tall ginger?’

Sioned was so clearly enjoying Eilwen’s confusion that she felt her irritation rise. If Sioned thought she was ashamed that her daughter had brought home a girlfriend, then she was sorely mistaken.

‘Yes, that sounds like Patsy. She’s Delia’s girlfriend. She’s a midwife in London.’

‘Not a country girl, then?’

Eilwen furrowed her brow. What on earth was Sioned going on about?

‘Not as far as I know. Why?’

‘Because I’m currently watching her wander through the field where Iwan Jones keeps his rams. She mustn’t have known what the red marker on the gate meant.’

Eilwen closed her eyes. Dear Lord. She hadn’t even known Patsy was awake, let alone wandering the Welsh countryside unaccompanied. And about to get herself attacked by livestock, ‘Have you let Iwan know?’

‘Of course. He’s on his way to fetch her now. I just thought I’d make sure she really did come home with Delia before I told Iwan to bring her to yours.’

Eilwen rolled her eyes, knowing full well Sioned had called in order to lord this entire situation over her. Eilwen, however, was determined not to be embarrassed, ‘Well thank you, Sioned. I appreciate you keeping an eye out. Just send her our way. I’ll be sure to let her know how to avoid ram’s pastures in the future.’

‘It’s no problem. I’m just glad that I happened to be in my sitting room so I saw her. Usually I’m in the kitchen making Welsh cakes by this time, but I didn’t have to this morning because Griffith’s Berwyn is making them. She just loves cooking all the Welsh classics. Hers are almost as good as mine!’

Eilwen gritted her teeth, ‘Yes, well, I have some of my own on the griddle at the moment, so I must be off.’

‘Oh, is Delia not helping you make them?’ her voice dripped with false concern.

‘Delia’s training to be a nurse…it’s very hard work. She needs time to rest when she’s home.’

‘I’m sure she does. Will she and Patsy be making it to the carol service this evening?’

‘I believe so.’

‘Well then I look forward to seeing them both. And to meeting Patsy…she must be an industrious girl. The fence around that pasture is quite impressive.’

The smell of cakes overcooking reached her nose, and Eilwen lost her last bit of patience, ‘Yes, well, I’m sure you can ask her all about it then. I really must go.’ She hung up the phone and hurried into the kitchen, getting the cakes off of the griddle as quickly as possible. She was pleased to note that, while they were perhaps a bit overcooked, they hadn’t burned.

She pondered the conversation she’d just had as she placed the next batch on. Sioned loved bragging about her daughter-in-law, a Tenby girl from a family who’d lived in Pembrokeshire for time immemorial. Berwyn and Griffith had married last year, settled just a mile away and were planning on starting a family. Sioned was looking forward to getting to see her grandchildren every single day. It was everything Eilwen had ever wanted from her own children. It would’ve almost made her jealous, if she was capable of being jealous of Sioned Roberts. She’d never give the woman the satisfaction.

Anyway, Berwyn may have been ideally Welsh, but she was also a bit of a fool, which, frankly, Eilwen found off-putting. Men were generally helpless and needed a woman with a good head on her shoulders to give them direction. Berwyn seemed entirely unequal to the task. Wandering into a ram’s pasture notwithstanding, at least Patsy seemed to be a smart girl. Though this then begged the question what she was doing dating Delia.

Not that Delia didn’t deserve the very best, but Patsy was from London, and people from London always had something up their sleeve. Eilwen wondered what Patsy’s ulterior motive had been in seducing her daughter.

She paused, considering…perhaps Delia had been so wary to divulge her relationship with Patsy because she wasn’t proud of it. Because somehow Patsy had used her posh city lesbian wiles to lure Delia into something she wasn’t entirely happy with. After all, Delia was kind and caring and naïve…there was a lot there to take advantage of. Eilwen realized it was her responsibility to make sure that Patsy had Delia’s best interests at heart.

She made her way back to the leeks, newly intent on deducing exactly what Patsy was up to. While also being welcoming, of course.

Footsteps came tromping down the stairs, signalling Huw’s impending arrival. She smiled to herself, knowing that the smell of Welsh cakes would have made him come down a bit earlier than he otherwise would’ve on a holiday.

He popped into the kitchen, voice jovial as always, ‘Hullo cariad! Are those Welsh cakes I smell?’

‘They are. I thought I’d make them special for the girls.’

He looked a bit worried, so she added, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve made enough for all of us.’

He grinned broadly as he opened the oven to investigate the stack she had keeping warm, ‘Oh, they look delicious,’ he reached out to take one, but Eilwen batted his hand away.

‘Wait for Patsy. She should be back soon.’

‘Back? Where’s she gone?’

‘Apparently tromping through Iwan Jones’ ram pasture.’

Huw stood up straight, ‘Really?’

Eilwen nodded as she began to chop the leeks, ‘That’s what the phone call was. Sioned saw her through her sitting room window, and let Iwan know. He should be fetching her now. Sioned figured out Patsy must be a friend of Delia’s and called here so she could lord it over me.’

Huw poured himself a cup of tea, ‘Mmm. Well, she has always been jealous of you, so I suppose she likes to take any opportunity she has.’

Eilwen made a sceptical noise, ‘Why on earth would Sioned be jealous of me?’

Huw’s voice was mischievous, ‘Because she got stuck with Lloyd Roberts and you got lucky enough to marry me,’ he came up behind her and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

Eilwen chuckled and shooed him away, ‘Go on you, you’ll make me chop off my finger.’

He stole one last kiss before settling at the kitchen table, looking pensive. He sat for a moment, watching his tea steep before asking, ‘What was Patsy doing up so early in a pasture, though?’

‘I have no idea. I didn’t even know she was awake. Perhaps she just likes taking walks.’

Huw sipped his tea, staring off into space before suddenly standing, shuffling on a coat.

Eilwen turned, perplexed, ‘Where are you going? Iwan’s getting Patsy.’

‘Just popping out to the shed. I’ll be back in a moment.’ He opened the door and was gone before she could even respond.

Eilwen sighed as she went to flip this latest batch of cakes. She hoped Patsy would like them. They were amongst Huw and Delia’s favourites, but there was no accounting for Patsy’s London tastes.

Chapter Text

Patsy strode purposefully across the frozen field, enjoying the beautiful early morning view of the Welsh countryside as she made her way back towards the Busby’s. Driven by a desperate need to talk to someone about the impossible situation she found herself in, she’d spent the early morning trying to climb to the highest points in the area. She was sure she’d find mobile signal or data somewhere so she could contact Trixie for advice. The search, however, had proved fruitless, and after almost an hour of tromping in pre-dawn light through fields that showed obvious evidence of use as sheep pastures, she’d decided to return to the relative warmth of the Busby house.

As she walked, she realized that perhaps her lack of success was for the best, as calling Trixie may not have been the wisest plan anyway. The blonde would undoubtedly be delighted that Patsy now found herself in this predicament. Trixie was always going on about how Patsy should stop being scared and pursue Delia. Patsy shook her head at the irony of it all…now Delia had asked Patsy to pretend to date her, and yet she was more scared than ever.

She hadn’t been scared when she’d gone to bed last night. Or at least, not that scared. But then this morning had happened. She groaned softly and shook her head as she remembered what a disaster it had been.

Patsy had stirred early, trained by habit to be awake before dawn regardless of how late she’d gone to sleep. It had taken her a moment to remember where she was; the smell and feel of the bed had been foreign. As had the delightful warmth behind her. Patsy had felt a sleepy desire to move towards it…to escape the cold of the room by snuggling into the warmth that was pressed against her back. But the moment she’d realized what was happening, she’d been wide awake, a jolt of adrenaline making her skin tingle.

Delia, asleep and snoring softly, was nestled into her back. It wasn’t a full-on snuggle, but Delia’s thighs and arms were definitely making contact with Patsy’s bum and back.

Patsy had frozen, her heart pounding in panic as she tried to figure out what to do. Taking stock, she was relieved to see that she was still on her side perched on the very edge of the bed. At least she hadn’t been the one to instigate the snuggling.

Still, as intoxicating as Delia’s warmth was, Patsy knew she had to find some way of extricating herself gracefully without waking Delia up. The brunette would undoubtedly be embarrassed if she’d known what she’d done, and Patsy didn’t need anything to make these next few days any more awkward than they needed to be.

Unfortunately, Delia’s proximity to her had meant that she hadn’t had room to sit up, leaving her only with the highly ungraceful option of simply kind of rolling off the bed. She’d reached out an arm and leg to brace herself as she slid awkwardly onto the floor, landing with a light ‘thump’ on her side before rolling onto her back. Delia had stirred slightly and Patsy had lay frozen in place with her arms and legs in the air, praying that Delia wouldn’t wake up. Which she hadn’t…Thank God. Patsy couldn’t even begin to imagine how embarrassing it would have been for Delia to wake up to find Patsy lying on her back on the floor looking like a dead insect.

It took several excruciatingly long minutes for Delia to begin lightly snoring again, finally allowing Patsy to stand and get dressed. After a fruitless search of the sleeping house for a wi-fi password, Patsy had decided to go off on a quest to find service and get Trixie’s advice.

But it appeared that this was a dilemma she would have to solve on her own.

Even thinking about it made her blush profusely. Delia’s legs had been pressed lightly against her bum. Delia’s legs! On her bum! Oh god. What if she’d snuggled back? What if Delia had woken up to find Patsy pressing back into her? Patsy would’ve died of embarrassment.

She’d briefly considered the possibility that the snuggle had been, even subconsciously, intentional. A sign that perhaps Delia was interested in her romantically. But she quickly brushed that thought off as the unlikely musings of a mind drunk on hope. No one asked someone they actually had feelings for to pretend to date them. It seemed much more likely that Delia had simply been cold. She hadn’t been kidding when she’d said the house was an icebox.

In fact, Delia would undoubtedly be mortified if she knew what she’d done. And she’d be absolutely horrified if she knew just how much Patsy had enjoyed it. Just how much she’d wanted to turn over and wrap her arm around Delia and hold her to her tightly. To nestle into her warmth. She bet that Delia was impossibly soft. That snuggling with her would feel absolutely heavenly. Uuuugh. This was excruciating. And she had to survive for two more nights. Patsy decided she’d ask for another blanket, to try to keep Delia from getting cold and seeking out Patsy’s body heat.

She needed to ignore her feelings. She needed to be mature.

But even thinking about it made the spot on Patsy’s bum that Delia’s thighs had touched start tingling. This would all be so much easier if Delia wasn’t so bloody appealing. But she was, and Patsy was a hopeless case.

She’d known she was in trouble on the train, as Delia had shared about herself and her life in London. Patsy knew that Delia had an active social life, and she’d been certain that it would consist of things like raves and raucous parties. The kinds of things Trixie had always talked about attending in her younger years. Things that were simply too much for Patsy.

But during their discussion she’d learned that, while Delia did do a lot socially, she didn’t fill her spare time in the loud, boisterous ways that Patsy had expected of a young bartender who was new to London. Instead, she spent her time doing things that sounded…well…really quite fun. She’d found a gay square-dancing club, a lesbian book club, and a group that watched and discussed independent films. It was worrisome, how easily Patsy could see herself fitting into Delia’s life. And Delia fitting into hers.

And, surprisingly, Delia’s panic last night had made Patsy’s crush even stronger. Patsy had only ever seen Delia at her most confident and charming…in her element behind the bar, controlling the space, making people laugh. It had been surprising, to see her so uncertain and vulnerable. But rather than being off-putting, seeing this part of Delia made Patsy admire her even more.

Patsy had always appreciated Delia’s determination. It took a great deal of gumption to come to London by yourself, with no friends or connections, and make your dreams of being a nurse come to fruition through sheer force of will. To know that Delia had done it with this ever-present voice of doubt, and with precious little parental support, made her achievements even more impressive. And had made the task of hiding her feelings even more difficult.

As she walked, she cycled through various perspectives on this particular situation. On one hand, pretending to date the person you had a crush on could be quite freeing. She could now interact with Delia without having to worry about appearing to be overly flirtatious because she was supposed to be flirtatious. But on the other hand, what if she was too flirtatious, and then Delia figured out that it wasn’t really all pretend to Patsy? That would make an already awkward situation truly disastrous. And anyway, how flirtatious was one supposed to be when at your girlfriend’s parent’s house? Patsy had never been invited home by anyone she’d dated, so this entire endeavour was covering completely new ground for her.

When Delia came down to breakfast this morning, was Patsy supposed to greet her with a kiss? The very thought made her chest flutter as she felt a blush creep up her neck. If she was reacting like this now, a kiss was probably a bad idea. A hug? That seemed too formal. A polite ‘Good Morning’? Ugh. That was even more formal. But was she supposed to be formal in her supposed girlfriend’s parent’s house for the first time?

Suddenly, her ruminations were disturbed by a huffing snorting noise behind her. She whipped around to see a small flock of sheep gathered perhaps ten yards from her, eyeing her sceptically. She furrowed her brow as she watched one of them step in front of the others and take an unmistakably aggressive stance. Craning her neck slightly to see in between its legs she felt her heart sink. Not just sheep. Rams. Well, this was just bloody marvellous.

She felt instinct take over as some unconscious part of her remembered: keep facing them. Make eye contact. Stand tall. Move backwards slowly.

She took a moment to glance over her shoulder and saw that the gate she’d come through wasn’t too far off. She felt relief flow through her. She could make it. She’d made it this distance avoiding the billy goats during her time in the Philippines, and she had to assume that sheep were similar enough to goats.

The rams took a step forward for every step she took back, the head of the herd keeping his eyes trained on her, his body taut. He looked ready to launch himself. Patsy just hoped that if he did she’d be close enough to the gate to make it over before he reached her. And that she didn’t blindly step into a pile of sheep shit in her only pair of outdoor shoes.

She was about halfway to the gate when she unexpectedly heard a voice yell out from behind her, ‘Go on, you! Git!’

She saw several objects fly over her. She realized they were dried ears of corn. The small herd ran off after the corn, leaving Patsy free to make her way quickly towards the fence, though she kept a weather eye on them, just to make sure. Once she had contorted herself through the gate, she was able to take a good look at her rescuer. He was a short small man, about as tall as Delia, with wild locks of white hair poking out from under his winter cap, his skin was wizened from time and a life spent outdoors. His blue eyes, however, sparkled with warmth and something that looked like admiration.

‘You a tourist or here with the Busbys?’ his voice was gruff, but there was an undercurrent of humour.

‘Umm…the Busby’s. How did you know?’

‘We don’t get many strangers round here. Eilwen and Huw are the only ones whose children moved away. Sometimes their little ones bring back strangers.’

Patsy found the thought of Delia being one of the ‘little ones’ oddly endearing, ‘Well yes, then, I’m one of those strangers. My name is Patsy. I’m here with Delia.’

‘From London?’

She nodded.

‘But not always from London. You’ve lived in the country.’

Patsy furrowed her brow, surprised that he would know that and not really wanting to talk about it, ‘For a brief time, when I was young, I suppose you could say I lived in the country.’

He nodded, looking satisfied, ‘Thought so. You knew not to run. Comes with experience, that,’ he paused for a moment, but when Patsy didn’t respond he pointed to a small red piece of plastic tied onto the fence. It looked like the lid to an instant coffee tin, ‘That red marker means it’s a ram pasture. Best to avoid those on your future walks. They’ve also got taller walls. Those blokes can turn into real jumpers during breeding season.’

Patsy nodded her understanding, ‘Thank you for letting me know. And for rescuing me.’

He shook his head, ‘You’d have been fine…you knew what to do.’

They stood there awkwardly in silence for a few moments watching the rams fight over the corn. Finally, Patsy decided there was no graceful way out of this other than to simply leave, ‘Well, thank you again Mr…’

‘Jones. You can call me Iwan,’ he pointed back behind him, ‘The Busby house is just around the bend there.’

‘Yes, thank you. Have a very Happy Christmas.’

He nodded before calling out, ‘Oh, you should probably know that Sioned Roberts called me because she saw you, which means she’ll have called Eilwen to tell her that you were in a ram pasture. Sioned’s always been jealous of Eilwen. Takes any opportunity she can get.’

Patsy sighed. Well this was a fabulous start if she wanted to make a good impression.

‘I appreciate you letting me know. I suppose I should’ve expected as much.’

He gave her a small, knowing smile, ‘She loves her Delia, Eilwen does. Good luck.’

Patsy smiled back, no longer surprised that he seemed to know everything. That just must be the way it worked in the country, ‘Thank you. I have a feeling I’ll need it.’

As she walked down the road, it fully dawned on Patsy what agreeing to pretend to date Delia really meant for her. It didn’t just mean having to negotiate her feelings for Delia. She was also going to have to navigate a protective Mrs Busby...as well, apparently, as an entire community of invested neighbours. Setting the neighbourhood atwitter by wandering through a ram pasture wasn’t the greatest start. She sighed. Oh well, it couldn’t be helped now. She just needed to focus from here on out on pretending to be the best, most deserving partner Delia could ever have.

Chapter Text

Huw cursed under his breath as he shifted a crate of flowerpots only to have a tin full of nails clatter to the floor. He needed to reorganize this dratted shed. It shouldn’t be this hard to find simple things.

Ignoring the nails for now, he pressed further into the clutter, looking for the bundle of metal wire he knew was in here somewhere.

He knew he hadn’t made the greatest first impression with Patsy last night, but if Patsy liked to spend time outdoors on walks and liked Christmas decorations…well then, he knew the perfect activity to allow them to have another chance to get to know each other. He’d found the pruning shears, now all he needed to do was locate the bloody wire.

Finally, he saw it stacked on top of some bags of potting soil. Excellent. He shoved a few more boxes out of the way and hauled the spool down, returning to the small workbench on one side of the shed. Unwinding it, he began fashioning the wire into circular frames of various sizes, sealing the ends together with the wire crimps and sleeves he had left over from his latest fencing project.

It was cold, working out in the shed, but it prevented Eilwen from giving him endless advice about how many frames to make or how big to make them or how they didn’t even need any more decorations. Huw loved his wife dearly, but sometimes it was nice to simply be able to do things, without all of the analysis. And anyway, she’d have had a fit if he’d brought this dirty bundle of wire into the house to leave marks all over her good tablecloths.

Finishing up the third frame, he stood back and examined them. They looked sturdy and the right size. He picked one up and held it against the door to the shed. Yep, a good size. But was three enough?

He wondered how many wreaths Patsy would want to make. And Delia would probably want to make one too. And it would be fun if he could make one. He should probably make some more frames.

His stomach grumbled, reminding him that there were Welsh cakes in the kitchen, but he wanted to finish these up first. He figured that six would be enough…two for each of them. And Eilwen could have one of his if she wanted to join.

He thought about what a fun day this would be, wandering the countryside with his daughter and her girlfriend, collecting branches and dried flowers. And then they’d get to return home, and he’d start a fire and they’d sit and make wreaths and chat. Maybe Eilwen would even make them some hot cocoa. It sounded to Huw like the perfect way to spend the day.

_____________________

Delia felt warm and happy. She snuggled down further into the warmth of the covers, nuzzling her face sleepily into the pillow and letting out a contented sigh. It smelled so good, so comforting, so much better than her bed usually smelled. It smelled…like Patsy. She snuggled in deeper, revelling for several moments in a contented haze before a small voice wondered why her pillow smelled like Patsy.

Or maybe…maybe this was Patsy’s pillow?

Oh no.

She was nuzzling Patsy’s pillow.

She was suddenly very, very awake, her heart racing as she lay frozen in the bed.

Carefully opening one eye, she confirmed she was alone in the bed. Lifting her head tentatively, she took in the room. Patsy wasn’t here. She breathed a sigh of relief as she dropped her head back into the pillow. Patsy wasn’t here. Patsy hadn’t seen Delia nuzzling lovingly into her pillow. Thank God. She’d never have recovered from the embarrassment.

Taking stock of where she was lying, Delia realized that her relief may have been a bit pre-emptive. She was fully on Patsy’s side of the bed. When had she migrated over? She reached out and felt the sheets on her side. They were ice cold. But then again, in this house everything got ice cold almost instantly. It would only have been natural for her to migrate over to the warmth of Patsy’s side after the redhead had gotten up. Delia had to assume that’s what had happened. Any other option was too mortifying to consider.

She glanced over at her phone. 8:45. She wondered when Patsy had gotten up. And where had she gone? Downstairs, probably. She was probably interacting with her mam right now.

Oh God.

Her mam.

Her mam was probably furious with her.

Suddenly, Delia became aware of the unmistakable odour of Welsh cakes wafting up into the room. Her mam had made Welsh cakes? She only made them as a form of apology. It was her only form of apology, really. That or Delia’s favourite biscuits with jam in them. Delia wasn’t sure she’d ever heard her mam say the word ‘sorry’.

But why would she be making apology Welsh cakes? Did she feel…bad that Delia hadn’t told her? Not angry, but sad? Of all the possible reactions Delia had considered her mam might have, penitence wasn’t one of them. It made her feel a bit bad, actually, that she’d made her mam feel somehow guilty. Though really, wasn’t that the whole point of this? To shame her mam into respecting her? She groaned as she rolled over onto her side. In the harsh light of day, she could see just how ridiculous that line of thinking was.

And now Patsy was down there, fending off her mam all by herself.

Wait a minute.

Maybe they weren’t apology cakes for Delia. Maybe they were good impression cakes for Patsy. Maybe her mam was mad at her, but she still wanted to impress Patsy with the best Wales had to offer. That would be something her mam would do.

Delia rolled back over onto her back and stared at the ceiling. She lay there for a moment considering whether it was more likely that her mam was angry or sad before punching the mattress lightly and muttering to herself, ‘Dammit, Delia! Why do you let her take up so much bloody space in your head?’

Sighing, she sat up. Regardless of her mam’s feelings, she should go down and save Patsy from her parents.

She wondered how she should greet Patsy when she went downstairs. She needed to make their supposed relationship seem respectful and loving, but she also didn’t want to engage in any gratuitous displays of affection around her parents just to prove they were happy. After all, she wanted to be able to stay friends with Patsy after all this. Asking someone to pretend to date you and then manhandling them in front of your parents wasn’t the best way to lay the foundation for a lasting friendship. No, she’d have to play it cool and be loving at the same time. Somehow.

But first, she needed to take a shower. One last little moment of respite before she had to go downstairs and face the music.

Chapter Text

Patsy entered the house after one firm knock, knowing that, at this point, she would be expected.

Eilwen’s voice called out from the back of the house, ‘Patsy? Is that you? I’m in the kitchen, dear.’

‘Yes, it’s me,’ Patsy shuffled off her coat and boots, sliding on the slippers she was extremely thankful she had brought. As she made her way back to the kitchen, she steeled herself, very much aware that everything from here on out would be a test of her suitability as Delia’s partner. Considering they were only pretending to date, it was surprising to her how invested she felt in passing.

She strode into the kitchen to find Eilwen chopping what looked like carrots, her back turned to Patsy. She decided to take a seat at the small kitchen table.

‘It smells delicious in here, Mrs Busby,’ she figured she needed to butter Eilwen up as much as possible, and it certainly didn’t hurt to start with the truth.

‘Yes, I’ve made Welsh cakes this morning. I suspected you’d never tried them, so I thought they would make a nice treat…so you could get a taste of Wales.’

As someone who prided herself on being an adventurous eater, Patsy had, of course, had Welsh cakes before, but that didn’t seem particularly important to clarify, ‘That’s very considerate of you Mrs Busby. I’m very excited to try them,’ that was the truth once again, but she decided to throw in a small lie, just to help Delia out a bit, ‘Delia speaks so highly of your Welsh cakes, it really is a treat to finally get to taste them.’

Eilwen looked suitably chuffed, and Patsy felt validated in her fib. This entire endeavour was going to be an exercise in strategic lying, after all.

‘Yes, well, they are amongst her favourites.’ Eilwen picked up the cutting board full of uniformly chopped carrots and slid them into a large pot on the cooker, still not fully facing Patsy, ‘We’ll eat them as soon a Huw comes back in from the shed.’

Patsy was about to ask if they were going to wait for Delia when Eilwen spoke again, ‘I take it you survived your adventure in the ram pasture unscathed.’

Patsy noticed that Eilwen hadn’t felt the need to disclose how she even knew about Patsy’s whereabouts. She supposed that in the country everyone must just assume that everyone would know everything about them. Patsy was extremely glad that she didn’t live in an era when everyone in the city knew each other’s business too.

‘Yes, I survived without major incident. And I had the privilege of meeting Iwan Jones as well.’

‘Ah yes…a bit eccentric, that one, but he’s a good man.’

Patsy was curious what exactly defined a ‘good man’ in Eilwen’s eyes. She supposed it was probably just baseline decency combined with an ability to economically support a family. That’s how her mother had defined a good man at least. Patsy herself felt as if the bar should be a bit higher on the decency front, and she couldn’t have cared less about income.

‘He seemed very nice.’

Eilwen nodded, glancing into the pot, ‘I was going to make cawl for tea tonight. I hope you eat mutton.’

Her tone made it clear that a response wasn’t strictly necessary as there wasn’t going to be anything else offered, but Patsy decided to answer anyway, ‘Yes, I love mutton. I’m looking forward to trying your cawl. It appears I’m getting all kinds of culinary treats today.’ Was that laying it on too thick? Perhaps. But Eilwen didn’t seem to notice.

She simply hummed as she pulled a bag of parsnips out of the refrigerator, ‘Well, this chilly weather calls for cawl,’ she began washing the parsnips, ‘Speaking of chilly weather, what brought you to Iwan Jones’ field this morning?’

Patsy had anticipated this question, and had prepared an excuse that she hoped would be equal parts believable and flattering to Wales, ‘Oh, I just enjoy walks and wanted to find the point that gave me the best view of the gorgeous Welsh countryside. That pasture seemed to have one of the tallest hills in the area.’

Eilwen looked satisfied with that response, ‘Yes, it is one of the nicest views. You can see all the way to Tenby if there’s no fog. And luckily it’s not breeding season, so the rams wouldn’t have been too aggressive,’ moving the parsnips back to the cutting board, she finally turned to face Patsy fully, ‘Well, now that you’re back in safely, would you like something to warm you up while we wait for Huw?’

Patsy smiled, glad that Eilwen was finally asking. She was desperate for a cup of tea, ‘That sounds delightful.’

Eilwen looked towards her apologetically, ‘I’m afraid we don’t have much alcohol in the house,’ she opened the refrigerator, ‘Though I do think there’s a cider in here somewhere, if you drink ciders.’

Patsy was confused. Why was she being offered alcohol? ‘Mrs Busby, it’s nine o’clock in the morning.’

‘Oh?’ Eilwen turned back to her, her tone one of false naivety, ‘I’d just assumed people from London might drink alcohol at all hours of the day.’

Ah. This was about her meeting Delia at the pub. Eilwen thought she was a drunkard. Patsy could handle this, ‘Not unless they have a problem with alcohol,’ Eilwen continued to eye her sceptically, so she added, ‘which I do not.’

‘I didn’t think you did, dear. I’m just trying to make sure you have access to whatever you might want,’ Eilwen closed the refrigerator, ‘Is there something else I can get you, then?’

‘A cup of tea would be lovely.’

Mrs Busby nodded and went to the cupboard for a mug. Patsy watched her, honestly surprised that the inquiry into her relationship with alcohol had been so blunt. It appeared Eilwen wasn’t one for subtlety.

‘And would Delia like some tea as well?’ Eilwen was looking at her expectantly and Patsy quickly realized that she was being tested about Delia. Thank goodness they’d gone over this last night.

‘Delia still prefers coffee, if you have it. Very heavy on the milk.’

‘So that’s not changed then.’ Eilwen seemed disappointed, though Patsy assumed not with her.

Patsy thought about lightly joking with Mrs Busby about how she also thought Delia’s morning drink of choice was a bit ridiculous, but decided against it.

Eilwen handed Patsy her tea and the carton of milk before opening the cupboard and retrieving a small packet of instant coffee. Patsy froze, realizing that she had no idea if instant would be alright with Delia. Luckily, Eilwen didn’t ask.

Instead, she cocked her head to the side, obviously trying to sound casual, ‘So Patsy, I’ve been trying to decide which side dish to have with tea tonight, and I didn’t know if you had a preference between sprouts and mashed turnips.’

If she and Delia truly had been together for a year, Patsy would’ve been insulted by the ease of this test, but as it was, she was just relieved she knew the answers, ‘I personally don’t have a preference, but I think we both know just how much Delia despises turnips, so I think we should probably go with the sprouts.’

Eilwen narrowed her eyes and for a moment Patsy thought she was going to be in a bit of trouble for having a response that certainly wasn’t the least cheeky option available. But instead, Mrs Busby simply gave a curt nod and looked down at the coffee packet, ‘Were you planning on waking her soon?’

The question caught Patsy off guard. This wasn’t something they’d covered last night, and the entire line of thinking struck Patsy as odd. They didn’t have any set plans that she knew of, and Delia wasn’t a child. She decided to simply go with her knee-jerk reaction, ‘Delia’s a grown woman on vacation, Mrs Busby. I wasn’t planning on waking her at all.’

Eilwen’s jaw tightened slightly but noticeably. She simply stared at Patsy for a moment before finally pushing the packet to the back of the counter with a resigned sigh, ‘I suppose she must be tired, what with her classes and work,’ she picked up her knife and began chopping the parsnips, ‘And I’ve always said that job of hers interferes with her having a more normal sleep schedule.’

Patsy felt her defensiveness flare up again, though she kept her voice light, ‘I’m afraid in nursing there’s really no such thing. I think her ability to be adaptable will serve her well in her career.’

Patsy knew she was pushing her luck, but she didn’t appreciate the unspoken assumption behind many of Eilwen’s jabs that Delia was making poor choices or somehow living her life in the wrong way. Especially since Eilwen was now operating under the assumption that Patsy was one of those choices. This may have been a fake relationship, but Patsy still had her pride.

Eilwen looked at her challengingly for a moment before they were both distracted by the tell-tale sound of water pipes juddering to life. Eilwen glanced at the ceiling, ‘Well, it appears she’s in the shower, so I suppose it’s a moot point,’ she turned back to her parsnips, chopping them slightly more aggressively than she had been before.

Patsy should probably have been focused on what could have been viewed as a small victory over Eilwen, but she was thoroughly distracted by the thought that right now Delia was in the shower. Right above her. Naked. Soaping herself. Rinsing off, the hot water coursing over her curves. Staring into her tea, Patsy felt a familiar but entirely inappropriate-for-the-moment feeling begin to build.

‘So, Patsy, how long have you been a nurse, then?’

Shit. Patsy shook her head, rousing herself from her lustful daze. She could tell that her face was hot and she prayed she wasn’t blushing too furiously.

‘Um,’ she cleared her throat, ‘I’ve been a nurse for four years but I became dual certified as a nurse and midwife about a year ago.’

‘And how old are you?’

‘Twenty-Eight.’

‘So, did you train in something other than nursing in school?’

‘No. Some family obligations prevented me from starting my career as early as I could have, but I’ve always been focused on nursing.’ Patsy was quite used to this line of questioning, and had perfected the art of using her tone to make the ‘family obligations’ sound thoroughly disinteresting. Her accent made it so that people often assumed she’d been trained to be a socialite before deciding to set out on her own.

Eilwen, of course, was more curious than most, ‘Oh? Family obligations?’

Patsy remained stubbornly vague. She might be pretending to date her daughter, but Eilwen hadn’t even come close to earning the right to the details, ‘Yes, I was held up for a bit, but it’s all in the past now. And I’ve been very happy with nursing, especially now that I’m a midwife. The hours are odder than where I was on the surgical wards, but it’s much more gratifying.’

‘Well, I’m glad you feel like it’s rewarding.’

It was the most milquetoast possible response, but Patsy was so relieved that Eilwen had stopped pursuing the family angle that she brushed it off.

Suddenly the back door burst open, and Huw came bustling in carrying hedge clippers and what looked like a large mass of wires.

‘Oh hullo Patsy! Welcome back. I’m glad to see that you survived your encounter with Iwan’s rams. Did you have a nice walk?’

Patsy smiled, ‘Yes, thank you, Mr Busby. The countryside really is beautiful.’

Before he could respond, Eilwen’s voice rung out, ‘Huw Busby! Don’t you dare put those down on top of my good tablecloths. Let me get a plastic sheet.’

Huw winked at Patsy, ‘Don’t worry, cariad, I wouldn’t dream of dirtying your tablecloth. I can put them next to the fireplace for now.’

Huw disappeared into the sitting room for a moment before shuffling back into the kitchen, rubbing his hands together and looking eager, ‘Now that Patsy’s back, is it time for Welsh cakes?’

Eilwen shook her head, ‘Let’s wait for Delia. She’s in the shower now.’

Huw looked a bit deflated, but nodded and re-filled his mug with hot water before settling down at the table with Patsy.

Eilwen gestured towards the sitting room, ‘What are those things?’

‘They’re frames for wreaths. I thought the girls and I could go and collect some supplies this morning and then make wreaths in the afternoon.’

‘Oh, I’m sure Patsy’s had plenty of wandering about the countryside for one day.’

Patsy was taken aback for a moment. She’d never had someone speak for her like that. It was an oddly disconcerting feeling. Like having her voice stolen from her. She was about to speak up to say that, in fact, that plan sounded lovely, when Eilwen continued, ‘Anyway, I need to run some errands today and thought Delia could come with me.’

‘Errands?’ Huw furrowed his brow.

‘Yes. I need to get a few final things for Christmas dinner and we have to pick up that thing we discussed last night,’ as she said ‘thing’ she looked pointedly at Patsy, making it crystal clear she was discussing some sort of gift. Well, that all but confirmed that Eilwen wasn’t one to bother with the fine art of subtlety.

Patsy was curious how Huw would react to this. Delia apparently had a hard time standing up to her mother, and Patsy was curious if it was a personal issue or something the entire family dealt with.

Huw’s voice was calm, ‘I understand, but Patsy’s here to experience a Welsh Christmas. It doesn’t make sense to have her run errands with you. And you know how much Delia enjoys making wreaths.’

Eilwen turned to face Huw, looking perturbed, ‘I need Delia’s advice on the thing. Anyway, she’s always liked going to the shops when they’re all decorated for Christmas. And I’m sure she and Patsy are going to want to spend time together.’

Patsy watched, fascinated. She wondered if all families treated young people like they weren’t there during conversations. Or like their agency didn’t particularly matter. She remembered her parents making decisions for her, but she’d been a child then. And once she’d become an adult, she hadn’t really let her relationship with her father develop to the point where he would ever dare to consider making a decision for her. It all seemed quite odd to Patsy, but she supposed it might just be the way things worked. Parents got into the habit of deciding what you were going to do, and that tendency just continued into adulthood.

‘Well, why don’t we ask Patsy if she’d rather make wreaths or go shopping with you and Delia?’

Huw’s suggestion caught her off guard...she'd almost been convinced they'd forgotten she was sitting there. If Patsy was thinking only about her desires, there was an obvious answer. She’d never made a wreath before, and shopping for her own Christmas present seemed a bit backwards. But it wasn’t just about her, and she was keen to ensure that the one person who really mattered to her was consulted.

‘I would say that what I’d rather do is consult with Delia before I make any kind of decision. I’m sure she has an opinion on how she’d like to spend her day.’

This was apparently a response that neither Huw nor Eilwen were expecting because they simply stared at her for a moment before Huw smiled and let out a little chuckle, ‘That makes sense to me.’

Eilwen huffed irritably before turning around and continuing to chop the parsnips, ‘Well if we’re going to turn this into some kind of negotiation, then Delia needs to come down so we can plan our day.’

As if summoned by her mother’s words, the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs reached their ears. Delia was coming downstairs. Delia, who she had to convincingly pretend to have been dating for a year. Patsy took a deep breath, reminding herself to stay calm. She’d say ‘Good Morning’ and then she’d read Delia from there.

Chapter Text

Delia took a deep breath as she descended the stairs. She could do this. She could sit in a room with her parents and Patsy and they could pretend to be in a relationship. It’s not as if her parents had any real relationship behaviour to compare it to. For all they knew, she’d have been a nervous wreck even if she had brought home a real girlfriend. Actually, now that she thought about it, she’d definitely have been a disaster around a real girlfriend. Somehow, that calmed her a bit. The ruse was going to be believable even if she acted as anxious as she felt.

Stepping into the kitchen, she faltered for a moment, noticing that her mam was chopping what looked like parsnips with a great deal more aggression than usual. So she was angry then. Well, at least now Delia knew.

She glanced towards the small kitchen table, where Patsy and her tad were sitting. Both of them were smiling at her warmly, though Patsy’s expression had a hint of nervousness to it. Seeing that Patsy was anxious too made Delia feel infinitely better. It was completely rational to feel awkward…this was a weird situation. But they were in it together. Patsy was doing this for her, which was pretty incredible, if she thought about it.

‘Good morning, everyone,’ she called out, trying her best to sound relaxed and cheery.

‘Good Morning, cariad!’ Huw stood up and began making his way to the oven, ‘How do Welsh cakes sound for breakfast?’

Delia smiled, ‘They sound absolutely lovely. Do you need any help getting things together?’

He shook his head, ‘Your mam and I can handle it. Thank you, though.’

Delia made her way to the table, giving Patsy’s shoulder a small squeeze as she walked by, before settling down in the seat next to her. She dared a glance up at the redhead, hoping that the touch hadn’t upset her. She was relieved to see a shy smile gracing Patsy’s features, her cheeks ever so slightly flushed.

‘Good morning,’ Patsy’s voice was soft, warm, and wonderfully calming.

Delia smiled bashfully back up at Patsy for a moment before turning to gauge her parents’ reaction. They were both occupied with their various tasks and didn’t seem to be paying close attention to the two of them. Delia felt a flutter of excitement. The ruse was working.

‘So, cariad, Patsy tells me you’re still drinking coffee?’ her mam’s tone made it clear she was hoping for a rebuttal to this fact.

‘Yes, same as before. Heavy on the milk,’ she moved to stand, ‘I’m happy to make it.’

Her mam shook her head, ‘No, I’m already up. We still have a few of the packets of the instant you brought on your last trip,’ she poured the contents into a mug, ‘Though I still don’t understand what you have against tea.’

‘I don’t have anything against tea, mam. I just prefer the taste of coffee. It’s…earthier, richer.’

‘Tea can taste rich too. You just can’t taste it because you add so much milk.’

‘If it really bothers you, I can drink tea while I’m here.’

‘I’m not asking you to change what you drink. I’m just making an observation.’

‘Here we go, cakes for everyone!’ Huw cut in a bit louder than necessary, placing a heaping pile of cakes in the middle of the table, along with a small jar of jam and a dish of butter. He came back a moment later with plates and silverware before taking his own seat, ‘Now Patsy, many people prefer them plain, but I’ve always been fond of putting on just the slightest bit of butter. And this is some of Eilwen’s homemade jam if you’d like a bit of sweet.’

‘Thank you, Mr Busby. They smell absolutely delicious.’

The three of them loaded their plates with cakes before waiting for her mam to join them with Delia’s coffee. Once she was seated, they ate in silence for several moments as Delia basked in the simple pleasure of delicious home-cooked Welsh cakes. She and Val tried their best in the kitchen, but nothing could really compare to the taste of her mam’s cooking.

Glancing around the table, Delia could hardly believe how easy this was. How natural it felt. As if Patsy being there was just…well, how it was always supposed to be. Even when she’d been bickering with her mam about her coffee, she’d somehow felt more secure knowing Patsy was sitting there beside her. And her parents didn’t seem to suspect anything was amiss.

The redhead’s voice was the first to break the silence, ‘Mrs Busby, these really are delicious. Thank you for making them.’

Her mam looked pleased, ‘Well, I just wanted to show you that our food here can be as good as anything you find in London.’

‘I daresay this is better than most of what I eat in London. Trixie and I like the take-away places we order from, but this really is extraordinary.’

Delia resisted the urge to chuckle. Patsy was apparently laying it on thick this morning. It wasn’t the worst strategy, she had to admit.

‘Who’s Trixie?’

Delia immediately tensed. They hadn’t accounted for questions from her mam about Trixie. She’d wanted Patsy to feel adequately prepared for anything her mam might ask. She glanced over at the redhead, who seemed completely unphased.

‘She’s my flatmate and fellow midwife. We share a small place near the hospital.’

‘You have a flatmate?’ Her mam’s tone was openly suspicious, but Patsy, either not noticing or, more likely, not taking the bait, kept her voice light.

‘Of course. I live in London on a nurses’ wages. I couldn’t afford to live there if I didn’t have a flatmate.’

Her mam turned to Delia, ‘See, cariad, I’m always telling you London’s too expensive. It’s much more affordable in Wales…and nurses are needed everywhere.’

‘My life is in London, mam,’ she loaded up a forkful of cake before deciding to try to change the subject, ‘But I’m not in London now, I’m here with you. What are we doing today?’

Her tad put down his fork, ‘Actually, cariad, we wanted to ask you about the options.’

Delia froze mid-chew, her mouth full of cake, ‘What? Ask me?’

‘Yes, we had a perfectly good plan, but Patsy insisted that we ask you,’ her mam didn’t try to veil her annoyance.

‘She did?’ Delia stared up at Patsy, a little shocked. She’d never really had any say in what they did when she came home. She’d long ago resigned herself to simply going along with whatever her mam told her they were doing. It was why she always found herself at the bloody Welsh carol service.

Patsy smiled down at her and gave a small nod, ‘There were two options we were trying to decide between, and I thought you might appreciate voicing an opinion.’

Delia felt a bit flustered, ‘Oh. Well. Yes. That would be nice. What were the options?’

She sat and finished up her cakes as her mam and tad explained their visions for how the day would go. As they both made their arguments, she felt the odd sensation of…empowerment? She’d sat at this table so many times over the years, trying and failing to assert herself that at some point she’d stopped really trying. But now Patsy had come and insisted that Delia have a say. For the first time, Delia had an ally. Someone who was there with no motive other than to look out for her. It was astounding, how wonderful that felt.

Of course, her tad’s offer was by far the most appealing. She loved making wreaths and a walk through the countryside would be so delightful. But as her mam made her pitch, she realized that the anger she’d previously seen had been about having her plan questioned, not about Delia. In fact, it seemed as if Delia’s original assessment that her mam might actually feel a bit bad about Delia not trusting her had been accurate. If that was the case, this could be the ideal opportunity to practice asserting herself. And anyway, if she didn’t spend at least some time with her mam, she’d never hear the end of it.

Soon, all eyes at the table were on her as everyone waited expectantly to hear her opinion.

She took a deep breath, revelling for a brief moment in the attention, ‘Well, tad, I do love making wreaths, but it seems a shame for mam to have to run the errands all on her own. Perhaps we could try to do a bit of both? You and Patsy could collect things while mam and I shop, and then I could make a wreath when we came home?’ she turned to Patsy, ‘Unless you’d like to join us shopping, which would be wonderful as well.’

Patsy smiled, ‘Thank you for the offer, but I’ve never made a wreath before…as long as that’s alright with you, Mr Busby.’

Huw smiled, ‘Of course,’ he looked at Delia, ‘We’ll save you all of the best branches for your wreath, cariad.’

‘Well, most of them at least,’ Patsy winked at her and Delia felt her heart flutter contentedly as she playfully pushed into Patsy with her shoulder.

‘Well good, I’m glad we’ve finally made a decision so we can get on with the day,’ her mam’s words may still have been terse, but it was clear from her tone that she was pleased with the outcome.

Delia knew she was choosing to do what her mam would have forced her to do if Patsy hadn’t been here, but still…she was choosing to do it. So far, her little plan was yielding more dividends than she’d dared to hope.

They all stood and agreed to meet down in the sitting room in a few minutes, once everyone had had a chance to get ready and gather their things.

Delia turned to Patsy as they made their way to her room, ‘You may want to grab an extra layer or two. It’s quite chilly outside, and the wind can be really biting.’

‘Oh, I know. That’s why I’m coming up to put on a thermal layer. I went out for a walk earlier and was only comfortable because I was walking briskly. I’m assuming this jaunt will be much more leisurely.’

Delia furrowed her brow. How early had Patsy gotten up? ‘Really? You went for a walk this morning? Why?’

Patsy looked around to make sure they were alone before leaning in close, ‘Well, I told your parents it’s because I wanted to see the Welsh countryside, but really I couldn’t find the wi-fi password, so I was looking for service.’

Delia shot Patsy a look of disbelief, ‘You wandered sheep pastures in the dark instead of just waking me?’

Patsy turned a bit red, ‘You looked so peaceful. I didn’t want to disturb you. And anyway, it was nice to spend time outside. Though apparently someone named Sioned saw me wander into Iwan Jones’ ram pasture and called your mother to tattle, so that wasn’t ideal.’

Delia couldn’t hold back a small snort of laughter as she walked into her room, ‘Sioned saw you?! Oh Duw, you’re going to be the talk of the village at the carol service.’

‘Yes, I’m learning that everyone seems to know about everything around here.’

Delia nodded, ‘And now you can start to see why I had to leave. Don’t worry about mam, by the way. Sioned’s her nemesis, so she’s much more likely to be irritated with her than you.’

‘Oooo…a nemesis. Who knew life in the Welsh countryside could be so full of intrigue.’

Delia shot her a sly smirk, ‘Oh, you have no idea,’ she shuffled through her bag for the jumper she wanted to wear out, ‘Speaking of intrigue, how did your interaction with mam go when you got back?’

Patsy’s eyes gleamed with mirth, ‘I think I acquitted myself, and our relationship, quite well actually. Though I’m afraid your mother thinks my patronage of The Poplar makes me an inveterate souse. She tried to ply me with alcohol even though it was nine in the morning.’

Delia looked up, horrified, ‘Did she really? I’m so sorry, Patsy.’

Patsy shook her head, ‘It’s completely fine. She’s just being protective. And I’ve noticed that subtlety isn’t her strong suit. I think I effectively convinced her that I’m not a raging lush.’

Delia winced, ‘Still. I’m sorry. I don’t like that she’d think so poorly of you.’

Patsy shrugged, ‘Given how she says the word London, I’m guessing she doesn’t think much of anyone who lives in the city. Anyway, at this point all she knows about me is that I’ve come in to lure her daughter away with my lesbian wiles,’ she arched her eyebrow, trying to look devious but only succeeding in looking adorable.

‘Ah yes,’ Delia laughed, ‘You’ve stolen me away against my will and are forcing me to live in the big city.’

‘Exactly,’ Patsy gave an authoritative nod, ‘I need someone to make me my Old Fashioned every Wednesday. I could never let you leave.’

Delia chuckled, but felt her heart drop a bit at the reminder that, while Patsy was willing to play at a relationship, right now Delia was nothing more than Patsy’s bartender friend.

‘Speaking of leaving, are you sure you’re going to be alright alone with your mother? I can come with you if you’d like.’

Delia smiled, touched by Patsy’s concern, ‘I’ll be just fine. The whole point of this is to learn to stand up to her, remember? I can’t do that if I spend the entire time avoiding her.’

‘You make an excellent point.’

‘Are you going to be alright with my tad for the whole morning?’

‘Absolutely. It’ll give me a chance to talk with him about something other than cocktails. And I really am excited to make a festive wreath. Hopefully we can find some plants with berries on them.’

Delia chuckled at Patsy’s enthusiasm.

‘Cariad!’ her mam’s voice rose up from downstairs, ‘We need to leave now if we’re going to get back in time for wreath-making!’

‘Oof!’ Delia popped her head through the neck of her jumper, ‘It appears I’m being summoned.’ She went to the door before looking back towards Patsy with a mischievous smile, ‘And don’t forget, I was promised the best branches.’

Patsy grinned back at her, ‘That was your father. I made no such promise. You’ll just have to hope you get back in time to fight me off of them.’

Delia laughed and gave Patsy a little wave, ‘Bye, Patsy. Have fun finding the best branches in all the land.’

‘Thank you, I will. And good luck!’

Delia smiled to herself as she made her way down the stairs. Well, in an interesting turn of events, Patsy was being distinctly more flirtatious with her. Though she was probably just getting into character. She was pretending to be her girlfriend, after all.

And, at this point at least, the ruse seemed to be working like a charm. Her parents hadn’t even seemed to question whether they were really together. And, somehow, Patsy didn’t even seem to be a little scared of her mam. She’d even worked it so that Delia was given a choice about what she wanted to do today.

So far, Patsy was doing absolutely everything flawlessly. Now it was Delia’s turn to hold up her end of the bargain. It was time to stand up to her mam once and for all.

Chapter Text

Patsy released a giant sigh as she heard Delia descend the stairs. She’d survived. She’d more than survived, actually. That had gone quite well. Patsy had managed to not melt into a puddle when Delia squeezed her shoulder, Delia seemed to be feeling confident about her chances of taking on her mother, and Patsy was going to get to spend the day making wreaths. All-in-all, not a bad outcome.

Patsy remained a bit curious about what would have happened if Delia had rebuffed her mother and decided to forage for wreath materials with Huw. Patsy suspected that Eilwen would have suddenly stopped being so comparatively restrained. But luckily for all of them, they hadn’t had to find that out.

Though now Patsy was left with the prospect of spending a good chunk of the day alone with Huw. Which was fine in and of itself, but she wished Delia was going to be there with them. It was astounding how much calmer and more open and just happier she felt when Delia was with her. She’d been so nervous about the thought of having to interact with Delia in front of her parents, but then Delia had arrived and sat next to her and it had just felt…right.

And while she’d been proud of Delia for standing up to her mother a bit about the coffee, when Delia had chosen to run errands instead of making wreaths, Patsy had quite frankly been impressed. She knew how tempting it must have been to simply avoid her mother…to put off the inevitable confrontation that would result from having told her father instead of Eilwen that they were supposedly together. But Delia hadn’t done that. She’d decided to face her mother head-on.

And her tone when she’d asked Patsy if she wanted to join them had made it clear that Patsy was welcome to stay and do the more fun wreath-based activities. It appeared that Delia felt she could take on Eilwen herself. Alone. Without Patsy or Huw there for support. Patsy wasn’t sure how wise it was, but it was certainly brave, and Patsy had to admire that.

It was an admiration that had made her be admittedly a bit dangerously open with her flirtation, but she couldn’t help herself. Delia’s adorable smile when Patsy had winked at her had proven addictive, and Patsy was soon lulled into a potentially false sense of security by just how easy bantering with Delia felt. She’d even taken the step of flirting fairly brazenly. And Delia had seemed to flirt right back, which was exciting to say the least. Though Patsy was careful to remind herself that Delia was probably just getting into character. They were pretending to be girlfriends, after all.

Her thermal layer applied, she pulled her jumper back over her head and made her way to the stairs, daydreaming all the while about just how far she could push making Delia ‘fight her off’ the best branches. She knew she needed to be careful and play it safe, but still, there was no reason she couldn’t imagine what she might do if she were a more forward person.

Oh, if she had the gumption, the possibilities could be endless. She could hide a branch behind her back so Delia would have to reach around her and she’d end up wrapped in Delia’s arms. Or, even better, she could hold the branch up over her head and Delia would come up to her and press up against her front, breathtakingly close, and try to reach up to it. But Delia would be too short, so she would laugh, eyes sparkling, as she would settle in Patsy’s arms and let out a small sigh and she would say to Patsy ‘It looks as if I can’t reach it. How can I ever convince you to give it to me?’ and Patsy would smile back down at her and say ‘I could perhaps be convinced by a kiss,’ and then Delia would blush slightly and then slowly pull Patsy down into a soft, slow, utterly intoxicating kiss. And then, stunned by the sheer power of the kiss, Patsy’s arm would slowly lower and she would drop the branch, but Delia would have forgotten about it too because they would be so wrapped up in each other, and then—

‘Are you all ready to go? It’s quite chilly out there, but we should be alright as long as we keep moving.’

Patsy was jolted out of her daydream to see Huw shuffling around the sitting room excitedly, an old 35mm camera hanging from a strap around his neck and what looked like a re-purposed baby bassinet on his back.

In her stupor she had managed to wander all the way into the sitting room without really being aware what she was doing. As she felt her face turn a rather embarrassing shade of red, she chided herself getting so distracted. Again. She wasn’t normally one to let her hormones get away from her like this, and she blamed how she’d woken up this morning. Delia snuggling into her had apparently gotten everything stirred up, and she needed to focus on getting it back under control.

‘Yes, I’m ready. I’ve just put on a thermal layer, so I should be quite comfortable even if we wander slowly.’

Huw nodded happily, ‘You do look as if it’s a bit too warm in here for you, so you should be all set for outside. Shall we?’

He led the way to the door where Patsy shuffled on her coat, grateful to have had an excuse for her flushed features, and they headed out.

They walked in silence for several moments, Huw pausing occasionally to investigate various branches and dried grasses. Patsy finally broke the silence by asking him about his camera, and thankfully their conversation flowed easily from there as he gushed about film and exposure times and colour quality. This led to stories about what he photographed, which opened up the conversation to old farm equipment, cars and barns. Delia’s assessment of his love for hipster things had certainly been accurate.

The conversation wasn’t entirely one-sided, however. Huw asked plenty of good questions too, about London and midwifery, and he even managed to get her to talk about the girl guide troupe she led, a part of her life even Delia had only learned about last night. Patsy could see where Delia got her affable ease for conversation, and she was incredibly grateful for this chance to make a better impression. She hoped that Delia was faring as well with her errand-running.

Several hours later, after plenty of compelling discussions and several comfortable silences,
they’d collected a good number of evergreen branches, some desiccated vines to weave through the frames, a few interesting dried out flowers, and some browned grasses Huw had found entrancing. The bassinet Huw had on his back was full-to-bursting with foliage. Still, while Patsy was fairly excited about their haul, she found herself mildly irritated that, even after all this wandering, they hadn’t been able to find any winter berries. She wanted to add a pop of colour to her wreaths…after all, these were going to be the first wreaths she’d ever made, and they needed to be absolutely perfect.

Huw had been carrying a not insubstantial amount of greenery for hours, however, and Patsy could tell that, while he was doing his best to remain endlessly chipper in their futile search for berries, he was fading. She was just about to suggest that they head back with what they had when she saw a sprig of small, green waxy leaves laying in the road under a tree. What really excited her, though, was that nestled in between the leaves were gorgeous white berries. Finally! Berries!

She looked up in the tree and saw what looked like several large bunches of the green plant, each heavily laden with snow-white berries. Eyeing the tree and its branches, she quickly made the determination that she could climb it quite easily, and the branches would safely hold her while she clipped the plant.

She picked up the sprig and turned excitedly to Huw, ‘Look at how gorgeous these berries are!’ she pointed towards the tree, ‘I think I can climb up and grab a few bunches if you’d hand me the clippers.’

Huw glanced up into the tree and gave her a mildly amused look, ‘For the berries? Are you sure?’

Patsy wasn’t quite certain what he was asking if she was sure of, but she nodded authoritatively, hoping to assuage any doubts he might have about her tree-climbing abilities, ‘I’ve climbed trees before…you just climb up and then slide down…and the trunk looks quite sturdy.’

His look shifted from amused to mildly quizzical, but Huw handed her the clippers without protest, ‘Just be careful. The branches can be deceptively slippery.’

Patsy smiled and nodded her assurance before tucking the clippers into the pocket of her coat and heading for the tree. She was going to get her berries, and she was going to make the perfect Christmas wreath. And if she had some extra berry-laden branches to tempt Delia with, then so much the better.

________________

 

Huw watched with amusement as Patsy approached the tree. He’d been hoping Delia and Patsy would loosen up and feel more comfortable showing affection, and given how determined Patsy seemed to be to get her hands on some mistletoe, it appeared he might be getting his wish.

Though he had to admit, he was a bit concerned about how Patsy was going about getting it. Not that he didn’t think she was capable of climbing the tree. It was just that ‘climb up and slide down’ didn’t strike him as an actually tenable strategy, and the strength of the branches was far more important than the sturdiness of the trunk.

He watched, curious, as Patsy approached the tree and, after circling it for a moment, wrapped her arms around the trunk and began an odd kind of shimmy up towards the branches. Given that she was certainly tall enough to reach the lowest branch, it struck him as a decidedly peculiar way to tackle this particular challenge. Though it appeared to be working, so who was he to judge?

The first branch, when she reached it, posed a bit of a problem given Patsy’s climbing methodology, but she maneuvered her way around it and continued her journey upward. It was fascinating to watch, actually, and Huw was so transfixed that he wasn’t even aware someone had come to stand next to him until he heard the low, matter-of-fact voice.

‘Not the most traditional way of climbing a tree, is it?’

Huw turned in surprise to see Iwan Jones standing next to him, hands clasped behind his back, watching Patsy climb the tree with what looked like bemused admiration.

‘No, it’s certainly unique,’ Huw agreed.

Iwan gave a small grunt of agreement and they went back to silently watching Patsy, who had made her way about halfway up, still clinging tightly to the trunk.

‘Your first time meeting her?’

Huw nodded, ‘Delia’s never even mentioned her before.’

Iwan gave a small hum of surprise, but didn’t respond otherwise.

Having reached the level of the mistletoe, Patsy began shuffling carefully out along one of the branches, seemingly wary to leave the safety of the trunk. The branch she was standing on groaned in protest and Patsy froze for a moment, looking uncertain.

‘It’s alright, Patsy,’ Huw called up, ‘It’s just groaning because of the cold. It’ll hold you.’

Patsy nodded and continued her slow progress.

‘She’s very determined to get that mistletoe, isn’t she?’

Huw nodded, ‘It’s the most excited she’s been all day.’

Iwan gave a low chuckle, ‘Eilwen’s not going to be happy about that.’

Huw snorted, ‘There’s a great deal about this situation that Eilwen’s unhappy with.’

Iwan made a tsking noise, ‘Knows how to make lemons out of lemonade, does your Eilwen.’

‘She’s just protective. You know how she gets about Delia.’

Iwan hummed in agreement.

Patsy had reached the first mistletoe plant and clipped off a large bunch. She shook it vigorously, nodding in satisfaction as it passed some hidden test before looking down at them.

‘Oh. Hello Mr Jones. I didn’t know you’d arrived to join us.’

‘Please, call me Iwan,’ he shouted up, ‘Was just out for my post-lunch walk and thought I’d see what the ruckus was about.’

Patsy furrowed her brow, ‘Yes, well, do you gentlemen mind if I toss these bunches down to you? I think the berries will stay on for the journey.’

‘Of course,’ Huw walked to underneath her, and caught the bunches as Patsy dropped them down one-by-one.

Patsy stayed in the tree for a while longer, making her way carefully to several mistletoe plants and accumulating quite an impressive amount of foliage. Huw felt his curiosity rise. Why exactly did Patsy need so much? Most people just put up small bunches. Perhaps she really did find the berries particularly compelling.

Finally, she declared that she was done and made her way back to the trunk, eyeing it and the ground with slight confusion. Huw had been waiting for this moment ever since Patsy had said she was going to ‘slide down’ and he called out pre-emptively, ‘Patsy, you can climb down using the branches like a ladder if you’d like. In case sliding down seems…difficult.’

Patsy eyed the branches sceptically before breathing in deeply and giving a determined nod. She still wrapped her arms around the entire trunk, but this time she used the branches as footholds as she made her way back to the ground.

Huw stepped back next to Iwan and watched.

His neighbour cocked his head to the side, sounding perplexed, ‘I wonder where she learned to climb trees.’

‘I don’t know. Perhaps that’s how they do it in the city?’

Iwan scoffed, ‘She’s not a city girl. Lived in the country at least a bit. She knows her sheep.’

Huw was about to ask Iwan what happen in the ram pasture when Patsy scared the Dickens out of him by suddenly sliding awkwardly down the last third of the tree, twigs and bits of bark flying off around her in a shower of detritus. Despite his concern, she landed easily on her feet and gave the tree an appreciative pat before skittering quickly over to the pile of mistletoe. She eyed the bunches carefully, giving a satisfied nod after each one.

Huw stared at the tree in confusion as Iwan chuckled, ‘Yep, Delia’s found herself a good ‘un.’ He turned to Patsy, speaking more loudly, ‘Patsy, do you and Huw need help getting all of this back to your house?’

Patsy shook her head, ‘I can get all of these, so I think we’ll be fine. Thank you, though, Iwan, for the offer.’

Iwan nodded and bid them both farewell as he meandered away up the road.

Huw called out his goodbyes and then turned to Patsy, who had gathered all of the mistletoe in her arms, ‘Are we all set to head back then?’

Patsy nodded vigorously, her eyes twinkling with excitement, ‘Yes, I think I have all I need to make the perfect wreath.’

They headed back towards the house, Patsy contentedly humming Christmas tunes to herself as they went. Huw looked up at her, happy to see her looking so chipper. He remained slightly disappointed that Delia hadn’t been able to join them, but he was grateful for the opportunity to remedy the poor first impression he'd made on Patsy and to get to know her better. He’d only spent a few hours with her so far, but he had to say that his sense was the same as Iwan’s; Delia had found herself a good one. He just hoped that Eilwen would realize that truth as well.

Chapter Text

Delia stared at her mam in horror, ‘Oh Duw, Mam. No. Absolutely not.’

Her mam held up the jumper, looking a little hurt, ‘Your tad’s heart is set on this one, cariad. He showed me a picture of it specifically. He says jumpers like this are very popular right now.’

Delia had, she thought, been exceptionally patient today. She’d followed her mam around for hours, going to each of her mam’s favourite shops, chatting politely with acquaintances she hadn’t seen in years, containing her embarrassment when her mam had gotten into a slight argument with the butcher because he wouldn’t let her inspect the specially-ordered Christmas geese he’d already wrapped. She’d even held her tongue when her mam announced that her gift for Patsy was a pair of socks. After all, socks were at least useful.

But this…this was too far.

Delia looked at the jumper her mother was holding, aghast. The top half was white and the bottom green with a giant stylized red dragon across the chest, making a Welsh flag. But the dragon was wearing a Santa hat, there were glittery snowflakes woven throughout the entire thing, and on the back the words ‘I’m Dreaming of a Welsh Christmas’ were emblazoned in red lettering. It was utterly hideous.

‘Ugly Christmas jumpers are popular right now, but to wear ironically. For an ugly jumper party or something like that. Patsy’s not someone who does things like that. She wouldn’t be caught dead in a jumper that gaudy.’

‘Well, it’s the gift she’s getting from Huw. I just need your advice on size,’ she held up the jumper and looked at it appraisingly, ‘She’s quite tall, so I suspect a large. Or else it might only go to her belly button. Here,’ she handed it to Delia, ‘put it on, so I can compare.’

‘Mam, I’m not putting that on. We know everyone in this shop.’

‘Stop fussing. You’ll only need to have it on for a moment. We need to get her the correct size.’

‘I’m sure the large will be fine.’

‘Sizes aren’t standardized, cariad. A large in London might not be the same as a large here. Go on now, just slip it on.’

Delia glared at her mam for a moment, almost certain this was some kind of power play, but she finally sighed and took the jumper. It felt important to pick her battles, and she needed to build up goodwill for the discussion about Patsy that she had planned. Still, she rebelliously muttered, ‘It doesn’t matter because she’s never going to wear it,’ under her breath as she slipped it over her head.

It was, of course, comically large on her, ending just above her knees and easily swallowing her hands. Ugh, this entire process was probably simply an attempt to embarrass her. Her mam circled her appraisingly, making the occasional odd clucking noise as she muttered things like, ‘Well, Patsy’s arms are considerably longer.’

Delia was about to declare this little exercise over and pull off the jumper when a voice rang out through the shop.

‘Delia Busby? Is that you?’

Oh no. Of course someone would recognize her when she was wearing the most ridiculous possible get-up. She winced slightly as she turned to see Lynn Williams making her way towards her. She internally sighed in relief. Thank God. A perpetually cheery former classmate who’d never seemed overly interested in gossip, Lynn was perhaps the best person she could have hoped to accidently run into while wearing this.

She pasted on a smile she hoped was convincing, ‘Lynn! How wonderful to see you!’

Lynn came up to them, beaming, ‘It’s wonderful to see you too. It’s so great that you’re back.’ she pointed at Delia’s jumper, ‘It looks as if you’ve made your dream of a Welsh Christmas come true this year!’ she chuckled for a moment at her own joke before furrowing her brow and cocking her head to the side, ‘Though I think I’d go with a smaller size.’

‘Oh…um…yes…’

‘It’s not for her. We’re trying it on to size it for her girlfriend, Patsy,’ her mam’s voice, cutting in loudly, was shockingly warm.

Delia whirled around and shot her mam an exasperated look. She’d been cold and distant all day at the merest mention of Patsy, but now that someone else was here, she was the picture of supportive pride. It was baffling. And slightly infuriating.

‘Oh yes! I’d heard that you’d brought someone home with you this year! It’s so exciting!’

Delia spun back around, her annoyance with her mam temporarily forgotten, ‘You heard? Where?’

‘I ran into Liliwen at the pharmacist and she told me. She’d heard from Berwyn that apparently your girlfriend was wandering through Iwan Jones’ ram pasture this morning. Is she alright, by the way?’

Delia nodded, feeling a bit flummoxed.

Lynn looked relieved, ‘That’s good to hear. And the jumper makes sense then. I heard she’s impressively tall. And quite stunning, too. Everyone’s excited to meet her at the carol service tonight. Berwyn said you both were coming.’

‘Umm…yes. We were planning on being there.’

‘Excellent! I’m sure she’s wonderful. Oh, and have you heard? Liliwen got engaged last month to Cledwyn Lewis! Apparently, he asked her when they were…’

Lynn nattered on, but Delia wasn’t really listening. Instead, she just kind of stared blankly, hoping she was being passingly polite, while internally she just felt numb. If even Lynn had heard about Patsy, it meant that everyone knew. She’d invited Patsy home for a quiet family Christmas in an attempt to spare her being alone, and now the entire village was abuzz about her tall, stunning girlfriend. And Patsy was going to have to face all of them tonight at the carol service.

If things had felt like they were spinning out of her control before, they definitely were now. It was remarkably, actually, how quickly this entire situation had gotten out of hand. It served as an excellent reminder of why she’d fled for London…she didn’t want to live in a place where one ill-advised wander through a pasture resulted in a village-wide frenzy.

Lord, she was going to have to give Patsy complimentary cocktails for the rest of her natural life. Unless Patsy murdered her first.

Her mam saying ‘Well, I thought it was all a bit over-the-top’ roused her from her stupor and Delia’s eyes focused to see both women staring at her expectantly.

Shit. She had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. Wait, something about Cledwyn’s proposal, maybe? She decided to aim for broad and hope it was at least vaguely applicable, ‘Well it sounds like it was certainly very special.’

Lynn looked satisfied with this response, ‘Absolutely. Definitely more romantic than how Owen proposed to me. Though you know Liliwen, everything always needs to be the very best.’

Delia gave an understanding nod, and then politely answered several of Lynn’s questions about life in London.

Mercifully, her mam cut in shortly after Delia mentioned The Poplar and declared they really needed to be going. They said their farewells, Lynn repeating that she was eager to meet Patsy this evening. Then, even though Delia tried to convince her it was a waste of money, her mam bought the large jumper and they headed to the car.

Delia settled into the passenger seat, her mind still reeling over the discovery that she was going to have to prepare Patsy for what amounted to an inquisition. How was she even going to broach the subject? ‘Hey Patsy! So, you know that carol service we’re going to tonight? Absolutely everyone there is going to be staring at you the entire time because this town is an Orwellian nightmare and everyone already knows everything about you.’ Ugh.

She was distracted by her mam’s voice as she pulled out of the car park, ‘Well, cariad, that was our last stop, so you should have plenty of time to make a wreath when we get home.’

Delia hummed her understanding, her heart picking up its pace as she realized that, if she wanted to broach the subject of Patsy with her mam, this was her last opportunity. Now that she was faced with it, she realized how easy it would be to simply…not. To go home and make wreaths and just let her relationship with her mam be what it was.

But no. That wasn’t fair. Patsy was doing do much for her, and now it was Delia’s turn. She was going to stand up for Patsy. She was going to stand up for herself. She wasn’t going to let herself be cowed. She was going to learn how to interact with her mam like an adult. And hadn’t her mam said that she wanted to be supportive? That she wanted Delia to be able to talk to her?

She took a deep breath and steeled herself. She could do this. She turned to her mam, keeping her voice light and as non-confrontational as possible.

‘Mam, can I speak with you about Patsy?’

Her mam shot her a little glance before looking back at the road, ‘Of course, cariad. I meant what I said before. I want you to feel comfortable talking to me.’

Delia was a bit concerned at how self-congratulatory her mam sounded. Almost as if she was expecting Delia to say something she wanted to hear. She hoped she would still be receptive when she realized that wasn’t the case.

‘Well…Patsy told me that this morning you offered her alcohol, and I suppose I wanted to ask why you’d done that.’

Her mam’s brow immediately furrowed, her body tensing as she shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She was silent for a moment before speaking, her tone irritated, ‘I see she’s making you address it with me. If it bothered her she should have spoken to me directly.’

Delia strove to keep her voice as even as possible, ‘She isn’t making me do anything. And she wasn’t bothered by it. I’m bringing it up because I don’t like that you’re assuming the worst of her.’

Her mam was quiet for a moment before speaking, the annoyance still very much present in her voice, ‘I don’t mean to assume the worst, cariad, but I don’t know what else I’m supposed to think of someone who spends all of her time frequenting London pubs.’

Delia suppressed an eye roll, ‘She comes in once a week for a social evening and has two drinks. Also, I’ve told you before, The Poplar is a nice pub. She’s hardly some lush getting blind drunk in seedy backwaters.’

Her mam narrowed her eyes, obviously finding the mention of seedy backwaters distasteful, ‘Well perhaps if you’d ever bothered to tell us more about her…all I know is that she’s some older London lesbian who came in to the Poplar enough to seduce you.’

‘She didn’t come into The Poplar to seduce me.’

‘What, so she seduced you somewhere else?’

‘No, she didn’t seduce me at all!’

‘Well, that’s not very romantic. I hope she put in some kind of effort.’

‘Mam! That’s not what I meant. Neither of us seduced the other. It wasn’t the kind of thing where one of us really pursued the other.’

Her mam looked confused, ’What? How is that possible?’

‘We just kind of…came to realize we liked each other. It was a natural thing.’

Her mam shook her head, disbelieving, ‘Things don’t work that way, cariad, someone has to make the first move. Or else you just circle each other forever.’

‘Well I asked her out on a date, so I suppose I did then.’

There were several beats of silence before her mam spoke again, a bit more hesitantly, ‘You asked her?’

Delia had never been so thankful to have won a coin toss. Apparently, her mam thought Patsy was some kind of lothario, and having Delia be the one who made the first move seemed the most effective way to combat that thinking, ‘Yes, I did.’

Her mam didn’t respond. They pulled up to a red light, an uneasy silence descending upon the car. Delia glanced over to see her mam staring straight ahead, her jaw slightly clenched.

Delia couldn’t help feeling like this was a bit of a victory. She’d voiced a concern, her mam had pushed back, and Delia had held firm. She’d even seemed to make her mam question some of her assumptions. But still, her mam hadn’t actually addressed Delia’s concern. She wondered if she should push her on how she’d treated Patsy. It wasn’t alright to take out her suspicions on Patsy. To show such a lack of faith in the person she assumed Delia had chosen to be with. But before she could, her mam spoke again.

‘Your tad tells me you’ve been together for a year, is that right?’

Delia felt herself relax even more. Her mam was asking questions instead of just making assumptions. That seemed like progress.

‘About a year, yes.’

The light turned and her mam revved the engine, starting up a bit more aggressively than normal.

‘And yet you still don’t know anything about her family? How do you date someone for a year and not know anything about her family? What does she have to hide?’

Delia felt her heart drop. Her mam had casually asked about Patsy’s parentage when they’d left the butcher, and Delia had tried to be evasive. However, in the face of her mam’s continued pushing, she’d eventually told her that Patsy didn’t really talk about it. Apparently, this had been interpreted as Delia not knowing anything about Patsy’s family. Which was, of course, an accurate deduction, but her mam couldn’t know that. She and Patsy couldn’t possibly have been together for a year without her knowing at least the basics.

‘It’s not that I don’t know. It’s just…’ Delia trailed off, uncertain exactly how she wanted to continue.

She actually felt a bit bad that before last night she’d never even really considered who Patsy’s family might have been. Patsy not having a family to spend Christmas with had just been an immutable fact. A part of who she was, like her job or that she shared a flat with Trixie. Delia had never really sat to think about the fact that at one time Patsy would have had a family. That, at some point, she would have transitioned from having a family to, well…not.

When Patsy had mentioned growing up in Singapore, Delia had fully realized for the first time that there was an entire part of Patsy… a whole past of undoubtedly fascinating experiences…that Delia really had no idea about. That, even over a year of occasionally deep conversations, Patsy had never even hinted at. It had made her incredibly curious.

And she knew that, if their relationship was going to be believable, she had to know something about Patsy’s family. Her mam firmly believed that your background was one of the most important factors in determining who you were as a person. It was certain to be one of the first things she asked about, and knowing the answer was essential to the ruse.

But the utter panic in Patsy’s face when Delia had asked about her move to London had made Delia realize that, even if it meant putting their charade at risk, family just wasn’t an area that she could prod right now. It would make Patsy too uncomfortable and, from the looks of it, bring up feelings that weren’t fair to foist upon Patsy when she was at the far end of Wales, isolated from her support systems.

But knowing beyond a doubt that not pressing Patsy had been the right decision didn’t make facing her mam’s questions now any easier.

Apparently, she’d been silent long enough for her mam to lose her patience because her voice broke through Delia’s thoughts, self-righteous yet tinged with concern, ‘What? Is she from a family of grifters or something?’

‘Mam! No! It’s just…’ Delia’s mind raced, ‘her family is really…personal…for her. It’s hard for her to talk about, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing it for her.’

‘So, they’re all in prison then.’

‘What? No!’ Given how strongly she’d just denied it, Delia hoped they weren’t in prison, ‘It’s just that you’re not entitled to know everything about Patsy because I’m dating her.’

‘Knowing the basics of her family isn’t everything, cariad. If she’s going to be part of our family, I think I can know the basics.’

‘Duw, Mam, it’s not as if we’re getting married.’

‘And why not? Is she not willing to commit?’

‘We’ve only been dating for a year!’

‘A year’s a long time! Daffyd and Preeti had had Bhavi by then.’

Delia rolled her eyes, ‘An accidental pregnancy and a rushed wedding is hardly an ideal relationship timeframe. Patsy and I are taking things more slowly. It’s a normal pace.’

‘Well, if it’s not serious, then why did you invite her home?’

Delia stopped for a moment, struck by the question and by how wildly out of control this conversation had gotten. She’d simply wanted her mam to show some trust in her choices, to not think that Patsy was some malignant influence and thus treat her with respect. To treat Delia with respect. But now she somehow found herself defending why she wasn’t yet married…to someone she wasn’t even actually dating! Ugh. This had all been a terrible idea. She hadn’t anticipated how wildly her mam would veer between accusing Patsy of being a deviant charlatan and questioning why they hadn’t committed to being together forever. And yet, she knew that if she pointed out that contradiction, her mam would be livid.

But it was too late to go back now. And, somewhat surprisingly, she found that she didn’t want to backtrack, even if she’d been able to. She felt stubbornness build within her. If she really had been dating Patsy, well…that would have been a good decision! Why was she feeling defensive about it? Her tone took on an edge she rarely used with her mam.

‘I didn’t want her to have to spend Christmas alone, alright? Also, I care about her, and I wanted you and tad to meet her. I didn’t think she’d be attacked.’

She realized that this statement marked a distinct shift in the nature of their ruse. Before, her lies had been lies of logistics: who she was dating, how they’d gotten together, how well they knew each other. But this...this was a lie of feelings. Well, it wasn’t a lie, exactly. She did care about Patsy. Just not in that ‘meet the parents’ kind of way...at least, not yet.

But Delia realized just as certainly that she didn’t particularly care if this crossed a line. She needed her mam to understand how annoying and unjustified and hurtful her distrust was.

Shockingly, her mam seemed somewhat cowed, and her tone softened considerably, ‘I’m not meaning to attack her, cariad. And I’m glad I’m getting to meet her. I’m just…surprised, I suppose. And a little worried.’

Delia furrowed her brow, ‘Worried? Why are you worried?’

Her mam was quiet for a while before taking a deep breath, ‘I just don’t understand why, if everything is wonderful with your relationship, you felt the need to hide it from me.’

Delia strove to keep any and all signs of disdain from her voice, even though the answer to the question seemed patently obvious, ‘Because I didn’t know if you’d approve. You weren’t particularly happy with me being a lesbian, if you remember.’

‘That was a long time ago.’

‘It wasn’t that long ago, mam. And you told me I couldn’t be like that and then ended the conversation by saying you didn’t want to hear any more of such ridiculous talk. And you haven’t mentioned it since. I’m not sure what part of all of that would have led me to believe you’d be receptive to meeting my girlfriend.’

Her mam made a dismissive snorting noise, ‘I didn’t mean it, cariad. I was…overwhelmed in the moment. It was quite a shock.’

‘You were literally the only person who was shocked. And I had no way of knowing you didn’t really mean it. You normally mean what you say.’

‘Well, I didn’t mean it then.’

Delia felt frustration well up in her. She’d had enough of these types of conversations to know that pushing her mam on this would be useless, but it simply wasn’t fair. Her mam’s reaction to her coming out had been devastating and she’d spent years working through it. Her mam couldn’t possibly believe that all of that could be forgotten by simply declaring she hadn’t meant it.

Her tone was petulant, ‘Well you don’t need to worry now. Being with Patsy makes me happy and everything is wonderful.’

‘I’m glad you’re feeling that way, cariad.’ Her mam’s tone couldn’t have been more dismissive.

Delia felt frustration roil through her. Where had the mam from last night gone? The one who’d been willing to admit that she hadn’t reacted in the best way when Delia had come out. The one who’d said she wanted to be supportive. The one who’d said she trusted Delia to make a good decision about getting a bicycle. It had been the prospect of that version of her mam that made her feel like she could get some kind emotional fulfilment from this conversation.

But instead she found herself talking to the same mam as always. It was as if that version of had never actually existed and Delia began to wonder if she’d just imagined it. She felt herself lose hope that anything could ever be different.

She stared out the window in sullen silence, just wanting to get home and make wreaths with Patsy.

 

_______________

 

Eilwen knew she’d made Delia irritated, but at this point she wasn’t sure that she cared. She had, she thought, been exceptionally patient today, tolerating Delia’s blasé attitude about their errands, remaining calm when Delia tried to throw a fit about Huw’s thoughtful gift, and trying to be understanding of her daughter’s feelings. But she needed Delia to understand how hurtful her distrust was. Eilwen had opened herself up, made herself vulnerable, and Delia still hadn’t deemed her worthy of trust. Instead, she’d waited until Eilwen was in bed to sneak down and tell Huw that she and Patsy were really dating. She hadn’t even had the decency to tell her in person.

And then, to add insult to injury, Delia had begun this conversation by attacking. Not by apologizing for not telling her, but by chiding her for simply trying to protect her daughter. And then throwing her old words back in her face! Really, all things considered, she’d shown an impressive amount of restraint.

As she sat and stewed, however, she felt her certainty in her innocence waver. She had been overly harsh on Delia when she’d come out to her. And as much as it hurt her to consider it, she understood why Delia would have been wary to approach her. She needed Delia to realize that she had changed. That she wasn’t suspicious of Patsy because Patsy was a woman, but rather because Patsy was from London and older and posh and, well, a person involved in her kind, naïve daughter’s life.

She took a deep breath, making her voice as calm as possible, ‘I know I was a bit…harsh when you first told me about your preferences, but I need you to know I don’t have any issue with Patsy being a woman. I might have in the past, but I’ve grown. I thought you knew that. I mean, I was alright with Daffyd marrying someone ethnic.’

Shockingly, Delia exclaimed, ‘Duw! Mam! We’ve discussed this. You can’t call people ethnic!’

Eilwen furrowed her brow and waved her hand, ‘You know what I mean. I can’t keep up with whatever the appropriate terms fancy London folk prefer.’

‘It’s not about special London language. It’s about being respectful. Calling her that makes it clear you don’t think she’s Welsh enough. Like she’s a bloody curry or something.’

Eilwen felt all her defensiveness flare up. She hated that both Delia and Daffyd constantly told her she was saying the wrong things. She was just trying to make a point about Patsy and all of this focus on language was cluttering things, ‘Of course I don’t think she’s a curry! I’m simply saying that I thought you would have known I’d grown when I was alright with Preeti being…’ She paused, uncertain what she was supposed to say.

‘British Indian.’

Welsh Indian. Her family live in Cardiff, cariad.’

She saw Delia roll her eyes, ‘Yes, I know. I’m the one who constantly reminded you of that when they first got together,’ she paused for a moment, ‘Look, Mam, I know Preeti’s grown on you, but you weren’t completely alright with it when it first happened.’

‘Well…a lot of that had to do with the circumstances.’

‘Some of it, yes. But I’m not sure how any of that was supposed to make me think you’d suddenly be alright with me being gay.’

Eilwen furrowed her brow and sat in silence. This had been such a frustrating conversation. She was just trying to show her daughter that she’d changed and she cared, but the message kept getting…misinterpreted.

‘I just want you to know that I’ve changed. I’ve accepted the fact that one day you’ll probably have a wife. I want you to feel comfortable here in Pembrokeshire. I want people here to accept your…gayness,’ she desperately hoped that was the right word. Delia had just referred to herself as ‘gay’, so it felt safe.

‘Is that why you were so eager to tell Lynn about my girlfriend?’ Delia’s tone was still a bit irritated, which set Eilwen slightly on edge.

‘Yes! I won’t have people thinking we’re ashamed that you’re a lesbian.’

‘Well if you’re so eager to have people be accepting, then why can’t you accept Patsy enough to show her basic respect? That seems hypocritical.’

Eilwen felt her frustration build. Why couldn’t Delia understand that these were simply two sides of the same coin? She needed to protect Delia from the judgement of people in town, but she also needed to protect her from someone who might not have her best interests at heart.

She was also irritated to note that Delia had never used this kind of tone with her before. It appeared that Patsy, or perhaps it was London, was a bad influence.

She strove to remain calm, ‘It’s not hypocritical. I won’t have people in Tenby speaking poorly of you, but I also don’t want you caught up with someone who isn’t good for you.’

‘What evidence do you have that she isn’t good for me?’

‘Well, she seems quite…opinionated. I’m worried she might be a bit controlling.’

Delia made a highly inelegant snorting noise, which Eilwen wasn’t sure how to interpret, though she was almost certain it wasn’t meant to be kind to her.

‘Of course she has opinions, mam, but she’s not controlling. She wanted me to decide what I wanted to do today, remember. She thinks about me.’

‘But how do you know that, cariad? How do you know she’s not just thinking of ways to manipulate you?’

‘To manipulate me?’

‘Yes. She’s from London. She must have some kind of angle.’

‘London’s just a place with people, mam. People like everywhere else. They’re not malevolent beings. Why can’t you just trust that I know if someone cares about me?’

‘Because she’s sophisticated and posh and I know how easy it would be to be lured by fancy London things. You’re not a London girl. It’s all so new for you.’

‘I know how to handle myself.’

‘Fine, then give me one example of something she did to show that she puts you first. That she’s willing to make sacrifices for you.’

‘I shouldn’t have to! Patsy’s a good person, Mam! She cares about people and she cares about me. She’s always finding little ways to show it. And she really goes above and beyond for her patients. Do you remember the Train Angel thing from a few years back? That was her!’

‘So she’s been in the tabloids then?’ This confirmed all of Eilwen’s worst fears.

‘No, she kept her name out of them because she’s not interested in that kind of attention. She’s someone who does good things just to do them. And anyway, what on earth would she use me for? She had a good job, a nice flat, a close-knit group of friends.’

‘For your kindness, cariad! The world is full of people waiting to take advantage of kindness. What’s she doing going after a young, naïve girl from the country, anyway?’

‘For the last time, she didn’t go after me. And she’s incredibly kind too.’

‘Alright then, maybe she’s using you for your body.’

Mam!’ Delia turned a bright shade of red as she looked at Eilwen in horror.

Eilwen felt her last drop of patience evaporate, ‘Don’t ‘Mam’ me, I’m your mother. And I deserved to be told about her and I deserve to know that my daughter isn’t dating a drunkard lesbian who’s only interested in using her for her body.’

Delia glared at her for a moment before crossing her arms and staring out the passenger window. A stony silence descended upon the car. Eilwen turned into their drive, pulled up to the house and turned off the car. She waited a few moments for Delia to respond, but her daughter simply sat there, not even moving.

‘What? You have nothing to say?’

Delia was quiet for a while longer before she spoke, sounding exhausted and defeated, ‘Nothing I could say would make any difference anyway.’ And with that, Delia got out of the car, grabbed an armful of groceries, and made her way sullenly into the house.

Eilwen sighed and leaned her head back against the headrest. Well, that hadn’t gone the way she would have liked. She hadn’t gotten an apology of any kind and now Delia just seemed upset. Why did all of their interactions always seem to end with Delia being sad? Eilwen didn’t want them to end that way…she wanted her daughter to be happy. But she also didn’t fully know how to make things different.

She supposed she could have been a little less harsh on Patsy, but Delia hadn’t given her anything to assuage her worries. No information about family, no stories about Patsy putting her first…not even one example. The only thing she’d been given were blanket assertions that Patsy was kind and caring and a ‘good person’. But no details of any kind…other than the fact that she’d once been in the tabloids. How was any of that supposed to reassure her that Delia wasn’t being taken advantage of?

She shook her head. If this was going to be a pleasant Christmas, she needed to give Delia space, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to stop watching Patsy very carefully.

She opened the car door, grabbed several shopping bags, and followed her daughter into the house.

Chapter Text

Huw looked down at his wreath, quite pleased with himself. He’d decided to forgo evergreens and instead work with the vines, grasses and dried flowers they’d found, and he thought it had turned out quite nicely, if he said so himself. It had a barren, windswept look that was very evocative of the Welsh countryside in winter.

He leaned back in his chair, breathed in deeply and smiled to himself as he stared for a moment into the hearth. The room, for once, was toasty warm, heated by the roaring fire he’d constructed. He’d plugged in the lights Eilwen had strung up about the room and Christmas music from his vinyl collection was playing softly over the speaker. All things considered, it was fairly idyllic.

All it needed was for Delia and Eilwen to return home so they could all make wreaths together. Or at least, so Delia could make one. He doubted he’d be able to get Eilwen to sit still long enough. Not with all the Christmas dinner preparations she’d want to get started in the kitchen.

But at least there wouldn’t be any work for her to do to tidy in here. Patsy had made sure of that. The moment they’d returned home, she’d asked Huw if there were any worn sheets. Despite his gnawing desire for lunch, he’d fetched them and they’d proceeded to lay the protective coverings over the dining table and surrounding floor.

Then, while he’d been making sandwiches, Patsy had organized all of the foliage into orderly piles on the table, sorted by type, colour, and size. It was more preparatory work than he would have done, but he had to admit that it had made the process of finding the bits he wanted to work with much faster.

They’d eaten their sandwiches as they’d settled down to work. He’d kept his chatting to a minimum, as Patsy was quite obviously consumed by the wreath-making process. Occasionally, he’d take breaks to change the record or tend to the fire, but for the most part they simply worked alongside each other contentedly. When he could get Patsy to chat, it was usually about the music that was playing. He was pleased to note that they had much the same musical taste, and he was a bit sad that he felt obligated to play Christmas music because he would have liked to show off more of his collection.

He sighed contentedly and looked over at Patsy. Her brow was furrowed in concentration as she precisely nestled small bunches of mistletoe into her woven branches of evergreen.

Patsy had gone a more traditional route, opting to fill her wreath with evergreen boughs, augmented by bright mistletoe berries. She’d engaged the task with a single-minded focus that Huw found a bit intimidating, though he had to admit the results were certainly impressive. It looked like a professionally-made wreath…even better than the ones down at the shops, actually. It was like the kind you would find in one of those fancy catalogues, the boughs beautifully manipulated to flow gracefully around the frame. The mistletoe was an unusual addition, though it actually worked quite well, and he wondered why more wreaths didn’t incorporate it.

Taking a deep breath, he stood and stretched, holding up his wreath to admire it from another angle. Yes. It was quite nice.

‘Patsy dear, would you like a small glass of sherry to wash down your sandwich? We don’t have much alcohol in the house, but I always keep a spot of sherry around to sip while I watch late-night telly. Given that it’s the holidays, I thought it might be nice to treat ourselves with a little tipple now.’

Patsy glanced up from her wreath long enough to shoot him a warm smile, ‘I’d happily join you if you’re having a glass. A sherry would go quite well with the holiday ambiance.’

He nodded happily and made his way to the kitchen to fetch some glasses. He’d just returned and poured their drinks when Patsy gave a satisfied hum and sat up straight in her chair.

‘There! I think it’s just about finished!’ She held up the wreath proudly.

He beamed back at her as he handed her one of the glasses, touched by just how delighted she seemed, ‘It’s really lovely. The movement in it is just beautiful.’

‘Thank you,’ Patsy stood and held the wreath at arm’s length, cocking her head to the side, a small smile of pride on her lips, ‘I’m rather pleased with it myself.’

Huw held up his glass of sherry for a toast, ‘To your first wreath.’

Patsy grinned widely as she softly clinked their small glasses together and took a sip.

Huw felt a peacefulness flow through him as he took in how relaxed Patsy seemed. He was so glad he’d been able to make this a space where she felt comfortable.

He glanced around the room, ‘Now, where shall we hang it?’

Patsy looked a bit uncertain, ‘Perhaps we should wait for Mrs Busby to come home? I’m sure she’ll have an opinion.’

He waved his hand dismissively, ‘She’ll be fine.’ His eyes scanned the room, falling on a spot over the doorway into the kitchen that already had a small nail to hold up the Christmas garland Eilwen had hung. He thought about how proud Patsy would be to have her wreath hanging here, right in the centre of all of the activity. He pointed, ‘How about right up there?’

Just then, the front door banged opened and they heard someone tromping past into the kitchen.

Huw called out, wondering which one of the women it was, ‘Hello?’

‘It’s me, Tad. I’m just putting these bags down in the kitchen.’ His daughter sounded utterly exhausted, and he wondered what had happened during their errands.

‘Alright, cariad! We have everything set up in here for wreath-making when you’re done bringing things in.’

As he spoke, Patsy made her way over to the doorway, eyeing it a bit sceptically. She held the wreath up, cocking her head to the side and looking from it out into the room. As soon as he was done calling out, she looked to him, ‘You mean right here? Isn’t it a bit too…in the middle of everything?’

‘No. It’s perfect right there. It deserves a place of prominence,’ he stared at it as Patsy tried get it onto the nail, ‘It really is beautiful. You know, I wonder why more wreaths don’t have mistletoe in them. The berries really are nice touch.’

Patsy spun her head around to look at him, the colour rapidly draining from her face, ‘Mistletoe!?’ She froze, her eyes darting rapidly from the wreath to the huge pile of mistletoe still remaining in the centre of the table.

‘Wait, did you not…’ before Huw could finish, Delia appeared in the doorway, directly under where Patsy was still holding up the wreath.

Patsy looked down at Delia, panic evident in her eyes. Delia’s brow furrowed in confusion for a moment before she craned her head to look up at the wreath. A look of realization had just crossed her face when the front door opened again. Before any of them could move, Eilwen bustled directly into the sitting room, carrying several bags in each arm.

She tried to sound cheery, but there was an undercurrent of exhaustion and annoyance in her voice as well, ‘And how is the wreath-making coming along…’ she trailed off, taking in the scene before her.

An uneasy stillness fell over the room as Eilwen’s eyes darted from the wreath, to Delia standing under it, to the pile of mistletoe on the table, to the glass of sherry in Patsy’s other hand and finally up to Patsy herself. Her look hardened, her eyes narrowing and her jaw clenching slightly.

‘Hello Mrs Busby. I hope your errand-running was productive?’ Patsy was doing her best to sound nonchalant, but her face was bright red with embarrassment. Huw noted that she seemed to be trying to slowly and inconspicuously lower the wreath from above the doorway.

Eilwen managed a thin smile at the question, though it didn’t come close to reaching her eyes, which remained sharp and suspicious, ‘Yes dear, thank you for asking.’

‘And do you need any assistance carrying things in?’

‘No dear, there wasn’t too much. We’ve managed it in one go.’

Patsy gave a small nod and an uncomfortable quiet descended again, broken only by the incongruously cheery Christmas music filling the room. Eilwen continued to glance disapprovingly between Patsy’s wreath and the mistletoe pile.

Huw tried to dispel the growing tension, ‘Patsy and I’d just finished our first wreaths and were looking for places to hang them. I went with dried vines and grasses, and Patsy wanted berries so she put mistletoe into hers.’

‘Yes, I can see that,’ Eilwen’s voice sounded oddly triumphant and her self-satisfied gaze shifted to her daughter. Huw watched as Delia stared right back, the two engaged in a silent conversation which somehow still managed to drown out everything else in the room. As the tension built, Delia’s posture became straighter, her look more confrontational and defiant.

Patsy glanced back and forth between them for a bit, the look of confusion on her face growing before she apparently decided to try to break the impasse, ‘Will you two be joining us for some wreath-making?’

Eilwen’s eyes darted back to Patsy, her brow furrowing, before she looked markedly at the large pile of mistletoe, ‘I’m not sure I’m cut out for such…non-traditional wreath-making.’

Patsy cocked her head to the side as she glanced up at her wreath, looking a bit befuddled, ‘Is it not traditional?’

Huw leapt in, ‘Eilwen, love, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of mistletoe. The berries add a touch of colour and holiday spirit.’

Eilwen looked over at him, her eyebrows raised in surprise, as if she’d temporarily forgotten he was there, ‘Well, I’m afraid there’s simply too much to be done for tomorrow to allow me to fiddle about with wreaths. You three enjoy yourselves. If you need me, I’ll be in the kitchen.’ She turned and bustled out of the room.

As soon as she left, both Patsy and Huw turned to Delia, who looked utterly exhausted, her shoulders sagging despondently as she stared at the doorway where her mother had been. Patsy lowered her wreath and placed it gently on the table along with her glass of sherry. They remained silent for a moment or two, listening as Eilwen moved around in the kitchen, banging the cabinets shut a bit louder than was strictly necessary.

‘Delia, cariad, would you like to join us in making a wreath?’ Huw hoped to break her out of her malaise, to get back to the happy holiday feeling the room had had before.

But instead Delia stared forlornly at the piles of foliage before shaking her head slightly, ‘Thanks, but I’m not sure I’m feeling up for it right now. I’m…I’m going to go up for a bit.’ She made her way slowly out of the room.

They watched her leave, Patsy looking just about as helpless as Huw felt. Eventually, she sighed deeply and looked towards him apologetically, ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know it was mistletoe. I didn’t mean to cause such a stir.’

He shook his head, ‘There’s no need to apologize. I have a feeling that wasn’t about the mistletoe, really. Something must have happened on their errands.’

Patsy nodded, glancing with concern towards where Delia had exited, ‘I hate to abandon you here…I’ve very much enjoyed making wreaths with you, but…’ she trailed off, indicating towards the door with her head.

‘Of course. Go check on her. I won’t tidy things up in here just quite yet. There’s still time if she changes her mind.’

Patsy shot him a strained smile before following Delia out.

He sighed, looking around the now-empty room. The upbeat holiday music ringing out from the record player almost seemed to be mocking him. He supposed he should go and check on Eilwen. Discussing whatever had happened would undoubtedly do her some good. Not that it was really much of a mystery. He grumbled to himself as he turned towards the kitchen…her fierce protectiveness was how Eilwen convinced herself she was keeping her children safe, but it could certainly be grating at times. Like now, when it threatened to derail what had been shaping up to be a perfectly pleasant Christmas Eve.

He entered the kitchen to find her hovering around the cooker, preparing to start the cawl. He watched her in silence for a few moments before clearing his throat, ‘So, how did your errands go?’

She didn’t bother to turn to look at him, ‘Fairly smoothly. Delia made a bit of a fuss about your gift for Patsy. Oh, and Halwyn wouldn’t let me inspect the geese before I took one. Said they were all pretty much the same and that he’d already wrapped them this year. I told him that ‘pretty much the same’ didn’t mean identical, but he wouldn’t open them for me.’

‘We’ve gotten our Christmas geese from Halwyn for decades, love. I’m sure he wouldn’t sell us a bad one.’

‘I’m not worried about getting a bad one,’ her tone indicated Huw should know better, ‘I’m worried I didn’t get the best one. This is our Christmas goose, Huw. It’s important.’

‘I’m sure it’ll be delicious. The most important thing is how you cook it, and you’ve always made the very best goose.’

She made a small tutting noise, but didn’t offer any rebuttal, instead continuing to fuss about the cooker. They stood in silence for a few more moments, Huw waiting patiently for her to bring up what had happened with Delia.

Finally, she spoke, sounding petulant but also a bit hurt, ‘Don’t you want to be in there making wreaths with the girls?’

‘They’re not there. Delia went up to rest for a bit and Patsy went to check on her.’

‘I’m sure she did.’ Eilwen’s tone was highly suggestive, and it rankled Huw.

‘Delia was upset, so Patsy went up to support her. There’s no need be suspicious of her intentions.’

Eilwen gave a disbelieving snort, ‘Is she even able to provide support right now?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I saw the sherry she was drinking! What, she couldn’t even wait until evening to get her hands on a drink?’

Huw bristled, ‘I offered her that sherry because I thought it would be a nice holiday treat, so if you’re going to judge anyone for that, judge me.’

Eilwen whirled around and brushed past him into the sitting room. Once there, she picked up a sprig of the mistletoe, and brandished it at him accusingly, ‘And is this your doing too?’

Huw shrugged, ‘It was the only plant we could find with berries and Patsy wanted to have berries on her wreath. I don’t see what the problem is. Anyway, I’m not even sure she knew it was mistletoe.’

‘Of course she knew it was mistletoe. It’s a parasitic plant, Huw!’

Huw was confused, ‘Why does that matter?’

‘It’s the one example they give in school…everyone knows what it looks like and how it grows. And also…well…everyone knows because of the kissing.’

‘I really don’t think she knew. And even if she did…well…they’ve been together for a year. Surely you know they kiss each other.’

Eilwen used the sprig in her hand to point at the giant pile of mistletoe on the table, ‘That’s a lot of kissing!’

Huw shrugged, ‘So?’ he paused, looking at his wife closely, ‘Is this really about the mistletoe, cariad? Because you seem a bit upset. Did something happen on your errands?’

Eilwen threw the sprig down on the pile, ‘You mean other than our daughter deciding to revert back to being seventeen?’

Huw smiled, ‘Yes, love, I mean other than time travel.’

Eilwen shot him a small, rueful smile and sighed, ‘Something’s just…off, Huw. I don’t know how to explain it, but it just…it doesn’t make sense. Why didn’t she tell us until late last night? Why are they being so cagey about Patsy’s family? And now Delia’s being more petulant and just…ruder than she’s ever been, even when she was a teenager. It doesn’t add up and I’m worried.’

‘What about Patsy’s family?’ This was the first Huw had heard about this particular concern.

‘This morning, Patsy said something about how a family situation had held her back from her schooling for a few years, but she wouldn’t give specifics, and then Delia was also evasive about it in the car. I’m telling you, there’s something fishy there.’

Huw smiled and reached out to give his wife’s arm a squeeze, ‘You don’t have to play Ms Marple, Eilwen. There’s nothing nefarious going on and Patsy’s not some great mystery to be solved. She’s just a person who our daughter cares a great deal about who she wanted us to meet. Why can’t you just…take some time to talk to her? Not to try to figure her out. Just to see who she is.’

Eilwen cocked her head to the side, looking baffled, ‘How are you so calm about this? Our only daughter has shown up with some mysterious woman she’s supposedly been dating for an entire year. And now they won’t share the most basic things about her. How does that not bother you?’

‘Everyone’s mysterious until you get to know them, cariad. You should take the time to try to get to know her.,’ Eilwen eyed him sceptically so he pushed on, ‘Maybe she’d be more willing to open up to you if you didn’t make it seem like an interrogation.’

Eilwen shot him an aggrieved look, ‘It’s not an interrogation. I just want to ask her everything about herself and have her answer honestly.’

Huw chuckled for a moment before he realized Eilwen was, in fact, serious, ‘Cariad, I spent the entire morning with her just…being together, and she seems pretty great to me. I didn’t learn facts about her, but I got to know her.’

Eilwen rolled her eyes and made an exasperated noise, ‘Huw, you think everyone’s great. And I’m not sure what there is to know about someone other than facts about them. How am I supposed to determine if she’s suitable if I don’t know the first thing about her?’

‘That’s not a determination we get to make,’ Eilwen huffed slightly and seemed like she might say something, but he cut her off, ‘Patsy is the person who our daughter has chosen to be with. I want to be part of Delia’s life, so I’m willing to put in the effort to make Patsy a part of mine. I know you regret your reaction when she came out, and I hate to see you making the same mistakes again. Delia’s trying to open up to us…’

Eilwen cut him off suddenly, her voice louder and laced with pain, ‘I tried to be open to her too! She didn’t trust me!’

He nodded, finally understanding what this was about, ‘Trust takes time to build, cariad. I know you want things to be better with Delia, but it’s not going to be perfect overnight. And you’re not going to get to have a close relationship with her if you keep being so sceptical of this person who she cares about…who she’s making the effort to introduce us to.’

Eilwen stared silently at the fire for a long moment, before taking a deep breath. She looked back at him, ‘Do you trust her?’

Huw was a bit confused by the question, ‘Who?’

‘Patsy.’

Huw shook his head, sad that his wife seemed to continue to be missing the point, ‘Eilwen, love, it doesn’t matter one way or other if I trust Patsy. What matters is that I trust our daughter to know if she wants to be with someone.’

Eilwen waved her hand dismissively, ‘But what if Delia doesn’t know? What if there’s something wrong that she doesn’t know how to share? What if she really needs our protection?’

‘Delia’s an adult who’s been living on her own for a good while now. She doesn’t need our protection. She needs our support.’

Eilwen threw her hands up in the air, her voice brimming with frustration, ‘Why am I the only one who can see that those are the same thing?’ And with that she turned and stormed off into the kitchen, leaving Huw alone in the room once again.

He sighed, pondering the conversation they’d just had as he reorganized the mistletoe into a neat pile. Finally, he gave a resolute nod and made his way to his chair, picking up the phone. He had to hope that Eilwen would eventually get where she needed to be. But right now, his daughter had been through the wringer and needed a show of support. And he needed to be better about not letting Eilwen’s potential reactions stop him. He dialled his son’s number, smiling when he heard his daughter-in-law pick up.

‘Good afternoon, Preeti, it’s Huw…Yes, I’m excited to see all of you tomorrow too…Could you and Daffyd do me a small favour and pick up a few things on your way? It’s for Delia.’

Chapter Text

Patsy felt her anxiety rise when there was no response to her knock. She knew Delia was in her room because she’d seen the door close, but the brunette wasn’t answering. Patsy paused, uncertain of the right course of action. What if Delia just wanted to be left alone?

She shook her head and steeled her resolve. Wasn’t this why Delia had asked her to come? To serve as a buffer and support her when her mother got to be too much? Patsy had the sneaking suspicion that their little fake dating plan had only succeeded in making Delia’s holiday significantly more stressful. The least she could do at this point was actually provide the support she’d promised.

She quietly opened the door and poked her head in. Delia was sitting on her side of the bed, facing away from Patsy. She looked utterly despondent, her back bowed and head down, and Patsy was surprised by just how strongly her heart clenched at the sight.

Sneaking silently into the room and closing the door behind her, she made her way tentatively across the room and sat on the bed next to Delia, fervently hoping that she was doing the right thing. She positioned herself very carefully, trying as best she could to be close enough to show support, but not so close as to smother.

Somewhat worryingly, Delia responded by turning away so Patsy couldn’t see her face. They sat there for a moment or two in silence, Patsy’s stomach roiling with uncertainty about how she was supposed to proceed. Her hands physically itched to reach out and comfort Delia with a hug or held hand, but she held herself back. The last thing she needed to do was be too forward and make this situation worse.

Finally, Delia’s voice reached her ears, soft and sad, ‘You should go back to your wreaths.’

Patsy couldn’t think of anything she wanted to do less. The thought of sitting downstairs making wreaths while Delia was up here miserable seemed patently ridiculous, ‘I’m not going to leave you. You’re obviously upset.’

Delia turned away from her even more, her voice cracking, ‘I don’t want you seeing me like this.’

Patsy reached out and placed a hopefully reassuring hand on Delia’s shoulder, ‘Delia, this is why I’m here, remember? For you to talk to when your mother gets to be too much? So please, let me help.’

Her entreaty was greeted by several long moments of silence, and Patsy began to worry she’d made a terrible mistake. She was about to apologize and leave when Delia spoke, ‘I just…I thought she would be different. Or I would be different. Or, I don’t know, that things would be different. But they’re not. I made you agree to this whole thing because I thought it would mean that everything would be different, but it’s exactly the same. I’ve made you do this for nothing. I’m sorry.’ She sounded utterly dejected.

Patsy smiled softly and gave Delia’s shoulder a little squeeze she hoped was encouraging, ‘I told you on the train, don’t worry about me. I spent my day wandering the Welsh countryside and making wreaths next to a roaring fire with Christmas music playing. It was fairly idyllic, actually. I think you’ve had a much harder go of it,’ she paused for a moment, considering how to continue, ‘I’m sorry things didn’t work out the way you’d hoped with your mother. Do you want to talk about it?’

‘I don’t want to bother you with it.’

‘Delia, you aren’t a bother,’ Patsy couldn’t help the bit of plaintiveness that snuck into her voice. For some reason, it felt important that Delia knew Patsy wanted to be here for her, ‘It would honestly bother me more to have to be sitting downstairs while I knew you were up here feeling terrible.’

Delia shifted slightly, finally turning to look at her. Her eyes were sad, but there was a glimmer of something like hope there, ‘Really?’

Patsy gave her a small smile, ‘Really.’

Delia stared at her for a moment, as if she was trying to decide how seriously to take Patsy’s offer. Patsy removed her hand from Delia’s shoulder and sat patiently, trying hard to silently relay just how much she’d meant it. Eventually Delia looked down at her hands and began to speak slowly and deliberately, as if considering every word.

‘She’s still the same. She still hates where I live, the choices I make. She still pushes and pokes and prods and pesters and it’s just…too much sometimes. To feel so doubted all the time. And I still can’t stand up for myself. Not really,’ she released a long, forlorn sigh, ‘I just…I hate who I feel like I am here. In London I feel independent and capable and, I don’t know, fun? But here, all of those things seem like someone else’s traits. Here, I get so tentative and tense. And I like my London self so much better, but sometimes I worry this is the real me. That who I am in London is just pretend.’ As she spoke, Delia hunched further and further until it looked like she might be subsumed by her own doubts.

Patsy felt her uncertainty rise. It physically hurt to see Delia looking so forlorn, but Patsy wasn’t sure what to do. Emotionally comforting people had never been her forte, and for one panicked moment she felt that perhaps she should have stayed downstairs. But no, that simply couldn’t have been an option. She might not be great at providing support, but for Delia she needed to do her best. She remembered Barbara mentioning that people felt better when you made yourself vulnerable. She considered her own relationship to the parts of herself she struggled with.

Deciding to give it her best shot, she spoke somewhat tentatively, ‘I do a lot of putting up façades. I can be a lot of different people in different circumstances, and over time I’ve learned that none of them are the real me. I’m all of them put together. I’m the happy, relaxed person in The Poplar, and the no nonsense professional at work, and the short, irritable person when I’m feeling down. I might not like all of them equally, but I’m never going to be just one of them all the time, and they’re all real.’

‘Well, I hate this version of me.’ Delia’s tone was blunt and full of self-loathing.

Patsy responded instantly, ‘I don’t.’

Delia looked up towards Patsy, her voice slightly disbelieving, ‘You don’t?’

Patsy smiled warmly and shook her head, ‘I don’t hate any part of you. This version of you may be more uncertain, but it just makes who you are in London all the more impressive. You’ve been able to craft an amazing, vibrant life for yourself even with this doubtful part of you making a racket. I think it speaks to your determination.’

Delia looked down at her hands, her face flushing slightly and the ghost of a smile crossing her lips. Her voice was so quiet Patsy almost didn’t hear it, ‘You think I’m impressive?’

Pasty couldn’t help the brief grin that spread across her face as her heart thrummed excitedly in her chest. It looked like she might just be doing this right, ‘Very much so.’

Delia gave her a tiny genuine smile and they simply sat smiling at each other for one brief beautiful moment before Delia sighed deeply and looked down at her hands again.

‘I just got my hopes up that this time would be different. It was so bad when I came out, and I’d really hoped…I don’t know…’ she trailed off, looking distant once again.

Buoyed by her success so far, Patsy decided to push a bit more, ‘Tell me about what happened.’

Delia furrowed her brow, sounding less forlorn and a bit more irritated, ‘I tried to explain to mam that by not respecting you, she isn’t respecting me, but she just didn’t get it. She kept being offended that I wouldn’t tell her all about you.’

‘So, she’s worried about me?’

Delia nodded, ‘The whole plan has backfired quite spectacularly, actually. She thinks something must be wrong because I’ve supposedly kept our relationship a secret for so long. That I must’ve been scared to tell her about us because you’re using me.’

‘Using you? For what?’

Delia’s face flushed red, ‘She wasn’t specific.’

Patsy considered this for a moment, ‘That reaction doesn’t really seem surprising. She reads as a bit…maniacally protective. I imagine she sees me as a great, mysterious threat. Especially if I’m the first supposed girlfriend you’ve brought home. I can’t imagine she thinks very highly of strange lesbians.’

Delia gave a small derisive snort, ‘She actually tried to say she didn’t have any problem with you being a woman.’

‘You don’t believe her?’

‘Absolutely not. Despite some impressive attempts on her part to re-write the past, I remember what it was like when I came out. People can learn and change, but they have to put in the effort to self-reflect, which she hasn’t,’ Delia paused for a moment, and when she spoke again, her voice was dripping with disdain, ‘She actually tried to argue that I should have known she wasn’t homophobic anymore because she’s been passably nice to Preeti for the last several years.’

‘Wait…I thought Preeti was a woman. Is your brother gay as well?’

‘No, they’re both straight. I think she was trying to claim that I should have known she was more open to me being gay because she’s been less overtly racist. Not that she’s really improved all that much on that front; she even called Preeti ethnic.’

‘Oh no.’

‘I told her it’s disrespectful use that word, but she seems intent upon conveniently not remembering that fact.’

Patsy was surprised, ‘You told her that?’

Delia nodded, ‘But she just got defensive and said that I should know she’s grown so she can’t have a problem with my gayness anymore.’

Patsy furrowed her brow, ‘Are her reactions to Preeti’s race and your sexuality supposed to be related?’

Delia looked up at her, a hint of relief in her eyes, ‘I’m glad I’m not the only one confused. She pivoted from arguing you’d seduced me to wanting to know everything about you to saying I should have known she was suddenly alright with me begin gay so quickly that for a moment I thought I must be missing something.’

Patsy knew it wasn’t the most important thing Delia had said, but her attention had been caught by one word in particular and she couldn’t help the slight flush that crossed her cheeks, ‘She thinks I seduced you?’

Delia shot her a tired little smirk, ‘Oh yes, it’s the only reason you came into The Poplar, apparently. To use your London lesbian wiles to lure me into a relationship against my will.’

‘Oh my. How very forward of me.’

Delia chuckled, ‘If you didn’t know, you’re quite the lothario.’

Patsy snickered along with Delia, but she had to admit she didn’t hate the sound of Eilwen’s version of her. Confident, forward, seductive. She wondered if that version of Patsy would be dating Delia. Maybe she should try being a bit more…aggressive? But how?

She was drawn from her thoughts by Delia’s voice.

‘I’m afraid she really does think you’re a scoundrel. And while I told her you weren’t, she kept demanding details and examples of you sacrificing for me. For proof that you aren’t manipulating me.’

‘And did you give them to her?’

‘No! She shouldn’t need them. She should trust me! I wouldn’t be with someone like that!’ Delia’s voice was brimming with frustration.

Delia sounded incredibly adamant, and Patsy immediately walked back her previous thoughts. Not aggressive, then. She felt herself relax a bit. Even the momentary thought of trying to be more forward had been a bit nerve-wracking.

Before Patsy had a chance to respond, Delia sighed, ‘I just…I can’t believe she thinks she’s undergone some kind of great transformation.’

‘It doesn’t seem like she’s changed at all?’

Delia shrugged, suddenly seeming forlorn again, ‘Not in the ways that matter. She keeps saying she’s worried.’

‘Isn’t that what mothers tend to do?’

‘Maybe a little, but it’s just so all-encompassing for her. And I don’t want her to be worried. I want her to be happy for me, to trust me,’ she looked back down at her hands, her voice once again so soft Patsy could barely hear it, ‘I want her to be proud of me.’

Patsy felt her heart drop. She’d spent her entire adult life coming to terms with the fact that she’d never know if her mother would have been proud of her. In her more maudlin moments, she always felt a bit sorry for herself, actually, knowing she’d never have the opportunity to have her mother look at her with pride and tell her she’d done well for herself. It had never really dawned on her how hard it would feel to suspect that approval was never coming from a living parent. To want it so badly, but have it consistently be just out of reach, no matter what you did.

She felt a bit at a loss, but knew she needed to do something. She reached out and took Delia’s hand, leaning towards her a bit in an attempt to show physical support, ‘I’m sorry she’s doing such a terrible job of giving you what you need to feel loved and supported. You deserve more.’

Delia didn’t look up, but she gripped onto Patsy’s hand, giving it a small squeeze Patsy interpreted as appreciation. She was quiet for a moment before she sighed again, ‘When mam told me to give her a chance, I thought maybe she’d give me the opportunity to show her I’m happy. I really thought this would be the time she’d actually care about my feelings. About what I thought of her.’

Patsy wondered if it was her place to push back on that statement. She didn’t want to ruin her budding friendship with Delia or make her angry, but she wondered if anyone had ever been a bit more…blunt with her about Eilwen; the entire town seemed to be a bit intimidated by her. She decided that, if it would help Delia to improve her relationship with her mother, it was worth risking rankling her a bit.

She took a deep breath, considering her words carefully, ‘Delia, I haven’t interacted with your family much, but it seems like you’ve fashioned quite the larger-than-life image of your mother in your head. But in reality, she’s just a person.’

Looking down at their joined hands, Delia somewhat jokingly mumbled, ‘Are you sure?’

Patsy smiled, glad her words weren’t being greeted with anger, ‘I’m positive. She’s got the same emotions as you do, the same vulnerabilities. And to some extent that means there’s only so much about your relationship with her you’re going to be able to affect, no matter how hard you try. And it actually seems like you’re doing a really nice job of standing up to her. She has to get over her own fears and insecurities that have nothing to do with you or me or anyone other than her, really. Right now, you seem to be beating yourself up over not being able to change things about her you’re never going to be able to control.’

‘So you’re saying it’s never going to change and there’s nothing I can do about it?’ Delia sounded a bit panicked.

Patsy furrowed her brow, ‘No, I’m not explaining myself well,’ she thought for a moment, ‘I suppose I’m trying to say that I’m not sure things need to change in the ways you think they do. I think it seems like things haven’t changed because, well, they haven’t. But not in a bad way. I think she always cared what you thought about her, because people care about what people they love think of them. It’s just that she’s only giving you a glimpse of that now. But there’s not going to be some giant shift in her behaviour because there hasn’t been a giant change. At least not in her.’

‘But then what am I supposed to do?’

‘Maybe if you start thinking of her less as this terrifying ‘mam’ figure and more as Eilwen? Just a person struggling to connect with another person in their life.’

Delia looked away, ‘It doesn’t work that way. She’s not just any other person. She’s my mam.’

Patsy remembered what it felt like to be where Delia was and knew that there was no use in pushing. The idea had been planted in her head, maybe for the first time, and now Delia could do with it what she would.

‘I know it’s strange to consider, just…try thinking about it?’

Delia cocked her head to the side and looked up at Patsy curiously for a moment before nodding slowly and looking back down at their hands. When she spoke, her voice had a hopefulness to it that was new, ‘Do you really think I did a good job standing up to her?’

Patsy gave an authoritative nod, ‘Absolutely. You didn’t make up stories just to appease her. You set firm boundaries about the respect you deserve. And you stood up to her about what she called Preeti. All of those things are really hard to do with anyone, let alone someone as strong-willed as your mother. I think you should feel proud of yourself.’

Delia scrunched her face up slightly and shifted, looking mildly uncertain for a moment, before shooting Patsy a small smile, ‘I think I’ll need time to think about that too.’

Patsy grinned down at her, pleased with herself for having apparently not done too terrible a job providing support, ‘Of course. In the meantime, I think I can be proud enough of you for both of us.’

A bright red flush crept up Delia’s neck as a soft smile spread across her face. She looked down again and shifted even more noticeably, seeming almost embarrassed. Patsy waited for a moment, but when Delia didn’t say anything, she decided it was time to try to see if Delia was ready to try Christmas activities again. She gave the brunette’s hand a small squeeze and released it, preparing to stand.

‘Now that you have a comprehensive list of things to think about, I think we should move on to what we can do. We were discussing versions of ourselves before, and I can absolutely confirm that London Delia is very fun. But I think that this Delia has some fun up her sleeve as well. Shall we go down and see if we can lure that part of her out over wreaths?’

Delia looked up at her, a tiny bit sceptical, ‘You still want to hang out with me?’

‘Of course! Any version of you. And given that we have wreaths to make and a tree to decorate, I’m confident we’ll be able to get Wales Delia to come out of her shell a bit,’ she stood and reached out her hand.

Patsy felt her heart thrum happily in her chest as Delia gave her a shy smile, reached up, and took her hand. Delia was smiling again, and Patsy couldn’t help the warm feeling of pride that blossomed in her heart. She’d helped Delia feel better.

 

____________

 

As Delia took Patsy’s hand, a comfort flowed through her that she’d never really felt before.

Patsy had taken the time to come sit with her. Had been patient with her. Hadn’t pushed back or gotten defensive when Delia wasn’t receptive to her ideas right away. It was honestly so much more than she’d ever expected when she’d offhandedly asked Patsy for support at The Poplar.

And though she’d been embarrassed at first, she felt oddly comfortable being sad and vulnerable in front of Patsy.

Standing up from the bed, she felt something about her feelings for Patsy tangibly shift. Before, her crush had been…well, a crush. She’d thought Patsy was interesting and funny and gorgeous; she’d felt almost magnetically drawn to her, wanting to get to know her better, to spend time with her. But to know that there was this incredibly compassionate part of her? To be on the receiving end of that patience and concern? It made her feel cared for in a way that felt new…and special. And it made her own feelings deeper.

She realized that this shift was slightly dangerous. The stronger her feelings got, the more important they became to hide. After all, if Patsy had viewed her as a child before, absolutely nothing about her behaviour over the last eighteen hours would have changed that. All Delia had done since they’d arrived in Wales was force the redhead into pretending to date her and then vomit her emotions in Patsy’s general direction. And Patsy had thought she was getting a relaxing family Christmas. Delia felt a wave of guilt wash over her.

As Patsy took a step towards the door, Delia pulled her back slightly by their joined hands. Patsy turned, a curious eyebrow raised.

Looking up into Patsy’s incredibly kind eyes she found that she simply didn’t have the words to relay her gratitude.

‘Patsy…just…thank you.’

Delia’s heart skipped a beat when Patsy beamed back at her, giving her hand a supportive squeeze that made chills run up her arm.

‘It’s no problem, really. Thank you for letting me help.’

They stood softly smiling at each other for a moment before Patsy’s look turned apologetic, ‘I’m sorry about the mistletoe, by the way. I just saw the berries. I didn’t mean to trap you under it with me and make things awkward with your mother.’

Delia shook her head, pushing down the bolt of sadness that shot through her at the thought that Patsy would view being under mistletoe with her as being trapped, and maintained her smile, ‘It’s fine. It wasn’t really about the mistletoe anyway. And it is a very beautiful wreath.’

‘Thank you,’ Patsy looked pleased, ‘I’m sure yours is going to be just as impressive.’

Delia chuckled, ‘I think you’re vastly overestimating my artistic ability. But I do think I’ll have fun with it.’

‘Well, that’s what’s important,’ Patsy released her hand with a small squeeze, and made her way to the door.

Following her, Delia suddenly remembered her interaction with Lynn and internally groaned. Great, something else she’d have to foist upon Patsy. She stopped again.

‘Umm…Patsy? About the carol service tonight…remember when I said you’d be the talk of the village? Well, it turns out that wasn’t an exaggeration. I ran into an old classmate today who’d heard all about you. Sioned’s been spreading the news, and it appears you’re the subject of an impressive amount of speculation. I expect that you’ll be the absolute center of attention later tonight. Just so you’re prepared.’

A very brief look of something that might have been exasperation flashed across Patsy’s face before she took a deep breath and seemed to re-center herself, ‘Thank you for letting me know. This actually won’t be the first time I’ve been the unwilling focus of a social gathering, so I’m used to it. I’ll be fine.’

‘When was the other time?’ Delia felt her curiosity spike again.

Patsy shrugged, ‘Oh, you know, charity gatherings, society balls. Things like that.’

This didn’t seem like a particularly thorough response, but that undercurrent of panic had returned to Patsy’s eyes, and Delia couldn’t bring herself to push, ‘Well, know that we don’t have to go if you don’t want to.’

Patsy shook her head, ‘I’ll be fine. We can’t have the residents of Tenby thinking we’re scared of them. And anyway, I’ve never been to a Welsh language carol service and I must say, I’m quite curious.’

‘As long as you’re sure.’

‘I am.’

Delia smiled and gave a resolute nod, ‘Well then, let’s go enjoy our evening before we go run that particular gauntlet, shall we?’

Patsy smiled and held the door open for her, ‘That sounds lovely. After you.’

Delia had to admit she still felt a bit raw as she made her way down to the sitting room, though the ambiance her tad had created soon soothed her nerves. The fire and lights and music all combined to create a warmth that she couldn’t really remember her childhood home having before. Though Patsy’s presence may have had something to do with it.

They settled in to making their wreaths, Delia letting her creative side silence her concerns for once. She picked her materials carefully, aiming for something in between Patsy’s staunch traditionalism and Huw’s whimsy. And while she and Patsy both markedly avoided the mistletoe, her tad, apparently having reached the opposite conclusion after the earlier kerfuffle, announced his plan to make a wreath entirely of mistletoe. As he wove the sprigs into a rather pell-mell pattern, Huw declared that the berries were gorgeous and he wasn’t about to let them go to waste.

Delia didn’t really understand why, but Patsy seemed particularly appreciative of this decision, beaming at him with a smile that was unreservedly grateful. Glancing back and forth between them, Delia reflected on the fact that, while her mam’s reaction to a girlfriend had been, quite frankly, a disaster, her tad had been more wonderful than she ever would have expected. Not that she’d thought he would be cold or disapproving, but it seemed he’d really tried to bond with Patsy, to make her feel welcome and comfortable. And Delia appreciated it more than she ever would have thought; that her tad cared about her enough to care about her supposed girlfriend. It made her feel like when she eventually did bring home a real girlfriend, it would be alright.

Delia sighed, wishing that Patsy was her real girlfriend. She tried to concentrate on her wreath, but her eyes kept wandering over to Patsy, taking in her graceful hands weaving the boughs, her face scrunched adorably in concentration, her skin glowing in the firelight. For the second time in as many days, Delia was struck by just how beautiful she was.

Every so often, Patsy’s eyes would flick up to meet hers, and the warm little half-smile she’d shoot Delia made her heart beat faster every time.

Ugh. Her crush, though deeper, remained so utterly hopeless.

When they’d each finished their individual wreaths, they debated what to do with the final frame, eventually deciding to make a joint wreath. Patsy did the technical work of weaving boughs while Delia and Huw flitted around the edges, adding on dried flowers and long blades of grass. Delia had been a bit sceptical of how their styles would blend, but the process was surprisingly smooth, though she suspected this was because Patsy was holding herself back from commenting.

The finished product was less of a disaster than she’d anticipated. It actually looked quite nice, and very distinctly them. Huw forcefully declared that this wreath was definitely worthy of a place of honour, and fetched a chair so he could place it carefully over the doorway into the kitchen.

They stood back and surveyed it with pride for a moment before Huw picked up his mistletoe wreath and, with a cheeky wink, declared he needed to go check in on her mam in the kitchen.

Delia rolled her eyes good-naturedly as he skittered off before looking back up at their wreath. She turned to Patsy, ‘Thank you for encouraging me to come do this, Patsy, it was lovely.’

Patsy grinned, ‘And we still get to decorate the tree!’

Delia couldn’t help but chuckle at her enthusiasm, surprising herself a bit. She’d never found herself feeling so light and happy so soon after one of her and her mam’s arguments.

She’d been about to fetch the ornaments when her mam called out that they should clean up the table for tea.

After a hearty early tea of cawl, where her mam was shockingly polite, if a bit cold, they settled in to decorate the tree. Patsy’s extreme exuberance was incredibly endearing, as was her almost Herculean patience for listening to her mam tell the lengthy history of almost every ornament.

The activity seemed to help her mam settle into the evening as well, and with each story Patsy nodded her way through, the steeliness in her eyes faded just a touch.

When all that was left to do was place the star atop the tree, her tad declared Patsy should do the honours, and the look of unfettered joy on Patsy’s face made Delia’s heart thrum happily in her chest. She still had to survive her mam, the carol service, and a full day with her family tomorrow, but watching Patsy stand on a chair to proudly place the star atop her family’s tree, she realized that, in this moment at least, everything was perfect.

Chapter Text

Patsy could fully admit that she hadn’t been excited about this. She’d feared it would feel too much like when she’d first come to England. The judging eyes and whispering voices could still echo through her consciousness when she was in crowds. There was no way, however, that she was going to allow the residents of Tenby to think she was afraid of them. So she had come.

As it turned out, it had actually been rather enjoyable thusfar. Before the carols themselves, there was a casual holiday party of sorts and Patsy had found the proceedings rather fascinating. There were still glances and whispers, but before she’d been young and uncertain and ashamed. Now, she knew the two things people were most curious about, her lesbianism and her status as Delia’s London girlfriend, were things she was proud of. Or, at least, she would have been proud if she was actually Delia’s girlfriend. But for tonight at least, she was able to bask in pretending she really was without being under Eilwen’s microscope.

And trying to figure out the small-town dynamics was utterly absorbing. She noted that, for the most part, Delia’s generation was giving her a rather wide berth, content to chat amongst themselves and shoot the occasional glance in her direction. She assumed they were a bit intimidated by her, which made her feel oddly happy. She’d put in a lot of effort to look presentable tonight, and her vanity whispered that if they were slightly daunted, it undoubtedly meant she looked good.

At least she hoped she looked good because Delia looked absolutely magnificent and Patsy wanted to look worthy of being by her side. When they’d been getting ready and Delia had returned from the bathroom in a flattering polka dot dress, her hair pulled up in a tight ponytail and the perfect amount of makeup gracing her features, Patsy hadn’t been able to breathe for a moment. Even now, her eyes couldn’t help wandering to wherever Delia was, taking in her gorgeous figure, her bright smile, her shining eyes. Even a cursory glance of the room made it clear to Patsy at least that Delia was the most beautiful person there. And it made her feel inordinately proud when Delia was next to her.

And Delia had been by her side for much of the event, though she kept getting whisked away for ‘girl’s photos’ and the like. During those moments, Huw would eagerly step in and proudly introduce her to a neighbour or shop owner or someone else she needed to meet. So far, she’d chatted with what felt like a veritable who’s who of Tenby and she thought she’d made a suitably good impression.

At first, when Huw’s plan for the evening had become clear, she’d honestly been a bit irritated. She wanted to be with Delia, not talking to every resident over the age of forty. Her patience had increased vastly, however, when she’d realized that she was forming the foundation upon which all of Delia’s future girlfriends would be judged. She took a perverse pleasure in feeling certain she was setting the bar high. She might have been a bit rusty, but she knew how to play these games. How to be charming and ask good questions and be just interesting enough to keep people engaged but encourage no follow-up. And any time she found herself tiring or getting bored she was spurred on by a thoroughly unwarranted trickle of jealousy at the very thought of Delia’s future girlfriend. Every moment she could last she was making it harder for Delia’s future girlfriend to compare, and this sure-to-not-be-good-enough person was definitely someone Patsy felt the need to outshine.

Still, after a particularly boring conversation with the town obstetrician, Patsy needed a bit of a break. Finding herself alone for the first time, she eyed the table of refreshments excitedly. She made her way over, inspecting the assortment of holiday treats with interest. Knowing she wouldn’t be able to hold both food and a drink gracefully, she bypassed the large intricately-decorated bowl of red liquid, choosing instead to load up a small plate with a delectable-looking selection of pastries. Fully-stocked up, she moved away from the table in search of a spot from which she could survey the crowd.

She’d just popped one of the pastries in her mouth when a voice rang out behind her.

‘You must be Patsy!’

Patsy turned, trying to surreptitiously chew while taking in the woman before her. She looked about the same age as Eilwen, but unnervingly slender with light, grey-flecked hair and permanent worry lines creasing her forehead. Her eyes, however, had the same look of cold appraisal as Eilwen’s and Patsy could make an educated guess as to who she was. She swallowed quickly and put on her friendliest smile; there was nothing to be gained from antagonizing the Busby family nemesis.

‘Indeed, I must be,’ she quickly wiped her hand on her napkin and reached out, ‘Patience Mount.’

The woman eyed her hand sceptically for a fraction of a second before taking it and giving it a weak shake, ‘Sioned Roberts.’

Patsy ignored what could have been interpreted as a slight, keeping her voice bright, ‘A pleasure to meet you, Mrs Roberts. I understand I have you to thank for my receiving Mr Jones’ assistance this morning.’

Sioned brightened slightly at what she obviously viewed as a mention of her own heroism, ‘Don’t worry about it too much, dear, I don’t expect you have much experience with sheep pastures, being from London.’

Patsy’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. It was astounding how much like Eilwen she sounded. It appeared it was similarity that had bred contempt.

‘No, I can’t say I do,’ she figured it didn’t hurt to try the same flattery strategies she’d used on Eilwen, ‘Though I must say, I’m not sorry that I had such a wonderful opportunity to explore the beauty of the Welsh countryside.’

Sioned gave a thoroughly unimpressed snort, ‘In December? We must have very different definitions of beauty.’

Patsy narrowed her eyes. She couldn’t be sure, but it seemed like Sioned had glanced ever so fleetingly in Delia’s direction during that last statement. She raised herself to her full height. This woman had absolutely no right to make commentary on Delia’s appearance. Before she had a chance to respond, however, Eilwen suddenly appeared by her side, her posture alert and defensive.

‘Good evening, Sioned. I see you’ve met Patsy,’ Eilwen’s voice was deceptively light, given the aggressiveness of her stance.

Sioned turned, her body mirroring her adversary’s in a way that spoke to decades of doing this same dance. Her smile was just as false, ‘Yes, we were just chatting about her lack of experience with rural life.’

Patsy didn’t feel like that was the most accurate description of their short discussion, but correcting her felt distinctly unwise. Anyway, it’s not as if it actually mattered.

‘Yes, well, not all of us are lucky enough to be from Wales. She’s learning, though. Patsy’s very interested in knowing all about Welsh history.’

Despite this being a rather bald attempt to make her acceptable in the face of a rival, Patsy was honestly surprised Eilwen was defending her, given that her urbaneness was one of Eilwen’s primary hang-ups.

Patsy was also both relieved and worried to note that her patience in listening to Eilwen’s endless explanations of how her ornaments related to Welsh history had been interpreted as interest rather than simply politeness. She was in no way actually intrigued by Welsh history, and sincerely hoped that this didn’t mean more painfully detailed stories were in store, because she couldn’t correct Eilwen now. And there was absolutely no way she was going to point out that there were, in fact, cities in Wales.

‘Mmm,’ Sioned was baldly unimpressed. She turned back to Patsy, ‘And what do you do in London, Patsy?’

‘I’m a nurse and midwife.’

Sioned eyed her for a moment and then gave a slight shrug, ‘Well, if you’re not raising a family, I suppose being a nurse would help you feel useful.’

Patsy was thrown off for a moment. She supposed that sentiment made sense, given the setting…all of this did feel a bit like stepping back in time. But honestly, she hadn’t been expecting it; most people had been more curious why someone of her apparent background wasn’t a doctor. And she certainly hadn’t expected it to be so phrased so rudely. She was almost certain Sioned was trying to taunt her into doing something even passingly impolite. Not wanting to give the woman the satisfaction, she aimed for the blandest possible response.

‘If I can manage to live a life that’s useful to others, well then, I couldn’t ask for much more.’

Eilwen jumped in, ‘And Patsy’s a very dedicated nurse. Do you remember that Train Angel story from several years ago? The one about the nurse who took the train to Liverpool to save a patient?’ she puffed up her chest and gestured toward Patsy with a flourish, ‘Well, that was Patsy.’

Patsy was shocked. Not that Eilwen knew she was the Train Angel—Delia must have told her during their conversation—but rather that Mrs Busby would support her so adamantly. Eilwen must have called a ceasefire in the presence of a greater foe. Which was a little surprising, honestly…that there could be a foe greater than the London lesbian who’d seduced her daughter. Patsy wondered if she was growing on Eilwen or if this neighbourly animosity was really that strong. She guessed the latter.

It was also interesting to note just how almost…well, desperate Eilwen seemed. It was clear that Sioned had the social power, and it fully dawned on Patsy that the Busbys were ever-so-slightly the odd ones out in the Tenby social hierarchy. Lord, that must rankle a woman like Eilwen. Patsy wondered how much of the situation was the result of the decidedly non-traditional life choices of their children. Iwan had said the Busbys were the only family whose little ones had moved away. And through the course of her conversations this evening, Patsy had sensed that, while Delia was considered a member of the community, she was viewed as a bit odd.

As if brought into being by her thinking about him, Iwan appeared at Patsy’s side, standing relaxed with his hands behind his back. He had a small, affable smile on his face, and Patsy wondered if he had come to try to dispel the tension between Eilwen and Sioned, or if he’d just been curious. After all, this rivalry was apparently legendary.

‘Evening.’ He didn’t appear to be addressing anyone in particular, but Patsy and Eilwen both gave him a small nod of acknowledgement.

Sioned ignored him entirely, instead inspecting her sleeve and pulling off an invisible piece of lint before glancing at Eilwen, her tone dismissive, ‘Well, I suppose it’s good to have something to dedicate yourself to,’ she turned to Patsy, ‘And midwifery makes sense, I suppose. The maternal instinct would draw you to find some way to be around babies, considering you can’t have any of your own.’

Patsy felt something shift within her. She hadn’t fully formed her own opinion on whether or not she wanted children, but she absolutely knew what she thought of people who felt, for whatever reason, that she couldn’t. Before she’d been being polite, trying not to rankle, but this was a step too far. This woman needed to be made uncomfortable, and the assurance that Eilwen despised Sioned gave Patsy the confidence that pressing her a bit would probably be more appreciated than discouraged.

She affected her most innocent tone, ‘Oh? And why couldn’t I?’

Sioned looked uncertain for a brief moment, before breathing in and declaring with certainty, ‘Well, you’re a lesbian.’

‘Most lesbians have uteruses, Mrs Roberts.’ Patsy said it slightly louder than was strictly necessary.

‘Excuse me?’ Sioned looked shocked.

Iwan gave a small chuckle.

Patsy maintained unwavering eye contact with Sioned, ‘Uterusus, Mrs Roberts. For babies. I, for example, have a uterus that is, as far as I know, fully functional.’

Clearly flustered, Sioned simply gaped at her for a moment. Patsy risked a brief glance at Eilwen, who was doing a terrible job of masking her pleasure at Sioned’s embarrassment. Patsy suspected she wouldn’t escape this holiday without some comment about discussing such crass subject matter at a church gathering, but for now at least, Mrs Busby appeared content to bask in Sioned’s discomfort.

Seeing her nemesis look so pleased seemed to give Sioned a second wind. She stood up straight and stuck her chin out defiantly, ‘Well yes, there’s that. But one needs at least some male participation.’

‘A male donation, perhaps, but not participation, persay,’ Patsy did wonder for the briefest moment whether continuing to escalate this was the wisest choice, but she refused to believe that the notion of sperm donors was really that mysterious.

Suddenly, Iwan cut in with a vigorous nod, ‘We have to do that with some of the ewes, you know. There are a few who want nothing to do with the rams, so we round them up and artificially inseminate them.’

‘Umm…yes,’ Patsy wasn’t sure if this was a show of support or simply Iwan being excited to have found a way to relate the conversation to sheep, ‘The process is a bit less…agrarian with humans, but the concept is much the same.’

Sioned looked utterly baffled, ‘There are lesbian sheep?’

Delia chose that moment to re-appear by Patsy’s side, her face showing a hint of concern as her eyes darted between Patsy, Eilwen and Sioned. Patsy shot her what she hoped was a reassuring smile.

Iwan spoke before anyone could address Delia, ‘I don’t know if they’re lesbians so much as they’re not particularly interested in breeding.’

Delia’s eyebrows shot up, ‘What are the four of you talking about?’

Patsy smirked, ‘Whether Iwan’s sheep are lesbians.’

‘Really?’ Delia looked shocked, ‘Why are you discussing that?’

Patsy shrugged, hoping her blasé demeanour was suitably irritating to Sioned, ‘Mrs Roberts didn’t understand how lesbians could have children, and during the efforts to educate her, the conversation naturally meandered to sheep breeding habits.’

‘You were discussing having children?’ Delia paled slightly, and glanced nervously towards Eilwen, undoubtedly worried about who had brought up that particular subject.

‘Only in the hypothetical,’ Patsy assured.

Eilwen leapt in, ‘Speaking of hypothetical children…Sioned, I understand Griffith and Berwyn are planning on trying for a little one soon. I’m sure you’re excited to finally be a grandmother.’

Patsy was impressed. Already having grandchildren was perhaps the one way in which Eilwen had the unquestioned upper hand. Bringing that up now was quite the power play.

Sioned stiffened and opened her mouth to respond, but Delia jumped in first, ‘I hope you don’t mind, but I have to steal Patsy away for a moment.’

Both older women gave dismissive nods as they continued to glare at each other. Delia grabbed Patsy’s arm and pulled her away towards a corner.

Patsy looked down at Delia curiously, ‘Is there someone you wanted me to meet?’

‘What?’ Delia looked confused for a moment, ‘Oh, I didn’t actually need you for anything, I just thought you might want to be saved from that conversation.’

Patsy looked back uncertainly, honestly a little sad to be missing the action, ‘But won’t they notice that you took me away for no reason?’

Delia gave a little snort, ‘Once those two get going, they wouldn’t notice if the building was burning down around them.’ She pulled Patsy into a corner and took a deep breath, scanning the crowd. Eventually, she looked up at Patsy, her eyes full of concern ‘So, how are you doing?’

Patsy smiled and ate of one of her pastries, ‘Just fine, though your father’s been keeping me busy whenever you’re gone.’

‘Everything went alright with Sioned?’

‘Well, she seems highly unpleasant, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle. And somewhat surprisingly, your mother seemed very intent upon defending me.’

Delia rolled her eyes, her voice irritated, ‘Yes, she’s very good at that when other people are around.’

Patsy noticed Delia glaring in the direction of her mother and decided to change the subject. She picked up a tartlet and took a bite, ‘I’m glad to finally be able to eat something, though. It’s been a while since our cawl. Why on earth is this so late?’

Delia chuckled, ‘Welsh traditions. These used to go until midnight and then the men of the town would parade to people’s doors with a horse skull and sing. Over time, Tenby-ites have abandoned the skull but kept the timing.’

‘A horse skull?’ Patsy raised an eyebrow, ‘I’m a bit sad they’ve abandoned that, actually. It sounds like great fun.’

‘Mmm…something else you and Tad have in common.’ Delia’s tone was affectionate and it made Patsy smile.

Delia smiled back at her for a moment before suddenly reaching out and plucking one of the pastries off of Patsy’s plate. She popped it into her mouth with a mischievous smirk.

Patsy feigned horror, ‘Hey! There’s an entire table of pastries over there, you know!’

‘Yeah, but this one’s better than those,’ Delia explained as she chewed.

‘What? Why?’

Delia swallowed and gave Patsy a little wink, ‘Because it was technically yours.’

She reached out for the last pastry and Patsy playfully batted her hand away and held the plate behind her back, ‘Oh no you don’t. You can get your own plate. This one’s mine.’

Delia giggled as she reached around Patsy, trying to get to the remaining treat, ‘But it’s more delicious than the ones on the table!’

Patsy laughed as she tried to circle away from Delia, the smaller woman wrapping an arm around her in her quest to get the last pastry.

A voice called out, disturbing them, ‘Delia!’ They turned to see a rather gangly woman beckoning Delia, ‘Liliwen needs you for another photo!’

Delia shot Patsy an apologetic glance, ‘Sorry. I’ll be right back.’

Patsy shooed her away with a smile and popped the final pastry in her mouth. A small excited voice in the back of her head pointed out that that had been startlingly close to her earlier daydream. And it was by far the most flirtatious Delia had ever been. That seemed like a hopeful sign. Though perhaps Delia was only being flirtatious because they were in a room full of people who expected them to be together. It made sense to put on a convincing show, after all. It was probably best not to get her hopes up too much.

Patsy stared down at her empty plate with a sigh. Part of her wanted to simply stay in this corner and revel in her momentary solitude before Delia returned. However, the pastries had left her quite thirsty, and she knew she should have a beverage if she was going to spend time singing. She made her way back to the table, hoping that if she walked with purpose, people would let her be.

She picked up the ladle and poured herself a small cup of the mystery red liquid from the intricate bowl. She sniffed it, picking up a rich blend of spices, before taking an experimental sip.

‘Now you have to make a wish.’ The voice that came from behind her was deep and friendly.

She turned to see an affable looking young man, about Delia’s age but tall and strapping, with a mop of dark hair that was being barely tamed by whatever product had been rather liberally applied in an effort to control it. He was looking at her expectantly, and Patsy had to suppress an eye roll. Great. Not only was she no longer alone, but now she was being approached by random young men. Ones who began with quite inappropriately forward openings.

She narrowed her eyes and adopted a practiced tone of disinterest, ‘I beg your pardon?’

If he noticed her tone, he didn’t show it as he pointed to the bowl and explained cheerfully, ‘It’s a Welsh tradition. Whoever takes a sip of the holiday wassail makes a wish.’

Patsy looked at her cup sceptically, ‘Wassail? There’s alcohol in this?’

He chuckled and shook his head, ‘Oh no. They’d never allow that in church,’ he leaned in and lowered his voice conspiratorially, ‘Though some of us sneak in flasks to add a touch of spirit to the occasion.’

Patsy hummed noncommittally and looked away. There was no way she was going to accept alcohol from a strange man at a party, even if it was in a church. She had no idea why he was even talking to her, and she was profoundly distrustful of him, whoever he was.

He, on the other hand, seemed completely unphased, smiling at her in a way that was disarmingly sincere, ‘You don’t have to be suspicious of me, you know.’

Patsy raised an eyebrow and looked at him in surprise.

He laughed, ‘You’ve got the same look Delia gets when blokes approach her in the pub. She says she can’t read them, so she relies on me to interpret. Most of the time they’re just being friendly. We’ve had to chase a few cads off, though.’

Patsy’s suspicion reduced considerably at the mention of Delia, ‘You hang out with Delia?’

He nodded, ‘We’ve been friends forever. I’m Griffith Roberts, Sioned’s son. I think you’ve met my mam.’

Patsy glanced around, pretending to be concerned, ‘Are we allowed to fraternize?’

Griffith laughed, ‘The younger generation has buried the hatchet. Anyway, you’ve been quite busy so I needed to take what was maybe my only opportunity to meet the woman who was lucky enough to snag Delia. She’s quite the catch, you know.’

Patsy suddenly found herself liking Griffith immeasurably more. Finally, someone who seemed to actually appreciate how wonderful Delia was. Patsy gave him a genuine smile, ‘I couldn’t agree more.’

‘And anyway,’ he picked up a pastry from the table and popped it in his mouth, ‘The stuff everyone discusses at these things is dead boring. You’re sure to be much more interesting.’

Patsy chuckled, ‘Hopefully I won’t disappoint.’ She realized this might be a fun opportunity to learn some of Delia’s hopefully humorous youthful indiscretions, ‘Were you two close growing up?’

‘I suppose you could say that. We bonded over having overbearing mams. And later we were mitching buddies.’

Patsy furrowed her brows sceptically. What did that mean? She suddenly felt suspicious again. Was he a former romantic interest?

Griffith seemed to pick up on her confusion, ‘Is that not a term you use in London?’

‘It could be; I’m honestly not overly familiar with British school terms. Is it related to school?’

He looked a bit uncertain, but nodded, ‘It means we’d cut school together.’

‘Delia did that?’ Patsy was honestly shocked.

Griffith shrugged, ‘Sometimes, when things got hard. We’d go relax in a beautiful spot or nick Iwan’s truck for the afternoon and drive to Swansea. Delia was the first person in Tenby to come out openly at school. A few folks didn’t take it so well, and occasionally she’d just need a bit of a break. She never let her studies suffer too much, though,’ he paused, eyeing her curiously, ‘Didn’t she tell you about it?’

‘No, she’s never mentioned it.’ Patsy looked over at Delia, incredibly impressed. That would have taken a tremendous amount of bravery. Patsy couldn’t help but wonder how Delia’s Wales self-image as meek and tentative came to be. Coming out in a small rural town when you had an unsupportive family wasn’t something a meek and tentative person did.

‘I suppose that makes sense. I think she’s tried to forget a lot of it,’ Griffith pointed to where Delia was standing in a circle of women about her age, ‘And as you can see, nowadays everyone acts like they’ve always been alright with it, so it’s easy to pretend it never happened.’

Patsy nodded. She knew all about people’s tendency to pretend they’d never treated you inappropriately. Looking at the gathered women more closely, Patsy noticed all of them seemed to be focused on one woman in particular, who was standing next to Delia. She was tall and attractive with long hair styled in loose waves that cascaded perfectly over her shoulders. Patsy guessed she’d put more effort into her appearance than everyone else combined, and she held herself with an assurance that made it clear she was used to being the centre of attention.

What set Patsy on edge, however, was the way Delia was looking at her. She looked completely transfixed, staring at this mystery woman with something akin to awe, and Patsy felt a spark of jealousy ignite in her chest.

‘Griffith, who is that standing next to Delia?’

‘Oh, that’s Liliwen,’ his voice lost a touch of its warmth, ‘She’s something of the queen bee in these parts. Delia used to be quite hung up on her in college. She says Liliwen was her requisite straight girl crush,’ he made quotation marks in the air with his fingers.

Patsy narrowed her eyes as this Liliwen threw her head back in laughter and flicked her hair expertly over her shoulder. Delia’s college crush. Interesting.

‘She seems quite…flirtatious.’

‘Oh yes, she loves to be fawned over. If I’m honest, I never liked the way she strung Delia along back then,’ he picked up another pastry and took a giant bite, ‘You don’t have to worry, though. Delia’s been over her for ages, and anyway, Liliwen’s engaged to Cledwyn Lewis now. He had quite the proposal; put the rest of us to shame, really. He asked her when they were…’

Griffith continued on animatedly, but Patsy wasn’t listening. Delia had apparently said something amusing, and Liliwen had laughed again and affectionately reached over to stroke Delia’s arm. Patsy’s jaw tightened. She knew these kinds of straight girls. They liked to play with people’s hearts. This one had played with Delia’s heart…and was still trying to, by the looks of it.

Patsy noticed that Delia had turned a little red at the contact, and the spark of jealousy transformed into a fire that was no less strong for being unjustified. It’s not as if Patsy had any actual claim to Delia’s affections. If she wanted to still be hung up on her straight college crush, that was her business.

But still.

Patsy had seen what being toyed with by a straight girl could do to your self-confidence. She wondered if Liliwen was at least somewhat responsible for Delia’s harsh self-image. Yes. That was definitely part of it. This Liliwen had hurt Delia. Patsy had a right to dislike her. Fed by this newfound justification, the fire in Patsy’s chest morphed into a raging inferno.

Now that she thought of it, wasn’t it Liliwen who had disturbed their moment earlier to call Delia over for a photo? Patsy felt a surge of certainty she’d done it on purpose. It seemed to Patsy that she needed to be taught a lesson. A lesson to leave Delia alone.

Liliwen suddenly reached out and playfully twirled a tendril of Delia’s hair as she leaned in to say something to her, and Patsy saw red. Oh yes. She definitely needed to be put in her place.

Patsy moved to go and join the circle.

‘Where are you going?’ Griffith stopped his story, seeming confused.

Patsy turned to him, affecting a casual tone she hoped convincingly hid her jealousy, ‘It was lovely chatting with you Griffith, but I’m afraid I must go join the ladies’ circle.’

Griffith cocked his head to the side, ‘Why would you want to do that? They’re awfully dull.’

Patsy turned and glared at Liliwen, ‘That may be the case, but I think it’s time for me to introduce myself to Delia’s other college friends.’

Chapter Text

Delia could fully admit she hadn’t been excited about this. The evening at home had been so perfect, and she always felt the slightest bit out of place at these community events. People were friendly enough, but Delia’s life seemed to be so far out of their frame of reference that they had no idea how to talk to her. As a result, she usually spent several exhausting hours being treated as an oddity. But her mam would’ve had a conniption if she’d stayed home, and Patsy had assured her she was alright with attending, so they had come.

As it turned out, the pre-carol gathering hadn’t been that bad this year, largely because she felt so much more comfortable with Patsy here. The redhead felt like an anchor, providing support and keeping her tethered to the London parts of herself she was striving to channel. Patsy didn’t expect anything of her; didn’t need her to make polite conversation, to be making progress in life, to be making their village proud. She could just be when she was by Patsy’s side.

And Patsy’s presence made it infinitely easier to interact with her old school friends. Figuring out how to connect to them had always been one of the most difficult parts of these things. Every year, it felt like she’d changed more and more, moving further and further from them while they’d stayed in much the same place. And she’d never had that much in common with most of them to begin with.

But with Patsy here, it was different. For one thing, Delia felt different…more confident, more assured. After all, they all thought Patsy was her girlfriend. They actually thought that someone as refined and poised and beautiful as Patsy was dating her, a reality that was made all the more unbelievable by how utterly amazing Patsy looked tonight.

When they’d been getting ready and Patsy had come back from the bathroom in a stunning green pencil dress, her hair cascading loosely over her shoulders, Delia had feared her jaw might literally hit the floor. The redhead looked absolutely spectacular. Delia had proceeded to take an extra fifteen minutes in the bathroom in a desperate attempt to try to make herself look especially presentable. She wasn’t sure she’d succeeded until she’d returned to her room and Patsy had told her she looked ‘magnificent’. Patsy had actually said that! To her! She’d practically floated down the stairs on a cloud.

And now they were here with the whole town, and everyone seemed to be taking Patsy’s presence in stride. Delia had felt certain that everyone would see through their ruse instantly, but people seemed to be taking the existence of their relationship at face value. She, little old Delia, had brought this astoundingly gorgeous woman to the Welsh language carol service, and no one had even batted an eye. It made Delia giddy to think about.

It also seemed to have given her college friends a way to relate to her. Most of them had been coupled up for ages and they’d spent the last several years treating Delia’s singleness with a level of pity she found highly annoying. But now that they thought Delia was with someone too, they were treating her with a new kind of respect, a fact Delia had consciously decided to simply enjoy.

The downside of this newfound acceptance, however, was that they kept wanting to include Delia in all of their conversations and group photographs. Delia begrudgingly acquiesced to their requests, even though she hated abandoning Patsy. Luckily, she’d still managed to spend a good part of the evening by Patsy’s side, which was fortunate because whenever Delia was called away, her tad kept whisking Patsy away and forcing her to talk to all of the village’s most boring residents. Surprisingly, Patsy didn’t seem to mind, and eventually, Delia had relaxed.

Really the only moment of panic had been when she’d glanced over to see Patsy talking to her mam and Sioned, a situation which seemed to Delia to quite solidly be a worst-case scenario. She’d quickly leapt to the rescue, even though it didn’t appear that Patsy had actually needed it. In fact, if Delia had been reading her correctly, Patsy was a little sad to have been dragged away, which was truly baffling.

Delia simply couldn’t believe how comfortable Patsy seemed. Every time Delia glanced at her, she looked perfectly poised, with a charming smile and warm eyes. And when Delia would make her way back across the room to be with her, Patsy’s smile would become all the more radiant, her eyes twinkling with an unmistakable happiness, and even though Delia knew it was because she was the only person at the party Patsy actually knew, it made her stomach flip every single time.

She blamed that feeling of buzzing giddiness for having been forward enough to sneak a pastry off of Patsy’s plate and playfully wrestle with her a bit. And Patsy had seemed quite receptive to what really was an extremely flirtatious move, which had given Delia just the slightest glimmer of hope. Though she reminded herself that Patsy was most likely being patient because they were in a room full of people who thought they were dating. After all, Patsy had made it clear throughout the evening that she could be disarmingly charming when she needed to be. But still, giggling with Patsy over the last pastry had been thrilling, and Delia desperately wanted to be by Patsy’s side now.

But instead, she was stuck here in this circle of women as Liliwen held court. After declaring she had the funniest story to tell, Liliwen had launched into a tale of how she’d seen Mrs Hughes going to the shops in a track suit with rollers in her hair. Delia found the story neither funny nor particularly compelling, but everyone else was listening with rapt attention, so she didn’t feel like she could leave.

Given that she was stuck here, Delia took the opportunity to really look at Liliwen, honestly feeling a bit transfixed as she animatedly described Mrs Hughes’ outfit. How on earth had she ever allowed herself to be so hung up on this woman? Sure, she was beautiful, and her easy self-assurance was certainly a bit magnetic, but she was so incredibly self-involved and shallow and just…unkind. As Liliwen said something disparaging about Mrs Hughes and threw head back in laughter, Delia felt a revulsion build in her gut. She couldn’t quite believe just how unworthy of her affections Liliwen was.

The only excuse Delia could think of for the poor taste of her college self was that Tenby was small and she’d had no real idea of what other options were out there. If she’d known people like Patsy existed, she’d never have given Liliwen the time of day.

Eventually, Liliwen finished her story and glanced around the circle expectantly. Everyone else laughed gamely, their faces ranging from appeasing to genuinely amused and Delia felt confused. Did people really think that was funny? She knew Tenby wasn’t London, and that Mrs Hughes garnered very little respect in town, but going shopping in casual clothing couldn’t possibly be that scandalous.

‘It sounds as if Mrs Hughes was simply trying to be comfortable. It was only a trip to the shops.’ It came out of her mouth before Delia really had a chance to consider the wisdom of contradicting Liliwen in front of everyone.

Liliwen looked at her in surprise for the briefest moment before giving a light, bubbly laugh and reaching out to run her hand down Delia’s arm. Back when she was in school, Delia would have been thrilled to have made Liliwen laugh, but she hadn’t meant her comment to be a joke and she felt herself turn red with embarrassment. Her mind raced, trying to figure out how to assert herself, but before she had a chance to respond, Liliwen reached out and wrapped a tendril of Delia’s hair around her finger, twirling it lightly as she leaned in close.

‘Oh Delia, I’d forgotten how funny you are.’

Delia was shocked by how visceral her reaction was. Liliwen was so close to her, and Delia felt paralyzed by a rush of old insecurities that froze her to the spot. She felt like she was back in college again, unable to stand up for herself in the face of Liliwen’s flirting. She wanted Liliwen to stop touching her, but she didn’t know how to have that happen without seeming rude or telegraphing how uncomfortable she was. She felt like the meek, powerless version of herself, and she hated it.

Suddenly, as quickly as Liliwen’s hand had been at her hair, it was gone, and Delia felt the presence of a new person joining the circle to her left. She glanced up and felt a palpable sense of relief flow through her as she saw that Patsy had joined the circle. Delia wasn’t fully sure why Patsy was there, but she was so thankful that she was.

Unconsciously, Delia shuffled closer to Patsy, not only to move further away from Liliwen, but also because Patsy felt like a tangible reminder of who Delia had the capacity to be. Someone who was confident and determined and impressive. Someone who Patsy was proud of.

Patsy looked confidently and appraisingly around the circle before speaking, her voice assured, ‘I’m sorry I haven’t been able to introduce myself to all of you sooner. It’s such a delight to get to meet so many of Delia’s childhood friends. I’m Patsy.’ She gave the group a charming little wave before turning to her left, and making expectant eye contact with Berwyn.

‘Oh…’ Berwyn, profoundly unused to being the first person addressed, seemed flustered for a moment before clearing her throat, ‘I’m Berwyn. I didn’t actually know Delia that well in school, but I married her school friend Griffith, so I’ve gotten to know her a bit since then. It’s nice to meet you.’

Patsy smiled at her warmly before looking at Lynn, who was to Berwyn’s left. As the women in the circle began introducing themselves, one-by-one, Delia noticed that Griffith had come to stand next to Berwyn and was eyeing Patsy with curiosity. Griffith hated these kinds of conversations, and Delia wondered why he was here. Maybe he just wanted to meet Patsy?

Finally, the introductions reached Liliwen, who’d been waiting with barely-veiled impatience for everyone else to finish. She raised herself to her full height, and while her tone was friendly, it was also commanding, ‘And finally, I’m Liliwen.’

‘Last but not least, I’m sure.’ Patsy was smiling, but her tone was unexpectedly dry, which struck Delia as odd.

Liliwen’s bubbly laugh rang out again, ‘Quite right. It’s wonderful to finally meet you Patsy.’ She gestured to the group as a whole, ‘We’ve been wondering if we were ever going to get a chance to talk to you. You’ve been quite the popular conversation partner tonight. It must be fun, getting to be the centre of everyone’s attention.’

Patsy shrugged, her voice disarmingly light, ‘Not really. I’ve always found that needing to be the centre of attention is a sure sign of crippling insecurity.’

There was a beat or two of uncomfortable silence before Patsy turned to Berwyn and cheerily said, ‘Berwyn, that dress of yours really is gorgeous. I’ve been admiring it all evening.’

Berwyn broke out into a beaming smile and began gushing about how Griffith had bought her the dress for her birthday, but Delia wasn’t listening closely. Instead, she was casting anxious glances towards Liliwen, who was looking at Patsy with a combination of befuddlement and irritation.

Delia wondered if Patsy had any idea how very pointed that comment was. Liliwen had spent her entire life striving to ensure she spent every possible moment with everyone’s eyes on her, and at this point everyone in the group had long-resigned themselves to humouring her. But Patsy had paid Liliwen the exact same amount of attention as everyone else, and Liliwen seemed profoundly uncertain of how to react.

After asking Berwyn a few follow-up questions and listening raptly to the responses, Patsy looked at Lynn and, with complete sincerity, said, ‘And Lynn, your hair looks absolutely spectacular. What product do you use to get that kind of volume?’

Lynn flushed with pleasure and began outlining her surprisingly intense hair-care regimen.

As this pattern continued, with Patsy complimenting each woman in turn and then asking interested follow-up questions about their hair or nails or lipstick colour, Liliwen became more and more clearly flustered. Delia wasn’t sure she’d ever gone this long being completely ignored. But given Patsy’s earlier comment, she couldn’t shift attention to herself without looking profoundly insecure.

Really, Patsy had managed to light upon the perfect comment to render Liliwen almost completely powerless, and it was shockingly satisfying to witness.

As she watched Liliwen gracelessly stand and stew, it struck Delia how patently obvious it should always have been that what came across as self-assurance was probably insecurity. Lord, how had her teenage self been so blind?

She glanced across the circle to Griffith, who was observing Liliwen with a barely contained glee. Griffith had always resented how Liliwen treated others, and Delia imagined he was ecstatic to get to see her get a modicum of comeuppance. Delia had to admit it was nice that, for once, Liliwen was the uncomfortable one.

Finally, Patsy reached Liliwen, and with a smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes, said, ‘And I hear congratulations are in order on your engagement.’

Obviously relieved at having the attention on her again, Liliwen puffed up with pride, ‘Oh yes, my boyfriend Cledwyn proposed last month. I don’t know if you’ve heard the story yet, everyone was talking about it.’ Without waiting for a response, she launched into a detailed retelling of the proposal.

Delia watched, fascinated, as Patsy’s body language shifted ever so slightly as she listened to Liliwen. With everyone else, there had been an ease, and while Patsy’s smile remained, the warmth was gone from her eyes and her bearing had the slightest bit more tension, her jaw noticeably clenched.

That was odd.

Wait a moment…what if Patsy’s biting comment hadn’t been accidental?

Patsy narrowing her eyes slightly as Liliwen laughed at her own joke confirmed Delia’s suspicions – Patsy had purposely been trying to make Liliwen uncomfortable.

But how had she known exactly what to say? And why would she want to torment Liliwen? What could Patsy possible have against…

Suddenly, it hit her. Patsy had shown up just after Liliwen had touched her. Had Patsy seen Liliwen touching her? Could…could Patsy possibly be jealous?

This caused a whole new rush of feelings as Delia stared up, watching Patsy listen intently to Liliwen’s tale. If Patsy was jealous, did that mean Patsy wanted to be the one touching her? Delia felt her heart pick up its pace as a flush crept up her cheeks. She imagined Patsy running her hand down her arm; taking a strand of her hair and twirling it slowly around her finger as she leaned in to whisper in Delia’s ear. Even imagining it took her breath away.

Delia was roused from her stupor as Patsy cocked her head to the side, her tone inquisitive, ‘That certainly sounds like quite the charming proposal. Had you two been together long before he popped the question?’

Liliwen gave a perfunctory nod, ‘For quite a few years. He’s hinted he wanted to propose before, but I played coy about whether I’d say yes until I was sure he’d planned something appropriately impressive. After all, when it comes to matters of love, you have to make them work for it.’

Patsy gave a small shrug, ‘I’ll have to take your word for it. I’ve always felt that hearts were much too fragile to toy with…I simply don’t have the constitution for pulling someone along and playing with their affections,’ she paused for one or two loaded beats before shooting Liliwen a disarming smile, ‘Then again, I’ve never had to reckon with the hearts of men, which I understand are a different beast entirely.’

Her last phrase was directed at Griffith, who raised his glass of wassail in a toast, ‘I can certainly vouch for that.’

Delia watched, rapt, to see how Liliwen would respond. If Patsy’s previous comment had been pointed, that one had been a fairly direct criticism, and she couldn’t imagine Liliwen would allow it to go unaddressed.

Liliwen simply stared at Patsy for a moment, looking uncertain, before taking a deep breath and breezily responding, ‘Yes, they really are quite different. You should be glad you don’t have to bother with them.’

‘Oh I am. Every day.’

They stared somewhat challengingly at each other for a moment before Liliwen pointed towards the refreshment table, ‘Well, I really should get something to drink before the singing starts. I’m absolutely parched. It was lovely meeting you Patsy. Shall we, ladies?’

Delia couldn’t quite believe Liliwen had capitulated so easily, until she looked around the circle and noticed that some of the other women actually seemed uncertain whether they should follow her away. Delia was astounded. Over the course of one ten-minute interaction, Patsy had managed to almost completely subvert Liliwen’s authority with remarkable precision.

Then again, it really shouldn’t have been that surprising. As a bartender, Delia knew how powerful making someone feel special and listened to could be. Patsy had simply called out Liliwen’s shortcomings while giving everyone else compliments and attention.

Undoubtedly realizing that Liliwen was here to stay in Tenby while Patsy was only a visitor, everyone except Griffith and Berwyn eventually followed Liliwen to the refreshment table. Though they each took a moment to tell Patsy how happy they were to meet her before skittering off.

As soon as the others had left, Berwyn turned excitedly towards Patsy and began rapidly asking questions about babies. It appeared that the rumour mill had been churning and Patsy’s status as a midwife was now general knowledge.

Patsy seemed more than happy to humour Berwyn’s questions, and Griffith eyed his wife indulgently for a moment before making his way towards Delia, who steeled herself as he approached. She’d been actively avoiding him this evening because she knew that, unlike everyone else here, he’d be unreservedly excited for her supposed relationship, and that made the fact that it was all a charade harder to hide. Also, as her self-designated wingman when she was in Wales, he’d undoubtedly be a bit hurt that he hadn’t heard of her apparent girlfriend until now.

He pulled up beside her, eyebrows raised, ‘Well, that was certainly something, wasn’t it?’ his tone was transparently delighted.

Before Delia could respond, someone at the far end of the room called out that the service was about to begin, and people should begin making their way towards the chapel.

Without warning, her mam appeared at her elbow, ‘Come on Delia, don’t dally. I don’t know if we’re going to be able to save the extra seat for very long.’ Her tone made it clear that she found this change from their usual carol service routine irritating.

Delia rolled her eyes, ‘Mam, they literally just made the announcement. We’re coming.’

Her mam huffed and shot off towards the chapel, apparently intent upon snagging one of the prime spots from which to be seen.

Delia and Griffith exchanged a glance before shaking their heads and chuckling. They began meandering slowly out of the community hall.

Griffith continued amiably, ‘Anyway, Patsy seems pretty great.’

Delia made a snorting noise, ‘Could you try telling that to my mam?’

He cocked his head to the side and shot her a befuddled look, ‘Delia, your mam was never going to like anyone you brought home. She wouldn’t be happy unless you were living in Tenby, preferably wrapped in bubble wrap. She’s a lost cause. Hell, she’s even more protective than my mam, and you remember how she treated Berwyn at the beginning.’

Delia gave a little snort, ‘Didn’t she call her ‘Batty Berwyn’ at one point?’

He nodded, ‘Among other things. She kept saying it was because she wanted the best for me, but really, she just didn’t like change,’ he paused and looked over at where Patsy and Berwyn were chatting as they walked a few metres ahead, a small, besotted smile on his face, ‘Take it from me, when you find someone who you click with, you just have to ignore your mam and focus on what’s important, and that’s making a connection with someone you could be with forever.’

Delia shot him a disbelieving look and jokingly looked behind him, ‘Alright, who are you and what have you done with the Griffith Roberts I know?’

He laughed, ‘I know, I know…it’s sappy. But it also happens to be true. Don’t get too tied up in what your mam thinks. I mean, you’re already doing so many of the things you used to dream of when we were in college…living in London, training to be a nurse. If you’ve also managed to find a wonderful woman who you want to be with and who wants to be with you? Well, that would just make you the luckiest girl in the world, wouldn’t it? Don’t let your mam get in the way.’

Delia simply stared him, honestly a bit taken aback, ‘Wow. Who knew marriage would make you…mature?’

He chuckled, ‘May miracles never cease.’

They caught up with Patsy and Berwyn, who had stopped to wait for them at the entrance to the chapel. After deducing that their families had, unsurprisingly, stationed themselves at opposite sides of the room, Griffith waved her off, ‘See you after the service, Deels.’

‘Ooo! Deels. I like that.’

Delia turned to Patsy with a glare, ‘Don’t you dare.’

‘What? It’s cute.’

‘I’m short enough as it is…I don’t need a shortened name.’

Patsy shot her a mischievous smirk that sent butterflies whirling in Delia’s stomach, ‘That doesn’t mean it’s not cute.’

Delia narrowed her eyes and shot Patsy what she hoped was an intimidating scowl, though judging by the redhead’s self-satisfied smile, it wasn’t particularly menacing.

Reaching the pew, they were each given a long, tapered candle to hold as they sung, and the low, romantic lighting it cast across Patsy’s face did nothing to calm the swarm of butterflies.

Settling in, Delia passed Patsy one of the programmes her mam handed to her, choosing to ignore her impatient huff as she did so.

The service started, and while Patsy knew the tune, and gamely tried to sing along, it soon became clear that she wasn’t going to be able to pick up the Welsh pronunciations by osmosis. Half a song in, she simply resorted to humming, a choice Delia assured her was alright with a light shoulder bump and a reassuring smile.

The evening moved on, song after song, occasionally broken by short prayers or readings, and while Delia tried to concentrate on the singing, her mind kept wandering to the woman next to her.

It was shocking, how safe and content being near Patsy made her feel...like she was capable of being the very best version of herself.

And what if…what if Patsy had been jealous? What if she’d wanted to be the one close to Delia, touching her? She’d certainly been receptive when Delia had wrestled with her over the final pastry. Delia felt a sudden intense desire to wrap her arm around Patsy again, to hold the redhead close here in the chapel, surrounded by music and light and holiday warmth.

Holding herself back, she instead glanced up to take in Patsy’s face, currently squinched adorably in concentration as she tried to decipher the Welsh words. The candlelight was casting a warm, golden glow on her perfectly smooth skin. God, she was so impossibly beautiful.

Delia felt an unbidden yearning build up in her, one that was entirely inappropriate for the time and place. As she looked back down at her programme, trying desperately to focus on her singing, it fully dawned on her just what serious trouble she was in.

Chapter Text

Patsy stared in the mirror as she removed her makeup, trying to tamp down the gnawing anxiety that was threatening to derail an otherwise pleasant night.

After all, it had been a good day; a great day, in fact. She’d gotten to make wreaths and decorate a tree and go to a carol service and generally spend an entire day firmly ensconced in holiday spirit. Thus far, this trip had been all she’d been hoping for in terms of festiveness. And it wasn’t even Christmas yet!

She’d also gotten to get so much closer to Delia…supporting her, making her feel better when she was sad, making her laugh. She’d never felt giddier than when she could set Delia shaking with laughter. Bringing that twinkle of joy to Delia’s eyes made Patsy’s stomach flip every time.

But still, she couldn’t silence the voice that told her she’d allowed her emotions to get away from her, and as a result she’d been unspeakably rude. Not that she was worried about Liliwen’s feelings…she hoped the queen bee felt thoroughly chided. Rather, she was concerned about how her behaviour may have affected Delia.

Delia had simply been pleasantly chatting with her friends when Patsy had descended like some kind of avenging angel, one that had been neither asked for nor needed. If Delia had been bothered by Liliwen’s actions, she could easily have handled it herself. Patsy had seen her dispatch far more imposing foes with ease at The Poplar.

But instead of trusting Delia and giving her space, Patsy had butted in, purposely embarrassing Liliwen and perhaps unintentionally doing the same to Delia. Which was mortifying to consider. Delia, after all, needed to maintain relationships with these friends, and Patsy antagonizing the leader of their social circle surely wouldn’t help Delia in the future.

Worst of all, her motivations had been decidedly ignoble. It hadn’t even really been protectiveness that had driven Patsy, but rather a festering, seething jealousy. Delia deserved so much better.

And while Delia hadn’t seemed bothered by Patsy’s actions in the moment, that didn’t mean that she hadn’t been troubled by them. What if Delia was simply ruminating on her hurt feelings, letting them fester into anger and eventually disgust at Patsy’s behaviour?

Patsy knew that if she didn’t apologize right away, this small blip of anxiety would grow into a weight that would keep her up all night with its suffocating pressure. She needed to fess up, admit her error, and hope that Delia hadn’t been too put out. The problem was, how to do it? She couldn’t tell Delia she’d done it because she was jealous. She’d have to come up with another way to describe her feelings. Protective? No, that made it sound like she thought Delia couldn’t protect herself. She wracked her brain in search of an appropriate emotion to blame for her actions, but she kept drawing a blank. She’d just have to trust she’d think of it when she needed to.

She felt exhaustion overcome her as she yawned. Today had been fun, but it had also been very full. If she was going to survive an entire day of navigating pretending to date in front of Delia’s family while also not slipping and revealing her true feelings, she desperately needed to get some sleep.

But first, she needed to apologize and hope that Delia would be willing to forgive her.

 

____________________

 

Having finally convinced her unusually talkative tad that she needed to get some sleep, Delia shuffled into her room to gather her night clothes in preparation for using the bathroom once Patsy returned from her own evening ablutions. The carol service had mercifully ended without any further drama, and for the most part Delia was happy with how it had gone.

As she walked by her desk, she was pulled from her musings when she noticed that a wreath had been placed on top of it. Looking more closely, she realized that it was, in fact, her tad’s mistletoe wreath, along with a short note.

Your mam was threatening to toss this in the bin, so I thought it might be safest in here. Have fun!

Delia smiled down at the note as she let out a long sigh, torn between whether her tad’s encouragement in terms of physical affection was sweet or mortifying. She’d just glanced around for a place to hide the wreath when Patsy returned to the room, eyeing her curiously.

‘What have you got there?’

Delia felt herself flush, ‘My tad’s mistletoe wreath. It appears his desire to be accepting knows no bounds.’

Patsy chuckled, ‘Better than the alternative, I suppose.’

‘True,’ Delia glanced down at it, ‘And I suppose it’s much better than him trying to ambush us with it tomorrow. He was relentless after Daffyd and Preeti got engaged.’

‘Oh yes. That would be mortifying. Can you imagine, being forced to kiss in front of everyone?’ Patsy trailed off towards the end of her statement, her face looking a bit flushed.

Delia felt herself turning red as she imagined just that, ‘You’re right, that would be terrible.’ She hoped her words came out with more conviction than she felt.

They stood for several beats staring awkwardly at each other, each of their faces slightly flushed. Delia was a bit taken aback by the tension that had descended over the moment, and her mind raced to dispel it. She cleared her throat and pointed towards the door.

‘Well…I’m going to head to the bathroom to get ready for bed. So that we can go to sleep. Big day tomorrow and all that.’

Patsy shook her head slightly, as if rousing herself from a fog, and nodded, ‘Of course. It’s all yours.’

Delia turned and placed the wreath back on her desk, but as she made her way to the door, Patsy’s voice stopped her. She sounded surprisingly apprehensive, ‘Delia? Before you go.’

‘Yes?’ The tension of the previous moment combined with Patsy’s sudden nervousness made Delia anxious.

Patsy leaned over and placed her dress and toiletries down gently on the bed before turning back to Delia, ‘I…well….I wanted to apologize for my behaviour at the carol service.’

Delia furrowed her brow, confused, ‘I think everyone understood why you weren’t singing along most of the time. You don’t speak Welsh.’

Patsy shook her head, ‘Not for that. For how I treated Liliwen.’

‘Liliwen?’ Delia felt her heart lurch. She absolutely did not want to talk to Patsy about Liliwen.

Patsy continued, looking a bit ashamed, ‘It’s just…Griffith told me about how Liliwen had strung you along in college and I’ve seen what straight girls like that can do, and I suppose I just got a little…angry? I’m sorry if I embarrassed you or made things difficult for the future. I didn’t mean to jeopardize your relationship with your friends…or with her.’

Delia felt her stomach clench. Oh God. Griffith had told Patsy about Delia’s feelings for Liliwen in college? She was going to murder him.

Panicked by thought that Patsy might think she still had feelings for Liliwen, Delia blurted out her response with a bit more of a frenzied tone than she intended, ‘Oh, don’t worry about Liliwen at all. I saw through her charade ages ago. Really. Before you joined the circle, I’d actually just been thinking about how ridiculous it was that I’d ever been interested in her.’

‘Really?’ Patsy looked both sceptical and, if Delia was reading her right, just the slightest bit hopeful. Though Delia may have just been seeing what she wanted to see.

She nodded her head vigorously, ‘Absolutely. When I came out, I think I was just…looking for someone to like, I suppose, and Liliwen was the most logical choice. She was popular and always the centre of things and she called me cute and encouraged it and I just kind of…fell for it. But I’m, well past that now, I assure you.’

Patsy eyed her for a moment before releasing a sigh, ‘Still, I shouldn’t have barged in and disrupted the conversation. I know you can handle yourself, and I came in and just…took over, I suppose, when you hadn’t asked me to. In order to teach a lesson to someone I don’t even know; someone who was a friend of yours. It was impulsive and presumptuous and…well…really quite rude. I’m sorry.’ Patsy looked ashamedly at the floor, poking the rug with her toe.

Delia felt an odd swell of affection as she took in Patsy’s earnest contrition. It was strange, in a place where she was so used to having almost no independence, to have someone so intent upon ensuring she maintained her autonomy. Someone who trusted her so fully to be able to advocate for herself. Delia found herself equally appreciating Patsy’s willingness to come to her defence and her belief that such a defence was ultimately unnecessary. Even if Delia had trouble believing the latter herself.

She cocked her head to the side, ‘You really believe that, don’t you?’

‘Believe what?’ Patsy looked confused.

‘That I can handle myself.’

Patsy furrowed her brow, ‘Of course. Why wouldn’t I?’

Delia considered this for a moment before sighing, ‘I appreciate the sentiment behind your apology, Patsy, but really, it’s completely fine. I didn’t feel like you were crossing any kind of line. The truth is, I didn’t want Liliwen touching me, but I didn’t know how to advocate for myself. It felt like I’d reverted back to being seventeen again. I was so incredibly grateful when you came to the circle. And honestly, I enjoyed you giving Liliwen the what for more than I’d like to admit.’

A brief smirk flitted across Patsy’s lips at this last statement before she went back to looking concerned, ‘You really didn’t feel like you could tell her to stop?’

Delia shook her head, feeling tendrils of insecurity begin to creep back in, ‘I’d just contradicted her and she’d laughed at me. The touching was a power play, I think. Because she knew it would throw me off. It’s frustrating that it worked so well.’ She looked down at the floor, not wanting to make eye contact with Patsy and see all of the faith the redhead had in her drain away.

There was a long moment of silence before Delia heard Patsy take a long, deep breath. When she spoke, her voice was gentle, ‘What would London Delia have done?’

Delia looked up, confused, ‘What?’

Patsy smiled softly, ‘Wales Delia was overwhelmed, but what do you think London Delia would have said, if she’d been there?’

Delia was about to respond that it didn’t matter because London Delia hadn’t been there, but her impatience must have shown on her face because Patsy held up her hand, stopping Delia before she had the chance.

‘I know it might seem foolish, but just…try. Close your eyes if it helps and imagine the version of you that’s behind the bar on a Wednesday night being suddenly here, in Tenby, at the carol service. What would she have done?’

Delia eyed her sceptically for a moment before sighing and deciding it didn’t hurt to try. She closed her eyes and first worked to imagine herself on a Wednesday at The Poplar. Making drinks for the midwives, chatting with Patsy, bantering with Val. Without her consciously realizing it, the insecurity began to ebb away, replaced by a trickle of confidence slowly but surely wending its way through her psyche.

Now, she thought of that Delia at the carol service, striding around the hall, chatting easily with people. How would that Delia have reacted to being laughed at? To being treated with so little respect? Imagining it, she felt anger bubble up in her. What right did Liliwen have to treat her, to treat anyone, like that?

Her voice was firm, ‘I would have told her that I hadn’t meant it as a joke. I would have turned and looking directly in Liliwen’s eyes and said Mrs Hughes might not be the most stylish person in Tenby, but no one deserves ridicule for what they wear to the shops. And if she tried to reach out, I would have stepped away and told her not to patronize me.’ It was astounding, how refreshing that felt to say.

Delia opened her eyes to see Patsy smiling warmly at her, ‘Yes, I imagine that’s quite close to what London Delia would have done.’

Delia stood, feeling a bit flabbergasted. She’d never even considered approaching Liliwen that way. It wasn’t who she was around Liliwen. But why not? Why couldn’t she be that version of herself around her college friends?

As if reading her mind, Patsy spoke, a glimmer of mischief in her eye, ‘London Delia doesn’t stay in London when you come here, you know. That version of you is always there. And quite frankly, I wouldn’t have minded if she’d made an appearance at the service because that would have been delectable to watch.’

Delia laughed, ‘Speaking of delectable to watch, how did you know exactly what to say to throw Liliwen off so thoroughly?’

Patsy shrugged, ‘I’ve seen Liliwen’s type before. They’re not that hard to figure out. They feed off attention, so it’s fairly easy to rattle them.’

‘Well, I’d say your efforts on that front were an astonishing success. She seemed completely nonplussed.’

Patsy looked a bit embarrassed, ‘Do you think I pushed it too far?’

Delia shook her head, ‘Not at all. Really, you were impressively restrained,’ she paused for a moment before smirking, ‘Anyway, maybe it’ll encourage her to engage in some much-needed self-reflection.’

Patsy hummed non-commitally and shot her a dubious look before they both snorted and devolved briefly into giggles.

Patsy reached down, picked up her dress, and made her way around the bed to her suitcase, ‘Well, as long as I didn’t embarrass you.’

‘Not at all.’

‘Good.’ Patsy gave an adorable little half smile and leaned down to tuck her dress carefully back into her suitcase.

Delia turned to leave when Patsy’s voice stopped her again, though this time there was no trace of nervousness.

‘Delia? Very quickly before you go…I’m afraid you weren’t wrong about the house being an icebox. Is there another blanket we could put on the bed for this evening?’

‘Oh gosh…I’m so sorry. Did you have trouble sleeping?’

‘Oh no, it was nothing that serious…and the bed really is quite comfortable. It was simply the slightest bit cold last night as I was falling asleep.’

Delia smiled, relieved that the arctic nature of their house hadn’t prevented Patsy from getting a good night’s rest, ‘In that case, I think another extra-fluffy blanket will do just the trick. I’ll grab one.’

Patsy returned her smile, ‘Thank you, that will be lovely.’

 

***********

Delia lay in bed, trying to calm down her racing mind as she listened to Patsy’s breathing even out as the redhead drifted off to sleep. Delia had to admit, the extra blanket certainly made the bed much toastier. But so far it hadn’t been helping her to fall asleep, her brain insisting on running through the events of the day over and over.

The more she thought about it, the more she realized that it had actually been a fairly good day. Her fight with her mam had been an obvious low point, but on the whole, things had progressed rather smoothly. Sure, winning over her mam had been the entire point of this charade, but maybe that would simply take a bit more time. They had all day tomorrow, after all.

In the meantime, her parents and friends didn’t seem to doubt that her relationship with Patsy was genuine. And, with the unimportant exception of Liliwen, Patsy seemed to have successfully charmed almost everyone. Even Griffith had seemed quite taken with her, which was unusual for him, as he tended to be rather endearingly protective. Unlike her mam, who was obnoxiously protective.

Delia sighed as she stared at the ceiling. Would her mam ever warm to the idea of a girlfriend? Or was this little dance of attempting to convince her mam not everyone was out to get her destined to be a lifelong endeavour?

She mulled over Griffith’s words, that if someone was worth it, she’d shouldn’t worry about her mam’s opinion. Delia considered that possibility: simply…not caring what her mam thought. It actually seemed a plausible enough solution when she was in London, but when she was in Wales? She tried to imagine herself as London Delia here, breezily walking through the house, simply letting her mam’s judgemental barbs and disapproving stares roll off of her. She shook her head. It might have worked imagining it with Liliwen, but with her mam, it felt impossible.

Then again, she thought about how differently she felt when Patsy was by her side. How much more comfortable…more capable…braver. If Patsy was the person she was with, could she not care about her mam’s opinion? Would Patsy be worth taking that step?

Delia smiled as she thought about Patsy…about how kind she had been, how supportive, how utterly gorgeous. Ignoring her mam’s opinions would be incredibly difficult, but for Patsy it would be worth trying.

Not that she was ever going to get that opportunity.

Right?

Delia turned her head, and stared at the sleeping redhead’s back. Before, Delia hadn’t really allowed herself to hope, but today had made it harder to silence the tiny voice in the back of her head that said maybe…just maybe…there was something there. Though she couldn’t discount the very real possibility that she was simply seeing what she desperately wanted to see. After all, friends could be kind and supportive…but did friends get jealous enough to need to apologize for their actions?

But was it really jealousy? At first, Delia had thought so, but she hadn’t known Griffith had told Patsy about her past with Liliwen. Could Patsy have just been being protective? Friends could definitely be protective.

Well, even if she was just being protective, that didn’t change the fact that Patsy had said she was impressive. And that she was proud of her. Gorgeous midwife Patsy had said that! About her!

Considering, Delia realized that it felt a bit odd now, to think of Patsy that way. Slowly but surely since they’d gotten on the train yesterday, Patsy had transitioned from Gorgeous Midwife Patsy to simply…Patsy. She was this beautiful, caring, complex person who wasn’t some unattainable idea, but just…another person. Well, a particularly wonderful one, but an approachable person nonetheless. It was a small but significant shift in her thinking. One that made Patsy seem so much more real.

If Delia thought about it, she knew this was exactly the kind of shift in thinking that Patsy was asking her to make with her mam. To not think of her as ‘Terrifying Controlling Mam’, but as a person with quirks and foibles like anyone else.

Delia closed her eyes and tried to imagine her mam as Eilwen, just any other woman visiting the shops. Trying to get their shopping done. Picking up last minute things for dinner.

She furrowed her brow.

Why was this so hard? Her mam didn’t even seem like an Eilwen. She was a Mam.

Delia grumbled and turned onto her side facing away from Patsy. She didn’t want to think about her mam anymore, it just made her stressed. She wanted to think about something that made her happy.

Naturally, her thoughts wandered back to Patsy. The redhead might have been being protective rather than jealous, but the tension in the room when they’d discussed the mistletoe wreath wasn’t something she’d imagined. It was possible Patsy was feeling tense because she was horrified by the idea of kissing Delia…but the increasingly loud, hopeful voice in Delia’s head told her that it hadn’t felt like that kind of awkwardness. It had felt like the kind of tension where Patsy was thinking about kissing Delia too.

Delia wondered what kissing Patsy would feel like. She bet it would feel amazing and perfect and like a dream. She wondered if Patsy daydreamed about kissing her too. That was a nice thought.

Maybe Patsy wanted so badly to kiss her, that tomorrow she wouldn’t be able to contain herself. Maybe, Delia would walk into a room, running some kind of errand for her mam, and Patsy would be there, charming a member of Delia’s family, and then she would look at Delia and say, ‘Delia, I just can’t stand this charade anymore. I need to kiss you. Please say that I can,’ and her eyes would be so full of yearning, and Delia would smile up at her and say, ‘Oh Patsy, I’ve been waiting for you to ask!’ and then Patsy’s face would break out in just the biggest smile and she’d step forward and whisk Delia up in her arms into a fiery kiss full of unspoken longing, and it would be so passionate that the rest of the world would simply fall away, and then they’d –

Delia was suddenly roused from her imaginings by Patsy mumbling lightly and shifting in her sleep.

Shit.

Now, when she was sharing a bed with the subject of her fanciful daydreams, was the absolute worst time to be letting her mind wander like that. She needed to get her hormones under control.

She groaned and rolled over onto her back, trying to think of literally anything else. She settled on trying to recall lists of facts on her recent nursing exam. Best practices for preventing bacterial infections. Common causes of sepsis. How to encourage adherence to antibiotic regimens.

But no matter how hard she tried to distract herself, the side nearest Patsy felt like it was tingling in anticipation of something she simply couldn’t allow herself to hope would ever actually happen.

She rolled back over onto her side.

No, she couldn’t keep lying to herself. Whether she wanted it to be or not, there was definitely hope there.

Everyone kept saying that she was the luckiest girl in the world, and for the first time, she felt like she could imagine a future where that would feel close to being true. A future forging a deep, true connection with Patsy. And she didn’t want to let that dream go. It was too exhilarating of a possibility.

She stared at the darkened shape of the wreath on her desk. That tension. It had been so palpable. And while it had been awkward at the time, in retrospect, the potential implications were quite exciting.

No, this was simply too thrilling of a prospect not to investigate further. Somehow, she needed to determine if Patsy liked her too. She wouldn’t do anything too rash or too forward…after all, she’d still be trapped here with Patsy if she was wrong…but there were little things she could do. Patsy had been being flirtier, after all. Surely Delia could push just a bit more.

But for now, she needed to try to get some sleep. There was no way she was going to survive a day with her family and Patsy tomorrow if she hadn’t gotten some solid rest. She focused on taking deep breaths, willing her mind to calm down and stop running through every interaction she’d had with Patsy since they’d boarded the train.

Eventually, Delia was able to drift off, warming herself with the thought that tomorrow she might be able to determine if Patsy would make her dreams a reality.

Chapter Text

Delia awoke before dawn, able to tell even with her eyes closed that the sun wasn’t yet peeking in through her bedroom window. She was a bit surprised to be awake so early after their late night, but it was Christmas after all, and she couldn’t help the feeling of excitement that rushed through her at the thought. Her hazy mind thought of the presents and time with her brother’s family and the delicious Christmas goose that she had to look forward to. The very thought of it filled her with warmth.

When she shifted slightly she had the realization that it wasn’t just holiday thoughts that were warming her. There was also a far more concrete, tangible source of heat. She felt an icy bolt of dread shoot through her when she fully registered that she was very much snuggled up against Patsy, the entire front of her body pressed against the sleeping redhead’s back.

She froze, not even daring to breath, hoping beyond hope that Patsy was still asleep. She calmed a fraction when she’d heard Patsy’s soft, regular breathing. The redhead was fast asleep, thank God.

A brief, careful check confirmed Delia’s greatest fears: she was fully on Patsy’s side of the bed, having apparently made her way over in her sleep to nuzzle up against the back of her sleeping friend. Delia recognized that she needed to get out of this situation immediately. Sure, she’d decided to test if Patsy liked her too, but having the redhead wake up with Delia pressed up against her was about ten steps too far.

She began scooting backwards at a glacial pace, trying desperately to put some distance between them without disturbing Patsy’s slumber. Delia made it about an inch, not even enough to put a respectable amount of space between them, when Patsy released an irritated grumble and shuffled back into her, bringing their bodies together again.

Delia was utterly paralyzed by the joint rushes of pleasure and panic that coursed through her as Patsy released a contented mumble and began softly snoring once more. Patsy had snuggled into her! Patsy had actually pushed herself backwards into Delia! So they were touching! In bed! It was like something out of one of Delia’s daydreams.

But it was also, unequivocally, a disaster. Delia had snuggled into an unwitting Patsy, and then, undoubtedly driven by the cold, Patsy had done something that she would’ve been mortified by if she hadn’t been asleep. There was absolutely no way that Patsy could wake up with them in this position. Despite Delia’s firm desire to remain exactly where she was, she knew she needed to get out of this bed, or at least away from physical proximity to Patsy, as quickly as possible.

Assuming it had been even the infinitesimal rush of frigid air that had disturbed Patsy’s slumber, Delia reached back extremely slowly to gather a handful of blankets. She began scooting back in miniscule increments, carefully tucking the blanket between them as she went. She held her breath each time she moved, hoping beyond hope that Patsy wouldn’t wake up before Delia had had a chance to move away a respectable distance.

Luckily, after what seemed like hours of heart-pounding anxiety, Delia had managed to entirely extricate herself. However, with all of the blankets now tucked snugly around Patsy’s sleeping form, Delia was left with little option but to begin her day. Though it wasn’t as if she’d get any more sleep now anyway; she felt far too wired from her early-morning adrenaline burst.

She quickly gathered up some comfortable clothes and her toiletries and made her way to the bathroom where she stood staring at herself in the mirror.

That had been perilously close to being the biggest disaster of Delia’s young life. What if Patsy had woken up? Delia might’ve literally died of embarrassment.

She sighed and began her morning ablutions. This entire situation had obviously been caused by her daydreams last night. After all, she’d never done anything like this before. Tonight, she needed to make absolutely sure she kept her mind off of Patsy as she fell asleep.

She shook her head and grumbled. As if that was going to be possible. No, she’d just have to get another blanket and cocoon herself in it to prevent any cross-bed expeditions. And if Patsy thought that was odd, she’d just say she was cold. Her room was frigid, after all.

Delia began brushing her teeth, wondering what all of this meant for her plans to deduce if perhaps Patsy liked her too. After all, if by the end of the day today she suspected that Patsy might be interested in her, keeping herself from subconsciously snuggling might prove almost impossible.

She froze mid-brush. What if Patsy had been subconsciously snuggling into her? Could this be the sign Delia had been looking for?

She furrowed her brow as she eyed herself incredulously. No, that was just too much hopeful thinking. Patsy had asked for an extra blanket, after all. She was undoubtedly cold.

But the little flip of excitement in her stomach at the possibility told Delia that, in reality, her heart had already decided there was no going back from her decision to test the waters a bit. After all, nothing had really changed. Patsy hadn’t woken. No harm had been done.

Delia finished brushing and spit into the sink, glancing back up and giving herself a hard look in the mirror. No, she wasn’t going to let herself back out of this. She wouldn’t be too obvious or push Patsy too hard, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t do some…investigating. And given that as soon as her brother’s family arrived things would get markedly more overwhelming, there seemed to be no time like the present.

 

_________________

 

Patsy woke with a vague feeling she couldn’t quite place that something was missing. The bed felt colder than it should, the air around her holding an unpleasant chill even under the layers of blanket. She turned slightly to find that she was alone, Delia’s side of the bed sitting empty. She felt affection flow through her as she realized that the blankets had been gently tucked in around her. Even though her efforts had been in vain, Delia had tried to keep her warm.

Turning over onto her back, she felt a pang of disappointment at not having woken up with Delia snuggled against her again, followed immediately by a chiding voice that reminded her she didn’t want a reprise of having to roll out of bed onto the floor. What a way that would be to start Christmas.

She felt a little fuzzy bolt of excitement shoot through her. Today was Christmas, and this year she was going to get to celebrate it surrounded by family and warmth…with a proper Christmas dinner and a festively decorated house and presents. She wondered what it would feel like, to spend the holiday encompassed by familial affection. Or at least, what she hoped would be familial affection. Heaven knew, Eilwen could decide to make today quite difficult if she wanted to. Though Patsy hoped her gift for the Busby matriarch would help to pacify her a bit.

Turning to look at the clock, Patsy noticed that it was about the same time she’d woken the day before, yet Delia was already awake. She furrowed her brow. During their relationship conversation, Delia had told her that she preferred having a lie-in when the situation allowed, and Patsy hoped her waking up unusually early wasn’t a sign of bad dreams or an uncomfortable night.

As if summoned by Patsy’s thoughts, the door opened and Delia’s head poked into the room. Upon seeing that Patsy was awake, her face broke out into a beaming smile.

‘Good Morning. Merry Christmas,’ she said softly as she stepped into the room.

‘Merry Christmas,’ Patsy beamed back, ‘You’re up early.’

Delia shrugged, ‘I always get excited for Christmas. I think I’ve been up before my parents every year since I was nine.’

‘I have to say, I’m quite excited for today’s festivities as well.’

Delia smiled warmly at her and turned to place her neatly-folded pyjamas and toiletries bag on her desk. As she leaned over, Patsy took in her comfy-looking jogger pants and oversized jumper. She looked absolutely adorable and so incredibly cosy and Patsy tamped down a sudden wild desire to whisk Delia into her arms for a morning cuddle, her longing to nestle into Delia’s undoubtedly soft, warm embrace almost overwhelming. She closed her eyes and gathered her thoughts for a moment. It appeared her hormones were no more under control than they had been yesterday. This needed to be remedied immediately, perhaps by vigorously splashing cold water on her face.

She opened her eyes and spoke brightly, ‘Well, I suppose I should run and freshen up before the big day begins.’

Delia’s face contorted in apology, ‘My mam was actually just going in as I came out, so you may have wait for a bit.’

‘Of course.’ Patsy grimaced internally. Leaving the room to face the day in her pyjamas with unkempt hair and sleep in her eyes was simply untenable, meaning she was trapped here with an adorable Delia and her apparently raging hormones.

Delia’s soft, questioning voice pulled her from her worries, ‘I thought that maybe we could exchange gifts while we wait? Mine aren’t really the kind of things you’d give someone you’d been dating for a year, so it might give the game away a bit if you open them in front of everyone.’

Patsy was immediately distracted. Presents! A wave of excitement swept over her. Presents were the part of Christmas she was the most excited about. She wanted to see people open her gifts…to see the happiness on their faces. It always made her so sad when Trixie had no interest in exchanging gifts. They seemed the perfect way to bring someone unfettered joy without actually having to emote.

‘That sounds like an excellent plan.’

Patsy hopped up and fetched Delia’s presents from her bag before settling back on the bed. Delia did the same, moving carefully onto the bed with the whatever she had retrieved hidden behind her back. Patsy stared down at the two envelopes she held in her hands, worried she had done something wrong. Should she have hidden them? She quickly shoved them under the pillow next to her, hoping that perhaps Delia hadn’t seen them yet. Given the amused smirk the brunette directed towards her, she hadn’t been successful in that regard.

Delia’s voice danced with mirth, ‘Alright, so. I have two things for you, one that’s bigger and one that’s just a small little thing. Which would you like first?’

‘Umm…’ Patsy was uncertain. She’d put a good deal of thought into giving presents, but almost none into receiving them, ‘Do you have a preference?’

‘Why don’t I give you the smaller one first? End with the grand finale.’

Delia brought her right arm around to the front and plopped a small, heavy, cylindrical package into Patsy’s hands.

Patsy inspected the item carefully, quite unprepared for the rush of emotion that accompanied the sensation of running her fingers along the smooth edges of the bright paper wrapping. Delia had gotten her a gift. Two gifts, in fact. Delia had sat and thought about Patsy…what she liked, what she might want…and gone out and gotten things for her. Barbara had given her a lovely gift when Patsy had gone to her house several years ago, but for some reason, this felt different. This was a gift from Delia. Patsy thought about all of the time she’d put into thinking about gifts for Delia, and the thought of Delia putting that much thought into her? Well, it was a bit overwhelming.

‘Are you going to open it?’

Patsy looked up to see Delia almost radiating with a barely-contained excitement as she bounced slightly on the bed.

She nodded and began carefully opening the packaging, being sure not to cause any tears in the paper. Removing the wrapping revealed the gift to be a roll of 50p coins. Patsy stared at it in confusion, unsure of why Delia would think she’d need coins.

‘They’re for the jukebox at The Poplar,’ Delia’s voice cut through Patsy’s thoughts, ‘I’ve noticed that sometimes you like to go look at the jukebox before coming to order a drink, but often you don’t seem to have coins to put in, so I got you some.’

Patsy stared back at the roll in her hand. She only went to the jukebox when she was waiting for Delia to be done helping someone else and she rarely put in coins, only bothering when she had to wait for an awkwardly long time. But Delia had noticed her. Had noticed that she didn’t put in coins, and had thought of a way to try to help Patsy enjoy something more. Patsy felt a kind of bubbling elation build up within her.

‘I…um…I hope it’s alright. I know it’s not much, but there should be enough for you to play a dozen songs or so…’

Patsy shook her head, roused from her stupor by the worry and uncertainty in Delia’s voice. She beamed at Delia unreservedly, ‘It’s wonderful. Sorry. I just…I didn’t know you noticed me by the jukebox.’

Delia’s furrowed brow eased up as she broke out into a happy grin, ‘Of course I noticed you. You’re very…noticeable.’

Patsy could feel herself blushing as she fiddled with the roll in her hands. Delia thought she was noticeable!

‘Well…thank you for the coins. It’s an incredibly thoughtful gift.’

‘I’m glad you like it. Would you like your real gift now? That was just the little one.’

As much as Patsy wanted to further explore the unexpectedly pleasant emotions brought forth by receiving gifts, she didn’t want to wait any longer to give Delia one of hers. To make Delia just as happy as she was now.

She shook her head, ‘I want to give you one of yours first,’ she pulled out the two envelopes, ‘I would say that rather than one big and one small, these are two medium-sized gifts, so I think you should choose which one you want to open first.’

Delia eyed the two envelopes with excitement as she shifted awkwardly on the bed, obviously placing Patsy’s other gift surreptitiously down behind her so both her hands were free. Leaning forward, she inspected them closely, squinting as she took in the bright holiday stickers neatly adorning the face of each one.

‘This one!’ Delia pointed to the red envelope, grabbing it eagerly and turning it over in her hands. She felt along it, squeezing it and giving it a few solid shakes, making adorable humming noises as she felt the envelope’s contents slide around. Patsy found the entire spectacle rather endearing.

Carefully prying the envelope open, she gently pulled out the contents, inspecting each piece one by one, her face getting more and more filled with wonder as she read over them. She looked up at Patsy with awe.

‘Patsy, this is amazing. I’ve been wanting to go to all of these cinemas.’

Patsy felt herself swelling with pride, ‘I know, you’ve mentioned some of them. I did a bit of additional research on the best cinemas in the East End, and tried to get a nice mix. Some of them are a bit far-flung, but at The Electric you get to sip cocktails in reclining armchairs that are apparently unbelievably comfortable, so I thought that might be worth the trek to Shoreditch.’

‘That sounds marvellous,’ Delia continued flipping through the gift cards, ‘And RichMix and Genesis and Hackney…Patsy, this really is incredible.’

‘There should be enough for four tickets at each cinema. So you can go four times or bring a group or go with someone twice.’

Delia glanced up at her, an eyebrow cocked and a curious look on her face. It seemed for a moment as if she were considering something rather serious before she shook her head slightly and looked back down at the gifts in her hands, a warm smile on her face, ‘That’s just…incredibly generous. Thank you so much. I’m really excited to use them. As you can imagine, there are a lot of good films out now that people in my film club are eager to discuss.’

Patsy felt like she was glowing. She’d chosen a good gift! As a warm feeling of pride flowed through her, she decided that giving gifts was amazing. She wasn’t going to let Trixie get away with refusing a gift next year.

‘You’re very welcome.’

Delia smiled up at her for a moment before putting the envelope to the side and reaching behind her, ‘Well, if that’s a medium-sized gift, I may have over-promised by calling your second one large, but here,’ she hoisted a package about the shape of a loaf of bread out from behind her back and placed it carefully on Patsy’s lap, ‘Merry Christmas.’

This time, as Patsy looked down at the present, she thrummed with anticipation. Delia’s last gift had been so wonderfully surprising, and Patsy was dying to know what else the brunette had gotten for her. She picked up the unexpectedly heavy package, preparing to copy Delia’s method of gift inspection, as it had looked quite fun.

‘Don’t shake it!’ Delia exclaimed, perhaps a bit louder than she’d intended. She looked embarrassed when she saw Patsy startle, ‘Sorry. It just looked like you might try to shake it and, well, you shouldn’t.’

Patsy gave an understanding nod, her curiosity piqued. So, it was something breakable. What could Delia have gotten her that was heavy and breakable? She removed the wrapping with surgical precision to reveal a Glenmorangie 25 year wooden scotch box. Patsy was a bit dumbfounded. This was an extremely expensive scotch. Maybe Delia had gotten it at a discount?

‘It’s not actually Glenmorangie, if that’s what you’re wondering. I just re-purposed the box from The Poplar. Remember when Phyllis wanted to set up that high-end tasting menu? It’s from that.’

Patsy was honestly relieved. She would have felt terrible if Delia had spent a fortune on something Patsy didn’t really want. She shot Delia a little smirk, ‘Oh good. It would have meant that I’d completely misjudged the price point of these gifts.’

Delia chuckled, ‘It also would have meant I’d won the national lottery.’

Patsy slowly opened the box to reveal four small glass jam jars, each with a little note tied to it. She picked one up to see that it had the words ‘Coriander Lemon Thyme Syrup’ written on it, along with a recipe.

Delia’s voice was quiet but brimming with enthusiasm as she spoke rapidly, ‘They’re three different syrups I’ve been experimenting with, and one new one I made just for you to try. The recipes are for cocktails I’ve come up with for you using them. You’ve mentioned you mostly have bourbon and gin at your flat, so I’ve used those as the base spirits. I’ve tried to echo the flavour profiles you’ve liked the most from other cocktails.’

Patsy picked up each jar individually, holding it reverentially as she examined the little labels, each written out in Delia’s neat script. She felt a lump build in her throat. Delia had made syrups for her, had designed cocktails for her, had spent what was probably a not insignificant amount of time thinking about her.

Tears gathered in her eyes as she lifted the final jar out of the box and read the label. ‘Patsy’s Lemongrass Ginger Jalapeño Syrup’. She’d been lightly pestering Delia for something with a tropical kick, but Delia had said those flavours wouldn’t sell well in the London market, especially during the colder months. But Delia had made it, just for her. She hadn’t had someone put this kind of thought into her since…well, since before. Patsy felt overwhelmed, unsure of how to express just how much all of this meant to her.

A slight nervousness seeped into Delia’s voice, ‘There are some suggestions on each for trying to put together some new cocktails. You always talk about how much you’d like to try making some more unusual cocktails on your own, but you don’t know where to start. So…well…I thought you could start with these.’

‘Delia, this…’ Patsy’s voice caught, and she paused for a moment to clear her throat, ‘this is just…so incredibly thoughtful.’

Delia seemed to sag a bit in relief, ‘So you like it?’

‘I love it.’ Swallowing down the lump in her throat, Patsy worked to compose herself. She didn’t need to break down into a blubbering fool and confuse Delia. She’d already made Delia worry twice that she didn’t like her gifts. ‘I’m sorry I keep worrying you. I just…I’ve never received such wonderful gifts before. I’m not,’ she reached up to wipe a tear that threatened to fall down her cheek, ‘I’m not very good at knowing how to respond correctly.’

Delia reached out and took Patsy’s hand in hers, giving it a little squeeze, ‘There’s no correct way to respond. I’m just happy you like them.’

Patsy shook her head, ‘Love them.’

Delia gave her a soft smile, ‘I’m happy you love them.’

Patsy closed her eyes and nodded, taking a deep breath and reining in her emotions. This was Delia. She needed to get a grip on herself so she didn’t embarrass herself further. She opened her eyes as she exhaled to see Delia looking at her affectionately. She gave Delia a shy smile and squeezed her hand in return, ‘Sorry. I was a bit…overwhelmed. Thank you so much for the syrups. I’m incredibly excited to try them. Especially the jalapeño one.’

Delia gave a little chuckle as she released Patsy’s hand and leaned back, ‘I thought you’d be pleased to see that one. Though fair warning, it’s probably going to be best with tequila, so you might have to get some for your flat.’

Patsy squinched her face in mock disgust, ‘Really, Delia. Trixie and I have a classy flat.’

Delia laughed, ‘And I can suggest some classy tequilas. Also, I maintain that your disdain for tequila is baffling. Really, some of the best –’

Patsy cut her off, her voice full of mirth, ‘I know, I know. Some of the best liquors you’ve tried this year are mezcals. You’re nothing if not tenacious. Fine. You can choose a classy tequila for our flat.’

Delia beamed at her with a gratified nod, ‘Good. I really think it’s the liquor that will make the syrup shine.’

‘Well, I would be remiss if I didn’t let your lovely gift shine. And speaking of gifts,’ feeling a slight bit nervous, Patsy picked up the remaining envelope and handed it to Delia, ‘Merry Christmas.’

She watched anxiously as Delia gave this second envelope the same careful inspection. Delia’s gift for her had been so incredibly thoughtful and wonderful and perfect, and Patsy hoped that hers didn’t pale in comparison. That it didn’t make Delia feel that Patsy didn’t care about her. After all, Delia had made syrups and created cocktails and fashioned an entire learning experience for her. All Patsy had done was…well…create little slips of paper. She hoped they would be enough.

Delia’s eyes danced with excitement as she popped the envelope open. Patsy began explaining as soon as Delia pulled out the small bits of cardstock and began flipping through them.

‘So, I know this next term is going to be particularly difficult with coursework and your first full rotation, and I know you live a bit far from the others in your cohort, so I spoke with some of the midwives and well…I created these little coupons for you. Each of them is for an hour-long personalized study session. To go over notes for your writtens or to discuss your practicals or to talk through issues that arise on your rotations.’

Delia was simply staring at the slips as she flipped through them, an entirely unreadable expression on her face, and Patsy felt a rising sense of panic, ‘It…umm…it isn’t because we think you’ll need help, necessarily. It’s just, training is hard, and it’s easier with a community, and I just thought…’

She trailed off when Delia vigorously shook her head, ‘I’m not insulted in any way, Patsy. This is incredibly kind and thoughtful. I’m so touched all of you would take time out of your schedules for me. I…I was just surprised because I suppose I still have trouble believing you guys want to hang out with a student bartender.’

‘Of course. We all love spending time in The Poplar with you and Val. You’re not just some student bartender. You’re our friend.’ Patsy was amazed by how quickly she’d gone from doubting that Delia would call her that to knowing, firmly and without a doubt, that she was Delia’s friend. It made her unspeakably happy.

She suddenly remembered the message she was supposed to relay, ‘Oh, and Chummy sends her apologies for only being able to promise an hour. It’s just that, with her mother to care for, she doesn’t have as much time right now as the rest of us.’

‘I understand completely. Any time at all from any of you is absolutely appreciated,’ Delia was was quiet for a long moment as she shuffled through the coupons, ‘Thank you so much for making me feel a part of your group.’

Patsy beamed with pride, ‘You’re very welcome. And I really hope you feel comfortable using them. They’re not an idle offer. We really are happy to help.’

Delia gave a little nod, fiddling with the coupons for a few moments before meeting her gaze, that odd look Patsy couldn’t quite place back on her face, ‘I…um…I couldn’t help but notice that there are an awful lot of coupons from you.’

Patsy could feel herself blushing. She’d spent an embarrassingly long time trying to determine the right number of coupons to give. Trixie, Barbara and Mary Cynthia had each given three, but this gift was from her, and she felt she should give at least a few more than that. She’d eventually decided on a number that was somewhere between the infinite amount of time she wanted to spend with Delia and the three hours others had volunteered. When she’d made the coupons, eight had seemed on the low side, weighted as it was against infinity, but, in this moment, she realized that that had probably been a bit much. She knew she should have asked Trixie for advice.

‘Umm…yes, well. Don’t feel the need to redeem all of them. I just…I wanted to show that I was available to help. With whatever you might need.’

Delia’s looked shifted to slight befuddlement, ‘Why wouldn’t I redeem them? Am I not supposed to?’

‘What? No!’ Patsy absolutely didn’t want Delia to think that, ‘You’re supposed to! It’s just…I know it’s a lot, and you absolutely don’t have to feel obligated.’

Delia’s face broke into a slightly nervous smile, ‘Oh, it’s not an obligation. I like spending time with you.’

Patsy’s stomach did a little flip. Delia liked spending time with her! She could tell that her face was still quite flushed, though this time with pleasure. She looked down, suddenly too shy to meet Delia’s eyes, ‘I like spending time with you, too.’

Patsy simply basked for a moment as joy mixed with relief flowed through her. Delia liked spending time with her. Delia had gotten her two amazing gifts that had made her feel so cared for. Delia had liked the gifts Patsy had gotten her. She couldn’t imagine a better start to her Christmas. She released a long, content sigh as she looked over at Delia, who was still fiddling with her coupons.

‘Thank you for the two amazing gifts, Delia. And I’m so pleased you like yours. It was fun thinking of them for you.’

Delia reached out and took Patsy’s hand in hers again. She kept her eyes fixed on their joined hands, her tone soft and shy, ‘Really, Patsy, these are two of the kindest, most thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received. I…,’ she trailed off, glancing up so her eyes met Patsy’s.

There was something in them that Patsy had never seen before, as if Delia was seeking an answer, but Patsy didn’t know what the question was. All she knew was that the way Delia was looking at her was making butterflies flutter wildly in her chest.

Suddenly, an excited knock on the door startled them both, abruptly ending the moment. Huw’s jovially exuberant voice sounded through the door.

‘Girls! Are you up? It’s Christmas!’

‘Yes, Tad. We’re up,’ Delia managed to sound both mildly irritated and affectionate at the same time.

‘Oh good. You two should come downstairs for breakfast and gifts. Daffyd, Preeti and the kids will be leaving their house at nine, and we want to be finished with our presents before they arrive.’

‘Alright. We’ll be right down.’

Delia turned to Patsy with an apologetic look as they heard him tromping down the stairs.

‘Sorry about that. He gets excited for Christmas too.’

Patsy smiled, ‘It’s not a problem. I’m also eager to continue the Christmas celebrations,’ she released Delia’s hand a bit reluctantly, ‘If it’s alright, I’m going to take a shower and spruce up a bit before breakfast and gifts.’

‘Of course. Just come down whenever you’re ready.’

Patsy nodded as she slid off the bed and gathered her things, tucking her gifts from Delia carefully into her bag. The fleeting confusion about the look Delia had given her was almost immediately overwhelmed by nervous anticipation about the day ahead. She was going to get to have a family Christmas…with a real family. With Delia’s family.

And yes, she’d have to pretend to be dating Delia in front of them, but it had gone so smoothly last night and Patsy couldn’t imagine it would be much more difficult today. They had a good story worked out, after all, and it’s not as if she’d have to fake caring about Delia.

Today, she was looking forward to simply being able to bask in the holiday spirit. To feeling that rush of pride as she gave Eilwen and Huw their gifts. To getting to spend the entire day with Delia. To enjoying being surrounded by family and decorations and Christmas warmth. She hadn’t had that kind of Christmas for as long as she could remember, and she felt a little burst of joy at the thought that this truly was shaping up to be the very best Christmas ever.

Chapter Text

Delia sat at the small kitchen table staring into her coffee as her mam’s endless repetitive chatter about dinner preparations flew over her head. The entirety of her focus was on the woman currently getting ready upstairs.

Eight hours.

Patsy had gifted her eight hours of her time.

Eight!

That was longer than one of her shifts at the Poplar. As long as a normal workday. And Patsy wanted to spend it with her. That had to mean something…right?

For what felt like the millionth time since Patsy had slid gracefully off the bed and headed to the bathroom, Delia kicked herself for losing her nerve. It had been right there. The most obvious possible opportunity. Patsy had said ‘I like spending time with you too’ and all Delia had to do was say ‘Do you want to maybe spend some time together at a movie?’ or ‘Maybe we could get dinner and talk about nursing?’ or…or…anything.

But instead she’d completely frozen, just staring down at the coupons in her hands, completely overwhelmed. Patsy’s gifts had been so generous and thoughtful and kind and Delia just…didn’t know how to respond. Words seemed completely insufficient to describe how wonderful it felt, to know Patsy had spent so much time thinking about her.

But still…she should have thought of something. And then Patsy had said picking out gifts for her had been fun, and it had given Delia the impetus she needed to try to put voice to her thoughts. And she’d gotten so close to saying something about her feelings. About how much it meant to her, to have Patsy think about her. About how important it was to her that Patsy be happy too. About how much she wanted them to be closer.

But by the time she’d actually convinced herself to speak, her tad had knocked on the door and the moment had been lost.

And she’d been berating herself ever since.

Because the signs were there…or at least, they seemed to be. Patsy had certainly blushed when Delia had told her she was noticeable. And when she’d given Delia the cinema gift cards, she’d said Delia could go with someone twice. Surely that was a leading statement… right? And Patsy had given her eight hours of coupons. Eight! And Delia hadn’t followed up with anything. What if Patsy had interpreted it as Delia not being interested?

She released a quiet groan. Why did all of this have to be happening when she was in Wales? Surely London Delia would have had a better idea how to handle this. Or she could have at least asked Val for help.

‘If you don’t want to make the bara brith this year, just say so, cariad. There’s no need to grumble. I saved it for you because you usually enjoy it.’

Delia’s head jerked up in response to her mam’s irritated voice. Her eyes darted in a panic between her mam, who was now facing her fully, a whisk whirring furiously in a bowl as she stared Delia down, and her tad, who was looking at her in bemusement from his place standing over the cooker calmly stirring porridge.

Oh no. What was going on? She tried to remember what might have been happening, but she’d been paying absolutely no attention. All she could manage was a confused, ‘What?’

Her tad chuckled, ‘In another world today, cariad?’

‘Umm…yes…sorry. I was just…,’ her mind raced, ‘thinking about Christmas things and I suppose my mind wandered. What were you saying about the bara brith?’

Her mam glared at her suspiciously, ‘Why were you grumbling about Christmas things?’

Delia could feel herself turning red under her mam’s intense scrutiny. She struggled to think of a plausible non-Patsy reason for her groaning, ‘I was just realizing that I’d…uhh…forgotten to wrap Bhavi’s present. So I have to make time to do that before we give them their gifts.’

This excuse was apparently sufficient as, with a small impatient huff, her mam turned back to the counter, ‘Well, there’s extra supplies in the back room if you need them. Just be sure to get it done before they arrive. We’ll do presents right away,’ she placed down the bowl and began rather frenetically taking assorted nuts and dried fruits out of a cupboard, ‘So, you’re alright with starting the bara brith right after presents? The stuffing can go in with the bread, but I’ll need the whole oven for the goose for a few hours before dinner.’

‘Of course.’

Her mam gave a quick nod and went back to her efficient bustling.

Delia watched her for a moment, feeling oddly conflicted. Normally, the half hour or so it took her to whip together the sweet bread was a welcome respite from the relative chaos of the day. And it always felt nice, to be trusted to put together a part of the meal entirely by herself. But this year Patsy was here, and Delia didn’t want to spend time alone in the kitchen when she could be spending time with Patsy. Of course, there was a relatively simple solution to this particular dilemma.

‘Maybe Patsy can help me make it?’ Her voice was more tentative than she wanted it to be.

Her mam gave a little shake of her head as she rooted through the refrigerator, ‘It’s a secret family recipe, cariad. Even Preeti didn’t get it until after she and Daffyd were officially married.’

Delia sighed. She knew it was useless to argue. Even though it was, quite frankly, a fairly standard recipe, her mam had always been wildly possessive of it. Her mam was already so stressed about Christmas preparations that pushing her on this seemed unwise.

‘I understand.’

‘We can share other recipes with Patsy, cariad,’ Huw’s conciliatory tone made it clear that she must have sounded quite disappointed, ‘Maybe the one for the cawl from yesterday’s tea? Patsy really seemed to enjoy it.’

Delia gave him a small smile. It really was wonderful, just how supportive he was, ‘That would be nice.’

Her mam gave a little huff, ‘Patsy said she doesn’t have much time to cook, cariad. She’d almost certainly never use it. Why don’t you just make cawl for the both of you from time to time? It would give you a chance to practice your Welsh cooking.’

Delia held back her exasperation. Her mam, it appeared, wasn’t going to give Patsy even the most vaguely symbolic welcome into the family. She was surprised by how irritated it made her, given getting a recipe hadn’t even been the point when she’d asked. She wondered whether it would be worth it to push a bit. After all, it was only a cawl recipe. Her mam hadn’t ever particularly cared about it before.

But before the subject could be discussed any further, Patsy appeared at the bottom of the stairs, practically glowing with excitement, two wrapped parcels held against her chest. Delia’s heart leapt into her throat upon seeing her, her mam’s belligerence almost immediately forgotten.

‘Merry Christmas, Mr and Mrs Busby!’ Patsy’s voice was infectiously exuberant, and her tad returned her beaming smile.

‘Merry Christmas, Patsy!’, he gestured to the packages, ‘You can put those in the sitting room, if you’d like. And I hope you’re alright with porridge for breakfast. We usually have something light, to save as much room as possible for Christmas dinner.’

‘Porridge sounds perfect,’ Patsy disappeared into the sitting room for a moment before returning, ‘Mrs Busby, this all looks quite impressive. It appears as if we have a feast in store.’

Her mam, who had only greeted Patsy with a distracted ‘Merry Christmas’, didn’t bother to turn from where she was chopping potatoes, ‘It’s Christmas, not a day to hold back.’

‘Well, I feel very honoured to get to be a part of the festivities.’

‘I’m glad you’re excited, dear,’ she transferred the potatoes to a pan.

Huw quickly jumped in, ‘We’re honoured that you’re able to be here with us, Patsy. Shall we sit to eat?’

Delia eyed her mam warily as she surveyed the kitchen, ensuring everything was prepped for the flurry of cooking activity that would commence shortly. It appeared that she was going to continue last night’s trend of being polite-but-cold towards Patsy. Given all of the possible alternatives, Delia supposed she should feel grateful. But still, it was irksome that her mam couldn’t manage to be a little more supportive.

She glanced nervously over at Patsy, hoping the redhead wasn’t offended, but there was nothing but joy in the beaming smile she shot Delia.

Delia’s heart raced as Patsy sat down next to her, and as the redhead settled into her seat Delia felt an odd kind of tingling flow through her.

Eight hours.

Those two words kept cycling through her head as Huw handed them each bowls of steaming porridge. The calming warmth she always felt when Patsy was near coursed through her, but now there was something else there too…a sort of building anticipation.

Patsy had given her eight hours of her time!

She tried to warn herself to be careful, to acknowledge that there was still so much she didn’t know, but here, now, with Patsy so close and Delia’s entire body buzzing, her brain could only reach one conclusion: Patsy liked her. She must.

Which led to the next, obvious question: What was Delia going to do about it?

They weren’t going to get a moment to themselves all day long, and even if they did, it wasn’t as if this was the kind of thing that she could spring on Patsy as they passed each other in the hallway. She needed to make sure that the moment was right…and that she approached Patsy in a way that would give her a graceful opportunity to backtrack if it turned out she was wrong.

Which she really didn’t want to be.

Turning to hand the bowl of nuts for the porridge to Patsy, she noted that the redhead looked impossibly cute with her brow slightly furrowed in concentration as she poured a small amount of cream over her porridge. She glanced over towards Delia and shot her a small, mischievous smile, and Delia felt as if she might melt into a puddle.

Just as she had at the carol service, she felt a longing build in her to reach out and touch Patsy in some way. To take her hand, to snake her arm around her shoulders, to press their thighs together under the table. But she couldn’t.

And she wasn’t going to be able to all day.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She’d just have to be patient. Maybe she’d get an opportunity to discuss things with Patsy tonight.

Thinking of that night naturally reminded Delia of that morning. About what it had felt like to be pressed up against Patsy’s intoxicating warmth, about the rush of excitement when Patsy had pressed back into her, about Patsy’s contented murmur at being in contact with Delia. The parts of Delia that had been pressed up against Patsy began to tingle at the memory. Uuuuugh. This was excruciating.

She tried to focus on her thoroughly unsexy porridge, stirring in the few nuts she’d sprinkled on top, watching them form glumpy chunks. But it was no use. All she could think about was Patsy, and she wasn’t sure she was going to be able to think of anything else all day.

‘And then it will be Delia’s turn, right cariad?’

She jerked to attention yet again. Right. Her mam. She still had to think about her mam.

‘Right. Absolutely.’ Delia wasn’t sure exactly what she’d agreed to do, but she knew that her mam would undoubtedly remind her when the time came; at Christmas she left nothing to chance.

In fact, if Delia was going to survive today, she very much couldn’t afford to spend it mooning over Patsy. Her mam was going to be more alert and critical than ever, and Delia needed to have her wits about her because everything could explode quite catastrophically if her mam either discovered their deception or got it into her head that their relationship was an unhealthy one. Or, she supposed, unhealthier than she already thought it was.

Actually, she’d also need to be on her toes if they were going to successfully maintain their ruse around her brother and Preeti, each of whom would undoubtedly have a million questions. Delia didn’t know her sister-in-law well, but whenever they were together Preeti always seemed intent upon good-naturedly wheedling information out of Delia. Patsy’s sudden presence was undoubtedly going to be extremely intriguing, and Preeti was sure to be unstoppably curious. And her brother was just going to be his jovial, inquisitive self.

No, worrying about Patsy could come later. Now, she needed to focus on surviving today. A good start seemed to be to actually listen to what her mam was saying.

She took a big bite of porridge and concentrated on her mam, who appeared to once again be going through the schedule for the day. Oh good. All Delia had agreed to earlier was to making the bara brith. Of course her mam was just talking about that again.

As Delia ate her porridge, listening intently, she was struck by the extent to which Patsy’s enthusiasm about the Christmas festivities seemed to know no bounds. The redhead engaged every detail with keen interest, asking follow-up questions and enquiring as to how she could help.

In fact, Patsy was so exuberant it almost seemed to be thawing her mam slightly. It was also making Delia doubt her previous certainty about Patsy’s feelings. What if Patsy’s gifts for her were really just the result of the redhead’s previously harnessed love for Christmas being given free reign? Maybe all of this was just wishful thinking on Delia’s part and she was getting herself worked up over absolutely nothing.

She looked over at Patsy, taking in her dancing eyes and slightly flushed features. Could Patsy have given her eight hours of her time to compensate for decades of withheld gift-giving opportunities? No. Delia simply couldn’t believe that was true. There were plenty of ways to express holiday zeal without obligating yourself to spend eight hours of time with someone.

But still, as Patsy practically shot up from the table at her tad’s suggestion that they move on to presents, a slight niggle of doubt made its way into Delia’s mind.

Following Patsy and her parents into the sitting room, Delia realized that maybe Patsy’s gifts for her parents would help her be absolutely certain of Patsy’s feelings. As she picked up her mam and tad’s gifts from where she’d placed them under the tree, she pondered what kind of gifts she would have gotten for Patsy’s parents had their places been reversed. She certainly would’ve tried to make them as specific as possible. Not just general knick-knacks, but things that were obviously tailored to be as impressive as possible. To show Patsy that she didn’t just care about the holidays, but that she cared about her, and about her family.

As she headed to the couch, she found that she was surprisingly nervous, this gift exchange seeming to suddenly signify so much more than it had moments before.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She needed to stop overthinking everything. She would sit down, have a lovely morning of sharing presents, and see what the rest of the day had in store. And then, tonight, after her brother had left and the house had calmed, she’d hopefully have a chance to talk to Patsy and figure out the true nature of her feelings once and for all. She just had to survive the day.

Chapter Text

Huw was surprisingly nervous as he watched Patsy reach down to pick up a small package from the floor. The morning had been quite lovely so far, but now was the moment he’d been fearing: Patsy giving her gift to Eilwen. His wife was thorny to buy gifts for at the best of times, and the current circumstances certainly didn’t qualify as ideal.

It would’ve been bad enough if the only concern was Eilwen’s general belligerence about their daughter’s girlfriend. Unfortunately, his and Delia’s gifts for her had only served to exacerbate her already sour mood. Eilwen had been gracious, if a bit shocked, when she’d opened Delia’s gift to find the same exact present Huw had gotten her, a gift voucher to the only place in London Eilwen had ever expressed positive feelings about: a fabric shop where she’d struck up a conversation with the owner.

Delia had recovered admirably, having had a few minutes after Huw’s gift had been opened to plan her response. She’d gushed to Eilwen about how happy she was that her mam had an excuse to visit London multiple times. Or how she could now treat herself to any fabric that caught her eye. Her daughter’s enthusiasm had obviously appeased Eilwen a touch, though she’d still seemed a bit hurt.

He felt for her. Even if you were famously difficult to buy gifts for, it never felt good to have everyone get you the same thing. He made a mental note that he and Delia should coordinate gifts in the future.

Though he had to admit, he wasn’t entirely displeased with the outcome. He’d gotten the voucher for his wife in the hopes that it would provide an excuse for a visit to London, and thus Delia. He missed his daughter dearly, but Eilwen’s general contempt for the city meant that they rarely made the trip. Hopefully Delia’s exuberance about a visit would convince his wife that they should make the journey more frequently.

He was also optimistic that future visits would allow him the opportunity to spend more time with Patsy, as his daughter’s girlfriend was proving to be more delightful with each passing moment. She’d been humming with a barely-contained excitement ever since she’d arrived in the kitchen this morning, and her general goodwill had proven contagious. He wasn’t sure he’d ever been as excited to open presents as he was with Patsy there eagerly soaking in every detail.

She’d even seemed delighted when she’d opened her socks from Eilwen. But it had been her reaction to his ugly Christmas jumper that had really warmed his heart. Her entire face had lit up with joy and she’d almost immediately jumped up, whipped off her own jumper and slipped the new one over her head. Delia and Eilwen had made an odd choice with the sizing, as Patsy fairly swam in it, but given that Delia had picked it out, he figured that must just be the style nowadays. He thought of his own rather tight-fitting jumper and wondered whether he should invest in some bigger ones. He didn’t care overly much about fashion, but he didn’t want to look too out-of-touch when they visited London.

Regardless, he knew that he would remember Patsy’s delight for a long time. But now, as those same waves of joy radiated off her as she handed Eilwen her package, Huw began to doubt his decision to have Patsy give her gifts last. The idea had been to ease Eilwen into the morning, but that had backfired quite spectacularly, and now he was left feeling anxious that his wife would somehow dim Patsy’s exuberance.

Because there was simply no way Eilwen’s reaction would begin to approach Patsy’s excitement level, no matter what the young woman had purchased. In fact, he was simply hoping for anything beyond the usual, unenthusiastic ‘well…thank you’. That was the response that had greeted his and Delia’s gifts, but they were used to it and could handle it. Patsy was a guest. A guest who didn’t know Eilwen at all. Hopefully, Delia had provided her with lots of good ideas for gifts.

As Eilwen inspected the small wrapped box sceptically, Huw glanced at his daughter, who looked just as nervous as he did. Patsy, meanwhile, looked nothing but eager as she re-took her seat next to Delia on the sofa.

It felt like everyone in the room was holding their breath as Eilwen carefully unwrapped the package and popped the lid open.

Patsy began speaking as Eilwen lifted a small card out of the box, ‘Delia’s told me about how much you enjoy spoiling your grandchildren, so I did some research and found a small collective of artists based in Cardiff who call themselves the Daffodil and Dragon. They specialise in Welsh-themed children’s toys, all made in Wales by Welsh artists. I didn’t know exactly what would pique your interest, so it’s another gift voucher, I’m afraid, but I thought you’d prefer to make your own choices as to what exactly to get for them.’

Huw sat completely still as he waited for his wife’s response.

Her brow furrowed as she looked uncertainly at the card, ‘A collective of artists?’

‘Yes. There are four of them, I believe. Three women and one man. They work with a variety of mediums, so there are lots of options. And you can special order personalized things.’

Eilwen looked up, seemingly at a loss as to how to respond, ‘In Cardiff?’

Patsy shook her head, her tone reassuring, ‘Oh there’s no need to make the journey; they don’t even have a storefront. You can simply order things to have them shipped. I’ve put their website on the back of the voucher.’

Eilwen’s face contorted slightly in displeasure, and Huw felt himself tense. His wife had never been particularly comfortable with online shopping.

‘A website?’ She sounded profoundly sceptical.

Patsy seemed entirely unphased by Eilwen’s reaction, reaching back to the ground and picking up a thin package, ‘Yes, you can see all of their products online. However, I thought that you might prefer a more traditional way of shopping, so I printed out their offerings and made you a catalogue of sorts. I also confirmed that you can place any orders over the phone if you prefer.’ She reached out from the couch, handing a shocked-looking Eilwen the wrapped catalogue.

Huw felt himself relax slightly. Eilwen did love a catalogue.

‘Well…’ Eilwen shifted uncomfortably in her seat, ‘That’s…very thoughtful of you Patsy. Thank you.’

Huw exhaled a breath he didn’t even know he’d been holding. Patsy had gotten a ‘very thoughtful’! That response was usually reserved for family only. And only with the very best gifts. It was still far colder a reaction than such a fabulous gift merited, but for Eilwen it was practically gushing.

‘You’re very welcome, Mrs Busby. I hope you can find something that Bhavi and Tej will enjoy,’ Patsy sounded transparently delighted, and Huw found himself reassured that she seemed to know just how well she’d done, despite a response that might have been interpreted as cold by a stranger. Delia really had done an excellent job of preparing Patsy for this entire experience.

He glanced over at his daughter, expecting a look of satisfaction, and was surprised to see that she looked…well…completely shocked, staring at Patsy with something akin to awe, her face turning increasingly red.

That was odd. Did she not know what Patsy had gotten for Eilwen? Surely they would have prepared together for such an important gift.

Before he had a chance to ponder it further, Patsy was suddenly in front of him, holding out a thin, package, her eyes dancing with joyful anticipation.

‘Oh, thank you, Patsy,’ he took the package, inspecting it eagerly before giving it a few solid shakes. Something shifted around inside the square package. He ran his fingers along it, feeling a round protrusion inside. A record! It must be a record! After his day with Patsy yesterday, he was burning with curiosity. Patsy seemed to have such excellent taste in music, and he couldn’t wait to see what she thought he would enjoy.

He ripped off the wrapping eagerly, his breath catching in his throat as the label came into view. It was an original 1983 release of Total Eclipse of the Heart. But what really shocked him was what was scrawled in white pen across the black album cover, the looping B and overly stylized T unmistakable. This was an autographed copy. An autographed copy!

‘Is this…is this autographed?’ he could hear the wonder in his voice, but he didn’t care.

Patsy was beaming, ‘It is indeed.’

‘But…but…where did you get it?’

Patsy shrugged, ‘A friend who’s a collector. I know how much you like 80s ballads, and I suspected Bonnie Tyler might hold a special place in your collection.’

His mind was racing with excitement as he jumped up to go to the record player, ‘She’s Welsh, you know, Bonnie Tyler.’

Patsy sounded amused, ‘I had heard that, yes.’

‘She lives in Portugal now, Huw.’ Eilwen had always found that fact to be personally offensive, her voice dripping with distaste.

‘Portugal is warm, cariad. Not everyone has the constitution for our Welsh winters. Anyway, she was Gaynor Hopkins by birth. A good Welsh name, Gaynor. Born in Skewen…just on the other side of Swansea from here, so she’s basically a local girl.’

‘Skewen isn’t local,’ Eilwen sounded impatient, ‘And you’re surely not going to put that on now. It’s Christmas.’

Of course I’m going to put it on. It’s a Christmas gift, so it’s Christmas music.’

He heard Eilwen take a breath in to respond, but before she could, there was a light knocking on the door, followed by a flurry of activity as his son’s family bustled through the door.

His heart filled with excitement as his grandchildren burst into the sitting room, followed by Daffyd and Preeti, each weighted down with bags. His entire family was here now, and he couldn’t wait to share his new prized record with all of them. This was truly shaping up to be the very best Christmas.