Vera stayed low. She glanced around the brickwork before she quickly made a dash towards the bushes across the road the from her house. With every quick pace the pain in her shoulder grew worse. On reaching the bushes, and crouched down out of sight of the surrounding properties. She took a breath.
"Joan!?" She hissed, her eyes darting around her. "Joan?" Her voice grew with desperation.
The light was fading fast, and already she struggled to see into the expanse of foliage in front of her. Vera convinced herself that Joan in her current state couldn't have made it far, regardless of her health she was wearing only a towel and a blanket wrapped around her, surely she wouldn't be running to far.
"Joan?" Vera cried. "JOAN!"
Vera began to crawl on her hands and knees, wincing at the stabbing pain now enveloping her upper body, from her shoulder to her fingers on right arm. Tears began to sting in Vera's eyes as she moved on all fours as quickly as she could. She called out for Joan again, and allowed herself to begin to cry. The ground was hard beneath her, and it was clear Joan had made a run for it. Vera cursed Rita under her breath, and she drew her knees to her chest and curled herself into a ball. She rocked as she sobbed, throwing her fist to the ground in anger. She'd lost Joan, just as she found her again. Just as she had begun to prove that she was more than a timid, pathetic mouse, infact she was a strong woman, who could fight for another when the heat was on. She'd proved herself to Joan, or so she thought. The thought of Joan almost naked, barefooted and breathless, trying to drag her heavy body away from Vera's house made bile begin to rise in Vera's throat. Vera had watched the struggle it had been for Joan to even move from the hallway to the lounge, and she remembered the weight of Joan's tall, broad body against hers as she helped her heave her way along. Vera felt a clench in her stomach, as she vividly remembered tracing her thumb along Joan's wrist, and how much she had longed to observe the intracity of Joan's face again, for it suddenly now to be gone from her again. Vera had spent so many nights awake trying to remember the exact location of each line and wrinkle, and the arch of Joan's lips, thinking she should have payed more attention when she could have, and being frustrated with herself that she didn't savour every second; kicking herself for wasting so much time hating the woman, for her to be gone from the world in a split second.
After everything Joan had been through, she didn't deserve to now be back in the world like this, more likely terrified, trying to barely survive. Perhaps Joan was right, she couldn't run from the impending and imminent doom that was slowly catching up with her. Vera tried to shake that thought, when her she heard footsteps behind her, slow, heavy steps and the crack and snap of twigs and earth beneath each footstep. Vera held her breath. The footsteps had stopped just behind her, and Vera couldn't bring herself to turn to see who stopped merely a metre from her back. She let out slight sobs, her arms wrapped around her stomach and her heart beating through her chest.
"What on earth are you doing down there, Vera?" The words rolled from the tongue slowly, deep and gravelly.
Vera let out the breath she'd been trying to hold. Slowly standing to her feet, still facing away from the presence behind her. She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, and snuffed before slowly turning around.
Joan was a deathly shade of grey, her wet hair clung to her face, her shoulders and her neck, and Vera's blanket draped from her frame, exposing her naked body as it parted. Joan's eyes were squinted, as she looked Vera up and down.
"Vera..." Joan began, her voice breaking with emotion towards the end of the word. She took a breath.
Vera stepped forward, reaching for the blanket, and gently wrapped it around Joan's arms, pulling her towards her carefully. Vera winced at the pain in her shoulder with each movement.
"Are you hurt?" Joan narrowed her eyes, a look a concern in her brow.
Vera touched her shoulder, gasping as her fingers moved over the joint. She shook her head.
"It's nothing." Vera swallowed. "Why did you run?"
"I don't wish to be a inconvenience, Vera."
"It was me who took you to my home, you are not an inconvenience." Vera frowned.
"I was set to...leave you, with your friends." Joan looked down to her feet. "Vera, I shouted for you." She admitted slowly.
"I didn't hear you, Joan..." Vera began.
"No." Joan stopped. "I mean..." She closed her eyes. "I shouted for you, screamed you name. That night. In the box." Joan opened her eyes, but avoided Vera's eye.
"Joan..." Vera started.
"No." Joan cut her off. "I don't require you to say something in return." She swallowed again, taking her time to catch her breath. "I screamed. I shouted. I am not afraid to admit that Vera." Joan picked at a scab on her hand. "So when I heard you call for me just now, I couldn't run, I couldn't allow myself to leave you, calling for me, as I did that...night."
Vera swore that she saw any remaining colour completely drain from Joan as she spoke of her experience. She reached for Joan's wrist, and wrapped her fingers around it tightly.
"Joan, I will never let anything happen to you again."