The next morning, Bridget, Franky, and Emily, were all eating breakfast when Vera arrived.
“Hey, you want an omelette? I made an extra one. It’s just in the pan staying warm.” Franky got up to get Vera a plate.
“Oh, uh, thank you, that wasn’t necessary.” Vera hung her bag on the chair, and sat down at the table with them.
“Ah, it’s no trouble.” The brunette sat the plate down in front of their guest.
Once they had finished eating, Bridget sat back down at the table beside Emily, who was currently working on colouring a picture. “Franky and I are going to leave in a minute, and Vera is going to stay until we get back just like we talked about yesterday, okay?”
“How do I know you’re coming back?” The young girl didn’t look up at Bridget, but the blonde saw her wipe a tear from her face.
“Because we promised you that we would.” Bridget reached over and tucked a strand of hair behind Emily’s ear so that she could see her face better.
“What if there’s an accident like what happened with my Dad?” She had stopped colouring now, but her eyes were still focused on the picture in front of her.
“We’re going to walk, love. We’re not driving the car,” the blonde quietly explained.
Franky came out of the bedroom, where she had been changing her clothes. She had heard most of the conversation between Bridget and her niece. Her heart ached for the young girl. She knew she was shy and didn’t take to people easily, so she couldn’t imagine how it must feel for her to have both of her parents taken away from her. Right now, her and Bridget were the people who gave her comfort, and now they were saying they were both leaving. Even though it was only for a short time, she understood why Emily didn’t want them to leave.
“You could get hit by a car crossing the road. That would be an accident.”
Bridget stroked Emily’s hair and let out a quiet sigh.
“But we’re going to be really careful, like we tell you when you cross the street, so we’ll be okay,” Franky explained. She had come to stand on the opposite side of Emily. She could see the small girl shake her head. The brunette pulled out the chair in front of her and sat down so she could look Emily in the eye. “Hold out your hand.” The girl slowly put out her hand. “This,” Franky said, placing one of her silver rings in the palm of Emily’s hand, “is my favourite ring. If I leave it with you, you’ll know I’m coming back to get it since it’s something that means a lot to me, okay?”
Emily looked at Franky, then Bridget. The blonde silently took off one of her own rings and placed it along with Franky’s in the young girl’s hand. Emily closed her fingers around the items and gave a small nod. They both gave Emily a kiss on the cheek and headed for the door.
On their way past Vera, Bridget noticed that her friend wiped a tear from her eye. The blonde placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “If you need anything, call us.”
Franky took Bridget’s hand as they walked down the street towards Emily’s school.
“That was really good, what you did with Em,” the blonde said, leaning into Franky as they walked.
“Yeah? I don’t know, it’s just something I thought might work.” She glanced over and gave Bridget a small smile.
When they got to the school, they went straight into the principal’s office and were greeted by her secretary. “Hi, I’m Bridget Westfall. I’m hoping to meet with Ms. Johns to discuss my niece, Emily. I was speaking with her yesterday on the phone and she asked me to come in.”
“Oh yes, I’ll let her know you’re here. She just got in, so it may be a minute before she’s ready. You can have a seat if you like.” She motioned toward the small couch in the office as she picked up the phone.
Bridget and Franky sat down and waited. The brunette looked around, and saw all the kids coming in ready for their day. She’d picked up Emily at school many times, but actually being inside one again was bringing back a lot of memories, and not good ones. She wondered if any of them were going through what she did as a child. She reached to play with the ring that she always did when she was anxious or nervous, only to find that it wasn’t there. It took a second for her to register that it was the one she’d left with Emily. Bridget caught Franky out of the corner of her eye. She could tell just by the brunette’s body language that she was feeling a bit uncomfortable.
After about five minutes, Ms. Johns came out of her office. “Ms. Westfall.” She shook Bridget’s hand.
“Bridget, please.” Being called by her last name always made her feel like she was at work.
“Bridget,” Ms. Johns smiled and turned to Franky. “And Ms…” She suddenly realized that she hadn’t caught her last name when they had spoken a few days earlier.
“Doyle, but you can just call me Franky,” the brunette said, shaking the other woman’s hand.
“Right, come in, please.” She led the way into her office, and Franky and Bridget sat in the two chairs facing the desk as the principal took her seat behind it. “First of all, I just want to say that I’m very sorry for your loss. It is always hard to lose a family member, especially for a child, and probably even more so for Emily. If it’s any consolation, having heard the way she speaks of both of you, I feel like she’ll settle into your home nicely.” She reached into the drawer of her desk and pulled out a folder. “This is Emily’s student file. There are some forms I’ll need you to fill out. We received a fax from your late brother’s lawyer at some point overnight with the custody paperwork.”
“That was fast,” Franky said, more to herself than anyone else, but the principal picked up on it.
“Child custody issues are usually the top priority in these cases. They like to get that sorted out so the child can begin to get settled, and so that paperwork like this can move ahead.” Ms. Johns gave Franky a weak smile. This was truly part of her job she didn’t like, and she was thankful that she rarely had to deal with situations like this.
Bridget flipped through the papers. “I’d like to have Franky added to these as well. In case there’s an emergency, I want her to be a contact.”
“Of course. There’s a section at the bottom of the last page where you can list another contact, and then you’ll both need to sign it.” She handed Franky another packet of papers. “These are the memos that went out to parents over the past month. There are some upcoming dates to keep in mind, and a registration package for next year. Now, those haven’t even gone out to the students yet, but we weren’t sure when Emily would be feeling up to coming back. One thing to note is there’s a career day coming up next week. You’re both welcome to attend if you’re able. Even if she isn’t back in class yet, it might be something fun for her.”
“We both have the rest of the week off, so we’re hoping to have her back here by the time we go back to work,” Bridget said, handing her file to Franky so she could sign the form. “And career day sounds lovely, although I’m not sure how many kids will be interested in what a prison psychologist does.” The blonde gave a small laugh.
“There’s always the possibility that you’ll be inspiring a young mind.” Ms. Johns smiled warmly. “I have to say she’s very lucky to have both of you.” The principal shifted in her chair. “Maybe it isn’t my place to say this, but she seems much happier when she’s in your care.”
“You had mentioned the day I picked her up when she wasn’t feeling well that she liked talking about staying at our place.”
“It was more than just that though after we spoke that time. She was...almost depressed.” She looked between the two women. “The important thing now though is getting her through what’s happened with her Dad, and I’m confident she’ll have all the support she needs at home.”
“We’re going to do our best and I’m waiting to hear back from a child psychologist I contacted yesterday. I think she’ll benefit from a few sessions, just to make sure she’s processing everything okay.” Bridget glanced at Franky. “And we’ll both be there for career day.” The brunette gave a nod.
“There is one more thing that her teacher wanted me to mention to you. The final project for the year that she’ll be doing with them in a couple of weeks is a family tree. She wanted you to know because she thought it might be a sensitive topic for Emily.” Ms. Johns gave Bridget a final piece of paper outlining the details of the project.
“Thank you for letting us know. We’ll see how she’s doing by then.”
Franky sat the file she had signed back on the desk. She noticed Bridget silently looking at the paper she was holding. The brunette reached over and placed a comforting hand on her girlfriend’s back. “We’ll talk to her.” The blonde gave a small nod.
“I think that’s really all we had to cover unless you two have any questions,” the principal said as she placed Emily’s file back into the drawer.
Bridget shook her head. “I can’t think of anything right now. We’ll let you know when we think she’s coming back.” The blonde gave a small, polite smile as she stood up and headed for the door.
Franky stood up quickly. She had been unprepared for Bridget’s sudden exit. “Thanks, for everything. We’ll be in touch.” She reached over the desk and shook Ms. Johns’s hand one last time before turning to follow the blonde.
It took her a few quick steps to catch up with her girlfriend. “Gidge, you alright?” She put a hand on the older woman’s shoulder in an effort to get her to stop walking and talk for a minute.
“I don’t know…” She trailed off as she looked around the lobby. The morning rush seemed to be over; there were only a few parents on their way out the door from dropping off their kids.
Franky knew that while Bridget was open with her feelings most of the time, she wasn’t someone who would want to stand in public and have an emotional conversation. “Why don’t we talk when we get home?” She felt the blonde take her hand and give it a small squeeze.
They walked most of the way home in silence. When they reached the front door, Bridget said she was going to go change into something more comfortable, and Franky took this as her cue that the blonde wanted to talk in the bedroom.
As soon as the door opened Emily came running. “Auntie Bridge! Franky!” The girl tried to hug both of them at the same time.
“Hey, love,” Bridget said, as she reached down to return Emily’s half hug. “I’ll be right back, okay?” The blonde carefully stepped out of the young girl’s arms and made her way to the bedroom.
“Where’s Auntie going? I have to give her ring back.” Emily looked towards the door Bridget had just closed behind her.
“She’ll be right back, bub. I’m going to go talk to her for a minute then you can give them back to us.” The brunette caught Vera’s eye.
“Hey, Em, come on back and we’ll finish our game before I have to leave for work.” Vera was still sitting on the floor by the coffee table, where it looked like her and Emily had been playing a card game. The girl reluctantly went back with Vera, and Franky went to the bedroom.
When she got there, she saw Bridget standing, looking out the window. She quietly closed the door, walked up behind the blonde, and wrapped her arms around her. “Hey, babe.” She heard Bridget sigh, as she turned in her arms to face her.
“What if I don’t know how to have some of those conversations with her?” The blonde’s voice was muffled as she rested her head against Franky’s shoulder and neck.
“I don’t think anyone knows how to talk about those types of things. I think they just do their best, and you won’t have to do it alone.” The brunette rubbed her hand up and down the other woman’s back.
“It’s my job to know how though,” Bridget said as she felt Franky’s arm tighten around her a bit more.
“It's different when you’re involved in the situation though, yeah? You mentioned that once when I was in Wentworth. You can’t look at this as a therapist. That’s why you’re sending her to see that other guy. It might be messy, but we’ll get through it.” The brunette gave her a small kiss on the side of her head.
“There’s still so much to do.” Bridget reached up and touched the kite necklace that Franky always wore. “We should go get Em’s things from the house, and clear the rest of my stuff out of her closet.”
“And let her decide how she wants to decorate her room.”
Bridget pulled back and looked at Franky. “I didn’t think of that.”
“I mean, I guess it’s not technically necessary, but it was just something I always wanted to do as a kid and I never got to. My mom never offered, and I never stayed in any of the foster homes long enough to bother. It might help her feel more settled, like she has a space that’s hers.” When the brunette finished, she saw there were tears in Bridget’s eyes, and she thought maybe she’d said something wrong. “We don’t have to.”
“No, it’s a good idea. A really good idea actually.” The blonde gave her a small kiss.
“Okay. So we’ll just take one thing at a time, and we’ll figure out the hard stuff together, alright?” Franky said, and Bridget gave a small nod. “We should get changed and go back out so that Vera can get to work.” Franky wiped the tears that had fallen down the blonde’s cheeks, and they both proceeded to change into more comfortable clothes.
When they left the bedroom, Emily waited until they had made it to the living room, before she approached them with the rings.
“Vera said I had to wait until you were out here to give these back.” She handed one ring to Franky and the other to Bridget.
“I just wanted you to have whatever time you needed.” Vera said, getting up off the floor.
“Thanks.” Bridget gave her a hug. “And thank you for watching her this morning.”
“Oh, no problem. Everything okay at the school?”
“Yeah, it’s all good, just a bit overwhelming.” The blonde gave her a small smile.
“Okay,” Vera returned the smile, and headed for the door. As she put her hand on the handle, she turned back to face Bridget. “If you need someone to watch Em while you go take care of something, I don’t mind. Or if you just need a break for a bit.”
“Thanks, I think we’re okay for now, but I’m sure we’ll take you up on that offer at some point in the future.” She gave Vera another hug and a kiss on the cheek before she left.
After Vera left, Bridget’s day filled up quickly. She had gotten a call from both Tim’s lawyer, and the officer handling the accident investigation, asking if they could come by the house to meet with her. She didn’t know if she was ready for either of those things, but she knew they needed to be done, and Franky would be there with her.
It was early afternoon when James, Tim’s lawyer, showed up. Bridget greeted him at the door while Franky told Emily that they’d be in the office for a bit having a meeting if she needed anything.
“This is my girlfriend, Franky.” Bridget had introduced herself at the door, but the brunette had been talking with Emily, so she took the opportunity as they settled into their seats in the office.
“Nice to meet you. I’m James, Tim’s lawyer.” He shook Franky’s hand as he sat.
“To begin with, I’d like to offer my condolences. I didn’t know your brother for very long, but he seemed like a nice man.” James placed a file in front of Bridget. “As we go through, I’ll get you to sign where I’ve marked, and then I’ll give you another copy to keep for your records.”
Bridget took a deep breath, and Franky placed a hand on the blonde’s back.
James continued. “Your brother actually made his will very straightforward. As you already know, he has given full custody of Emily to you. Any financial investments and money will be placed in an account, which you will oversee, to be used for any necessary expenses relating to the care of his daughter and her post-secondary education. This will eventually include money from the sale of the house and belongings. Anything in the house that you, or Emily, wish to keep is yours, and you’ll have one month to remove whatever items you want. Is that something you’re able to do in that time frame?”
“Yeah. We were thinking of going to get Emily’s things in the next day or so. Other than that, I can’t think of anything we’d want. Maybe some family pictures for her to have.” The blonde glanced over to Franky who gave a small nod of agreement.
“There’s also something he mentioned about a…sample at a sperm bank?” James looked up at Bridget and she nodded, indicating that she knew what he was talking about. “He said you would know the details of that, and this is the paperwork for it.” He handed her another large envelope.
“Wait,” the blonde said, looking at what had just been handed to her. “He only talked to me about this two days before he died. How is it already in his will?”
“He may have only just spoken with you about it, but he added it to his will a couple of weeks ago when he came to see me. He added some details about financial items as well. Mostly things to make sure that Emily was taken care of in that way. Speaking of which.” he handed Bridget another envelope. “This is information on her medical insurance, which is set up to be paid from the account that holds her money, as well as her medical records and birth certificate. And this is all of the banking information you’ll need to manage that account.” He sat a final stack of paper in front of her. “I sent some paperwork to the school yesterday, so that will be ready when you arrive.”
“We were actually there this morning and signed everything.” Bridget felt like her mind was spinning.
“Ah, very good. So if you’ll just go through and sign where I’ve marked. It’s all things we’ve discussed, but take your time and read it, and ask if you have any questions.” He leaned back in his chair and waited while the blonde went through the pages.
Franky was quiet for a few minutes before she spoke up. “I do have a question, actually.”
“Yes?” James had been watching Bridget sign the papers, but looked to Franky when she spoke.
“Bridget’s custody of Em, that’s like full, one hundred percent custody, right?” She’d heard it from Bridget, but she needed to make sure.
“Oh yes, absolutely. The only way it wouldn’t be would be if Ms. Westfall herself declined to accept the arrangement. Once she signs those papers,” he motioned to the file that Bridget was currently working her way through, “everything will be finalized.”
Franky nodded, satisfied with his answer. “Okay, good, thank you.”
The blonde closed the file and handed it back to James.
“Perfect. Here’s your copy for your records.” He handed her another copy of what she’d just looked through. “If there’s nothing more then I think we’re done.”
“I can’t think of anything right now. It’s all a bit overwhelming to be honest.” Bridget stacked the papers he had given her.
“I understand. Here’s my card if you think of anything later.” James gave her a card, then gathered his things.
Franky showed him out, and seeing that Emily was still content with drawing and watching cartoons, she returned to the office to be with Bridget.
“Does this seem weird to you?” the blonde asked, flipping through some of the pages.
“Weird how?” Franky asked, sitting down beside her.
“Like just very organized. He’d thought of everything. I mean, I know with his job he’s used to dealing with the fine details of things and he has to be very organized, but this….” She trailed off as she looked through more documents.
The brunette shrugged. “Maybe he just wanted to make sure she was looked after. Especially since her mom has passed away too. Maybe when that happened he realized a few things.”
It was only a few minutes before the officer arrived, and while Bridget was already tired, she was thankful that they’d be getting both meetings out of the way. When the doorbell rang, Franky said she’d go bring him in.
“Ms. Westfall,” he greeted her as he entered the office, and sat down. “I have the final report here from forensics. I can give you the key points if you’d like or just leave it for you to read.”
“Honestly, I don’t really want to read it so you go ahead.” Bridget readied herself for what the officer was about to tell her.
“At approximately eleven thirty Monday night, we were called to a single vehicle accident. Your brother was the sole occupant of the car, and after twenty minutes of attempting to resuscitate him, was pronounced dead at the scene. They didn’t find anything mechanically wrong with the car, and the weather at the time didn’t play a factor. The car was travelling approximately twenty kilometres per hour over the speed limit, but it isn’t believed that speed alone was the cause of the accident.” He flipped over to the next page in his notes.
“What does that mean? That speed alone wasn’t the cause.” The blonde sat forward in her chair.
“Uh, yes, well that brings me to the toxicology report. They found that your brother had a high level of alcohol in his system at the time of the crash. He would have been well over the legal limit. Now, twenty kilometres over the speed limit on that road, while illegal, probably wouldn’t have caused a sober person to have an accident. With the level of alcohol in your brother’s system though, it would have been a contributing factor. It’s our belief that, because of those two things, he simply lost control of the car, and went off the road.” He closed his notebook.
“He, ah, he was in rehab though.” Bridget hadn’t quite let it sink in yet, but her fears were being confirmed.
“You mentioned that when we were here the other night, so as part of the investigation, we looked into it. We couldn’t find him registered with any facility in the city. It would appear that he never actually went.”
Bridget lowered her head, staring at the floor, and Franky could see the tears coming from her eyes. The brunette put her arm around her and pulled her in close to her side.
“I’m very sorry, ma’am.” The blonde just nodded her head. “That was everything we know from the report, so I won’t take any more of your time. If there’s anything else you need, or any questions, you can contact myself or the department.” He stood up, and Franky started to stand, to walk him out. He put his hand on her shoulder to stop her. “I can see myself out, stay with her.”
A few seconds later the brunette heard the front door open and close. “Gidge?”
“I believed him,” the blonde said quietly. “He said he was getting help, and I believed him. Even though he still looked tired, and never wanted to hang around much. I should have checked; I should have known.”
“Gidge, you can’t blame yourself for this. You did what you thought was right, and it was, but…” She didn’t know how to finish that sentence so she just shrugged her shoulders. The cliché of saying ‘sometimes things just happen’ didn’t seem like a good enough reason right now.
“That’s why he did all that planning.” She motioned to the stack of papers the lawyer had left earlier. “He never intended to get better.”
“Maybe he just knew that this time it wasn’t something he could beat. I’ve seen a lot of addicts in my life, probably you have too, and we both know it’s not always a battle that can be won. Gidge.” When Bridget refused to lift her head, Franky got on her knees in front of her to force her to meet her stare. “I know you don’t want to hear this right now, but you need to realize that you can’t blame yourself. There is one positive thing here in all this mess.”
“What could possibly be positive in this?” Bridget wiped her fingers across her cheeks.
“He made sure Emily was looked after, and safe. That’s huge, Gidge. He looked after her by letting us take her, and he looked after her in his will, both financially, and by giving you custody.” Franky waited as the blonde slowly nodded and let that sink in. “Come here,” the brunette said, moving closer to her girlfriend and wrapping her arms around her. She felt Bridget hang on to handfuls of her shirt as the brunette rubbed her back. “You should go lay down for a bit, and I’ll get some things done around the house. I’ll start moving the rest of the stuff out of the closet in Em’s room, and put it in the other bedroom for you to go through later, okay?”
Bridget nodded, and made her way from the office to her bedroom. Franky went out to the living room and sat beside Emily. She wanted to spend a few minutes with her before she started on her work.
“Is Auntie Bridge okay?” the young girl asked as Franky sat down beside her.
“Yeah, bub, she’s just sad. We’ve been talking with those men about your dad. She’s gone to lay down for a bit.” The brunette put her arm around Emily, and the young girl leaned into her.
“Should I go be with her because she’s sad?” Emily asked, looking up at Franky.
“Sometimes when people are sad they need some time alone. Why don’t we give her a bit of time by herself? Then if you still want to see how she is, you can go in and ask if she’d like you to stay with her.” As much as Franky knew that Bridget loved her niece, she also knew that it had been an emotionally exhausting morning for the blonde, and she wanted her to get some rest.
“Okay, can you sit with me for a while?” Emily curled herself up against Franky even more.
The brunette couldn’t say no, especially with everything that was going on with the young girl. “Yeah, sure. Are you doing okay? You can talk to me or Auntie if you need to.”
“I’m okay,” Emily said, still watching the cartoon. After a few minutes, Franky felt a soft touch on the inside of her left forearm. “What does this mean?” The girl was pointing to the brunette’s nautical star tattoo.
“It’s a nautical star. It represents guidance.” Franky didn’t normally like people asking about her tattoos, but the star didn’t hold a big personal meaning for her, and she knew Emily was just curious.
“I like stars, they’re pretty.”
“Mmhmm, like the night sky?” An idea was forming in the brunette’s mind.
“Yeah!” Emily smiled.
They sat and watched the cartoons in silence for a while.
“Can I go check on her now?”
Franky looked at the clock. It had been about half an hour. “Okay. Don’t wake her if she’s sleeping though. If she is, come back out with me.” The brunette watched as Emily disappeared down the hallway. When she hadn’t returned after a couple of minutes, Franky assumed Bridget had said it was okay for her to stay.
She turned off the tv and got up from the couch. It was time to start cleaning out Emily’s room like she had told Bridget she’d do. The blonde had gone through a lot of her clothing when Franky moved in, and had donated the items she didn’t wear anymore to make space for the brunette’s things. The other stuff got put in the closets in the other two rooms. Now Franky had the job of moving everything out of the room that would be Emily’s, and into the third bedroom.
The clothes she just laid carefully on the bed. There was no more room to hang up anything, so Bridget would have to downsize her wardrobe a bit more. Next, she started on the boxes. None of them had anything written on them, and she had no idea as to what their contents might be.
It didn’t take her long to move them all. As she was stacking the last few in the closet, she accidentally knocked one off the edge of the dresser when she turned around. The brunette held her breath, hoping there was nothing breakable in it. She was relieved when she didn’t hear a smash, but when she opened her eyes, she saw that the contents had spilled out onto the floor.
It looked to be things from Bridget’s university days. There were copies of the psychology society’s newspapers that contained articles that the blonde had written, a couple of awards she had gotten, and some pictures of her and her friends at various social functions.
Franky flipped through the pictures. Bridget looked to be quite young, maybe twenty years old, but she still had the same sparkling blue eyes and bright smile. The brunette stopped when she came to a photo that looked like it had been taken at a Halloween party. Bridget was dressed as a cop, in a complete uniform, including the hat and sunglasses. Franky smiled, her girlfriend looked hot.
She picked up the box, and opened it to repack the things that had fallen out. As she opened the flaps, she saw that it wasn’t empty. In the bottom was something made from a light blue fabric, and a pair of sunglasses. An even bigger smile formed on the brunette’s face as she pulled out the cop shirt that Bridget had been wearing in the picture.
She pulled her t-shirt off, and stepped in front of the mirror. Bridget was a bit smaller than her but it looked like the shirt had fit her loosely in the picture. Franky buttoned it up, and checked how it looked on her. It was tight, not too tight but enough that it turned Bridget’s normal cop costume into a hot cop costume. The brunette nodded as she changed back into her own shirt. She carefully folded the cop shirt and set it aside. When she had finished putting the boxes away, she tucked the shirt neatly into one of the empty dresser drawers until she could move it to her own once Bridget woke up.