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Like Sun After The Rain

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Bea Smith had once been a confident and often outspoken young woman. The youngest of three children. Her father was a highly respected civil servant who had fought in the First World War. Growing up she'd had an idyllic life her time being split between living in the family home in Putney and spending the school holidays, and sometimes weekends, in their country residence in Sussex. Her mother was a fantastic gardener who loved nothing more than to grow her own fruits and vegetables. Their home in London had a huge garden surrounded by high hedges with large metal gates that opened onto a long driveway with perfectly manicured lawns on either side. An artistic child she'd loved nothing more than lounging around in the garden with a book or sketching the wild roses and heather that grew there while her mother spent hour upon hour tending her raised fruit and vegetable beds. Carrots, cauliflower, potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, rhubarb, strawberries and gooseberries all grew in her garden. Bea was never the greatest fan of getting her hands dirty and complained profusely whenever her mother asked her for help. Years later she would be grateful that she had paid attention. She was a naughty child, although her father had always argued that it was because her brothers egged her on, without their influence she was never going to be a wild child he always said. Together with her brothers she climbed trees, nicked the apples out of the orchard that was close to their home in Sussex and ran through the fields. If they were there when it came time to pick the apples she'd hang around with the gang of boys her brothers were friends with and go to the orchard, aluminium bucket in hand. Getting tuppence a bucket was the best part, her father matching whatever she got had been an added bonus, every penny was put in her post office account. She'd never quite been able to decide what she was saving for but she saved it all the same, unlike her brothers who spent every penny of their hard earned money at the local shop on sweets.

Once she dreamed of becoming a teacher but that was before she met her husband to be, Harry. Just as Bea had, he'd been raised in a hardworking family, unlike her though he didn't appreciate what he had, nothing was ever enough for him. He'd seemed a charismatic and chivalrous young man when they first met encouraging Bea to follow her dreams. After Harry's parents both passed away, as their only child, he inherited everything. Descending into a downward spiral of alcohol abuse and gambling. He was very adept at hiding his addictions from everyone especially Bea and her parents. Harry had already convinced her to forget about her dream job, as he said it would be pointless when they got married she would have to leave. Bea hadn't taken kindly to his presumption that she would eventually marry him, she wanted nothing more than to continue her education. If anything she had no intention of ever getting married, she voiced her intention to remain a spinster if it meant doing a job she would love. She never understood what all the fuss was about when she heard her friends gushing over a certain young man they'd met. She'd never once looked at Harry that way, she doubted she would ever look at anyone that way. Her love and only two passions in life were literature and art, both those things let her live, even if only for a short time, in another world where she could be free. Her parents had disagreed with her naturally, seeing Harry as a fine upstanding young man most suitable for their daughter. All of her protests had fallen upon deaf ears and her hopes and aspirations crumbled into nothing. 

After leaving school she took a job at the ministry of labour, all be it not her ideal place of employment, she made friends and did enjoy the independence earning her own money afforded her. The whole time though she knew too well that even this small piece of freedom would be over soon enough. When the day eventually arrived and she was due to marry she would have no choice but to resign and be, as she had always seen the role of a wife, an unpaid and unappreciated slave. She'd never voice that out loud, she could never fault her own father who gave her mother the freedom to do almost anything she pleased. Neither did she walk around with her eyes closed, she saw how a lot of women were treated and that was something she had always wanted to avoid. Harry she knew was the complete opposite of her father. After meeting his parents only once she knew exactly what Harry Smith was and she didn't like it. Her parents were never going to see what she saw, after all what everyone else saw was an exceptional young man who came from a good home. He was well educated and at least in her own fathers eyes could speak so eloquently he could charm the birds from the trees. He'd certainly charmed him, Bea was more cautious but would never willingly defy her parents wishes even if it did mean going against everything she herself believed.

Harry kept up the front he so carefully crafted until he could no longer pull it off. The home that he had shared with his parents was going to have to be sold to cover his mounting debts. He was on the verge of losing his job and it had been at that time he had officially proposed to Bea. Everything had turned from bad to extremely worse from the day they were married. The house was sold a month later and Harry had no employment, he purchased a smaller house than Bea had expected to live in, than she'd ever been used to living in. With virtually nothing left to his name apart from the house he changed jobs every few months and constantly told Bea that she would have to manage the home on less and less money every week. Arguing that it wasn't enough she quickly learned was hopeless, a slap across the face quickly escalated into a punch in the stomach and every harsh word he could think of left his mouth directed at her. Even with the little money Bea had to spend on the necessities Harry still expected the best of everything. He never stopped telling her that she didn't pull her weight enough, didn't contribute a single penny. Even after Debbie was born, nothing she ever did was good enough, after long nights awake with Debbie he never gave an inch. He never noticed that the house was always spotlessly clean, all he'd see as Debbie got older was that Bea had left one of her toys laying around, toys he said she didn't even need. He didn't care that there was always food on the table waiting for him when he returned home. As Debbie got older she noted the number of times Bea sat at the table at meal times without a morsel of food in front of her while Harry complained loudly before going to his favourite public house. Bea had lost count of the number of times she'd had to tell Debbie that she hadn't eaten because she wasn't hungry when she asked. Even a four year old Debbie had never really believed that for a second, she'd worked out for herself just by watching her cook that there wasn't enough to go around.

One day while Debbie had chosen to stay behind with their neighbour Liz and her two children Bea was out doing her daily shop and passed a small cafe that had a sign in the window. ‘Help Wanted.’ It was a million miles away from anything Bea had ever envisioned doing but so was her home life, besides how hard could it be? Liz loved having Debbie over and the extra money would help out, especially when Harry was fired from another job or resigned because he'd just had enough of being told what to do.

“Are you sure you want the job?” Franky asked as she looked at Bea in disbelief, she was certainly not the usual kind of person she had working for her. “We get some pretty rough types in here you know, this is a greasy spoon not some posh tearoom.”

Bea had smiled back at Franky, she'd expected the response, she doubted that any of the customers could be as hard to deal with as Harry though. “That doesn't bother me.” She answered happily, if she could take everything Harry dished out the customers would be a piece of cake.

“Well if you're sure.” Franky grinned. “Can you start straight away?”

That day had been not only the start of Bea feeling like she had just a little control of her life but also the start of a friendship that both her and Franky quickly realised they had both needed.

 

 


Almost now completely isolated from her family and friends, with the exception of Liz and Franky, and feeling alone now eight years later with a daughter of her own and a violent, more often than not drunken husband Bea dreamed of running away. It would never be possible, she didn't earn enough at the cafe and what she did have saved wouldn't keep them going for very long. Harry had found employment more than once, each time he would be let go after turning up intoxicated or just resign. Now though he was quite happily working in the role of a nightwatchman down at the docks. It suited him, no one in authority was around at night and he pretty much did as he pleased.

With Debbie quietly sitting in the kitchen Bea was busy tackling her daily domestic responsibilities. No matter how exhausted she was Harry demanded that the home be kept pristine. Something she was inclined to think was due to the fact that he still thought he was above everyone else they lived surrounded by. This morning he was extremely late arriving home and she allowed a thought to linger in her mind that was somewhat pleasing to her. One of her most pleasant thoughts, that he would be laying dead in a gutter somewhere. Until of course she heard him walk in, heard his demands for food before he retreated to the front parlour. Turning on the wireless, he made himself comfortable in his usual arm chair while shouting abuse because Bea was keeping him waiting. 

The date and time would forever be etched into Beas mind she was sure of that as she brought Harry his food. Sunday the 3rd of September at exactly 11:15am the prime minister of the day, Neville Chamberlin, addressed the nation and Harry suddenly fell into a deathly silence.


“This morning the British ambassador in Berlin handed the German government a final note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us. I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.”


Bea instantly saw the panic in Harry's eyes as her thoughts turned to how quickly she could be rid of him. She remembered the stories her father had told her about the Great War, about how men had volunteered and joined pals battalions. Harry was a coward, she knew that, unless of course he was beating her. He ran away from confrontation with other men but she was his wife, a woman and his property in his eyes. She watched as he held his head in his hands, the realisation of how serious the situation could soon become hit him like a lead balloon in the guts. He was was still only 38 years old, young enough to go to war and for Bea to be rid of him. With any luck, she let the thought linger, he may well be gone for good. Killed in action, taken prisoner never to be heard from again. She shook the oh so pleasant thoughts from her head, she could never fall so lucky could she? She turned her attention back to what was being said while she kept her eyes on Harry.


“We and France are today, in fulfilment of our obligations, going to the aid of Poland, who is so bravely resisting this wicked and unprovoked attack on her people. We have a clear conscience. We have done all that any country could do to establish peace. The situation in which no word given by Germany's ruler could be trusted and no people or country could feel themselves safe has become intolerable. And now that we have resolved to finish it, I know that you will all play your part with calmness and courage.”


Bea eyed Harry, ‘calmness and courage?’ She wanted to laugh when those words drifted into her ears. Harry was most certainly not the picture of calmness or courage as he ran his shaky hands through his hair. She continued to listen, waiting for what she knew would be another of Harry's outbursts as soon as the broadcast was over. And of course she was well aware that no matter who was at fault, Hitler, Chamberlin, the man in the moon, it wouldn't be in his eyes it would be her fault. In Harrys warped sense of reality Bea would be the instigator of everything. She wouldn't be surprised in the slightest if Harry would find in completely plausible to accuse her of telling Hitler to start a war. Harry sat forward in his chair a little more as he continued to listen, except to Bea it looked more like he was getting ready to pounce; throw a few more kicks and punches and more insults at her.


“The government have made plans under which it will be possible to carry on the work of the nation in the days of stress and strain that may be ahead. But these plans need your help. You may be taking your part in the fighting services or as a volunteer in one of the branches of civil defence. If so you will report for duty in accordance with the instructions you have received. You may be engaged in work essential to the prosecution of war for the maintenance of the life of the people. In factories, in transport, in public utility concerns, or the supply of other necessaries of life. If so, it is of vital importance that you should carry on with your jobs.”


Bea had no intention of hovering around any longer and quickly retreated back to the kitchen where Debbie was. If there was one thing she was sure of Harry never wanted her to witness the violence that he rained down on her mother. She was his little girl, he may not have any love for Bea, but Debbie was the apple of his eye; or at least that was the impression he like to give. As she lovingly watched Debbie sitting quietly reading she remembered her father telling her how he spent much of the first war watching his fellow soldiers being gassed and slaughtered in front of his eyes. How he witnessed his captain and best friend shot in the head right before his eyes as he peered over the top of the trench they were occupying. Running her fingers lightly through Debbie's curls she smiled again before retreating to the back door. Liz was sitting quietly on her back steps when she heard Bea sigh loudly.

“Everything alright there love?” Liz smiled, she'd heard the speech and knew exactly how Harry would have reacted to that.

“Do you think the Germans will invade us?” Bea asked quietly as she walked towards the low wooden fence that separated their gardens. A small smile played on her lips when she thought about how Harry could soon be out of their lives, if not forever at least until the war was over.

Liz looked at her as she got to her feet and headed towards their usual spot at the fence where they would chat for hours when Harry wasn't at home and Bea wasn't working. “I wouldn't worry about that so much love.” She glanced over Beas shoulder seeing only an empty doorway. “The Germans are no match for our lads.” She lowered her voice a little. “But let's hope some of em don't make it back aye."

“Why don't you mind your own damned business.” Harry boomed at Liz as he appeared at the door before retreating back to where he came from, although not before taking pleasure in muttering a few obscenities at Bea as he turned his back.

“I don't think he likes me very much.” Liz said completely unfazed by yet another of Harry's outbursts. She heard much worse come out of his mouth, some of it directed at her when he'd found her talking to Bea. 

“No.” Bea sighed sadly knowing how being caught talking to Liz would eventually end for her by the end of the day. “Although I suspect the only person he does like is Debbie, and then I think it's all an act sometimes.” She added as she was returning to the kitchen and Liz back to the step she had previously been sitting on.

Returning to the kitchen she busied herself cleaning the already spotlessly clean room as a multitude of thoughts entered her head. There was so much she could never work out, she could never understand why Harry was how he was. His father like her own after the war had thrown himself into his work, like her own in the civil service, but he was an extremely quiet man who hardly ever spoke. His mother, who she only ever remembered meeting twice before her untimely passing, was the opposite. She was short, quite pretty and extremely well spoken. That demure exterior hid a sharp temper and Harry had always known, even from a young age, that it was better not to displease her in any way. She wondered if it had been his mothers mistreatment of him that had made him who he was, maybe even the reason for both his parents premature deaths. She always wondered if Harry himself had had a hand in it, she wouldn't have been surprised if he had murdered them himself. Poison may have been said to be a woman's preferred method of murder but Harry would have done just about anything to get his hands on his inheritance.

That same day war had been declared parliament had immediately passed ‘The National Service (Armed Forces) Act.’ A wide reaching measure that imposed conscription on all males aged between 18 and 41. Harry was furious when he realised that he had to register for service. Pacing the kitchen he tried to work out how he could get out of it, maybe he would manage to make the authorities believe he was medically unfit. He didn't work in any of the key industries that were exempt, banking, farming, medicine and engineering. He considered the idea of being a conscientious objector but that would mean having to appear before a tribunal to argue his case for not joining up. What would be the reason for his argument? The only grounds available to argue were freedom of thought, conscience or religion. He couldn't rely on any of those, he could be unlucky and not be granted the exemption which would give him a non combat job. 

 

 


Now Bea finally found herself free of him. Thankfully he'd done what was required, probably for the first time in his life, and registered for service. Receiving his conscription papers had angered him. He, like most of the other drunks, had been convinced that the war would be over before they could get to him. “Hitler will give in, the mans a fool?” He had screamed at her in a drunken stupor that ended in a severe beating for Bea before he passed out. Being forced into the army wasn't something Harry had wanted. After being told by an old timer in his favourite public house that he could be shot for desertion if he failed to report his ideas began to change. And he hadn't relished the idea of being dragged from his home by the bobbies if he failed to show up, embarrassing himself in full view of his neighbours wasn't the image he wanted to create. Bea was an embarrassment enough for him, something he took great pleasure in reminding her of in his last few days at home. He knew he had a fifty fifty chance of being wounded or killed, wounded was his preference, especially if it would result in his discharge. Attending his medical examination he was classed A1 and received a train warrant sending him on his way to camp and basic training. Naturally he wasn't happy about anything, being informed that his basic pay from then on was only 14 shillings a week had angered him beyond words. To add insult to injury, at least that was how Harry had seen it, he was asked if he would contribute half his pay to his family. Not wanting to seem mean spirited in front of the rest of his unit he had of course signed away half his weekly pay to Bea and Debbie. 

Bea hadn't been overly concerned about financial matters for the first month, unlike Harry she hadn't missed what was going on in the world at large. Harry's only need for the newspaper it seemed was to keep an eye onto the racing results. Every morning Bea would read about the ever looming prospect of war and had done everything she possibly could to set aside a little money every week adding it to the same post office account she'd had since her childhood, to her relief Harry never seemed to notice. 

With the joyful prospect that Harry might not be home for a few months Bea hadn't paid much mind to what they would do when the money ran out for bigger expenses she knew they'd have, until she ran into an old friend. Maxine had been her closest friend and confidant while they both worked at the ministry of labour, until she had to leave. 

Debbie loved their Saturday morning adventures over to Spitalfields, more importantly their visit to the Petticoat Lane market. As they made their way slowly down Wentworth Street among the crowds of other people Bea heard her name being called. As she looked around trying to find the owner of the familiar voice she had heard, she squeezed Debbie's hand a little as Maxine finally came into view.

“I just knew that was you.” Maxine smiled happily as she pulled Bea into a tight embrace.

“It's been so long.” Bea beamed back at her old friend.

Maxine looked down at Debbie and smiled. “And who do we have here?” She asked as Debbie looked back at her shyly. 

An hour later the three of them had found themselves sitting in a small tearoom. Debbie grumbled into her glass of milk when Bea had refused to let her have cake. 

“Harry's away?” Maxine enquired as she reappeared at their table after excusing herself a few moments before.

Bea nodded as she glanced at Debbie. “With any luck he won't come back.” She whispered back.

Maxine shot her a sympathetic smile as a waitress appeared, placing a huge slice of chocolate cake down in front of Debbie.

“Maxi!” Bea shot her a disapproving glare.

“It's a treat, my treat.” Maxine emphasised. She'd been a little surprised to see Bea anywhere near the east end. She'd always tried to convince herself that she would be living in a big house surrounded by her family and living a good life. Seeing Bea now was like seeing a whole different person. Her smile was the same, her laughter sounded the same but the sadness visible in her eyes was something she never expected to see. Her smile no longer reached her eyes, in its place were sorrow and regret, her eyes told Maxine everything she needed to know just as if Bea had chosen to speak her thoughts aloud.

“I guess this is where I leave you.” Maxine said quietly as they walked along reaching the corner near her tram stop.

“You still use the tram?” Bea asked a little amused.

“Of course, it stops closer to home than the bus.” Maxine reached out and placed her hand on Beas shoulder. “Don't take offence, you're one of my oldest and dearest friends…this won't be over by Christmas.” Maxine looked at Bea seriously. “I know it might not be the right time, it being just the two of you, but if you need a job they'd take you back.”

Bea looked at Maxine a little confused at first. “At the ministry?”

Maxine nodded. “Think about it, things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better. Might be a good idea to keep all your options open.” Bea just nodded before they said their goodbyes and went their separate ways.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Allie Novak no longer felt like she even belong in the world, her life growing up may not have been the best, her family had very little but she'd always felt loved. Her grandparents had moved from Poland right before the outbreak of war in 1914 and made a life for themselves in the capital. Always short of money they may have been but there was never a shortage of love in their home, even as their family continued to grow love was never in short supply even if money was. Things had taken a turn in Allies life one extremely hot August day. She remembered vividly how she'd tried to find a place in the shade to shield herself from the fierce rays of the sun a week after her fifteenth birthday. The heatwave that year had appeared like a golden oasis, day after day the heat had continued and no one would ever complain about that. The usual British summer weather of dark foreboding skies full of steely grey clouds threatening yet another heavy downpour of rain had just for once been replaced. With each passing day the month of August had become hotter and more humid than Allie ever remembered. Her birthday that year had been one she wouldn't forget for a long time, years later it would be the best memory she could recall, the rest of that year would be tinged with sadness. Living in the densely populated huddle of slum housing the sun was always a welcome distraction for all the local children. Not that they were ever deterred from playing outdoors in the rain, life in the tiny houses wasn't that much fun. Young Allie with her blonde hair and bright blue eyes was a stark contrast to the pale pinched faces of most of the other children she was surrounded by. Having a close large extended family meant she never suffered the empty stomach that most of her peers did.

Her sister was born a few days after her birthday. She remembered well her father sending her to fetch the midwife and her grandmother, she'd walked happily along with the sun on her face almost without a care in the world. She was a little concerned about her mother, having another child at 38 years old probably wasn't the best idea but Allie was happy that she would have a brother or sister. Her little sister was born a healthy eight pound with the same big blue eyes and she vowed from the moment she set eyes on her that she'd always be there to protect her. After she was born Allie had a little reluctantly gone back to her grandparents home to stay the night. In her small room that was no bigger than a large cupboard she'd always felt safe, safer than any place on earth. As she slept soundly in her bed there'd been a frantic knocking on the door that had woken her. Hearing whispered voices she thought that maybe she was dreaming when she first opened her eyes. Sitting up in her bed the whispered conversation in the darkness had seemed sinister to her young ears and it had filled her with a fear stronger than ever before. Fear was something everyone living in the slums was used to, fear of having nothing to eat, fear of losing the only job they could find; but in the darkness of her small room it felt different. Slipping out of her bed she had felt a dark foreboding feeling wash over her even before she could hear the whispered conversation properly. Silently making her way out of her small room the rough flannel nightgown she wore flapped around her ankles, the linoleum that covered the floor felt cold under her feet. Making out her grandmothers voice had been easy, the other whispered voice she was uncertain of who it might belong to. As soon as her grandmother laid eyes on her the conversation ceased as she tried to usher Allie back to bed.

“There is nothing for you to worry about Aleksandra, now off back to bed with you.” Her grandmother had soothed trying to dispel her fears.

Allie though had wanted to hear none of it, almost found herself pleading with her grandmother to tell her what was going on. She'd often spent the night with her grandparents and never once had anyone called late at their house, neither were whispered conversations normal. With such a large family around them trying to make theirselves heard more often than not led to raised voices.

“What am I to do with you child?” Her grandmother sighed when Allie had refused to budge an inch.

“Tell me what's going on.” Allie had begged.

Her grandmother had shook her head, Allie was just as strong willed and stubborn as her mother, as she was herself. Nothing she could say or do would discourage Allie from continuing her questioning until she finally got an answer. 

“Your mother has been taken to the hospital but I'm sure she'll be just fine after a few days rest, having a baby is not the easiest thing in the world. Joe came over to let me know that his wife is looking after your sister for the time being.” Her grandmother had told her, those words would live with her forever. ‘A few days rest,’ hadn't convinced Allie really especially judging by the expression her grandmother had worn. She'd never told her a lie, at least not intentionally, that night though Allie hadn't been able to shake the overwhelming feeling that nothing would ever be the same again. After her grandmother had left to collect her sister Allie had sat by the fire with her grandfather who's worried expression had been hard to disguise. The night had become a little chilly after the heat of the day and she was glad of the warmth the small open fire provided. When her exhausted father had arrived just as the sun was rising a cold feeling of numbness had washed over her. His red puffy eyes and tear stained cheeks told her everything she had needed to know before he collapsed into a vacant chair by the fire. When he finally collected himself enough to break the news that her mother had died her whole body felt numb, even her brain stuttered to a halt as the numbness took over.

“The doctors tried so hard to save her Aleksandra.” He'd told her quietly as more tears escaped his eyes. “They, they just…couldn't stop the bleeding.” He held his head in his hands. He had no idea how he was going to raise two daughters alone now he had lost his wife, the love of his life. He found it too painful to even look at Allie, she was the spitting image of her mother.

“Don't worry right now, they can stay with us until you're back on your feet again.” Her grandfather had told him. He would never get over his loss, would never see much of either of his daughters after they finally laid their mother to rest. Little did Allie know at the time after a few months had passed she'd one day never see any of them again for many years to come.

The funeral had taken place a week later. It had been a simple service since her father didn't belong to any church. After his older brothers had all been killed in the war he had refused to believe in any god. Made his thoughts clear to anyone who would listen that no merciful god would ever let such things happen. Only one of his brothers bodies had ever been found and although he seemed happy and content with the lives they had, even though they had very little and work was hard to find, he lived with a grief that would never leave him.

 

 


The day of the funeral was miserable, the heat wave had passed and the grey skies had returned. As they stood by the graveside the rain that had set in that morning had lessened slightly. As Allie had looked around at the people who had gathered she noted the deep roar of the thunder in the distance, watched the sky steadily turn black again as large fat rain drops began to splash at her feet. Looking more closely at the crowd of people most were family, a few of their neighbours who she knew well and a man who stood out who she didn't recognise. He was a middle aged man who looked dapper in a smart black suit, he was a sharp contrast to the other mourners who even dressed in their best clothes were a pitiful sight. Looking more closely at him she observed the soft pigskin hat he held in his leather gloved hands. Averting her gaze from him she stared resolutely ahead at the rows of moss covered, weather beaten gravestones that lay out in front of her. Some had small glass vases still filled with wilted, decaying flowers. Others had dried up wreaths placed there by loved ones who must have scrimped and saved to get the money together to buy them. Allie had already decided that she'd do her best to always remember her mother, she loved flowers and she would try her hardest to scrape together a few pennies to buy them; pick wildflowers if that was her only alternative. Years later her most vivid recollection of that day would be the taste of her own salty tears. She never remembered noticing that taste before that day, now every time she cried it was a reminder; and Allie found herself crying a lot.

The few days that Allie and her sister were meant to be staying with their grandparents for had quickly turned into two months before their father had showed up again. Allie had tried everything to find a job. She was well aware that their grandparents were struggling to support them both. The news he brought with him wasn't what Allie had been expecting. 

“You remember Mr Channing?” He asked his angry oldest daughter. She didn't care who he was she wanted to know why their father had been missing for two months. Explaining that he'd been trying to find a new job to her and that Mr and Mrs Channing knew of the ideal job for her she'd reluctantly agreed to go and see them on Sunday. She hadn't cared a great deal for what she'd seen of him at her mothers funeral but he couldn't be all bad if her father was acquainted with him she thought. She couldn't fathom how her father came to know someone who obviously wasn't like them, someone who so obviously had everything when they had nothing. Giving her the money that she'd need for the bus to get there he'd quickly left saying that he'd be back to hear all her news. When Sunday came around Allie had been scrubbed within an inch of her life before dressing in her best clothes, a white blouse, dark woollen skirt and a dark green cardigan that she absolutely hated. Looking at herself in the mirror she felt silly and decided that the cardigan made her look more like a middle aged woman than a teenager.

As she left the drab rows of houses and the grubby streets of the east end behind she looked out of the the window of the bus she was travelling on as the houses she passed became more prosperous and more spacious looking. They all seemed to have well cared for gardens and high windows that had richly coloured curtains hanging in them. The hustle and bustle of the streets she'd left behind slipped away and everything became more peaceful. Getting off the bus at the stop she'd been told she needed instead of a multitude of voices all she could hear was the sound of the heels of her shoes echoing against the pavement, even that she thought looked cleaner. The peace and quiet of her new surroundings filled her with uncertainty, each side of the street was filled with lovely detached houses that all stood in well landscaped gardens; everything felt new a extremely foreign to her. When she finally reached the address she'd been given she was struck dumb, looking herself up and down she didn't feel like she should even be looking at such an impressive home from the outside. The stone wall that surrounded it was so high that she could only make out the tops of the downstairs windows, even the expanse of roof tiles she could see looked to her as if they must have cost a small fortune. Walking through the wrought iron gates she found herself faced with a wide sweeping gravel drive that sloped downwards towards the house. The lights were on in the room that faced the drive and the glowing light cast patches of golden light onto the gravel. She walked slowly towards the house stopping for a few moments to get a better look at the impressive house, she was completely in awe thinking that it must be the most beautiful place she'd ever seen in her life.

Coming to a stop at the front door she took a breath before knocking on it, hearing footsteps coming from behind it she was surprised when it was opened by the same man who had been at her mothers funeral.

“Wipe your feet.” His voice sounded commanding making her suddenly feel even more self conscious and like a five year old again.

She had absolutely no idea what to expect as she entered the house and she still couldn't quite understand why he even wanted to see her. He quickly ushered her through the large hallway that had deep red tiles on the floor before leading her into another room. She was rendered completely speechless as she looked at her new surroundings once again, the room was elegant and held a warmth that wasn't lost on her. A large bay window took up almost all of one wall, as her eyes wandered to it she was enchanted by the panoramic view it afforded her of the neatly manicured, wide lawn that sat right outside it. Four ornate lamps were switched on lighting up the room even though she thought it wasn't dark enough outside to need any lights on. The floor was covered by a deep red carpet and comfortable looking chairs and sofas were grouped around a large stone fireplace, a brightly burning fire lit up the room a little more and warmed it  and its sole occupant whom she hadn't spotted yet. A voice calling out to her from one of the armchairs almost made her jump right out of her skin.

“Hello Aleksandra, sorry you like to be called Allie isn't that right? It's nice to finally meet you.”

Allie turned to face where the voice was coming from, looking at the woman it belonged to with uncertainty. Remembering what her grandmother had always told her about minding her manners she smiled hesitantly as she looked at the her a little longer feeling as if her feet were glued to the spot. She was a rather small plump woman with a slightly pink complexion and a happy expression on her face. Her dark hair was streaked with grey and had been set into fashionable waves.

“Please, come and sit beside me Allie.” The woman said softly.

Perching herself on the edge of an armchair she was still wondering what she was doing there. Mr Channing entered the room, a tea tray in his hands as he gave Allie a stern glance before placing the tray on a table and offering her a cup of tea. The china cups looked as delicate as eggshells to her, she was afraid to even lift the cup she was given from the saucer. Leaving the room again he soon returned with another tray. Trying her best to cope with the sandwich, scone and butter not to mention the china plate, knife and serviette had felt like an almost impossible task. At home the cups were sturdy and the sandwiches never came with the crusts cut off and she couldn't remember seeing a scone ever in her life. A silence descended upon the room for a while while they ate and drank their tea. When a young girl around Allies age came into the room to clear away the tea things Allie made a move to help her but was stopped when the woman she now knew as Mrs Channing spoke.

“No Allie, I would like a word with you. I hear you've been looking for a job.”

Allie gave her a quizzical look as she slowly nodded her head.

“Firstly I'd like to tell you that my husband might have found a new job for your father, I know he's been finding it difficult to find better employment. I do believe you haven't seen much of him since your mothers unfortunate passing.” Mrs Channing smiled.

Allie looked at her a little surprised wondering why she was telling her something that was meant for her fathers ears. A new job might mean they would actually be able to see him, maybe even move back home with him.

“Please don't look so worried, that's not the only reason I wanted to see you, there is another reason I asked you to visit.” Mrs Channing smiled again and gazed at Allie in an out of focus kind of way as Allie sat in silence waiting for her to continue.

“Now I know you are in need of employment and I know of a situation that's vacant. A very dear friend of mine, of ours.” She corrected as Allie noticed a hint of nervousness in her voice. “She already has a housekeeper and a cook but she needs a younger pair of hands to help around the place. I…we thought it might be suitable for you.”

Allie hadn't quite known what to say and it had taken her a whole minute to think of something to say in reply. 

“It's very kind of you to think of me and I will admit the extra money would help out but I couldn't live in. Father would never be able to care for Anastazja alone and work. My grandmother would help out but they'll all need me around.” 

“I understand that, Derek, I believe has already spoken to Marie about your situation and he says she's quite willing to work with you, I'm sure she could give you two full days off a week.”

The offer had sounded more than tempting, maybe even too good to be true. The extra money would help everyone out but for a few short minutes she'd still not been sure it would be practical. Mrs Channing hadn't been ready to give in trying to convince her that it was the best decision she would make, she knew going against her husbands wishes was never a good idea. She was acutely aware of what Marie Winter was, knew exactly how she made her money. She also knew just how badly she treated most of the girls who worked for her, her husband being party to it she'd always overlooked. The extra money that he made from the girls kept her in everything she could ever want or need. As much as she hated the thought of sending any young woman to her Allie was younger than most and she convinced herself that she would never put Allie to work in the brothel. Derek had told her that Allie would just be working with her housekeeper, he wouldn't lie about that would he? Still something didn't feel right but she knew Allies family needed every penny they could get.

“Go home and think about it, speak to your family. I'm sure Derek would be only too happy to take you over to speak with Marie. She pays well.” Mrs Channing leaned in a little closer. “These are tough times for a lot of people and I'm sure you know all about the means test. If your father had to apply for dole money because he couldn't work it may make things even harder. And living in wouldn't be such a bad thing, if you lived at home and you were working you know he would be unlikely to get a lot. I'm sure it wouldn't affect your grandparents but if you move back in with your father it would, every penny you earn would be deducted from any benefit payments he would be entitled to. Do you think you could afford to support him and your sister if he were entitled to nothing at all?”

Allie wasn't stupid, she knew exactly how the means test worked, had seen many of their neighbours fall foul of it. If her father could no longer work and lost all his unemployment benefit because she lived permanently at home she wasn't sure she could support them with any meagre wage she could earn.

“I think I should probably go and see her.” Allie had quickly decided on the spot without another seconds thought.

 

 

That decision she now knew had been stupid. Now it haunted her every day. At the time it might have felt like the best thing not only for herself but for her family, helping provide for them had been the only concern she had at the time. Seeing first hand how the means test had affected people's lives, she'd seen their neighbours denied unemployment benefits because they had a son or daughter still living with them who was gainfully employed, even when they earned very little. She'd seen people applying for parish relief after being told they were entitled to nothing only to be turned away in their droves with no money and nowhere else to turn. Another job might not come along her way anytime soon.

Now here she was sitting in the place that made her life a living hell. Marie had been good to her in the beginning, made her feel special. She'd worked with the housekeeper and had a perfect little room to herself in Marie's private part of the house. None of the other girls ever dare venture in there without being invited by Marie. Finding herself attracted to one of the other girls who had been only a couple of years older than her had opened Allies eyes to something she never thought could exist for her. She knew she'd always felt a little differently from her friends but had kept that to herself. She was very much aware that being or feeling different where she came from was never going to be accepted, it wasn't accepted anywhere from what she'd seen. Marie hadn't taken kindly to the relationship when she found out and suddenly the other girl was gone leaving Allie heartbroken. Allie asked where she'd gone and was told by one of the other girls it was better that she didn't know. She noticed after that how much Marie watched her and it hadn't been long before Allie no longer worked side by side with the housekeeper. Marie treated her like she was her property but was always good to her, she still allowed her to go home at the weekends. She raised what she paid her from ten shillings to fifteen, sent her home almost every weekend with small gifts for her sister and grandparents. Allie felt like she had the perfect life for a short time, she was made to feel like a princess most of the time. Then it had happened a new girl came into the house and Marie lost interest in Allie. She'd never expected to end up being put work just like all the other girls, when it happened the first time she'd ran away while everyone else was asleep. Going home had been a mistake and when Derek went looking for her no one had questioned him when he said he was there to take her home. She lost count of the times she'd tried to escape, it never ended well, she could never get far enough away. 

Sitting with the other girls that Sunday morning as they all gathered around to listen to the wireless she had never expected to hear those words. “Consequently this country is at war with Germany.” A sudden wave of homesickness washed over her, a new and strange kind of misery welled up and burst within her. She missed her grandparents small kitchen, longed for their warm presence. Wanted to once again fall asleep in the small room she had once called hers. How old would her sister be now, ten or eleven, she was no longer sure. Marie had stopped her from going home so long ago. Sometimes she wasn't even sure she could remember how old she was herself, wasn't even certain she even knew who she was anymore. 

She sat quietly, transfixed, her eyes never leaving the set that she was sat directly in front of. ‘This is stupid.’ She thought to herself, giving herself a mental shake. It was just a jumble of words, another speech by a man who was never going to get Hitler to do as he wanted. She'd kept up with the developments across the channel as much as she could. What they had all heard was just a bunch of words not a man eating tiger. Everything was happening in another country not the next street. But those words still niggled at her, laying in her mind like a dormant seed only to explode into a panic filled moment a few seconds later when the thought of her family who still lived in Poland entered her head. Would they be safe? Would anyone be safe, wouldn't Hitler want to invade the country she had always called home? Marie had seen the change in her almost the very second it had happened, getting to her feet she had swiftly crossed the room slapping her across the face.

“War means more business.” She screamed at her. “More work for all of you, think of all the soldiers that will need your services.” 

Allie had cringed at the thought. She'd been luckier than most of the others, she had regular clients as Marie had always called them. Two of which only ever wanted to sit and talk, bought her books and magazines. If Marie ever found out they would be banned even though they did pay well. Ordering Allie to go to her room Marie then carried on telling the rest of the girls that they had to be prepared for exactly what war would mean for them.  Slipping quietly into her room Allie decided that she would not stick around. One way or another she would escape for good, she would do something for the war effort but not the way Marie wanted her to.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

A few months and many pleasant conversations later Bea had never been so glad that she had run into Maxine again. Getting half of Harry's pay had been a huge bonus and Franky had given her extra hours at the cafe almost as soon as he was out of the picture. With rationing beginning to bite a little more with every passing week Franky's black market connections were a huge boost to all her best friends. Since Bea had introduced her to Maxine Franky joked that the list now comprised of four; Bea, Liz, Maxine and Boomer. Franky had concluded that since Ernest Bevin, the minister of labour, was trying to persuade women to volunteer for war work that Bea should return to her old job. Maxine had been very vocal on the subject on the long nights they'd all spent sitting in Beas kitchen after Debbie had gone to bed. Finally she gave in, sadly telling Franky that she would be leaving, her last day had been an emotional one for everyone especially Franky and the handful of regular customers the cafe attracted. From the first day she'd started working for Franky she'd become popular with all the customers. It may have been a job that Franky had really doubted she was suited to in the beginning but now losing her, even though she had done her best to convince her to leave, she knew she was going to miss her more than ever even though they would see each other regularly.

“Your not irreplaceable Red.” Franky had joked trying to hide how emotional she was really feeling, Bea had become more like a sister to her and she adored Debbie. Both Bea and Franky were well aware that there would be a queue of people lining up for the job now that most of the younger men were off fighting for king and country. Not all the married women in the area were as adept at making their money stretch like Bea was, some only survived on half their husbands service pay; a few shillings a week certainly didn't go too far. Even spam and mash for dinner was out of reach for some people, one of Beas most hated meals it may be but some would have bitten her hand off for it so she would always be grateful that she could put food on the table.

Bea found that her new found freedom and independence was everything she missed, it was even better than she remembered it being. As much as she now cursed the day she'd first laid eyes on Harry at the tender age of fourteen she wouldn't want to be without Debbie. For months she'd ignored him as much as was humanly possible but then he'd tried ingratiating himself in her good books, telling her that she should go after her dream of becoming a teacher and she softened to him slightly. By the time she left school he'd gone from encouraging her to convincing her that teaching was a dream she should forget about. At the age of fifteen she already knew she would have to eventually marry him. For four long years she managed to dodge the marriage proposal and then it happened almost as soon as his parents were out of the picture. Finding out that he had gambling debts hadn't really been a surprise to her, him never being able to hold down a job was more of an annoyance. Lack of money and having him under her feet all day meant she tried to keep her head down and stay out of his way until he found another form of employment. Married at age nineteen she'd already suffered years of abuse before she finally fell pregnant with Debbie. He'd relished being able to tell her she was barren, no use to him if she couldn't give him a son and heir. That had always been laughable to Bea, he had nothing to leave her let alone a child should he actually die; something she found herself wishing would happen almost everyday. He'd been unhappy at first when he knew he had a daughter but little by little he started to pay her attention, eventually growing to love his little girl. Bea knew too well how much he despised her but as long as he never laid a finger on Debbie she would suffer for her sake.

It was a fine juggling act between Debbie being at school and Bea working after Harry left but they managed much better than Bea had ever anticipated. Having Liz right next door had always been a god send to her. They joked often that he'd blow a fuse if he knew Debbie was spending more time with ‘that common person and her offspring’ as Harry had always referred to them. With Harry around she'd kept herself to herself for much of the time but sneaked quiet conversations with Liz by the fence because heaven forbid she say anything that could lead to their neighbours knowing exactly what went on in the confines of their home once the door was closed. They laughed now at how delusional he really was. “Did he never realise that the walls have ears?” Liz always said whenever they spoke of how quiet it was without him. How Harry thought that Liz couldn't hear almost every foul word he screamed at Bea was beyond both their comprehensions. 

The day had finally arrived, Bea was more nervous than she thought she should be, she'd done this before a long time ago. Liz as always was a life saver, when she'd agreed to return to the ministry all thoughts of taking Debbie to school and getting to work on time hadn't entered her head until Liz had made her an offer she couldn't refuse. All the reasons to not be doing this came flooding back into her head, she could easily change her mind couldn't she? ‘No!’ She told herself, she'd loved working for Franky but this was helping the war effort, something she knew her parents both approved of whole heartedly. She broke into a sweat again as she descended the stairs. Her heart pounded threatening to burst out of her rib cage. Looking at herself for one last time in the hall mirror she breathed in deeply, she was dressed as smartly as she could be in a matching grey skirt and jacket. She thought she was lucky to not look like she hadn't slept because of course she'd found sleeping more of a chore than a necessity the night before. Waking at a little after 4am she'd already cleaned her already spotlessly clean kitchen. Scrubbed it thoroughly, cleaned the floor twice, more out of habit than it really needing it. Harry had always insisted that the floor was scrubbed twice. She'd walked to the bus stop in somewhat of a daze, alighting at her stop she walked a short distance before her nerves got the better of her again. She could feel the sweat beginning to bead on her forehead as she walked around the corner. Maxine met her at the entrance to the huge building with her usual bright smile.

“This is going to be so much fun.” Maxine smiled genuinely at her. “It's so good to have you back, just like old times. Well all except for having to carry this thing around.” She pointed to the gas mask she had slung over one shoulder. “And we never had to suffer through bombing raids back then, but let's not think about that.” She threaded her arm through Beas as they happily walked inside the building together, all Beas nervousness quickly evaporated. 

 

 

Allie sat silently on her bed in her freezing cold room in the early hours of the morning. She’d slipped out of that house that from the outside if you had no knowledge of what went on inside no one would be any wiser a few months previously. Since then she'd done the only thing she knew how to do to survive, working the streets wasn't easy but until she could find a proper job there was nothing else she could do. And she wasn't like most of the prostitutes she'd come into contact with, Allie had never allowed herself to fall for the vices of alcohol or opiates even though Marie plied a lot of the girls with them. Thankfully she'd had a good hiding place for the few meagre possessions she'd taken with her. A run in with a policeman hadn't gone well, when he tried to stop her and ask questions she'd panicked and punched him earning her a short stay in prison. Here she was now sitting in a cold uninviting room wishing she'd taken one of her better outfits with her the night she'd slipped away. There was nothing she could do about that now though, she'd made sure to secure herself a room for the night everyday since her release even if that had meant not eating. She felt tired, cold and hungry as she got to her feet, today she had decided that she would go to the ministry of labour. Marie didn't appear to have sent anyone searching for her, if she had she told herself they weren't doing a fantastic job. Soho was only a little over a mile from the house and probably hadn't been the best place to hide but it was the best place to make the money she needed to survive. And it would have been easy to track her down while she'd been in prison so maybe she had just given her up as a lost cause. Marie still had her ration book locked away but Marie hadn't thought to take their identity cards from any of them. It would have been a big mistake to do that Allie had thought, after all everyone including children had to carry them with them at all times.

Washing in freezing cold water she shivered before quickly dressing herself in a cheap cotton dress. Once it had been a vivid cornflower blue, now because it had been washed and worn for so long it had faded to a nondescript shade of grey. Allie looked at herself in the mirror that hung on the wall. The surface was covered in greasy fingerprints and was black in places. She stood unmoving staring at her reflection, or at least the distorted image of herself that looked back at her. The mirror showed her the woman that the rest of the world saw, that was all they ever saw and that didn't seem right to her no matter how long she looked at herself. She longed for someone to see her for who she really was. Inside she was fireworks and rage, love and frustration; ambition and fear. Instead all the world saw was blonde hair and the kind of blue eyes that you forgot about even while you were still looking at them. Gathering her things together she  left the room and made her way out into the street, heading for her hiding place in the back of a derelict building depositing her small bag where she hoped it wouldn't be found by anyone else. Checking how much money she still had she decided that she had enough to buy herself a warm drink. She'd have to walk the streets later to pay for her room and probably again she'd not make enough to buy a meal but a bed for the night would always be more important to her, nothing beat a restful nights sleep she'd always told herself.

Greek street, even in the early mornings, was always a jumble of people, colour and noise. Through the hustle and bustle of the street she saw the government posters that already covered almost every inch of free wall space. The brightly coloured posters always caught her eye, ‘Beat firebomb Fritz - Join the fire guard,’ ‘Dig for victory,’ and ‘Be like dad, keep mum - Careless talk costs lives.’ She smiled to herself as she passed them by again, today she was going to at least try and do something worthwhile. She walked slower this morning as she looked around at the throng of people already on the street, Soho had always been a strange place she concluded. It was filled with so many different faces, tatty old buildings mixed with the lush green grass of Soho  Square gardens and many sordid dance clubs. If all else failed she decided maybe she could get a job at one of those even though she was trying to stay out of sight. Shrapnel from the bombs had gouged out various sized chunks of many of the buildings and they were all streaked with dust and ash from the numerous fires that had raged nearby. It was another chilly morning and a fog hung low over the city. It had still been dark when she'd set out but now the sky started finally to wake with the first rays of the sun. Finding a cafe or a tearoom that was open was never a problem, Soho never seemed to sleep.

Reaching the first tearoom she came to that had just opened she walked through the blackout curtain into a cheerfully decorated room that was filled with round tables that were covered with red checked tablecloths. Taking the first seat she came to she ordered a small pot of tea from a sleepy looking waitress who quickly returned with a tray containing a brown teapot a cup and  saucer and a small milk jug. Pouring herself a cup she glanced around the room before taking a sip of her tea, it was strong just the way she'd grown to like it. Finishing her first cup she poured out a second and decided to make it last a little longer, there was no need to rush when the ministry wouldn't even open for a little over another two hours. She wasn't even sure if registering was worth her time, she had no fixed address anymore and unless she worked no money. Everything she owned fitted into one small bag. Maybe she could go back to the house, maybe she'd be welcomed back or maybe she'd be set upon before being turned back out onto the streets. She didn't ever really want to go back there, that life, even if she was still living it was what she wanted to turn her back on forever. She couldn't remember any other way of life why she thought she could get a job that would actually give her a steady income she didn't know but she wanted to try. If she had a steady income she'd be able to find a permanent room in boarding house somewhere far away from Soho. She was under no illusion that she'd more than likely be alone forever, knowing who she really was was never going to make her life any easier. Being forced into prostitution was never the life she'd envisaged for herself, now she couldn't even remember what kind of life she'd dreamed of most of the time. After an hour she finally finished her now cold tea and left the tearoom that was slowly starting to fill up deciding that a slow walk via the backstreets was her best course of action. 

 

 

Bea sat behind her desk at the ministry in Edgeware Road trying hard to swallow yet another wave of revulsion when she thought of the breakfast she found so hard to swallow. A thick slice of bread fried in beef dripping, just the thought of how the grease had congealed on her tongue was enough to make her feel nauseous again. The war and the rationing it caused could well be the death of her, food like her breakfast was far scarier to her than any German bombing raid. She wondered if she'd receive any more letters from Harry. In the months since he'd left the occasional one had been waiting on the mat for her when she returned home. They were always full of insults, complaints about where he was stationed, the weather, the food but mainly about his money that she was getting the benefit of using while he had very little. It was laughable she'd always thought, he had his meals provided for him, she had to work, shop and try to provide a nourishing meal for their daughter. From now on she decided she wasn't even going to open anymore that he sent, she wouldn't allow him to make her feel guilty any longer. They suffered through rationing, bombing raids they were just as likely to die as he was.

After her first two hours she'd already decided that her new role was the best way for her to spend the war. Her desk was situated next to a window at the Hype Park end of Edgeware Road. At that end of the road there were homes where all the well to do people lived, Bayswater and Park Lane were defiantly considered posh and so she'd been told many celebrities of the day lived there. A quarter of a mile to the right lay the sleazy end of Paddington. Right outside that window she could see both extremes of society. Everyone was expected to register for employment, in her first two hours she'd already seen people who she'd either registered for war work or transferred into the services.

Allie had paced up and down the street trying to talk herself into walking through the door. People like her didn't enter buildings like this without getting thrown out seconds later. She'd watched as people went in and came out. Watched as women dressed in their finest outfits went in and later came out heading in the direction of the large houses she felt even unable to walk past. She stood across the road where she had a better view of the building when she saw the grimiest soul she thought she'd ever seen walk in as if she owned the place. Her occupation wasn't hard to guess and she thought she recognised her from the streets of Soho but from that distance she couldn't be sure. When she walked out a little later and scurried away Allie finally decided that she had to just get it over with, the worst that could happen would be that she'd be escorted from the building. 

Maxine was the first person to approach her when she finally found her way to the correct office. “I'm afraid I'm just going for my tea break but Bea can help you.” Maxine smiled at her putting her a little more at ease. Maxine she quickly decided after seeing her tall slim figure approach was friendly and carried herself with an air of quiet confidence. Showing Allie to Beas desk Maxine had quickly retreated.

Bea looked up from a pile of folders that adorned her desk and smiled. “I'll be with you in just one second, please take a seat.” 

Allie decided in an instant that even though Beas voice sounded cheerful she had a shadow of sadness in her eyes. Maybe she'd lost someone already in the war, maybe she was just sick to the back teeth of seeing women like her sitting across from her before having to tell them that their services, no matter how well intentioned, just weren't required. What ever the reason it was there and plainly visible to Allie.

“I'm sorry about that.” Bea smiled at her once more as she took an empty file from a stack next to her and grabbed a form. This was the standard protocol, first thing first was to get a record of employment.

“Where were you last employed?” Bea asked, it felt as if she'd asked that question a million times already even if it had only been maybe half a dozen times that morning.

“Three and one.” Allie answered honestly.

Bea wrote down what she'd said thinking that maybe it was a dry cleaners or something. Allie knew someone like Bea wouldn't have the first idea what that even meant but it was honestly the last place she'd actually had any kind of legitimate employment. Not that you actually were rewarded by any financial gain cleaning around the prison.

“And what's the address?” Bea asked as she looked back at Allie who was looking back at her as if she'd never had to deal with anyone who had such a low IQ before. She should have known Bea would have no clue what she was trying to tell her without having to actually say it out loud.

“Three and one.” Allie repeated as if she hoped the penny would drop, she'd seen the various women who walked in and out of there already that morning; Bea had to have spoken to one of them didn't she? Allie shook her head slightly. “Three and one, three months and one off for good conduct.” She elaborated finally seeing a look of recognition in her eyes.

“Ah, prison.” Bea nodded scribbling it down quickly. “Which prison?”

Allie blinked hardly believing what she was hearing, was this woman for real she wondered. No matter how beautiful she was she couldn't believe she was even asking her this question. “There is only one prison for women….Holloway.” Allie said as her eyes again scanned Beas face.

“Yes…sorry, first day. I should know that.” Bea felt more than a little stupid by the end of their conversation. There was no real category to fit the prostitutes into really, Maxine had told her that quite a few had tried to register and had been turned away, their files being marked as unfit. Clearly Allie wasn't unfit fit work. Maxine and a couple of the others who worked in the office had decided that putting them under a 174 was best. The light entertainment category Maxine justified the decision to Bea saying that they could register and do their part, they clearly wanted to even if they had to admit to their real professions.

Maxine had returned from her tea break and sat at her desk watching the rest of the exchange between the two of them. Watching Bea laugh at something Allie had said to her made her smile. Seeing Bea smile was a rare occurrence, watching her laugh with someone she'd only just met was rarer still. As Allie was leaving she threw a lingering look in Beas direction, something that Maxine hadn't failed to notice.

“I did the right thing didn't I? Putting Allie under a 174?” Bea asked as Maxine arrived at her desk plonking herself in the chair Allie had recently vacated.

“I would say so.” Maxine smiled. “Some of them are hopeless and you'll never be able to do a thing with them. The services won't take them and getting them into war work is just as hard. The more they stand out, even if you send them to a factory, none of the other girls will work with them. I've heard stories that are outrageous if you ask me, they won't eat with them or use any of the same facilities. We had an older gentleman come in one day complaining loudly that his daughter had been made to consort with a prostitute.” Maxine shook her head as she sighed. “I really don't see the problem if they want to work who are we to say they can't? It's for the good of the country, you see all these governmental posters everywhere and we have to turn them away.” 

“She didn't look like she stood out to me.” Bea said as she looked at Maxine knowing that something was playing on her mind. “Spit it out Maxi.”

“I think someone took a shine to you the second she walked through that door and I pointed her in your direction.” Maxine smiled as she watched the look of confusion wash over Beas face.

“Don't be stupid.” Bea said quietly as she suddenly realised what Maxine meant, the idea didn't really fill her with dread after all she'd worked with Franky. “I mean she can't have, and I'm not…you did hear what I told you she does for a living didn't you?”

“I did, and? It takes all sorts to make a world. And I do remember a certain person once telling me that she had no interest in men at all, although maybe that was just a certain man in particular. And I do distinctly remember said person telling me that men were not her thing.” Maxine laughed lightly. “Was that just really only directed towards one certain man? Never judge a book by its cover Beatrice, you of all people should know that.”

“Maxi! Since when did you become my mother? You know very well she's the only person who ever calls me that.” Bea frowned.

“I'm not, and thank heavens for small mercies.” Maxine chuckled briefly as every set of eyes in the office suddenly became directed at them. “Besides, I'm certain some of the conversations we've shared in the past were not suitable for any mothers ears.” Maxine muttered quietly.

“Most defiantly not.” Bea agreed, she remembered a few of their conversations. There was a time before she married Harry that they would talk about everything. Maxine had been the only person she'd ever felt really comfortable talking to until she met Franky. She'd always regret losing touch with Maxine but right now she wasn't going to let regrets rule her life. As far as she could see if what was going on in the world right then was anything to gauge things by regrets shouldn't play a part in anyone's life. No one could be sure if that day could be their final day to live, with every breath she took she would live and try to enjoy every second. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

The next two weeks passed in a blur as far as Bea was concerned. Everyday more and more women were sitting across from her wanting to register for work. More and more seemed to be wandering through the door from the sleazy streets of Paddington and she really hated having to turn them away. Most it wasn't difficult to see the second she laid eyes on them were already under the influence of one substance or another. The younger ones didn't seem to have sunk all the way into the depravities of the life. Marking files as unfit though still didn't seem right somehow, no one knew how their lives had been. No one could possible know what abuses they may have suffered leaving them with only one course of action. The depression had seen so many people fighting for a handful of jobs and when the means test for unemployment benefits had been introduced it left many without any form of financial support. Her own life wasn't something she wanted other people to know about but gave her good reason to hate being responsible for turning anyone away. Of course she knew she had to, you couldn't send an intoxicated woman to work in the dangerous environment of a munitions factory. Certainly they were never going to be fit for any of the services.

She quickly found herself being given the responsibility for reviewing a number of the women's files who had been classified unfit as well as having to juggle new registrations. All the time she still couldn't forget about Allie, she'd given an address of a place in Soho but said she didn't know how long she would be able to stay there. She was ten years Beas junior but she had been able to see some similarities between their lives, and Bea suspected that there was much more to Allie than met the eye. Bea had the advantage of a privileged upbringing, the best schools and the love and encouragement of both her parents. Allie had had the love of her parents and had been encouraged to complete her education that much she knew from their conversation. Something had gone seriously wrong in both their lives of that she was sure. An idea suddenly hit her and she quickly crossed the office to Maxine’s desk, thankful she didn't have anyone with her right at that moment in time. Maxine was responsible for everyone in their small office and Bea was more than pleased that she didn't have to go and see Mr Potter who had overall responsibility for the whole department. 

“Can I take my lunch break early?” Bea asked as soon as Maxine smiled at her.

“You can, I don't see a problem with that.” Maxine glanced at the clock. “But don't you think it's still far too early for lunch? What's the problem?”

“I had an idea, you know Franky still hasn't found anyone suitable for my old job. I have someone in mind who I think would be perfect, of course I'd have to find out if she was interested first but if I could just go and see Franky ask her…”

Maxine held one of her hands up silencing Bea for a few seconds. “That sounds work related to me.” She grinned. “I'd say under those circumstances I can let you leave and still allow you your lunch break.”

Bea opened her mouth and closed it again, of course Maxine would stay that. “Thank you.” Bea said as she turned around and headed back to her desk. Grabbing her coat and bag she almost ran out of the office, the sooner she could speak to Franky the sooner she might be able to track down Allie and drag her to see Franky if need be.

 

 

“To what do I owe the pleasure Red?” Franky asked as she looked up from the newspaper she was sat behind the counter reading. It was strange for Bea to appear in the cafe during the week, stranger still at that time of day.

“My old job, did that last woman work out who you were trying out?” Bea blurted out faster than she intended.

“Can't see anyone else here but me can you?” Franky laughed as she looked around at the handful of regular customers who spent half their day sitting in the cafe watching the world go by. “Seems she wasn't fond of turning up on time, if she turned up at all, and she certainly didn't go down well with anyone you see sitting here. Why do you ask, couldn't you have waited until tonight? Not that I'd ever complain about you coming in, must be important.” Franky grinned.

“I have someone in mind, she's a little down on her luck and I'm sure she'd jump at the chance.” Bea knew she didn't really need to try convincing Franky. As far as Franky was concerned she'd always much rather employ someone who came with a recommendation from someone she already knew. She'd taken a big chance on Bea and she'd always be tremendously grateful for that.

“If you can bring her in before I put the sign back up I'll give her a trial run seeing as you asked so nicely.” Franky grinned back at her. “And since you're here have a cuppa on the house.” Franky had already got to he feet and was sliding a mug of steaming of hot tea across the counter towards her before she could even say no or try to protest.

Bea spent the next few minutes chatting with Franky and one or two of the regular customers who all said it just wasn't the same without her before she left heading back to the office. Now all she had to do was find Allie. She was aware that most of the street girls only worked later in the day, that way they could dodge the police much easier. The address in Soho that Allie had given she was hardly familiar with but it was a start. She guessed she wouldn't be there now so it would be pointless looking for her until the next morning, after all Allie had told her that the owner kicked her out at the crack of dawn. Liz wouldn't mind if Debbie stayed the night round at her house, they often had sleepovers since Harry had gone and it was Friday so no school the following day. It may not be the wisest idea to walk the streets of Soho during the blackout but she couldn't think of any other way to find her other than getting to the address before Allie had to leave. By the time she reached Edgeware Road she'd already decided what she was going to do next. Walking into the building she was so caught up in her plan to help Allie she didn't even notice the blonde haired figure standing across the street watching her every move.

 

 

Mr Potter, the head of department, hated anyone asking awkward questions. Sitting at her desk a little later Bea was looking over the files Maxine had given her and she was horrified by the amount of women who had been classified as unfit. They were all young, physically fit and expressed an interest in a particular field of work. The only common factors that stood out to her were that they'd all given their current profession as that of a prostitute, and none of them had been seen by anyone who worked in the same office Bea did. She'd looked over the files that kept being piled up on her desk for the last few days, spent a lot of her time in and out of the different offices begging for answers to her multitude of questions often on an hourly basis. Mr Potter had noted the number of times she'd appeared in the office he spent most if his time presiding over. He'd been asking his own questions as to why she was being so disruptive, he hated anyone making a nuisance of themselves. Maxine had pleaded with her to just let it go even though she'd seen just how much Bea wasn't about to let go of what she considered to be a huge injustice to the women concerned. “You know not all the women would be considered fit, and not everyone agrees that even the most presentable amongst them should be given a 174 classification. You'll never win this fight Bea, and taking Mr Potter on isn't a good idea I've already told you that.” Maxine had tried her hardest to get her to stop but it wasn't working, she agreed with her she always would but even Maxine wasn't brave enough to take on Mr Potter even if she did disagree with him. When Bea decided to be stubborn though Maxine knew there would never be any reasoning with her.

Barging into the next office right before lunch that day after returning from her trip to visit Franky Bea found herself being bellowed at by none other than Mr Potter. “Not you again Smith!”

Bea was used to being shouted at, had lived for years under the terrifying reign of Harry. She was more than used to putting up with rough treatment and raised voices, today her head and her heart swelled against it. After all she'd been placed in what she considered an important role, even more so after being asked by Maxine to review each file that had been classified as unfit for any kind of war work. She was fed up with the lackadaisical attitude that even Maxine tolerated sometimes. Being bawled out publicly when she was only trying to do a good job seemed more than a little unfair.

“Who does that man think he is?” She had muttered to one of the other women in the office who was sitting at a desk right next to where she was standing. Her words had slipped out before she'd even realised she'd said them, realising moments later to her horror that he had in fact heard her.

“What was that?” He demanded as he strode over to her fixing her with an angry stare. 

Bea gulped, there was no going back now. “I said, ‘Who does that man think he is?’” She replied trying to sound more confident than she actually felt. She couldn't believe she'd actually said it, ordinarily she'd just have ignored his outburst and carried on with whatever she was doing. She was the last person on earth who would stand up to authority ordinarily. The implications of her uncharacteristic behaviour began to dawn on her, she felt certain that she'd lose her job; end up working in a munitions factory since what little she received from Harry wasn't enough and she wouldn't go back to Franky's cafe, not now she was hoping to get Allie the job. She couldn't expect her parents to bail her out when she'd caused the whole sorry mess herself. To her surprise instead of yelling at her Mr Potter burst out laughing.

“I like it when one of the girls shows a bit of gumption.” He told her once he caught his breath again. “It doesn't happen all that often.” He chuckled.

Bea was stunned at the sudden change in his attitude but for once she was starting to feel a little more brave. “Why do you always talk to people like that?” She asked when she found her voice again.

Mr Potter thought for a moment tapping his finger against his chin before giving her a rueful smile. “Well I suppose I like seeing you girls quake a little.” Turning around, still laughing to himself, he walked away before stopping suddenly. Turning back to face her again he looked long and hard at her. “You do know who these women are? I mean what they say their most recent profession is I suppose?” He asked smiling waiting to see what her response would be. 

“Of course, but that doesn't mean they should all be dismissed as being unfit. Can you tell me that you know the reasons they have to do it? Do you ever think that maybe they had no choice? Can you tell me you know anything at all about me? What if I felt I had no choice, couldn't find any other form of work would you say I was unfit?” Bea waited for an answer, she felt uncomfortable under his watchful eye but she wouldn't back down now.

“I doubt very much you would ever find yourself in such a position. I will admit though that I don't actually speak to any of these women so I couldn't really say one way or another. I would say however that many people wouldn't trust them an inch, but if you feel that the women you interview are fit to work then please carry on as you are. Just please for the love of god stop interrupting every other office in this department.” He turned around this time walking to the other side of the office and out of her way.

Bea scowled at him as he had retreated, he wouldn't stop her from doing her job the way she saw fit. For most of them there were no indications that given the chance of real employment they wouldn't be productive members of society. It was common knowledge that most employers didn't want to take anyone who had prostitute on their file the 174 came in very useful in her opinion. Certainly not all of them walked into the office looking even slightly respectable, some of them had no place to live so finding legitimate forms of employment was never going to be an easy option. Allie certainly didn't have any permanent place to live but she wanted to work. Keeping what they had been working as off their files would be what she'd do whenever possible, once they were employed they couldn't leave or be dismissed from their jobs without the consent of the local national service officer. 

 

 

Allie knew she had lived a lie for more years than she even cared to remember now. She pushed all thoughts of her family out of her head at least for the most part. Since the bombs had started raining down on the east end she'd hardly been able to keep them out of her thoughts. She couldn't go back now could she, if they saw how she was living they wouldn't want her in their lives. It didn't stop her from wondering if they ever thought about her. Growing up in the east end slums had never been an easy life, her grandmother and mother had taught her to cook and frowned upon her using any of the east end slang. Maybe that had been why Marie had been more than happy to have her work for her, as long as she'd been in that house she'd never once come across a girl who didn't speak properly. Now she hated how easily she'd been convinced into throwing herself into the lifestyle Marie had at first provided her with. At first she'd appeared to care for her, back then Allie had had the brightest smile and the loudest most contagious laugh in the whole house. Marie had once convinced her that she loved her, then Allie screwed up and made the mistake of falling for someone else and she'd been quickly replaced and made to work in the brothel Marie insisting that she never really cared for her anyway. She knew better now. Marie cared for no one but herself Allie knew she latched onto anyone, male or female, as long as she could get what she wanted that was all that mattered. She'd sat back and watched her reel in a number of young girls the same way she had her, watched her bring men home with her late at night when she thought no one else was awake. Once she'd even married although no one else was meant to know about that, he'd died a few weeks later and Marie had benefited from his death. She hated what Marie had done to her, hated the men that Marie made her prostitute herself with if she wanted to keep a roof over her head. As soon as war broke out Marie knew she would make a killing. Allie didn't care what anyone thought of her anymore, life was meant to be for living but all she was doing was existing. With war the risk of death increased and the bombs falling all over London only heightened that risk. Being arrested hadn't been part of Allies plan but still prison had seemed a little better than going back to Marie. Walking into the ministry she'd expected to be greeted by a man who would look down his nose at her. Instead she'd met Maxine who had been nothing but friendly towards her and then Bea had been thrown into the mix who she now couldn't get out of her mind.

Allie had saved up every penny she had spare over the last two weeks, even when that had meant she'd not eat for a couple of days. She never wanted to meet Bea again dressed the way she had been that first day. She left the house in such a hurry picking out one of her better outfits had been the last thing on her mind and she'd left with virtually nothing. As she looked at herself for one final time in the mirror that morning before leaving her rented room she knew she looked better than she had in a long time. She would go back to the ministry and ask if they had matched her with a suitable position, hopefully she'd get a glimpse of Bea again. She stood outside across the street working up the courage to go inside for a second time when she'd seen Bea leave. After watching her get on a bus she'd sat herself on the wall and waited. A multitude of things ran through her mind as she sat quietly by herself. She tried to remember what life had been like before the outbreak of war a little over a year earlier. There had been no rationing but even then luxuries weren't something she had been accustomed to. She saw Bea return but felt rooted to the spot, it wouldn't hurt if she waited a little longer. Seeing her exit the building again what felt like hours had passed as she saw her crossing the street in her direction.

“Allie.” Bea sounded a little surprised to see her there she thought, it felt impossible to speak her mouth was so dry so she just nodded. “Were you coming inside?” Allie nodded again. “I'm just going for lunch, you're more than welcome to join me.” Bea smiled.

Allie shook her head, she knew she couldn't afford the price of a cup of tea right now. She wasn't about to embarrass Bea in whatever fancy place she would be going to. Bea suddenly felt stupid, why did Allie always have the ability to do that to her she wondered. She may look a little different today but she knew she probably didn't have the money to buy anything for herself. “My treat.” Bea hurriedly added hoping she wouldn't take offence by the offer. “I was going to look for you in the morning, I have something I wanted to ask you. It's a little chilly out here, you must be cold, please, join me.” 

Allie just nodded again as she got off the wall. She'd taken care choosing the dress she was wearing, a simple black outfit she knew always suited her and went so well with her blonde hair and bright blue eyes. Her new dress had been the best she could afford, black with long sleeves and a white satin collar and matching cuffs. She'd save up again for a coat, hopefully she'd be able to buy one before it really was too cold.

“Where are we going?” Allie finally asked as she walked beside Bea as they walked towards Paddington. 

“There's a small cafe down here that I often go to when I need some breathing space, trust me that happens a lot and after the morning I've had.” Bea smiled, her run in with Mr Potter had left her with a need for some time away. “The owner doesn't mind if I eat my sandwich there as long as I buy a cup of tea.”

“Oh, I wouldn't have thought someone like you would have been seen dead in this end of Paddington.” Allie knew she should never judge but after meeting Bea only once she didn't seem like she belonged in such a sleazy area of the city.

“I worked in a cafe almost identical to the one we're going to before I returned to the ministry.” Bea told her as they walked along. Most people seeing her now never guessed that before the war she'd ever had a need to work, let alone had a need to work in a greasy spoon.

The small cafe was crowded as was usual for the time of day but they managed to squeeze into two rickety wooden chairs that were at a table over by the window. Whitewash and tape on the pains of glass testified to the fact that at any minute more bombs could fall from the sky. The blackout was in full force when it turned dark but even in daylight sitting by the window Bea felt a little uncomfortable, she'd witnessed glass shattering from exploding bombs and knew that it could be really dangerous. Allie looked as though she needed to sit down though, and given the fact that she was shivering a little walking back up to the park to eat was not an idea Bea was about to entertain. It was warm inside and Allie could certainly use a little warming up. It may be a fine day without a cloud in sight, the sky overhead was the blue of a summer sky but the air was raw with the crispness only a British October day could bring. Ordering two cups of tea Bea pulled out her sandwich offering Allie half, she'd noticed as soon as she saw her that she was much thinner than she had been two weeks previously. Allie said no at first but as she quickly found out Bea wasn't going to take no for an answer. Their tea was served in the ugliest cups Allie thought she had ever seen, they were an ugly shade of green and had numerous chips around the rim. The liquid they contained looked as weak as dishwater but after taking a sip they both agreed it was at least palatable.

“Do you believe in new beginnings?” Allie asked.

Bea looked nervously down at her hands that were now sitting in her lap.

“I don't know. I suppose I've never really thought about it. Maybe…” Beas eyes finally moved away from her hands and scanned Allies face. “I suppose I should really, being back at the ministry is a new beginning for me. That was what I wanted to speak to you about.” Bea finally smiled again. “I told you I used to work in a cafe, my friend Franky owns it and since I left she hasn't found anyone suitable to fill the vacancy. She's willing to give you a trial if you'd be interested. It's much better than working in any munitions factory and I doubt the services would suit you. The pays enough for you to find a permanent room somewhere and while you're working she'll feed you at no extra cost. I thought maybe I could take you to meet her later.”

Allie could hardly believe what she was hearing, Bea was the only person who had ever tried to help her. From the moment she'd sat across from her having to give her all the details of her life she rarely divulged to any other living human being she'd never felt judged. Bea hadn't looked at her in disgust, hadn't told her that there was no way they could match her with a suitable position.  Bea had laughed when she'd cracked a joke, her smile had never seemed forced. Now she'd shared her lunch with her, bought her a cup of tea and was offering her a way off the streets. There was no way she could refuse and no way she'd ever let her down, she'd work harder than any other person she'd ever known. Maybe she'd even get a chance to see a little more of Bea, after all if she said no and was sent to work in a munitions factory she'd probably never see her again. Allie agreed asking for the address saying she would meet her there. 

“Meet me at the bus stop.” Bea told her as they stopped outside the ministry pointing to the stop that she used every evening. “I finish at five, and no arguments about the cost of the fare you can owe me.” Bea smiled when Allie didn't even try to argue.

 

 

Bea sat behind her desk all afternoon interviewing anyone who was pointed in her direction. Her head felt a million miles away from where she really was, she couldn't stop herself from wondering where Allie would spend her time as she waited for her finish. Would she go back to Soho in search of making a little money. She knew asking her to meet her so late in the day would mean she'd have less time to make enough to pay for a room. Franky would defiantly give her a chance she knew that but where would she stay before she found a place that she could afford? Franky lived above the cafe and she had a spare room. Generally it was full of clutter and more recently she'd allowed one of her black market contacts to use it occasionally for storage. Franky's small flat was always warm though and it was safe. Would Franky even agree to letting Allie stay if she asked? Allie had been on her mind since the first day they met, Maxine had asked her many times what was keeping her so preoccupied when she seemed distracted. She didn't know why she felt a need to protect her, many women in her position had sat in front of Bea and she'd never felt like that about any of them. Maxine had asked if she'd found a place for Allie and the second she'd mentioned her name she'd felt the blush rise in her cheeks. As she found herself with nothing to do for the last twenty minutes of her day her thoughts turned back to those conversations she'd once had with Maxine. Could she really have been right that really she never had any interest in the opposite sex? How was she even meant to know what she felt she wondered, all she'd ever know was Harry. She'd studied hard, read and drawn in her free time, she'd never felt the need like all her friends who only ever wanted to make themselves more attractive to the boys their age. 

“Are you spending the night in the office?” Maxine asked with a chuckle as she approach Bea who appeared lost in thought. “I'm sure Debbie wouldn't appreciate you not going home.”

“Yes, I am….going home I mean.” Bea answered as she jumped out of her chair and quickly gathering her things together. Maybe Allie wouldn't be waiting for her but the sooner she left the sooner she'd find out. Maxine shook her head as she stood and watched Bea scurry out of the office faster than she ever had without even saying anything else to her. It was out of character but since Maxine had seen her talking to Allie as she'd looked out of the window earlier in the day she guessed she knew the reason why she was in so much of a hurry to leave.

As soon as Bea stepped outside she looked towards the bus stop, Allie was there with her back to her. Beas eyes never left the back of her head as she approached. Suddenly she felt an overwhelming feeling of relief, she felt lucky, luckier than she ever remembered feeling in her whole life. Allie turned and smiled at her, surly she couldn't have known she was there Bea thought.

“Getting a little chillier don't you think?” Allie smiled as she slightly shrugged her shoulders when Bea stopped beside her.

Bea smiled back at her, not really noticing that she was gazing into tremendously penetrating and intoxicating crystal blue eyes. Up close they looked like a celestial phenomenon, the light of every unnamed star shining in them but it was impossible not to notice the hint of sadness mixed with a childlike innocence hidden behind them.

“It is.” Bea agreed as she finally looked away. “Almost cold enough to kill us both if we have to stay out here for too long.”

By the time the bus arrived there were another fifteen people waiting at the bus stop. As soon as they stepped onto the bus the aroma of cigarette smoke mixed with hot breath and stale body odour swirled around them. Raucous laughter and a few coughs came from the back of the bus where a few young men dressed in their army uniforms were sitting, clearly on leave. It wasn't hard for anyone getting on the bus to guess that they were clearly intent on getting as drunk as possible to celebrate being home for a short time at least.

“How about joining us down the pub?” One of them hollered down the bus at them as they sat down side by side.

Bea peered over her shoulder at them frowning but she said nothing.

“Ignore them.” Allie whispered as she leaned a little closer her hot breath tickling Beas neck and sending her head into a spin. “Their drunk already, it won't be long before their on their backs.”

Allie turned her head and glared at the lecherous soldiers as the conductor made an appearance. Ignoring the new passengers for the time being he made a point of telling them if they wanted to smoke they had to go upstairs. As they passed where Bea and Allie were sitting Bea looked out of the window. Allie watched them with a smug smile as they grumbled about being made to move and sit upstairs with their half finished woodbines sticking out of their mouths.

“It's alright they've gone now.” Allie said in a low voice as she watched Bea intently.

“I don't suppose I'll ever get used to that kind of behaviour.” Bea sighed as she looked back at Allie the reminder of Harry lingering for a few seconds longer in her mind, a small smile playing on her lips the moment their eyes met again.

“I really hope you don't mind me saying but you really should do that more often.” Allie said quietly as Bea attempted to blink away her confusion as her cheeks flushed a little, the intensity of Allies gaze for reasons she couldn't quite fathom always made that happen. “Smile.” Allie elaborated. “I know we're in the middle of a war but you really should smile more from now on.” From the first moment Allie had seen that smile and Beas excessively fascinating and hypnotic mahogany eyes felt like stable ground, steady and prepared to embrace you when you fall in a nurturing warm blanket of love. They sparkled and her red hair looked so bright and vivid as the sun had shone through the window that was right beside her desk. Bea had a lot on her mind Allie could clearly see that, she'd decided from the moment they met that if Bea wanted to talk about anything she would be more than willing to listen. Offering help even if it was just an ear to listen was something Allie had always been good at, accepting it herself was something she'd never had to do, but accepting help from Bea felt natural.

 

 

“So…” Franky said as she eyed Allie from behind the counter. “You ever done this kind of work before blondie?” 

Allie shook her head, if Bea hadn't been stood right beside her she'd have turned around and run straight back out of the door. The thought of letting Bea down after she'd gone to the trouble of asking Franky to see her just wasn't an option. And she needed the job, any job would have been better than what she had to do to survive normally, except this could possible mean Bea would be around sometimes.

“Can you cook? Make tea? Wash dishes? How's about serving customers, some of them are a handful if you know what I mean.” Franky laughed. “And don't just stand there blondie, see that open sign on the door?” Franky nodded towards it. “Turn it to closed would you, don't want the drunks thinking I'm still open.”

“Franky.” Bea almost growled as she stepped closer to the counter while Allie was doing as she asked. “I don't remember you giving me a hard time the day I walked in here. The way I remember it you gave me the job on the spot.”

Franky laughed. “I'm only pulling yer leg Red. She's got the job, any friend of yours must be worth taking a chance on. Although I doubt she'll want to dress like that, you know how easy it is to get covered in some old timers tea when you forgot how they like it.”

Franky turned her attention to making tea for the three of them, she'd never heard Bea mention anyone named Allie, she wasn't even aware she knew anyone that young. Although in the first couple of minutes Franky had distinctly noticed that Allie found it hard to keep her eyes off her red haired friend. Bea clearly didn't notice, but the way Bea had stood up to her when she started asking questions had her seeing her in a whole new light. With the blackout curtains up at the windows and the door Franky carried over the tea to the table Bea and Allie had sat at. 

“You got a place close by?” Franky asked as she watched the pair.

Allie was about to say something when Bea jumped in. “I wanted to ask you about that, your spare room.” Bea paused briefly. “Is there any chance you could let Allie stay with you until she finds her feet?” Bea asked hopefully, if Franky said no she'd take her home. Without a spare room she knew the only space they had was the sofa and she knew from her own experience that it wasn't the most comfortable place to sleep.

“Why not” Franky shrugged. “I'll take her rent out if her first pay packet.” She laughed loudly. “Seriously, as long as you don't mind sharing the room with a few boxes of supplies and some of Juices harder to get your mitts on goods I don't see there being a problem but don't you need to collect your things?” 

Allie looked down at the table top in front of her, a sense of shame washing over her. Apart from what she was wearing she had nothing that was suitable to work in, even if it was only in a cafe. Bea pushed her chair back quickly causing it to screech along the tiled floor and making Franky wince. Motioning to her to follow her they retreated to the back of cafe leaving Allie alone with her thoughts. What was Bea going to tell her Allie wondered. Surly if she told her the truth not only would she lose the job before she even started she's also lose a place to stay. It was too late to get a room now, she had no money anyway. Her options would be extremely limited if Franky kicked her out. 

“Anything you need I can lend you.” Franky said as she took her seat again looking straight at Allie a huge smile on her face. 

“Thank you.” Allie said quietly as her eyes wandered back to Bea. She couldn't have told Franky the truth or she'd be out on her ear she was certain of that. Maybe she'd told her that she'd been bombed out of her previous accommodation, that made sense Bea would hardly tell anyone she was acquainted with someone like her would she? Bea even wanting to help her was confusing enough, she should stop trying to think about it too much but how could she? No one had ever wanted to help her before if they had maybe she'd never have ended up where she had been. She had a warm bed waiting for her and a very different form of employment. She was certain of one thing if she lived for another hundred years there was no way she'd ever be able to repay Bea for everything she had done for her.

Franky pulled out a small bunch of keys and placed it down on the table. “I'll go and tidy that room up a little, it would be helpful if you could at least get in the bed right? Take this as your first day blondie you're in charge of locking up.” Franky smiled as she picked up the now empty cups and disappeared leaving Bea and Allie alone.

“I better be off.” Bea said a hint of sadness in her voice, she was pleased that Franky had been more than helpful to Allie giving her her old job and more importantly a place to stay. It wasn't as if they knew each other well but Bea was sure she was going to miss her just a little. “I'll call in tomorrow after I've been to the market, unfortunately for you I'll have Debbie with me.”

Allie looked puzzled for a moment until she realised that she must be talking about her daughter. Of course Bea would have a daughter, she was married, ignoring the ring on her finger was easy when every other part of her was so easy to look at.

“Seven year olds have a habit of being a handful and unfortunately for me extremely unhelpful, luckily Franky always knows how to distract her.” Bea laughed reaching the door she turned back to face Allie. “Usually with chocolate cake, and Maxine is just as bad.”

Slipping out of the door after saying goodnight she paused briefly in the doorway of the cafe as she heard Allie lock it. Her thoughts turned to something that had never crossed her mind before. Allie needed more than just what she was standing up in, Franky would lend her anything she needed. If it wasn't that Allie was a little taller than her she'd fit perfectly in anything she owned except for the fact that she was sure most of her clothes would be a little too short on her to be decent.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Allie had quickly settled in to working for Franky, the regular customers loved her almost as much as they had loved Bea. At first Franky had harboured a few small doubts, just has she had with Bea, the differences between them were blindingly obvious giving Franky a whole different set of doubts about Allie. Allie had made tea, cleared the tables and washed dishes without a word of complaint over the first week she was there. Franky had watched as she laughed and joked with the customers. One evening right before it was time to close for the day she'd almost fallen off the stool she was sitting on behind the counter when she watched her square up to an extremely intoxicated young soldier who burst through the door demanding to be fed. Allie had stood tall and ordered him out of the door, when he refused she'd spun him around as if it were the most natural thing to do in the world and marched him right through it before turning the sign to closed. Franky had shook her head and tossed over the keys, laughing to herself as she watched her lock it before checking the blackout curtains were firmly in place. Bea hadn't told her much, Franky knew she'd been living out on the streets and Bea had said little else. Franky had guessed how she'd managed to survive but she'd said nothing about it, if Allie chose to tell her that would be Allies decision. Franky would never judge anyone for the choices they had to make, and after watching the way Allie had stood up to a man who towered over her she knew giving her the job had been the best decision she'd ever made since taking a chance on Bea. It wasn't just the cafe that was in safe hands with her around Franky had secretly thought, her best friend would be too just as soon as she woke up to what was clearly right in front of her eyes. She could see how Allie hung off her every word, how her eyes lit up at the mere mention of her name. Bea was no different with all things Allie, she just didn't seem to see it, at least not yet.

Bea had called into the cafe almost every evening on her way home from work something that had amused Franky. The more she saw them quietly chatting as they sat at one of the tables the more she saw Bea light up. She smiled more than she ever remembered, laughed so loud that at first Franky had thought it could very well have been someone impersonating her. Every Saturday she appeared at lunch time with Debbie in tow who was always grumbling about not having enough sweets. Before the war their trips to the market had always been the highlight of Debbie's week, now it had dwindled down into a shadow of its former self and sweets were rationed. Bea would always take her to the cafe and Franky would spoil her rotten, now a small slice of her homemade chocolate cake hardly seemed enough to raise a smile. Debbie said it didn't taste the same anymore and of course Franky knew that it didn't no matter how hard she tried. She would always blame it on the the lack of actual chocolate she could use, but the smaller quantity of sugar she had to use added to that didn't make it turn out quite the same. Soon enough she knew chocolate cake would be off the menu completely, most of her cakes would be off the menu and have to be replaced with something else.

The regulars would complain loudly after Franky had made up her mind that the cafe would remain closed one morning. Allie needed to get a replacement ration book and since Bea couldn't help her with that because she had to work Franky took it upon herself to help her without even being asked. She knew how difficult it could be to get a replacement ration card if you landed yourself with a jobsworth, some of the clerks wouldn't listen to reason since many people tried to cheat the system, Allie she knew wasn't one of them. After closing up for the night they sat in Franky's small kitchen over a mug of hot, strong tea while Allie had explained how she'd lived, told her everything that happened to her since the day her mother had died. Franky had sat quietly and listened as she sipped her tea, getting to her feet Allie had paced around the kitchen as she'd mumbled everything bad in the hopes Franky would perhaps not hear the whole sorry mess she'd found herself in. Nothing much could shock Franky she was sure she'd heard just about everything. Hearing Marie Winters name hadn't been a huge surprise, almost everyone knew exactly who she was, at least in Franky's circle they did. Marie's reputation walked miles in front of her. Finally taking her seat again and gulping down the rest of her tea Allie had scanned Franky's face looking for the disgust most people had in their eyes, instead she found nothing but compassion. When Frank started to speak she'd never expected to hear any of what Franky had to say.

“You know blondie I've met a lot of people and heard a lot of things in the years I've been here and believe me that's not what I expected to hear from you.” Franky smiled briefly. “I didn't have a proper childhood, when my father left I thought I'd never make it out alive. My mother never wanted me, she got caught out just so he'd marry her. I had to learn to fend for myself and that ain't easy when your only five years old. Everyone I know has a past that they don't want to talk about, Red included, except hers still has the possibility of returning. The day I left school I walked in here and was ready to beg the woman who owned the place for a job. Turned out I had no need to beg, she took me on and I ain't looked back since. I worked for her right up until the day she died, now she had no family, her husband died a few years before I came here and they were never lucky enough to have their own children. She was like a mother to me, she'd pull me up every time I made a questionable decision and trust me I've made plenty. She showed me that it was alright to make mistakes as long as I learned from them, helped make me the person I am now. She left me all this on the proviso that whenever I had the opportunity to help someone who needed it I would. I have and I always will, so there ain't no need for you to get all poked up about what you just told me. I know someone who works in the food office, she used to be a pretty regular customer she'll sort you out. Besides I already made you an appointment, we go in the morning.” 

Allie had gone to bed that night feeling lighter than she thought she'd ever felt before. Expecting things to take a turn for the worse had been normal for her. Finding Franky more understanding than she'd ever expected her to be was a huge weight off her shoulders, she'd told Bea about some of her life but Franky had been the recipient of the whole sorry story from beginning to end. Laying in her bed, the blankets pulled right up to her chin, she wondered just how much more there was to Bea. Franky mentioning her having a past that she she didn't want to talk about made her wonder if that was why she'd helped her. Falling asleep a little later Bea was still on her mind, if her past still had the chance of coming back it was probably the husband Allie knew she had and Bea never once mentioned. The next morning when she'd said she'd open up for Franky, telling her there was really no need for them both to go to the food office. Franky had shook her head saying they were going straight over to the food office as soon as they finished breakfast, she wasn't going to risk her being passed onto one of the other clerks. In her head Allie didn't see the need, but Franky was adamant that for once if wouldn't hurt to keep the cafe closed until lunch time, Friday mornings were usually the quietest anyway.

Sitting in the food office waiting to be seen Allie felt nervous. She was aware of people cheating the system, wasn't that what Marie did? People did lose their books but Allie hadn't, it was still in the hands of someone who no doubt had been using her rations every week since she'd walked away. Franky looked over at Allies worried expression, it wasn't a surprise that she would be so nervous.

“Doreen's told me all the stories you know.” Franky said quietly as she scanned the faces of everyone else waiting to be seen. “People do lose their books, I lost mine a few months ago.” She shrugged. “But they fall into the wrong hands all the time, and trust me Juice and her boys make a good bit on the side from dodgy ration books. Not all of them were lost in the first place.” Franky winked at her. “I heard they lay their hands on them by any means necessary, now I'm not saying they steal them but I wouldn't want to put money on anyone just handing them over. They say they don't take them, they are offered freely, maybe under the threat of violence who knows? As the story goes they get their hands on them and they make certain that they have a little accident with water.” Franky looked around the room again taking note that there were now more people waiting. Leaning a little closer to Allie she continued. “Makes the ink run, when they sell them on whoever buys them just writes in their own name. When they bring it in for a replacement because of the damage the rest of the original details can't be read and they just register with different shops. Doreen says they always know what's going on but really there's nothing they can do, well not unless it's a regular thing by the same person.” Franky laughed. “Listen there's nothing to worry about, you don't have to tell Dor anything, just say you lost it when you moved into the area. She'll issue you a new one and all you'll have to do is sign the form saying you lost it and have been issued a new one.”

Allie nodded, Franky seemed to know all the ins and outs of everything she was utterly clueless about. Allie hated feeling like she was relying on everyone else, she knew she owed both Bea and Franky so much for everything they had done to help her. Franky more than Bea it seemed especially right now, she was losing a mornings takings by sitting here with her. When she was finally called into an office Franky had taken charge of the situation and Allie just found herself agreeing with a nod. Doreen had simply smiled at her, placed a form and a pen down on the desk and asked her to sign before issuing her with a new ration book. She'd then proceeded to remind Franky to make sure she registered with the shops she intended to use since she was new to the area.

“See, painless wasn't it?” Franky grinned at her as they left the office and walked to the bus stop. “That reminds me, I need your cooking skills later. Liz's nephew will be coming home tomorrow and she's throwing a small party. He's a good lad, got wounded and he's been in hospital for the last couple of weeks.”

Allie looked at her a little confused. She'd met Liz but she knew very little about her except that she was not only friends with Bea and Franky but also Beas neighbour.

“All will be revealed tomorrow.” Franky grinned “And of course you're invited to the party, weather you like it or not you're one of the family now blondie.”

 

 

Bea had fallen into bed just as she normally did completely exhausted. It had been a long tiring day, the only good thing about it she thought was Allies good news regarding her ration book. She'd been so excited to tell Bea how much Franky had helped her getting a replacement. She lay in bed for half an hour replaying the conversation in her head, subconsciously counting the number of times Allie had mentioned Franky's name. She'd seen no indications that Allie might want to get to know Franky better but as she lay in her bed alone she began to feel something she'd never once experienced in her life. ‘Pull yourself together,’ she told herself, she couldn't really be feeling a little jealous could she? She tossed and turned for a while longer, usually Allie would enquire about her day or ask her how she was, ask how Debbie was doing at school, but not today. Every sentence had contained Franky's name somewhere. To make matters worse when Franky had called through from the kitchen Allie hadn't even apologised like she usually would she'd just risen from her chair and ran off to the kitchen. She lost all track of time in the dark, for all she knew she could have been laying there for hours and she didn't like it one little bit. The last time she remembered tossing and turning this much was one night Harry was really late getting home. She'd kept his dinner warm and eventually thrown it away and gone to bed. She'd known she would be in for the rough edge of his tongue and probably once again be dragged out of bed by the hair. Everything she'd known would happen did and she eventually spent yet another sleepless and uncomfortable night on the sofa cold and afraid he might follow her downstairs.

When she finally had fallen asleep her dreams had been nothing more than a replay of things Harry had done to her. Through the pictures playing out in her head of his fists and feet flying at her one more terrifying memory had woven itself in amongst them.

“You're my wife.” Harry had spat at her after another long tiring day of taken great care to do every household chore he'd demanded she take care of while he was out. Most of which were things she'd done the previous day but nothing was ever good enough for him.

“I am.” Bea bit her lip with shocked surprise as he grabbed at her tearing at her dress with his rough hands. She couldn't believe what was happening when she heard a series of popping sounds as the buttons than ran down the front of it snapped off or were completely torn away from the fabric. She tried to fight back, tried to get away from him and make for the bed hoping that whatever he was about to do would come to an end. She'd never seen him so angry before, she was prepared for a verbal assault and the punches. Prepared for the kicks that she knew would follow once she'd succumbed to the pain and curled up on the floor. This time there was no escape as Harry grabbed her wrists forcing her back against the wall as hard as he could.

“You're mine do you hear me? You're my wife and you do as I say, and I say I want you right here.” His voice raised the tone morphing into something more hideous than normal.

“No!” She had cried out as the sudden realisation hit her of what he meant.

She winced as he dragged her away from the wall slightly before slamming her back into it with even more force. Of course he would do that he had to cause her pain, loved to watch her suffer. Bea froze, not one muscle in her body would move. She wouldn't even twitch out of sheer terror she knew as always she was powerless against him. She couldn't believe it was happening. This was her husband, and even though she was highly aware of how violent he was right now he was unrecognisable as his face twisted and contorted. She couldn't believe she was allowing it to happen but what else could she do? She had to grin and bare it, at least that's what she had tried to tell herself. Harry pulled her breasts from her bra and ripped her underwear down. He grunted loudly in her ear as he thrust himself into her. She tried to pretend it wasn't happening as she clamped her eyes tightly closed. Turning her head to the side she rested her chin on her own shoulder as she told herself she could put up with it but only for that night she vowed to herself.

She'd lay in the darkness in their bed later when she'd finally found the strength to crawl into it, a cold space between their bodies as she tried to work out what she had done that warranted such treatment. He was later than ever before arriving home drunk, his dinner was still on the table, she'd learnt a long time ago never to throw it away. Usually if he saw it, that she'd at least made his dinner the beating she received was never as bad as if there were no evidence that she'd even tried to provide him with a hot meal. She turned her head and gazed at the outline of his body in the meagre light filtering into their room from the streetlight outside their house. Her old ambitions circled around in her head as she tried to escape the memory of what had just happened. There had been no warning signs that something like that would happen. As much as she hated his touch, hated feeling his body pressed up against hers she was his wife and she would just close her eyes until it was over. From then on he forced himself on her whenever he felt like it.

No one had ever believed what Harry was like except Liz who could hear every harsh word, every scream through the thin walls. Later she'd finally found the strength and courage to open up to Franky after months of working in the cafe and she had threatened to send some of the more unsavoury characters she knew to the house to give him a taste of his own medicine. Bea had spent hours pleading with her not to take that course of action, trying to get through to her that it would only make things worse for her. Franky had eventually agreed but told her that if she ever went missing or he hurt Debbie she'd know who to go after. 

When Harry came along Beas life at first hadn't changed a great deal at all even though he pursued her, ignoring him had been easy. Her parents had told her he was suitable for her and  had been relieved when Harry finally proposed, working for a living was not what they saw in her future. Marriage and a family were what she was told would be her lot in life. To Bea it had seemed as if everyone was conspiring against her, no one would ever be heard telling her brothers that they would have to get married it seemed the biggest injustice to her. In her fathers eyes Harry was the epitome of what a good husband would be for her, tall, dark and handsome with an easy going personality. Everyone but Bea herself seemed to be drawn to him. Even when Bea was on his arm she was always aware of the admiring glances and it wasn't difficult to guess what thoughts were playing out behind the lowered lashes of all those other women. She'd never felt jealous, she'd hoped more than anything that he'd take a liking to one of those other women but it never happened. That was something that made marrying him all the more worthwhile in her parents eyes, he didn't have a roving eye. The truth was very different and Bea was aware of that, Harry had strayed more than once in the first six months after they were married. She would never say a word to her parents, how could she?

Waking up in a cold sweat she scanned the empty side of the bed expecting to see Harry sleeping right beside her but it was empty. Reaching out for the cold, lonely pillow on the empty side of the bed she covered her face with it trying to muffle her sobs, nothing would be worse than waking Debbie at that ungodly hour. Maybe Maxine and Franky had been right she did feel something for Allie and as confusing as that was she was sure now, in her own mind at least, that Allie didn't feel the same. Maybe she had at first, Maxine had told her as much, but now after all her talk of Franky Bea couldn't stand the possibility that maybe she'd made a big mistake. Maybe Allie felt trying to make her see how she felt and getting nothing but a friendly smile was now a waste of her time. Had she finally worked out it was just a futile exercise, that Bea was completely blind, had she really just moved on to someone much more open to her feelings? Franky never hid the fact that she would always be attracted to the fairer sex, Bea had never been bothered by it even when Franky had suggested that she should try it for herself. She spent the best part of her days and nights with Franky so of course it would make sense. She’d never known how it felt to feel the pangs of jealousy, not even for the briefest of moments. That wasn't all she felt, she was alone, her nights were empty once she'd put Debbie to bed. Now she no longer had to wait for the next tirade of Harry's abuse there was nothing, only emptiness. She'd long ago given up reading, given up on her love of art, she wasn't good enough Harry told her, and of course she believed what she was told. Now she was just alone, if those small waves of jealousy felt bad the loneliness she felt were like a vice on her heart, squeezing with just enough pressure to be a constant pain. She could be alone in a room filled with a thousand people, if Allie was one of them and she just didn't see her what was left? Right now she wished it were possible to roll back time like the lid of a sardine tin as her sobs died away and she sighed heavily. Nothing had the power to roll back time but if she could she knew she wouldn't have appeared so cold towards Allie. If only she knew that a mile away Allie was laying awake regretting all the things she hadn't sad or asked that evening before Bea walked out of the cafe without even saying goodbye.

 

 

Allie was just finishing packing everything away neatly for the journey over to liz’s when Franky made her presence known.

“That could have waited blondie, don't you want any breakfast?”

Franky had heard Allie trying to tiptoe past her bedroom door three hours ago while it was still dark. At first she'd thought she was probably making an early morning trip to the bathroom, it had always been something of a novelty to Allie that there was actually indoor plumbing given the area the cafe was located in. Being within a stones throw of the east end it hadn't been what she had  expected. Franky had just laughed heartily when she'd seen the surprise on her face. Almost everything surprised Allie, Franky had tidied up her room and moved some of the boxes that wouldn't fit in the store room to her own. She had extra blankets and crisp clean sheets. The small rented room she'd often stayed in was damp and cold and she doubted that the sheets had been changed in months. It had been a bed for the night though and so much better than sleeping in a freezing cold alleyway. Franky offered her a clean comfortable room and she was more than grateful for that.

“Maybe I should stay here.” Allie mumbled. She knew Bea would be there and after the way she had acted the night before she had slowly become more ashamed of herself for not asking how her day had been. Worse still she hadn't even said goodnight to her. Allie had slowly developed a ritual of her own. Every evening she walked her to the door and stepped outside with her, say goodnight and watch her walk away while whispering ‘sweet dreams’ to her slowly disappearing form. The evening before she'd been so consumed with the sheer joy of just having her very own ration book everything else had been wiped from her mind. When Franky had called for her help with what she was making for the party she'd run off straight away. Returning to the cafe she'd found that Bea had already left.

“Not a chance.” Franky told her. “How do you expect me to get this lot to Liz's by myself? When you've finished get back upstairs and eat. You know Red would kill me if she thought I wasn't making sure you ate properly.” Franky grinned before she watched Allies face fall.

“I doubt she'll want to see me.” Allie said quietly as she tried to busy herself wrapping the few sausage rolls up they'd made. “She left before I had a chance to say goodnight to her.”

“You know she had to get home to Debbie.” Franky tried to reassure her, Bea wouldn't just walk away without good reason. After witnessing them together she was certain of that. With Allie there was no one forcing her into anything like Harry always had. She'd seen how carefree Bea seemed around her, even Debbie ran into the cafe on a Saturday morning making a beeline for Allie instead of her now. Franky had decided the first time Debbie ignored her in favour if Allie that everything was exactly how it should be. Harry it seemed had made himself disappear out of their lives. From what Bea had told her she'd received no more letters from him. The very fact that Franky had a cousin serving in the same regiment she'd kept secret mainly since they were in the same platoon and her cousin had already been home on leave but Harry hadn't put in an appearance. Rumour had it that Harry had spent his leave with another woman, even though she knew Bea would be grateful that he had stayed away she suspected she'd be angry that he'd thought so little of his daughter to have not even spent a day with her.

Beas tears had been threatening to fall all morning, the memory of the her nightmare was still fresh in her mind. The only thing she'd found to occupy her time had been buttering bread for the welcome home party Liz was throwing for her nephew. Combining that with Debbie and Sophie’s endless excited chatter she'd managed to keep them at bay. When Franky knocked loudly on the back door she'd opened it slowly not even noticing Allie standing looking sheepish behind her. She quickly turned her back and went back to helping make the sandwiches.

Everyone had pitched in with the food, Franky had even managed to convince Juice to provide her with some extra chocolate and sugar so she could make a proper cake. Allie had contributed her whole weeks ration even though she'd never met him, hearing Franky talk about him she felt as though she knew him. He was only eighteen, the son of Liz's brother. He'd died two years before the outbreak of war of TB. His mother had died a year later and Liz had brought him to live with her. The lack of space didn't matter as long as Colin was looked after, her brother would have expected it and Liz wasn't one to turn her back on her family or her friends. As soon as war was announced Colin had gone straight out and enlisted in the army, Liz had been so angry with him when he arrived home and told her what he'd done. 

Now a massive bold banner had been hung across the front of both Beas and Liz's homes. ‘Welcome home Colin’ screamed at anyone who dared to look up. It was a cold day but the brilliant blue sky and winter sun had brought all the neighbours out to welcome him home. A couple of union jacks had been hoisted high in the air as everyone milled around waiting for him to arrive. As the van of a neighbour who had offered to pick him up from the station turned into the street the excitement in the air almost reached fever pitch. Cheers were heard from one end of the street to the other as it pulled up outside the house and Colin Birdsworth exited the passenger side.

“Colin!” Liz's voice was shrill with emotion as her eyes brimmed with tears as she threw open the front door. Bea, Franky and Allie followed close behind, Allie had tried to stay behind but Franky had dragged her along. It had been hard not to notice the lingering looks that had passed between Bea and Allie as she'd helped make the rest of the sandwiches. 

Liz ran out of the house flinging her arms around him. For a few moments Bea could have sworn she saw Colin's shoulders quiver as he hugged Liz tightly, she was convinced that he must be crying. When his face reappeared over Liz's shoulder he looked in Beas direction, glancing to her side and back at her smiling brightly at her as he always did. Beas eyes darted to her side and found Allie standing right next to her. She immediately felt a pang of regret, why hadn't she just waited for her to reappear from the kitchen. Now she found herself yearning to reach out and take her hand, explain that she hadn't meant to leave so suddenly without a word. That she wished so badly that she could rewind the hours.

As Liz stepped back Franky hugged him, whispering something in his ear that made him laugh before she to stepped back. Sophie and Artie hadn't left the kitchen, they stood guard over Franky's chocolate cake, nothing and no one was going to stand in their way of getting the first slices that were cut from it.

“So what are we all waiting for? Let's get inside and have some real food.” He laughed when he saw Debbie push herself between Bea and Allie and run in his direction.

“Colin.” She beamed as she hugged his legs tightly. “Are we going to eat now? Mummy and Allie made so many sandwiches, and I'm starving.”

Allie felt like she needed to make it clear that she'd hardly done anything. She'd helped Franky make a cake or two and a few sausage rolls but it seemed to her that Bea had made most of the sandwiches. All she'd done was help when she got there. It had been worth it, anything that meant she could watch Bea would always be worth it. Franky shot her a look before shaking her head, if Debbie wanted Allie and her mother to take all the credit she should just leave it alone. Liz was too emotional to bother setting the record straight and Bea didn't seem to mind.

“Yes trouble.” Colin laughed as he bent down and picked her up carrying her inside. Joy was evident in both their faces at the prospect of over eating, a rare pleasure since rationing had been introduced. 

Everyone else who was invited to the party turned and followed the happy pair inside leaving Allie and Bea still standing side by side outside alone. 

“I'm sorry…for leaving.” Bea said quietly without actually looking at Allie. “I should have waited and I feel…”

“It's fine.” Allie jumped in hating the sadness that was evident in her eyes. “I was too excited, I mean who gets excited over a ration book? Everyone hates rationing.” Allie sighed. She loved it when they got a few minutes alone, Bea always made her feel as if she were the centre of the universe but today something was terribly wrong.

“Shouldn't you be inside with Franky?” Bea asked sadly. Before Allie got a chance to reply they were confronted by a telegraph boy. Everyone knew they were nicknamed the angels of death because they only delivered telegrams notifying wives and mothers that their husbands or sons were missing or had been killed in action.

“Mrs Smith?” He asked. He was a local lad and he knew exactly who Bea was but he had to ask. The look on his face made it clear that he was delivering what anyone else would have considered bad news. 

“Yes Jimmy, you know that's me.” Bea quickly replied, the thought that this might be the best news she'd ever received ran through her mind as he handed her the telegram.


The war office regrets to inform you that your husband Private Harry James Smith is missing in action. Letter to follow.


“No reply.” Bea quickly said as she folded the telegram.

“I'm sorry, sorry.” Jimmy mumbled before getting back on his bicycle and peddling away.

“If you want to talk about it.” Allie offered quietly.

“Missing in action.” Bea mumbled. “Hardly the news I was hoping for.” She sighed before giving her a forced smile, there was always a first time for everything. “Just go back inside, Franky will be waiting for you and there's no need for you to miss out on a party on my account.”

“Why would I want to be with Franky?” Allie asked. Beas preoccupation with her being with Franky was getting more than a little annoying. “I'm right where I want to be…I know it's selfish and completely the wrong time to say this but I think we were meant to meet.” Allie said as she dared to reach for her hand. “There's nothing between myself and Franky, I didn't mean to rush away from you. We were getting things ready for the party and Franky needed me at the worst possible moment. Will you forgive me?” Allie smiled sadly hoping that Bea wouldn't push her away now.

“I think I should be the one asking if you forgive me.” Bea said with a breathy laugh. Harry may only be missing right now but she didn't know of many people who had received that news who ever expected to see their loved ones again. No, missing didn't mean he was laying dead somewhere but Allie was there, right in front of her, warm and very much alive. Jumping to conclusions wasn't what she'd meant to do. Squeezing the hand that had found its way into hers she smiled.

“I think we better go inside don't you?”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

As Bea and Allie returned indoors Liz's attention was instantly turned to them and moments later to the piece of paper Bea was still holding in her hand.

“Good news love?” She asked, she knew it might sound strange to anyone who didn't know how her life with Harry was and she thought Allie would most probably already know. 

“Just missing in action.” Bea sighed as she looked down at her hand. “He just can't stop hanging over us can he?” She said quietly when one of the other guests walked passed on their way to the bathroom.

Liz nodded sympathetically, it may seem a strange thing for a wife to wish her husband dead but she knew most people who knew Harry wished the same thing. “The pair of you need to eat.” Liz muttered as she looked between them seeing a look in Beas eyes she was sure hadn't existed all morning, hadn't existed ever when she came to think of it. “Tell you what, go and take the weight off and I'll bring you both something.”

Bea shook her head. “You should be spending time with Colin. I'm just so relieved he was only wounded and he's home now, for a while anyway.”

Liz moved closer, she'd spent a few minutes speaking to Franky and Maxine before they came back inside. “You spent the whole morning on your feet slicing and buttering. And I know someone who wouldn't mind having a little of your attention for a while.” She told Bea quietly, she wouldn't show her enthusiasm outwardly given the company they were surrounded by but Liz was secretly over the moon that Bea had found someone who looked at her the way Allie did. After everything Franky and Maxine had told her it still seemed as though Bea still required a little more encouragement, a slight nudge in the right direction. Bea had never deserved everything Harry dished out on a daily basis. Even without knowing a great deal about Allie she could see just by looking at her that she'd suffered at the hands of someone. “It is a little crowded round here, maybe the two of you would like to take something back next door?” Liz offered with a smile. The thought of being alone with Allie certainly wasn't a displeasing one. And after it seemed she'd jumped to the entirety wrong conclusion about Allie and Franky she could use some time alone with her to apologise properly. “Go!” Liz whispered, even her whisper seemed to sound like an order more than a suggestion to Bea.

“I can't leave you with Debbie again, she spends way too much time…” Bea tried to argue but was soon silenced by the disapproving look that Liz gave her. Looking to the corner of the kitchen Liz had pointed to where she saw Colin sitting in a chair placed close to the range cooker. Debbie sat in his lap chatting ten to the dozen as she held a plate full of sandwiches and half the sausage rolls that Allie had made. Debbie seemed more than content to share what she'd gathered and Bea rolled her eyes at the sight. Sophie and Artie were sitting on the floor at his feet as if they were guarding the the most precious possession they owned. Colin was way more important than any chocolate cake now he was really there. 

“She's no trouble, and when that little armchair general of mine can finally get a word in they'll be there for hours.” Liz chuckled. Artie as everyone knew had been following the war very closely since the day it had been announced. As sad as he'd been to see Colin off on the train he'd busied himself collecting newspaper cuttings and followed closely every news report he heard on the wireless. He waited patiently for his letters to arrive. Colin would write to all three of them individually as often as he'd been able and Artie treasured those letters because not only were they from his cousin but a real soldier. He bragged to all his friends about Colin at every opportunity.

Bea looked at Allie who it seemed hadn't taken her eyes from her since the minute they'd stepped back into the kitchen. “I suppose I could use a break.” Bea muttered before turning her attention back to Liz. “But only if you're certain, I'd hate for you to think she was outstaying her welcome.”

“Nonsense.” Liz smiled. “I'll make sure to send you some of this generous spread over in a while. And since a little bird let slip that Allie used her whole weeks ration to help out I think she deserves to eat as much of it as is humanly possible.” Liz added with a brief chuckle.

Bea couldn't deny that the prospect of being completely alone with Allie did maker her heart rate increase. But alone with her in the house she'd shared with Harry, could she really do that? For so long she'd never dare invite anyone over, she'd only just recently started to invited Liz in. They might have spent hours chatting by the fence but allowing her even into the kitchen would have had severe consequences if Harry had found out. And Franky, the mention of her name sent Harry into a torrent of abuse directed at her unnatural way of living. He didn't want Bea anywhere near Franky but the more than generous wages she paid Bea were their own compensation. They were more generous than Harry had ever known since Bea payed some into her post office account every week. Everything had its perks in his eyes, reminding Bea on a regular basis that as his wife he could take what he wanted whenever he saw fit. “That freak of nature can't give you this.” He'd hiss in her ear as Bea would try to think of anything else to take away the pain. “Don't be letting that…that whatever it thinks it is be trying to turn your head.”

Swiftly glancing around the room Bea saw that not one person was paying them any attention. They were either passing the time in conversation or their eyes were fixed firmly on the table that Bea imagined should be groaning loudly under the weight of all the food that had been placed on it. Slipping her hand softly back into Allies, another wave of shyness washed over her lasting for once only a brief moment as she tugged her gently towards the door. Allie would follow Bea anywhere, she would be her most willing victim any time, any place, any where. Arriving at Beas front door a minute or so later Beas nerves had hit a new high, she wanted to do this. Wanted more than anything to be really alone with Allie and not just in the bubble they created for themselves as they ignored the noise of the customers in the cafe. Bea felt as if there were no bones in her fingers or if they had suddenly grown minds of their own as she fumbled with the key, trying several times to place it in the lock of her front door. She did this day after day but Allie standing in such close proximity turned every simple action into a much harder task than it should be.

“I'll make us some tea.” Bea offered when they finally stepped inside and closed the door on the  outside world. “Make yourself at home.” She pointed to a door. “Although I warn you that old sofas seen better days and it's not what you could really call comfortable.” Bea smiled as she looked away shyly making her way towards the kitchen.

“Let me help you.” Allie giggled, she'd never felt nervous in Beas presence before, except this was different, this time they really were alone and in Beas home.

“There really is no need.” Bea said quietly even though secretly she'd rather Allie didn't leave her side. She'd never once in her life wanted someone to stay as close to her as possible with the exception of Debbie when they were wandering around the crowded market.

Allie followed her through to the kitchen watching as Bea moved so freely around the kitchen. Filling the kettle with water before putting it on to boil. Allie turned her attention towards the window. Gazing outside she was impressed with what she saw. Potatoes, carrots and cabbages were still growing on one side of the garden. Allie wondered how Bea even found the time, wondered even more how she kept them alive given the time of year. They hadn't had any frost yet though but it was still a surprise. At the other side of the garden stood the Anderson shelter and a makeshift coop she had hastily put together for the chickens that clucked impatiently.

“All ready for Christmas.” Bea said as the kettle boiled. “The tea won't be long.” She smiled as she warmed the pot before putting in the tea.

“You have green fingers?” Allie asked a little amused, Bea certainly was full of surprises and it seemed there was no end to her talents.

“My mothers always grown a lot of her own fruits and vegetables, not that she ever needed to. It was her greatest passion, I'll admit to hating having to help out. I can't complain about it now though, not that we'd ever starve but home grown always does taste better. Harry…”Bea smiled sadly over in Allies direction before pouring out their tea. “He would hate what I've done, not that he was ever much of a gardener….not much of a husband either but you don't want to hear about that.” 

“You can tell me anything.” Allie said as she turned back to face her. “I hope you know that.”

Bea nodded as she passed Allie her tea. “I'll be through in a minute, please.” Bea gestured towards the door. “Make yourself at home.” 

Allie smiled as she walked out of the kitchen, it was more than obvious that Bea was nervous about them being alone. She knew she was being ever so selfish Bea had just received the news that her husband was missing. “Stay away from the married ones.” Someone had once warned her but for the life of her she couldn't recall who'd said it. Bea didn't seem upset, if anything she seemed a little relieved; maybe she'd go as far as to say happy. And she hadn't pushed her away, she had led her out of Liz's back door by the hand. Allie had listened to the whole exchange between Bea and Liz, was it really possible that she'd rather he were dead? 

‘Thank you god.’ Bea thought to herself as she stopped at the door looking at Allie sitting patiently on the old sofa waiting for her. ‘Thank god she's really here, I didn't just imagine it.’ Her moment of all consuming gratitude passed as she moved slower than she intended before sitting beside her. A sharp knock on the back door and Franky's voice pulled her swiftly from her thoughts.

“Liz sent me round with this, said you were taking a few minutes down time.” Franky grinned not even trying to hide her happiness that Bea was finally allowing herself to spend time with Allie. From the moment she'd walked into the cafe with her she'd seen something. When she'd stood up to her she known for certain there was an attraction there. “I'll leave you to it, what ever it might be.” Franky chuckled as a cushion narrowly missed her head. They could still hear Franky's laughter as she closed the door behind her.

“I really didn't mean to leave without saying goodnight to you last night.” Bea said as her eyes scanned Allies face. “And I never meant to jump to conclusions about you and Franky. She's always been a little…” Bea searched her brain for the right words. “Let's just say she doesn't usually wait for the grass to grow under her feet when it comes to the ladies.” Bea blushed at the memory of a few times she'd caught Franky in a rather compromising position. Of course she never judged Franky, and her embarrassment had been a huge joke to Franky.

“She's really not my type.” Allie laughed. “She's a little too…brash at times for my liking.” Allie added as she caught Beas eye again. 

“Really?” Bea questioned. “So what is your type?”

“Well if you'd allow me to take you out this evening maybe I could show you exactly who's my type.” 

“I…I…” Bea felt her brain stutter to a complete stop the second she heard the whole sentence slip from Allies mouth. “I'd have to ask Liz if she'd mind watching Deb.” Bea watched as a slight wave of disappointment fixed itself to Allie perfect features. “I doubt she'd say no though, she never does.” Bea added quickly. Had she really just said any of that? Bea wasn't sure if she had. Should she have said no? She hadn't been anywhere with Harry since before they got married, where did people even go with a war on? But then Harry hadn't even wanted to walk down the street with her, he wouldn't have been seen dead with her. He always told her she was ugly, that she'd never find anyone else willing to put up with her. She was hopeless as a mother and a useless cook. 

“I'll be back at four.” Allie said excitement evident in her voice as she got to her feet. “No need to see me out I know where the door is.” She laughed as she almost ran out of the room, down the hall and out of the front door.

“What about…” Bea trailed off Allie was already gone. “The food.” Bea said quietly to herself, shrugging her shoulders, no doubt Debbie would eat it once she returned home. Until then she'd just cover it and leave it in the pantry, her appetite had virtually all but vanished.

 

 

Tobacco smoke hung like a dense fog between everyone's heads and the ceiling, Allie knew she shouldn't have brought Bea to a place like this but she couldn't afford to take her anywhere fancy. All manor of people were noisily drinking, smoking and talking as someone in the background belted out ‘roll out the barrel’ on an old and battered looking upright piano. Bea looked uncomfortable and Allie was just about to say they should leave when a strong gust of fresh air swept in as the door opened. Allie looked up to see who had come in and she instantly felt her stomach tighten into a knot. She recognised one of the men, Jake Stewart, he worked for Marie. He looked as lecherous as she remembered with a woodbine hanging out of the corner of his thin grim mouth. She sensed almost instantly there was going to be trouble as they marched in with unconcealed arrogance. She watched as they pushed their way through the crowd, slapping people on the shoulder, glaring their intentions back into every set of eyes that landed on them rather than asking if they could get passed to the bar like any normal person. She'd always felt a little sorry for his wife, Vera, surly she had to know how he made his living; she had turned up at the house once. Although she guessed she never knew how he treated the girls he was meant to be watching. Allie had always managed to stay out of his way, she might have hated any mans hands touching her but Jake made her skin crawl more than most. She couldn't stop herself from wondering now how he managed to get out of the call up. Still anything was possible for him she imagined.

“We need to go.” Allie said as she stood up. “Looks like trouble.” 

Bea swallowed nervously as Allie grasped her arm gently. 

As they made their way out of the door Allie breathed a sigh of relief as she heard voices suddenly raise, she knew from past experience that a fight was about to break out and she couldn't get Bea out of their fast enough.

“Sorry.” She mumbled as they walked down the street. “I shouldn't have brought you to a place like this…it's no place for a lady.”

“I'm hardly a lady Allie.” Bea protested weakly. “A real lady wouldn't find herself married to a man who just took what he wanted when he wanted it, a lady wouldn't have a husband who beat her into unconsciousness.”

“That was all on him.” Allie reached for Beas hand and pulled Bea with her into a dark side street. “You weren't to blame for any of that an if he ever comes back I'll make sure he knows how he made you feel.” 

“Allie…” Bea trailed off as she felt herself being encircled by her arms. “I promise I'll never let him hurt you ever again.”

“You sounded just like Franky there for a second.” Bea said with a breathy laugh. The feel of Allies arms around her should make her nervous she thought but it didn't, she felt safe. For the first time in years she didn't want this moment to end.

Bea had something that Allie was sure she'd never seen before. Bea was much more than the person everyone saw on the surface. She hid herself well Allie knew that, she wasn't like the other women she'd known in her past, not that she'd ever allowed herself to get to know anyone really well. The few women she'd dared to have a relationship with let their true selves burst out almost as soon as she'd met them. In Bea she saw deep emotions; hate, anger, passion and pride. Everything was there in her eyes and Allie doubted anyone else had ever bothered to see her properly before. Everything was right there for anyone to see, hidden behind a warm, calm and cultured surface. Everything Bea was was far above her experience and it intrigued her.

Every second she could spend with her felt precious, no matter where they were nothing would distract Allie from her ever again. If Franky wanted her help again she'd just have to wait if Bea was around. If they were ever out in public during the day not even the wolf whistles from the men or the cat calls from the street workers who all knew who Allie was, would distract her. She did hope she'd never run into any of them again but it was always a possibility. No one and nothing would ever be as important to her as Bea had fast become.

Reaching out her hand her fingers traced the top button on Beas coat as if she were some shy virgin who came from a home where they read the bible every evening and went to church on Sundays, the kind of woman who would never be seen in a public house or at a dance.

“You're very beautiful.” Allie whispered. “Though I believe you could use some looking after.”

Bea caught her hand allowing their fingers to become intertwined. “Are you offering?” She asked a hint of amusement laced through her words.

Allie raised her eyes slowly to look back at her face before she spoke again. “Do you believe in love at first sight?” She asked even though she doubted she would receive a reply. Beas lashes framed her eyes in the most incredible way she'd ever seen even if they were only illuminated by the light of the full moon overhead. She watched as she smiled back at her and wondered what she was thinking. It seemed to be the most secretive smile, laced with a little confidence, a smile she'd never seen on her yet.

“Walk with me.” Bea asked barely above a whisper. She didn't know what it was about Allie that drew her in like a moth to a flame but she knew she needed her right by her side, she couldn't stand the thought of the life she'd been forced to live. She was such a delicate, sweet and loving soul she couldn't begin to fathom how anyone could treat her in such a way. It bothered her, all the men that she must have been made to be with. How could she switch herself off and not let that affect her she could only wonder. Bea had only ever had Harry force her and she was sure she'd never be able to forget what he'd done, how much pain he had caused her.

Allie took her arm and slid it through the crook of Beas. It made her feel small and fragile in her presence. They fitted well together but Allie knew she couldn't hope for more, once Bea really got to know her she'd never consider keeping her around; no one ever did.

As they walked along arm in arm no one seemed to notice them. The warmth from Beas body seemed to permeate her clothes and Allies clothes in turn. She wanted to look at her face, to study her eyes, the shape of her nose and the curve of her lips, what Allie wouldn't give to kiss those just once. Holding back that urge was a struggle, torture even. When the moment finally felt right, as they turned a corner into a deserted backstreet she did allow herself to look. It sent shivers of delight through her whole body. The blood rushed through her veins, thudded in her head making her feel ever so slightly dizzy. This was crazy, she wanted her, wanted to be close to her forever. Bea popped into her life like a genie from a bottle. In the short time she'd known her she found herself wanting her more than she'd ever wanted anyone. All her past sins and guilt seemed irrelevant now they were alone together. Bea was more important to her than anyone. She felt all the raw excitement of being seen with her, watched as men who passed them couldn't keep their eyes from following them. It wasn't her their eyes followed it was Bea she knew that, and she couldn't blame them for that. If she lost her now, allowed her insecurities to take them apart; it was a thought that quickly began to terrify her.

They continued to walk along arm in arm, how she wished they could be like the old married couples she'd passed in the park. Not that it would ever be possible, Bea was married to a man who didn't see her worth, didn't value her for the kind, loving, considerate woman that Allie saw. He would never see her the way Allie did, would never, could never love her the way Allie did. She grinned at the thought, it would always be her secret she supposed. She could never say those words out loud, they would just simply run amuck in her head until she thought they might well drive her to the brink of insanity. She still couldn't stop herself from laughing a little.

“What's so funny?” Bea asked and Allie though that it was just like her to notice, she always did.

Allie shrugged as she looked at her. “I was just thinking that we must look really comical together. Walking together like this, out after the blackout without a man insight.”  

Bea blinked not sure if she was really understanding what Allie really meant. She didn't care what anyone thought if she were truly honest with herself. It was a strange situation to find herself in, falling in love with another woman had never entered her head. Was that what she was doing, could she even allow herself to think it? Did Allie see it or was she just sticking around because Bea made her life slightly easier? Had helped take her out of the situation she found herself living in. And what about Harry? Could he really actually be dead as apposed to merely missing? No one knew, missing in action generally meant presumed dead was that what the telegram had meant? She hoped above everything else that he was gone, but she could never be that lucky could she? 

They walked past the bombed out picture house where Allie had spent many a happy hour escaping her harsh reality whenever Marie actually let her have a rare few hours out of the house. They walked passed a queue of people outside a butchers shop that was still open, once more every set of inquisitive eyes followed their progress. Allie noticed every look, Bea either didn't notice or pretended not to. They walked around the twisted metal of the old tram lines where a bomb had fallen a few days before and a bus chugged passed them as they continued.

“Whore!” 

Allie jumped slightly before looking up at the open window on the top deck. Before she could shout back Bea looked her straight in the eye.

“Let it be.” 

“Did you hear that?” Allie asked slightly dumbfounded by how calm Bea was. She was used to being called many things, she hadn't wanted Bea to hear it said when they were together. Being away from Soho Allie had hoped it would never happen but it was possible someone would spot her eventually. 

Bea nodded. “Sticks and stones.” She said in a level voice. “They don't know you, not the person I know you to be, just let it go. They don't see you the same way I do.”

Allie took a deep breath, she'd heard worse but she'd never really taken insults easily. She'd never expected Bea to react that way, shouldn't she be walking away now never to look back because it was the truth she was a whore. Bea was a conundrum, a carefully crafted puzzle that Allie was certain she'd never work out or put together correctly. Allie bit her lip slightly, could Bea really be feeling the same as she was? She couldn't even dare to think that maybe she did. Bea laughed lightly when she saw the puzzlement in her eyes but stopped as soon as she saw the look change. Her smile softened as she looked into her eyes. Allie caught her breath, she wasn't sure if she was reading the situation correctly, she could be wrong but she was sure something special had just passed between them. It could never be put into words, it felt like a new path had just opened up before them and neither of them could stop their feet from running straight down it even if they tried. Her chest felt tight, this was a precious and unique moment that had just passed between them. She felt the fluttering inside herself and knew it was different from anything she'd ever felt before. Crossing the street Bea gently pulled Allie into a bombed out shop doorway, it felt dangerous but she was willing to see where this was going. Beas eyes dropped to her lips, her mouth was slightly open as she slightly lifted her chin and closed her eyes as their lips met. All the warmth from Beas body seemed to flow into her mouth and down her throat. Allie couldn't think of anything else except the feel of Beas lips against hers, so soft and gentle. Nothing else mattered in the few seconds that passed far too quickly between them. It felt more than ever as if they were becoming part of each other. She wanted to be a part of Beas world but how could she achieve that, her life was too complicated. Being together felt so right, so ordinary yet extraordinary at the same time. So simple and so undemanding. 

“What are you doing for Sunday lunch?” Bea whispered taking Allie a little by surprise.

She shrugged before she answered. “Nothing special, probably just be sitting around with Franky.” 

“Sunday lunch at my place then?” Bea asked softly as if it were the most natural thing in the world. 

“If that's what you want.” Allie answered barely able to contain her happiness at the invitation.

“Why not? Debbie misses you…so do I.”

It was so simple, so easy. How they had got to this point she didn't know, neither did she care. Bea obviously wanted her the same way she wanted Bea and that was all that mattered right now.

When they finally reached Beas front door again she already had so many thoughts enter her head. All Bea had ever been used to with Harry were hard kisses, feverish fumbling around her breasts and up her skirt but with Allie it was none of those things. Her kiss was warm, her hands on her shoulders were soft and gentle. A thrill ran through her whole body. Right now she found she just wanted her to be closer, wanted her body pressed tightly up against hers. She moved forward slightly in an effort to let her know without having to try and say anything she couldn't find the words for. To her surprise Allie stepped back.

“Goodnight, I'll see you tomorrow?” Allie said softly before turning and walking away. “Sweet dreams.” She whispered as she continued on her way.

Bea waited by the door as she heard her footsteps echo between the houses. She didn't turn to the door to unlock it until the sound had melted away. When she made it back inside she slumped heavily against the wall. 

‘Be still.’ She thought to herself hoping that her heart would take note but it ignored her silent plea and continued to beat wildly in her chest.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Bea had been busy in the kitchen from the moment she got up, after sitting down with a cup of tea she'd first regretted asking Allie to lunch. She wanted to spend more time with her, talking to Allie had felt natural since the very first moment they'd met. She hadn't given any thought to what she was going to actually be able to put on the table when the words had left her mouth. Now she knew she couldn't back out, she could hardly go over to the cafe and knock Franky out of bed asking to see Allie just to tell her she'd changed her mind. She hadn't, at least not about wanting to see her, to maybe spend the whole day with her. Her own timing just hadn't been its best. If she'd had more time to plan she'd have been able to make something a little more appetising, she could have easily talked Juice into furnishing her with what the butchers shop was lacking. Now all she could do was make the best of what her pantry could offer and that worried her.

Juice as she knew came from a farming family, her eldest brother had become a butchers apprentice when he didn't want to follow in their fathers footsteps. Even though he'd given up his job as a butcher to return to farming since the outbreak of war the pair had managed to provide a lot of black market goodies that weren't available locally. Meat wasn't yet rationed by weight but only by money and what you were allowed to spend didn't give anyone enough to make a really good meal. Juice had moved to London as soon as she'd been able after war broke out, she was never one to let any easy money pass her by. Her brother put his butchery skills to good use, along side his knack of not only poaching and fishing he was also a cattle thief with their younger brother. None of the farms that had pigs or sheep were safe when they wanted to make a little extra money. Juice had no stomach for watching the animals being killed and butchered but the money they made made it a little more palatable. Paying Juices high prices when she wanted to treat Debbie to something that did actually resemble a real Sunday lunch was something Bea would do from time to time and now she wished she'd been able to do the same for Allie. She knew she wasn't the worst cook in the world and Franky had always told her that no one could ever be as bad as her mother. “She could burn water, but then cooking was something she thought was beneath her. At least it seemed that way whey she needed to feed me.” She'd told her not long after Bea had started working for her. A fact that had never been lost on Bea as they became friends and Franky had opened up to her about just how hard growing up had been after her father had walked away. Bea may have never had that problem, her mother had been a huge supporter of her learning from an early age not only how to grow food but also how to cook and run a home efficiently. “How many five year olds have you ever met that are completely self sufficient?” Franky had asked her. Bea hated knowing how hard her life had been, it should have been easy for Franky to resent her knowing how easy hers had been. Franky wasn't like that, she didn't begrudge Bea her happy childhood, it was only an accident of birth that had led Franky to be so unhappy she told her.

Sometimes Bea found herself laughing at her early life, remembering when she'd reached her early teenage years would always make her smile. Her father had always employed a cook and a housekeeper but her mother had always enjoyed spending time in the garden and the kitchen. So much so that she'd often thought that their cook was probably her mothers best friend in the whole world. She'd often come home and found them making bread or cakes together or planning a menu for yet another dinner party that probably would never happen. Those carefree days had long ago vanished from Beas life. Harry always complained about the food she put in front of him, she could have purchased the best ingredients, bought only the finest cuts of meat and he still said she wasn't fit to be left unsupervised spending his money, because naturally even her hard earned wages were his; or left alone to cook for him. Many times he'd thrown his entire meal at her, sometimes narrowly missing but his aim was generally spot on no matter how much he'd had to drink. What if she gave Allie something she didn't like? Would she react the same way or would she be polite and eat it? Since Harry had gone her, Franky and Liz would often pool their resources on a Sunday and cook up a fine spread but today she would be alone. Pouring herself another cup of tea she'd decided that first things first she'd make a batch of the carrot cookies that Debbie loved so much. Maybe Allie might enjoy those also, even Bea had to admit she had grown rather partial to them. Finishing her second cup of tea she knew she couldn't put it off any longer, venturing outside on a chilly morning to dig up potatoes and pull up carrots wasn't always her favourite thing to do. Thankfully there'd been no air raid that night and the half decent nights sleep she'd had left her feeling a little less sleepy. Pulling on her old Wellington boots and throwing on one of Harry old tweed jackets she'd gone about her first task unhindered. Debbie was still tucked up in bed, warm as toast and hopefully dreaming of something fun or exciting that she'd just have to sit at the table and tell Bea all about as she ate her breakfast.

Deciding what would be today's Sunday lunch hadn't been that much of a struggle, rationing was playing havoc with what her pantry contained that was suitable to be part of a main meal and working five days a week made shopping even harder but she managed. Sausage roll, carrots, potatoes and gravy didn't seem the most appetising meal but since two of the main ingredients were freely available in her garden and sausages still weren't rationed it made sense. Debbie didn't mind it even if it wasn't her favourite and even Franky admitted that when Bea cooked it it tasted better than when she made it. It would also be a meal Allie was familiar with since Franky did make it regularly in the cafe, the sausage roll at least. Dessert she decided was a harder decision since she still had a small stock of ingredients she could use. Debbie could choose she eventually thought as she took the cookies out of the oven.

“Toast and marmalade?” Bea asked as she watched Debbie walk sleepily into the kitchen clutching her favourite book in her hands. 

Debbie nodded her head slowly as she placed her book down on the table and sat in her usual seat. “What times Allie coming?” She asked before yawning. 

Bea thought for a moment as she made her toast. They hadn't agreed on a time for Allie to arrive, neither had Bea told her that usually they ate lunch around one on a Sunday. “I imagine whatever time she arrives.” Bea shook her head a little annoyed with herself for never giving the time a second thought. She could ask Liz if she could use her telephone and call Franky, ask her to pass a message on. Sometimes she wished after Harry had left she'd had a telephone installed in their house but if he came home he'd been fuming. Harry wanted Bea to be as cut off from the outside world as possible, allowing her to work just made his life easier; at least it gave him more money for beer. He never needed a reason to get angry at her so why would she give him a reason to? And it wasn't his money that was paying for anything now he was gone, the half of his army pay that she received hardly covered the bills. Bea earned enough now so had already opened Debbie a post office account. Harry's pay was deposited in that, she wanted nothing from him, it was only right Debbie should have it she'd decided. Passing Debbie a plate with her toast she pondered on Debbie's question a little more. Franky might tell her what time they usually ate since she did know. She'd have to settle for that in her own head as she went back to preparing their lunch, peeling the carrots and potatoes.

“What would you like for dessert today Deb?” Bea asked without turning to look at her.

Debbie thought for the length of time it took her to chew another mouthful of her toast. “Can we have bread pudding, please?” She knew everyone loved that. “With custard.” She added with a smile before returning her attention to her toast.

“I think I can manage that. Are you going next door or staying here?” 

“Staying here! I can help with the pudding and then read to you.” Debbie grinned, in truth she wanted to be home when Allie arrived. She knew Bea would be busy getting their lunch ready and she hadn't really seen much of Allie the day before because she'd been excited about Colin's return. “What are we having for lunch?” Debbie asked after she finished her toast and deposited her empty plate a glass in the sink. 

“Sausage roll.” Bea answered quickly. Debbie never once complained about the food they ate but sometimes she wondered if one day she might explode in a fit of anger like Harry would. Debbie might not resemble him physically. Most of the time she was the sweetest most good natured child she thought she'd ever know but that small possibility that she could have inherited Harry's temper always bothered her a little. 

Debbie looked at her mother for a second. “Will there be gravy?” She asked cheerfully. Bea just nodded waiting for the explosion that had never once materialised. “That's alright then.” Debbie laughed as she left the kitchen. 

After getting herself washed and dressed Debbie had quickly returned to help, putting the stale bread for dessert in a basin she'd added a little water like Bea had shown her countless times before before she turned her attention to making the breadcrumbs for the sausage roll. Unlike a much younger Bea Debbie never needed to be asked to help out, helping her mother in the kitchen was one of her favourite things to do. Bea sometimes felt guilty about that, when she was younger she had always had an easy life, brothers to play with even if she annoyed them. Debbie had no one but her and an abusive father at home. They didn't eat out ever, unlike Bea who had gone out to dinner with her family at least twice a week as she grew up, maybe more as she got older. 

 

 

Now Bea wondered why she'd even worried about not specifying the time they would eat. Allie had arrived a little after ten with a paper bag in one hand and small bunch of flowers in the other. Bea couldn't have been angry with her even if she tried when she'd handed the paper bag over to Debbie. It had contained three oranges and three apples, not the easiest things to get hold of and it wasn't hard to guess who'd supplied them. Paying over the odds for things that made life a little more tolerable for Debbie was something Bea didn't mind in the least bit doing. Allie though had already used all her weekly ration on Colin's party the day before, buying oranges and apples that cost a hefty price hadn't been necessary Bea told her. Allie had simply shrugged her shoulders and handed over the flowers. Flowers, Franky had told her first thing that morning, were the one thing she knew Harry would never have given her. Black eyes and broken ribs were more his style. Franky hadn't needed to say that, Allie wasn't stupid, Bea didn't say a great deal about him and that itself spoke more to her than Bea ever needed to.

Being in the kitchen with both Debbie and Bea Allie tried to resist the urge to stare, it was torture but the moment she did look up from what Debbie was showing her…

Oh the shivers of delight that ran through her when she realised that Bea was looking straight at her. It was all so crazy, yes they'd kissed for the briefest of moments. The memory was something that still made Allies head spin and her skin break out in goose flesh. That one memory she thought would last her for the rest of her life even if it never happened again. Naturally she hoped it would but she wasn't going to force it, it was Bea who'd kissed her after all and maybe now she had a clearer head she'd think it had been a mistake. They'd only known each other for such a short time, Allie wanted her, wanted Bea to want her the way the men she'd had no choice other than to be with had wanted her. On reflection she'd changed her mind about that original thought though. She didn't want Bea to only want her for her body, she wanted Bea to know her. Not the person she pretended to be, she wanted Bea to know who she really was and that scared and excited her the more she thought about it. Bea was way more important to her than any dream she'd ever had. In her dreams she always just wanted someone who saw her, who loved her for who she was not what she could give them. The raw excitement of of being seen out with her arm in arm the previous evening still fresh in her mind. Seeing others people's eyes follow them, some had been disapproving and she still hoped Bea had missed that, only heightened her desire.

If Bea didn't want her, the thought terrified her. She couldn't tell her right now just how much she hoped they had a future. Bea still had a husband, missing of course, but he was still her husband. Maybe it was attention from someone Bea craved, even though the look in Beas eyes had told Allie she wasn't wrong it still worried her. She certainly could never tell her how she'd spent most of the night laying awake in her bed imagining what it would be like to have her laying right beside her. The feel of her soft skin against hers, her lips crushing hers. That picture in her head of them laying in bed together hadn't left her all morning. Them stretching out in bed early in the morning, having Bea fall asleep in her arms. She still shivered with excitement. The realities were different she knew that, Debbie was more important to Bea and Allie knew that's exactly how it should be. She could dream though couldn't she? Maybe Bea would say that a repeat of that kiss could never happen again. Maybe she wouldn't say anything, maybe she did want them to have some kind of future even if they always had to hide their feelings from everyone but each other. Allie hadn't been paying attention to anything Liz had said the previous afternoon, hadn't heard when she'd suggested that Allie would like them to be alone even for only a short time. All she noticed was Bea, nothing else in Liz's kitchen had mattered to her. Bea taking her by the hand, fumbling with her key even throwing the cushion at Franky had been all she'd really seen. Later when she found herself in the dark in a bombed out entrance to a building with Beas lips pressed tightly against hers nothing else but being with Bea had mattered. Walking away from her had been so hard, keeping her own desires in check had been the only thing on her mind so walking away had been the only option.

Lunch it seemed had been a resounding success, Bea had blushed almost the same colour as her hair when Allie had announced that it was the best meal she'd ever eaten. When Debbie reminded her as she was making the custard that the bread pudding needed sugar sprinkling on top of it Allie had jumped straight out of her seat and offered to help. It was unusual for anyone to help her in her own kitchen. Once or twice Franky took charge of the cooking but even she was never tempted to help out, a day off from actually cooking was always a relief for her. Bea had watched as Allie bent down and removed it from the oven before passing Debbie the sugar to sprinkle on top. Picking her up so she wouldn't burn herself on the edges of the dish it was in. Was this what life was really meant to be like she wondered to herself as Allie had placed it back in the oven for the last ten minutes it needed. Their eyes had met briefly as Allie straightened up and Bea struggled to resist the urge to pull her close and kiss her again. For the briefest of moments she wished Debbie was somewhere else. Closing her eyes for a second she pushed the thought from her head before turning her attention back to the custard. Maybe Allie wouldn't rush off after lunch, even if Debbie had no plans of going out that afternoon maybe they could still spend more time together.

Allie had already cleared the rest of the dishes from the table before Bea could say anything. “I'll do the dishes.” Allie said as Debbie pulled her chair out from under the table. “And I'll help.”

Bea couldn't believe what she was hearing. “Allie…no you're a guest, I won't allow it.” 

“You don't have a choice, I already volunteered now go and make yourself comfortable and I'll bring you a cup of tea when I'm done here.”

Being stared at by both Allie and Debbie, the former waiting for her to protest again judging by the expression that had settled on her face. “Fine!” She eventually muttered too stunned to say anything else. Settling herself down on the sofa she couldn't remember a single time Harry had so much as cleared a single plate from the table, at least not unless him throwing one at her counted. He'd never offered to wash so much as single tea cup, he certainly wouldn't have tackled a Sunday lunch worth of dishes. He'd eat if he wasn't in an argumentative mood then go straight to settle himself in his armchair with a bottle of whisky from his liquor cabinet. Of course Allie would help, as hard as her life had been and as cold as she could have let it make her she hadn't. Nothing would ever be too much trouble for Allie. She turned her head and looked towards the sideboard where she'd placed the vase with the flowers Allie had given her. Harry had never been that sweet even before they were married. He'd never waste his money on her, “Flowers only whither and die.” He'd once told her, and until Debbie had been born she'd often wished that was what she could do. Allie washed as Debbie wiped, stacking everything in a neat pile before showing Allie where everything needed to go. 

“Mummy has to have a place for everything because that's how daddy said it should be.” She told her sadly. “He wasn't nice to her, he hit her. She thinks I don't know but I do, I saw him.” She told Allie as she watched her making a pot of tea. “I'll get the tray…and the cookies.” Debbie grinned. How easy it was for her to change the subject Allie thought as she watched her place the tea tray on the table.

 

 

Allie hadn't wanted to outstay her welcome, neither Debbie or Bea wanting her to leave early had persuaded her to stay. The three of them had spent an enjoyable day together, first listening to Debbie read her book and then listening to the wireless. Talking about Colin's party, the next book Debbie wanted to borrow from the library, Bea decided that it was the most pleasant Sunday she'd ever had. Once Bea had finally pointed out that since the next day was Monday and Debbie needed a bath and an early night Allie had once again tried to excuse herself. 

“You can stay a little later…if you want to.” Bea had said quietly as she was going to check that Debbie was in bed. “I won't be long she does generally fall asleep before I get through the first page.” 

Allie had known she needed to be getting back, the black out was in effect and Franky might be getting worried. Her head was screaming at her to leave but her heart had her firmly rooted to the spot. She was still sitting right where Bea had left her on the sofa when she returned. Bea sat next to her, closer than she remembered her doing the previous day, closer than she had any time that day, but she guessed that Debbie being home didn't make things easy for her. Even after what Debbie had said to her she knew she would still be expecting her father to return someday. The thought made Allie a little sad even though she knew that there was always that possibility even if they both hoped there wasn't. Knowing what the telegram Bea had received said didn't mean anything much in the grand scheme of things. He could be missing in action, he could have deserted after all to Allie he sounded like the worst kind of coward. Then there was already the possibility that he was dead and his body would never be found, that was the slim chance and the  one she'd become aware Bea was clinging onto.

“Why me?” Bea asked absentmindedly as she curled herself a little more into Allies side. All the affection and desire she'd felt the previous evening came flooding back.

Allie kept her eyes looking straight ahead, giving the impression that she was either asking herself the same question or just didn't have an answer at all. Allie didn't even seem to blink until she moved her arm and wrapped it around her shoulders pulling Bea gently closer. 

“Maybe because you're good looking.” Allie answered honestly.

“Harry never thought so.” Bea said sadly as she rested her head on Allies shoulder.

“Maybe because I like the way you speak.” Allie continued with a smile.

“You think I'm posh.” Bea frowned.

Allie bit her lip. “Maybe it's more what you say than the way you actually speak. Or maybe because I'm guessing you can play the piano so well. I mean I doubt that husband of yours can belt out a tune on that thing.” She pointed towards the piano at the other side of the room.

“Oh yes, it was that frightfully expensive private education mater and pater insisted upon. Oh and one must not forget all the private music lessons and the private tutors in the holidays.” Bea said in an exaggerated posh voice. “Really not the sort of girl you'd have ever found scrumping apples and belting down the hill on my bike trying to catch my brothers.” She burst out laughing.

“Stop playing the fool.” Allie playfully slapped her thigh.

Beas laugh was loud, louder than she'd ever herd it before but she stopped when she noticed the look in Allies eyes. Her smile had softened as she looked her in the eye. Bea caught her breath, the same special feeling seemed to have just passed between them again, much the same as it had the previous evening. It felt like the moment she'd been waiting for all day. She reached up and ran her fingers down the soft velvety skin of Allies cheek. She ran her thumb so very gently over her eyebrow and traced the line of her nose. Everything felt so simple, so easy with Allie. 

“I really should go.” Allie mumbled before their lips met briefly. “I have to open for Franky in the morning and I should let you get to bed.” 

Bea felt an unusual sense of sadness wash through her entire body but Allie was right, she knew she was but that didn't mean she had to like it.

“Does she give you time off for lunch?” Bea asked as she walked her to the door trying to stall just for a little more time alone with her.

“She says I can have an hour but I don't usually bother, I just have a quick sandwich and a cuppa, why do you ask?” Allie wondered why Bea even needed to ask she used to work for her after all.

“I just thought, maybe…nothing it's a stupid idea.” Bea shook her head.

“I doubt very much you've ever had a stupid idea in your whole life.” Allie said quietly as she turned back towards her wrapping her arms around her shoulders. “Tell me.” She whispered as her lips ghosted over her ear.

Bea swallowed down the lump that had quickly formed in her throat. “I just wondered, if you weren't too busy, maybe…maybe you could meet me in the park at lunch time. Or, or we could go to the cafe again if it's too cold.”

“Do you always eat your lunch in the park?” Allie asked with an increasingly widening smile.

“Most days. It's better than being in the office all day with the same boring people. I forgot to say, I'm going to take the 174 off your file, I don't want to mark you unfit but I'd rather you stay at the cafe with Franky.” 

“You don't want me working in a munitions factory?” Allie laughed lightly.

“Are you serious? Have you any idea how dangerous that can be? Not to mention your skin turning yellow. So no, no I don't I'd rather risk you spending all day with Franky.” Beas expression had turned a little more serious but her smile never faded.

Allie laughed. “I thought I told you yesterday she's really not my type.”

 

Chapter Text

 

Susan Jenkins had grown up in the Park Hill slums of Sheffield, everyone knew in was the worst slum area in the whole city. It was densely populated and consisted of two story back to back terraced houses with communal toilets and standpipes for their water. As a youngster it had never bothered her in the slightest, there were always plenty of other children to play with and get into trouble with. Most of the inhabitants worked shifts in the steel works and cutlery factories, the working conditions were dangerous as her father had found out; losing two fingers on his right hand. After his accident he'd refused to go back to work and spent a lot of his time sitting around chatting with the neighbours. Her mother was a drinker and lost her job in the cutlery factory as a result, eventually her father had taken to stealing to support his family. As Susan got older she realised more and more that there were no real prospects for work other than in the industries that the city was famous for. Continuing her education was never encouraged, getting a job that paid real wages was the only thing that mattered. The area was notorious for being full of rouges and villains eventually she worked out her father was one of them when she'd seen him stealing lead piping from a vacant building. At school she even refused to tell people where she really lived, preferring to give her aunt and uncles address if anyone asked.

She soon hated living in the back to back houses with their courtyard toilets. One room up and one room down didn't leave a lot of space for a family of four, and certainly didn't give any of them anything much in way of privacy. Susan and her older sister Trina were lucky to only have to share the upstairs room with each other, many of her friends had far many more brothers and sisters than she did. The room downstairs was not only their parents bedroom but the only place to cook, wash and spend time as a family. Not that she enjoyed doing that a great deal as she got older. A one pot boiler sat in one corner of the room alongside one gas ring. She hated the mobile bath as she'd called it as a child, their tin bath hung on one wall of the downstairs room. Refusing to use it she had taken to going to her aunt and uncles once a week at Page Hall for a real bath.

“Tha’s nowt but a snob, Sue.” Her mother May had spat at her on a regular basis after her father had once again been sent to prison for theft.

“I ain't sharin her mucky water.” She'd shouted back at her as she stormed out of the house. 

She couldn't see why her mother didn't share her desire to wash in a real bath that had running water. Her uncle had joked that judging by the ring she left round it, ‘Slum life were a mucky business.” And her aunt would tell her that, ‘Tha might be poor but tha dunt have to be mucky.” Something she agreed whole heartedly with.

Having to get a job in one of the cutlery factories bored her to tears so the day war was announced she’d took great pleasure in telling everyone that she was leaving for London. A job in a munitions factory would be a dangerous occupation and her uncle told her that a lot of the factories would certainly be soon turned over to war production. May and Trina had laughed in her face as she packed her small bag with her few possessions. She'd spent her whole life in the slums and now she was determined to leave all that behind her. Getting on the train bound for London she vowed she'd never return. Her mother and sister had treated her like a slave, leaving her to cook and clean while they did nothing. She'd pack her bag and go and stay with her aunt and uncle every other month but always returned home when she thought she had outstayed her welcome. Always returning to the same treatment from the pair. Going back and forth so often had earned her the nickname of Boomer, “Yur jus like a ruddy boomerang.” Trina had told her and the name had stuck. 

Arriving in London had been a shock, the sheer size of it overwhelmed her and the first night there she'd slept out in the cold on a park bench. Such necessities as having a place to stay had been something she'd overlooked when she decided on the spur of the moment to leave. The next morning she'd found herself sitting in Franky's cafe and she'd easily got chatting to her.

“Might be able to help you out with that little problem.” Franky had told her after Booms, as Franky decided to call her, had explained her predicament. “I know someone who's got an old place for rent. Used to be a shop out the front but no one wants it now.”

Boomer had nodded her head enthusiastically and Franky had made a call to enquire if it was still vacant. Leaving Bea in charge for an hour she'd taken Boomer straight over to view the place, agreeing on the rent she'd pay she finally found her first home. It wasn't much to look at the first day she walked into the place but she had some money saved that May and Trina had never known about. And her aunt and uncle had given her a couple of pounds that she'd tried to refuse but when they looked offended by her refusal she'd accepted it. 

Franky had offered to ask around for any bits and pieces that might be going spare, people who went to the cafe regularly were always more than happy to help anyone in need if they were able to. Her new digs were going to take a lot of getting used to, not only was Boomer truly alone for the first time in her life but she had more free space than she knew what to do with. The ground floor rooms all had pine panelling from the floor up to waist height that had been painted with the most hideous brown varnish she thought she'd ever seen. Still she'd later decided that after a good scrub it would look a little better and if nothing else it wouldn't show the dirt as much. The back room would serve as both her living room and kitchen an old cast iron range was set into the fireplace and after a great deal of elbow grease it shone like it had just been newly installed. The old shop was at the front and Franky said she could always rent it out to someone trustworthy, the landlady said she had no problem with that.  For the time being after a good scrub it would remain unused. A small bedroom was sandwiched between the the two areas and Boomer decided that she'd use it since it would stay warmer given its proximity to the back room. Upstairs there were two other rooms, both were dusty and had bare floorboards. She had absolutely no idea what she'd ever find to do with them unless she could rent them out. Strangely for Boomer who'd always complained about the outside toilets she didn't seem to mind that it was at the end of the small garden that she had exclusive use of. The old tin bath that hung outside on the back wall hadn't even been enough to put her off because it would be for her use only, no sharing anyone else's dirty water she'd told herself. She wasn't intending to spend a great deal of time at home anyway, on the train journey there she'd already decided that she wanted to be an ambulance driver. Her uncle had taught her to drive and being useful was something Boomer wanted to do, as well as do something that might be just a little exciting. She'd already ruled out any prospect of working in a factory, she'd done that for long enough at home and wasn't going to get talked into it now she was in London. She worked hard and did her best to make the place home. She cleaned all the windows until they were sparkling and hung net curtains at them. Franky managed to get donations of small household items, pots and pans and crockery weren't in short supply when she asked around. She scoured the secondhand shops and eventually got everything together that she needed to make it comfortable. Now she hardly ever gave a second thought to the family she'd left behind in Sheffield. She made friends and achieved what she set out to be, an ambulance driver.

The ambulance station she had joined at the start of the war had gained itself the nickname of the ‘Amateur Ambulance Station.’ All the ambulance girls were new to the job and they soon became used to hearing insults and being laughed at while they were practicing stretcher bearing and bandaging out in the street. Boomer was loud and had often been heard saying that she'd ‘punch thi bloody tits in,’ when passersby laughed at them. The insults had soon stopped after the blitz started and the bombs were falling, all their practice had paid off. The only thing that ever got on her nerves now was that she wasn't permitted to drive more than sixteen miles per hour. Something that all the ambulance drivers found more than a little infuriating when they were trying to get their badly injured patients to hospital. 

 

 

Shorty after Allie left Beas the air raid siren sounded. ‘Just typical,’ she thought to herself. She knew where the nearest shelter was though and quickly made her way there. An hour later the German bombers and their fighter escorts had already started to turn back towards their bases across the channel in France and the all clear was sounded. Everyone in the shelter made their way outside to find themselves surrounded by raging fires, broken glass and damaged and destroyed houses. Debris littered the pavement and road as greasy black smoke enveloped the entire scene before their eyes. Allie thought about turning around and going back to check on Bea and Debbie but Franky would worry if she didn't arrive soon, especially after the first air raid of the night. Deciding to carry on she knew Franky would let her use the telephone to call Liz and check that they were both unharmed in the morning. As she continued on her journey home she couldn't have guessed that the sirens would sound again before she reached her destination. 

Bea hated having to wake Debbie when she was already asleep but with the sirens sounding she had no choice. Most nights it would sound around 6pm and they'd spend the entire night in the Anderson shelter in the garden even after the all clear had sounded. It was never any guarantee that the second they climbed back into their beds that it wouldn't sound again, and more often than not it did. Tonight would be no different although Bea was worried about Allie, how she wished now she'd asked her to stay; the sofa wasn't comfortable but it was better than being caught out in a raid.

Anderson shelters everyone knew weren't exactly comfortable they were cold and cramped. Six feet high, six feet long and four feet six inches wide made of corrugated curved steel sheets. They had to be dug two feet into the ground and covered with sand or earth, Bea had worked hard installing hers and helped Liz as best she could. Each could accommodate four people, six at a push where necessary. Once the hole had been dug they were easy to erect but they weren't bomb proof, they could never withstand a direct hit but when they were correctly positioned and covered they did offer protection from bomb fragments and falling debris. The noise of falling bombs and any shrapnel that hit them would echo alarmingly around the tiny walls when they weren't properly insulated. Bea had called on all her skills and learned some new ones and fitted both hers and Liz's out with homemade bunks. She'd nailed a double layer of chicken wire across a wooden frame to make two upper and lower bunks, her and Debbie didn't need the extra bunks but they were useful just in case anyone had called round and were unlucky enough to get caught out by a raid, both Franky and Boomer had once or twice. Daylight raids were becoming a more increasingly frequent occurrence though and that was always of more concern to her with Debbie at school.

That night Bea had looked out and watched as the bombs began falling, all air raids she thought were like a terrible storm. The sky was livid, lit up by jagged flashes until they became obscured by rolling clouds of black smoke. Soon even the smoke couldn't obstruct the reflected glow of the fires that were burning while the noise of the bombs and guns echoed like thunder. Watching the fires burning really did feel as if it might be the end of the world.

Boomer and Linda who she worked with regularly had already left the ambulance station. All around them they could hear the loud thumps of the bombs falling in the distance. Huge clouds of smoke were rising up, floating together until all they could see was a huge bank of black. Still the bombers kept coming.

“Hell fire, as tha seen that!”  Boomer sighed as she looked up towards the direction the bombers were coming from.

“Just the start ain't it?” Linda answered as she rolled her eyes. They both knew that it would get worse before it got any better.

Driving towards their destination it had already started to look as if the whole world was on fire as the inferno caused by the incendiary bombs was starting to burn out of control. It really was looking like it would be impossible to put out. From a distance the ominous red glow in the sky, had it not been coming from the east could have easily passed as an indifferent sunset to the untrained eye. Another bomb landed close by causing another terrific roar. Then another and another, dozens landed, the sound they made sounded like it was coming from everywhere all at once as it echoed around them. It had been the same night after night, everyone enjoyed the respite when the weather was too bad for the bombers to fly, the noise tonight dulled the senses and even Boomer was finding it hard to think clearly. When they finally reached their destination the buildings on either side of the street had already gone up in flames thanks to the first wave of incendiary bombs. Stopping sharply in the middle of the road Boomer watched on in horror at the pulsating, flicker of the orange, red and pink flames that were engulfing every house. A dozen or more firefighters were silhouetted against the flames a little way ahead of them. The whole road that stretched out in front of them was awash with water from the hose pipes and the flames of the whole burning mess reflected in it giving them both the feeling that they were surrounded by a endless lake of fire.

“You fink we’ll make it?” Boomer asked receiving no reply from Linda.

They'd been assigned to pick up three firefighters who had been badly injured when a wall had collapsed. It was a dangerous place for anyone to be, there were collapsed walls all around them and in front of them all the way up the street and the fires were burning out of control. It looked as if it would be an impossible task, not only for them getting to the injured but for the firefighters, the handful there were were never going to be enough to get the flames under control.

“Got no choice have we?” Boomer asked as she glanced at Linda half expecting no reply again.

“We'll be fine, we are in the studerbaker.” Linda finally replied.

Boomer nodded, she knew the studerbaker was the most reliable and toughest ambulance they had at their disposal. The further they would eventually drive up the street she quickly realised that she would be driving blind when they hit the thick, choking smoke that lay ahead. Boomer let out a deep breath before setting off again, even she wasn't going to complain about the sixteen mile an hour speed restriction right now. She took it easier than usual not wanting to be responsible for losing control of the ambulance on the water soaked road, crashing into a burning building wouldn't help anyone.

“Bit like bonfire night.” Boomer said as she drove slowly. A gust of wind suddenly made the fires roar even louder and sparks fell all around the ambulance. “Jus not as fun when tha’s in the middle of it all.” She added keeping her eyes firmly fixed dead ahead.

Boomer was in awe of the firefighters risking life and limb trying to put out the infernos, the risk of getting badly burnt or being trapped after a collapse but worst of all she thought they were in danger from more bombing raids. The fires made it easy for the German bombers to drop high explosive bombs on their targets and even then they didn't all land where they were meant to. The further they went the air grew hotter, the smoke became thicker. By the time they finally reached the injured firefighters she had tears streaming down her face as her lungs protested with each shallow breath of the choking air she took. Finally though they had made it out of the worst of it and had reached their destination, still aware that at any second the next wave of German aircraft could be overhead. 

The three injured men they had been expecting turned into four badly injured and five with minor injuries that needed attention.

“You have room, please say you have room for them all.” A worried firefighter asked as they exited the ambulance.

“Only have room for four stretchers.” Boomer said as she looked past him to the casualties. “Can probably get three more in if they sit on the floor.” 

“We need them out of here, can't you fit in a couple more?” The firefighter sounded desperate. The burnt out shell of the building was the only shelter she could see and she knew from past experience another collapse was very possible. She thought for a few seconds, she couldn't risk lives because she'd been unwilling to try.

“It'll be a squeeze.” She admitted but she could hardly refuse and make them wait for another ambulance to be dispatched, if there was even another one available the early raid was putting a strain on all the ambulance stations. “We'll get em in one way or t’other.” She said even if she wasn't really sure that it was manageable.

Retrieving a stretcher from the back they made their way over to one of the firefighters who was laying on the floor. Laying it on the floor beside him they covered it with a blanket before turning their attention to the severely injured man. He had severe burns and an very obvious broken leg.

“What's thi Name?” Boomer asked. “Can tha tell me thi address mate?” 

He managed to to tell her his name through gritted teeth as he closed his eyes tightly before grabbing her hand and squeezing it, finally managing to mumble his address. Linda wrote his details on a tag and tied it to his wrist. Before long they had all the injured men in the ambulance, as she'd guessed it hardly left any room for movement but none of them were going to complain they were just relieved to be getting out of there, hopefully to a place a little safer. Finally heading for the hospital she knew it was going to be another long night.

 

 

Allie hadn't gone another mile after she'd left the first shelter when the sirens sounded again. “Damned moaning minnie.” She said to herself. Franky's cafe wasn't far from where she was and Franky would as usual take shelter in the basement. It couldn't be used for storage anymore because it was too damp but Franky refused to leave the premises even through the worst raids. She made her way to the public shelter that was nearest. She knew it was one of the most uncomfortable and it could already be full, most people would head there as soon as it started to get dark and not leave until daybreak. It wasn't quite full when she got there although there were people everywhere. Some on old mattresses, some in deckchairs and other people had just laid down on the cold concrete floor with only a couple of blankets stretched around them. The atmosphere was so thick it could have been cut with a knife and it had an awful smell. If she hadn't had Bea and Debbie constantly on her mind she would have preferred to risk death out in the open than possible asphyxiation. She had to make it through another night, she wasn't going to risk never seeing them again for the sake of making it back to the cafe. Finding herself a space she sat on the floor with her back against the wall and waited. She fell asleep a little while later, something she might be grateful for because she wouldn't recall the shelter taking a direct hit. 

When she finally came round the last thing she remembered was leaving Beas, she'd been so happy. She tried to move her head and found she couldn't. Dust was coming down and filling her nose and mouth, she was convinced she was going to die. “Bea.” She whispered to herself. She tried to shout but the more she tried and the more she moved the more dust landed on her. She guessed she'd had periods of unconsciousness because she remembered hearing voices and then a long time later she saw an ARP helmet way up high above her then it was right in front of her. She heard the man speaking to her. “All we've got to do is get your arm out love, you'll be fine.”

She looked to her left at the arm sticking out of the debris. “That's not my arm.” She croaked out.

“Yes it is love, it's got the same coat on that you're wearing.” The ARP warden said to her softly.

She couldn't remember how long it took to free her arm, couldn't remember being carried out of the shelter. She did remember being put in the ambulance, Boomer was not someone she would be likely to forget. 

“Bloody hell blondie.” Boomer huffed as soon as she recognised her. “Why ain't tha we Franky?”

Allie just shook her head, no matter how hard she tried she couldn't even remember how she ended up in the shelter. Boomer and Linda loaded three more stretchers into the back of the ambulance and helped a couple of the walking wounded in.

“You drive.” Boomer had said almost growling at Linda before she got in the back of the ambulance and sat on the floor next to the stretcher Allie was laying on.

“Don't thi get no ideas bout dying on me.” Boomer smiled a little as she gave her hand a slight squeeze. “Can't be lettin thi gaffer down and Bea would not be chuffed.” 

Allie closed her eyes, if she'd just carried on she could have made it to the cafe. Her whole body felt so heavy and her mind was racing with so many thoughts she was having difficulty concentrating on any of them. The raid continued until dawn, even in the hospital she didn't feel safe. All the ‘if only’s’ in the world couldn't change what she'd thought at the time was her best option. Franky had warned her that most of the public shelters weren't safe. “They give people a sense of safety but I wouldn't trust them.” When the all clear finally sounded she knew she was one of the lucky ones, she'd heard that over fifty people had been killed from the shelter she'd been in. A few cuts and bruises were all she'd got along with a very painful arm.

“Nothing broken I'm very pleased to tell you.” The blonde haired female doctor had told her with a smile. “And I believe there's someone here to collect you. Sounds like a real trouble maker by all accounts.” 

Franky burst through the door a short time later. “What the hell were you thinking?” She said loudly when she spotted Allie. “Didn't I tell you those bloody shelters aren't safe? And you know Red would kick me in….” She stopped speaking abruptly when the doctor who was talking to Allie turned around.

“Would you mind keeping your voice down? There are sick people here.” The doctor glared at Franky who just nodded dumbly.

Allie sat quietly feeling rather amused when she saw the expression on Franky's face. ‘Maybe that's what love at first sight looks like.’ She thought to herself.

 

Chapter Text

 

“Yes love, I'll go next door and tell her straight away.” 

Liz placed the receiver of the telephone back in its cradle and sighed. Bea was going to be upset when she passed on the news about Allie. She knew Bea well enough to know that she rarely let her emotions be seen by anyone, but that was before Allie had come into her life. Allie had changed things, Bea was happier, she now wore a smile that wasn't just for the sake of appearances.

Beas heart felt like lead in her chest as Liz spoke words she never thought she'd hear. Her eyes were fixed on Liz and the pain in them was far worse than anything Liz thought she'd ever seen before. Liz took a few steps forward before wrapping her arms tightly around Beas shoulders as she pulled her close. She never hugged Bea, at least not after the first time she'd tried and been pushed away. She remembered the day well. She'd heard everything that had taken place the night before on Beas side of the wall. Heard the slaps and punches, heard her being slammed up against the wall and heard Bea sobbing over Harry's loud voice. She’d watched him storm out of the house the next morning after hearing his raised voice again. Hearing Debbie call out for Bea from upstairs his voice had silenced in a heartbeat before he'd walked out of the house slamming the door behind him. Waiting a few minutes she'd knocked on their front door and had been shocked by what she saw. Red marks around Beas throat where he'd choked her, the bruises on her arms and the large cut above her eye. Bea had pushed her away almost the second she'd felt arms encircling her as she'd tried to hold herself together. This morning Bea didn't push her away, she cried into her shoulder uncontrollably.

“Allies fine love, a little beaten up and Franky collected her from the hospital early this morning. Luckily Boomer was on the ambulance that picked her up. She said to tell you she's making her rest.” Liz spoke softly as her heart ached, this was a whole new side of Bea she was seeing and it was heartbreaking. Her tears would soon be forgotten but Liz knew she would never forget the look of pure fear she'd seen in her eyes. It was a fear that told her she'd sacrifice almost anything to keep Allie safe. She'd been sceptical when Franky had first told her about them but seeing them together had confirmed everything Franky had said. 

“Are you going to be alright love?” Liz asked as Bea pulled away from her, wiping her eyes as she glanced at the time. Bea nodded slowly, she had no choice other than to carry on, she had to make sure that Debbie was up and ready for school and she still had to go to work. Everything had to carry on as normal. After all she'd been brought up in a traditional family where remaining resolute and unemotional when faced with adversity was paramount. Ditching that stiff upper lip right now would achieve nothing more than her falling to pieces and upsetting Debbie.

Bea felt an overwhelming rage grow in her chest as soon as Liz walked out of her kitchen, not rage at Liz, Franky or Allie, not even at the German’s who'd dropped the bomb but at herself. She knew she should never have let Allie walk back to the cafe alone but with Debbie in bed there was no way she could have walked with her. She should have made her stay, next time she knew she wouldn't make the same mistake. There could so easily not have been any possibility of a next time. She stood in the kitchen in silence, she wasn't badly hurt but Franky could just be saying that hoping she wouldn't worry as much. Until she saw with her own eyes she would worry, all day she'd worry. Maybe she could call the cafe from the office and speak to Allie, she couldn't wait until she finished work and she didn't want to bother Liz right now. She had Sophie and Artie to get ready for school, get breakfasts ready and then get herself to the shops. Colin helped her around the house when he was at home so at least she had a little less to worry about for a couple of weeks. She still had to make sure Debbie was up and had to get her breakfast, she wouldn't let her know she was worried. If there was one thing she thought she was good at it was hiding her emotions, except she wasn't as good at it as she though she was at hiding them from everyone. Tea, after hearing the news about Allie, was all she had the stomach for this morning. How she'd concentrate on work until she saw Allie she didn't know. Maybe she could speak to Maxine and just concentrate on reviewing files all day. She sucked in a shaky breath before making her way to the bottom of the stairs to call Debbie down for breakfast. 

Her anger receded a little when she heard feet running down the stairs. Would Franky give Allie more than just one day off to recover she wondered as she set about making toast. She sighed a little as she heard Debbie pull out her chair. “Hurry up mummy, I'm starving.” Debbie sounded cheerful even though they'd had another disturbed night. The bombings were getting worse, maybe it was time to start going down to the shelter before the sirens sounded. It wouldn't give her much time when she got home from work to get dinner ready but it was still manageable. Even with the usual window of between 6pm to 8pm for the sirens to go it was manageable if she didn't waste too much time at the cafe. Another thought quickly flashed into her head, maybe she should ask Allie to stay with them. Maybe Franky would let her finish before they closed then they could walk home together. She'd be back early enough the next morning before they opened and by then the all clear would have sounded. Where Allie would sleep if she did find the courage to ask was something that would have to be worked out later. Franky hid out in the basement and so far she'd been lucky, all it would take was one stray bomb and they could both be gone. Boomer had said that falling in love in wartime was a mugs game, but couldn't it also be a vote of confidence in the future? She already knew she loved Allie and even though that scared her to death she wanted to keep her safe even if she couldn't imagine ever finding a right time to tell her how she felt. Harry was still hanging over her head even if missing in action didn't sound like Harry, desertion however did and it made a great deal more sense.

Debbie had skipped off happily to Liz's so she could walk to school with her, Sophie and Artie. ‘So far so good.’ Bea thought to herself as she pulled on her coat and picked up her briefcase. As always it contained everything important in case the house got hit in one of the increasingly common daylight raids and her sandwiches, not that she imagined she'd eat them today.

Arriving at work Bea had only one thing on her mind, Allie. Once she sat at her desk Bea had decided that carrying on as normal was her best option, maybe it wouldn't give her as much time to think and worry if she was occupied with actually speaking to other people. Maxine had noted instantly that she wasn't quite herself. She skipped through interviews hardly taking down notes and never smiled at anyone, even for Bea that was unusual. Bea was nothing if not meticulous, all her interviews were conducted with precision and it was clear to everyone that morning that her mind was elsewhere. Bea looked out of the window as she still sat at her desk as lunch time approached, she still didn't feel like eating. Everyone else around her were gathering their bags and coats together as they chatted happily. Even if most of the conversations were about the recent raids or how much rationing was biting they were all still cheerful. Closing her eyes she could still see Allie looking back at her. If only she'd had the courage to ask her to stay but she wasn't courageous; wasn't that what she always told herself?

 

 

Taking out her powder compact Allie checked one last time if she needed a touch more lipstick, she wanted to look nothing but her best for Bea. Bruises and cuts were easily covered up, her arm hurt and her head was still pounding a little. Franky had ordered her back to bed as soon as she'd appeared in the cafe that morning and now she was bored. She'd read a little, stared out of the window but most of her thoughts had been occupied by only one thing. She'd intended to meet Bea at lunch time but Franky had told her she needed to rest and that Bea knew she was fine. “She'll call round after she finishes work we both know that, now rest. I'll send her up when she gets here.” Franky had told her as she'd ushered her back up the stairs. Picking up her peep toe shoes she tucked them under one arm and her clutch bag under the other. Creeping around the place wasn't easy since Franky had been on heigh alert all morning, one squeak overhead and she'd run up the stairs that led to the flat to check on her. It was almost time for the early lunch time rush now and Allie knew Franky was on her own, she wouldn't have the time to check on her for at least two hours. She crept over the dull brown linoleum in her stockinged feet to the door of her room. Opening it she slipped out quietly and down the stairs to the back door, there was little chance of Franky hearing her there over the chattering voices in the cafe. She loved late mornings as the sunlight shone through the deep blue and Ruby red glass of the half glazed door. A kaleidoscope of colourful pools danced on the dull painted hallway walls. She'd always thought it was a strange choice for a back door until Franky had told her about the previous owner. No matter how careful she was the heavy door creaked on its hinges as she slowly tugged it open. Allie stopped and stood motionless for a few seconds as she drew in a deep breath listening for any other sound of feet heading down the hallway from the cafe. She felt guilty about leaving without telling Franky but she had to do this, Bea was everything to her and she needed to see her. Taking one last look behind her she pulled open the door and stepped outside into the chilly air. She quietly sucked in a breath as her feet met the cold stone step outside before she dropped her shoes to the ground and pushed her feet into them. ‘Sorry Franky.’ She thought to herself as she hoped her luck would continue as she made her almost silent escape.

Allie caught the bus from the stop around the corner from the cafe. She’d checked with Franky half a dozen times what time it was due the previous day when she'd told her she planned to meet Bea for lunch before she'd left to go over to her house. Strangely enough Bea had had the exact same idea, telling her that she'd have to check with Franky had been her only way of not hinting that she'd had the same thoughts. “Seriously? Honestly if Red can put up with you being this annoying she must have the patience of a saint.” She'd joked.

Allie had left a little earlier than she originally intended to but she'd rather wait out in the cold than miss Beas lunch break. She hadn't been able to give Bea a definite answer the previous day as to weather she'd be there or not so as she waited for the bus she hoped that today wouldn't be a day she decided to go to the cafe. If she didn't arrive after she'd waited for a while she'd just have to walk down there and lose more precious time with her. The bus felt like it was crawling along at a snails pace, every pot hole it went over though made Allie smile as everyone else on the bus seemed to roll together like jellies. Allie spent most of the journey looking out of the window at the houses and the half empty shops. More and more people crowded on the bus as it rumbled along. Her head was full of thoughts of Bea, she'd tried her hardest not to let herself fall for her but she'd long since lost that battle. She had guts, more than Bea ever gave herself credit for, Allie had been proud of her when she told her about her run in with Mr Potter; naturally she'd just dismissed her own actions. She was a lot more than she saw in herself, she had integrity and a lot of affection to give. Allie smiled to herself at the memory of what had happened in the shadows on Saturday evening and at the memory of spending the best part of Sunday with her and Debbie. Later events of the day were still fuzzy and maybe Bea would be angry with her for showing up at all but she didn't care. Franky had already told her that Liz had called her back, Bea had been visibly shaken by the news but Debbie had appeared just as usual to walk to school with Sophie. She knew she would never forget the memory of the smell of her perfume or the feel of her body as she'd pressed tight up against her. Even if one day Bea said she couldn't see her again she'd never forget. She found herself wishing that they could have a future, of course she told herself they couldn't, Harry would probably come back soon enough and then even if Bea did still want to see her she knew it would be impossible. After only four stops it was standing room only on the bus. The clippie shouted out the name of the next stop in the hopes that someone might get off and she'd have a little more room to squeeze herself between the tightly packed passengers. ‘Sardines,’ Allie had thought, thankful that she'd got a seat, standing all the way there was something she didn't think she'd manage. As the bus came to a stop three men tried to get on all in civvies, something Allie was a little relieved about, it was too early in the day to be dealing with soldiers. 

“Full Up gents.” The clippie shouted as she rung the bell.

Two of the men stepped back grumbling that the buses were always packed but the third, an American, decided that he was about to try his luck. 

“Come on, honey. This is the third bus that's been full in the last thirty minutes. I have an important meeting that I really can't be late for. Surly you can find a little space for me.” He smiled brightly at her.

The clippie shook her head. “Don't ya be thinkin you can sweet talk me, bloody yanks always the same. If a meetin’s that important should have got a cab. That smile won't get you a seat I'm still full.” 

Before the bus could move off again he reached out and grabbed her tie. “Now look here sister, I'm a very….”

Allie who was sitting close to the back didn't like what she was witnessing. Whoever this man was he was not only a moron but a pig in the first degree. There were plenty of men on the bus but if none of them were going to stand up to him in his fancy suit Allie would if she had to. 

One man did step forward. “Listen mate, let her go or I'll have to knock yer block off. A guest in this country yer maybe but we don't stand for none of that carry on here. Na outta the way if yer please, yer heard the lady next bus will be along soon enough.”

“Damn the next bus.” The American shouted back as he looked at the passengers sitting near the back. Looking over the clippie’s shoulder he spotted someone sitting right behind Allie. “There's a black riding on a white mans bus taking a white mans seat…my seat.” He shouted angrily as he stepped onto the platform trying to push the clippie out of the way. 

Allie saw red as she got to her feet. “Just get off the bus, we all have places to be not sitting here for the rest of the day while you spout your foul nonsense.” 

“That's a white mans seat.” He hollered back at her. 

“No it isn't, you seem to be forgetting where you are, the last time I checked you're in a country that doesn't go in for all that stupid nonsense. There's no colour bar here and you've already been told we're full, so do everyone a favour and move your arse or I'll put you on it, it's up to you.” Allie smiled, pleased with herself, if need be she'd push him off back into the gutter where he and his mouth belonged. 

He stared angrily at her for long seconds before the clippie told him one last time to get off and after a little more grumbling finally he did. As the bus moved off again Allie sat down thankful that Bea hadn't been there to witness her little outburst. She'd have been mortified and Allie knew she'd have to learn to control herself even if she was sticking up for someone else.

 

 

Allie found an empty bench close to the park entrance, praying that Bea would be there soon, if not she'd go down to the cafe Bea had taken her to. If need be she'd go over to the ministry and find her if she could. She wasn't sure how long she sat there watching people pass as they went about their days. The sunshine still held a little warmth even as the wind bit a little, she watched as her breath turned to fog in front of her. If Bea did arrive this would be, could be their bench she thought, the place they'd meet every lunch time. Bea would see the beauty in their surroundings, would probably describe the trees as dancers poised to show the world their grace; Bea could see the beauty in everything that had always been obvious. Cold is good, Allie decided, as long as you're warm inside. 

“Get out of the office for a while. Get some fresh air, clear your head a little.” Maxine had told Bea as she made no effort to move from her desk. Bea hadn't seen the need to leave her desk but after long minutes of listening to Maxine she'd agreed that she'd go for a walk at least. She walked out of the office and towards the park. The fast pace she'd walked into the park with slowed until she stopped. Allie was there, her legs felt weak. It seemed as if every solid object in the world that surrounded her wobbled and blurred around the edges. Closing her eyes briefly, she leaned against the nearest tree for a few minutes, watching her watching the people as they walked past. She was under no illusions about the horrors of this war. She witnessed on a daily basis the devastation it was causing to lives and property it was a dirty bloody business by all accounts.

“Shouldn't you be resting?” Bea asked quietly as she sat down on the bench beside her.

Allie turned her head, the first whisper of her voice brought a smile even brighter and warmer than before to her lips. Her smile held a warmth that seemed to tumble around them both, radiating love with every shallow breath she now took. Nothing Allie could say would stop Bea from blaming herself for letting her walk home. They sat for long minutes in silence, the small distance between them not mattering. They were alive, more importantly for Bea Allie was alive. 

“Let me walk you back to the office.” Allie grinned when Bea said she had to be getting back.

There was no point in arguing with her when her mind was made up and the look in her eyes told her it was. They walked slower than was normal for either of them, close but not quite close enough until they reached the door. 

“Come and stay with us?” Bea asked quietly as a man hurried past them and vanished out of sight a few seconds later.

“I'm not sure I want to give a perfectly comfortable bed up for your lumpy old sofa.” Allie laughed as her fingers brushed against Beas. “I will on one condition.” Allie smiled as she watched Beas smile fade a little. “Show me who you are without fear or shame.” Allie whispered to her as she reached for her hand. 

Bea hesitated as she glanced up and down the street, it felt as if just for the next few moments something other than luck was on both their sides. This time it felt as if there was no need for her to pull Allie into the shadows, the whole street was uncharacteristically deserted for the time of day. Pulling Allie into the gloomy doorway with her Bea didn't actually care if anyone returning from lunch saw them, they'd come so close to being torn apart in the worst way possible. Their thoughts and their bodies acted in unison. Rushed breathing, hasty caresses were born out of a passion that was not the result of the fear of dying. This was mutual passion born out of mutual desire. Neither resisted, neither protested that it shouldn't be as their lips met. Saying goodbye didn't feel final as Allie watched Bea enter the building through the door that had been wedged open. She watched and listened as her no nonsense heels tapped against the faded red linoleum until she was out of sight. When Allie turned to walk away she was happier than she'd ever been. She felt as if she were floating on air all the way back to the bus stop, her only thoughts for the next few minutes as she waited for the bus was how she would explain this to Franky.

Bea sat back at her desk, Allie was coming home. The words were like lyrics of a song that she knew so well and kept running through her head, the music spilling into her fingers making her drop her pen. She felt like a kid on Christmas morning all over again. She felt giddy it was a feeling she'd never experienced before in her life and she wasn't ready to let it go, wasn't about to let Allie go.

 

 

They were walking quickly back from the cafe when they heard footsteps behind them. The blackout was already in effect and the streets were emptier than if they'd just set off earlier and not spent a few extra minutes talking to Franky. The footsteps behind them sped up and they sounded even louder in the empty street the closer they got. Someone grabbed Allies arm and before she had time to think or panic she'd already swung around and thrust her elbow into someone's face making contact with their chin. Whoever it was grunted and let go of her arm as they took a step back. It was only then that she realised who it was. Her belief that the rest of the day would be perfect suddenly flew into a million fragments as she saw Jake Stewart straightening his tie as he stared at them both. ‘Scruffy and crooked suits him.’ Allie thought. She swung again, only this time with her fist hitting him dead centre in the nose. He stumbled back and landed hard against an un light lamppost. 

“If you don't leave us alone I'll scream.” She said in a clipped and angry tone while she hoped he didn't see how shaky she actually was. “You do remember how loud I can scream don't you Jake?”

Bea came quickly back to her side leaving Allies bag and her briefcase where they had landed and linked her arm with Allies in an attempt to calm her down. She'd never seemed to notice it before just how quickly she made her relax until right then. Jake tried to stand tall in front of them. “Might have known a weak chinned idiot like you would have to creep around in the dark.” She spat at Jake. 

“You know who he is?” Bea asked quietly never taking her eyes from the man standing there.

“Jake the snake, that's we all called him. Works for Marie, don't know how his wife, Vera, sticks it.” Allie smiled to herself. Jake hated anyone mentioning Vera's name, mainly because he knew that if word of what he actually did to the girls got back to her she'd leave and take his daughter with her. She threatened it before when she'd called at the house looking for him when he'd been late arriving home. Finding out who Jake had worked for had been a shock. He'd managed to talk her out of it that time but if anymore information found its way to her ears he knew she'd do it in a heartbeat.

“You bitch! You broke my nose.” Jake spat as he took a step forward. 

Bea Jutted her chin out like an aggressive prize fighter giving her a determined look. “It's no more than you deserve. I don't care what you want because you aren't going to get it, so just get out of here.”

“Marie wants her little whore back.” He boomed at her causing one or two curtains to twitch. Even in the blackout people were still curios when they heard raised voices.

“I'm sorry, I don't know any whores. But if you know what's good for you you'll bugger off.” Bea hissed.

Bea had seen the curtains move in more than one of the houses, she knew one was likely to have a telephone and with any luck someone would call the police.

Jake laughed. “Seems your old employer has rubbed off you.” He glared at Bea. “What would your husband say if he knew you were carrying on with a whore now his backs turned? Maybe I should let him know that he needs to get back here and put you right.” The sound that left Jake was more of a cackle than a laugh now.

“I think you'll find there's nothing wrong with me that needs putting right. You on the other hand…if you do happen to find out where that poor excuse of a man has hidden himself maybe you should tell him not to come back. Since he's meant to be missing in action I'm certain the authorities would be very interested in finding him if he tried.” Bea wanted to punch him now, punch him and not stop but she wouldn't leave Allies side. Jake looked like he wouldn't think twice about dragging her off with him if she did. 

A door opened and man walked out into the street, Bea recognised him even in his current state of undress. He was one of the local police constable’s. “Is there a problem here?” He asked as he stared straight at Jake.

“No mate, no problem.” Jake said as he turned around and walked briskly back in the direction he'd come from.

 

Chapter Text

 

As soon as Debbie had gone to bed they'd retreated to the sofa, gas light Allie had said was much more romantic than electric light. “Well I'm sorry to say we never had that in this house.” Bea smiled as she switched on a lamp. They’d sat in silence cuddled together for a while just enjoying being with each other until Bea had run her fingers through Allies hair. Bea had started to worry when she seemed not to notice that maybe Allie didn't want this, that maybe after their run in with Jake she was thinking about leaving. Allie turned to look at her seeing straight away that she was lost to her own thoughts. Pressing her lips to Beas she felt the stiffness that had settled into her body drain away, all her gloom ridden thoughts dissolved as she sighed into Allies mouth. They stayed unmoving from that position. Each overcome with the feel of each touch, each small caress of fingers against skin until the sirens interrupted them.

“Old moaning Minnie again.” Bea sighed as she resigned herself to getting up from the sofa and leaving the warmth and comfort of Allies arms when the sirens sounded a little before 8pm that night. “Could you get Deb for me while I make a start taking everything down the garden? And don't think about trying to help with that, you still need to take things easy.”

“You're so bossy.” Allie laughed as she untangled herself from Beas arms and got to her feet.

 “I'm not incapable of helping, you'd have less trips to make if you let me help.” Allie said as she was disappearing out of the door.

Going down to the shelter was not an easy task. Even though they had a place to sleep in the shelter she still had to carry down eiderdowns and pillows. Bea knew all too well that the journeys she had to make up and down a wet garden path in complete darkness accompanied by sporadic gun fire and planes droning overhead with her arms full of everything they would need for the night was never a jolly affair. Allie had never had this particular experience yet and as she made yet another trip down the garden she wondered how long it would be before the novelty of it all wore off. Debbie had found it thrilling for the first week or so but as the raids got more frequent and lasted longer she soon tired of it. The weather now being much colder also didn't help with her mood when she had to be taken from her warm bed and hurried down the garden.

Bea was more enterprising than most and had run an electric cable from the house down to the shelter and had helped Liz do the same so they could both use a bar electric fire. They had at first used a paraffin lamp for light but it was hopeless for reading by. She rigged up an electric light and kept a small selection of hers and Debbie's favourite books down there on a small shelf she had put up one weekend. She'd added a thick curtain over the entrance and managed to fill every gap around the dugout to try and keep the draft out. It still wasn't entirely satisfactory and she would keep adding to it she'd told Allie over dinner.

“You can fill the hot water bottles.” Bea told her when she returned to the kitchen seeing her with an extremely sleepy Debbie clinging to her hand. “Tea.” She smiled as she raised the two thermos flasks she picked up from the table before she disappeared outside again.

As the three of them finally made their way down to the shelter the night sky was already lit up with the crisscrossing beams of the search lights, the noise from the aeroplane engines came as a loud droning overhead as they saw Liz carrying Sophie out of her back door followed by Artie and Colin carrying the last of their supplies for the night.

“Going to be a bad one tonight.” Liz said.

“Full bombers moon.” Bea nodded as she glanced towards the sky.

As the last notes of the sirens had died away the bombs started falling, like apples falling from a tree the incendiaries always landed first followed by the heavy bombs later. Bea held back the long black curtain that she hung over the doorway of the shelter to allow Allie and Debbie to pass unhindered by it. Allie immediately helped Debbie up onto the top bunk that she always insisted on sleeping in and she fell back to sleep almost immediately clutching her favourite teddy bear. Allie tucked a hot water bottle in with her before she turned her attention to finally looking at their surroundings. Bea turned out the light a short time later and pushed back the curtain a little. She'd seen big fires before but she never remembered ever having seen the whole horizon of the city lined with fire, there must be scores of them maybe hundreds she thought. Living at the top of a hill she used to enjoy the view, now she looked back at Allie who was soon at her side watching with her.

“Have any ever landed really close to here?” Allie asked as she felt Beas arm snake around her waist.

Bea shook her head as they both watched, there seemed to be something almost inspiring about its awful savagery. Even the closest fires were near enough to hear the crackling and the yells of the firemen who were already hard at work. Smaller fires soon grew into larger ones, the larger fires were already starting to die down under the fire men's hoses but as they watched on they saw them start to break out again. Every few minutes a new wave of planes were overhead, their engines sounding more like a constant grinding than a roar. They had an angry pulsation to them, like a bee buzzing around in a blind fury looking for someone to sting. The guns were intermittent sometimes only seconds apart, sometimes a minute or more; not that either of them were counting time as they watched. The sound of the nearby guns was sharp, those further away were softer and more muffled. The anti aircraft guns as they both knew were spread everywhere over London.

“You still need to rest.” Bea mumbled as she rested her head against Allies. Allie didn't answer as they both stood watching on, looking out into the dark shadowy spaces further down the hill. More incendiary bombs fell, dozens going off all within a few seconds. They flashed then quickly simmered down into pin points of dazzling white light burning ferociously. Sometimes the white pin points would start to go out one by one as the unsung heroes of the night smothered them with sand from the sandbags that were scattered all around the city for that purpose. They could never get to them all as they fell scattered in so many places and those that were left would burn on, from the white centre a yellow flame would leap; their job was done and another building would burn. Flames whipped hundreds of feet into the air and pinkish white smoke ballooned upwards into a great cloud. The streets a little further in the distance were semi illuminated from the glowing fires. Looking above them everything looked red and angry, the sky forming a vast ceiling shrouded slightly by the pink cloud of smoke. There were tiny brilliant specks of the flashing that came from the anti aircraft shells bursting, the sound echoing after the flash. And still floating above them, standing out as clearly as they did during the daytime were the barrage balloons, looking pink now though instead of silver.

Firelight coloured the night sky in flickering shades of blood red, orange and pink and as a light wind blew over the gardens it whipped the bitter smell of burning around the houses. The planes still droned on over head, they all knew it was going to be a long night with little sleep for anyone but Debbie who Bea said could probably sleep pegged to the washing line.

“You need to try and get some sleep.” Bea said this time her voice laced with concern for Allie as she moved them slightly from the entrance to the shelter letting the curtain fall back into place. They hadn't been sitting on one of the lower bunks for long, maybe five minutes at best before the floor rocked beneath their feet. A deafening roar was followed by cascading crashes that were closer than Bea had ever heard them before. Even the curtain at the entrance wasn't enough to keep the dust out and they both coughed in the dusty air as they flinched when they heard debris hitting the roof and sides of the the shelter. Allie got to her feet, Bea reached for her hand and gripped it tightly. “Fast asleep.” she said quietly as she looked at Debbie before running her tongue over her dry lips. With the bombs being dropped closer than any night before Bea didn't want to let the thoughts of what could possibly happen to the three of them linger. At least they were together she told herself as she gently tugged Allies hand until she sat next to her on the bunk again. 

“Weren't you afraid of the Hoxton Mob?” Bea asked as Allie cuddled in to her.

“That's a strange question.” Allie laughed lightly, she knew exactly who Bea was asking about but she didn't think she'd have even heard of them. “Not really, how do you know about them?”

“Juice.” Bea answered simply. Juice knew about all the gangs that roamed the streets, told them stories of how some of them were even daring enough to enter buildings that had just been bombed. One story she told them had filled Bea and Franky with nothing more than pure disgust. She'd told them about a bomb that had fallen on a packed nightclub, killing and badly injuring most of its occupants. “Saw it with my own eyes. Wouldn't believe it if I hadn't, a few of the mob just ran in there. Course they weren't there to only loot the building, saw plenty of bottles being removed but turned out they were stealing from the dead and dying.” Juice may have had her own hands all over some dodgy goods but even she wouldn't touch anything she knew came from bombed out buildings. “And when the bluebottles turned up they just hid among the uninjured, shame on em is all I can say.”

“Most of the girls payed them protection money but I never stayed in one spot for too long. I suppose they just missed me. Soho in the blackout is easy to get lost in. It's a strange place to find yourself in even during daylight. There's gangs and the black marketeers. Corner houses mixed with picture houses and swanky nightclubs like the Cafe de Paris. Gangs like the Hoxton mob just prey on the poorest and most vulnerable. It's not just the German bombs you have to fear.” Allie said sadly as she remember just how afraid she had been most of the time.

“I shouldn't have asked…I'm sorry.” Bea mumbled.

“Don't be, you can ask me anything I hope you know that.” Allie raised her had, stroking her fingers gently down Beas cheek. “I never wanted to be there, never wanted to be with Marie. There was no one to ask for help and even if there had been most people wouldn't have even tried to help me.” She rested her head against Beas shoulder. “The last thing I remember was leaving here last night, all the way to the hospital my thoughts were so muddled. Boomer mentioned you and it brought me back to myself a little. I didn't stop thinking about you, I had to get back to see you again.”

“I should never have let you leave.” Bea sighed heavily. “I should have known you'd never make it back before the sirens wailed again. I worry about you being in that damp basement with Franky because she's too stubborn to leave and find a safer place.” She kissed the crown of Allies head and closed her eyes. “Lay with me.” She murmured. The bunks weren't exactly wide enough for two but somehow they managed to make it work. Any remaining fear Bea had about how she felt subsided as they held each other. It felt right, felt natural, other than Debbie, Allie would be the only person she would ever want to hold so close.

There was a lull in the bombing and Bea took the chance to slip outside for a few minutes leaving Debbie and Allie to sleep. Stepping outside felt like being in a different world, she could clearly see that two of the houses a couple of streets away had taken a direct hit. Most likely from a stay bomb, the air was full of thick smoke and flickering red shadows. Hopefully no one had decided to take their chances that night and stay inside, even if they had an Anderson shelter like they had she doubted anyone would be walking away completely unharmed. Allie didn't sleep for long after Bea slipped out. Poking her head out around the curtain her eyes immediately found Bea standing next to the fence speaking to Liz who must have had the same idea. Being confined to the shelter could be so claustrophobic. The bunks that Bea had made were practical but they'd never been designed with comfort in mind. Allie stretched her aching muscles as she saw Liz nod in her direction, Bea turned her head and smiled before she turned back and carried on with their conversation; even if she was aware of Allie watching her. 

“Seems one can and one can't.” Liz chuckled as she watched Allie walking carefully in their direction.

Bea looked back at her confusion clearly etched on her face.

“Sleep without you being there.” Liz clarified as Bea looked away. Liz had always been comfortable around Franky and she seemed to like Allie, but this situation was complicated, Bea was still married as much as she wished she wasn't. “She makes you both happy.” Liz said quietly as she watched Allie approaching. “Wasn't quite sure Franky knew what she was talking about at first but when I saw you together. And this morning…” she smiled at Allie as she came to a stop beside Bea. “How you feeling love? This can't be helping after what you went through last night.” Before Allie had a chance to answer the all clear sounded. 

“Reckon we should take our chances indoors.” Liz said. There was every chance that the sirens wouldn't remain silent for long but after so many nights of being in the shelters they all could use a little sleep. It seemed the kids always slept through the worst of it, even Colin, Liz laughed, was out like a light. Liz was right Bea concluded in a heartbeat that the promise of a comfortable bed was too good an opportunity to pass up. Bea badly needed sleep, she'd dozed in the shelter, must have fallen asleep for a while judging by the missing time. Untangling herself from Allie was something she'd done almost regretfully at the time now once again she was back to her only dilemma, could she even ask Allie to sleep in her room. Was it even fair to ask her to share the same bed that she'd spent years sharing with Harry? The thought of him, what he'd done in that room, every room except for Debbie's, was something she didn't want to remember but was never likely to forget. Would Allie see just how much sharing that bed with anyone played on her anxiety, would she ask? Could she tell her the thruth? Tell her about things that she'd never even been able to tell Franky? Harry had always made her feel weak and that had never been who Bea was until she married him. Allie had helped bring her back to the person she'd hidden deep inside herself.

 

 

Bea had already carried Debbie back up to bed before she allowed her thoughts to return to their sleeping arrangements. The sofa wasn't ideal for sleeping on she was well aware of that after spending so many nights on it in the past while Harry slept in their bed. She could move Debbie into her bed and let Allie sleep in Debbie's room but she really didn't want that either. She paused briefly on the landing trying to summon up the courage to walk back down the stairs. What was she going to do, slip quietly into her bed and leave Allie where she was or do the only thing that was on her mind. Sucking in a shaky breath she heard no movement, the whole house was eerily quiet. Finally she found herself standing in the doorway watching Allie trying to get comfortable.

“You can't sleep there.” She said as she crossed the floor. Taking Allie by the hand she silently lead her to her room. “I'll get changed in the bathroom, give you some privacy.” Bea said nervously as she picked up her nightgown and left the room before Allie could say a single word. After closing the bathroom door quietly behind herself Bea looked at her reflection in the mirror. She didn't look any different, at least not in her own eyes, Liz saw something but she couldn't work out what. The only thing she'd ever known for certain was that she'd never wanted to share a bed with Harry, even on their wedding night she hadn't wanted to be anywhere near him. She remembered that night so clearly for a few minutes before she came back to her present dilemma. Everything was different with Allie she just wanted to keep her as close as possible, hold her and never let her go. Is that how loving someone was meant to feel she wondered as she slipped into her nightgown. Maybe it was everything that was happening around them that brought everything into a new perspective. Could the simple fact that at any second they could die be the only thing that made a difference? Her thoughts turned to Harry for a few moments then to what Jake had said about telling him about her and Allie. Something inside her had told her all along that he was hiding, there was every possibility he was back in London. She shook her head as she reached for the door handle, ‘Forget him.’ She told herself as she switched off the light. 

Butterflies were abundant in her stomach, tickling her insides and sending nervous shivers down her spine. This was a new and extremely strange feeling, she'd never been really nervous around Allie but now, she could always take herself to spend the night on the sofa; the thought quickly vanished but the butterflies continued to cause havoc. Like a virgin on her wedding night Bea made her way along the landing, her footsteps soundless against the pastel pinks and greens of the Chinese runner that had been one of many gifts from her parents, her heart hammered wildly in her chest. She expected to find Allie in bed waiting for her, instead she found her sitting nervously on the edge.

“What are you doing?” Bea asked as she closed the door.

“I…I thought maybe you'd change your mind so I thought I'd just sit here and wait.” Allie said as she turned her head just enough to see Bea from the corner of her eye.

Bea had silently talked herself into this, turned the thought over and over in her head maybe once too often as she'd dismissed every other thought in her head. Maybe she'd thought too long, maybe it wasn't what Allie wanted after all. That thought alone petrified her slightly, she'd been as good as alone with Harry there but that had never mattered she didn't love him. In those first few seconds of seeing Allie sitting there, hearing the nervousness in her voice she knew without any doubt that she did love her; she couldn't say it but she knew it to be the truth.

“Don't be silly, we're only going to try and sleep.” Bea smiled a little as she slipped into bed.

Allie glanced round at her before she followed her lead. Bea switched off the lamp and closed her eyes but sleep wouldn't be an easy thing to come by as she felt Allie move a little closer.

“Are you alright with this?” Allie asked.

“It's…just a little strange.” Bea admitted. “Debbie's crawled in her once or twice since he's been gone but I…I'm just used to sleeping alone now.” Bea swallowed down a lump in her throat as Allies arm came to rest across her stomach. “I never wanted to share a bed with him. He's a coward he'd come home drunk…he could beat me but he could never stand up to a man.” She felt the tears pricking the corner of her eyes. 

“You don't have to talk about it.” Allie whispered.

“I know…maybe I need to, maybe I should have told my parents. They were so adamant that I should marry him, he could never do anything wrong in their eyes. I wanted to be like my brothers, maybe a little more like them than they found acceptable. My mother said girls had to become wives and mothers and of course my father agreed with her. So I became a reluctant wife and Debbie wasn't born until years later…except she wasn't born out of love…” Beas eyes filled with tears as she turned on her side to face Allie, in the darkness they couldn't see each other but that didn't matter as Allie held her tighter and listened, hating Harry a little more with every word Bea spoke.

Everything was so vivid in her head as she recalled how her life with him had been from the second they'd moved into the house she'd had to call home, the house that only now had started to feel like a home and not a prison. Falling asleep finally should have been welcomed but the images in her head were so clear, every detail so graphic in her dreams.

Her stomach tightening into a knot she knew what was coming, she could always recognise the look he got in his eyes. He lifted his arm and his hand hit her stinging her cheek. There was a slight click of her neck as her head flew sideways. She willed herself not to cry, all that over forgetting to put the sugar in his tea. She'd always hid the bruises until Franky noticed one day, Harry was devious she knew that. Apart from the slaps across the face since she'd started working his fists only ever connected with the parts of her body where the marks wouldn't be seen. Bea wouldn't want anyone to know so would make sure to cover up the marks and bruises. Every so often though he'd forget and his hands would find their way to her neck.

“You're a fucking sorry excuse for a wife, god only knows what I was thinking when I married you. When I think of all the other women I could have had my pick of.” He screamed in her face.

She longed to say that as far as she was aware he was still having his pick but she bit her tongue. His hands were round her throat before she could act, her head bent back and his alcohol fumed breath smothered her face.

“I'm not a slave.” She had choked out. “You know what sugar looks like.”

She struggled, clawing at the back of his hands as he almost choked all the air from her body. Right as everything started to turn black he'd let go of her. “You belong to me.” He mumbled in her ear as he pushed her hard against the wall. His hands tore at her clothes, as he pushed himself between her legs so she had no way to escape. “You do exactly as I say you hear me?” He ripped yet another of her good dresses, tearing it from her waist to the hem. She tried to cry out as she felt him ripping her underwear. She'd never hated anyone so much in her life nothing she could do would change how he treated her. If they weren't married she could go to the police as his wife what he kept doing couldn't even be called rape because in law there was no such crime between a husband a wife.

When Bea opened her eyes a couple of hours later her first presumption was that Allie would still be in bed fast asleep beside her. Turning her head to the side she found herself alone, she felt a sudden wave of anxiety engulf her as she wondered if her confession about how Harry had treated her had scared her away. Sitting up and throwing the covers back she hoped that she was wrong, ‘Maybe she's just in the bathroom.’ She thought as she got out of bed and pulled on her dressing gown. Quickly heading to the bathroom it was empty, she leaned over the bannister hoping to hear some sign of life from the kitchen. The house was silent until she started her descent down the stairs, with each step they creaked a little. The kitchen was empty but the back door was slightly ajar. Someone had gone out, Debbie didn't usually go out but maybe she was the prime suspect. She shivered a little before wrapping her dressing gown a little more tightly around her body as she made her way over to the door.

The garden was shrouded in a damp mist that made everything green appear grey and left the stoutest of her vegetable plants limply hanging their heads. The air was still thick with the smell of smoke and she could still see fires burning in the distance. Looking towards the Anderson shelter she spotted Allie already dressed and sitting on the low wall at the bottom of the garden.

“Allie!” She called out softly not wanting to startle her. She got no response so took a few steps down the path before saying her name again. 

“We got lucky again.” Allie replied this time her eyes still fixed on the houses not far away that were now only burnt out ruins. “Sorry.” She turned her head and smiled sadly. “I couldn't sleep and I didn't want to disturb you. I just came out for some air.” 

Fresh air suddenly felt like it was in short supply as a gust of wind blew smoke in their direction. Bea sighed as Allie finally walked back towards her coming to a halt in front of her but a little further away than she liked. “I meant to start on breakfast but I wasn't sure what you'd want. You know since I'm here I may as well make myself useful.” 

“Come back inside.” Bea reached out and grabbed her hand. “I want to talk to you, I think it's time I asked my parents for something.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“But.” Allie tried to protest even if she didn't know why she was even trying, she'd already found out that arguing with Bea was like trying to argue with a brick wall. Arguing with herself would have been easier, at least then she had a fifty fifty chance of winning.

“I won't put either you or Debbie in any more danger than I have to.” Bea looked seriously back at her as she sat at the table. “After last night that was too close…you've seen it, two streets away.”

“But I….” Allie tried again and was immediately silenced by Bea who appeared to now not even be listening to anything other than her own words.

“I'll telephone mother and father and ask them to let us stay at their house. They've already gone down to Sussex, they left before this started. The house is just sitting there empty and it has to be safer than this, a thin shelter covered by earth isn't going to stop a bomb. Father expected this and had a brick shelter built but then mother refused to stay in London.” Bea now paced around the kitchen and Allie couldn't even begin to imagine where her thoughts were now heading.

“I'll be back at the cafe after this week.” Allie finally managed to say as Bea fell silent. “I'll visit of course but I have to…” once more Bea cut her off.

“No!” She half yelled making Allie jump a little. “I'm sorry, I didn't mean to…don't you see? It's hardly safe here, if that could happen last night what if we're next? And…Liz, we must take Liz the house is…”

Allie got to her feet as soon as Bea started pacing again walking over to her slowly she slid her arms around her waist feeling her tense muscles start to relax. “We’ll be fine, I'll do what ever you ask but I still have to work. You got me the job and I'm not about to let either you or Franky down. But after she gave you such a hard time about bringing me home with you last night aren't you even slightly worried what she'll have to say about this?”

Allie had ushered Bea out of the kitchen telling her that she would make breakfast. Even after having very little sleep Allie didn't want anyone thinking that she wasn't going to help out. Having a little extra time to get ready for work and not having to rush to get Debbie up for school was something Bea had found more than a little appealing but she didn't want Allie overdoing things. Maybe making tea and toast, boiling an egg for Debbie, was hardly overdoing things but what she'd get up to after she was left alone worried Bea. Finding an old envelope in a draw she borrowed a pencil from Debbie and scribbled a note.

“You'll give this to Liz.” Bea asked Debbie before they both made their way downstairs. Debbie nodded and slipped the hurriedly written note in the pocket of her dress, she didn't know why she just didn't tell her herself but she'd pass it on.

Reaching the kitchen first Debbie was already sitting at the table with her boiled egg and toast soldiers when Bea walked in. Allie had just placed the teapot on the table when she was met with the brightest smile she thought she'd ever seen on Bea. Breakfast just like every other meal when Harry was there had always been a strained affair. Bea would rush around trying to make everything just as he liked it even though she always knew nothing would be good enough. His toast was burnt, his egg wasn't runny enough, the tea was cold, too weak or too strong. The list would go on and on and heaven forbid she made a full english breakfast, that was always cause for even more friction and yet another excuse for a slap or a punch when he knew Debbie was out of earshot. Allie pulled out a chair for her, poured her tea and passed her a plate of toast before she sat down.

“You will make sure you relax?” Bea had asked as she glanced from Allie to Debbie and back again.

“I promise, I'll do nothing all day.” Allie had replied unconvincingly. “Although I do plan on going to the shops, maybe I could walk part way with Liz. And I'll make a start on dinner so you don't have to worry about that.” 

Bea frowned but she couldn't expect Allie to do absolutely nothing all day. Debbie had already run off next door before Bea could remind her about the note. Maybe she was making a little too much fuss but asking Liz to keep an eye on her but it felt like the right thing to do. And with daylight raids Liz would make sure she was in the safest place if the sirens wailed. When it finally came to leaving the house she wished she could spend the day at home but it just wasn't possible. Maybe they could spend some time together at the weekend before Allie would be working six days a week again. She was going to ask Mr Potter if she could use the telephone to call her parents, she'd done as he asked and not distracted too many people since their run in. With any luck he'd allow it, if not she have to wait until she got home and ask Liz. 

 

 

Bea had been kept busy all morning, she hadn't even had a chance to ask Maxine if she could go to see Mr Potter. Lunch time had been a wash out when it started to rain heavily, thankfully Bea had managed to convince Allie that she should stay at home instead of meeting her in the park. Bea smiled to herself as she looked out of the window watching the drops, now steady and soft falling from a sky of dark grey and listening to their steady drumming on the window. ‘Home,’ she thought finally sounded right with Allie there, waiting for her to arrive after a day sitting in the office listening to people expressing a preference as to where they would like to be employed. Home now actually felt like home with Allie in it.

Just before two that afternoon Mr Potter had marched into the office.

“I want to see you, Mrs Smith.” He called from halfway across the room.

Beas stomach turned as she got up from her chair. She couldn't have done anything to annoy him over the last couple of weeks, she'd hardly left her desk. Following him to his small office she tried to wrack her brain, trying to think of how she could have upset him this time. She watched him sit at his desk before motioning to her to take a seat. 

“Has there been something worrying you? Other than the obvious I mean to say, I heard about your husband, I could allow you some time off if you need it.” He smiled weakly, yes he'd heard about Harry and had already questioned Maxine on the subject. She hadn't gone into any great detail about him but he gathered enough to understand that Bea was definitely better off without him.

Bea shook her head. “That won't be necessary but thank you. There was something not so pleasant happen to a friend of mine.” Bea smiled, she hated knowing that she'd always have to refer to Allie as simply a friend no matter what happened between them. It didn't seem right, what did it matter who you chose to spend your life with if you were happy? She'd done what was expected of her and where had that got her? No she wasn't going to spend the rest of her life afraid of a man who hated her, if Harry was to show up again she'd have to find a way to rid their lives of him because she couldn't and wouldn't live like that again.

“You can come and see me if you have any problems. I'm not the ogre most people think I am. I heard about your friend also, I trust she's recovering well?” 

Beas eyebrows shot up so high that they were almost in her hairline, was Mr Potter actually being pleasant? 

“She's staying with myself and my daughter.” Bea smiled when she thought of Allie at home. Wondering if she was resting. Then her thoughts turned to hoping Liz hadn't minded her sending that note with Debbie. Would she make sure she didn't do anything so she hurt herself, Allie could be stubborn she knew that. Maybe she wouldn't appreciate Bea asking someone to keep an eye on her, would she think Bea had done it because she didn't trust her? 

“Mrs Smith…Bea, you don't mind if I call you that?” Mr Potter asked as he watched her.

“Sorry, no of course not.” Bea smiled apologetically for getting lost in her thoughts.

“She sounds like the sort of friend you need, someone you can trust, strange how we find people like that when we don't even know we need them isn't it? I have a friend in the RAF.” Mr Potter looked her straight in the eye. “If he, well if he…” He paused briefly hoping more than anything now he'd started speaking that he wasn't reading the situation completely wrong. “Well if he were to get injured, worse still killed I know I'd be a wreck.”

“Oh…ohhh, you mean?” Bea didn't believe what her own ears had heard for a moment, Mr Potter could be one the most dislikable and unfriendly people she'd ever known. Not on Harry's level, she doubted anyone could ever be on his level. She knew he wasn't married and a lot of the girls had tried getting on his good side only to be told under no uncertain terms was he interested. What he had just said shed a whole new light on why none of the girls ever stood a chance, being female was apparently the biggest obstacle. “I really hope nothing bad happens to him.” Bea added with a small smile.

“If you need anything, a few hours off…I'm just…I'm just trying to say that I know how it feels. I'm here if you ever need someone to talk to.” 

“Thank you…I'll keep that in mind. I'll admit yesterday I was quite distracted after I heard the news, the not knowing…almost drove me to complete distraction. I'd been told she wasn't too badly injured but until I saw for myself…” Bea looked away, had he seen them together she wondered. This was an uncomfortable situation for her. Maxine, Liz and Franky, even Boomer,  knowing about her and Allie she could handle they were her friends after all. Mr Potter, anyone else in the office finding out had scared her a little because people could just be so cruel. “Actually there was something. After what happened to Allie and last nights raid. It hit a little closer to home than I ever expected, my parents as I'm sure you know have a house over in Putney. They aren't there naturally, they went back to Sussex almost as soon as war was announced. I was hoping maybe I could telephone them, I wouldn't ask if it weren't important.” Bea held her breath for a few seconds expecting to be told that personal telephone calls were not permitted. When Mr Potter rose from his chair she was expecting him to be getting ready to throw her out of his office. To her surprise he smiled and nodded before giving her permission to use his office while he attended to another matter.

 

 

“Mother we can't just drop everything here, I have an important job.” Bea sighed she loved her mother dearly but she could be impossible at times.

“Well you could at least send Debbie to stay with us, she'd be much safer here with us. Why you always have to be so stubborn just like your father has always been beyond me.”

“I'll ask her, maybe she'd like to come down during the holidays. She has friends mother and she enjoys school. I very much doubt she'd agree to leaving and I won't send her away if she doesn't want to go.” Bea shook her head, she knew Debbie wouldn't want to leave London. Bea had toyed with the idea of sending her to stay with them when children first started being evacuated. Not wanting to seem unreasonable she'd asked her if she'd like to stay with her grandparents, pointing out that she would be safer and Debbie had refused to leave without her.

“Beatrice she is seven years old, hardly old enough to make important decisions with regards to her own safety. I have heard all the news, your father and I worry about you both.” 

“And I'm sure father would remind you that Debbie is as stubborn as I am.” Bea rolled her eyes finding it strange that only now her mother was voicing any concerns over both their safety. She never seemed to be overly concerned when Harry almost held them to ransom and wouldn't allow them to visit. She wondered if either of her parents had ever questioned why Harry always kept them apart. She'd admit she did love their country home, had always loved being there over the summer months as a child and leaving the hustle and bustle of London behind. Being able to run free and explore with her brothers. Nothing had ever been able to come close to that, Debbie would love it but she knew she wouldn't leave her or Allie come to think of it. And Bea wasn't about to run away or leave Allie behind because no matter how she looked at it she couldn't think of a way to take Allie to stay with them without answering some difficult questions. No they hadn't wanted to interfere in her life when Harry was around and she wouldn't let them interfere now. “Mother all I asked was if it would be alright with you both if we stayed at the house. We had a close call and I have a friend staying with us who's already had a brush with death. If you aren't willing to help then fine, we’ll just have to take our chances here.” Bea now huffed into the receiver before she heard a loud sigh and something she guessed was rustling. Mumbled voices could be heard before she heard the distinctive voice of her father.

“Beatrice how wonderful of you to telephone. Your job at the ministry is going well?” He enquired without giving her a chance to answer. “Mother says you wish to stay at the house, I think it's a splendid idea.” She heard muffled voices again and imagined her father had placed his hand over the receiver so she couldn't hear what was being said. “Mr Philips has a spare set of keys and I know Thomas left a couple of spare sets in the study before he went away. Heard about Harry.” Her father fell silent for a few moments and she heard the click of a door closing. “I'm sorry Bea…I…well I…” She knew her mother must have left the room because he only ever called her Bea when she wasn't there. “I was up in London a few days ago, called into the cafe Thomas told me you used to work at, I must say your old employer is quite a character, very friendly sort…very chatty.” Bea smiled when she imagined her father meeting Franky, and then wondered why she hadn't mentioned it. Even if her father hadn't told Franky who he was he would have stood out and Franky always made fun of anyone like him. Then another thought hit her, Allie would have been there, Allie must have met her father. “I'm sorry Bea, Thomas always kept an eye on you whether you ever realised it or not, big brothers are sometimes very protective. You know he never liked Harry and I wished I'd listened to what he told me about him. Life was bad with him wasn't it?” Bea swallowed hard, no matter how many times she'd thought about telling her father about Harry she'd never dared for fear of being disbelieved. As much as she wanted to tell him now she was very much conscious of her surroundings. “Pay no mind to your mother, she'd rather have you home for the time being and she'd never have a word said against that…that man even when Thomas told her of his suspicions. I will telephone Mr Philips and make sure he's to expect you, our house will always be your home Bea, take your friends there if you feel it would be safer but make sure to telephone me. Sunday afternoons would be best unless you want to speak to your mother of course.”

By the time she replaced the receiver Beas head was swimming and glancing at the time she'd been speaking to her father for longer than she had ever intended. Mr Potter hadn't returned to his office and she wondered if he was just giving her some much needed space to have the conversation that she really needed to have. All things considered it had gone better than she expected even if her mother was adamant that she should take Debbie and leave London. She could hardly wait to go home and tell Allie the good news, she was taking her back to her childhood home. The next thing on Beas list of things to do was to locate Allies family if she could.

 

 

Debbie had climbed back over the fence within minutes of Bea leaving the house and rushed in through the back door startling Allie who had been doing the dishes at the time. Talking her into walking to school with them had proved easy. Allies only real problem she'd seen that day was that she was registered at different shops than Bea was. She'd already told Bea that she'd walk to the shops with Liz who always did her shopping for her during the week. It wasn't particularly allowed but the grocer, butcher and baker knew them well and since Bea was at work they all let Liz buy what she needed for her.

“We can call in at the cafe for a cuppa.” Liz smiled when Allie had explained her dilemma to her. She had to contribute her ration to the house since she was staying there.

“You do know Juice always goes to the cafe on Tuesday don't you?” Allie asked as they were walking back from the school. Liz nodded, Juice gave the people she knew well first choice of anything she might have for sale and that had included Liz for a long time. 

“We'll catch the tram, do your shopping then call at the cafe. On the way back we can do the rest of the shopping then maybe you will join me for lunch. Colin's still at home but he's not the greatest of company during the day.” Liz laughed. Colin had busied himself making toys, with Christmas not far away and toys becoming harder to purchase now that all the industries had been turned over to war production he wanted to make sure his cousins and Debbie wouldn't wake up disappointed on Christmas morning. 

The morning had passed quickly and Allie had been more than pleased with what Juice had to offer that day. Her brother it seemed had been hard at work over the weekend, she'd joked that sausages were definitely off the dinner menu that evening. Even if it wasn't Sunday Allie had thought that a proper roast dinner was very much in order when Juice had pork on offer. Liz had tried to dissuade her from working too hard but Allie, Liz soon found out, could be even more stubborn than Bea. Colin took a short break from his toy making and had helped Allie with the potatoes and carrots from the garden, telling her that Bea needed to be thinking about digging them all up before the first frost. Allie had no idea about gardening, where she came from the closest she had ever got to anything like a garden was a visit to one of Londons parks. Suddenly remembering that she had no idea where most things were kept in Beas kitchen had been a huge source of frustration for her, making dinner preparations a little slower. Now she was sitting in the kitchen with Debbie who was reading to her as they patiently waited for Bea to arrive home.

Allie heard the key in the lock even over the sound of Debbie's voice. She almost jumped out of the chair she'd been sitting in for the last hour and made her way out of the kitchen and into the hallway seeing Bea shrugging her coat off, her briefcase already sitting in its usual place by the coat rack. As she drew closer to where Bea was standing she hesitated, Debbie was in the house and as much as she wanted to kiss Bea right now she would hold back until Debbie was in bed. 

“Mr Potter gave me tomorrow afternoon off.” Bea smiled brightly. “Although I do have to work on Saturday morning.” She sighed, it was a compromise she'd been willing to accept. “I spoke to father and I need to have a word with Liz…are you ready to move to the big house with us?”

Allies eyes had already closed in ecstasy, just the sound of Beas voice sent a shiver through her whole body. A tear rolled down one cheek before she even realised it had escaped her eye as her lips still smiled. Bea had meant every word she'd said that morning and Allie guessed asking for her fathers help must have been difficult for her. Bea rushed forward wiping the tear from her cheek before she clamped her lips to Allies and they clung together like magnets for a few heavenly moments.

“I missed you.” Bea whispered as she hugged her a little tighter while laying her head on her shoulder. 

“I need to finish getting dinner ready.” Allie whispered back. “And Debbie's only in the kitchen.”

Bea was a little shocked since Debbie always spent most of her time with Liz during the week but also ecstatically happy that Debbie wanted to be at home with Allie. ‘This truly is a home now.’ She thought to herself as she followed Allie to the kitchen. 

 

 

“Meet me outside the ministry at lunch time.” Bea asked the next morning before she left the house. “We're going to do some shopping. Liz will collect the keys from Mr Phillips after she's done the shopping. And then she's going to air the house out, make the beds and light the fires. I packed everything we need to take last night and Boomer is going to help take everything we might need although apart from our clothes and anything really important I doubt we'll need much, she could sweet talk anyone into lending her anything I'm sure of that.” Bea chuckled.

“But I need to do my own shopping. I can't let you try and stretch your rations just for the sake of me.” Allie once more tried to protest, Bea had already been prepared for that.

“We can do that after, besides father has a huge stock of tinned goods at the house and Mr Phillips is a fantastic gardener just like mother, I'm sure he'll supply me with anything we can't get. I've known him almost all my life. So no more arguments?”

“I suppose not, but are you sure this is what you want?” Allie asked.

Bea took both of Allies hands in hers. “I want you with us, this house has come to life like it never has been before. You've been here for such a short time I never thought it could be possible but you make this a home. I know it's not easy and if you decide this isn't what you want I won't stand in your way but I'm hoping you won't leave us.”

“Never.” Allie whispered.

“I'll see you at lunch time.” Bea smiled brightly as she disappeared out of the door.

Allie put her arm though Beas as they walked along she had no idea where they were going but she trusted Bea would. Bea glanced to her side a small smile gracing her lips. Stopping outside Peter Robinson’s department store it was still surprisingly open even though it had been badly damaged. The upper right section of the store's neo-classical façade had been ripped open, three floors were partially destroyed but apparently still in use; and plate glass windows and debris had been blown into Oxford Circus. The stores Oxford Circus storefront was now boarded up and was being used to display war advertising hoardings.

“What's wrong?” Bea glanced at her again this time with a frown on her face.

“It's nothing.” Allie shook her head, no one would give her a second look or try to escort her from the premises she knew that but she still worried. “I'm being silly…lead the way m’lady.” She smiled brightly.

Bea studied her for a few moments longer before they walked inside. Allie gazed wide eyed in wonder when they stepped into the dressmaking department. Much to her great surprise almost the entire floor was given over to all sorts of fabrics. There was roll after roll of material in every colour under the sun. Wandering around the colourful kaleidoscopic room there was everything from the finest sheer silks to the heaviest woven tweeds. 

“How are you ever supposed to choose anything?” Allie said quietly trying not to draw attention to herself and her unintentional lack of knowledge and experience in such matters when she saw an assistant heading their way.

Bea smiled at her, she'd decided not long after they first met that Allie deserved so much more than she'd ever had and if she could give it to her she would. She'd been so drawn to her, no matter how confused she was she'd do everything she could for Allie. “I think things are going to get worse before they get better. Maybe we should choose a selection.”

Allie couldn't believe what she was hearing, even knowing that Bea came from money she wasn't the type to throw money around; Bea would never spend anything much on herself usually.

“Nothing here is cheap. Maybe just get what you need for yourself and Debbie, I really don't need that much anyway.” Allie whispered.

An assistant appeared in front of them dressed in a smart black dress with a white lacy collar. Her glossy dark hair was swept back in a bun and she wore a fixed smile on her middle aged face.

“Mrs Smith, can I help you? How are your parents? Any news about your husband?” She asked.

Either her oldest brother or her father had been spreading the good news Bea thought to herself as she smiled politely at the assistant. She hadn't been here in a good long while and still everyone seemed to recognise her. Allie instantly guessed that Bea had been well known here at one time or another and felt very out of place until the assistant turned her attention to her still wearing the same smile. Not what Allie was expecting at all, she was well used to the looks of disgust she generally received. Then it dawned on her, the coat she was wearing wouldn't make her stand out like she usually did. Bea had given it to her the night before, she instantly fell in love with it but had tried to argue that she didn't want to take it. Her argument as always had fallen on deaf ears, round one and her arguments were already out for the count.

Bea gave her a long list of her requirements as she linked her arm through Allies again as they followed the assistant through the rolls of material. Bea picked out different fabrics asking Allie for her opinion who would just smile and nod at almost every suggestion Bea made. 

The assistant floated away for a few minutes later to assist another customer.

“Lost your voice?” Bea asked with a smile.

“No. I…I just don't belong in a place like this.” Allie said sadly.

Bea released Allies arm and turned to her, reaching out and grabbing her hands linking their fingers together. All her usual shyness when they were surrounded by other people seemed to have melted away in that second.

“You do, you belong in places better than this but I'm certain father would have a fit if I spend more than he's accustomed to.” Bea giggled. “Being married to Harry.” She paused and quickly looked around. “If it wasn't for my parents and what little I could manage to save out of the housekeeping and my wages we wouldn't have dared come to a place like this. We would have had less than nothing. Father insisted I buy anything we need before clothing rationing is introduced. He assured me it won't be long coming, then everything you see here will be gone.” Bea said quietly trying to make Allie understand as best she could given their surroundings that she hadn't always had an easy life. “I do know how it feels to have nothing Allie.” She smiled sadly. “And I never asked my parents for anything, the few times Harry allowed a visit without him being there they just acted as if nothing was different, take us shopping and buy us anything they thought we needed. I'd never ask of course, luckily Harry knew what they were like so as much as he hated it there was very little he could do.”

Another hour had passed while they chose numerous different fabrics. Bea naturally added more than she could possibly need right now. Adding fabrics that she knew would suit Allie without her even realising it. The assistant appeared again as if by magic busing herself measuring and cutting the fabrics. After wrapping her purchases amounting to four extremely large parcels she turned her attention back to Bea.

“Shall I be putting these on your fathers account?”

Bea nodded silently as Allie marvelled at how the other half lived.

“And could you send them over to my parents house?” Bea asked without missing a beat.

“Certainly, they will be with you by 5pm.” The assistant smiled once more.


Bea had an idea as they entered the lift. Turning to the lift operator, “Tea rooms please.” She said to the smartly uniformed elderly man who was operating the lift.

“What are you doing?” Allie whispered as the lift glided upwards.

“Taking you for tea.” Bea said with a smile. “I don't know about you but I could murder a cuppa.” She grinned at her.

The tea room on the very top floor was noisy and seemed a quite down to earth place, still much better than the backstreet cafes of Soho Allie had been used to. The place seemed packed with men and women all chattering as the waitresses darted between the tables carrying large trays with silver tea and coffee pots and three tiered cake stands placed on them. Finding an empty table they sat across from one another.

“Two Russian teas please.” Bea said as soon as a waitress stopped at their table. Earning her a frown from Allie who had no idea what she was even asking for the waitress disappeared as quickly as she'd appeared. 

Allie looked puzzled. “I didn't know they grew tea in Russia.” Allie said as she looked seriously across the table.

Bea smiled and laughed lightly. “Trust me you'll love it.”

Allie wasn't going to argue, if Bea liked it she'd give it a go even it was awful.

When the tea arrived in tall tumblers that were encased in silver filigree holders Allie looked surprised. The contents didn't remind her of tea at all, it looked anaemic in her opinion and the slice of lemon floating on the top instead of it containing milk left her wondering if it was tea at all. Not wanting to sound ungrateful she didn't say a word just sipped the tea and nibbled on something that was described as a scone. Definitely nothing like Liz made that was very evident but she doubted anyone made scones like Liz did; not even Franky.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Standing outside the open gates to the house Allie gasped, it was bigger than anything she'd ever seen before. She had once thought Derek Channing’s house had been big but if her memory now served her correctly his had been more like a dolls house in comparison. This house was something she'd never thought she'd ever set foot in. If the outside was anything to go by then she guessed it had to be a lot grander inside than anything she'd ever see again in her life. The bay windows were as broad as they were high and reflected the grey sheen of the wintery sky overhead. Bea silently took her by the hand and led her up the sweeping gravel driveway towards the house. She could only hazard a guess at what she was thinking but if she chose to voice her thoughts out loud Bea knew she'd have to probably correct her. She had always been aware that Allie thought she didn't deserve anything good in her life. After so long living in her house being back here, even Bea was beginning to think that she no longer belonged there. It may have been the house she grew up in but years of being told she deserved nothing hardly made her feel worthy of returning now. Allie marvelled at the size of the house, as they got closer she tilted her head back and looked up. Before walking through the door they both looked back at the neatly mowed lawns at the front of the house. This was a million miles away from where Allie had grown up, at her childhood home the front door opened straight out onto the street. She guessed that at the back there would be an equally magnificent garden, not a small courtyard that backed onto shunting yards with their incessant noise of goods trucks being moved around at all times of the day and night. This was Beas childhood home, how she'd ended up marrying a man like Harry was something she just couldn't understand. It was incomprehensible to Allie that her parents could never have had even the slightest suspicion about Harry Smith. The house they had just left wasn't exactly poky, at least not by Allies standards, but it was nothing on this scale. This was everything Bea deserved she thought to herself as they entered the grand hallway. A deep highly polished mahogany parquet floor greeted them and was complemented by the ruby red wallpapered walls. A large coat rack stood proudly by the door on one side and a large hall table containing the heaviest pair of candle sticks and a telephone sat back against the other. Paintings hung from the picture rail that was the same highly polished wood and colour as the floor.

Bea helped her off with her coat and hung it on the coat rack before doing the same with her own and telling her to follow her. Bea opened two ornately carved doors that were in the hall right next to the staircase that swept upwards in a positive delight of a rich russet coloured carpet and highly polished banisters. Allie stopped for a moment to admire a painting that hung right beside them, it was a watercolour of an apple orchard with children picking the apples. Looking a little closer she spotted Beas name in the corner.

“Are there any end to your talents?” She asked as Bea looked away slightly embarrassed.

“It’s really not that good, mother just took a real liking to that one.” Bea mumbled as she nodded slightly towards the room she was standing at the threshold of.

Behind this set of doors lay a dining room, Bea explained that it was only ever really used by her parents when the whole family were together or when they had guests. Most of the time even her parents preferred to eat in the kitchen. It contained an intricately carved wooden dining table with twelve matching chairs, all with thick seat cushions and a padded back panel that matched the carpet. A deep piled forest green carpet lay at their feet and the walls were covered in crisp golden wallpaper. A large bay window looked out over the garden to the side of the house and a large gilded mirror hung on one wall. From the ceiling hung two brass and crystal chandeliers that lit the room perfectly. On another wall there was a fire place that lay hidden behind a huge and extremely ugly embroidered fire screen with enormous claw feet that stood on the tiled hearth.

“That's one reason I hate this room.” Bea laughed as she pointed towards the fireplace. “I once told mother that she really should find something less displeasing on the eye. She said I could make my own decisions when I had my own home.” The smile evaporated from her face and Allie wished there was something she could do to take away the pain she saw in her eyes. Harry had never let Bea make such decisions and she knew that it showed in almost every room of the house they had left behind. Debbie's room seemed to be only room that had ever truly had a woman's touch to it.

The other set of double doors led into another large room with a huge bay window that looked out across the drive and front lawns. A large mirror hung on the opposite wall from the skirting board to the picture rail mirroring the view from the window and making the room seem even bigger. The assorted sofas and chairs were covered in a fabric riotously printed with huge cabbage roses in a kaleidoscope of colours ranging from pale pink to deep crimson. The matching crimson carpet felt thick and luxurious under their feet, Allie knew she'd never seen such luxury before. A very ornate fireplace with its cold looking marble mantelpiece sat on another wall and a baby grand piano sat in one corner its surface covered in silver framed photographs. The best part of the room for Allie was the one wall that was filled in its whole length with a bookcase. It contained beautiful leather bound books, the sight of which was enough to stop her breath for a moment. There were none of the usual dog eared books in this collection that she was used to. She walked towards the bookcase just gazing at them all for a few moments before she trailed her fingers softy over a few.

“You love books?” Bea asked in a low voice, not that it came as any surprise to her for a second.

Allie nodded her head eagerly as she looked at them all, she couldn't remember ever seeing so many except in the library. That was a place growing up she'd loved to visit but as the years had dragged by even that had become a luxury she'd had to give up.

“These belong to my father.” Bea told her as she walked over to stand behind her. “Maybe one or two belong to mother. I think most of them won't have been picked up in years. It's a shame really, and since I haven't been able to spend much time here I haven't really thought about them. Not that I have time to read these days and Harry never allow it either.” Bea said with a hint of sadness in her voice. “As long as you look after them I'm quite certain he wouldn't mind you reading them. I used to spend many hours sitting in here by the window reading or out in the garden under a tree in warmer weather.” She sighed.

Allies face lit up, an expression that didn't go unnoticed. She spent long minutes just looking at them all as she noted some of the authors. Wonderful authors like Dickens, Walter Scott and Jane Austen.

“If you look for long enough I'm sure you'll find the latest Agatha Christie novel, father loves a good mystery.” Bea laughed. “He’ll add to his prized collection until the day he dies I’m certain of that.”

“There you both are.” Liz smiled as she walked into the room. “The three young un’s have gone off to explore the house, although judging by how quite it's gone I'm thinking they've found the playroom you told me about. Dinner won't be long but my that kitchens hard to navigate.” She looked directly at Bea. “Seems someone forgot to mention it was as big a house all on its own, and the cabinets. Oh my lord, never seen so many in my life.” She laughed. “But I will never grumble at finding a well stocked pantry. Tins as far as the eye can see, sugar, flour. Anyone would think someone saw this whole sorry mess on the horizon.”

“Did I really forget to mention all of that?” Bea chuckled trying to look completely innocent, she had failed to mention one or two small details when Liz had agreed to go with them. Liz had been apprehensive when Bea had given her the address but her intentions had been nothing but good. It worked well for them all, there would be no problems with school and work and Bea had someone reliable to make sure Allie wasn't doing too much. Her injuries may have seemed minimal but Boomer had told both her and Franky how superficial injuries could hide something life threatening. It wasn't the doctors fault that things were missed, on a bad night they would be inundated with more patients than they could possibly handle. She’d seen the chaos up close. Ambulances packed to more than capacity, private vehicles bringing in more of the injured not to mention the walking wounded who walked through the destruction to get to the hospital. And she couldn't, in good conscience, have left them all behind to face the dangers alone.

Liz stood and chatted with them for a few minutes longer telling them that Boomer had already been by with their bags and that she had already put them in the rooms Bea had asked her to. She’d call back to the house the next day to fetch the chickens but she wasn’t going to be held responsible for any escapees. Artie had chosen one of her brothers old rooms and Debbie and Sophie were over the moon that they found a room they could share. Colin who wouldn't be there for much longer had taken one of the smaller rooms that at one time or another would have belonged to one of the staff the house would have had. No mention had been made of where Allie was sleeping and even over dinner neither Liz or Bea mentioned it. Listening to Artie talk none stop about Beas youngest brothers train set that had remained set up years after he'd grown out of playing with it Allie hadn't even dared to ask.

Later in the day as the storm clouds had moved in overhead and the thin streaks of rain splattered against the windowpanes she'd still not asked the question that had been burning a hole in her brain. Beas purchases from earlier in the day had been delivered and spirited away to some mysterious place in the house. After the younger members of house had all gone to bed the three of them had retreated to the sitting room and Colin to his room. The fat feather cushions had been plumped and the curtains drawn. The fire was lit and Allie let the beauty of the room wash over her. It looked so different now with the glowing red flames flickering in the ornate fireplace. A selection of lamps that were dotted around the room also added to the cosy glow. Allies fears and worries had begun to wash over her as she looked around the room. She smiled a little at the way the light reflected off the silver photo frames and the shiny polished furniture but she couldn't quite shake the feeling of not belonging in a house like this. Her grandmother would never believe it and for a few minutes she wished she could tell her everything from meeting Bea to the job she now had. Although she'd love to be able to miss out all the bad things that had happened since the last time she'd seen her. Liz now lay asleep in a chair by the fire and every now and again a sleepy grunt would escape her followed by a melody of soft snoring ripples. Bea was sitting in a large armchair by the fire and Allie had made herself comfortable on a low footstool not quite at her feet.

“There are plenty of more comfortable places to sit.” Bea said with a breathy laugh. 

Allie just shrugged and said she was fine where she was. Liz woke up a short time later and said that she had better be going to bed or they'd be no moving her until the morning. Waking up as stiff as a bored wasn't something she thought wasn't the best idea when everyday chores still had to be completed.

“I should really show you to your room.” Bea smiled. The weather was still closing in and with any luck they would have a peaceful night. Peaceful nights weren't something that they had had many of recently and a comfortable night in a warm bed was something they could all use. “Choose a book to take with you.” Bea had been in half a mind to ask Allie to spend the night with her but with enough rooms for them all she dare not really ask with the memory of how nervous Allie had been the first night.

Bea told Allie that it had been her room when she had been young but that she changed rooms when she got older, the room she'd be in now. It was only across the hall and if she needed anything she could just fetch her. Liz was in a room at the other end of the hall along with the youngsters. Leaving her to settle in Bea had said goodnight with an unusually brief kiss and left the room. Now it was 10 o'clock and Allie was stretched out on the bed with its comfortable mattress and pretty eiderdown. She gazed at the bluebell printed wallpaper and wondered why Bea had put her in there. Allie had felt half asleep not twenty minutes ago but when Bea had mentioned showing her to her room she'd half hope she hadn't really meant they'd be in separate rooms. Now she was finding it extremely difficult to even think of falling asleep, it was unusually quiet and despite still feeling tired she found it a little unnerving. As her mind wandered to the room across the hall she couldn't stop herself from thinking that she was going to mess everything up. If Bea wanted to be by herself she'd just have to settle for what she had. She'd hate to leave the safety of this house and end up having to return to Franky's. She really did appreciate everything Franky had done for her but being closer to Bea was the one thing she'd always wanted. She'd been unsure about staying with Bea, her biggest fear had been trying not to let her own desires get in the way she didn't want to scare her. Her past experience with Harry left her with the feeling that even a slight brush of fingers against any part of her body could do that no matter how innocent it may seem to her. She'd kept her feelings and her hands in check so far and now she didn't want to leave. Except being in this large house reminded her even more that Bea was a real lady, she looked the same and sounded the same but maybe something had changed. Maybe really being with Bea was nothing more than a dream, a fantasy of her own minds making. Something that Bea really didn't want after all, it could lead to all kinds of trouble for her afterall.

Bea sat in her bed trying to concentrate on the book she'd decided to read before going to sleep but her mind wasn't on the pages in front of her. She listened for any sound that told her Allie was still awake but she heard nothing. Tossing the book on the cabinet she turned out the light and lay in absolute darkness. How many nights had she shared a bed with Harry wishing he'd disappear, then he'd gone and she'd had some of the best nights sleep she'd had in years. That had changed in a heartbeat the second she'd lay next to Allie, her empty bed no longer felt right. Allie who she knew would never raise a hand to her in anger, Allie who'd been so much more nervous that first night they shared a bed than she had strangely. Now she lay in the darkness willing herself to get up and slip in to the room across the hall. Maybe Allie didn't want that she didn't try and make her stay, she hadn't tried to hold onto her and prolong that brief kiss. Closing her eyes she finally fell into a restless sleep.

 

 

The next morning there was no sign of Allie over breakfast and Bea tried not to worry. Before she left for work she went up to check she was even still there when there had been no sight or sound of her. Opening the door a little way she peered in to see her still fast asleep. Smiling to herself even though she had missed seeing her she was happy that she finally appeared to be resting. A night without the sirens wailing and interrupting her sleep was a good thing she decided and closed the door silently. Before she finally left for the day she showed Colin to her fathers old workshop, it hadn't been used in years but she knew Colin would make good use of the tools. 

Allie woke up later than she ever remembered doing her whole life. She’d always been an early riser and glancing at the clock beside the bed as it ticked away the seconds she saw it was past 9 o'clock. She'd been alone the whole night and she'd be alone, apart from Liz being there, until Bea returned in the evening. She got out of bed and wandered to the bathroom that was joining her room. She decided that no one would mind if she had a bath and to her surprise the water wasn't just warm it was hot. 

Liz was in the kitchen, today wearing a brightly flowered apron, standing at the sink and humming a cheery tune as she washed the remaining breakfast dishes. She'd already taken Debbie, Sophie and Artie to school and was wondering how she could possibly fill her day. She had planned on cleaning one or two of the rooms but Bea had told her to leave them. “That's not the reason I asked you to stay with us. I won't hear another word said about you cleaning until I can help.” She'd told her as she'd picked up her briefcase. Usually she'd have to queue up for the shopping but the pantry she'd encountered told her there was little point in bothering with that today.

Turning to face her she smiled. “Did you sleep well love?” He voice sounded as cheery as her humming had been only seconds earlier. “Beas already left for work, the young un’s are at school and Colin's busy making…ahh what was it again? That’s right a submarine I'm sure that’s what he said. Now come and sit down, you must be hungry.”

Allie smiled and nodded her head but she felt unsure of everything this morning, maybe she thought it was just because she hadn't seen Bea before she left. It was silly she knew that, she'd sat there next to Bea the previous evening but now she felt a little lost.

“Come on love.” Liz said as she pulled out a chair gesturing for her to sit. “I won't bite, and Bea will be very unhappy if you don't eat. Did you sleep well?”

She moved towards the chair, a dull feeling of hunger making her now feel nauseous. Her hunger was made worse by the lingering smell of toast and eggs that still hung in the air and the sound of the kettle boiling didn’t help.

“Tea?” Liz asked as Allie just nodded as she finally sat in the chair Liz had already pulled out for her.

Liz shook her head slightly as she pushed the steaming hot cup of tea in front of her before taking a large frying pan off a shelf. She could see her hesitancy and she knew it was completely misplaced, Bea didn't trust anyone easily but Allie was different. She laid strips of bacon in the pan followed by the biggest egg Allie thought she'd ever seen in her life. She wondered where all that bacon had come from but didn't like to ask. When it was cooked Liz placed it in front of her.

“Eat that.” She instructed as she looked at Allies bemused expression, then she laughed. “Just because there's rationing doesn't mean I don't have my ways of getting extra. And not always courtesy of Juice.” Liz patted her stomach. “Don't you worry I'll soon feed you up and have you feeling better. You had a very unpleasant experience in that shelter.” She gave her an exaggerated wink before she noticed her hesitation. “Eat up before it gets cold. And there is a working telephone in the hall. It only takes one call and Bea will be down on you like a ton of bricks if you refuse to eat.”

Finishing up the dishes she joined Allie at the table with her own cup of tea. “Bea left strict instructions that you are to rest. Said to tell you to make use of those books and everyone enjoys a good book.” She chuckled. “Can't think of anything better than losing myself in some mystery, a good who done it that's just the ticket. Mind you, my old man never agreed with that, he was strictly a war story man. Liz sighed. “It was his heart in case you wondered. One day he was digging over the garden and the next.” She shrugged. “He left us well provided for though so I mustn't grumble, still miss him dearly but you have to go on. He'd have been out there fighting for his country if he were still here now so at least this way I never end up having to worry he'll just never come home.”

Allie nodded as she ate, if she sat by the window as Bea had told her she used to do she'd see her coming home, it might be hours away but with a book time would no doubt fly by.

 

 

Allie had been so engrossed in the book she was reading Liz had had to remind her three times that her lunch had been waiting for her in the kitchen. She'd eaten quickly and returned to the sitting room taking the same spot she'd been occupying by the window all morning. This time she'd tried to remind herself to keep an eye on the time, it hadn't worked and Bea had walked almost silently into the sitting room without her noticing. She stood watching her for a while, watched her smile then frown then smile again. 

“Good book?” She asked quietly as she wound her arms round her shoulders.

Allie jumped almost dropping the book.

“You scared me.” She laughed when she saw the amused look on Beas face.

“Did you sleep well?”

“Eventually.” Allie admitted as she looked away, her insecurities came flooding back, maybe this was just an act on Beas part. Maybe she was just someone she would keep around until Harry came back and then she'd toss her aside like rubbish. Bea was a respectable married woman, she wasn't going to keep a backstreet whore like her around no matter how hard she wanted to escape her abusive husband.

“Allie, look at me…Allie please, what did I do wrong?” Bea could stand almost anything now that anyone could dish out to her but for Allie not to look at her it hurt almost as if she just plunged a hand into her chest and ripped out her heart. Bea slumped back into a chair remembering something she'd once read about how happiness is nearly always followed by sorrow as surly as night follows day. This was the first time in so many years that she thought she'd found happiness, maybe coming to this house had ruined that. As much as she didn't want to believe that, wanting to keep Allie and Debbie safe had been her only motivation to bring her here. Bringing them here had seemed like the best thing, right now it felt like the worst thing. For a few minutes all her fears got the better of her, wasn't this what Harry had done in the beginning? He wouldn't look at her when he was angry with her, was she now just waiting for Allies anger to erupt like some distant volcano?

A loud knock on the door brought Bea quickly back to her surroundings as she glanced at Allie once more. Whatever she'd done wrong was going to have to wait. She got up from the chair and answered the door. Bea had never seen Marie Winter, she could have passed her hundreds of times in the street and not known it. 

“I believe you have something of mine, if you don't mind I think I'll take it home with me know.” Marie said as she stepped back slightly from the door. Her arrival hadn't quite gone unnoticed by Allie who almost ran from the sitting room when she heard her voice. The shadowy figure she thought she'd seen out of the corner of her eye had reminded her of Marie but she doubted she'd have found her here. Hearing her voice confirmed what she'd dreaded as she shot to Beas side. 

“There she is.” Marie sneered at Allie as she took a few steps forward again, sweeping towards them both in a cold cloud of hate. Her cold eyes like grey slate swept over Allie with such loathing that she was sure the temperature had dropped a few degrees in a millionth of a second. She'd changed from the last time Allie had seen her. She tottered on her usual uncomfortable looking high heels and she was thinner than she remembered. Her blond hair framed her now white pinched looking face and only the pinky remains of the last application of her lipstick serving as a reminder of how much of a mask Marie usually wore. She tried to smile gaily at Bea but that only seemed to emphasise her fury as the bottom half of her face held a shark like grimace that like always didn't reach her eyes.

“Go back inside Allie, I’ll deal with this.” Bea said quietly as her eyes watched Marie.

“This is my mess Bea.” Allie said trying to make herself sound braver than she was really feeling. How Marie had found her here she could only guess but then it wasn't impossible to think that Jake could have followed them again.

“Since this property belongs to my parents I believe I have every right to ask this, this person to leave. Or do I have to throw you back to where you came from? And kindly refrain from calling Allie it, she isn't a thing you can just pick up one minute and throw away the next.” It was no longer Allies perceived anger Bea was now afraid of it was her own as she gently placed her arm around Allies waist. She was ready to take ahold of Marie and escort her back down the drive by force if necessary. “I will give you to the count of three.” Bea spat at Marie as she felt Allie quiver a little. 

Marie leaned in a little, placing her face a few inches from Allies, her fury was plain to see. She hissed like a cobra in her face. “You'll be back, if you think this…this…” She gestured towards Bea without even looking at her. “Whatever she is will want to keep you around when she finds out what you really are then your more stupid than I thought.”

Fear made Allie feel a little queasy but she wasn't about to let Marie insult Bea. Before she could get any words out Colin appeared behind them both. Liz had heard heated words being exchanged at the door and peeked out to see who Bea was speaking to. Liz knew who Marie was even if Bea didn't and she'd rushed to the workshop for Colin who was just finishing up.

“I believe Bea asked you to leave, I think you should do as she asked. I would never place a hand on a lady but you ain't no lady. Now are you going to leave of your own free will or would you rather I made you?” Colin asked without missing a beat.

Marie's face twisted and contorted with rage just the same way Bea had seen Harry's do on so many occasions but she would stand her ground now more for Allies sake than her own. Marie turned and started to walk away but not before giving them a backwards malevolent stare. Colin retreated as quickly as he'd appeared leaving them alone as Bea closed the door.

“I..I…I'm so sorry Bea.” Allies eyes filled with tears. “I'll leave, I should have known I'd only bring trouble t…”

Bea didn't give her a chance to continue as she gently pulled her into her arms.

“That's the last thing I want.” Bea tried to soothe her as she cried into her shoulder. “If you leave then so do I, wherever you go I go too.”

Dinner was a quiet affair except for Artie chattering as usual about the war and Debbie and Sophie telling him to ‘Shut up,’ or ‘Be quiet.’ As soon as the three of them had been put to bed Liz joined Bea and Allie in the sitting room. Convincing Allie that none of what had happened was her fault was hard work. Bea telling her she'd stand up to Marie a thousand times if it meant she'd stay only made her cry harder and apologise more. 

“She’s good old Londons very own version of Lucrezia Borgia. She's put four men under the ground and collected their insurance policies to my knowledge. She's a scarlet woman and make no mistake about it. She wears her lipstick right up to her nose and she plasters on the powder and rouge, a real painted madam if ever there was one. She attracts men by false pretences, wont be long until she finds herself another one. You're better off out of it Allie.” Liz announced as she sat herself in the same armchair by the fire as she had the evening before.

Allie hung her head and felt like running from the room, the only people who she'd told about Marie were Bea and Franky. Sitting next to Bea on one of the sofas though made escape almost impossible as she held her. She knew Marie wasn't really interested in anyone but herself and she couldn't understand why she couldn't just let her go. She'd have already replaced her with another unsuspecting girl because Marie only prayed on young girls. Bringing trouble to Beas door was the last thing she wanted but Bea wasn't even listening to her. She just held her and kept telling her that if she walked away she would follow her until she gave in and came back. And Allie did know just how stubborn Bea could be, right now it seemed Liz was just the same.

“She's a really common person, oh she puts on all those airs and graces but it's all for show. And so help me what she does to those poor young girls…I'm sorry Allie.” Liz's eyes dropped to the floor. “I know you've had it tough but mark my words no good will ever come of her. Don't let her make you feel like you have to leave. That would make Bea miserable and have you ever seen a really miserable Bea? I tell you know it's not pretty and it's really no fun. And I'd also miss you, Debbie and my pair of varmints as well. We can stand up to the likes of that madam together and always come out on top.”

Later in bed cheerful was the last thing Allie felt. The thought that maybe she would have to leave had occurred to her and the only place she'd have to go would be back to Marie or take her chances on the streets. Neither were an option she wanted to think about but Bea hadn't even kissed her good night and she knew words were easy to say. Words meant nothing without actions she thought. She didn't hear the tap on the door, didn't notice the door open and close. Before she could even register what was happening Bea had slipped into bed beside her, reached over and turned out the light.

“I'm going to stay right here so you can't leave us.” Bea whispered as finally Allie allowed herself to relax, her head sinking into the pillow next to Beas.

Chapter Text

 

Bea couldn't remember ever feeling happier than she did when she woke up early on Saturday morning. Being with Allie always made her happy but this morning it felt different somehow. Allie might have her own room, something Bea had insisted was only right since there were enough rooms for everyone, but the only night they'd actually spent sleeping apart had been the first night they'd arrived. Something Bea had regretted deeply after witnessing Allies reaction when she'd arrived home from work. It hadn't been only Marie showing up at the house that had convinced her it was a bad idea. Just one night without her had led to her having one of the worst nights sleep she'd had since Harry had been at home. Allie finally opening up telling her that it had been the early hours of the morning before she fell asleep and that had been the only reason she'd slept later than usual. Sneaking around wasn't something she was happy about but it seemed as if there were no other way for the time being. Kissing Allies forehead she knew she had to get out of bed. She had to work that morning but tearing herself away felt like the hardest thing in the world. It had been a compromise that she'd been completely happy with when she'd been able to take Allie shopping but now she wished she'd not accepted Mr Potters offer of the afternoon off. She closed her eyes briefly listening to the absolute stillness of the house. 

“You have to get up.” Allie mumbled before she pressed her lips to her neck.

“I do even though I'd much rather stay here with you.” Bea mumbled lazily.

“It's not the end of the world.” Allie smiled before propping herself up on her elbow. “Lucky for you I'm not back at the cafe until Monday. What time is Liz leaving?”

“Their catching the seven thirty train, I just hope her sister gets well quickly.”

“You think she'll stay longer than the weekend?” 

Bea shook her head against the pillow. “She says it not likely, she has Sophie and Artie to think of and she'd never take them out of school without very good reason. She intends to be back no later than lunch time tomorrow.”

After they had all enjoyed a quick breakfast together Liz and Colin had rounded up Sophie and Artie ready for their trip to Surry and Bea had retreated to her room to get ready for work. By the time she made it back to the kitchen Allie was arranging some flowers that Liz had given her in a tall blue vase while Debbie was sitting at the table reading a book out loud. She strode in, briefcase in hand, almost ready to leave.

“Are you sure you don't mind?” She asked as she ran her fingers through Debbie's hair before placing her briefcase down on one of the other chairs. 

“I've told you a hundred times already we'll be fine.” Allie smiled as she looked at Debbie. “I'm certain we can find plenty of fun things to do to keep ourselves occupied until you get home.” She crossed the kitchen and placed the vase in the centre of the table. “Aren't you forgetting something though?” She asked as her smile only grew brighter. 

Bea looked down at her briefcase and then around the kitchen. Her original reason for picking up her briefcase from its resting place had been forgotten as soon as she'd stepped into the kitchen. “No, I'm sure I have everything, I only have my coat to put on.” She looked back at Allie who had moved back to where she had been standing a little earlier with her back to her again. The temptation to close the distance between them and wrap her arms around her shoulders felt as if it were almost too much to bare. Debbie was still reading aloud and that was the only thing keeping her rooted to the spot. The thought of unsettling her in anyway wasn't something she could live with although she was sure living with Harry had been more unsettling and upsetting for her. She wasn't a fool, as much as she always tried to make herself believe that she'd managed to protect Debbie from his outbursts she was sure she knew more than she ever let on. Allie being with them forever would be so much better than him ever being there. 

“You don't want this then? I assume you'll still get a break.” Allie turned around holding a paper bag in one hand that contained a sandwich.

“You didn't have to do that.” Bea smiled. Everything felt so natural, just the three of them. Allie arranging flowers and spending time with Debbie. Listening to her read, something Debbie loved to do. Harry would have never listened to her reading to him. He did show her a little affection from time to time but spending any meaningful time with her while she did the things she enjoyed was something that he would never do. “Thank you. Are you really sure you don't mind watching her, she can be a handful. If Liz hadn't…”

“Hush, I've told you we'll be fine.” Allie handed her the sandwich and watched her place it in her briefcase. The slight distraction Allie had created with her thoughtfulness had meant she didn't see her slip out of the kitchen.

“I'll see you both when I..” Bea looked around for Allie. Shrugging she told Debbie she'd see her later and picked up her briefcase a little annoyed that Allie had disappeared so quickly. 

“Coat m’lady, its chilly out this morning.” Allie smiled as she held Beas coat up ready for her to just slip into it.

“You're too much sometimes you know that?” Bea laughed as she placed her briefcase on the floor and slipped her arms easily into her coat.

“No, no, let me.” Allie said as she moved quickly in front of Bea. 

“I can fasten my own buttons.” Bea protested weakly.

“There, all ready.” Allie said smugly. “And don't worry about us.”

Bea peered over Allies shoulder there was no sign of Debbie as she pulled her into her close her arms encircling Allies waist. This was all she'd ever wanted, someone who truly cared about her someone who would help her, take some of the responsibility of caring for Debbie from her shoulders. She hated relying on Liz all the time, she had her own family to worry about. As their lips met Allie pressed her body instinctively closer before she remembered Debbie wasn't far away.

“You need to go.” She whispered as she gently pulled away.

“I do, remind me to never take time off during the week.” Bea replied glumly. Liz was away, they could have spent the whole day together just the three of them. It had been worth it she quickly decided as she picked up her briefcase. Taking her to the department store, showing her that she fitted in perfectly with her life. No she hadn't enjoyed the tea but the expression on her face had been priceless when it arrived.

 

 

Nothing had gone right for Bea in the office all morning. The first person who sat down at her desk that morning had been the most difficult woman she'd ever had the pleasure of meeting. She was rude, refused to answer some of the standard questions before she announced loudly that she didn't intend to work in a factory. ‘Spoilt well to do little madam,’ Bea had thought to herself as she smiled politely back at her. She spilled her tea when she had her break and to top it off had a disagreement with Maxine. By the time she arrived home she was in a foul mood. She dropped her briefcase by the coat stand and pulled off her coat before heading straight to her fathers study, slumping in one of the chairs. The last thing she wanted was for Allie to see her in this mood, it didn't happen often but when a black cloud descended over her it could last for hours, sometimes even days. She just couldn't shake it off. A light tap on the door was accompanied by her own sigh. She got up from the chair looking at the various bottles of alcohol her father kept in his study. She smiled at a memory that sprung into her head. She'd been twelve at the time and her and Thomas had snuck into the study one Sunday afternoon determined to find out what was so special about those bottles. Her first taste of whisky had left her banished to her room for a week. She poured a generous amount into one of the glasses and downed it in one go unaware that Allie was watching her.

“Bad morning?” Allie asked quietly.

“Leave me alone.” Bea snapped as she slumped her head forwards. She regretted it the second the words left her mouth and she wanted to turn around and apologise, when she finally did the door was closed and she was alone again. She slammed the glass down and walked to the window looking up at the darkening sky that once again was promising rain. She didn't lose her temper and snap at anyone as a rule, but as a rule she wouldn't have dared. Snapping at Harry like that would have only ever had one end result so she always stayed silent. She ran a hand over her face, Allie had done nothing wrong. She'd taken care of Debbie and she'd repaid her by biting her head off. She had no idea how long she'd been standing in the window just staring at nothing when she felt a pair of arms encircle her waist.

“Feeling better now?” Allie whispered in her ear but she didn't reply, couldn't think of any words that really expressed how sorry she was. “I can leave you alone with your thoughts for a little longer but I'd rather not. It can't be good for you bottling up what's got you in such a black mood.”

Of course Allie wanted to know, she wouldn't be frightened away easily by her mood but right at this minute she disliked herself intensely. The arms vanished and she wondered if her silence had made Allie leave again until she turned around. Allie was looking around the room at the high window, the thick rug on the floor by the hearth and the great sweeps of brocade curtains. Not to mention the endless bookcases that held even more books.

“Best rug in the whole house to bury your toes in.” Bea said as her eyes followed her around the room.

Allie nodded and slid herself in one of the two winged armchairs that were positioned close to the unlit fireplace crossing her legs. “Should I light that for you?” She nodded her head in the direction of the fireplace as she ran her fingers over the polished wood of the small side table next to her. Bea shook her head as she moved from the window and poured herself another drink.

“You know a lady would offer her friends a drink.” Allie chuckled.

A hard, surprised expression came over Beas face. For a second Allie thought she was about to show her the door. Debbie was in her room laying on her bed drawing a picture, they were almost alone. She watched a smile spread over Beas face as she cocked her head to one side like the inquisitive robin that perched outside the kitchen window every morning. She smiled as she watched Bea grab another glass, watched her smile grow brighter as she took the well filled tumbler from Bea. 

“Bottoms up.” Allie chuckled before taking a swig of the amber liquid as it warmed the back of her throat and seeped into her brain. Beas father certainly had expensive taste in whisky.

“I really am sorry about snapping at you. I've no excuse for it, I just got myself into a bad mood. Had to interview the rudest woman I've ever met in my life and to top off my morning I think I upset Maxi.” Bea sat herself down on the arm of the armchair Allie was sitting in. “I don't know what I would have done without you this morning. I should have been saying thank you not biting your head off. I'll try not to let it happen again.”

“Stop it. You have no need to apologise, everyone can have a bad day. I'm already over it but I didn't want you to be alone. Now don't dwell on it it's forgotten.” Allie turned her head to look at her as she spoke.

“But that's how he started.” Bea looked down at the glass in her hand. “No, at first it was just his silence. Then he started drinking and he'd say all manner of horrid things. The more he drank the worse he got. I don't want to be like that, maybe I've just lived with it for far too long and now I'll be just the same.”

Allie placed her glass on the floor and took Beas free hand in both of hers. “I think you had a bad morning, you remember how Franky gets when she's had a bad morning don't you? It happens. You are just you, you could never be anything like him. You lost your temper a little. Now all I expect you to do is relax. We've had a very pleasant morning and someone managed to spoil yours. We made cookies if your interested.” 

“But…”

“No buts, it's forgotten. I don't care, I'm not even slightly annoyed or angry with you. He was a bully and that's something you could never be even if you spent the rest of your life trying.” Allie smiled as she gently pulled Bea from the arm of the chair into her lap, being extra careful not to spill the liquid that was still in her glass. 

Bea handed her glass to Allie who carefully deposited it on the floor next to her own. She rested her head against Allies shoulder, she knew she had never felt so angry towards anyone as she did Harry. Everything about him was hateful, his clothes and that confident smile he showed to the outside world; at home that smile was a sneer. She hated the air of superiority he paraded around with. She had always disliked him for that but she hated him for almost ruining her life, she prayed he was dead day after day but there was always something telling her he wasn't because he'd just have to come back. Make her life even more miserable and then there'd be no more Allie. No more them, no more idea of a real family that loved and supported each other.

“Why couldn't I have met you first? I disliked him more than anyone I'd ever met before when I was fourteen. I always imagined he'd move onto someone else when he realised I wasn't interested.” Bea sighed into Allies neck.

“Well let me see, for starters I was only four when you first met him. As much as I would have liked it I'm certain I was far too young to wander to your side of the tracks back then. And even if you could have got rid of him and waited for me to grow up you wouldn't have Debbie.” Allie smiled. Wishing they could have met sooner couldn't change a thing, the mere fact that they had met would have always been enough for Allie. Being her friend, if that's what Bea had wanted would have been a struggle but she'd have made it work if she'd had to. 

“Do you enjoy working for Franky?” Bea asked knowing that it was time to change the subject but being unable to think of anything else to say.

“I do, and it's all thanks to this gorgeous woman who convinced her that I was worth taking a chance on.” She knew Bea was still struggling with what she perceived she needed forgiving for. Allie had let the whole incident go a few seconds after it had happened but Bea wasn't easy to convince that really it didn't matter. Everything about Bea made her life better, a little outburst after a stressful morning was never going to change that in the slightest. Bea was way more than Allie ever thought she deserved, her grandmother always told her to aim high but she was sure she'd never meant her to aim for the stars. 

“Really? So why are you here with me, she sounds marvels.” Bea joked. 

“Oh trust me she is, that's why she's sitting in my lap. Have I told you yet how much I love this chair? It's so comfortable and there's enough space for two.” 

“I never had a chance to find out father never let us sit in here, but since he's not here…”

She moved her head so she could look up at Allies face, something was different. Her expression had changed, the look in her eyes mirrored her own, Allie hated Harry almost as much as she did. All thoughts of Harry soon evaporated as their lips met. For the first time in her life she had someone who made her feel free, gave her the comfort for so long she thought she'd never find. She felt wanted even when her mind had wandered back to a time she wished had never happened, Allie could bring her back to herself; back to them. No longer did she have to behave as someone else wanted her to. As long as they were together there would never be anymore walking on eggshells. No more creeping around the house softly, silently, and she'd never have to only speak when she was spoken to. Allie wanted to hear about her day, loved listening to Debbie reading to her; nothing either of them did it seemed would ever be overlooked or dismissed as being unimportant by Allie.

 

 

Sunday morning had quickly turned from being grey into a lovely crisp sunny day. The sun held a shimmering quality in its warmth as the three of them ventured outside into the garden it shone brightly on their faces. Debbie ran off in front eager to explore the rear gardens as Bea and Allie trailed slowly behind her arm in arm. The sun washed over the garden with a golden glow melting the frost that lay over the grass like a fine sugar frosted coating. They passed by the now empty vegetable beds and the old shed that no one but the gardener and Beas mother ever used. On past the large heated greenhouse that had lay empty since her mother had vacated the house.

“What exactly would you grow in there?” Allie asked wondering if Bea was even going to have time to put it to use. 

“Anything you like.” Bea smiled. “It's not exactly empty even now, mother grew her asparagus from seed and it grows every year. I believe she told me it will provide a crop for around twenty years. Usually she uses it for her tomatoes and cucumbers. You want to give it go? I could dig out her endless collection of seeds for you.”

Allie shook her head, she'd never grown anything in her life and doubted she'd be any good at it. They neared the end of the garden where there was a small grove of trees. The place where Bea in warmer whether would sit for hours with a book. In spring she'd sit and admire the bluebells with their azure gongs. She'd drawn them so many times she was, even now, certain she could probably draw them from memory alone. Her old sketch books were still in the house somewhere, maybe she'd look for them. Cast an eye over years worth of memories that she'd committed to paper in pencil, charcoal or pastel. 

“Where'd you go?” Allie asked after a minute when she saw her eyes cloud over with a memory of something.

“Just thinking back to happier times.” 

“You aren't happy?” Allie asked because try as she might she still couldn't see how someone like her could make another living person happy when she could barely remember being happy herself.

“I meant before…before him.” Bea turned to face her linking the fingers of both their hands very aware that Debbie wasn't far away. “Of course I'm happy, you give me every reason to be happy. I'm still sorry for the way I…”

“I told you yesterday that I'd already forgotten about it and I meant it. It was nothing. There's no need to beat yourself up about something that I really don't care about, something I know you didn't really mean so stop apologising.” Allie looked at her pointedly leaving little room for uncertainty that she meant every word. Bea nodded almost imperceptibly as they made their way back up the garden eventually stopping at a bench.

They sat quietly together not an inch between them watching Debbie run around, heard her squeal with excitement when she found the old swing that hung from a tree. The garden was more than Allie expected and something she already loved. She could easily imagine them sitting here on a summer evening. Watching Debbie run around the wide open space that sloped gently downwards. Maybe watch her running in and around the small copse of cypress pines that flanked them on one side. Climbing one of the peaceful beech trees with Sophie and Artie that grew in a thicket almost as if they were standing guard over the space at the side of their current position. She could easily imagine the youngsters picking the fruit from the apple trees that grew proudly in the centre of the garden as they cast a lake of claw like shadows onto the grass below them. She could picture this space in the autumn, the fiery brilliance of the leaves. Scorching oranges, burning browns and molten like reds. Could see the cobwebs in the grass in the early morning, like tiny fishermen's nets, and almost smell the welcoming scents that hung in the air. Picture it in its full splendour as it soaked up the effulgence of the sun's smile as it chased shadows across the grass. Hear a blackbird as it sat in a nearby branch launching into an avian aria only to be joined moments later by a fusillade of bird song that would rupture the silence. 

“Where have you gone?” Bea whispered as she leaned in, her lips only millimetres from her ear.

Allies eyes sprang open and she smiled warmly. “Just imagining this in another time.”

“No need to imagine it, you'll see it all before long.” 

Allie was a little surprised when she saw an older man appear in the garden pushing an ancient, squeaky lawn mower up and down. She watched him with interest thinking that he must be about eighty with skin that reminded her of a old chamois leather. He stopped for a moment as he watched Debbie on the swing with a smile on his lips. Minutes later she was to find out that he was a man of very few words after he approached them.

“Lot of weeds in the front again miss.” He said as he passed them both pushing the highly protesting lawn mower past the spot they were sitting in.

“Father always leaves his garden in your capable hands Mr Greaves.” Bea smiled at him as he glanced at Allie.

“Aye, an he likes it just so.” His mouth moved into some semblance of a smile.

“No need to worry about the vegetables once spring finally arrives, I'll take care of that.” Bea called after him as he passed by their resting spot.

“As you like miss.” He said without stopping.

“Who was that?” Allie asked.

“Mr Greaves, he's been fathers gardener for as long as I can remember. He takes care of everything even when they aren't here.” Bea laughed lightly. “Mother though has never been fond of him taking care of her vegetables, she says he doesn't care for them with love. Makes all the difference so she always informed me. I am a little surprised to see him cutting the grass at this time of year though. And he absolutely refuses to have anything to do the latest garden implements. I swear that's the same lawn mower he's been using since I was a girl.”

“Not much of a talker is he?” Allie giggled.

 

 

Almost as soon as Liz arrived home she shooed Bea out of the kitchen.

“I'm certain you have better things to do than cooking.” She grinned as she looked over at Allie who had been sitting at the table watching Bea who surprisingly to her still knew where everything was.

Bea did have something she wanted to show Allie, something she'd intended to show her the day before. Taking her by the hand she led her upstairs and to a door at the end of the hall, then up a much darker and steeper staircase. 

“Wow!” Allie breathed as she looked around. A sewing machine sat in one corner close to an extremely well used dressmakers dummy.

“Mothers had that since before she married my father.” Bea told a surprised Allie. “Refuses to have a new one no matter how many times fathers tried to buy her one. I think that's why everything's up here in the attic, out of sight out of mind.”

Surrounding every inch of available wall space where wooden cabinets with varying size draws. Allie opened a few out of curiosity. “You won't ever run short of buttons.” Allie observed as she opened one after the other.

“No, neither mother or fathers families were well off. My mother started out as a seamstress and father started out as a clerk. I guess all this just shows you that hard work really does pay. I was raised with privilege because they worked hard. Harry was just spoilt, his parents gave him anything he wanted and he didn't appreciate it.” Bea crossed the room and sat in the old armchair that was there. “That painting you liked so much in the hall, its of me and my brothers. We used to go to the apple orchard and pick them, we got tuppence a bucket. Thomas and William always spent their money but father said if I saved it whatever I earned he'd match it. I just kept saving but I never knew what I was saving for.”

Allie sat on the arm of the arm chair and listened intently as she continued.

“I'm not saying Harry had anything to do with his parents deaths because I can't prove it but it wouldn't surprise me. He had debts, gambling debts before we got married. I know he's still out there somewhere but I'm not going to worry about that right now. So no, as you say we aren't going to run out of buttons even when clothes rationing is introduced because mother always had a make do and mend attitude long before the depression or this fucking war.” 

“Bea!” Allie exclaimed.

“What?” Bea laughed as she turned her head to see the stunned expression that Allie was now wearing. “My parents weren't always well off I just told you that, things only started getting a lot better for them just after I was born, I was four when we moved here. I ran around with plenty of the not so local kids when I was younger. I also have two older brothers.” She grinned. “And I swear I've heard worse come out of that pig of a husbands mouth.”

“And here I was thinking you were a real lady.” 

“Don't let what's on the outside fool you Allie, I bet I know a few words that could even make a sailor blush.” She laughed again. “We aren't all that different you know, I think it's only the wrapping that's different.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“And you're absolutely, positively certain of that?” Bea asks as she waited for Boomer to speak again. Clutching the receiver tighter than she ever had before because this is the only news she wanted to hear today. If everything was going according to her plan tomorrow she'd be taking Allie back to east end. 

“Yes!” Boomer half shouted in response. “I'm tellin thee, Franky got the address outta Allie an I were in the area. The ‘ouse is still standin.” Boomer sighed on the other end of the line. “Am thinkin it must ‘av bin ‘er granny who I seen, ad a young un we ‘er, looked like Allie an all.”

“Thank you…Booms don't forget your invited for Christmas will you? Debbie's already looking forward to you being there.” 

“Nar, wouldn't miss it fur owt.” Boomer grinned before she hung up. 

“Well?” Maxine asked as she stood in front of Beas desk impatiently waiting to find out if any of Allies family were in fact still alive and living where Allie remembered. It had been her suggestion that she should ask Boomer for help. As an ambulance driver she went everywhere, and if there was one thing they'd both learnt about Boomer it was how observant she could be.

“Booms is certain it had to be her grandmother.” Beas eyes suddenly dropped back to her desk, what if Allie didn't want to see them? What if she thought Bea was interfering in something that wasn't her business? But it was almost Christmas and Bea wanted nothing more than for Allie to be able to see her family again. It was never her fault that she was taken away from them. Everything Allie had told her, coming face to face with Jake Stewart and then Marie Winter had made her want to find them for her even more. 

“She's never going to be angry with you for this, you know that.” Maxine said in her typical soothing fashion as she pulled the chair that sat opposite Beas desk round, sitting beside her. 

“But what if…” Bea trailed off as she looked at Maxine, the warmth in her smile somehow had a way of silencing her fears even if it was just for a few minutes.

“You told me Allie said she misses them. Finding her family alive and well is not a bad thing Bea. Alright it may be a shock, for Allie and them. Remember they have no idea where she went the same as she has no idea what parts of the east end are still standing. I can't think she'd be angry at you for this. Now get out of here before she comes looking for you, you're already five minutes late leaving the office. Times ticking, don't want to miss that bus do you?” 

 

 

“Are you going to tell us where we're going or are me and Deb going to have to guess?” Allie asked as she pulled on her own coat. It wasn't like Bea to stay this tight lipped. It was Saturday after all and for reasons Allie couldn't get to the bottom of no matter how many questions she'd asked Franky had said she didn't need her that day. Saturday mornings were always busy so it just made no sense. 

“I'll tell you in a little while.” Bea smiled as she opened the door with Debbie then Allie following her.

Bea knew how to get to the east end but didn't want Allie to get suspicious too early on so set out in the direction of one of the parks. Cutting through it led them them in the right direction it just took a little longer to get to where they were going. There were no railings or gates surrounding the park. The railings as like the ones surrounding the houses that had them had been early casualties of war. They were taken away to boost the metal mountain that was needed to make guns and shells.

“Show me where you grew up.” Bea suddenly asked as they neared the other side of the park.

“Y…you don't want to see that.” Allie mumbled. Bea knew she was more afraid of finding her childhood home gone than finally seeing her family again. They'd spent hours the evening before talking about it. 

“I do know what the east end looks like. I did do my shopping there before the war Allie.” Bea said firmly.

“But you never ventured further than the market.” Allies voice sounded weak. “It's hardly the place you want to be seen, grubby back to back slums. Drunks wandering around and shouting all kinds of obscenities.” She tried to protest until she saw Beas raised eyebrow, her questioning look. Allie knew this was yet another argument she couldn't win because Bea knew all about drunks and probably had already heard every obscene word in existence. “Fine, I'll show you. Doubt they'll be anything left of it anyway.” She mumbled as Bea took hold of Debbie's hand and linked her other arm with Allie. It seemed that would always be what Bea did, she never seemed to care if anyone looked at them anymore.

A fog was brewing, a foul mix of natural mist and the smoke from hundreds of coal fires in living room grates. Added to that was the yeast from the Truman Black Eagle Brewery. Chimney stacks that towered over the east end appeared to puff their effluent upwards when in reality it hung in the air, mixing with the smoke from the tiny terraced houses. Smoke was still in the air from the night before when more incendiaries and bombs had fallen on the city, now it all seemed as if it were congregating in the direction they were heading. It was becoming an increasingly slow journey. The fog was thickening and shadowy figures shambled uncertainly through the gloomy streets, hat brims were turned downwards and scarves pulled over their noses. 

Walking along she came to a spot where there were no buildings, further on there were a few houses with huge gaps between them. The gaping holes between where the old terraced slums had once stood now sported danger signs, not that the local children seemed to care as they watched them climbing over the rubble. Even through the thick fog they weren't deterred. Although it looked dangerous it seemed the children had repurposed the bombed out and collapsed buildings into their own play grounds. Running around with imaginary guns playing soldiers or looking for pieces of shrapnel from the bombs that had fallen. Walking a little further along they watched as some young soldiers all supporting worried faces like old men were overseeing the removal of rubble, twisted metal and wooden beams of the old buildings that had stood for years and had been obliterated in mere seconds.

“How much further?” Bea asked, not because she no longer wanted to be there. She’d already planned in her mind how this would go. In the early morning hours as she'd lay awake watching Allie sleep she’d carefully crafted this plan. Thanks to Franky and Boomer she could do this right before Christmas. Allie needed to know, needed to see for herself that the house was still standing and her grandparents were still alive. They would want to see her, there was no reason to think that they wouldn't. A few years when it came to their granddaughter couldn't really be too much water under the bridge could it? She also knew Allie wouldn't do this by herself, Bea had already asked if she would look for them and Allie had said there was no point. After Allie had told her how easily she'd been spirited away from them Bea knew that no matter how much time had passed they'd at least want to know she was safe and happy. She was a little nervous, maybe Allie wouldn't react well to her carefully thought out plan. Maybe her grandparents wouldn't be accepting of them turning up together and Bea had decide that she would make her exit almost as soon as she knew that yes it was definitely her grandparents. She doubted her own parents were going to be even a little understanding if she told them. She hadn't changed, her parents she'd told herself would never see it that way. Although her father seemed quite enthralled with Franky so maybe she only had her mother to worry about when the truth came out. She hadn't wanted to marry Harry or any man not because she only ever envisioned her career as a teacher but because she just didn't want or appreciate the attention of any men except her own father and brothers. She'd never know how she truly felt until Allie had walked into her life, didn't have the words to describe what was locked away in her own heart because it was something alien to her. Something that was never spoken about and living the kind of life she had growing up she'd never really had the chance to see or hear about. Although she did remember the girls a school whispering about one of the other girls but she'd never paid it any mind. What was her name she asked herself numerous times but always came back blank. Her life it seemed had been carefully road mapped and she'd thought she'd just have to accept it but then there was dear sweet, kind, compassionate Allie and everything spun off its axis taking Bea with it. She'd never regret a thing. Their lives may have been polar opposites growing up, and the age difference worried Bea a little but Allie was her all, her everything next to Debbie and nothing would ever change that. If Allie left she'd take her heart with her and Bea knew she'd never love again. Allie was the one she'd waited for her whole life without ever knowing it until she was right there.

“It, it's still here.” Allie mumbled as she tugged gently on Beas arm.

“And this is where I have to admit that I already knew your grandparents house hasn't been badly damaged or reduced to rubble.” Bea said as she glanced at Allie but couldn't look her in face. If Allie was angry with her now she didn't want to see it.

“You made me bring you here. So what do I do?” Allie asked. In every version of this scenario she'd ever dreamed of they'd welcome her back and not ask too many questions. When the blitz started every scenario had vanished, been obliterated from her thoughts much like she'd thought their house would have been. Her real childhood home that she'd shared with her parents looked as it it would be gone as she looked into the distance. A mass of rubble lay out where once rows of houses and screeching children had been. Her grandparents home had always been her second home it was better that one house still stood amongst chaos. This was devastation, it looked like a nightmare. Fires were burning in the distance from yet another night of bombing but this row of houses seemed untouched. As if it had been spared just so she could find her way back.

“Don't leave me.” It wasn't a question this time. Bea hadn't wanted to stay, thought it would be better for Allie, if she chose to, to see them by herself. Allie had a sister who she knew lived with them, Bea being there would confuse everything she'd thought. She'd brought her back for one reason for Allie to see them, not to make herself feel as if she'd done her good deed for the day. “I'll knock on that door if you stay with me.” Allie said, a little more insistence in her voice this time. Bea just nodded, if that was what Allie needed then it was what she would willingly do.

The three of them stood outside the decrepit looking door. Gazing at a house that had clearly been slightly damaged by flying debris. It's windows grimy from the oily smoke that came with the fires. Allie took a step forward and knocked on the door, not expecting anyone she knew to open it. Bea hadn't said that she was more than convinced that the occupants were still her grandparents.

As the door opened Bea knew straight away that it was Allies grandmother when she saw the look of recognition flash across both their faces. The much older woman seemed to freeze. Debbie tugged her hand free from Beas and scuttled behind Allie. No one spoke, they just looked at each other. 

Would they actually not want to see her given all the years that had passed? It had never occurred to Bea that they might not. She'd assumed that they'd jump at the chance of being reunited with their granddaughter. The woman at the door looked pale and was nervously rubbing her hands down over her hips. Every so often she'd glance back into the house apprehensively then back at Allie then Bea. What could she do if they wouldn't welcome her back Bea wondered to herself. Silently she willed who she assumed to be Allies grandmother to cooperate. It was Debbie who prompted action. She'd been wearily looking around Allie at the woman stood in front of them, leaning away from her back at an awkward angle as she kept a painfully tight grasp on her hand. With her eyes full of childish mistrust she found more courage than Bea had ever seen in her daughter before that day.

“Well aren't you going to even say hello?” She asked a little impatiently when she'd finally had enough of the adults just staring at one another. “Because that's not very nice and my granny would never do that even if she didn't see me for a hundred years.” She continued and Bea wondered how she even knew who that was standing in the doorway. 

Allies grandmother hadn't seemed to to have even noticed Debbie's presence until her voice had drifted through the deafening silence. As she looked down at her she smiled before her eyes snapped back to Allie who was now more than a little dumbstruck by Debbie's words. 

“Aleksandra….is that….is that really you?” The older woman asked as her eyes filled with tears of both sorrow and joy as she watched Allie nod her head slowly. “You must come in.” She glanced at Bea and looked for Debbie who had shrunk back behind Allie. “Your friend to, and the little one…please.” She stepped out of the way indicating for them to enter. 

Debbie moved and grabbed hold of Allies hand as she stepped inside, Bea remained unmoving. This wasn't what she'd pictured in her head, this was Allies time and at no point in her plans for how this should go was she a part of it.

“Bea…” Her name seemed to leaves Allies mouth more as a breath than her actual name being spoken to her as Allie held out her free hand. “Please.” 

Her grandmother looked down at Debbie who had a tight grip on Allies hand before she looked back between the two of them. She had seen many things in her life. The look that passed between her granddaughter and the woman she knew only as Bea was unmistakable. Allie had always been different, she'd known that just by observing her as she grew up. When her cousins were giggling over some boy Allie would roll her eyes. Bury her head in a book and ignore the whispered conversation altogether. If only she knew where that no good father of hers was hiding she'd give him a piece of her mind right now. He was to blame for Allie being gone all this time. At first she'd thought that maybe she'd run away. When Mr Channing hadn't arrived looking for her as he had before she knew that couldn't be the case. She had questioned Tomasz Novak about what he knew but he'd never admitted to anything. She'd heard the rumours, heard that young girls went missing never to be heard from again but here was Allie standing larger than life in her home.

Bea was apprehensive but took Allies hand as she always did as they walked straight into a room that was not only the living room but the kitchen. It was exactly how Allie had described it to her. Sepia photographs hung on the wall of family members in stiff poses. None were recent but one caught her eye, it was of Allie with her mother and father. The paintwork was dark and wallpaper that looked like it came from a previous century hung on the walls but it cheered the drab room up a little. A chenille pelmet hung from the high mantelpiece and a black onyx clock sat next to a tea caddy that sported a picture of Queen Victoria, giving the impression she was keeping watch over the room. 

“Anastazja is out with her friends.” Allies grandmother quickly explained as they heard a noise from upstairs. She looked up at the ceiling. “Your grandfather. I should go up and tell him.” She still wore a shocked expression and Bea couldn't stop herself from worrying what her grandfather might say when he heard the news. Allie was here, would she choose to stay with her family? Would they demand that she not leave again? 

Allies grandmother made a hasty exit from the room and up the staircase that looked very narrow. Allie pointed to a door that was down a short corridor. “That used to be my room when I stayed here.” She said sadly. 

“It will be alright.” Bea whispered before they heard heavy footsteps above them and then someone almost running down the stairs. For an elderly man he certainly gave the impression that he was was still very agile.

“Aleksandra where have you been?…. No matter.” He shook his head. “You are here now.” The old man Bea could only presume was her grandfather said happily as he threw his arms around Allie. “We missed you so very much.” He said as he pulled away to look at her properly without letting go of her completely. “You're finally here now, come sit….Your friend too.” He took Allie by the hand and led her over to the chairs by the fire. “Sit, sit.” He almost commanded. “This, this was all your fathers fault.” He said as he slumped into a chair. “We haven't seen him for years, no one knows where he went. Your grandmother went to the house and the neighbours said they hadn't seen him for weeks. That was about two maybe three months after you vanished.”

“He missed mother very much.” Allie said quietly trying to convince herself that her father couldn't have know anything about what happened to her as she looked at him over Debbie's shoulder now she'd chosen to sit in her lap. 

“And who do we have here?” He smiled at Debbie.

“This is Debbie, Beas daughter.” Allie turned her head a little and smiled at Bea the way she always did. A smile that didn't go unnoticed by her grandmothers keen eye as she busied herself making tea. 

Her grandmother suddenly remembered how worried Allie had seemed on occasion when she was home over the weekend. She'd always sensed that something was wrong but always told herself that she was being foolish and just put it down to her being homesick. Her guilt now for never asking was bordering on despair. She should have realised. She should have cared enough to press the matter further than she had. Wasn't it her own son in law who had said that Allie was in a good place, was getting paid well and would have only the best treatment? She slammed her fist down hard against the table making both Bea and Allie jump. She always thought he cared more about his oldest daughter than to allow her to be sent to a place like that. The place she'd heard people whispering about behind her back. Could it really be possible that everyone but her knew where Allie was all the time? Did Allie really remind her father so much of her mother that after her death he really could no longer stand to see her. He rarely came around to see her or her sister but she'd always accepted his excuse of working longer hours since he'd always given them more than enough money for taking care of Anastazja. She wasn't going to question Allie about where she'd been, she was clearly happy and didn't want to upset her. She listened as she told her grandfather about her job, watched the smiles that passed between her and Bea as she handed them their tea. 

Anastazja had been wary of Allie at first, she didn't remember her at all. Their grandparents spoke of her often but not being able to put a face to the name meant she paid little attention anymore. She'd asked for years when she would come home but didn't ask anymore. Now she was here, sitting by the fire. She had so many questions she wanted to ask and she was angry. Their father had disappeared not long after Allie, it seemed and somehow it had felt as if neither of them had wanted her. As if they both blamed her for her mothers death. By the time they finally left Allies grandparents home twilight was setting in on the city like a dusty veil. Bea had intended for them to catch the bus but Debbie and Allie were quite happily walking along. Debbie chattering away nineteen to the dozen about how nice she though Allies sister was and then Bea realised that the age difference between her and Debbie wasn't actually all that great. That the age difference between her and Allie was far greater in number. 

Christmas was only a matter of a few days away. Colin had returned to his unit and left a hearty selection of toys behind in the old workshop. The nights were colder and crisper. ‘At least it isn't raining,’ Bea thought to herself. She did miss walking past shops that were brightly lit and full of Christmas decorations but seeing Allie finally able to spend time with her family made her feel pleasantly in touch with the season. Even the smell of cooked meats drifting out of a pork butchers that evening wasn't going to dampen her mood. She'd been working on something for Allie that she hoped she was going to like. She'd spent hour upon hour on a Saturday tucked away in her mothers sewing room while Allie was at the cafe. She only ventured out if Debbie needed her or Liz reminded her that Allie would be finishing work soon. After their run in with Jake and then Marie turning up uninvited Bea had refused to let her walk back alone. She went straight to the cafe when she finished work Monday to Friday and on Saturday she walked there even though Franky had said she'd walk her home. Numerous buses went by but neither Debbie or Allie seemed to be tired of walking, something Bea found amusing since Debbie wasn't the biggest fan of using her legs. Cars passed by with their dipped headlights, paying more attention to where she was now placing her feet on the slippery pavement she didn't notice a shiny black car pull into the kerb a little way ahead of her and the door open.

“She'll be back you know, they always come back.” Bea heard Marie's voice come from inside a parked car as she walked by. Looking towards where Debbie and Allie were a little way in front she bent down slightly.

“No she won't, she got away from you without any help and now she's made a life for herself. Allie has no reason to ever come back to you.” Bea spat back. This woman was becoming a nuisance and if Bea had to teach her a lesson she'd have no hesitation in doing so.

“What?” Marie laughed loudly. “You think you'll ever be enough for the likes of her? You think because you come from a well to do family she won't get bored before the money runs out? When she gets what she wants she'll be back. Clearly she's still having to chase after what she wants, not had you on your back yet has she?”

“You old cow!” Bea clenched her fists. “You think I don't know what you did to her? You think I don't know who you're hiding? Just remember missing in action isn't the same as desertion and if you are hiding him I'd get rid of him if you know what's good for you.” Bea straightened up to see Allie and Debbie walking back in her direction. She took a couple of steps back and shook her head at Allie. Bea didn't want Debbie to witness her really losing her temper, she didn't want Allie to witness it either. 

“She's a cheap little tart.” Marie laughed as she stepped out of the car. 

“That's it.” Bea turned her attention straight back to Marie hoping Allie would distract Debbie. “She's twice the person you'll ever be. And as for that husband of mine, if he is with you, you can keep him. But don't say I didn't warn you when the MPs are knocking on your door or he's beating the life out you.” Nothing would have given Bea greater pleasure than to punch Marie in the face right now. She took her measure of Marie, she didn't look fast enough to get out of her way if she did throw a punch. Marie lunged at her, Bea sidestepped and Marie hit the floor. Bea wasn't going to let this little unforeseen event dampen her spirits. She looked down at Marie laying on the ground before walking away. Christmas had always been her favourite time of year. This year there would be no Harry to spoil it, demanding that she furnish him with the best money could buy even when he gave her very little. Scream at her that one new book, packet of colouring pencils and sketch pads for Debbie weren't needed and a waste of money. They had a perfectly good library if she wanted to read and she went to school she'd didn't need to mess up his house with paper and pencils all over the place. No this year they would decorate the house, dig out that huge artificial Christmas tree she knew her parents had. They had boxes full of glass tree decorations and tinsel. Christmas crackers would be easy to make even though they wouldn't have the snap. Debbie and Sophie would enjoy making those, they'd be kept occupied and out from under Liz’s feet while she busied herself making whatever she had the ingredients for. And Liz had made a list, a long list it had seemed to Bea, of everything that was hidden away in the pantry.

They would make cardboard houses with red and yellow cellophane windows and stand them among cotton wool snow, add some to the roof of the largest. Make a cardboard cut out of Santa Claus along with a cardboard sleigh that would be pulled by a red nosed reindeer. Colouring books, paint boxes and a baby doll had already been purchased by Bea and Liz at the beginning of the year for both Debbie and Sophie before everything started disappearing out of the shops. Liz had even managed to find the binoculars that Artie had pleaded with her for. Pride of place on Christmas morning would be the two wooden rocking horses that Colin had worked so hard on for Debbie and Sophie and the aircraft, submarines and battle ships that he'd made for Artie.

As the three of them walked home Bea overheard someone say something that made her feel very differently about this Christmas. 


“Now the old mans not ‘ome it ain't goin’ to be a real family Christmas.” 


Bea smiled at Allie because this year for her it was the exact opposite, this would be the first year that would feel like a family Christmas.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Someone in the office had decorated it with paper chains. They were a little faded and Bea guessed they were pre war but their presence was appreciated. They helped raise the somber mood that had descended amongst everyone at the ministry, and it didn't hurt that they helped fill the gaps amongst the dated and scratched furniture. 

This morning Bea had her first appointment at eleven, for the last two weeks Mr Potter had decided that they shouldn't see people who just walked in off the street. They had to make an appointment and come back at their allocated date and time, that was sorting out those who were serious from those who were treating it like a joke. Maxine had agreed that it had to be better than seeing anyone and everyone, taking care of making the appointments herself meant Bea didn't see much of her now something that left her feeling alone half the time. Bea was never the easiest person to get to know, although Franky and Allie would never agree with that if any of the girls in the office asked. The new system often left Bea with free time to review any files Mr Potter himself now brought to her. She tugged forcefully on one of the draws of a filing cabinet that sat next to the wall behind her desk and finally persuaded it to open. Her pen still sat on top of a pile of untouched files that she still hadn't found the time to read through. After finding the file she was looking for she slumped back into her chair and tugged open the right hand draw of her desk, they were always hard to open but now in the middle of winter the office was damper than ever and the wood had swollen. She picked up her pen and dropped it back down on the desk before she threw the files in. Standing back up she looked out of the window next to her desk and down to the street below. Through the grimy window she watched couples walking arm in arm along the pavement that was wet with drizzle. 

Christmas seemed to be making the appointments few and far between though and Mr Potter called for Bea to go to his office. 

“It's Christmas Eve tomorrow.” He smiled brightly at her.

“I am aware of that.” Bea looked at him suspiciously as she sat in the empty chair.

“I'm offering anyone who has a family the full day off. I know we're only working until lunch time and then we have two days off but I thought I'd extend the offer to you first.”

“What's the catch? You want me here all the earlier on the 27th?” Bea asked.

“No catch Bea. And no I don't expect you to arrive here even earlier. I'm not Ebenezer Scrooge, although some of the girls may think I am.” He laughed. “I thought you'd appreciate the extra half day. And there are no appointments scheduled, if you'd rather work don't tell anyone I didn't offer.”

Bea thought for a few moments, it would give her time to make sure everything was ready. Liz had everything in hand but she hated leaving everything to her. “Then I accept, there is a great deal to do.”

Her one appointment that morning had gone much as expected and time had seemed to drag. It was a never ending round of asking the same questions of every woman she saw. Today though since it hadn't given over drizzling she though Allie would be sensible and stay at the cafe with Franky. As she was pulling on her coat after deciding that she'd take a walk down to the cafe sensible seemed the last thing Allie was when she saw her standing by the door to the office. 

“What are you doing here? You're wet through.” Bea asked slightly annoyed at first.

“I wanted to see you and…I forgot my umbrella.” Allie grinned.

“You don't even own an umbrella.” Bea laughed. There was something in that smile that she could never resist. “If you're ill over Christmas.” Bea warned her as they made their way down the staircase together.

“Then you'll have to nurse me back to health, bring me bowls of steaming hot chicken soup and sit and talk to me until I fall asleep.” Allie answered. “Actually I did have a reason to come out in the rain.”

“Really?” Bea asked doubtfully. 

It seemed no sooner had they stepped out into the street that the sky cleared a little and the drizzle stopped. Walking along together arm in arm had long since become what they did no matter where they were. Bea had felt foolish at first out in broad daylight and Franky had pointed out that a lot of women did it, it didn't mean anything. No one stared at them as they walked past, watching the couples arm in arm out of the window now only served as a reminder of Allie. Once they had found a seat in the busy cafe and Bea had ordered their tea she asked what had been so urgent that Allie had needed to come out in the rain. For a few minutes Allie had dodged the question easily until the waitress had returned with their tea. Allie quietly asked Bea why she hadn't told her about her birthday being the day after Christmas. Beas first assumption had been that Franky must have told her until Allie revealed her source of the information had been Debbie. As Bea fell silent after hearing that she knew she shouldn't have been even slightly surprised really. That was something she loved about Allie, she spent time with Debbie. It had never been her wanting all of Beas time because often Bea wouldn't see either of them for hours. 

“So I was thinking.” Allie said quietly as she leaned over the table that separated them. “Maybe we could go and see a picture tonight. I know you'll want to spend your birthday with Deb and this way we can almost celebrate it, just the two of us. I did ask Liz if she minded watching Deb, I hope you don't mind. B…but if you'd rather not then I'll understand. I mean it's not as if I won't be there on the day. And I know you…”

“I think that's a wonderful idea.” Bea smiled slightly. “I didn't tell you because I don't celebrate birthdays. Since I got married they stopped being important.” 

Allie frowned she knew what Bea was really saying. She didn't celebrate her birthday anymore because Harry didn't care enough to even bother to remember. She'd put any money anyone liked on betting Bea would never dare forget his though.

“You do realise I haven't seen a picture in years?” Bea asked. It wasn't even a question, Allie could read Bea so easily. She didn't have to tell her the reason why she hadn't done something. Why she didn't know certain things that it seemed everyone else did because Allie just knew why without having to ask. And Allie was thoughtful. Sometimes more thoughtful than Bea thought she deserved. Monday night was nothing special, they wouldn't be doing anything of great importance. Allie could be selfish and demand they spent time alone on Boxing Day but that wasn't who she was. They'd spend Christmas Day and her birthday as Bea would want it, with Debbie included in everything. Even if Bea didn't see a reason any longer to celebrate her birthday this year she'd try and enjoy it. 

Almost as soon as Allie made it back to the cafe the drizzle started to fall from the iron sky again. It could hardly even be called rain really, it looked more like a mist that left its droplets shimmering on the dead remnants of everything that autumn had left behind. It made the pavements slippery underfoot and on any other day it would have have left Allie feeling miserable. Now with her day half over and something to look forward to not even the weather could make her spirits drop.

“You look like the cat that got the cream.” Franky commented after Allie had hung her coat up and  returned to the cafe to help Franky. 

“Do I?” Allie grinned. “Well maybe I actually managed to convince a certain person to accompany me to the pictures this evening.”

“No way!” Franky looked a little surprised, she knew Allie had taken Bea out once but no one had ever been able to convince Bea to go to the pictures. Maybe it was something about sitting in a dark room full of strangers or maybe it had just been because she didn't like leaving Debbie. “How much persuasion did that take?”

“Not a lot, I just happened to mention that I knew it was her birthday on Thursday.”

Allie had promised that morning to pick up a few things for Liz and she had intended to use her lunch break to do it but then the idea of taking Bea out as an early birthday treat had struck her and the shopping had been forgotten. Asking Franky for some time off, even if it was only just an hour, felt cheeky now she'd used her lunch hour for more personal reasons. She couldn't let Liz down though could she. Franky glanced around the cafe giving Allie the impression that she was actually thinking about it after she asked. The weather seemed to be keeping even the regular customers at home. But she still made a meal out of watching Allie squirm a little as she waited for her answer. 

“I'll be as quick as I can, I'll work later every day….” Allie thought for a few seconds wondering how she could sweeten what she was offering.

Franky shook her head. “We've had a dozen customers all day. I'm hardly rushed off my feet right now am I? Look at the customers, one…” Franky pointed to an elderly man sitting by the window as he watched the people going about their days. “Two…” She pointed to a young woman who had walked in a minute or two before Allie her hands full of bags and Franky guessed she'd only come in for a place to sit down and rest her arms really. “I think I can manage.” She winked. “Anyway don't be promising anything that would have Red all over me like a rash. Work late! Seriously I'd never hear the end of that. She'd come in here and sit right there.” Franky pointed to the table Bea always sat at while she waited for Allie to finish work. “Have you ever been on the receiving end of one of Reds angry stares? Trust me it's not a pleasant experience. I've always found it to be much easier to stay in her good graces so they'll be no more talking about working late.” Allie stood rooted to the spot, still unsure if Franky's little speech meant she could leave or not. “Well what are yer waiting for? Get out of here.” Franky sniggered. “Oh wait. Almost forgot to give you this.” Franky slid an envelope over the counter.

“You already gave me a Christmas card.” Allie frowned.

“I did, maybe you want to open it.” Franky had always given Bea a small bonus at Christmas. In her case it had been mainly because she wanted her to have a little more of a peaceful day. If she could give Harry a meal with all the trimmings and a bottle of something he'd actually appreciate he tended not to be so ready with his fists. For Allie she'd decided that after the rough start she'd had she deserved something a little better. Meeting Bea might be what Allie said was the best thing that happened to her but having a little extra money to treat her couldn't hurt.

“You don't pay me until Friday.” Allie gasped. “And this is too much.”

“It's yer bonus, now get out of here.” Franky watched as Allie went to fetch her coat. “And don't hurry back.” She said as she was halfway out of the door.

 

 

Allie wandered around the shops, she'd already picked up what Liz had asked her to get for her. She was still registered with the local shops close to the cafe and she did a little extra shopping that she had intended to do the next day. The cafe would be closed and Bea had told her that she wasn't working for the whole day so it made sense. She had no idea what she could even buy as gifts. Bea had said that she shouldn't think about buying her anything but Allie wasn't going to listen. Heading back to Peter Robinson’s department store by herself had been a daunting prospect but she quickly found the department she was looking for and found something that was  practical. She hadn't had practical in mind for Bea but it would save a lot of ear ache she decided than splashing out on something she couldn't even be certain she'd like. Foyles bookshop was the place she wanted to visit and it didn't surprise her in the least when she saw the huge amount of sandbags placed against the glass front. Stepping inside she heard one of the other customers saying that the sandbags didn't contain sand at all, they were filled with old books. She heard another customer say that the whole attic space was filled with copies of Mein Kampf because William Foyle believed it would save the shop from German bombs. “I did hear that he'd planned on covering the roof with it but I think that was a little impractical.” Allie found that particular statement hilarious and wandered around the place laughing to herself. She already knew that Artie had been pestering Liz for a Biggles book and found it without too much effort. Debbie and Sophie she wasn't certain about. Debbie seemed to own more books than anyone other than her grandfather. After spending a little more time looking she eventually decided that giving them both the same book would cause less arguments and settled on an Enid Blyton.

Franky burst out laughing when she finally stumbled back through the cafe door fifteen minutes before Bea would arrive. 

“I said take your time not all afternoon.” Franky said trying to look serious before she burst out laughing again. “Anyone would think it's almost Christmas.” She chuckled as she came out from behind the counter to give her a hand. Even she could only wonder how she'd even made it back with so many bags and parcels.

Laden down with bags, Bea had protested again that Allie hadn't needed to buy gifts for anyone. It began raining again as they walked towards the house in the pitch black. As they grappled with the bags and parcels at the door their arms and thighs brushed together momentarily. The smell of the rain had already permeated their coats since neither of them could have held onto an umbrella no matter how hard they tried. Allowing Allie to walk through the door first Bea watched as the water ran down the side of her face. The smell of the rain water mixed with Allies perfume invading Beas senses. Something crazy had happened between them from the first moment they met and something more was happening right that moment. It felt like stepping onto a moving staircase and finding it impossible to get off or stop. All Bea knew was that she never wanted Allie to leave.

Allie was the first to say anything once they finally closed the door on the gloom outside. “Are we still going to the pictures? I'll treat you to fish and chips.” Allie smiled as she brushed her wet hair away from her face. 

For a moment there was a questioning look in Beas eyes and Allie hoped she hadn't changed her mind since lunch time. Was she going to say no because of the weather? Suddenly she felt like a fool for even bringing it up again. 

“I think I'd still like that.” Bea smiled at her. “But the fish and chips are my treat and we're really going to have to find you a different coat you look like you've been swimming in that one.” Bea laughed as Liz came out of the kitchen. 

“I'm running late with dinner, Artie’s not been feeling well.” She announced sounding apologetic as she looked at them both. 

“We were going out but if you need me to sta…”

“Nonsense!” Liz threw her hands up. “He's tucked up in bed and the girls are keeping him company. “I would recommend you both get changed though. I'd hate for the both of you to be ill.”

Allie sorted through the pile of bags and parcels, helping Liz back to the kitchen with the shopping and the other small things she'd ask for Allies help finding

“If I know Artie he's been at Liz’s baking again.” Bea said as she followed Allie upstairs. 

“There's nothing wrong with her baking. I can't see how that could make him…” 

“I wasn't implying there was.” Bea smiled. “I mean that where her baking is concerned he can even outdo Deb. Believe me, I watched him eat his way through a whole fruit cake once. Between us though he had an awful stomach ache afterwards.”

Allie laughed as she was going to her room to get changed. “Where are you going?” Bea asked as she caught her hand.

“To get changed, I thought we were still going out.” Allie sounded surprised by the question.

“We are, but you aren't leaving the house without a coat and the one you've been wearing is soaked.” Bea replied as she pulled Allie into her room with her.

She moved over to the large ornately carved wardrobe which almost covered the entire wall. “Don't even think for one second that I'm going to take no for an answer. If you argue with me I'll stay in.” Allie almost swooned in delight when Bea produced the most wonderful coat she had ever set eyes on. It was a deep russet shade, similar to that of a ripe autumn apple, made in soft wool with a pale apricot fur collar and cuffs. She tried it on in front of the long wardrobe mirror and it looked fabulous. She turned to Bea, her eyes shining. “Bea its lovely but I can't accept it. It must have cost a small fortune….”

Bea didn't let her finish as she held her hand up. “Shush now. I want you to have it, if it makes you feel any better its only cluttering up my wardrobe. I told you mother and father were always buying things for me. Most of them I'd leave here because I couldn't take them back home. And trust me there are only so many excuses you can make for not taking things home. If it benefited Harry I could get away with it, if not then I'd get William to sneak it up here.” She bent down and pulled out a shoebox. “These are the matching shoes and the handbags in here somewhere.” She pulled the shoes from the box that were the same russet colour and after a few minutes produced the matching handbag. The shoes fitted like a glove and Allie preened herself in the mirror, turning first one way then the other. Bea smiled brightly as she watched her, she looked so elegant.

Bea looked back nervously at her, something was burning in her mind, something that had been there since the day they moved into the house. So far she always ended up sleeping in Allies room, she wanted that to change; she wanted a lot of things to change. She sat on the edge of the bed in silence for a few moments. “Go and get changed or we'll never leave the house.” The silence again hung in the air like a thick fog for a few seconds before Allie turned to leave. “Allie.” Bea said softly. “I think I'd like it if you stayed in here with me tonight. Your rooms fine but this bed is comfier…if that's alright with you.” She closed her eyes right before Allie ran from the room with the coat over her arm. Liz was out in the hall and she looked at her in surprise. Her eyes opened wide when she saw what she was holding. “Well now aren't you just going to look like a film star?” She beamed.

 


They walked together side by side eating their fish and chips out of their newspaper wrappers as they walked towards the picture house. Bea had tried to convince Allie to let her pay but she'd shook her head and pushed in front of her in the queue. 

“We could have gone to a proper fish restaurant.” Bea said before blowing on a chip.

“This is all part of the fun.” Allie smiled. “Did you know the first chip shop in London was opened in the 1860s by Joseph Malin?”

“You read too much.” Bea laughed. Eating her dinner out of newspaper hadn't seemed like the greatest idea ever invented but she had to admit she was starting to warm to it.

They saw Waterloo Bridge and sat in the darkness their hands linked together. Since Bea had been young she'd always loved the picture house, of course Harry would never take her but as Debbie got a little older she'd take her whenever Franky gave her a Saturday morning off. Now she had every Saturday morning free and she could never find the time. She remembered as a child being hypnotised by the shaft of blue white light, watching the beam twisting and dancing in the dust and cigarette smoke before it hit the screen. Back then it's seemingly liquid luminescence had never failed to entrance and enthral her. Now Despite watching Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor on the screen Bea found it hard to concentrate. The storyline, as soon as Allie explained it to her, didn't sound like something she wanted to see. A young woman losing her job and having no other choice other than to turn to prostitution shouldn't be something Allie felt comfortable watching she'd thought. Relaxing was something Bea still found extremely hard to do and now she wasn't quite sure if it was Allies hand in hers or what they were watching that was making it hard. She hardly ever did anything for herself, Debbie was always her priority. Just for once she wanted things to be different, to be selfish. This was a treat for her from Allie. She might have said it was for her birthday but she thought now it was just so they had some time together in a setting where she should feel more comfortable. Right now in a room full of strangers with the exception of one she hardly felt comfortable. Allies arm pressing against hers was oddly sensual, it made her want to kiss her in the darkness but they were surrounded by so many people. She wished she could be wrapped up in her arms with her head nuzzled into her neck. Pushing the thoughts away she watched the film, wishing Vivien Leigh would vanish in a puff of smoke along with everyone in the audience. Tonight she wanted, needed the closeness of Allie more than she even needed air. 

It was raining heavily again as they stepped off the bus. The road glistened in the light of the moon, an effect she'd grown to loved since the blackout was introduced. She'd never regarded it exciting before. Maybe it was having Allie by her side that made it more hypnotic, maybe it was just the darkness and the sound of the rain bouncing off the pavement. Whatever it was she didn't want to let the night pass without making something memorable out of it. A tremor of excitement passed through her as she thought about things, her thoughts seemed to hang on with every step they took closer to the house. 

Can you really do this?
Remember you're still married.
Maybe she will walk away when you give her what she wants.
All is fair in love and war isn't it?
Harry was still missing although she suspected that she knew where he was. 
She had already fallen for Allie, knew she already loved her.
Maybe Allie felt the same?
 
Entering the house they both knew everyone else was already in bed and probably fast asleep. Reaching Beas bedroom door Bea summoned up all the courage to take the step that she knew, deep down, could lead to all sorts of possible complications before Allie spoke.

“Suppose this is where I leave you? Maybe I'll see you later?” She asked hopefully. She didn't want to leave her here, hated the thought of sleeping without Bea laying next to her. Nothing was going to change she thought. They'd probably carry on like this forever, holding hands in the darkness, stealing kisses when no one else was looking or they found themselves alone for a few minutes. Bea sneaking into her room before she fell asleep and more often than not being gone before she woke up. 

“I thought I asked you to stay with me tonight?” Bea said quietly before she dug a little deeper into her store of courage. “You can say no but I was hoping that you won't.” She said quickly and resolutely leaving herself no time to change her mind. She was looking at the floor now but she knew Allie was looking at her, trying to read her face to see exactly what she meant. 

“What about Debbie? Maybe she wouldn't like it?” Allie asked almost a little too quietly for Bea to hear her. 

“She's not here, and I don't think she'd be all that bothered. And I don't care what she wouldn't like. This isn't about her it's about us. She loves having you around, we can't hide from everyone else forever. Unless that's what you want. You aren't going to use Harry as an excuse are you? Because you know I was just something he picked up along the way to make himself look better.”

“Too bad for him then...I mean you don't deserve to be treated like that. I think I told you before that I think you need looking after.” Allie grinned.

“Yes, and I asked you if you were offering?” Bea looked up and smiled at her.

They lapsed into silence still standing outside Beas bedroom door. It was almost tangible, as if the thoughts and desires of each were reaching out to the other. At least that's what Bea was trying to believe. 

“Is this what you want?” Allie broke the silence.

Bea didn't answer, the door squeaked loudly as she pushed it open. She entered the darkened room, Allie only two steps behind her. Closing the door the light switch was right beside them but neither reached out for it. Bea was convinced that if she did perhaps Allie might disappear like in a dream. 

“Bea?” Allies chest was warm against her back. She snaked her arms around her and kissed her neck. “You will have to show me where we're going. It looks completely different in the dark.” 

Perhaps it was the fear of being caught, it was still her parents house, Liz and the three children were asleep a short distance away. She guessed since the entire house seemed to be in darkness and it was quite any guilt Bea had felt was banished by passion as they tumbled onto the bed. With each caress, each step of arousal, her body took over her mind. Every part of her tingled with sensation. Bea ran her fingers down Allies spine, caressed her stomach, kissed her more passionately than she ever though possible.

“Bea…Bea…stop, please.” Allie said breathlessly.

“I…I thought…” Bea mumbled against Allies neck before she allowed her head to flop back against the pillow. “You don't want me?” Bea asked scared that she'd just made a fool of herself. 

“I do…but not, not like this. You deserve better than this. I heard what she said…Marie. I don't want you to ever think that she was right. She isn't, I want everything with you but only when you're ready. I don't ever want you to feel that I pressured you into anything you aren't comfortable with. And I know you aren't ready.” Allie reached out and ran her fingers down Beas jaw. “It's easy to let myself get carried away and I promised myself I wouldn't so if you want to sleep by yourself I wouldn't blame you.”

Bea reached out, her hand finding its way to the back of Allies head pulling her in until their lips connected. “Get ready for bed.” Bea murmured against her lips. “Just don't take too long.”

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Allie woke up in the early hours of the morning feeling Bea trying to push her away. It quickly became apparent that she was dreaming and she guessed it was another bad one. Instinct told her to hold her tighter but Bea had warned her not to after the first time it happened. Slowly she moved away from her trying to give her a little more space, if she woke up in Allies arms because she wouldn't let her go she knew it had the potential to make Bea lash out even if she wasn't fully awake. Having bad dreams didn't happen often but Allie knew she'd never seemed to be trying to get away from anyone before. Maybe this was why she'd said she only bothered about Christmas for Debbie's sake.

Bea had fallen asleep snuggled up to Allie hoping that this year she wouldn't have that same recurring nightmare that had plagued her for years. The year before when she'd been alone it had plagued her sleep for three nights in a row. Harry hadn't been there but still he got in her head. And now it seemed as if she were reliving it again…..


Harry had dragged her into a car he'd borrowed from someone after knocking her out cold as Debbie still slept in her bed. When she finally came to and her eyes could focus she realised she was sitting next to a very silent Harry. She wondered how long they'd been sitting there as she looked out of the window and she held in a gasp. She knew where they were, Beachy Head was miles from London and at it's highest she new it was over a five hundred foot drop. Then she panicked, where was Debbie? Had he really left her alone? She glanced into the back seat, no Debbie. Her whole body froze, she was desperate to escape. Catch him off guard and make it back to their daughter somehow. Her fuzziness cleared a little more and the urge to run became stronger. She looked at Harry, his eyes were just staring out into the darkness, a film of sweat lightly coated his face and his hands were shaking. What the hell were they doing there? Who would lend him a car? And what were his intentions now? Every possible question was swimming round her head. They were at the top of the cliff and a few feet away was a very sheer drop to the bottom. A terrible thought occurred to her and she started to tremble. She closed her eyes and swallowed hard as she envisioned her body falling headlong into the sea. Was that his intention to throw her off? Shattering her body like a rotten apple when she finally hit the rocks at the bottom. Another car drove past and in the headlights she could pick out the deathly white features of Harry's face. The beam of light was gone too quickly, far to quickly for her to get the occupants attention. It crossed her mind for a moment as she watched him staring straight ahead that maybe he had forgotten why he'd brought her up there, maybe even forgotten that she was there. Slowly and silently she reached for the door handle she knew had to be there. For a moment it's location eluded her, it was an unfamiliar vehicle. She felt her way, determined for him not to see what she was trying to do. Her fingers finally touched something cold, the handle. She pulled on it and pushed open the door. She was out and running, fear propelling her legs faster at the sound of his running footsteps becoming closer. The tips of his fingers brushed her shoulder and she screamed. She was scared of the darkness that felt as if it were about to engulf her but she was afraid of Harry and the fact that the cliff face was so close. He got to her too quickly, his fingers gripped her shoulders as she stumbled and fell to her knees. Without warning he scooped her up as he laughed menacingly. Carrying her to the edge of the cliff. 


She woke abruptly from her sleep with the sensation of falling. At first she was too afraid to notice she wasn't alone, tears were already escaping her eyes when she heard Allies voice speaking softly to her, felt her arms wrapped tightly around her. Her hand dropped to her breast where she felt her heart thundering along like an express train. Anxiety fluttering through her whole body. 

“It didn't happen.” She whispered through her sobs. In reality he'd threatened her, told her what he could do, would do the next time she wasted his money on books. Threatened to take her to Beachy head and throw her off. She'd bit back her tears, bit back the need to tell him it had been her own money that she worked hard for that had been used to pay for them. It had been Christmas Eve when he'd found them and he'd gone to the pub like he usually would. Arrived home in the worse state she'd even seen him in and he still carried on drinking. He had knocked her out cold, the wall behind her being partly responsible. Threats she should always have known were the best he could come up with. A beating and a few carefully phrased words were all he'd ever had, the only thing he could keep her inline with. Bea as he'd always known was far too headstrong for her own good, except he'd beaten that out of her a long time ago. 

“I'm sorry.” Bea whispered into the darkness when she quickly remembered it was Allie who was next to her.

“You don't have to be.” Allie answered as she reached out her hand and found Beas easily in the blackness. “You won't scare me away that easily.”

They lay in silence for few minutes before Bea eventually took her courage in both hands. She reached out and brought their lips together. Allie didn't care that she'd been woken from her sleep. The only thing that mattered to her was that Bea was alright, that she knew she was safe. 

A little later as Allie held her her face became serious even though she knew Bea couldn't see her. “You're very brave you know.”

Bea looked into darkness where she knew Allie was laying in surprise. Brave was not a word she would ever use to describe herself. “I don't think…” she began

Allie Curled her arms around her a little tighter. “You've been through so much. It takes courage to survive that. To keep Debbie safe and now to try and make a better life for the two of you.”

“Three.” Bea corrected. “I intend to make a better life for the three of us. You're part of this too….if you want to be.” Her voice trailed off into a whisper.

“You know I do. I also don't want to make things difficult for you.” Allie sighed. “Not everyone would be happy about this, about us.” 

“To hell with the lot of them.” Bea smiled. “Deb loves having you around, you've done more for her since we met than her father has her whole life.” On sudden impulse Bea wriggled her arms free and turned her body. Cupping Allies face in her hands she kissed her more passionately than ever before. The words she wanted to say were burning in her mind but right now she had to put them aside. After Allie had witnessed another nightmare without asking for any explanation the time was still not quite right. 

“Go back to sleep” Allie whispered after she found catching her breath less of a problem. “I'll still be here in the morning.”

Bea closed her eyes, but Allie couldn't. It was too early to get up and the possibility of waking someone else up if she headed for the kitchen was high. Debbie was already over excited for the prospect of what might be waiting for her on Christmas morning. If she heard anyone moving around in the dark, it only being Christmas Eve would be forgotten and she'd most likely creep out of her room. Allie lay in bed for another twenty minutes before she got up. Pulling open one of the heavy curtains at the window the light from the moon that was still high in the sky flooded in filling the room with its milky glow. Allie sat in the chair beside the bed, in the half light she watched as Beas chest rose and fell, her lips parting slightly with each breath. 

The position Bea had moved her arms into now she was alone in her bed, her fingers held close to her mouth gave the impression she were about to suck her thumb. Allie was mesmerised by her breathing, the gentle rise and fall of her chest, her parted lips, her smooth complexion. She was at the mercy of the woman who lay in front of her. Her eyes followed the curve of her shoulders, the narrowing of her waist, the sumptuous curve of her hips. She hated how that pig of her so called husband had treated her. She wanted more than anything to show her how it could be but sometimes she was too afraid to even touch her for fear of bringing back a bad memory. Bea should know and experience real passion at least once in her lifetime she had decided before she had even known about Harry. Her red hair glowed like a fire against the pillow. Everything had entranced her from the moment they met, her smoky voice had filled her ears and had played on repeat inside her head until she saw her again. Now here she was sitting by her bedside after untangling herself from the most beautiful women she thought she'd ever set eyes on. Marie kept coming back to haunt her. If she didn't stop all this nonsense how long would it be before Bea had had enough and threw her out she wondered to herself. She'd had enough bad things in her life she didn't need the problems that she had dragged along with her. After the first time Marie had showed up she'd been certain Bea would ask her to leave. Then on their way back from the east end, Allie heard almost every word she'd said to Bea. Now she wished she had been honest with Bea earlier. It was easy to stop what was happening, give her an easy excuse. It was a half lie and she knew it but Bea had accepted it without question. Allie guessed now after her nightmare she might be convinced that Allie was right. The truth she had to admit to herself was that she was petrified that everything Marie had said about her could be true no matter how badly she knew she wanted everything they had together. 


Eventually it became too cold to sit in the chair and she got back in bed after pulling the curtain closed again. Laying down Bea gravitated towards her wrapping an arm around her and pulling her closer. When Bea woke up Allie was still laying beside her with her eyes closed at least giving her the impression that she was still asleep. Propping herself up on her elbow Bea looked down at her, her heart leapt into her mouth. She looked so beautiful laying there, her cheeks slightly pink and a few strands of her hair covering her face. Her first inclination was to lean down and place a kiss on her lips. A resonant snore quickly changed her mind. Smiling Bea noticed a feather poking out from the pillowcase, she gently pulled it free and carefully brushed it down her nose and over her lips. Allie suddenly snorted and grabbed Beas shoulders. “Who's been eating my porridge?” She giggled. 

Laughing, Bea flopped down next to her. “You were pretending, you cheat.”

“And you fell for it. You're so gullible. How can you call me a cheat?” Allie sounded a little surprised as she adopted a petulant expression, Bea knew she was only joking though.

“You are a cheat, you were pretending even though you woke up before I did.” 

Allie grinned. “That's not cheating though, that feather was.”

Bea smiled triumphantly. “It was a good idea though.”

“I completely agree with you.” Allie said as she pushed herself up onto her elbow before leaning down and kissing her so hard Bea had to push her off in order to catch her breath. Between kissing her throat and nipping her ear Allie mumbled something about them having to get up before Liz went out to do the last minute shopping that needed to be done. 

“Do you think Juice will have got her hands on what we asked her for?” Bea asked. “Franky didn't mind did she?” 

“No, Juice was getting something for her. As long as Liz remembers to go round to the back she'll be fine, anyone knocking on the cafe door she said she was going to ignore. I'm still surprised she's keeping the cafe closed. I know she wanted to see Bridget but it's Christmas Eve, she's not one to pass up earning a little more. And she's always so hands on, she doesn't just sit around all day.”

“She is…hands on…you think…that's…the same…as what you are?” Bea gasped in a broken sentence, half closing her eyes in ecstasy as the thumb of one of Allies hands drew steadily decreasing circles around her nipple. 

“I don't know.” She murmured as her head fell to her breast. “Wouldn't be a surprise though would it?” She grinned before kissing each nipple and tracing her thumb over the sensitive tips. 

Bea lay back, her breathing coming in short, sharp gasps and low moans interspersed with shaky words trying to remind Allie that they needed to get out of bed. 

“What did you say?” Allie asked as she looked up at her face.

“Nothing, not really.”

“Right!” Allie smiled. “So we better get up…we can continue this later, if you still want to.” She whispered. After hours of laying awake she'd decided that it didn't matter what Marie had said, that wasn't who she was. It wasn't who she'd ever been and she needed to stop her vindictive words from trying to convince her otherwise. Marie was angry that she'd lost the money Allie made her, although she was quite certain she'd have already replaced her most probably with someone younger.

“I wish we didn't have to.” Bea sighed as she looked up into Allies face.

“But we must.” Allie quickly replied as she wrinkled up her nose as she glanced at the door. “Never know when we might have company.” Debbie was never known for bursting into Beas room but it was Christmas Eve and both her and Sophie were already excited. Anything was possible they both decided without voicing their thoughts. Not that either of them made much of an effort to get out of bed.

 

 

Liz had gone out to do the remainder of the shopping a little earlier than was usual. Debbie and Sophie had decided to go with her since neither Bea or Allie had made it down stairs for breakfast. Artie had made plans to play football with his friends and had wolfed down a slice of toast before stuffing an apple in one pocket and an orange in the other. 

“Made a miraculous recovery have you?” Liz had joked as he'd run out of the door waving to her.

Bea followed Allie into the now extremely quiet kitchen as she sat at the table she watched Allie move easily round the kitchen. Since everyone else had already gone out getting out of bed now seemed like it had been a waste of time.

“Did Franky have an actual reason for closing the cafe all day today? Apart from seeing Bridget, why she thinks we don't all know is beyond me.” Bea asked knowing how out of character it was, closing any day but Sunday was highly unusual.

“She said that she didn't fancy the stampede that she had last year. But really it's the only chance she's had to see Bridget all week. She nipped in for all of ten minutes last week and she said she's been really busy at the hospital.” Allie explained as she made the tea. “I did tell her I'd open up and that I'd be fine on my own but she wouldn't have any of it. Said I should stay here.” She shrugged. “I don't know why she's keeping it all so secret either. And Liz will be there around lunch time so I don't see the point, she's coming back here with them. Hardly seems worth all the bother of keeping her secret, you think we really can keep tomorrow a secret from Franky?”

“There are only three of us who know about it, I'm surprised she hasn't worked out that we've been planning something though. I think she's trying to keep Bridget a secret because it is unusual for her to keep anyone around for more than a week, I thought I told you that. Must be love this time.” Bea laughed because it seemed strange that they could both find themselves that lucky.

Bea sat looking Allie up and down. She was wearing the green woollen dress that she'd bought not long after she'd started working for Franky. She had an air of self satisfaction about her that morning as she busied herself getting their breakfast.

“You're certain she can make it for lunch tomorrow?” Bea asked hoping Franky wasn't going to be angry with them for keeping it secret. The more she thought about it though Franky couldn't be mad with either of them when she'd been keeping their relationship a secret. 

“She said she wouldn't miss it for the world. Her family left the country, went to Canada or someplace like that and she wasn't looking forward to spending the day alone again. Unless we have a bad raid and she's needed she's got the whole day off.” 

“You certainly make a very capable housewife.” Bea grinned as she watched her.

“I do my best.” Allie grinned back at her as she placed the teapot on the table. “Only I haven't been doing it for very long so maybe I still need a few pointers here and there.”

She returned to the table few minutes later with the toast neatly arranged in the toast rack.

“Come here.” Bea smiled as she walked around the table before she gently pulled her into her lap. “I don't think you'll ever need any pointers. You seem to be doing just fine as you are, as long as you never pick up any of Franky's bad habits that is.” 

“The toast will get cold, you hate cold toast.” Allie tried to protest before she felt Beas lips on hers. 

“I never want you to leave us, Debbie loves having you here almost as much as I do.”

“Never?” Allie asked hardly believing that anyone could ever want her around, no one ever had before.

“I used to think you were too good to be true, now I know I was wrong. You're just too good for me. I'll never understand what you see in me, why you stick around when you could be with someone who doesn't have a husband who was too ready with his fists. Who doesn't have a daughter and can't just drop everything when you want a night out.” 

Allie turned slightly and threw her arms around her neck, her eyes were full of tears before she managed to get a word out. “You're the one who's too good for me, I come from the east end, grew up in the slums and got passed onto a woman who made me do things I hated. I spent time living on the streets, found a bed for the night if I could afford it and then I met you. You always put everyone else first, even me and I don't deserve that. I love you and I love Debbie. And just so we're quite clear on this, I don't ever feel like you should just drop everything for a night out because I'm where I want to be.”

Bea looked back at her with tears in her own eyes. At eyes as blue as the trees on a willow pattern plate, at her kind mouth that never uttered an angry word at her and smiled so brightly she thought even the sun would have a hard time competing with it. Her breath felt tight in her chest because it was her who really didn't know how she ever got so lucky. Why Allie wanted to take a chance on someone who still had such a complicated life.

“Your toast.” Allie said quietly as she placed her hand on Beas arm. 

Her touch Bea thought was always warm and so unbelievably pleasant. Her voice was always so irresistible, from the first moment she'd sat across from her at her desk her eyes and her voice had been the two things she'd found so hard to forget. Allie had never needed to try and impress her everything about her was already impressive. 

“I don't care about the toast.” Bea said almost inaudibly before she shook her head, she had something she needed to say and if she didn't say it now she though either her head or her heart might explode, she wasn't sure which. “I love you.” 

Time between them suddenly seemed to stand still. Allie sat still in her lap, almost spellbound, the rest of the world appeared to no longer be of any consequence. She felt like an island but she wasn't alone anymore. No one had told her they loved her for years, at least no one who'd meant it. She'd asked her if she believed in love at first sight and never received an answer. She looked into brown eyes as deep and intoxicating as champagne, bubbling with hazing richness and expensive taste and all her fears melted away. “I've loved you from the very first moment I saw you.” 

 

 

Christmas was always meant to be the season of feasting and merriment. Everywhere there were queues. At the bakers, the greengrocers and worse still for most people the butchers. A few people would be lucky to have their own chickens, Bea was no stranger to keeping chickens but she'd prefer to keep them just for the eggs for as long as she could. Since it was Christmas Eve Liz knew that especially at the butchers there'd be very little left except for sausages and she needed those so even if she didn't want to have to spend time in that particular queue she knew she didn't have any real say in the matter. 

“Will Father Christmas still have chocolate this year?” Debbie asked as she waited patiently with Sophie and Liz, unlike Artie they never complained about waiting.

“I think he just might.” Liz nodded and smiled at her. “Maybe not quite as much as last year but I think he'll have some put by.” 

Shopping done they eventually made their way to cafe where Franky was waiting for them with two huge raffia sacks both full to the brim. Juice had out done herself this time. Everyone knew the penalties for dealing in black market goods were high. Juice was always careful, she didn't sell to just anyone and so far not one complaint had been sent to the ministry of food about her that needed investigation. Franky could find herself up to her neck in it since she was no stranger to allowing her space to store certain items, mainly cigarettes and alcohol. Neither were rationed but they weren't always easy to get hold of. A fine of £500 or two years in prison still had never been enough to put either of them off. 

“Should be more than enough for a real feast.” Franky grinned as she pulled on her coat. “Everything you asked for plus a few little extras.” She winked at Liz. 

Everyone who was important to Bea in some way would be spending Christmas with them. Boomer was on shift at the ambulance station until Christmas morning but she would go straight from work when she finished at six o'clock. Maxine had argued that they wouldn't want her there on Christmas Eve but Bea had finally managed to convince her that they had enough room. Bea told her she'd spent Christmas on her own for far too long, something she couldn't deny. 

Almost as soon as Liz arrived back at the house she busied herself with last minute cleaning that Bea had already told her was unnecessary. She cleaned all the downstairs windows at the front of the house outside with warm water and soft chamois, scrubbed the black and while tiles of the porch and polished the brass door handles. When she'd finished she stood back and surveyed what she'd done. She was particularly pleased with the tiles, the wet weather and muddy shoes the younger members of the house always seemed to have had turned them into something quite unrecognisable. 

Bea and Allie had spent the whole afternoon with Debbie and Sophie decorating the Christmas tree, making paper chains and now it seemed like a whole village of cardboard cut out houses had been decorated as well. Together with what ever else they could find the whole sitting room, dining room and hallway certainly looked like the spirit of Christmas had descended upon the house in huge buckets full. 

Dinner that evening had been more of a light snack, smoked haddock with a huge pile of bread and butter had been enough to go around though. As darkness had fallen a generous fire had been lit in the grate in the sitting room, the curtains were drawn and the soft lamplight threw an amber glow over the walls. Bea, Allie and Debbie sat together on one of the sofas with Debbie in the middle insisting that they both had to be close to her. Sophie and Artie were sitting on the floor in front of the fire trying to guess what might be waiting for them the next morning. Liz and Maxine were quietly talking about something, falling into silence every now and again as they both looked over at Bea. Franky had finally joined them after hours of being in the kitchen. Mince pies, Franky had been overheard saying, were one of the things that made Christmas really feel like Christmas. Making her own mincemeat was one thing she'd always done since learning how to make it and Juice had been a big help with the much needed dried fruit and suet that had seemed almost impossible to get in the quantities she needed. 

This was already turning out to be better than any Christmas Bea remembered since she got married. She hadn't even noticed when Liz and Franky left the room. Returning a little later Liz brought in a tray filled with mugs of steaming hot Ovaltine. Franky carried another filled with bread and butter and homemade strawberry and damson jams. The bread was all homemade courtesy of her efforts earlier in the day. Debbie was staring wide eyed at the trays as they were placed on the two end tables that Franky had pulled together before she went to the kitchen. Her eyes were so much brighter than they'd ever been on any Christmas Eve they'd had before. Bea regretted not being able to take her away from a home that had always been filled with so much anger. This one Christmas would never be able to make up for every miserable one they'd shared but she had come to a decision about what she intended to do once Harry was found. It was something that would take time but she had that and as long as Allie was there she'd get through it.

After everything was eaten and drunk Bea and Allie cleared everything away after strong protest from Liz. Artie was quietly reading through his collection of newspaper cuttings by the fire and Debbie and Sophie were attempting to put together one of many old jigsaw puzzles they'd found in the play room. Liz was dozing in an armchair by the fire much the same as she did every evening and both Franky and Maxine had already excused themselves and gone to bed.

Allie watched Bea as her eyelids flickered and her eyelashes fluttered in response to her thoughts. Watching her had fast become her favourite pass time, it didn't matter what she was doing. She loved to watch her when she was doing the crossword in the newspaper when they were sitting quietly in the evenings. The way her expression changed when she was thinking, each thought would be quickly perused and then put to one side as she moved onto the next. This evening she seemed a little different, a little happier. With each new thought, each new question she silently asked herself the answer it seemed was quickly found because this was the rest of her life she was planning. Tomorrow would be the start of a whole new happy adventure, past Christmases would be forgotten. Put away in a place where they could gather dust. Tomorrow would be bright and new, more importantly tomorrow would be happy.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Bea woke up in a sudden panic but she didn't open her eyes for fear of who she might see. Her internal clock, that she knew could generally be relied upon, told her that it must be around one in the morning. She had completely forgotten that she'd been waiting for Allie to crawl into bed with her after the house had grown completely quite, she hadn't meant to fall asleep. Maybe it had just been all the fun they'd had. Decorating the house had tired her out probably, she'd decided, because it was the one thing she'd never really done before. Her instincts told her there was someone in the room. She heard it again, a hesitant sound that had originally woken her up. What was it? A footstep? Her mind whirled with every possibility. Harry? Had he found a way into the house? It couldn't be he wasn't that smart, picking a lock was hardly his style, breaking a window was and that wouldn't have only woken her up. She was certain Franky would be on high alert since she'd often told her she always found it hard to sleep in a strange place. He wasn't the type to scale a drainpipe either, that would require effort and she knew Liz always checked every window in the house every evening when they were getting ready for the blackout. Some rooms never even had to be checked if they hadn't used them, the windows would remain locked and the curtains drawn. She heard another sound, a soft thud as if someone had sat in the chair that sat close to the bed. She kept her breathing soft and shallow and as regular as she could. A haze flicked over her closed eyelids. Was that a torch? She heard a soft sigh and her eyes flew open searching the darkness to her side.

“Allie.” She said with a hesitant breathy laugh. Of course it was Allie, but she was later than she thought she should have been.

Allie laughed lightly and shone the torch on Beas face again and then on her own. “I'm sorry I fell asleep and apparently so did you. But at least you're awake now, I thought you might lay there snoring all night.”

Bea sat up. “I do not snore.” She said indignantly. 

“Sure you don't, anyway how would you know if you're already asleep?” Allie asked as she got to her feet. “Do you really want to have a conversation about snoring?”

“No, maybe I'd rather find out how quickly you can get from right there to here.” She flung back the covers and patted the empty space she'd just made as she scooted over to the cold side of the bed. Allie laughed again as she slid in beside her pulling up the covers as she shivered a little. In the darkness Allie used her fingertips to find her lips before covering them softly with her own. 

“I really didn't mean to fall asleep, I heard Liz moving around and I…”

Bea pulled her down under the covers with her and gently pulled her close.

“I don't think all this sneaking around is healthy for anyone.” Bea whispered into Allies hair.

“And you have a solution to that I suppose?” Allie smiled to herself.

“I do, you just move in here.” Bea answered without any hesitation.

“But Debbie…” Allie tried to protest but was almost instantly silenced by Beas lips on hers.

“She already shares a room.” Bea said almost proudly.

“She shares a room with her best friend and they have two single beds. How do we explain us sharing one bed?” Allie asked, she'd move into Beas room in a heartbeat but didn't want her to have to try and answer any awkward questions that Debbie might have. Bea did sometimes have difficulty answering questions under Debbie's close scrutiny and she'd seen that a handful of times. 

“It's only a matter of time before she walks in here one morning and finds you here. You don't think that would be a little more difficult to explain?” 

“As long as it didn't happen every morning no. We could just say that we're talking about something and we fell asleep. Give me one perfectly plausible explanation as to why we not only share a room but a bed as well. And the seven year old easy to understand version if you please.” Allie giggled.

“Easy.” Bea shrugged slightly. “We like to stay up talking late and besides that we get cold in the night. Or we could just say that you get scared being in this creaky old house and you don't want to be alone. Or we could say that the air raid sirens when they go off in the middle of the night scare you.” Bea grinned as she reached out and brushed her fingers over Allies lips.

“Oh so I'm the only one who gets scared?” Allie asked as she felt Beas fingers brush her cheek.
Allie had only intended to slip into bed beside Bea when she'd first woken up, the temptation to wake her up was too much when she tried to silently close the door behind herself. They had spent the whole day together doing things that made her feel like she was part of a family, part of something that she'd always doubted she'd ever have. 

“We can hardly tell her the truth, at least not right now, and you did ask for the seven year old version.” Bea whispered with a shaky breath. She trailed her fingers softly over Allies shoulder and down her arm retracing their initial path until they reached the back of her neck before their lips met again. 

Allie tried to resist the temptation to deepen the kiss but the second she felt Beas fingers in her hair her own trailed a path from Beas hip where they had been resting tentatively up her spine and into soft curls. Bea pulled her closer and Allies resolve to take things a little more steadily shattered. All she could concentrate on was the feel of soft lips on hers and the way their chests met. Something had changed between them but thinking about it just wasn't going to be possible anytime soon, any rational thoughts she might have had before had been scattered like dust in the wind. The parting of their lips was sudden but welcomed for a brief few minutes as Allie tried to reassemble her thoughts.

“I think you've thought about this more than you want to admit.” Allie said still a little breathlessly.

“Can you honestly say you haven't?” Bea asked as she mindlessly trailed her fingers softly up and down the length of Allies back.

“You already know the answer to that you barmpot.” Allie shivered slightly as she felt Beas fingers trail down her back one last time before she ran them down the outside of her thigh. 

“You've been around Boomer a little too much I think.” Bea smiled. “You aren't cold are you?”

“Definitely not cold…maybe a little too warm.” Allie laughed lightly wondering why the hell a certain other person out there in the world had never loved her in the way she now did. The way she would for the rest of their lives if they were lucky enough to have that much time together. Bea had said it herself that no one could possibly know just how much time they had before their luck ran out. Allie had said that if it was the same luck that had led them to each other then it never would run out but Bea would always be more sceptical than Allie. “We should get some sleep.” Allie tried unsuccessfully to change the subject. Bea seemed to have had absolutely no idea what she was doing to her and sleep now would be hard to come by but she knew they had to try. 

“But I'm not even slightly sleepy.” Bea ran her fingers through Allies hair. “Have I ever told you how much I love your hair?” She asked as she snuggled in closer. “The first time I saw you all I really remembered were your eyes and your hair, you blew me away I think.”

“You hid it well.” Allie sighed wishing she'd known then that her dreams would come true.

“Well not anymore, you deserve to be loved.” 

Bea could feel Allies chest moving against hers as she let out a shaky laugh. “You think so?”

“You are lovable.” Bea breathed as her lips ghosted over Allies. 

“Well you would be if it wasn't for that horrendous snoring.” Allie laughed as Bea gave her arm a playful slap.

“Take that back.” Bea huffed.

“I would if it wasn't the truth.” Allie mumbled as she nuzzled her face into the crook of Beas neck. “But I can live with it because I love you too much to let such a little thing drive me away.”

They finally lay side by side entwined in each other's arms falling asleep not long after.
When Bea woke up again a little before five Allie was gone. Suddenly she hated waking up alone, it wasn't a relief to find Allie no longer there it was almost torture. Her nights of wishing Harry would vanish never to be heard from again had been over for a while. He was still out there she knew that but he couldn't get under her skin as much as he once had. If he did come back he'd be a wanted man by the army, and even the local police wouldn't want to have a deserter in their midsts. Someone was hiding him and after their run ins with both Jake Stewart and Marie Winter she thought she knew who. Why Marie would come back for Allie she wasn't sure, she'd left her months before they even met. Allie had never mentioned her trying to force her to go back then and in Soho she would have been easy to find. If she put two and two together it always would come back to Harry, the husband who never let her be happy when he was around and it seemed would still have other people to do his dirty work for him now. He wasn't going to win she had already decided that, one way or another either she'd find him first or the police would. He'd be court-martialled and then who knew what his punishment would be? They didn't actually shoot men for desertion anymore but she could still dream that they would. Bea knew instinctively that the next few days had the chance of changing her life forever. She wasn't quite sure why she felt like that she just knew that she did, and it wasn't even in the slightest a displeasing thought. She'd already made plans for after the new year, she hadn't told anyone not even Allie. Not knowing where she would stand really was the one thing that was stopping her, that and not wanting to spoil Christmas for anyone. As she stretched out she decided that for at least the next two days she wouldn't give it any more thought. There was hardly any point in worrying about something unnecessarily, and Allie was just a little too in tune with her moods; forgetting about it couldn't be called dishonesty. 

Churchill, she told herself, had cited the importance of Christmas celebrations in his recent speeches. He had said that it was good for morale after the heavy bombing they had suffered but morale wasn't in short supply, she saw that everyday. A couple of days spent with family and friends would help to forget about the sacrifices they all had to make and the unpleasantness of the war. A couple of days spent with the most important people and not having to worry about food shortages could do wonders for everyone. The war was starting to feel like it had already been going on for too long, except the longer it kept some people out of her hair she wouldn't care if it lasted for years. It seemed inconceivable now that she'd ever battled with insomnia, that she'd ever felt unable to eat. She didn't spend her days filled with fearful anxiety that Harry could return home on leave. It had seemed a stupid worry when in the first six months he'd never materialised. She knew people who's husbands and sons had been home on leave before they were shipped off but Harry had never once shown up. After she found herself alone, even through the few bad times she'd had the resilience of her friends, her surrogate family, had always helped her pull through. Helped her find that little extra inner strength to push through whatever problems she was having. Now she had Allie and nothing could ever make life so bad with her by her side. She was the first person she wanted to hear a whispered good morning from and the last person she wanted to say goodnight to before she closed her eyes. 

As she pulled back the heavy curtains the sky hung grey and heavy as if it were threatening an untold blizzard. She doubted they would see any snow this Christmas, there had been plenty of rain and fog that had hung around for the last few days but nothing gave the impression that snow was truly imminent. She stopped outside Allies door but decided it was for the best to just leave her be for now. She had seemed a little worried about Debbie finding them in the same bed and Bea had tried to make her feel less troubled by it, in hindsight maybe giving her less serious answers hadn't been the best idea. It was a conversation they needed to have but this morning it was going to have to wait. Bea had made her first job of the morning lighting the fires in the sitting room, dining room and study. Now the whole house seemed warm and full of real Christmas cheer. The cardboard cutouts Debbie and Sophie had worked so hard on looked amazing and Artie’s Father Christmas came a close second. The paper chains, Christmas tree and the greenery that had been cut from the garden contributed to the look, the feel and the smell of the place. It also didn't hurt that there was still a distinct aroma of mince pies still hanging in the air. She didn't want Liz to do everything, Christmas Day she had decided should be for all of them and even if it caused a slight disagreement Bea was determined to help out with the cooking. Juice really had come across with the goods she thought when she took a look at the turkey with fresh eyes that morning before heading out to the workshop to bring in the presents that Liz had thoughtfully helped out wrapping and hiding. The old workshop was always locked and an old thick blanket had been hung over the window while Colin was there because of the blackout and his unwillingness to stop work in spite of it. She neatly arranged everything in the sitting room before she returned to the kitchen, Boomer would be there very soon and after a long shift at the ambulance station maybe a nap after breakfast would do her the power of good.

Allie walked into the kitchen washed and dressed in a long skirted yellow dress with a delicate flower print and while cardigan pulled around her shoulders. Bea as ever looked smart she thought, maybe even more beautiful if that were even possible. It wasn't often she'd seen her in trousers but in the blue pinstriped wide leg trousers and white blouse she was wearing she had to admit that maybe she did. Of course she knew that it never mattered really what she was wearing, everything she ever saw her in was always immaculately pressed and fitted perfectly. She had her back to Allie as she peeled carrots. Bea might not have heard her make her way down the staircase but she knew she was there even before she felt her slender arms wind their way round her waist. Allie bit her lip and silently cursed herself when she felt Bea tense up for the briefest of moments before she heard her sigh. It didn't take a genius to know when they heard a sigh of contentment.

“That turkey smells good, but you smell better.” Allie whispered before trailing soft kisses down the side of her neck.

Bea laughed a little. “It's only just gone in I'm sure you can't smell anything yet. It was extremely nice of Juice to offer us one. It's a little bigger than we need but I'm sure we'll easily make use of the leftovers.”

Bea dropped the knife that she was holding in one hand and the carrot that was in the other and slowly turned around in the arms that encircled her. Hooking her arms around Allies neck she pressed her lips softly against hers. This felt like the one thing Christmas had been missing for far too long, just Allies presence made everything feel right; everything complete.

“Shall I make a start on the sprouts for you?” Allie asked as she turned her head slightly to look at the large raffia sack that she saw sitting beside them. She could hardly believe her eyes when Franky and Liz had been unpacking everything from the two sacks. “I really don't know how Juice gets her hands on half of this stuff.” 

“I don't think anyone really wants to know.” Bea said quietly. The turkey had been wrapped up so well in one of the sacks that no one could even guess what it was, not even Franky and she knew it was in there. “But would you really want the whole of London knowing that we have everything for the merriest Christmas ever? This probably will be the last Christmas for a while that we have anything like this though. I'm in no doubt that even Juice will find the shortages biting before too long.” Bea read the newspapers and listened to the news more avidly than even Artie did. She knew this wouldn't end in the next few months. Juice would probably get caught out one day and even if the bombs did stop falling life would remain forever changed. 

A loud knocking on the door and Franky's voice echoing down the hall was enough to drag Beas thoughts back to what she had told herself she should be doing except Allie seemed to have no intention of letting her go just yet.

“You can both leave everything to Franky and me.” Liz chuckled as she walked into the kitchen, not batting an eyelid when she saw Allie with her arms still firmly around Bea.

“You can't do it all, it's only fair…” Bea started saying but stopped when she turned her head and saw the expression Liz was now wearing. 

“We told you both last night that we would do the cooking.”

“Fine.” Bea huffed, even though it would make a change from doing it she'd done it for so long that she saw no reason for her not to help. “But if your refusing my help I say we have a sherry first.”

“Before breakfast?” Allie asked shocked as she now stood at Beas side.

“It's Christmas.” Bea laughed.

“Damn right.” Franky said as she sauntered into the kitchen quickly followed by Boomer who they all knew would never say no to a drink at any time of the day.

“By’eck its parky out this mornin’” Boomer chuckled. “Did tha mention a drink? Oh an Merry Christmas.” Boomer looked around the kitchen and scrunched her nose up. “No bairns? Father Christmas late or summat?” 

“They had a late night.” Liz laughed. “If you can't stay up past your bedtime on Christmas Eve then it's a sorry state of affairs.”

“Did I hear the mention of a pre breakfast sherry?” Maxine asked.

“Of course.” Bea answered. “I've heard absolutely nothing from upstairs and if they were awake we'd hear them.” She started walking out of the kitchen, stopping at the doorway she half turned around seeing Allie was the only one following her. “I said sherry, I wasn't meaning that awful cooking variety.”

Once they were all assembled in the study Bea quickly found the sherry glasses and a full bottle of sherry. Stopping she changed her mind, replacing the smaller glasses she got out the larger ones filled them and passed them out. 

Bea raised her glass in a toast. “Here's to a merry Christmas and a wonderful new year.”

Everyone but Allie downed the contents of their glasses in one go.

“In one go Al.” Boomer groaned. “Thats how it's done see.”

Allie did as she was told and grimaced as she swallowed. Everyone including Allie laughed as Bea wrapped her arm around her shoulders. She could never quite work out how Allie had ever ended up where she had, most of the time she seemed way too timid to have gone along with it. But as she knew too well you'll do anything when your trying to stay alive.

 

 

“Sounds like their awake.” Liz said as she rolled her eyes. “I hear breakfast calling.” She chuckled as Franky, Boomer and Maxine followed her out of the study.

Bea took Allie by the hand and slumped down into one of the arm chairs, the same one they'd shared not too long ago, pulling her gently down into her lap. Neither of them spoke because words weren't needed right then as they were both lost to memories of what Christmas had been like for them a long time ago. Allie remembered her christmases as a child more fondly now than ever before because for years she'd stopped herself from thinking about how happy she once was. An apple and an orange with a small bar of chocolate carefully placed in the old stocking she hung every Christmas Eve meant everything to her because a lot of her friends would be lucky to get even one of those things. One year she'd wanted to make that bar of chocolate last as long as possible and had only eaten one small piece every week. Nothing could ever quite compare to being at her grandparents house, surrounded by so many people that even finding the space to breath somehow at times felt impossible. She'd always felt loved and that had been all that ever really mattered. She'd lived for the longest time believing that she'd never feel that way again but here she was safe and warm watching each thought or memory as it flashed through Beas eyes.

Bea couldn't quite remember why Christmas had felt so important when she was small. The details seemed to elude her. When did they open their presents? Did her parents have any special breakfast traditions? Did they even have a time they were allowed to go downstairs or did they just spring from their beds as soon as they opened their eyes? Time had flown by so fast and it seemed that every Christmas memory she had blurred with another, the only thing she really remembered was wanting to make the magical moments last as long as possible. She'd had no traditions for Christmas for Debbie and now she was determined to start some, she had already when she'd left the stockings the night before at the end of three beds. The excitement they could hear now was the end result of something so simple. They hadn't run down the stairs yet to find out if Father Christmas had left anything else, hadn't torn the paper off at lightning speed barely looking at what was hidden inside. The three of them had slept a little later thanks to a late night filled with Ovaltine and bread and jam. The light in Debbie's eyes had been full of wonder and excitement and she wondered now how long it would be before she rolled down the stairs in a fit of excitement.

Her only wish for both Debbie and Allie was that they'd both stop and savour every moment of the day. Sitting in front of the tree with the presents piled up in front of it. Feel the excitement as they wondered what was under that pretty paper, trying to guess what was hidden beneath it. Would Debbie even stop to play with one thing before she moved onto the next? She wouldn't believe in the existence of Father Christmas for much longer but while she still did she wanted to remember the pure joy and belief on her face that this year didn't have to remain hidden. She wanted her to see Christmas through a different lens, wanted them both to see it differently. Like a kaleidoscope, the picture would be just as beautiful when things shifted and she wanted them to see it all, to remember it and be happy. Even if it were just for a moment she'd love to see a seed of belief inside Allie that still begged her to believe that Father Christmas was real. To find the spirit of the season that had been lost to her for far too long and see it's true magic. This year would be the beginning of a new approach to Christmas. 

As they looked at each other now it seemed their thoughts were slowly starting to fall into sync even though they couldn't possibly know that. They both hoped Debbie would always remember what it felt like to fall asleep on Christmas Eve just like they had as children, desperately wanting to keep their eyes open in the hopes of seeing Father Christmas. Neither had ever managed it and always fell asleep through pure exhaustion. They both hoped she'd remember this year forever when in the frenzy of each moment she'd tear open her presents to discover the best thing she thought she'd ever been given. The twinkle of the lights on the tree would mesmerise all three of them as they sat and stared at them. They wanted to remember the looks on everyone's faces, wanted to see the possibilities for the future and for every Christmas that was to come.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Allie had quickly disentangled herself from Beas arms when they heard the first sounds of feet on the stairs moments before. Bea frowned as she almost jumped up, straightened her dress and pulled her cardigan snugly around her shoulders. It was annoying and frustrating that she'd move away from her the second Allie knew Debbie was in the vicinity. She understood why she did it but it made it no less frustrating. As much as she hated to think that Debbie could have witnessed Harry putting his hands on her she knew she must have, no matter how hard she tried to keep it hidden from her it was absurd to think that she had never witnessed so much as a slap. She'd heard him shouting at her, heard her crying; how many times had Debbie asked her why she was crying? She'd lost count, probably should never had tried to keep score. She told herself now that it should be better for Debbie to witness tenderness, to see that two people can love each other; that love should never be associated with anger and pain. That was never love, she'd been nothing more than one more accumulated possession, a trophy that he soon got tired of unless it was to use her as a punching bag. What Harry brought to the table wasn't love it was control. And she couldn't deny the facts that she knew, most people wouldn't accept them and would see their relationship as unnatural. After Allie had quickly shuffled off out of the study Bea got to her feet and flipped through her fathers records finding the one she wanted with ease. Her thoughts turned back to making this the best Christmas that she could. 

The sound of a the Christmas record she'd chosen wafted through the house from the study and Bea stopped outside the sitting room door to admire the Christmas tree that sat surrounded by presents. She walked slowly down the hallway towards the kitchen, enjoying the sound her heels made as they tapped against the parquet floor. She could hear Debbie and Sophie already chattering away to anyone who would listen and as she got closer it sounded as if Allie were the only one paying them any real attention. Liz and Maxine were making breakfast, Franky was peeling potatoes and Boomer looked like she may well fall asleep any second face first into the mug of tea she was still holding in both hands.

“Sounds as if we didn't need the music to get anyone in here in the Christmas spirit.” She laughed as Debbie turned her head and smiled brightly at her holding her stocking almost triumphantly in her hands. 

Bea leaned against the door frame watching the whole scene in front of her. Like every parent she guessed she found herself now struggling to understand where the few short years of Debbie's life had gone. She gazed at the three smaller members of the house and didn't doubt that not too long in the future Artie would tower over her and Debbie and Sophie wouldn't only be giggling about childish things when they eventually discovered that they didn't think boys were stupid after all. Seven years had passed so quickly that now it felt like she had been watching a picture projected on a screen in fast forward, right now she'd give anything for it all to slow to a more normal speed. Maybe even be reversed a little but with Harry being replaced by Allie a long time ago. As she glanced at Liz she found herself wondering if right at that particular moment in time they were both sharing the same thoughts. If they both wished that some kind of tape could be rewound and they could watch certain small segments of their children's lives be played over again but with a different setting. Allie turned and grinned at her like she was seeing Christmas suddenly in a whole new way and that got her thinking about why she used to love Christmas morning so much. Old family rituals had disappeared from both their lives and now it was time to start some of their own. Maybe every Christmas morning from now on would be like rolling back the clock a little because no matter how old Debbie got she would always see the young girl bursting with excitement that she was now witnessing.

“Mummy look.” Debbie's voice broke her train of thought as she pushed herself away from the door frame and moved to sit between Allie and Debbie at the table. Debbie hurriedly emptied the contents of the stocking that she had attached to the bottom of her bed the night before onto the table. Fruit and chocolate spilled out onto the table as the corners of her lips jumped even further upwards and her eyes sparked in the light. There could never be any better feeling she decided than seeing her so happy, creating something so unique and lasting from something so simple as acquiring a few bars of chocolate and some extra fruit. Seeing that smile be so freely offered was the most genuine reward in the world.

“I hate to spoil things.” Liz said as she turned her attention back to the table. “Breakfast is almost ready and we wouldn't want empty stomachs before we find out just how much hard work Father Christmas had to do here last night would we?” She smiled. 

Debbie quickly scooped all her haul back into her stocking with a little help from Sophie and hooked it onto the back of the chair. If this were any other Christmas morning she wouldn't have had anything that vaguely resembled a gift from Father Christmas this early in the day. Her ideas of what Christmas meant had been forced by her father and how much he chose to drink. And Bea would never dare give her anything that he deemed as unnecessary in his presence. This year everything was different, the house was full of people, no one was drunk around the breakfast table and everyone seemed happy. She didn't have to hide those bars of chocolate and she could only dream what else might be waiting for her.

A huge breakfast of bacon and eggs was served up with plenty of toast. Tea for the grown ups and milk for anyone who was still growing. The dishes would quickly be forgotten about and that made Debbie a little nervous when she saw the huge pile that was waiting to be washed. Bea would never dare leave even one single unwashed cup but she seemed not to care. Those thoughts quickly vanished when the pile of dishes was replaced by an eye watering pile of presents sat before the Christmas tree. Every Christmas that had ever gone before were soon like memories that didn't even belong to her once the wrapping paper was off. Books and art supplies were placed to one side to be used or read at a time when fun needed a boost or it was raining. And rain seemed to have been something that hadn't been in short supply. Baby dolls and rocking horses were naturally the centre of Debbie and Sophie's universes for the next two hours. Artie had a harder time when it came to his battle ships, aeroplanes and submarines. It seemed the worlds hardest decision to make when he eventually unwrapped his much wanted pair of binoculars and then a three foot sailing yacht fully rigged with while sails. Looking outside at the frost covered lawn he eventually had decided that staying in front of the fire was better than taking his chances at the park down by the pond. For the adults that year practical presents were all the rage and many gardening tools, books and packets of seeds had changed hands. Bea laughed when Franky informed her that one gardening magazine had recommended giving a bag of fertiliser as a gift. 

“I'm betting there are a lot of unhappy people this morning staring at a bag of something they least expected getting.” 

Allie had worried for days that she'd bought something Bea wouldn't even like. She'd told her so many times that the only thing she needed on Christmas morning was to see her smile. And she was reluctant to hand over the small box that she'd carefully wrapped. 

“This is for you.” Bea handed over a square present neatly wrapped in deep red tissue paper once almost everyone had returned to the kitchen. 

“I said I didn't need anything.” Allie grumbled, they had agreed that they wouldn't give each other anything but they both did what they agreed not to do. “Well since you didn't listen I may as well admit that neither did I.” Allie said as she handed over a much smaller but equally neatly wrapped gift. 

Allie hadn't expected to see the tears in Beas eyes after she carefully removed the paper and opened the box revealing a silver pen and pencil set that she'd had engraved with her initials.

“It was a stupid idea.” Allie mumbled as she looked out of the window. She'd regretted her choice almost as soon as she'd wrapped it but Bea was always the practical one and a practical gift had seemed like the right way to go when she'd first set eyes on it.

“No. No it wasn't.” Bea wiped away the tears that had settled in the corners of her eyes. “I think it's the most thoughtful present I've ever had. I love it.” Ever conscious of how Allie acted around Debbie when they were together she resisted the ever present temptation to reach out for her. To pull her close and try to wash her self doubts away. “Open it.” She urged as she gestured towards the box that Allie was still holding. 

Allie unceremoniously tore off the paper almost the same way Debbie had a little earlier. Pulling off the lid of the box it was Beas turn to feel apprehensive. She had worked tirelessly in her mothers sewing room under the eaves on Saturdays while Allie had been at work at the cafe. She'd planned, cut, snipped and sewn. Made her eyes hurt when the light had started to fade but refused to give up. She only stopped when Debbie had wandered up the narrow staircase to remind her to eat at lunch time or when either Debbie or Liz reminded her that Allie would be finishing work soon. Allies eyes brimmed with tears when she pulled out the most beautiful black beaded dress she thought she'd ever laid eyes on. She jumped off the sofa and held it against her body. Everything about it was just perfect. She loved the flared skirt that was midi length, unlined and made of a slightly sheer black crepe. An intricate black beaded sunburst design had been carefully hand stitched around the V neckline and the one side pocket. “This must have taken you hours, weeks even.” Allie beamed as she carefully placed it down on the sofa before taking both of Beas hands and gently pulled her up wrapping her arms around her. “Thank you, it's the nicest thing anyone ever gave me.” 

Bea wound her arms carefully around her waist and pulled her a little closer. “Maybe you could show me later if it actually fits.” She whispered in her ear. 

“Maybe I should make you wait until tomorrow.” Allie actually couldn't think of a better day to wear it although she supposed that trying it on wouldn't hurt. Neither of them even seemed to have registered that Debbie was still in the room, that her smile had increased in both size and brightness. She'd never witnessed anyone apart from her grandparents and uncles show that much affection towards her mother. It didn't seem strange that it was Allie because even after such a short time Debbie hardly remembered her not being there because she made her mother smile, made her laugh louder than even she could.

 

 

“We've still got an hour until lunch, two o'clock on the dot that's what we agreed.” Liz said as Boomer sat slouched at the table trying to keep herself awake. Allie had told her to go and lay down on her bed for a while, Bea and Liz had done the same but each time she refused.

“Better get them sprouts on na then.” Boomer joked. It never seemed to matter what life threw at her or how little sleep she'd had Boomer could always be relied upon to be full of good humour. 

Liz threw a tea towel in her direction in mock outrage. “Bloody cheek.” She chuckled. “I'll have you know I've had them boiling since Monday night.”

Everyone in the kitchen burst out laughing.

“Just admit it Booms you hate sprouts, you know you don't have to eat them?” Franky asked as she wiped her eyes. 

This was a day that Bea thought she may never live to see. Paper chains were now strung not only in the sitting room and dining room but also in the kitchen, a kitchen that was a hive of activity. Steam was belching out from under the saucepan lids as the potatoes and other vegetables were cooking. Liz and Franky both mopped their brows with the back of their hands. Boomer was helping out washing the dishes that had been left from breakfast. The smell of cooking was filling the whole house with every oven on the range being in use. The wireless was playing in the sitting room where Bea and Allie were still sitting. A man with a severe, clipped tone was wishing the listeners a Merry Christmas. 

“I hope for his poor family he sounds a lot merrier than that when he gets home.” Allie said making Bea laugh.

“How much longer until we eat?” Debbie asked as she threw herself down next to Allie on the sofa.

“We eat at two Deb, the same as we always have.” Bea replied as she watched her curl into Allies side. She'd noticed a pattern forming that she found amusing most of the time, whenever Bea told her something she didn't want to hear Debbie would always turn to Allie. She remembered doing something along the same lines when she was younger, whenever one of her parents said no she'd always turn to the other. It never changed what she was told, when one said no they both did, but she still tried. Debbie had never had that much attention from two people, Harry's attempts at showing her any affection for the most part were just to make Bea look bad. In his case if she said no he would say yes but Debbie had rarely ever gone to him. 

Maxine was now laying the table in the dining room, she'd been given strict instructions to set an extra place. Her first instinct had been to ask who else they were expecting but the look in Liz’s eyes when she was about to ask told her that it was better she didn't question her whispered instructions.

“Here I hope you lot haven't skimped on lunch I'm starving.” Allie announced as the three of them breezed into the dining room.

“Me too.” Debbie agreed as she hugged Allie, this was turning out to be the best Christmas ever and finally she had someone who agreed with her about the food. 

“Skimp on the food?” Liz smiled. “I suppose if I said we were having rabbit pie you'd all complain, think you were being hard done by.” She laughed as she saw Debbie's face fall. “I'm joking of course. Turkey and all the trimmings we could manage.”

Today was Christmas Day and Bea intended to celebrate it in the only way possible as Franky brought the turkey to the table and everyone else brought serving dishes with them. “Looks like your in charge of the carving red.”

“Well since I know we're all hungry I suggest we start with this.” Maxine chuckled as she deposited three glasses of milk on the table and proceeded to fill everyone's tumblers that were meant for water with dandelion wine.

Allie took a sip. “Just the ticket Maxi.” She smiled

“Is that wise?” Bea asked as she looked disapprovingly at Maxine, she'd had her homemade wine before and it was lethal even in small quantities.

“No one said we couldn't drink and after all, after everything this year has thrown at us I think we all deserve a drink.” Allie raised her glass.

“I'll drink to that.” Boomer chimed in happily as Franky and Liz were bringing in the remaining serving dishes. “Come on put them down.” She grinned.

Everyone including the three youngsters raised their glasses in a toast and chinked their glasses together as the winter sun shone through the window over them all.

When everyone was finally seated Franky noticed that there was an extra place set to her left for lunch. 

“Who's that for?” She asked.

“Father Christmas.” Allie blurted out on the spur of the moment. Everyone knew Franky had been keeping something a secret, or rather someone and after a little detective work Allie had quickly found out that it was Bridget, the doctor who had treated her at the hospital. Bea had said it was strange for Franky to keep anyone a secret especially from her until Allie had told her what she'd witnessed when she came to pick her up. The pieces had fallen into place because Franky never had to keep anyone secret before because she never kept anyone around. Franky had always said that it didn't matter who they were if she let herself get close to anyone they'd just end up leaving in the end. Bea knew that was what had always scared Franky after she'd told her about her father leaving. Allie had gone to the hospital one lunch time after telling Franky she was meeting Bea and managed to track her down, inviting her to Christmas lunch as Bea had instructed. “He's been busy all night delivering presents. He must be really hungry after all that all hard work.”

Bea laughed, Franky just smiled as she shot Bea a suspicious look. Liz caught Boomers puzzled but amused look and Maxine just shrugged her shoulders because she had no idea who else they could be expecting.

The wine was poured and naturally Boomer wasn't waiting for her meal before she asked for a refill. Allie studied Bea intently as she watched her pouring it. Bea knew she was being watched, had an intense yearning to turn and look at Allie but she knew Franky would more likely than not say something highly inappropriate so she concentrated on pouring the wine. Half of what came out of Franky's mouth sometimes was certainly not fit for young ears and there were three sets sitting around the table. Debbie and Sophie seemed not care though as they both chatted nineteen to the dozen. Artie was more interested in looking at his, so far, empty plate. At exactly one minute past two there was a knock at the door. Bea got up quickly from the table before anyone else could offer to go. Her heart was racing as her heels clattered over the wooden hallway floor. Allie had invited Bridget to lunch but she'd insisted on speaking to Bea before she accepted. Franky had talked none stop about Bea it seemed and she wanted to make sure that Allie wasn't only extending the invitation on Franky's behalf without Bea knowing about it. They'd spoken on the telephone and that was all, now Bea was nervous, not about actually meeting her, more about Franky's reaction. Since Franky was still under the impression that no one, with the exception of Allie who'd been sworn to secrecy, knew she'd been seeing Bridget as often as was possible she hoped she wasn't going to be angry with her. 

“Franky still has no idea about this?” Bridget asked quietly as Bea closed the door. 

“No clue, she did ask why there was an extra place set, naturally Allie made a joke out of it.”

Bridget smiled, although she didn't know Allie well the few times she'd met her she had become aware that making people laugh was something she was good at. Pushing open the dining room door Bea grinned as Bridget followed her.

Franky looked up when she saw the first flash of red hair, her smile turning into confusion as soon as she spotted Bridget. Even though she was sitting down her legs felt weak and her heart danced in her chest.

“You really aren't that good at keeping secrets Franky.” Bea laughed as she resumed her seat next to Allie again leaving Bridget to sit beside Franky.

Bea quickly scanned the room again like she had so many times already that day, being married to a man who always put three quarters of his wages and half of hers across the bar hadn't made life easy. Neither had the beatings or verbal abuse. But she wasn't going to pay him any more mind today, she had Allie and Debbie and her closest friends around her to celebrate Christmas like never before. Even in the middle of the war she finally had something to be really happy about. 

“Well don't stand on ceremony.” Bea chuckled. “Dig in and pass it around.”

Everyone around that table knew that rationing would only get worse the longer the war went on. The next Christmas they spent together could quite possibly need to become a triumph of ingenuity. Franky had connections other than Juice and hoarding much needed ingredients for weeks, maybe even moths in advance could be a possibility if all else failed. Turkey probably wasn't going to be an option even if it were on the black market but at least she had her chickens to fall back on. With more space than she had before home grown vegetables would be plentiful even if they did become scarce in the shops. As they finished eating the blue sky that had graced the afternoon sky was beginning to fade to grey threatening more rain.

After the mountain of dishes were finally washed, dried and put away everyone retreated to the sitting room to listen to the wireless and play games. It had been a long day but worth every second of it.

“Best Blitzmas ever.” Boomer laughed. 

“That's what everyone's calling it this year.” Liz smiled as she looked at the cards she was holding in her hand. She had no idea why she agreed to play cards because she always lost, but it would pass the time until everyone finally decided to call it a night or dozed off by the fire. 

“I'm done.” Liz announced when she finally tired of losing every game to Boomer. “Refreshments I think.”

Liz and Maxine disappeared for a while and eventually returned with a tray, the teapot alone almost filled the whole thing. Besides that was a plate filled with freshly made scones already buttered with a generous dollop of jam on the top and a plate filled with Franky's mince pies. 

“Maybe I should stop eating fattening foods like these.” Liz chuckled. “On second thoughts.” Liz eased herself into one of the comfortable chairs. “I think maybe I like my food too much so maybe I'll not bother. But if this rationing gets any worse I may have to start sourcing more things from not so legitimate sources.” She winked at Bea who just chuckled. “Hmmm, well Juice no doubt will be extremely pleased to hear that.”

“My thoughts exactly.” Liz nodded. “Who would ever guess you were acquainted with such questionable friends, but thank the lord for them don't you agree Beatrice?”

“Elizabeth! Only mother ever calls me that.” Bea laughed before the room erupted in another fit of laughter.

 

 

“We'll remember this Christmas that's for sure lovey. No matter how many more we see, this one will always be one we remember.” Liz said with a smile as she looked around the room. Just for once she wasn't the one dozing by the fire.

“I suppose we'll all remember it for different reasons and for one of the same reasons.” Allie frowned, she knew they would all remember it just because they were all together. Since first thing that morning the whole house had been filled with more love and laughter than the old place had seen in many years. She knew she'd remember it for many other reasons and she suspected that both Bea and Debbie would.

“Now.” Liz rubbed the palms of her hands on the arms of the arm chair that had fast become her favourite. “Do you think the birthday girl is actually asleep?” She nodded over to where Bea was sitting her head resting against the back of the sofa and Debbie's head was laying in her lap.

Allie shrugged earning herself a look of surprise mixed with a slight frown from Liz. Allie looked back at her a little bashfully not sure if she was reading her expression right before she glanced back at Bea. “She's asleep, has been for the last twenty minutes.” She answered quietly.

“Wasn't so hard was it? If anyone here knows when she's dropped off it has to be you, not wrong am I?” Liz chuckled as she was getting up. “Come with me.” 

Allie wasn't sure what was going on, Liz had never seemed to have a problem with her. Now she found herself worrying as she followed her to kitchen. She would never give up without a fight but if Liz was going to have a problem with her now she'd put up a good argument. 

“Don't look so worried. I just need some help with this.” Liz produced a chocolate cake from the back of the pantry. “You know it's her birthday tomorrow? Well Franky wasn't only making mince pies. You know how much Debbie loves chocolate cake and I don't mind telling you that Beas slightly partial to the odd slice here or there. If you tell her I told you that though I'll deny everything.” She laughed. “It needs the buttercream filling and since we appear to be the only two awake I thought you'd give me a hand.” She shook her head. “I have my doubts that we have enough butter left but this will have to do.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Waking up early to find Allie was still right beside her the next morning was slightly odd, especially since it didn't happen very often. Bea could actually only count a handful of times it had happened and twice it had been because she'd had no desire to get out of Allies bed. The day before had almost been perfect, it had only been the waking up alone part of the day that had taken a little of the shine off it but everything else had worked out better than she ever dreamed. It was the only Christmas she ever remembered not making a half hearted effort to be seasonal for Debbie's sake. Her thoughts turned back for a few minutes to faded paper chains that Harry insisted were only put up after dinner on Christmas Eve and had to be promptly taken down as soon as Debbie was in her bed on Christmas Day. She'd always been surprised that they'd even managed to survive the onslaught of his outbursts. But she'd always been determined to bring at least a little normalcy to Debbie's life. Nothing until this point had ever been truly normal in her young life and Bea hated that she'd allowed it to continue for so long even though she knew she'd felt powerless to put an end to it. 

Allie opened her eyes and closed them again just as quickly when she saw Bea wide awake starring up at the ceiling.

“Wszystkiego najlepszego, kochanie.” She whispered as she snuggled in a little closer.

“I recognise the voice but I'm certain I have no idea what you just said.” Bea laughed lightly.

“Happy birthday, sweetheart. Sorry, my polish is a little rusty. My mother always insisted I spoke English at home. Father was never happy about that, he said she encouraged me to turn my back on my roots. But enough about me today is your birthday.”

“And you're quite certain of that are…”

“Mummy, mummy, mummy.” Debbie's voice sounded as she ran the short distance down the hall to her room. When the door burst open neither of them even seemed to have registered that Debbie was about to dive head first on to the bed that they were still currently occupying. “Happy birthday!” She squealed excitedly as she tried to force her way in between them both. “Shove up Allie….I made you this.” She said proudly as she quickly handed over the card that she'd spent the last hour sitting on her bed making. “You both have to get up in five minutes because Liz is making breakfast.” Debbie continued to instruct them both as Bea ruffled her hair hardly even knowing what she was going to say. Looking at the grin on Debbie's face though she thought it better to say nothing unless she brought the subject up herself. The realisation suddenly found its way into her head that Debbie had still been in the sitting room with them the day before when she'd held Allie closer. Debbie was sometimes too smart for her own good, if she was going to start asking questions now seemed like the logical place for her to start. 

“It's wonderful baby, thank you.” Bea said before she held her breath for a few seconds longer than she was used to doing of late. 

“Mummy, I'm almost eight.” Debbie huffed. “I'm not a baby.” She smiled again before disappearing back out of the room at the same lightening speed she'd appeared as Bea started laughing.

“What's so funny?” Allie asked still not sure if she should be mortified that Debbie had caught them out or just shocked that she hadn't even made a comment about their sleeping arrangements.

“I'm sorry.” Bea continued to laugh. “But the look on your face is priceless.”

 

 

Liz made scrambled eggs while Debbie helped Maxine make the toast and Franky took care of making a huge pot of tea. Bea, it seemed, was in an even better mood than she had been the day before which surprised Franky more than anyone else in the kitchen. It couldn't really all be down to Allie could it? She knew better than anyone why she'd long ago stopped even mentioning it was her birthday but Franky had never let it pass, although generally belatedly, completely uncelebrated. In all the time she'd known her there had never been a single birthday when she'd seen her smile so much, if she even smiled at all. Franky had always at least treated her to an extra long lunch break when she opened the cafe after Boxing Day and had always given her a double helping of chocolate cake.

“These eggs taste really good.” Boomer said as she looked around the table her mouth still partially full.

“That's one of the advantages of having your own chickens.” Bea shrugged as she watched her eating her eggs with gusto. Boomer had always been a great fan of food and it showed as she watched her scoop up every last morsel up from her plate. Her childlike actions always made her seem a lot younger than she really was. It had made Bea angry when she'd got to know her and she'd first divulged to her how her mother and sister had always treated her. Boomer was loyal to the friends she'd made in London with a ferocity she was certain she'd never witnessed before. She'd go to war for anyone she considered a friend and she'd threatened Harry's life more than once should he ever return and think of laying a hand on Bea again. She didn't have a single doubt that if it ever happened Boomer would hunt him down. 

Bea decided that everyone could probably use another cup of tea and she filled the pot with more hot water and placed it back on the table. As she stirred it to strengthen the brew she glanced at Debbie and Allie who were whispering about something, not that she really seemed to have even noticed that anything was slightly out of the ordinary. 

“We should do it now.” Debbie whispered as Allie looked at Bea. 

“I think that should be up to Franky, she did most of the work.” Allie answered as they both had Bea in their line of sight.

As if feeling the intense scrutiny of Allie and Debbie Bea turned her head and smiled. A warm feeling of well being wrapped itself around Allies heart and for the first time in her life she felt that things truly were getting better. The war might well be a long way off from being over but it didn't seem to matter anymore. 

“Alright then. Now I normally just give you an extra large helping but this year I thought you might like the whole cake.” Franky grinned as she returned to the table, chocolate cake in hand. “Not sure the fillings up to its usual standard but it's hard to find the right staff since you left me.” She chuckled. “And Deb wanted candles but I figured since you're getting old and everything that it wasn't worth the fire risk.”

 

 

Boxing Day was turning out to be cold and frosty and no one but Artie had made any plans for the afternoon. Bea had said already that she'd just like to sit around and do nothing much of anything. By lunchtime though Artie had already convinced most of the houses occupants that everyone should go and watch the football match that was going to be played in the local park. Even Bea had eventually agreed that it would be fun to do something different. Allie hadn't been as easily convinced after she'd stepped outside the kitchen door for a minute and found out how cold it was. Debbie's endless chatter, her voice bubbling over with girlish excitement though had eventually helped to change her mind. Seeing Beas eyes so bright and her lips twitching with an almost excited smile as she tried to fix her hair and arrange her hat was enough to fully convince her that it wasn't the worst way to spend an hour or two. It was Beas birthday after all and anything she wanted to do was going to be alright with Allie, even if she did freeze. It was a good way to easily convince Bea that she needed a little extra warming up when they arrived home. By the time they arrived at the football pitch Allie was already shivering. As they stood watching the match Bea silently took one of her hands and put it in the pocket of her coat. It seemed like a small gesture but to Allie it meant more than anyone, even Bea, would know. Not one living person had ever cared for her the way Bea did. In a life that could have easily made Bea push everyone away she had never let it. Every new day they had together she treasured because everyone knew that they were lucky. Lucky to have found each other and lucky to have survived another day. 

“Brass monkeys, innit.” Boomer grumbled as she blew in her hands after the match had ended. 

“I'm goin’ t’pictures.” Boomer announced later as they sat around in the kitchen eating sandwiches and drinking tea.

“Alone?” Allie asked looking slightly horrified. She was never going to forget her brush with near death and didn't like the sound of Boomer going out alone.

“Allus go on me own, means I get to see t’picture. No roamin mitts t’fend off.” Boomer grinned.

“Even dressed like that I thought you'd be fighting off the roaming hands.” Franky said sarcastically as she laughed loudly.

“Tha sayin’ I dint dress nice?” Boomer frowned.

“Booms even I make an effort when I'm going out.” Franky chuckled. “I mean slacks, thick sweater, brogues and an old jacket ain't exactly glamorous is it?” She continued as she looked her friend up and down as she drummed her fingers against the mug of tea that sat on the table in front of her. 

“Aye, you look in t’mirror when yer at work?” 

“That's functional, goes with this freezing cold weather. You ain't the one standing in the cafe with a door that gets left open more often than it's not. Now if I were taking someone out…”

“She means if she were taking Bridget out.” Allie butted in with a laugh as she watched Franky's face flush a little.

“Franky's taking Bridget out? Are we all invited for a ringside seat?” Bea asked as she walked back to the table with a plate full of mince pies.

“Might not be a good idea, Bridget likes her to keep the noise down so maybe the pictures isn't the best place for an evening out.” Allie rolled her eyes. “All mouth aren't you Franky? And don't forget that you'd have to ask for an usherette to have a mop and bucket on stand by, drooling is never a good look.”

“And you'd know all about that wouldn't you Al? You forgetting I was there that first day you walked in with Red?” Franky threw back. “Besides, as you already found out, none of us know if we'll even make it through the night. And we all know who's not going to let that happen again in a hurry don't we?” She shrugged as Bea rested her hand on Allies shoulder.

“This place is turnin’ into a mad 'ouse.” Boomer shook her head as she bit into a mince pie.

“Allie is right though Boomer.” Bea perched herself on the chair next to Allie. “Going out alone isn't always the best idea. You have to be careful in the blackout and the public shelters don't seem to be much safer than the Anderson shelters are.” She sighed as she gripped Allies hand out of sight under the table. She was always going to regret not making her stay with them the night that happened and she was never going to allow it to happen again.  

By the time they'd agreed on how to spend the rest of the day sunset was already near. The blue sky they'd enjoyed, even though it was bitterly cold, began to pale into the clear bleached brightness of a full moon.

There was sure to be a raid they all knew that since the previous night had been deathly quiet. Working long hours at the ambulance station Boomer always enjoyed a night at the pictures. Her usual preference was to always go alone but since it was Beas birthday just for once she was willing to change that habit. 

“That really does look better than I expected.” Bea whispered as she wound her arms around Allies shoulders as she looked at her reflection in the mirror. 

“It seems your mother must have passed on her talent, are you sure you want to stay working in an office forever?” 

“It's not what I ever envisioned doing forever. Do you want to stay working for Franky forever?” 

“I can think of much worse things to be doing.” Allie sighed, working for Franky was by far the best job she'd ever had.

The four of them knew that a full moon was always most conducive to a big raid but that wasn't going to put them off. Maxine had decided that she was going to go home, they were back at work the next morning and she knew she didn't feel like a late night. Whenever Boomer was involved everyone knew a late night could possibly be on the cards. The four of them walked a little slower dodging the crowds that were trying to get home or head to a shelter before a raid began. It seemed strange to see so many people trying to get home from work on Boxing Day.

“Another cost of being at war.” Franky said as they walked along. They all knew that a lot of shop workers and most factory workers had had to work on a day that had been an official holiday for many years.

Allie clung tighter to Beas arm as they walked through Soho as they passed the street walkers who were already out in force. Some where whispering suggestively to any passing man who was alone and others called out from windows or doorways. It was an image Bea hated when she thought about Allie having to do the same thing. Boomer whispered to Franky that she was glad Allie had found Bea. She'd become friendly with some of the girls since she'd moved to London and she often felt sorry for them being out in all weathers. A few she'd got to know were more affluent than others and were able to keep a small flat, passing them in the street they didn't look like they belonged there dressed in their finery. Most survived the same way Allie had had to, the most they could ever hope for was to rent a room by the hour. She had never been able to get one conversation out of her mind that she'd had with one of the girls she was most friendly with one night when business had been slow.


“It'll pick up later, always does when Jerry’s overhead. The bombs falling never fail to get the punters excited. It's the not knowing I suppose if this will be your last night on earth. No one cares, you can get away with almost anything in the blackout.”


She glanced at Allie in the moonlight and it seemed almost unthinkable that she might have felt the same way not too long ago.

Daylight had now been completely replaced by a dark cloudless sky lit by a bright full moon as they reached the sandbagged entrance to the picture house that was just off Piccadilly Circus. Franky insisted on paying the one and nine it cost for each of them to get in and they were led to their seats by an usherette. It was warm inside but the smell of cigarette smoke mixed with a multitude of cheap perfumes stung their eyes when they first sat down. They watched the cartoon and the newsreel before the sirens went and Bea held tighter to Allies hand as a collective groan went up around the audience and the usual sign flashed up on the screen.

 

An air raid warning has just been sounded. If you wish to leave, walk, don't run, to the exists. Do not panic. Remember you are British! Those who wish to remain may do so at their own risk. The film now continues.

 

No one ever panicked Boomer told them quietly, there was always plenty of grumbling and annoyance but panic had never been a thing she'd witnessed. True to her prediction not one person left their seat.

“Bloody Hitler can't even let a man watch a picture in peace.” A man sitting behind them grumbled.

“Aye he's a sheeny bugger that Hitler.” For the first time in months Boomer recognised the accent of the mans companion. Not many people it seemed had moved to London from the city built on seven Hills. Sometimes she missed it, her family were still there and she didn't know how they were getting on.

No one ever bothered to exit unless the raid was overhead, they'd paid their money and they all intended to stay. Boomer stayed put as did her three companions, venturing out onto the street to look for shelter was just as dangerous as staying in their seats they all knew that.

 

 

After Boomer headed home and Franky back to the cafe Bea wasn't really in the mood to go straight home.

“How about the pub?” Allie asked. “Just for one. I know your not the biggest fan or we can just go home, it's up to you birthday girl.”

Bea thought for a few moments as they walked along arm in arm. “Why not? But only one, we both have work in the morning.”

Reaching the first place they came to Bea paused briefly at the door. Her head told her she was being a fool, her heart told her that she'd follow Allie anywhere, even if in part it did tell her caution had always been a sensible refuge for the emotionally infirm. She looked at Allie and realised that that was her old self before she reached out and opened the door in one swift motion before she could have second thoughts. The lounge bar was a place of dark wood and Windsor chairs. Drinks were served through a roughly cut hatch in the expanse of panelling.

“Let me get you a drink.” Allie grinned. 

Bea nodded but then quickly changed her mind. She hated Allie paying for anything, she may have a job but that didn't mean she had a great deal of money. And especially not right after Christmas when she'd bought a present for everyone.

“Let me get them. Take this.” Bea handed her two half crowns. “If you refuse and you still buy me a drink I'll refuse to drink it.”

Allie thought for a moment then smiled and nodded. She wasn't going to take the chance that she'd have to drink two drinks tonight when they had to be up early.

Bea watched her walking away and quickly return with two drinks. “You realise that we'll have to do this again now when we can so I can buy them next time?” 

“I'll think about it.” Bea laughed. “Are we going to sit down or are you expecting the need to run off again like last time?”

“I shouldn't have thought so. Well, not here anyway. I can't imagine Jake or Marie ever coming to a place like this. Her ladyship will be three sheets gone already at this time and it's not his sort of place.”

Bea still felt a little uneasy when they were out in places where fights seemed to be the normal activity when too many pints had been consumed but tonight she soon started to feel more at ease as they talked easily. 

“Another drink, Bea?” Allie asked. She knew she shouldn't even be thinking about it really but she didn't want the night to end just yet. 

The way Allie always said her name sent a thrill down her spine. It was something she'd never felt with anyone but Allie. When Harry said her name it always scared her.

“We should really be getting back. I'm always leaving Deb with Liz even though I know she doesn't mind it's not really fair.” Bea hated leaving Debbie almost as much as she hated not being able to spend as much time alone with Allie. 

“You're right of course. Sorry. I'm just being selfish. Sometimes it's just…I forget it's not possible for us to have a lot of time alone.” Allie apologised as she quickly returned the glasses. When she turned around Bea had disappeared. 

Bea had intended to wait for Allie until she spotted someone who she thought she recognised. She couldn't be certain but if she didn't know any better she could have sworn she'd just caught a glance of Harry. Allie pulled open the door and walked outside finding Bea leaning against the wall.

“You can't escape it.” She said in a low voice as she stopped inches away from her.

“Escape what?” Bea asked without looking up.

Allie inched closer. “Whatever scared you in there. You're emotions.”

Bea inhaled sharply. “I'm not sure I can ever outrun him. I'm still married, Allie.”

“But you don't want to be, you never wanted to be. You told me that yourself.” Allie leaned against the wall mirroring Beas position and hanging her head mournfully. “Everything that we've been through is part of us now. This war might be knocking down buildings but it's knocking people down too.”

“Buildings can be rebuilt, eventually.” Bea sighed, she knew exactly what Allie meant. 

“Bea.” Allie pushed herself off the wall and moved to stand in front of her, taking her face in her hands and forcing her to look at her. “Today started out so well. I'm not going to ask what spooked you because I know you'll tell me when you're ready. We'll spend the rest of our lives reaping what all the terrible years we've lived through have sown. Nothing can ever be the same again, would you want them to be? Would you really want to turn the clock back and live the rest of your life in fear?” Allie sighed and moved back against the wall. The day had started out well, eventually even she'd enjoyed watching the football match. Now she wasn't sure what was happening and if Bea was going to tell her that this had been a mistake she couldn't see any point in carrying on. The only choice she'd have would be to leave the cafe and go back to the streets because that was the only thing she knew how to do. She hated how it made her feel, hated the person it turned her into. Without Bea she had nothing left worth even trying for. She couldn't expect to keep her job knowing she could and would walk in whenever she pleased. 

“I'm sorry. I…I just thought…It was nothing, it couldn't have been. Today has been perfect. I should be feeling glad to be alive. I should be thanking Maxi for bringing you over to my desk everyday. I should stop letting every little thing bring back memories that I should never have to begin with. Spring is just around the corner, you can see it everywhere. When we walked through the park this afternoon, as cold as it was…let me show you.” Bea smiled, she didn't want to think about the tricks her eyes were playing on her and she really didn't want to live a life that no longer included Allie.

“It's far too dark, you can't possible show me anything.” Allie mumbled.

“You don't need to see it, Allie. You can still smell it.” This time Bea pushed herself away from the wall, reaching out she gently grabbed Allies arm. “Walk with me.” She smiled remembering the first time she'd ever asked that from her and Allie had complied without a single word of complaint. They'd been right here before and this time would be no different because with Allie it never could be. With Allie everything was always better than she ever thought her life could be.

Allie half snorted but linked her arm through Beas all the same. They walked in silent expectancy, reaching the park the moon was hanging low over it giving it a kind of magical glow.

“Breath in.” Bea instructed her.

Allie frowned into the darkness but breathed in the night air deeply. “You're right, it does smell like spring. And we should be grateful, grateful for every moment longer we have to live. I just…I can't, don't want to be without you.”

“I don't want that either. Back there, I thought I saw Harry. It couldn't have been him I know that now because I wouldn't be standing here with you if had been him. I think I see him all the time but I doubt he'd really be that stupid to be actually seen out in public no matter what time of day it was. Too many people know him…” She trailed off as they both breathed in deeply again. It seemed only a few bombs had been dropped and the air wasn't thick with the choking smoke that they were accustomed to smelling after a raid.

Bea hadn't even realised that Allie had let go of her arm and had turned to face her, she was looking at her in the light of the moon. She couldn't quite pin point the exact moment when everything changed between them again. The only thing she would ever recall of this night was being in Allies arms. Her kiss was soft and gentle yet full of passion. As she pulled her closer to her chest she felt her nipples harden. There was no shame about how she felt, there had never been any shame in how she felt for Allie. She wanted her more now than she had at any other time. 

“You do too much for other people, you've always done more for me than I deserve. Everything could be over before any of us know it, it's high time you stopped only living for other people and started living for you.” Allie whispered in her ear.

Allies words struck a cord deep within her. She didn't have to care so much about the women who walked into her office. Women who sat across her desk from her telling her their life histories in some cases, and although she knew she'd never cared as much about any of them as she had Allie she  probably cared a little too much. Suddenly she didn't care about being married and regretted saying those words to Allie as if she'd been trying to convince her that they had absolutely no future, nothing could ever have been further from the truth. She didn't care what happened to Harry, he was Debbie's father and she'd thanked god or what ever higher power everyday for the fact that her little girl seemed to have inherited almost nothing from him. She no longer cared what he wanted, no longer wanted to have to unwillingly live under his iron fist. All that mattered now was feeling safe, feeling loved; feeling wanted. Allie made her feel all of those things and so much more.

Time seemed to fly by as they walked slowly back to the house. Bea never wanted to be walking with Allie anywhere more than home because then she'd never have to worry that she wouldn't get there safely. Liz was looking out of her bedroom window when she saw them walking up the drive arm in arm. She had been worried when they hadn't arrived when she'd thought she'd expect them home. Turning out her light she'd pulled back her curtains hoping to catch sight of them before she had to call it a night. Watching them she smiled to herself because she couldn't think of anyone who deserved to be as happy as they looked right at that moment. 

 

 

After Debbie had broken the habit of her young life and burst into Beas bedroom that morning she saw no real reason why Allie should need a room to herself. If she wanted to keep it she wouldn't argue about it. Debbie loved Allie, they spent hours together, sometimes Bea even felt slightly redundant when the pair were together. She certainly spent much more meaningful time with her than Harry ever had. Allie had gone to her own room for a while while Bea went for a bath. Now she was back in her room wearing her favourite nightdress. It was the first thing she bought for herself after Harry had left. A satin bias cut affair that was formed are the bust and edged in Nottingham lace. She loved it the moment she laid eyes on it. Harry would have hated it and she knew that was the main reason she'd actually purchased it. He wouldn't get a chance to disapprove or rip it from her body. She sat in front of her dressing table as she heard Allies bedroom door close. She thought she heard a creak out in the hall expecting her door to slowly open any second. She sighed imagining that now it wasn't just her eyes that were playing tricks on her, her ears seemed to be as well. 

She finished brushing her hair and dabbed perfume behind her ears as she gazed at her own reflection. ‘I don't look that old,’ she thought to herself as she studied her reflection for a little longer. There were a few lines but nothing she thought she needed to worry about. 

She studied her own eyes as they looked back at her. They sparkled, maybe it was just the way the light hit them. She looked at the room that lay out behind her in the reflection in the mirror. The bedside lights were on and the bedclothes lay neat and tidy over her bed. She smiled to herself when she thought for a brief moment back to first time she'd ever lay in it with Allie. She could still feel Allies body pressed up against hers, her arms wrapped around her shoulders, her mouth on hers. Those thoughts always left her tingling all over with the hot flush that seeped from her face and neck. Allie was under the same roof permanently she hoped. As her eyes fixed on the bed again she shivered with pleasure. The memory of being under the covers with Allie would never leave her. Every time she slid into bed alone between the crisp cotton sheets she could always feel their arms entwined as they'd drifted off to sleep. 

Allie slipped silently into the room, walking up behind Bea and wrapping her arms around her shoulders as she bent a little lower breathing her in. 

“You smell too good.” She whispered.

Bea froze, the memory of Harry still haunted her and Allie knew that. Her head was erect, her nerves taut as she sat on the stool suddenly waiting for the blow to the side of the head or slap across the face.

“He's not here.” Allie whispered as her lips ghosted over her ear. “He can't hurt you.”

“I'm sorry.” Bea felt tears prick the corner of her eyes.

“You don't have to be, I get it…you do know I'd never hurt you?” 

Bea nodded her head slowly as she looked at Allies reflection in the mirror now looking back at her. 

“Get into bed.” She whispered as she smiled back at her. Allie was too good to be true she thought but she was here with her, what she saw in her she still didn't know but she saw something that Harry never had; maybe something that no one else ever had.

“So bossy.” Allie laughed lightly as she strengthened back up. “Don't stay sitting there too long. It's getting chilly.”

Bea got up almost straight away and walked towards the bed as she watched Allie pull back the covers and settled down onto her side a smile on her face.

 

Chapter Text

 

Allie had woken up in the middle of the night to Beas steady rhythmic breathing in one ear and the tick tock of the alarm clock in the other. She was warm, too warm for it just to be the heat from Beas body making her feel so hot. She could only remember a few times in her life when she'd been ill and judging by the pounding in her head and the heat of her body she knew she was ill. As the drowsiness started to wear off a little she became acutely aware of the crick in her neck, the aches in her muscles and the splitting pain in her head that was getting worse. It took longer to wriggle herself free of Beas arms because she felt as though all the energy had been drained from her whole body. Swinging her legs off the bed slowly she sat for a few minutes before she decided that she had to make it back across the hall to her room. Stumbling through the door to her room, with each step her stomach tightened and ached. She swallowed and her throat clenched, feeling the warmth rising through her chest; tasting something awful in the back of her mouth. She barely made it to the bathroom before she buckled over. She shivered violently as she finally made it back to her bed. Thankfully her stomach had stopped lurching and she just felt battered and bruised inside. Flopping down against the mattress she pulled up the covers, waves of heat coursed through her veins but she felt the cold sweat as is dripped down her neck. Eying the glass of water that as always had been placed by her bed by Liz before she turned in for the night she pulled herself up and took a small sip before plopping back down onto her pillows and closing her eyes willing the room to stop spinning.

Waking up alone wasn't unexpected when Beas eyes finally fluttered open, it was disappointing after the previous morning. In the many and varied images Bea had envisioned for waking up this morning being alone hadn't featured in any of them. In the dreams conjured up in her mind the sun would be rising casting its characteristic pinks and oranges across the sky. Allie would still be laying next to her, if not quite still in her arms at least close enough to touch. As she sat up her chin dipped towards her chest as she pressed her lips more tightly together while her eyes focused on the empty space beside her. Life had long since taught her what disappointment was, now she wondered if this was just the universe deciding that she needed a new lesson. She'd find the grace to handle it and smile, maybe she'd be the one to wake Allie up if she got up fast enough and before anyone else was out in the hall making enough noise to rouse anyone from the deepest sleep. She sighed lightly and reset her face from its crestfallen expression. Allie had thought suggesting they should have another drink was being selfish so now wasn't she behaving the same way expecting her to still be there, to be the first person she saw as soon as her eyes opened.

Of course both Debbie and Sophie were already out of their room before Bea even made it out of her bed. Since they sounded like a herd of elephants she expected Allie would have to be awake already. Walking across the hall she tapped on her door expecting some kind of answer almost straight away. She could be in the bathroom she supposed so she knocked a little louder, by the time she finally received an answer her knocking had almost turned into a panicked banging. 

“Stop!” Allie croaked out as she opened her eyes, closing them again almost immediately. She was struck again by how sore her whole body felt, the back of her throat and her head was pounding. “Come in.” She croaked again as she tried to lift her head from the pillows. The room spun and she gripped the side of her head as she heard the door open. The bed was safe, the rest of the room she wasn't sure about as she opened her eyes a little.

“Are you alright, Allie?” Bea asked quietly.

“I think I'm still alive. What time is it?” 

“It sounds like it's time I telephoned Franky and told her you're staying in bed. You can't work like this. Why didn't you wake me if you weren't feeling well?” Bea asked as she sat on the edge of her bed trailing her fingers over her forehead. “You're burning up, don't even try to argue with me about this. I'll ask Liz to telephone the doctor, I'd stay with you but I have to go to the office. Maybe Mr Potter will let m…”

“Stop! Please. I don't need a doctor I'll be fine after breakfast.” Allie reached for her hand. “Besides I can't afford to pay doctors bills if I'm not at work.” She whispered. 

Bea shook her head, Allie could protest all she liked but she didn't look as if she had the strength to get out of bed let alone get down the stairs. “I hardly think that's a real issue do you? Debbie and Sophie are already charging around the place and they didn't wake you.”

“Are you going to ignore everything I say?” Allie grumbled.

“Of course.” Bea smiled. “I'll tell the girls to be quite and telephone Franky now. Just rest and I'll be back before I leave.”

Allie tried to sit up the second Bea closed the door behind herself. There was really no need for this much fuss she told herself as she raised her head from the pillow. Who was she trying to convince more she wondered Bea or herself? Her whole body felt stiff, every slight movement hurt and stretching did nothing to help ease her discomfort. A memory of one time she'd felt slightly ill a long time ago reminded her just how much she'd always wanted this. Being with Bea wasn't a fantasy or a dream it was real and she cared for her more than sometimes she thought she should. The first time she'd ever been ill Marie had let her sleep for an hour longer than was usual before she'd dragged her from her bed, threw her into a lukewarm water filled bath and told her she had work to do. She'd been given no choice and by now she imagined that Bea may have already telephoned Franky.

“The hell Red. What time do you call this, what's the matter?” Franky sighed into the receiver. “You have some explaining to do calling at this hour. It's not Deb is it? If that bastards shown his face and…”

“Franky!” Bea huffed. “It's not Deb, and no he hasn't made an appearance. It's Allie.”

“Is she hurt? She's not dead? She hasn't been kidnapped has she?”

“Yes, by her bed, and the only ransom I want right now is for you to calm down.” Bea laughed, it was always funny when Franky turned any situation into a drama. “She's ill Franky, I doubt she'll be able to work for at least the rest of the week, might be longer. She's tried arguing but she can barely lift her own head.”

Franky agreed that she needed to stay in bed even if she was trying to protest that she was fit and well. Franky could manage by herself, it was a push but after Bea left she'd had a string of women try the job and none had been either able to or wanted to do the work. Even before she'd had breakfast Bea knew how she'd make her time in bed more bearable. Her bed was more comfortable than Allies anyway. Stopping by her room to check if she wanted anything before she got dressed Allie had already fallen asleep again. 

 

 

As she left the house she thought about Allie still tucked up asleep in bed and the thought warmed her more than her breakfast had. As she walked down the drive her breath formed candy floss in the air. It was a bitterly cold morning, frosty with the promise of snow. The ground and the sky both seemed to be the same colour, slate grey, the only thing separating them was the hint of the rising orange sun in the distance. Even that seemed to be burning without its usual confidence this morning. The only thing she could be really thankful for was that it was Friday, the end of her working day already seemed too far away to think about. At least she knew she would have the whole weekend at home, just the two of them because Liz had offered to take Debbie with her when she went to visit her sister again. 

A short telephone call with Liz at lunch time didn't raise Beas spirits a great deal. Liz told her that the doctor had been and it was as they'd both thought, Allie had influenza.

 “She's sleeping.” Liz tried to settle Beas nerves. “She tried to argue about the extra pillow.” She laughed. “But she has fresh water and she did drink almost a full cup of tea with honey. Debs left her an orange in case she feels hungry. I'll try to get her to have a spoonful of elderberry syrup the next time she wakes up that should help her throat. My mother always swore by it and it's never done me any harm.” There was little Bea could do sitting behind her desk, she couldn't ask for time off everyone had a full day of interviews already pencilled in because of the break for Christmas. 

Her day had seemed never ending but now she was finally home. Bea was dimly aware of a low creaking noise, rhythmic and close. It took her a while to realise that it was coming from the chair by the bed that she was sitting in. She found it almost impossible to stop herself from rocking gently back and forth as she watched Allies face. She carried her from her own bed into hers hours ago, even though Allie tried to protest she was too ill to put up much of a fight. Reminding her that she always preferred to sleep in Beas bed anyway had been the easy way to convince her that the move was better for her recovery. Since she'd been home she'd hardly left her side, Debbie had knocked softly on the door once or twice and quietly poked her head round the door. Liz had brought Bea a bowl of homemade soup along with a pile of homemade bread and a cup of tea even though she had said she wasn't hungry. Food was the last thing on Beas mind, making sure Allie had everything she might need seemed to be the only thing she cared about.

“It's the flu love, she'll be right as ninepence in a few days.” Liz had said quietly as they'd both watched Debbie climb up onto the bed and kiss Allies forehead before getting down again and handing Bea a cookie that Liz had helped her make because she wanted to make something nice for Allie when she was feeling better. “And she doesn't argue with Deb.” Liz chuckled. “She convinced her to try a little soup at lunch time.”

Now Bea was sitting alone with her again holding her hand, she'd opened her eyes briefly and smiled at her before going back to sleep. The only thing she could do was wait for her to open her eyes again. She watched her forlornly, unmoving except for the gentle rise and fall of her chest. She found herself wondering what dreams she might be having. For a few moments she even found herself regretting every slight disagreement that they had already had and those they may have in the future. 

“Do you want something to eat? Deb brought you a cookie.” Bea asked, her smile truly reflecting the joy she felt at finding her awake when she returned from the bathroom. “And Liz said to tell you there's more soup and also apple pie and custard.”

For a moment Allie said nothing, her eyes regarding her impassively, almost as though she had not heard or was not sure she was real and she was dreaming. Sitting down beside her on the bed Bea stroked her hair away from her face. Allies skin was still clammy. 

“You should try to eat something.” Bea got back to her feet and began plumping up the pillows and tucking in the bed clothes. “You know I worry about you and Liz said you only had a little of the soup she brought you up at lunch time. Seems Deb might have been the more persuasive person in the room though.” Her cheeks grew hot in response to Allies steady gaze and the look in her eyes. “Do you want anything? Tea perhaps?” She asked as she perched on the edge of the bed.

Allie shook her head.

“I'll come back later then, maybe you'll have changed your mind. I really should make sure Deb goes to bed, she's going with Liz in the morning so I'm afraid you're stuck with me for the next three days.” Bea sighed as she was about to get up feeling Allies hand on hers. Bea had taken a chance and asked Mr Potter if she could take Monday off, she hadn't expected him to agree but he'd stayed true to his word and given her the time off without asking questions.

“Stay, for a little while.” Allie asked.

Bea smiled, she couldn't say no if she tried. She took her hand and kissed the back of it, then placed a kiss on her wrist before she adjusted her position on the bed so she could sit properly beside her. Holding hands and looking into each other's eyes love flowed between them that needed no words. 

 

 

Bea sat up suddenly struggling to open her still sleepy eyes after she felt Allie moving around beside her. Turning on the lamp beside her she squeezed her eyes tightly shut for a few seconds before she opened them and glanced at the clock. Four o'clock in the morning, she sighed and looked at Allie, it was no surprise she was awake after all she'd slept for most of the day. Debbie had told her as she was going to bed that she'd tried to be quiet all day but Bea had doubted that anything would have woken her up. 

“Thirsty?” Bea asked as she watched Allie slowly nod her head. “Tea or water?” 

“Waters fine, I'm not going to ask you to get up at this time of the morning.” Allie answered sleepily.

“Tea it is then.” Bea smiled as she slid her legs out of bed. She made her way down to the kitchen on weary legs, yawning so widely that she was certain her jaw could quite easily lock. She made a pot of tea and poured it into two mugs after deciding that she couldn't balance cups on saucers right then. She knew it would be weak but it was too cold to give it any time to steep and she didn't want it to cool down too much. She needed to be up in a couple of hours to make sure Debbie had everything for her three days away with Liz. This would be the first time she'd ever let Debbie go anywhere without her, still she trusted Liz and knew Debbie would enjoy herself more than staying at home. There wouldn't be much they could do together given that Allie was too ill to go anywhere. 

When Bea woke up again she was aware that it was later than it should have been. After they'd drunk their tea Allie had fallen asleep, Bea just hadn't been able to settle and had lay listening to her breathing. Now she felt exhausted but seeing Allies smile in the early hours made up for her current sleepy state. She swung her legs out of bed, stumbling a little as she walked to the window and pulled open the curtains. The sun was already higher than she expected, the sky was fast becoming a vibrant shade of blue. Returning to the bed she glanced at the time, almost nine o'clock. The house was eerily quiet, Liz hadn't tried to wake her up as she thought she would have before they left.

“You missed Debbie before they left.” Allie sighed as she looked at the time.

“I have. I must have needed more sleep than I thought.” Bea smiled sadly. “Tea?”

Allie smiled and nodded. “I'm not staying in bed for another day. I won't argue over a cup of tea but I'm coming down for breakfast.”

“Appetite coming back is it?” Bea eyed her suspiciously wondering if she just putting a brave face on.

“I think so, I couldn't have eaten much yesterday because now I'm starving. I'll make it downstairs, don't look at me like that.” 

Bea frowned she was sure she wasn't well enough to do anything other than spend the day in bed. She also knew she was going to have to leave her alone after breakfast, her only hope was that the queues at the shops she needed to visit weren't going to be exceptionally long. She left the bedroom without another word and hurried towards the kitchen, tea was something she could really use but she knew Allie was certain to get up to no good if she was away for too long. She was sounding a little better now after all. 

Allie felt too unsteady to perch on one leg while slipping into her trousers and she knew maybe asking Bea to bring her that particular item of clothing might have been a slight mistake. Asking for any form of clothing had turned into a battle with Bea insisting she needed to stay in bed. Allie had been persuasive though and Bea had given in after telling her that if she started to feel really ill again she was going straight back to bed. Sitting on the edge of the bed she hitched them up one leg at a time as she watched Bea sitting at the dressing table brushing her hair and trying not to pay too much attention to the fact that Allie was never shy about getting dressed in front of her. Even this small effort had her head swimming a little but she had made her mind up that she wasn't spending another day in bed. Allie still had a headache but at least she was feeling a little better and the constant nauseous feeling wasn't an issue any longer. With her trousers finally on she started putting the tangled mess that was her blouse on. Bea had put it next to her neatly on the bed but now Allie was making it look like extremely hard work. She looked up at saw Bea watching her a little more closely through the mirror. When she realised Allie had seen her watching her she quickly looked away as her cheeks flushed a little. Being caught staring was something that happened regularly but until now she'd never been caught staring at a partially naked Allie. 

“You can look.” Allie laughed lightly. “It's not like I mind, I never mind knowing you're watching me.”

Bea closed her eyes and swallowed hard. Her eyes always followed Allie around but being caught staring at a semi clad Allie hadn't been what she'd intended.

“Are you alright? Do you need any help?” Bea asked quietly. It seemed to Allie that she'd already asked her the same questions at least ten times already. 

“I'm fine, I'm not made of glass you know. If I fall over I'm not going to shatter into a million pieces never to be put back together.”

An intense frown formed on Beas face like a sudden and unexpected blizzard as she looked in the mirror again. “You're still not well, I just want you to be careful and take your time. If you refuse to stay in bed how can you expect me not to worry?”

“I am being careful.” Allie grinned back at her. “I'm trying to put my blouse on not defusing a bomb.” 

Beas expression quickly changed as the corners of her lips curled upwards as she tried to fight back a laugh but it was no use. Her laughter erupted, echoing around the room as she watched a normally graceful Allie trying to arranged the tangled mess around her body. As she finished fastening the buttons she found that she'd missed one so it didn't look straight but she was feeling too tired to start all over again. She smoothed the front down as she got up from the bed a little tentatively, her legs beginning to feel like they weren't connected to the rest of her for a few moments. 

“What on earth are you doing?” Bea asked as she got up and walked towards the bed.

“I believe it's called standing up.” Allie replied.

“Sit back down, right now.” Bea instructed her with a wide smile. “I know you're not going out but you don't want to sit around looking like that all day.”

Allie did as she was told and allowed Bea to unbutton her blouse and refasten the buttons properly. If she'd have been feeling her usual self she wouldn't have needed any help. She knew if she had been feeling her usual self she'd have been at the cafe and Debbie would be at home with Bea. She felt guilty, Debbie should have been able to stay at home. They had three days alone now and she was certain there was no way it would be enjoyable for either of them. 

“Maybe you should stay here. I'll go and make breakfast and you can just lounge around.” Bea said hoping to convince Allie that staying upstairs was really the best thing for her.

“I'm not dying you know. Walking down the stairs is hardly going to see me put six feet under.” Allie tried to kick up a fuss, secretly she felt like Bea would expect her to protest before she agreed to her suggestion because Allie always did. In Allies mind it had to be what Bea had come to expect from her.

“I would hope not but I'd much rather you rest a little more. You insisted on getting dressed now you look exhausted. I will come straight back.” 

“Alright then.” Allie pulled a disgruntled expression as she reluctantly agreed and lay back on the bed. “I'll be keeping my eye on the time though so if you take too long I'll be down quick as a flash.” 

“I wouldn't expect anything less of you.” Bea let out a breathy laugh because she knew right now moving at any speed apart from a snails pace was something Allie was hardly capable of. 

“Tea and toast I think.” Allie nodded as she lay her head back against the extra pillows and looked at the sky outside the window as Bea quickly left the room. She'd been ill before, felt worse than she had the day before, back in that awful house and Marie had made her go straight back to work after two days. She'd tried to argue that she still wasn't feeling well but every protest had fallen on ears that were not only deaf but made of stone like her heart. Bea was kind, vibrant and funny and Allie dared to think as she lay there the love of her life. She thought about everything while she was absent from the room. The way she'd shared her sandwich with her the day she'd gone to the cafe with her, the way she'd smiled back at her. Watching her amongst the people in the crowded cafe as she sat and waited for Franky to tell her to get home. The way she'd cared for her after she'd been pulled from the shelter when it had taken a direct hit. Every small detail, she was her rock. Some days change your life forever, moments play out in the blink of an eye rewriting the path that you though you were on. But no matter what life had thrown at her she kept going because she was a survivor. Bea too but she had had a whole other reason to survive. It wasn't just Debbie that had kept her going, Allie had seen that from the start. Bea she knew by nature had a need to make sense of the awful things that happened in the world. Bea would never give up. Everything happens for a reason Allie thought. She was fully aware that for the most part they were the same, they could both sideline their emotions and fake the image everyone else saw. Even if they were crumbling inside outside they both appeared stoic. She'd never really been certain what that word really meant but she liked to think it meant having a heart of steel, strong but a little broken inside. The wind had been knocked out of them both at different times in their lives but they were still here. She heard the telephone ring downstairs in the hall and she guess Bea must have answered it, five minutes later she reappeared with a tray in her hands and the biggest smile on her face.

“Thomas and William will be home on leave next month and we're invited to spend the weekend in Sussex.” She beamed until she saw Allies face fall.

“That'll be nice for you and Deb, to see your family altogether I mean.” Allie smiled knowing well that she'd miss them both terribly. 

“You don't understand Allie, I said we. Father has invited all of us.” Bea said as she placed the tray down on the bed.

“You wouldn't want me there. What would your family think?” Allie asked even though she knew Bea wouldn't let it go even if it ended in them arguing.

“I don't care what they think.” Bea said with determination. “If you don't come with us then none of us will go. This isn't a discussion Allie now don't even try to argue, you're coming with us and that's final.”

 

 

Bea had been far from happy with the queue at the butchers, judging by the length of it women had already started congregating at least an hour before they opened the door. She knew it was her own fault for sleeping so late and she could have skipped breakfast but if she had Allie would have insisted on not eating either. Then it had taken longer to even get out of the house after Allie had refused to stay in the bedroom. No matter what Bea had promised her it had made no difference.

“Books, I'll bring you whatever you like. Just stay here and read.” Bea smiled to herself when she thought back to the many ways she'd tried to convince her as she waited patiently in the queue. “I'll bring you a fresh pot of tea, the newspaper. Debs carrot cookies.” Nothing had worked. Allie had insisted that she could read in the sitting room and Bea had hurriedly lit the fire before making a fresh pot of tea. Running back up to the bedroom once she'd got her settled on the sofa she found her long forgotten favourite red blanket to keep Allie warm. Tucking it around her legs Allies protestations of not being cold had simply been ignored. 

“I am quite capable of taking care of myself. I've told you already I'm not dying. I'll just sit here and read, maybe have a nap. You don't have to do all of this, besides which I'm neither cold nor thirsty.” 

Bea sat on the edge of the sofa and kissed her. Allie had closed her eyes momentarily while she tried to come up with more convincing arguments when she felt the pressure of Beas lips against her own. It wasn't hard, but hard enough for her to forget every thought that had been flying around in her head. She'd kept her eyes closed because all she could focus on was the feel of Beas lips against her own, soft and extremely gentle. A hand had snaked its way behind Allie and into her hair pulling her even closer for a few seconds before Bea had pulled away. Standing back up she'd looked down at her, her face slightly flushed, smiling a huge satisfied smile. “Now if you decided to have a nap you'll have something apart from being alone to think about when you close your eyes.” Bea had said only slightly above a whisper before she'd turned around and left her to read the book she'd been holding. 

Now she walked exhausted back up the drive, waiting in queues was tiring but added to her lack of real sleep all she wanted to do was sit down. Lunch time had passed so hunger only added to her tiredness. Bea had already spotted Allie sitting in the windowsill with the red blanket wrapped around her, her arms tightly wrapped around her legs. Allie had been miles away wondering where Bea could have got to, each time she'd looked at the clock it seemed hours had passed when in fact it had only been a few minutes. Her intention had been to open the door when she spotted her until she'd become preoccupied with her thoughts. When she heard the door slam shut she jumped a little as she snapped out of her thoughts. There was only one person it could be but she still reminded herself that it wasn't impossible for it not to be Bea. She had to hope it would be her, she knew she had things to do that were more important than just sitting with her all day. She heard the footsteps out in the hall as they passed the sitting room door and ventured further towards the kitchen. There was only one person it could be, Liz couldn't have come back early. ‘Why would she?’ Allie thought, after all they'd only left that morning. 

When Allie finally made it to the kitchen Bea was standing with her back to her waiting for the kettle to boil. 

“You didn't get lost then?” She asked as Bea quickly spun around. Their eyes remained interlocked until the sudden whistling of the kettle announced that the water was boiling. 

“I didn't.” Bea finally answered as she made tea for them both. “Are you hungry? I'm sorry I was so long.” She sighed. “I'm sure the queues get longer every week and there's definitely less in the shops now than before Christmas. Sandwich?” She asked as she carried the teapot over to the table where Allie was now sitting. 

“I won't say no.” Allie grinned, she'd been so caught up by her own thoughts that she hadn't even noticed she was starting to feel hungry. 

“Are you feeling better?” Bea asked as she finally took a seat beside her, watching Allie nod her head as she took a bite of the sandwich she'd placed in front of her. “Good. After this I think you should have a bath and I'll change the sheets. Its always nice to climb between fresh sheets after a long hot bath. And don't remind me that five inches of water is all we're allowed.” Bea chuckled. “I'm certain no ones going to know and besides a soak will do you the world of good.”

“Yes sir” Allie gave her a mock salute.

“That's the wrong hand.” Bea smiled at her.

“Is it? Maybe I've only ever seen it done from behind.” Allie giggled.

“What are you talking about? It's the same from the front or the back.” Bea shook her head thankful that Allie was starting to seem more like her usual self again.

Their playful bickering continued as they ate and all the way up the stairs once Bea had done the dishes.

Allie had never seen the inside of the main bathroom, as she stepped in following Bea she thought she may well faint. It was enormous and like the rest of the house it was luxurious. Her eyes landed on a large selection of glass bottles lined up on one of the glass shelves as Bea proceeded to run a bath. Looking back at Allie she smiled. “Choose one.” 

Allie looked at her as if she'd grown an extra head. “I'm running you a bath, surly you don't want to use your poky bathroom. Its only Bath oil, Allie…you want me to choose for you?” Bea asked as Allie simply nodded. “This one them.” Bea smiled. “It's always been my favourite, but don't tell Debbie I told you that or she'll want to use every last drop.” As she put the scented oil in the steaming water the most wonderful perfume filled the air. The whole bathroom smelt like a summer garden.

Bea had brought her a fresh nightdress and the softest towels Allie though she'd ever felt before she left her to have her bath in peace. As Allie lay back in the bath a gnawing hunger completely distracted her from her thoughts for a few minutes making her regret not eating the whole sandwich Bea had made for her. Allie wondered how Bea would cope when bath oils and wonderfully scented soaps became impossible to find. Although judging by all the bottles that were lined up she supposed they wouldn’t run out for a while, and she had no idea what could be hidden away in the larger cabinet that hung on the wall. There would always be the black market and Juice seemed to be able to get her hands on almost anything but what would happen when even she struggled to get hold of things. Franky she knew had other contacts but none of them were as reliable as Juice. 

The difficulties and privations of wartime had not been as greater shock to Allie as she thought maybe they should have been to Bea. Although remembering who she was married to she guessed that most things wouldn't have been the greatest cause for alarm. Judging by her surroundings Bea had been raised in much greater comfort than Allie had ever really stopped to think. Allie had grown up with hard soap and cold water. The east end slums though had always been better than anything she'd lived with when she'd found herself unable to escape from Marie. Her family had never let poverty defeat them, Allie had always been clean and as well turned out as she could be. She'd wash every night using a flannel and a pan of hot water with a cold water rinse. Every Friday the whole family would visit the public bathhouse where hot water was always available, for a few pence they would soak themselves in the gigantic bathtubs. They were poor, very poor, but there had always been a sense of family and love in those grimy streets. 

 

Chapter Text

 

Bea turned back towards the bed to see Allie waiting patiently for her. She hadn't set out to spend so long soaking in the bath and she'd almost fallen asleep once or twice when she listened to the stillness that ran through the whole house. It was a strange feeling knowing Debbie was miles away. She could relax though, while Allie had been in the bath she'd spoken to her on the telephone and she sounded happy. At least she never stopped talking about how much she liked Sophie's cousins, what they had for lunch, dinner and their plans for the rest of their stay. It may be cold and snow was a possibility but it sounded like all their plans included being outside. 

“Deb said I have to tell you to get well soon.” Bea smiled because Debbie was always so thoughtful. “And she says to tell you goodnight.”

Allies girlish face was smiling back at her, she was feeling even better now she was back in bed, back in Beas bed because if she were honest there was no other place she'd rather sleep. The knowledge that they had a couple of days alone also helped chase the aches and pains away. As Bea watched her she could see the weight around her eyes that she knew hadn't been caused by working all day. She was sure it hadn't been there before she'd helped her into bed.

“I missed you while you were out today.” Allie whispered as Bea neared the bed.

“Really?” Bea smiled mischievously as she perched next to her. “Now why don't you tell me about that before I fetch us something to eat.”

“I can do better than that, how about I show you?” Allie said as she pulled her gently backwards. 

“Allie!” Bea squealed a little as she fell backwards. “You aren't well enough to be fooling around.” She huffed.

“And you're certain of that are you?” Allie asked as she leaned further forwards so she was hovering over her. “I can't think of anyone else I'd rather fool around with. But if you'd rather I didn't do this.” She leaned forward as far as she was able and pressed her lips gently to Beas. 

“I…I didn't say that.” Bea replied as she started to fidget. “We haven't eaten yet, we have to I mean…”

Allie quickly silenced her by placing another kiss on her lips, a little firmer than before. “I don't know what's going on in that head of yours right now but you know I never mean to make you feel uncomfortable.” Allie sighed as she pulled away. She knew already since her head was starting to hurt again that kissing and cuddling was the only thing she could manage without making herself feel as if the whole room was spinning again. Bea she already knew did seem to know what she wanted as long as it was on her terms and Allie was fine with that. After everything she'd heard about what he had done to her she wasn't even sure if they would ever get any further than they were now. Maybe that was just Allies own insecurities getting the better of her head again, or maybe it was just because sometimes Bea appeared to run hot and cold. Although recently cold was the furthest thing she appeared to be when it came to her.

 “Go and get whatever food you're in the mood for.” Allie smiled as Bea was trying to sit herself back up. Bea nodded before she turned on the bedside light at Allies side. Allie hugged her as tightly as the awkward angle Bea was now at would allow. Bea responded by kissing her, feeling warm lips against hers on any other night would have led to her kissing her more passionately. Tonight though she pulled away and stroked the hair away that had fallen over her face. She knew each time they found themselves alone it was getting a little easier to switch off all the bad things that she thought could happen because Allie would stop if she asked her to. Allie wasn't him, even the worst version of Allie she could imagine could never come close to his level of selfishness and abuse. She wanted to forget that she was married, forget who she was and replace that with who she used to be. Everything with Allie came naturally, like it was something that should have been long before now. She couldn't help wondering if this was the person she'd always been, she didn't know, how could she know? She'd switched off her emotions so long ago that sometimes she found the slightest new feeling was overwhelming, too powerful and all consuming. Allie she knew saw that, stopped her from going any further because she did know she needed time. Time to process everything, time to heal a little more and time to make sense of what everything really meant for her, for them.

“Soup it is then.” Bea laughed. “I really don't have the energy to do anything other than warm the rest of Liz’s soup up or make a sandwich.” 

After they finished eating Bea had deposited the tray on the floor beside the bed and they talked late into the night before either of them had realised how late it was getting. 

“Tired?” Bea asked as she watched Allie yawn, the answer was clearly obvious but since she'd been yawning a lot, asking seemed the sensible option.

“I hate to admit it but I am. I wish I could say I could stay awake all night and talk to you.”

“I'll still be here in the morning.” Bea mumbled as she reached over Allie to turn out the lamp. 

“The tray, won't you fall over it if you get up in the dark?” Allie suddenly asked as Bea turned out the other lamp. 

“It'll give me the perfect excuse to just climb over you should I need to get up.” Bea chuckled as she slid down under the covers and into Allies waiting arms. 

“You don't need an excuse to ever get that close.” Allie mumbled as she closed her eyes and quickly lost her battle with sleep.

 

 

Allie was awake earlier than she expected for a Sunday morning, sliding out of bed careful so as not to disturb Bea an idea had already settle in her mind. Picking up the tray from the floor at Beas side of the bed she left the bedroom as quickly and quietly as she could. She was feeling much better now although she suspected that it was mostly down to how little Bea had let her do. Now she was determined to do something nice for her, breakfast in bed, she had decided. She wasn't a complete disaster in the kitchen her mother and grandmother had taught her from an early age how to cook, something Franky greatly appreciated. She had never actually cooked anything just for Bea, she'd helped her, helped Liz with Sunday lunch if she wasn't sent out of the kitchen and made porridge for breakfast once or twice. Although being dragged out of the kitchen was more normal if Debbie decided that she wanted her to listen to her read. Bacon, eggs, tea and toast was hardly difficult to make and since for the past two days she'd largely lived on soup she was starving. 

Bea woke up once again to an empty bed. Her first thought was that Allie would probably only have gone to the bathroom after all since they were the only two people in the house there was no reason for her to have gone back to her own room. Sitting up in bed she organised her pillows so she could rest against them more comfortably. As she ran her hand over the sheets on Allies side of the bed there was still the slight trace of warmth remaining so she knew she couldn't have left too long ago. After five minutes she started to worry, maybe she was feeling ill again and hadn't had time to wake her, maybe she hadn't wanted to disturb her. Swinging her legs off the bed Bea failed to remember that there had been a tray on the floor that she'd left there. She checked Allies room and the main bathroom with no trace of her. It wasn't impossible she thought that maybe she had gone downstairs to find a book. Halfway down the stairs she was greeted by the smell of bacon cooking and she shook her head. Bea saw no reason for Allie to be making her own breakfast and she quickly decided that she was going to tell her so. Maybe make her go back to bed or sit at the table and wait for her to finish it if she refused and something told her that she most probably would. Allie she knew too well protested about almost everything. As she entered the kitchen she smiled as she saw Allie standing in front of the range, slightly bouncing up and down on the balls of her bare feet. She had her head turned towards the window and was looking out at the dark, cloudy sky. 

She smiled, she didn't want to catch her attention too early. Sneaking up behind her wasn't difficult as her attention had reverted back to what she was cooking. Stopping behind her she quickly threw her arms around her in a playful hug as she stepped closer, Allies back firmly against her front. Allie jumped a little and gasped in legitimate surprise. 

“Good morning.” Bea said cheerily. “You could have woken me up, I would have cooked your breakfast.”

“I wanted to surprise you, now you've ruined it.” Allie huffed a little but her tone wasn't one of any real annoyance.

“Are you alright? Want me to finish doing that?” Bea asked as she rested her head on Allies shoulder.

“No.” Allie laughed. “But you could make the tea, I have to admit even Franky says I should never be allowed within ten paces of a teapot when it needs making.”

 

 

Allie sat on the sofa with the book she'd been reading the day before once more being ordered to rest by Bea who had disappeared into the study after breakfast and was still missing.

“What have you been up to?” Allie asked when she finally heard the sitting room door close quietly.

“Just looking for something, read your book I won't disturb you.” Bea said as she sat in one of the arm chairs that was facing the sofa. She opened the sketchbook she'd brought in with her and selected a pencil from a tin as she settled herself more comfortably. Allie looked up at her slightly confused.

“You don't just want to sit and talk?” Allie asked as a frown washed over her face momentarily.

“You said you wanted to read, I don't want to stop you. Just pretend I'm not here.” 

“That's not an easy thing to do when you're in the same room.” Allie mumbled as she watched Bea smile at her.

Allie settled back against the cushions and adjusted Beas red blanket around her legs before she buried her head back in the pages of the book she was holding. After a few minutes she looked up watching Bea sketching. Her whole body seemed to have shifted into a much more relaxed and confident pose as she drew every line, watching her became mesmerising. She looked like she was doing what had always come naturally to her, like sketching was the one thing she'd been born to spend her life doing. She thought about the painting that hung in the hall and smiled, she'd decided after first seeing it that she loved it just as much as her mother must to have hung it there. Watching her made Allie smile as she watched every slight twitch of her muscles, every blink of her eyes. A couple of hours passed as they sat in silence both doing something they loved individually yet together. Bea had made a trip to the kitchen once to make a pot of tea but other than that neither of them had really moved.

It was past midday, almost one o'clock when Bea yawned and looked at the clock. “Oh wow, where did the time go? I should get us some lunch.” Bea said as she stood up and stretched. Picking up her sketchbook she closed it and dropped it back down on the sofa.

“Show me what you were drawing first, please. I want to see how good of an artist you really are. I know you can paint but that's not the same as pencil put to paper now is it?" Allie smiled as she threw off the blanket and stretched her legs out.

“You don't need to see, they aren't any good. It's just something I used to do, thought I'd give it another shot.” Beas eyes gravitated towards the floor. Harry had laughed at her, ripped up every sketch book he'd ever found in the house before throwing the pieces on the fire. The sketchbook she found in her fathers study was one of the few she had left, thankfully they had always been safe with her parents. The one she found in the study wasn’t full, the rest she knew were somewhere in her room. She’d been sketching in private since her return to the house, now she wished she had kept it that way.

“Please?” Allie almost pleaded, she was fascinated by art but she'd be the first person to admit that stick figures were just about as far as her capabilities stretched to. She watched as Beas face reddened a little more as she hesitated. A few seconds passed before she picked the book back up and passed it to Allie, completely unable to look her in the eyes as she did so. The first few pages were of flowers and views of the back of the house, the pages were yellowing and Allie guessed that she'd had the book for many years. She flipped through a few of the pages that contained pictures of who she guessed must have been Debbie, younger than she was now but completely recognisable. Turning over another page there was a picture of everyone who had been there for Christmas, it made her smile even brighter. Turning over another page then another the remainder of the sketches were of her, some she knew had to have been drawn from memory alone. There seemed to be more sketches of her than anything or anyone else, some seemed to only be suggestions of a figure caught as it moved. Some were of her in the cafe, helping Liz in the kitchen, chasing Debbie down the hall. Others were meticulous, they contained so much detail that she felt like she could be looking at her own reflection. The most detailed ones were of her sitting on the sofa her arm around Debbie's shoulders as she cuddled into her side, sitting in the kitchen at the table as she often did as she was talking to Liz. The most detailed of them all was of her sitting back in one of the arm chairs a teacup balanced on the arm. The last one was what she had just been working on while she was reading, the blanket wrapped around her legs. Even the light from the window that was behind her had been captured in exquisite detail. 

“These are very good.” Allie shook her head because good didn't describe what she was seeing. “I take that back, they are exceptional, you really are very talented.” She smiled brightly. “It would seem you've found your preferred subject since we came here.” She handed the book back without closing it. 

The slight flush that had covered Beas face darkened as she accepted the book back, closing it she jammed it behind one of the cushions. 

“I'm sorry, it's just…” Bea began but quickly trailed off as she looked away from Allie again. “You're so easy to draw…even from memory, every detail is in here.” She raised her hand and tapped a finger against her temple. Looking back to where Allie was still sitting, softly illuminated by the pale sunlight that filtered in through the window. It was crazy really usually Bea could find the words that she wanted, with Allie it was easy but not today. Everything she wanted to say jammed in the back of her throat. Words were making her head spin and setting her chest on fire. “Sometimes I find a muse and I….well I…”

Allie got up from the sofa before Bea even realised that she'd moved, wrapping her up in her arms and placing a kiss on her lips. “I think they are really good.” She whispered after pulling back a little.

Bea stared back at her as it felt like it was becoming increasingly difficult to breath. “Do you, do you feel up to going for a walk?” She eventually managed to choke out.

“Why not?” Allie smiled back at her. “The fresh air will do me good. And you can bring your sketch book, maybe we can find something other than me for you to draw.”

 

 

As they walked the sun was high and even with the chill in the air they could both feel its warmth. 

“We really should get some lunch, you are hungry?” Bea enquired as they walked through the crowds of people who were taking advantage of the sun.

“That sounds like a good idea. All this fresh air seems to have given me an appetite.” Allie giggled. She felt better being out in the sun and the fresh air, or maybe it was just walking arm in arm with Bea. Whatever the reason she knew she was hungry. 

Beas stomach decided at that precise moment to grumble. Allie heard it and raised an eyebrow as she laughed. “Seems to me you're the one who's starving today.”

“Come on, I know a quiet little pub just a little further down the road. Not sure how much it will have changed but they used to make fantastic pies. Even Franky always had to agree that they were the best she'd ever tasted.”

Allie looked a little surprised that Bea was even suggesting going to a pub but she wasn't going to argue. There was no better feeling for her than to be out with her in daylight, it didn't happen often, at least not when it was just the two of them. Bea as always held the door open for Allie and followed her inside. It was just the kind of place Allie could imagine Bea and Franky in as she look around. An open fire roared on one wall and the ceilings were ornate. An old dartboard was in one corner and it seemed that it would never be rendered useless if all the people spilling over it was anything to go by. They walked over to a plain table in one corner that had two wingback chairs around it. She looked a little more closely at their surroundings after she'd sat down. The pub was dimly lit and a little dingy but it was quite, much quieter than any they had ventured into so far together.

“I'll find out if they still serve food.” Bea frowned when she suddenly realised that she hadn't been there in over a year. “And I'll get us a drink.” It was Allies turn to frown, she had imagined that the next time she'd be buying the drinks, after all she had said the next time they were out she was paying.

After their lunch arrived Allie said it was the best pie she'd ever tasted, not that she remembered having eaten pie in a long time. Franky had had to give up making pies due to the lack of ingredients for making real pastry. They sat long after they'd finished their lunch laughing and giggling as they swapped stories about work. Bea reminisced about her time she'd spent in Sussex as a child. They'd taken their time eating and sipping their drinks as they talked but soon enough they had to step back outside into the late afternoon sun.

“This must have felt like a real let down.” Bea mumbled as Allie threaded her arm through Beas. “You prefer a more lively atmosphere I'm sure. Now the days almost over….”

“Nothing is ever a let down when I'm with you.” Allie smiled. “I think it was perfect.” She continued until her attention was drawn to a shop window they were passing and she stopped walking. “Will you wait just one minute, I'll be right back.” She quickly disappeared into the shop, a florist that Bea had never really noticed before. A few minutes later Allie reappeared clutching a handful of tiny white flowers.

“Shouldn't I be the one buying you those?” Bea asked. Allie laughed in response before linking their arms back together.

“Gypsophila were one of my mothers favourite flowers. It's strange to see them at this time of year, sorry I just had to…”

“Baby's breath.” Bea muttered as they walked. “Not impossible to grow in a heated greenhouse, they must have cost a pretty penny.”

“I just had to.” Allie mumbled as Bea nodded. The sadness in Allies eyes was plain to see and she didn't want to say anything that would upset her further. “It's only a few stems, you don't mind do you?” Bea shook her head as they carried on walking. She wanted to ask Allie something but didn't want to keep her out of the house for longer than was necessary. A few minutes passed as they walked towards home when Bea realised where they were.

“Allie?”

“Bea?”

“Would you mind if I sketched you again?” Bea asked as ideas swarmed around in her head. 

“Right now?” Allie asked as Bea nodded her head slowly. “I guess that would be alright. Where do you want me?” She grinned.

“In the park.” Bea pointed to the space beside them.

Allie agreed, she still felt fine and wanted to encourage Bea to do something she loved. It had been clear to her from the moment she'd looked at the first page of her sketch book that she was really more talented than she could admit to herself. Other people might not have encouraged her to follow her heart but Allie would, Allie would walk over hot coals if Bea asked her to.

“Over here.” Bea smiled as she found the perfect spot. Taking Allie by the hand she led her slightly off the path before slipping out of her coat and laying it on the ground. She sat her down on her coat at the base of a tree before taking the flowers Allie was still holding out of her hand. “I'm sure you won't mind if I use a few of these.” Bea concentrated hard as she placed some of the flowers behind her ear and waving the stems into her hair. The blossoms looked as though they were suspended by nothing by the time she'd finished.

“Perfect.” Bea said as she chuckled a little before finding a spot to sit herself down a few feet away. She pulled out her sketchbook and flipped through it to an empty page.

The sun was beginning to sink by the time she had finished. They left the park laughing at how long they had spent sitting there. They found a chip shop and bought fish and chips, eating them out of the newspaper wrapper just like they had the first time as they made their way home. It was dark by the time Bea decided that they should get the bus, Allie looked tired and she hadn't meant to keep her out so long. She had suggested a walk not an all afternoon marathon of sitting on the damp grass. When they finally boarded the bus it was almost empty and they sat at the back holding hands as their legs touched. The bus meandered through the closed roads taking detours thanks to the fallen buildings and bomb craters making the remainder of their journey home longer. Everything outside the window was dark apart from the light of the moon and the stars that peaked through the thin wispy clouds. 

“Next time I take you out I'm going to make it extra special. I know you said that you've enjoyed it but it wasn't what I intended.” Bea sighed after they alighted the bus. They walked down the pavement towards home, Beas arm draped over Allies shoulders and Allies arm round her waist.

“It was a perfectly acceptable way to spend an afternoon, I should be thanking you.” Allie said as they walked along.

“You should be thanking me? For what?” Bea asked as she frowned, in her mind the whole afternoon had been a complete failure. 

Allie simply tightened her hold on Beas waist. “Thank you, I've had a wonderful afternoon.”

Bea glanced at her as they turned the corner into their street. “When's your birthday? I mean you know when mine is and I've never asked. I should have, I want to know.”

“August.” Allie said sadly. “I haven't celebrated it for years. It's not important really.”

“Of course it's important, everything about you is important…well looks like we're here.” Bea said as they reached the front gates. They walked towards the pitch black house, the time for the black out had passed and Bea knew they were going to have to stumble around in the dark before they dare turn a light on. Walking up to the small porch Bea stopped. Their arms and hands lingered in each other's before they slipped apart. 

“Maybe I'll see you tomorrow.” Bea laughed lightly. She'd wanted to walk Allie home before, the night she was almost left for dead in the shelter. 

“What are you talking about? You live here.” Allie grabbed Beas arm. 

Bea looked at her, the flowers were still behind her ear and she thought that ill or not she'd never looked more beautiful than she did standing there in the dim light that was cast from the moon.

Allie smiled, if Bea wanted to be chivalrous who was she to stop her? “Aren't you forgetting something?” She asked.

“Am I?” Bea asked, she never thought she'd find herself here, never thought she'd ever be doing this.

“Oh, I know you are.” Allie smiled and leaned in towards Bea resting her hands on her shoulders. She kissed her softly on the lips. It was a slow deliberate kiss. She pulled back a little and smiled when she saw Beas wide eyes and slightly flushed cheeks. She was just about to turn back towards the door when she felt Beas hands slide up her arms before they grabbed the nape of her neck and gently pulled her back. When Allie looked into her eyes they were soft and full of love. Something else was there, something a little hazy, something she'd seen before; want, need, passion and lust were all there in her eyes. When they kissed again every movement was affectionate and full of love making Allies head swim a little more. 

“I think it's past your bedtime.” Bea chuckled as she let her hands slide back down Allies arms.

“I think it's past our bedtime don't you?” Allie grinned, she wouldn't force anything, everything would be on Beas terms. Allie knew she was afraid of going too far and right now she wasn't sure if she could just simply lay next to her and fall asleep wrapped in her arms.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“Tea?” Bea asked after they'd made their way around the downstairs rooms in darkness making sure it was safe to turn on the lights. She hated the blackout, hated having to be extra careful. No one wanted an ARP warden at their door. Before Allie had come into her life she remembered one night when she'd fallen foul of the blackout, or rather she had because Debbie had forgotten every warning she'd ever given her about not turning on the lights before she'd double checked that the curtains were closed.

“Thought you said it was past my bedtime.” Allie laughed, Bea was stalling for time she knew that. Did it seem to matter that Allie reminded her all the time that she'd never do anything she wasn't comfortable with? Did it seem to sink in that it was perfectly fine with her if she told her stop? The answer she knew was no because as much as Bea always paid attention to everything she ever said to her believing everything was still difficult for her. She saw a change in her though, today especially but maybe she'd still say that Allie was ill and needed to rest. 

“I did.” Bea nodded her head. “But the blackout…it's hard to do anything in the dark.” 

Allie let out a breathy laugh as she stepped closer to her. “You don't need all the lights on for everything.” 

Bea rolled her eyes. “You didn't answer me about the tea. And we do need lights for that. Did I ever tell you about the time Deb had the ARP warden banging our door down?”

Allie shook her head. “Tell me.”

“Are you sure? I mean it's nothing exciting.” Bea asked as she watched Allie simply nod. “I'll make the tea and tell you.” 

Allie followed her to the kitchen as Bea recounted the night Debbie had been in too much of a hurry to go to her room to fetch her library book. Bea had asked her to wait for a minute or two while she checked the blackout curtains were properly closed in the downstairs rooms but of course Debbie was in a hurry. “The next thing I knew there was someone banging on the door and shouting through the letterbox to ‘turn that bloody light out’. I had no idea she hadn't waited and had gone to her room turning on her light. I was so embarrassed, after that I made sure her bedroom curtains stayed closed even on weekends.” Bea placed the teapot on its usual tray along with the cups and saucers and milk jug as she continued. “It could have been so much worse though, he let me off with a warning since it was the first time it had ever happened. There was a woman who lived a little further down the street and she got into trouble more than once. The first time, so I'm told, she'd left for work in the morning and left her bedroom light on. Like me she didn't get home from work until after the blackout so a police man had climbed in through a window that wasn't closed properly. She did the same thing about four weeks later. She didn't bother to attend her court date after her first summons and had already been fined thirty shillings in her absence.” Bea picked up the tray and started making her way out of the kitchen with Allie close behind. “The second time she was charged with breaking blackout regulations she attended court. So I heard she was absolutely quaking in her shoes and I'm not surprised because they can give you some pretty hefty fines. She plead guilty, not that she had a great deal of choice given the evidence because the same policeman had seen the light on and had to climb in again to turn it off.” Bea placed the tea tray down. 

“What happened?” Allie asked as she stood in the doorway watching her in amusement. 

“Huh? Oh she got fined £2 for the second offence. Liz told me she paid that fine pretty quick and she never left a light on again.” 

Bea was about to sit down when she realised Allie was still standing in the doorway which made no sense to her at all. She knew she was always the most anxious, probably the most vulnerable, especially when it came to her own emotions. Allie she knew always seemed like the one who wasn't afraid to go where angels feared to tread. That was starting to change, Allie had seen that a little more each day and she'd often thought it seemed almost magical to watch. Bea looked back at her and caught her staring. 

“What are you doing all the way over there?” Bea asked as she walked over to her. Taking her hand she gently guided her towards one of the sofas. “You still need to rest even if you are feeling better today.” Bea said quietly as she pulled her down into her lap as she sat down. “You don't have to have tea if you don't want it.” Bea said as she looked at her.

“I don't really care about the tea.” Allie answered her quietly as she felt Bea easing herself into a more comfortable position on the sofa beneath her. Allie hesitated a little, glancing at the door quickly as if she expected to see someone standing there. As Bea trailed her fingers down Allies arm she finally began to relax a little more. Cautiously Bea moved a little, swinging her legs up and scrunching them into the remaining space that was on the sofa. Something in her head told her she'd made a mistake choosing to sit on this sofa but as Allie hesitantly changed her position, straddling her hips, she wasn't thinking about moving and maybe spooking her. “Are you alright with this?” Allie whispered. Bea simply smiled at her as she trailed her fingers softly back up her arm.

Allie swallowed down the lump that had suddenly formed in her throat as she looked down at Bea who appeared more relaxed than Allie expected her to be. Deciding to take the plunge Allie leaned down kissing Bea softly on the lips and encountered absolutely no resistance when she reciprocated. Allie pulled back looking her in the eyes, searching for anything that told her she didn't want this but found nothing that even hinted that Bea wanted her to stop. Allie quickly resumed kissing her again, starting at her mouth before she trailed soft kisses down her jaw and along the curve of her neck. Bea closed her eyes, savouring the feel of Allies lips against her skin as she melted into a quiet moan. A little shakily she brought her arms up and placed her hands on either side of Allies waist in an effort to tell her without words that she didn't want to stop. No one but Allie had ever been that gentle towards her and she worried even now as she lay on the sofa that maybe every second of rough treatment she'd been subjected to could have completely destroyed any natural instincts she'd ever possessed. They lay kissing, Allie alternating between her lips and her neck until Beas hips hitched involuntarily. Allie gasped a little in surprise, until that moment Beas participation once she had gotten herself completely comfortable had been limited to quiet moans and ever increasingly trembling kisses. Allie looked down at her, her face a little more flushed than it had been a few minutes earlier. Bea, a little more shakily, raised her arm allowing her hand to come to a rest behind Allies head and pulled her closer so that she could whisper in her ear.

“I think the teas gone cold now anyway…I think you were right, it is past our bedtime.” Bea quickly glanced back at Allie, blushing more than she hoped she would, aching more than she ever though possible and wondering if it really was fine for her to be feeling the way she was. Her head always would question her heart, deep down she knew it was fine, that Allie would never tell her anything else if she asked. Wasn't everyone allowed to feel light headed and in a romantic daze if they were with the person they loved? It had been too long she told herself, she'd never known what it was to feel like this. Her head told her that she was being foolish, she had a daughter. ‘She loves Allie almost more than you do.’ She told herself, but naturally for Bea her head took over again reminding her that she hardly considered herself to be in her prime. She knew she didn't, hadn't ever had any idea what was even considered normal in any relationship. Everything seemed to have changed without her even noticing because she had never really noticed before Harry had set his sights on her. Her whole life seemed to have been about making it up as she went along and everything with Allie seemed to be no different. The one thing she did know, the one thing she could be absolutely one hundred percent certain of was that she was in love with Allie. She had no memory of ever knowing what romantic love even felt like. With Allie everything she'd ever heard anyone say on the subject rose up within her and thrashed around in her head with a level of intensity that she'd never known existed. What she felt now was raw and consuming and made her extremely hesitant sometimes. For the longest time the idea that Allie could even possibly not love her back had hurt more than enough to have her second guessing her own feelings. She'd always known she cared for her, it had always been more than obvious but it always worried her. Even now sometimes she found herself still questioning herself. Still they had spent enough time, too many nights it seemed, just kissing and cuddling up together. Remembering some of Franky's stories about when she was Allies age, getting so drunk in her favourite pub finding herself a few hours in with some girl she hardly knew halfway down her throat, had given her plenty to question. Except Franky was completely convinced that staying home in the evenings was Allies happy place as long as she was with Bea and Debbie. Bea wouldn't have ever blamed Allie if she changed her mind. She'd thought it was up to Allie to decide that this wasn't what she wanted but everything she showed Bea was that she wanted nothing more. She'd held her at arms length for as long as she was able to and now she knew it just wasn't possible anymore. It was down to Allie now to tell her she didn't want this because Bea knew she did and always would.

“I think you'll find it was past our bed time almost an hour ago.” Allie sniggered before she was silenced by Bea pressing her lips to her neck. Bea heard the change in Allies breathing as she kissed along her neck. Pulling back for what felt like far too long already she looked up at her as Allie hovered above her. Taking allies face in her hands she ran her thumb over her lips before kissing her again. Allie always had a hard time concentrating on anything whenever Bea was near her and right now she couldn't even believe anything her ears told her.

“Take me to bed then.” Bea whispered her lips millimetres from Allies ear. 

“Hmmmm.” Allie hummed until those words finally filtered into her brain. “Are you sure? We…we don't have to…I mean….if it's not what you want…”

“Isn't that what I normally do? Ramble I mean.” Bea laughed as she watched the confusion drain from Allies face.

“You do.” Allie answered honestly. “Only that's just one more thing that makes you so adorable.” She smiled. “We don't have to do anything, if you aren't ready. I don't even know why you agreed to let Deb go with Liz, you didn't have to. I know I wasn't feeling great but she could have stayed. I don't want you to think that it was just an act on my part. You know, to get you all to myself so we could…” Bea silenced her again when she placed another kiss on her lips.

“I know that. I wasn't expecting you to feel better yet, and if you're not I hope you'll tell me.”

“I feel fine. I haven't managed to cover you in anything nasty yet have I?” Allie giggled knowing that if she'd have stayed in Beas bed any longer that first morning she felt unwell the chances that she would have had been high. 

“Shall we go up then?” Bea asked certain that if Allie said no right now she'd lose her nerve faster than she found it.

 

 

The distance between the sitting room and Beas bedroom had been covered in what suddenly felt like a blink of an eye but they both knew it had taken them far longer to get there than that. They'd lost count of how many times they'd stopped on the way to kiss, pressed each other against the nearest solid object and it seemed they'd left a trail of discarded clothing in their wake. Almost falling through Beas bedroom door the tea pot still sitting on the tray, cold and untouched, had been forgotten as had the more obvious fact that the curtains were still wide open. Allie could feel Beas breath on her skin, they'd been this close before but never in this state of undress. The next kiss Allie felt against her lips was soft and far too quick for her liking, like a snowflake landing on her skin, it was over before it had begun although it still lingered on her lips. As Bea pulled away Allie had whimpered, opening her eyes though she saw Bea smiling at her before she grabbed the back of her neck and pulled her in for another kiss. This time Bea didn't hold back as she crashed into Allie, pushing her back against the wall she was sure she felt it shake a little.

Bea thought she could physically feel Allies gaze rolling over her body after they had fallen, naked, back onto the bed. As Allie tried to kiss every inch of Beas exposed skin she felt as though she should be more self conscious but the thought was quickly pushed from her mind. She'd never been completely naked in front of her, she'd never wanted to be completely naked in front of anyone before and have their eyes consume her so completely. As their eyes locked again everything else but each other blurred and was rendered completely insignificant. Bea noticed the uncomfortable tightness that was growing in her abdomen, a fluttering that seemed to grow stronger because of Allies presence. She was sure she'd never felt anything like it and for a moment it made her unsure if she should even want them to continue. Leaning in Allie placed a deft kiss against her neck as if feeling her inner turbulence, a sense of calm settled over Bea instantly not returning as once it would have the moment Allie moved her head away. Trailing kisses up her neck and under her ear, a little too slowly Bea first thought, until she felt her breath sweep over the imprint of those kisses causing her skin to become alight with goosebumps. She quickly found herself trying to remember how the breathe as she felt Allie reach for her hand, bringing it up to her lips she placed a kiss on the back of it before turning it over and leaving another on her palm. It was a lingering kiss that made Beas head swim a little more as a thrill ran the entire length of her arm. Everything was so new, slightly bewildering, and the ache in Beas abdomen returned as Allie moved her hand to leave a soft kiss on her wrist. Stroking her fingers over Allies lips and down her neck before reaching her hand round to cradle the side of her face. Giving her a timid smile in the moonlit room this felt like a different declaration of intimacy as Bea felt a new level of excitement grow within her. Her eyes darted back and forth between Allies eyes and her full lips as if she were trying to decide to kiss her for the first time all over again. 

Anticipation grew between them as everything in the room, even the moonlight and the bed beneath them, faded away until it was only them laying so close that not even air could exist between them. They both leaned in, unable to wait for a second more, as their noses grazed together for the briefest of moments before their lips met, barely moving at all to begin with. Allies tongue moved and lightly caressed Beas lips before she parted them slightly, Allie moved away slightly with a smile, bringing her hands up to carefully cradle Beas face. Bea fought the urge to pout, slightly worrying that once again Allie would be the one to put a stop to the intimacy between them. She smiled back at Allie in return hoping above anything that she could convince her that this was what she wanted without having to say anything. The fluttering in her abdomen only increased as Allie gazed at her intently, longingly, as if trying to work out if Bea was just being too polite to tell her to stop. Bea was beginning to feel completely and utterly infuriated with Allie, taking her time earlier had been one thing but now it was just becoming frustrating. 

“I…I think you need to stop thinking so much. If I wanted to stop don't you think I would have said so by now?” Bea asked trying to say everything she couldn't find the right words for right now with the simplest words she could think of, words that even Boomer wouldn't have been able to misunderstand. 

Allie willed herself to say something, anything. To ask her if she really meant that, tell her she'd stop if she really wanted her to but she couldn't think of anything. Finally managing a weak and whispered, “Alright.” 

Allie leaned in and placed a brisk kiss against her cheek and then pulled back and smiled at her again. Bea would admit that she loved how Allie always took such great tender care of her but right now she wanted more, much more than she had the words or the courage to ask for. With the fluttering in her abdomen continuing to grow in intensity Bea just leaned forward and quickly sealed their lips in a kiss that should have left Allie in no doubt that she meant everything, even if she couldn't find the words. Allie giggled against her lips without breaking the kiss as she moved her head to find a better angle that much improved the kiss they were now sharing.

As they continued to kiss Allie pushed Bea gently back against the mattress. Their kiss became more passionate than any other kiss they'd ever shared, and their touches held a greater sense of urgency. Beas hands were running up and down Allies back, feeling her chest swelling against hers with the force of the few sharp breaths she was able to take. Bea quickly felt overcome by the attention of Allies gently wandering hands, each sensation was new and more wonderful than she'd ever imagined. Feeling one hand trail lower to caress her inner thigh a rising sense of urgency rose up in her and was accompanied by the most pleasant tingling running up the length of her spine. She was beginning to feel out of control, she wanted more but she had no idea what she wanted more of. At any other time in her life she would have said “No,” tried to put a stop to this the second she felt her nerves rising but she didn't want this to end, at least not right now, maybe not ever as long as she was with Allie.

Allie finally pulled back, the lack of oxygen making her head light. Placing one more brief kiss against Beas lips she changed position to place feather light kisses down her neck, along her collar bone and down her chest. She felt Bea take a sharp intake of breath as she placed more gentle kisses across each breast before finally settling on one and gently flicking her tongue over the already erect nipple. Hearing a low moan escape Beas mouth she was unable to resist temptation any longer and she delicately sucked it into her mouth. Hearing another low moan fall from Beas lips she took that as a sign that she wasn't about to tell her to stop anytime soon. As unsure of herself as Allie still was unless Bea told her to stop she was determined not to, she was always the one to put an end to anything that felt like it was getting too serious and clearly now was not the right time to let her own insecurities get the better of her. After giving both breasts her full attention she moved slightly so she could prop herself up on her elbow earning her a slight frown from Bea. Allie hesitated, not sure now if this might be the first and the last time she ever got to see her like this. In the moonlight she became fully aware of how beautiful the woman laying next to her truly was. She gazed at her face as her hair sprawled out on the pillow behind her. Was she trying to memorise every line and curve of her body she wondered to herself as her eyes moved from her face following the perfect line of her neck and down further. How anyone could treat something so perfect with anything other than love and care would always be beyond her comprehension. 

Bea turned over onto her side watching Allies eyes before she reached out for her, hooking her arms around her and allowing herself to fall back against the mattress taking Allie with her.

“Allie…” Bea whispered. “Are you still in there?” She asked as she let her fingers trail softly down her face.

Allie blinked a few times as she looked back at her, Beas eyes held no fear, there was concern deep within them but most of all there was a hunger in them that Allie knew she'd never witnessed before. When she didn't answer Bea did the only thing she could think of in that moment. Trailing her hands softly up the sides of the body that was laying, warm and completely naked, on top of her until she reached her face. Raising her head slightly from the pillow as she pulled Allie closer she pulled her into a kiss that neither of them had expected or experienced before. 

“Wow!” Allie breathed as Beas head fell back against the pillow and her hands moved to her shoulders before roaming down her back, caressing every inch of skin she could before they wandered lower. Cupping her baby soft buttocks in her hands Bea pulled her even closer and they both gasped at the intensity of the contact. 

“Tell me what you want.” Allie whispered when she recovered a little of her composure. 

Bea swallowed hard as she nuzzled her face into Allies neck, words failed her for a moment. ‘Tell me what you want.’ Those words circled around her mind as she tried to think of something to say, to verbalise what she needed but all words failed her for long seconds because she wasn't even certain she knew the right words.

“Touch me…please.” Bea whispered in her ear when everything else, every other word she knew slipped away from her. 

Allies heart picked up speed hammering in her chest, it may have missed a beat or two the second she heard those words, right now she couldn't be sure and was certain she didn't really care as she rolled off her. 

“Are you sure?” She asked as she scooted closer again back towards Bea and pulling herself back up to rest on her elbow. She hadn't touched another woman in so long she even doubted that she remembered what she was meant to do. And this was Bea, the one person she felt sure she'd give up her own life for if it meant keeping her safe. Questions quickly flooded her mind, what could go so horribly wrong that Bea would tell her to leave now? She didn't want an answer to that particular question but still it roamed free through her head, nothing was going to stop it she thought until she heard another whispered request. 

“Stop thinking so much.” Allie saw the smile, heard the words. “Thinking so hard never does you any good. I should know, if I hadn't made myself stop overthinking everything we wouldn't be here right now.”  

“Sorry…I just…I just get lost inside my own head sometimes.” Allie mumbled. “You'll tell me to stop…if you need me to? It's not a problem, but…tell me what you need.”

“If I need you to stop, if it gets too much I'll tell you. Right now I just need you.”

Allie searched her face as she nodded slowly. Now was not the time to overthink, she needed to stay a little more alert she was sure of that. Not thinking wasn't something she could do, just being here like this with Bea gave her a million things to think about. Giving in to her own need to touch her was likely to make her forget that she needed to pay a little more attention to what Bea needed. Laying the palm of her hand against Beas stomach she hesitated for a long moment before she caressed her skin, slipping lower she caressed each hip. She ran her hand down the outside of each of her thighs, before gently stroking the soft skin of her inner thighs. Her hand returned to her stomach before she ran it over her ribs, trying to memorise the feel of every inch of skin. Trailing her fingers down one side of her body Bea wriggled and burst into a fit of giggles. 

“That tickles, Allie!”

Allie returned her giggle before she lent down and kissed her gently. “Sorry.” She whispered as their lips broke apart. 

Trailing her hand back down her body, a little further over her stomach than she had previously dared she swallowed hard. A shadow of a doubt creeping in that maybe Bea was only doing this because she thought it was what Allie wanted.  

“We don't have to…we don't have to do this.” Allie said as she caught Beas eye again. “I'll be just as happy…”

“Did anyone ever tell you that you talk too much?” Bea asked as she grabbed Allies hand, resting her palm against the back of Allies, slowly encouraging her to move further down her body.  

When Allies fingers finally found the destination Bea seemed to have had in mind for longer than she had she had to hold back a gasp when she found the heat and slickness that was waiting for her. Bea didn't even know what she had expected to feel, she knew too well what anything like this had felt like for her before. Then she corrected her own thoughts because no one had ever been so careful with her before. He had never cared if she wanted his touch or not but she craved Allies, had always craved everything Allie related from almost the first moment they met. She had no idea if it was meant to feel this good, and somewhere in the back of her mind she half expected it to become painful. The more pressure she felt from Allies fingers the better it felt, the higher she felt and all she could do was try to keep her hands fixed anywhere on Allies body she could reach. If she let go she was convinced she'd disappear, one hand trailed up and down her back as the other found its way into her hair. She couldn't even think anymore when she felt Allie crane her neck towards her, kissing across her chest, her breasts. Her pleasure intensified, her stomach tightened as she pulled on Allies hair, not meaning to hurt her and at the same time not caring if she did because this was nothing like what she ever expected. Franky had told her plenty of things she'd never wanted to hear and now she was certain even Franky had been wrong because this feeling was indescribable. She found Allies lips, pulled her closer than she thought was possible and in that moment everything changed. She was certain she might fly into a million pieces, her thoughts faded into nothing and all she could focus on was Allie and what she was feeling.

Allie lay down beside her, holding her as she rested her head on her shoulder while she waited for Beas breathing to return to normal, or at lest almost back to normal. Picking her head up when she heard her sigh before she stretched Allie smiled.

“Are you alright?” She asked.

“Hmmmmm, never been better.” Bea smiled as she wound her arms round her. “Is that how it's meant to feel?”

Allie trailed her fingers down her cheek as she stared back at her. “I guess so….you didn't tell me to stop.” 

“If its like that every time I doubt I ever will.” Bea laughed.

“Good to know.” Allie grinned before she laid her head back on her shoulder wrapping her free arm around her pulling her in as close as she possibly could as Bea trailed her fingers mindlessly up and down her back. They lay in silence for long minutes just holding each other until Bea almost threw Allie on her back.

“What are you doing?” Allie asked still a little shocked from feeling the coolness of the eiderdown against her skin.

“It's only fair….unless you don't want me to.” Bea said suddenly a little fearful that maybe Allie didn't want her as much as she thought she did. Telling someone you love them was easier for some people. Allie did mean it, she hadn't said it lightly her heart knew that but right now her head held a small doubt. She wasn't lovable wasn't that what she'd been told for far too long? 

“Bea…” Allie paused briefly watching her, knowing she was fighting with herself inside her own head. “Bea…” 

Bea blinked and looked her in the eye. “I don't want you to feel you have to. If you aren't ready I'm completely fine with that. I'm always going to love you no matter what we do or don't do. I'd never try to pressure you into anything you don't want to do.” 

And there it was, no pressure like always, no expectation. How could she ever doubt anything Allie ever said when she always put her first? Bea didn't say a word as she lay down beside her, trailing her fingers over every exposed piece of skin she could find, laying kisses on her shoulder until she lifted her head again. Propping herself up on her elbow just like Allie had done earlier, leaning forward and peppering her skin with tiny, delicate kisses. Allie knew she needed to tell her to stop before she did something she thought her silence was telling her she wasn't ready for when the air raid siren sounded. 

“Bea, we need to get dressed….” She made no attempt to stop and get up from the bed. “Bea, there's an air raid.” 

Bea lifted her head and looked her in the eye again. “So there's an air raid, if we die tonight at least we die together.” 

“But…” Allie half heartedly tried to protest until she felt Beas fingers travel lower than they had before. The second she felt Beas fingers slip between her legs even the air raid sirens were never going to be any match for what she feeling. Bea certainly didn't seem as if she was going to let a few German bombers deter her as Allies fingers found their way into her hair. 

“You really weren't going to let the bloody Germans stop you were you?” Allie laughed when she finally found the ability to speak again.

“You started it.” Bea threw back after she kissed her shoulder for the umpteenth time since she'd fallen limp and extremely silent beside her. “It was only fair that I finish it.” She shrugged as she laughed. 

“And the bombs falling out of the sky were never going to stop you?” Allie asked.

“They didn't stop me…now I think it's getting a little too cold to stay here like this don't you?” She asked even though they were both aware that the all clear hadn't sounded and might not for some time yet. There were no more thuds in the distance, that didn't mean the German bombers wouldn't be back. They wouldn't kid themselves into thinking that they were safe just yet but neither of them wanted to get dressed and venture outside to the cold, damp shelter. They never wanted to do that on any night when they had fallen asleep in their beds, even though in reality it didn't happen all that often.

The two of them slumped back into each other's arms once they had finally made it under the covers, curling up together. They kissed still in a slight daze after everything they had just done. When their lips broke apart for a few minutes they'd murmur and whisper across the pillow in an effort to make each other blush or giggle. Slowly though Beas lips became less responsive and her eyes relaxed into sleep. Allie reached across and ran her fingers over her face, tracing over her relaxed brow and her jawline before she placed one last delicate kiss on her lips. Closing her eyes she knew there was still a chance of more bombs falling but if Bea wasn't afraid of staying in their bed she wouldn't be either. ‘Their bed’ she thought as she drifted off to sleep, it sounded right even if she wasn't certain that once Debbie was home it would work.

 

 

As the rising winter sunlight poured through the window illuminating everything in the room it touched with a golden hue Bea opened her eyes to find Allie still in her arms. The all clear must have sounded sometime during the early hours but she knew she hadn't heard it. She lifted her head from the pillow and looked towards the window, still hardly believing that she hadn't given the slightest thought to closing the curtains the night before. She knew if she got out of bed now everywhere she could see from that window would be coloured in an array of peaches and deep oranges from the rising sun. The new light would be chasing the shadows from the surrounding streets, even the empty buildings and burnt out shells of buildings would be lit with a glow that saw them as martyrs to this war and not victims. Everything would be beautiful, but nothing could be as beautiful as the woman who was still laying in her arms. Even the knowledge that she was still naked under the covers wasn't enough to make her leave their bed. She wasn't ready to tear her eyes away from the woman in her arms as the sun illuminated her skin making it look too precious for her to even touch. Allies smile was always like a sunrise even during the gloomiest of days, it was something she could quite easily watch forever. It was one of the first things she'd noticed about her and had been the one thing she'd always remembered the most.

“You're smiling like a fool, Bea. What are you thinking about?” Allie asked almost as soon as she opened her eyes an eyebrow raised in amusement.

“Just about how beautiful this morning looks, how beautiful you look. But mostly I'm thinking about you, I'm always thinking about you.” Bea sighed as she snuggled back in a little closer to Allie.

“I think you must need to get your eyes tested, shall I make you an appointment while I'm on my lunch break?” Allie giggled.

Bea wriggled out of Allies arms and propped herself up on her elbow to look down at her. “You're lunch break? You weren't thinking of going back to work today where you?” Bea asked.

Allie shrugged. “I feel fine now, Franky will be expecting me to go back.”

“But I have the day off.” Bea whined. “And besides, you might start feeling unwell later. We still have the house to ourselves, Liz isn't due back with the kids until tomorrow afternoon.”

Allie reached up and ran her fingers softly over her cheek. “I was joking with you. I know you took the day off because of me, I'm not really going to leave you here alone when you only did that because of me.” She smiled.

“You're a pain sometimes you know that?” Bea asked as she rolled her eyes, but only in jest, before she lay back down pulling Allie closer and kissing her. “But I hope you know that Franky won't be opening for the next two days after today, and I'm only working until lunch time tomorrow. I could always be persuaded to telephone Mr Potter and ask if he minds me not working tomorrow.”

“I can't ask you to do that.” Allie whispered as her lips brushed Beas.

“You aren't asking me to do anything.” Bea laughed. “I'd rather stay here with you.”

Allies smile was enigmatic, serene. Bea could have written substantial essays about it, on the depths that it held. She rested her hand against her hip before leaning in to kiss her again. Right now it would take a lot of encouragement to get her to leave the comfort of their bed, and from now on she hoped it would be their bed. 

 

Chapter Text

 

Rain had sluiced down the the windows for the last half an hour or more sending a chill all the way through Bea to her bones as she watched it. Now the wind was howling worse than it had before the rain had started to fall. ‘How things can change in the blink of an eye.’ Bea thought to herself as she sat in her fathers study facing the window watching as another strong gust of wind ripped at a tree, tearing off one of its branches. It seemed today that mother nature was trying to reenact the violence of war. The hedges around the front of the house looked as if they could quite easily be up rooted and blown away if the swaying of the tree was anything to go by. She'd made it almost to the end of the street after breakfast when she'd decided that the shopping needed doing right that very moment and she hadn't been prepared to wait. Allie had warned her that she would never make it there and back in the current weather but of course she knew better. She'd quickly changed her mind when she noted how deserted the street was, people seemed to have chosen to miss their daily walks or early trips to the shops and that was unusual. Watching the tree a little longer she knew why, fear of losing your hat or bag, worse still a child to the ever increasing gusts was enough to change anyone's mind, even hers as stubborn as it was most of the time. The last time the wind had been that strong it was a day in mid November and the conspiracy enthusiasts had been whispering that it was all the work of Hitler himself. She'd heard murmured conversations on her way to work after walking with Allie to the cafe that Hitler was not happy with only waging war, he had built a weather machine and was attacking Britain with it to weaken its population before he sent his army to invade. Those ridiculous theories had promptly been shut down when the wind had suddenly died away after lunch and was replaced by the sun as it hung wearily in the dreary grey, almost the same colour as a cemetery stone, sky; but certain people still chose to believe those theories. It had been cold in November, slightly colder than was usual but nothing really out of the ordinary that could have ever justified theories of weather control. 

Bea knew that once the wind died down it would in fact be a warmer day than it had been that time the previous year. The day before New Year's Eve the year before had seen temperatures below freezing all day and night. She sat back and picked up her sketch book, if she couldn't leave the house she didn't have time for distractions; even if the biggest distraction she thought she'd ever had was still somewhere roaming around in the house. Over breakfast Allie had steered the conversation to Debbie's bedtime stories, she'd overheard a lot of them and most she knew didn't come from any books she was aware of.

“I made them up.” Bea had admitted. “Harry hated books so apart from borrowing them from the library she didn't have that many. I've told them to her so many times now they were committed to memory a long time ago. She still loves them though.” 

“You never thought about writing them down? Having them published?” Allie had asked as she'd cleared the dishes from the table.

It had never crossed her mind, the mere suggestion from Allie had sent her into a fit of laughter at first until she'd wandered into her fathers study after her failed attempt at leaving the house. She'd thought about what Allie had said, laughed a little more, then actually spent some time thinking about it seriously. Turning her back on the window she had finally written down a rough draft of Debbie's favourite story. It needed a little more work, a little polish she decided but that could wait until she'd done some rough sketches. It could come to nothing, especially right now but if Allie was convinced she could do it it had to be worth giving it a go. She had so many stories running around in her head at least one of them might be good enough to eventually make it into print.

“Would you like some tea?” Allie asked when she appeared in the open doorway jolting Bea from her concentration.

“Maybe later.” Bea replied without looking up. “Thank you for the offer though.”

“Alright. I'll just go and clean the place up a little.” Allie shook her head, Bea wasn't even listening to her again. 

A while later Bea was still trying to get one of the rough sketches she was toying with to at least resemble the image inside her head when she heard the sound of the vacuum cleaner thundering away in one of the other rooms. Why Allie had decided that the house was in need of cleaning she wasn't even about to ask, they'd spent most of their time confined to the sitting room or bedroom. It was just the two of them they couldn't have made that much mess that it needed cleaning so soon after Liz had done it. She rolled the chair out from under the desk and across the room to close the door before going back to what she was trying to do. She could still hear the vacuum cleaner wheezing and rumbling around the downstairs rooms until she noticed the noise must be making its way up the stairs. Since they'd only used the bathroom and her room she doubted the racket would need to continue for too much longer. Hearing it over head she sighed and folded her arms across her chest as she sat back in the chair. ‘The girls room? Really Allie.’ She thought to herself. When the offending noise finally fell silent she picked her pencil back up from where she'd dropped it and continued trying to finish the sketch. A short time later the study door opened and Allie popped her head in.

“Was I making too much noise?” She asked as she walked in stopping behind the chair Bea was sitting in at the desk. “How's it going?” She asked as she placed her hands on her shoulders and began rubbing them as she looked down at the sketch book Bea had in front of her.

Allies presence was always nice, usually it was a welcome distraction but right at that moment it was making it increasing difficult to stay focused. “This was your idea.” Bea mumbled as she felt her fingers run through her hair and scratch her scalp lightly. “Now you’re just being distracting on purpose.”

“I was going to ask if you'd changed your mind about the tea. Now I'm not even going to ask again, and don't think I'll change my mind any time soon, consider my earlier offer revoked.” Allie teased slightly before she left the room leaving the door wide open again. 

Bea shook her head and grumbled to herself a little as she got up from the chair to close the door again. A few moments of internal debate with herself and she decided that music might help her concentrate. She'd never understood why her father had not only an old gramophone in his study but a wireless as well, now she thought she knew why, music helped him relax when he was working. Deciding on the wireless she turned it on and found a station that was currently broadcasting a symphony, turning up the volume a little she returned to her seat. She knew she could just stop working, she already had a job and couldn't see how she'd find the time to keep working on anything else in the new year. Between work, Debbie and Allie she had little time for anything else. She didn't want what little free time she had being wasted on something unimportant but she didn't want to disappoint Allie, after all it had been her idea even if she had found it absurd to begin with. It was quite enjoyable recalling the stories that Debbie loved and trying to add illustrations that fitted with them was more than a little enjoyable. Two more rough sketches later and the wireless was silenced right in the middle of an adagio. Bea turned her head and found Allie standing beside the wireless giving her a look that could only be described as something between irritated and confused. 

“I don't mean to disturb you but it would be useful to know what you'd like for lunch.” She asked a little sternly as she brought her hands up to her hips. 

Bea sighed and dropped her pencil back on the desk. “Sorry, I didn't hear you come in.” 

“That's hardly surprising since you had that thing turned up. If I've been making too much noise you could have just told me.” Allie said as she shot her a questioning look.

“I was just trying to concentrate, you did want me to try my hand at this. The stories are easy because I know them so well but art is hard work when you aren't just doing it for fun.” Bea shrugged. 

“And so is making lunch.” Allie threw back. “Did you just want sandwiches?” 

“I'll make them, and the tea. Sorry I didn't mean to…..”

“It doesn't really matter who's going to make them, you'll have to run down to the bakery because  we're out of bread. You're terrible at making sandwiches, I told you all those thick chunks you say are slices would backfire one day. Well today's that day. And I do remember that you know how to cut thin slices.” Allie frowned. “I did tell you at breakfast, now there's not enough for both of us to have sandwiches.”

Bea turned and looked out of the window, the wind had died down into a gentle breeze. Allie had said something about the bread, why had she not paid more attention when she first mentioned it? 

“I'll go now, sorry.” She got up slowly from the chair. “Do you remember what I did with the ration books?” 

Allie rolled her eyes. “Still in your handbag. Although judging by the amount of things you keep in there I'm surprised you can ever find anything.”

 

 

Allie smiled to herself after Bea had finally left the house, the mornings weather should mean that the queues still wouldn't be too long but long enough to give her time to make what she intended. Standing in the kitchen she hurriedly mixed the batter in a bowl. By the time Bea got back she would come back to a special treat, her grandmothers soufflé. Everyone in her family had always said it was the best any of them had ever tasted, it was also famous amongst their neighbours when she was much younger. Allie had been making it for years under her supervision, this would be the first time she'd ever attempted it unsupervised but she was sure she could still make it easily. She'd already checked that they had all the ingredients before she'd made a start on the cleaning. She really wanted to make something nice for her after she'd taken care of her while she was ill. Just for that reason alone she deserved being made a fuss of she decided. 

By the time she heard the front door open the ramekins were in the oven.

“Allie?” Bea called out as she trudged into the house.

“In the kitchen.” Allie called back as she smiled placing the bowl she'd been using in the sink. As she began filling it with water she didn't hear Bea enter the kitchen, didn't hear her place the bags down on one of the chairs. She only realised that she was there when she felt a pair of hands on her hips and kisses landing on her neck.

“Sorry if I scared you…what's that smell? I thought you said we were having sandwiches once I fetched the bread.”

“I lied.” Allie smiled to herself as she dried her hands on a nearby tea towel and turned around to kiss her. “After everything you've done I thought you deserved a treat.”

“I didn't do anything.” Bea looked back at her in disbelief. “But if it's a treat you want I'm sure the kitchens not the best place.”

“Bea!” Allie feigned a shocked expression. “I meant something special to eat, now sit down while I get it out of the oven.”

“I need to put the shopping away.” Bea tried unconvincingly to protest.

“Sit!” Allie commanded. “Or I might have to change my mind and make porridge instead.”

Bea quickly scanned her face uncertain if she was being serious. Not wanting to take the chance of being fed porridge for lunch she quickly crossed the floor and sat down wondering what Allie could be making. She'd find out soon enough, as long as it wasn't Allies lumpy porridge she didn't really care. If there was one thing Bea hated it was lumpy porridge and that was the only way Allie seemed to be able to make it. 

“It should be almost ready.” Allie smiled as she placed two plates on the table with the knives and forks. 

“What exactly are we having?” Bea enquired, she was never a great fan of surprises even when they were coming from Allie.

“I told you it's a surprise.” Allie smiled before bending down and kissing her quickly.

“You didn't have to go to all this trouble, I would have been quite happy with a sandwich.” Bea looked up at her feeling a little uneasy.

“I told you before you could use some looking after. Just let me do this for you. Anyway what exactly is so wrong with my wanting to spoil you a little? You deserve it, you've always deserved it.” Allie replied as she laced their fingers together. 

“I don't need you to spoil me, just having you here is enough.” Bea replied.

Allie let go of her hand and ran her fingers along her jaw before turning back to the oven. She should be crossing her fingers right about now she guessed. It had been so long since she'd even attempted to make this, there was a huge possibility that it could turn out to be a disaster and they would end up with sandwiches for lunch. Opening the door she peered inside and her heart sank.

“No!” Allie gasped. She removed the ramekins from the oven and slammed them down on top of the range. Now it was official she told herself she couldn't cook even if Franky said she was an excellent cook. It didn't take a genius to fry an egg or make convincing looking scrambled eggs from the powdered rubbish they were having to use more and more. Her soufflé had fallen and looked slightly burnt. There was nothing even slightly perfect looking about them. She kicked the oven door closed and stormed out of the kitchen, fuming at herself as she stomped into the sitting room. She wanted to hide right now, surly Bea would make fun of her poor culinary skills. 

Bea watched as she almost ran from the kitchen. Getting up from her chair she didn't even pay any attention to what had upset her so much. Finding her squeezed into one of the arm chairs she didn't look at all comfortable as she hugged her knees to her chest.

“Are you alright?” 

“No…no…” Allie muttered as she rested her head on her knees. “Just give me a few minutes and I'll think of something else other than sandwiches.”

Bea knelt down in front of her. “We can try again…I'll help you, it's not the end of the world. Come on Allie, we can remake lunch…together.” She encouraged.

“No we can't. This was a one time effort…I thought I could still do it. I never get anything right.” Allie wiped her eyes on her sleeve. “I only ever made it in my grandmothers oven, I forgot she told me that they aren't all the same. They don't hold the heat the same way…go back to the kitchen, I'll be back in a minute.”

Without saying another word Bea quickly retreated back to the kitchen and wandered over to the range to take a look at what Allie had been cooking. They looked a little crispy and slightly fallen but still recognisable as soufflés though. All things considered they still looked edible, a little browner than they should have been and sunken more than would be considered acceptable but still worth trying she quickly decided. Grabbing a tea towel she picked up both ramekins and placed one on each plate Allie had placed on the table. Grabbing a spoon she sat down and quickly dug into one after deciding that knives and forks were never going to work. It was a little leathery and a little underdone on the inside but as far as soufflés went it was still palatable. She was eating when Allie finally appeared back in the kitchen.

“What are you doing?” She asked more than a little bit surprised by what she was seeing.

“Eating lunch….you took the time to make it so I'm eating it.” Bea shrugged.

“But…but I ruined it…it's burnt and it…”

“It's still edible not to mention that it tastes good.” Bea said silencing Allie. “Tell me that you didn't use that reconstituted egg rubbish though, we have plenty of fresh eggs. You did use real eggs didn't you?”

“Y…yes.” Allie stared at her as she ate expecting her to pull a face or spit it out before sitting down across the table from her, watching her slightly warily. “You actually like it?”

“Would I be eating it if I didn't?” Bea looked back at her a little surprised that she even thought she needed to ask. She wasn't just being polite by eating it, it tasted better than it looked. “Who taught you?”

“My grandmother. She made the best in the whole east end, actually I think she was the only person who made them in the east end. Soufflés are a little posh for the slums after all.”

“When we go over and see them again I'll have to remember to thank her for teaching you so well then won't I?” Bea smiled as she put another spoonful in her mouth and watched as Allie got back to her feet to grab another spoon. As she sat down again Bea could tell already that her mood had changed and she starting to feel a little happier again. She wanted to tell her that there was no real reason for her to be upset but then she knew how she would have felt if it had happened to her. In every ounce of her own experience she'd have cringed if the same thing had happened when she'd been trying to make something similar at one time in her life. That wasn't her life anymore, it wouldn't be her life again no matter what happened because she was determined to not let herself be dragged back into it. She knew what everyone's suspicions were when it came to Harry's whereabouts. At first she'd thought it was just crazy talk but too much had happened for her to even care right now. All that was important was Debbie and Allies happiness, anything else just didn't matter. 

“I used to make this perfectly when I made it with my grandmother. Now look at it, I burnt one half and the other is undercooked. I don't know why I thought I could still make it after all this time.” 

“Hey…” Bea reached out and took her hand across the table. “I told you it's fine. You tried your best that's all that counts. That old range needed replacing a long time ago anyway but mother loves the old thing, maybe I can persuade father to replace it if we stay here after all this is over.” 

“You want to live with your parents after the war is over?” Allie huffed. She hadn't given any thought to that far ahead because she'd told herself it wasn't the wisest idea but she had hoped they might stay together. If Bea wanted to stay with her parents she guessed she'd have to move back in with Franky or find another room somewhere else. She knew no matter what happened Bea was determined that she would never take Harry back.

“No!” Bea laughed. “Father gave me the impression that they'd be staying on in Sussex, it's much quieter than London and mother loves her garden there. If you think the one out there is big you've seen nothing yet. Neither Thomas or William want to live in this house, they both have their own places anyway. I'm sure if I asked father nicely he'd let us stay, replace that old thing then you wouldn't have to try so hard. It's been past it's best for a long time.”

“All I ever seem to do is try to get things right and it never works out for me does it? I should be able to get at least one thing right for once in my life.” Allie sighed.

“Seems to me you get a lot of things right. Just because it didn't turn out as you expected once doesn't mean next time will be the same right? You haven't had the chance to cook anything like this in so long anyway. And Liz doesn't really let anyone have free reign over the kitchen you know that. You followed your heart and they do say if you don't follow your heart you might end up spending the rest of your life wishing you had.” 

“How would you know?” Allie asked missing the point she trying to make entirely.

“How? Maybe because I finally followed mine.” Bea replied before taking another spoonful. “You are a good cook whether you choose to advertise the fact or not. You're good at a whole lot of things I doubt you even realised you were until you tried. I didn't have the life I wanted until I tried something that my head kept telling me not to, but here we are. I wanted to teach and had that dream ripped away from me, but in a way I do it almost everyday with Debbie. I wanted to draw and was told I was no good so I gave it up, you've encouraged me to try again. You don't have to be good at everything the first time you try but you haven't given up yet. Neither of us have the free time we'd like I am certain of that, has that ever stopped you from spending time with Deb when I'm too tired to even listen to her because I spend all day listening to other people? Did your fear of being judged stop you from walking into the ministry, did it stop you from making me laugh that day? Did being afraid of what Franky might think of you stop you from trying your best when she gave you the job? Whatever ideas someone else put in each of our heads about how awful we were we proved them wrong in more ways than one so stop sabotaging yourself because one little thing didn't turn out how you hoped. I'm not going to love you any less because one thing didn't go as you hoped it would.”

“And you say I talk too much.” Allie laughed. “Good thing you can match me when you try. I used to help my mother in the kitchen a lot, she was an excellent baker. Well I used to think so until I ate Liz’s scones. I don't think she was ever on her level but she knew her way around a recipe. My father was pretty happy with what she made anyway, I have no idea how he even managed to look after himself after she died. Do you think he really did know what would happen to me when he sent me to see Derek Channing?” Allie asked, part of her still hoped he'd had no idea but then it was pretty strange that he'd disappeared into thin air. And her grandparents had seemed convinced that everything was his fault. They'd always liked him, treated him like their own son and would never let anyone say a bad word against him. Now she thought more about it she knew there had to be more to it than him simply hearing about or being told that there was the possibility of a job for her. ‘Some job.’ She thought to herself. She didn't want to believe he could have know but the more her thoughts returned to that time the more she started to believe that he did.

“I really couldn't say…I wish I could put your mind at rest and tell you he didn't know. That name rings a bell but I'm not sure where I've heard it before.” Bea put her spoon down trying to remember where she'd heard his name before. Allie had never told her about him, but it was an awfully familiar name, maybe a little too familiar she thought. “None of that should have ever happened to you. Let's not think too much about it…tell me about your mother.”

“You're right. Things happen, don't they? I can't change the past, no one can.” Allie smiled sadly for a few moments before her smile turned into a grin. “She'd have like you.”

“Pardon?” Bea asked. She watched Allies eyes look away before she focused back on her. 

“My mother, she would have like you. My grandmother does, she told me and she was my mothers mother.”

“And you decided to tell me this now? Wait! When did she tell you that?” Bea didn't remember Allie actually having spent any time alone with her grandmother while they were there.

“When you were trying to convince Deb that we had to leave.” Allie laughed. “You remember when Deb and Anastazja were whining about it still being too early.”

“Why would you even think she'd like me?” Bea frowned, Harry parents disliked her, at least his mother had and she'd made no secret of it even though she'd only met her twice before she died.

“Because you're always surprising me maybe.” Allie shrugged. “She loved surprising us, she had a way of always making us feel special.” Allie reached over the table and took Beas hands. “You always do that, you've always done that.”

“And what would she have thought about you turning my kitchen into your own personal laboratory for your culinary experiments?” Bea chuckled as she squeezed her hands.

“Oh, it would have been all her idea I'm certain of that. She would have like you.”

“You think so?” Bea tilted her head slightly as she looked at Allie curiously.

“I know so…before she died I know she knew…that I liked girls, maybe my father knew and that's why he wanted me gone maybe he thought it would cure me or something.” 

They finished eating making small talk, mostly chatting about Allie returning to work and Bea finally remembering to tell her that Mr Potter had agreed to her request for the half day off she was meant to work the next day. They had no plans for new years eve but Bea warned her to be ready for anything Franky might come up with at the last minute. Allie laughed at the idea but knew it was probably something she was going to have to get used to as she made a start on the dishes. Bea tried to help but found herself being shooed away and forcibly being made to sit back down at the table in the chair Allie had been sat in. “It's my mess.” Allie had simply told her. They didn't talk much as Allie washed the dishes, leaving Bea to think quietly about everything Allie had said and trying to remember where she knew the name Derek Channing from. 

The sound of something metal hitting the kitchens limestone floor broke Beas thoughts and she snapped her head round towards the sink where Allie was still standing. Allie had dropped a spoon and was quietly cursing under her breath, something Bea always found amusing. As she bent down to pick it up she looked at Bea, averting her gaze almost as soon as their eyes locked on one another's. Bea kept her eyes on her as she straightened back up and continued with the dishes. Maybe, she thought to herself, there was much more to Allie than she even knew. This was her house in a roundabout sort of way, her brothers disliked it saying it was far too big. As she sat watching Allie a little longer she felt a little braver, could she really be the one to initiate things between them? She knew she could, just never when the sun was still up; she laughed at herself for that thought. She could lay her cards out on the table then it would be Allies decision to pick them up and deal a hand they could both work with. She chewed on her bottom lip a little nervously before she finally decided.

As Allie was finishing up the dishes Bea finally got to her feet and walked the short distance between them until she was standing behind her. She cautiously put her hands on her waist knowing that her own hesitance was silly really. When Allie didn't even flinch at the contact she gently removed one of her hands and brushed her hair away before placing a gentle kiss on her neck. “Thank you.” She murmured. She returned her gaze to Allies hands that had stopped moving as she held tightly to a dish that was still partially submerged in the warm water. She let go of her completely and backed away a little, watching Allie abandon the dish and turn around with slightly glazed eyes.

“You don't…” Was all Allie was able to say before she placed her still wet hands on Beas face and pulled her into an intense kiss. Bea took a step back a little surprised but Allie matched her every move and kept the kiss going. As soon as Bea got over the initial shock of the intensity of her kiss she wrapped her arms around her. Lifting her off the ground as she stepped backwards, Allie wrapped her legs around her hips and ran her wet fingers through her hair. They couldn't stay in the kitchen, Bea knew that, the sitting room curtains were open and drawing them during daylight hours would look suspicious to anyone paying close attention. And if her memory served her well now she remembered one neighbour who payed attention to anything that was remotely out of the ordinary. Bea broke the kiss and gently put Allie back down on the ground as they both looked at each other breathless and a little confused after all this wasn't the way Bea had ever behaved before now. Taking Allie by the hand she led her out of the kitchen and towards the staircase, her expression turning to something between nervous and hopeful. Allie understood immediately because Bea, even though when she wanted to speak she could at length, was still unsure of herself. Looking into her eyes Allie smiled as she tightened her grip on her hand and started walking up the stairs.

Later on in the day as it was beginning to grow dark with Allie curled up at her side, her arms firmly holding on to her, Bea couldn't quite remember them crashing onto the bed. She couldn't remember either of them shedding their clothes or even if they help each other out of them. All she could remember was trailing up and down Allies body with gasping kisses and slightly awkward hands. Being pushed over onto her back as their chests pressed together and her grasp on Allie becoming tighter were very clear in her head. The sensation of soft skin against soft skin, the taste of that slightly undercooked soufflé as Allie had moaned into her mouth and the way she had accidentally bit Beas lip were all still fresh in her mind as she lay half asleep smiling like a complete idiot to herself.

“You want that sandwich for dinner?” Allie mumbled sleepily in her ear.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“How does it work?” Allie asked Bea as she looked back at her in confusion. “I mean with the ration books when you go away from home for a few days.”

Bea smiled as she placed her cup back in its saucer. “When you're going away to stay with family all you have to do is go into the food office and they give you temporary emergency coupons so you can still buy food.” 

“Hmmm…so what do I do?” Allie asked.

“You just come with me to the food office. Why are you even worrying about this now? We aren't going until the middle of January when Thomas and William are home on leave. William lives down there anyway so he won't be around so much, Thomas’s wife refused to leave London. Mother made such a fuss when she refused to stay with them, she's a nurse and like Bridget she refused to leave the hospital where she works, father told me she read mother the riot act. Mother hasn't even mentioned them visiting since then let alone them staying with her and father. Maybe you'll get to meet my niece and nephews.” Bea sighed as she thought about how much Debbie had missed out on, she hadn't seen her cousins for the last couple of years. “Williams wife and three children don't live far from them, Thomas will be coming back to London with us when we leave. We really will have to arrange to call in on him, Charlotte and the boys while he's still at home.” 

“But they're your family not mine.” Allie mumbled. “Maybe I should just stay here and…”

“You will do no such thing!” Bea answered abruptly cutting Allie off before she had a chance to finish. “Father is expecting you, he's expecting all of us and that includes Liz. I told you already if you won't come then none of us are going. It's one weekend, we'll only be there for two nights and I promise we'll visit your grandparents before we leave. Besides which Mr Potter already gave me the Friday off, the school has said it's fine and Franky says she can manage without you.”

Allie still wasn't convinced it was the best idea, she was nobody, at least when it came to Beas family she felt as if she were. She still had no idea that the elderly well dressed gentleman who she'd sat chatting with on more than one occasion in the cafe was Beas father. Bea had worked out after her father told her he'd met Franky that he had to have met Allie but she'd said nothing. Her father though had said nothing about actually sitting with Allie and talking to her every time he'd been to the cafe.  

“Let's just forget about it, at least for the next two days. I know you're afraid, I understand that honestly I do but father doesn't bite. Mother has a bad habit of being a little standoffish and abrupt but she's a pussy cat most of the time. You'll have her eating out of your hand in no time. Just promise me one thing.”

“What's that?” 

“Do not under any circumstances let father show you his library, if he does that I may never see either of you ever again.” Bea grinned because it was true, Allie like her father would collect books like they were the most precious things on earth.

“I'll try not to.” Allie laughed. “But I make no promises.”

They agreed to disagree when it came round to Bea saying she was going out to do the shopping. Allie had been determined to go with her, Bea had tried to argue that she should stay in where it was far warmer.

“Sit by the fire and finish your book.” Bea had tried to persuade her until she was told that she had already finished reading it. Something Bea had thought was impossible since Allie hadn't seemed to have spent that much time reading. “Find one you want to start then. It isn't as if you've read every single one, have you looked in the study?” 

“Fresh air is good for me.” Allie had thrown back before saying she wanted to keep her company in the queues that she knew would have already formed. The shops would be busy on New Years Eve Allie argued and the sooner she just gave in and agreed she was right the sooner they could leave the house. They were just pulling on their coats when they heard voices outside and feet running up the gravel drive.

“I though Liz said she wouldn't be back until this afternoon?” Allie looked at Bea quizzically as they heard a key in the lock and the door fly open as Debbie ran in. 

“Mummy…Allie, are you feeling better?…Where are you going?” Debbie asked in quick succession before anyone else had a chance to speak. “Are you going to the shops? Can I come?” She stood in front of them both grinning like she always did. “Can Allie take me to the library while you do the shopping?” Came her final question.

“And it's nice to see you too Deb.” Bea laughed. “You'll have to ask Allie about the library though.”

“Please say yes, please Allie.” Debbie threw her arms around her hugging her tightly. 

“Alright, the library it is then.” Allie rolled her eyes, if she hadn't have known any better she'd have sworn that it was a plan cooked up between mother and daughter to keep her out of the cold but Bea looked as surprised as she did to see them arrive home so early.

“We got the earlier train.” Liz looked at them apologetically. “My sister wasn't feeling too well so I thought it was for the best, I'm afraid I didn't have time to telephone. Turns out it might have been a godsend, the station master told me it's likely to be chaos later in the day.”

Artie grumbled about missing his newspapers, convinced that Bea would have forgotten to save them until she said she'd saved them for him and he ran off to the sitting room without even taking his coat off. 

“There's no cleaning for you to do, is there Allie?” Bea laughed lightly as she looked at Allie.

Allie stood holding Debbie's hand looking a little sheepish. “I was trying to be useful.” She muttered as Debbie pulled her towards the door. 

After a much shorter conversation with Liz than Bea had anticipated they left the house with Sophie and Debbie who had both decided that the library with Allie was where they both needed to go.

 

 

The knocking on the front door was polite but persistent as Artie sat in the sitting room trying is hardest to ignore the noise that was coming from the front door. He sat and read every report in the despatches because one day, he told everyone, Colin's name would be mentioned. One day his cousin would be written about for his bravery and Artie would waste no time telling all his friends that his cousin was the bravest person on the entire planet.

“I'm coming, I'm coming.” Liz muttered angrily to herself as she climbed over the pile of sheets that she was intending to get washed before Bea and Allie returned. The whole house was spotless and she was feeling at a loss for what to do with her time. Stripping all the beds was the only thing she could think wouldn't have been on Allies list of priorities and she had no way of knowing that Bea had already tackled hers. Finding Beas bed still unmade and Allies still all very neat and tidy had been no great surprise to her at all. Neither of them had the smiles they were both sporting when she arrived home before she left, it was a smile she'd never seen Bea wear before, she would have remembered if she'd seen her smile like that before they were left alone she was certain of that. As she left the kitchen and walked down the hall her attention was riveted to the front door and whoever was on the other side hammering on it. 

“If you aren't the vicar or the doctor, neither of which I'm aware anyone is expecting, you'll be getting the sharp edge of my tongue.” She almost growled as she pulled off her apron and flung it on the coat stand as she neared the door. One of her unspoken rules was to never answer the door wearing her apron, even more so now she was staying with Bea. She knew she hadn't been expected to do anything, Bea always insisted that she do no housework unless she was at home to help but she had been sure she wouldn't complain about the sheets being change. Monday was always washday, Liz stuck to that religiously but she hadn't been there and since Allie had been ill she just hadn't had the time to do it before she left. Few people ever came to the front door unexpectedly, Bea and Allie both had their own keys just like she did so no one really had a need to knock on it. If Boomer found the time to call round for a cuppa and a chat she always went to the kitchen door and Franky would usually telephone before she arrived. When she finally pulled open the front door the last people she was expecting to see were a couple of military police men, the scarlet covers on their peaked caps giving them away the second she saw them. Both their faces looked strangely tight, as though they had each adopted a particularly singular expression and were holding onto it for dear life.

“Mrs Smith?” One of them asked.

Liz quickly started to explain that Bea was out when she saw them walking up the drive. The best she thought they could hope for was that they were there to give Bea some good news. Harry's cold, dead body being found finally would be the best news Bea could get she thought to herself as Bea took them both into the study with her, closing the door behind herself. Ten minutes later Bea was showing them to the door, smiling at them politely she watched them walk back down the drive before she slammed the door and leaned against it, tears stinging the corners of her eyes. Allie poked her head around the kitchen door where she'd been sitting with Liz and watched her as she squeezed her eyes closed and clench her fists. Beas anger at Harry was just too much for her to bear. She opened her eyes and everything in the hallway felt too oppressive. The colour hurt her eyes, every coat that hung neatly on the hall stand sat as if they were judging her reaction to the news she'd just received. “Damn him.” She cursed as she closed her eyes again. The only light in this new darkness that Harry was creating was Allie. How she wished they were still in bed laying next to each other, their heads sharing the same pillow as one of them laughed at something the other had just said. Allie was like a snowdrop peeping through the cold unforgiving winter ground hinting that spring was most definitely on its way. 

“Bea?” Allie said softly as she watched her push body away from the door and walked down the hall towards the staircase receiving no answer.

As soon as Bea reached her bedroom she flung herself on the bed. If he was still alive there had once been a time where she'd be wishing herself dead. Except now after receiving the news she had she was aware that it wasn't just for Debbie's sake she was glad to be alive. Her life had been a complete mess until Allie had walked into it. She wanted to shout and scream at her parents, tell them in every imaginable and graphic detail just what the man they'd encouraged her to marry had done to her. The man she'd never loved because apart from her father and brothers she doubted there was any man on earth that she could love. She decided as she lay there that no matter what happened she wasn't going to let him win, even if her parents disowned her she would tell them, tell them that Allie was who she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. She'd reached a decision before today, one she hadn't mentioned to anyone but her mind was now well and truly made up as she heard the door open.

“Bea…if you don't want to talk I understand…I just came to make sure you're alright.” Allie said softly and a little hesitantly as she stepped into the room but staying close to the door.

“I'll be alright. “ Bea answered as she sat up and flopped against the pillows. “Stay with me, just for a while.”

Allie smiled, she'd feared the worst. Expected to be told to leave her alone, Bea looked vulnerable yet determined as Allie sat next to her.

“They think they may have Harry in a hospital not too far outside London.” Bea said quietly not wanting anyone to overhear.

“He's alive? Where did they find him?”

“They said he was found wandering around…I don't remember where. Apparently he doesn't know who he is. Obviously he has his dog tags but his identity is uncertain because his photograph has been torn from his identity card. I need to go and see him.” Bea reached for Allies hand. Seeing him was the last thing she wanted to do but it had to be done, in the eyes of the law and every power that be she was still his wife even though she'd never felt like she was. 

“Do you want me to come with you?” Allie asked nervously.

Bea shook her head and squeezed her hand. “I'd rather you stay with Deb, she doesn't need to know. You'll do that for me right?”

“Of course, I'll do anything you need me to do.” 

“Then I'll get something organised. Boomers not on shift tonight, maybe she can help me out.”

 

 

As she waited for Boomer to arrive Bea began to feel as though her life had become stuck in the tramlines and she was completely unable to get out of them. All she wanted was to be able to free herself and get back to the same place where her and Allie had started their day. Bea hardly saw the road that lay ahead as Boomer drove her towards the auxiliary hospital just outside London where Harry was said to have been taken on his return to the country. She barely even registered the car that Boomer had borrowed to take her there in. Stark trees grew at regular intervals on either the side of the road. They looked to her to shiver, maybe it was just the wind or maybe they were trying to tell her something. Trying to tell her that she shouldn't really be doing this, that she shouldn't be facing this alone, that she should turn around and go back home. She had to face him, if indeed it was Harry. It felt as if all the energy had drained from her body as she looked at the hospital in front of her, her legs moved slowly, they felt heavy and disconnected from the rest of her body. Boomer followed closely behind her as she walked through the doors, determined that she wasn't going to allow her friend to face him alone. After speaking to a doctor she was told that the man they knew as Harry Smith was in no fit state to get out of bed, his memory of what had happened was completely blank and he hadn't been able to tell him if he even had a family. Bea decided that it would be best if Boomer stayed with her, as they walked into the ward following a nurse her hands were bunched into fists; her fingernails impressing crescents into her palms. She was sure she had never felt this scared or numb before. The torrent of emotions that had been washing over her since Boomer picked her up were overwhelming. Her thoughts were a jumbled mess making it almost impossible to think straight. She could do this, she had to do this.

She had to face him, he was weak too weak to hurt her, that much she knew from her conversation with the doctor. She could tell him it was over, that nothing would make her take him back or she could just carry on as she was and keep hoping that what she and Allie both dreamed off happening would eventually happen. She wasn't that lucky was she? Harry Smith she decided would never die as long as she was still there for him to make suffer. Maybe it wasn't Harry at all, he was a coward after all he could have swapped his dog tags with another soldier, could have made a run for it and in that case he'd never be able to return to his life for fear of being traced by the army. Even now desertion was still punishable by firing squad. Not that that punishment was ever carried out but in Harry's case it should be. It would be him though it had to be. Harry had to always have complete control over hers and Debbie's lives, total and utter complete control. Harry would never accept her working at the ministry, her job there was far better than any he could imagine himself ever securing now he had a reputation for being a drunk. If he were so badly injured that he couldn't go back to the front lines he'd be a mill stone around her neck again and she'd rather die than live that way again. He'd put a stop to her working. She'd be forced to relinquish everything good in her life and losing Allie, telling her she could never see her again wasn't something she was prepared to do. Tears rolled down her cheeks and as hard as she tried she couldn't hide that from Boomer.

“Tha’s made of tough stuff.” Boomer tried to reassure her. 

Bea gave her a weak smile as they walked closer to the bed. ‘You can do this.’ She repeated to herself silently. She could hear her own heavy breathing and was aware she was taking way too much air into her lungs. Her vision started to swim with bright floating stars as she hovered close to the bed trying to get a good view of the man in it before he saw her. From where she was standing she could tell that he was very thin, had five o'clock shadow and heavy eyebrows. She shook her head and stepped forward a little more as the man turned his head in her direction she almost jumped for joy. It wasn't Harry, she didn't care if he'd been found wearing Harry's dog tags but that was certainly not the Harry Smith she loathed to remember.

“Who are you he croaked out.” As tears fell from her eyes once again, this time instead of tears of sorrow they were tears of joy. She now felt lighter, more alive and in charge of her own life again. She turned and looked straight at Boomer.

“Take me home, Booms.” She smiled brightly.

She'd been through enough at the hands of Harry to recognise for herself that she was most probably in shock, shock because it wasn't him, shock because she knew for certain now that he was still out there. More tears would come later even though she didn't want to cry over him because he didn't deserve anymore of her tears, he didn't deserve anyone's tears. She wouldn't cry for him, she'd cry for herself, for Debbie and for Allie because he was still hanging over them. Except now she was back home, sitting on the sofa in the sitting room with Allie, Debbie sandwiched between them reading the book that she'd chosen at the library with Allies help. The peacefulness of their early evening after a slightly too early dinner had been eaten was broken when Franky arrived with Bridget and Boomer in tow.

“Come on Red, its New Year's Eve. Booms told me it wasn't him. Come out, just for one drink, live a little. You agree don't ya Deb?” Franky asked hopefully as she looked at the three of them as Debbie shrugged.

“I think mummy can do whatever she pleases.” Debbie said happily. She saw how happy Bea was, was already very aware that it was mostly due to having Allie around. “Can I go and read to Liz now?” 

 

 

An hour later they found themselves in a small pub that Boomer said served the best beer in London, and the gin wasn't watered down she informed Bridget who smiled when she heard that. Finding a couple of cast iron tables that had no occupants near the piano Bea and Bridget found themselves sitting alone when Allie went with Franky and Boomer to fetch the drinks. The place was filling up quickly and neither Bea or Bridget had ever been claustrophobic but they found themselves wishing the others would hurry back with the drinks and cause a break in the crowd that was starting to surround the area. As Bea looked around the only area in the place that didn't seem to have a crowd of people around it was where the old battered piano stood. She watched on in amusement at the man playing it. Half the time it seemed as if he were only playing with one hand as he lifted a pint glass to his mouth and the tune shook just as much as his hand appeared to. She heard someone say that earlier his playing had been great, now though it appeared that he had already drunk far too much not only was he garbling half the words to the song he was playing he seemed to be making up his own verses. 

“He should be arrested for crimes against music.” Bea laughed and Bridget agreed as she shook her head despairingly. 

Once Franky, Allie and Boomer were seated back at the tables they all laughed as they watched on as the few people who had been standing near the piano had all had enough of having their ears seriously abused and moved away. Boomer was a regular in the small pub since it was close to her home. The smell of stale beer and cigarette smoke always spewed out as soon as anyone pushed open the door but it was a friendly place and suited this New Year's Eve perfectly. A large crowded place wasn't the place to take Bea after her hospital visit Boomer had said. As the evening wore on a little more most of the people who had found there way inside had moved on and there were only the regulars left. The piano player had long since stumbled out into the street and the one drink Bea had agreed to had turned into three, soon to be four as Franky and Allie had gone back to the bar.

“I got you half a bitter.” Allie laughed as she placed the glass down in front of Boomer. “Sorry my pocket only runs to a port and lemon for one person.”

Boomer smiled back at her. “It’ll do, could ‘ave made it a pint.” She grumbled unconvincingly. “Ole skin flint.”

“Hey less of the old.” Allie feigned offence as she swapped the glass for a pint after she took another drink from the tray Franky was holding. “Actually that's mine…and that's for you.” She placed a glass down in front of Bea.

A small group of men arrived in the pub dressed in army uniforms and took a table right behind them, they'd heard them whispering but had taken no notice until they became a little rowdier as they egged each other on.

“Cor.” One male voice said from behind them. “I like the look of the little one.” 

Bridget swallowed hard, she knew she was the shortest of them all, it was only a guess they were talking about her but it seemed obvious.

“How about the legs on that one, the red head.” His neighbour whispered loudly before he went on to say something quite vulgar.

“Want me to take him out the back?” Franky asked Bea before she turned round and glared at them.

Bea smiled and shook her head, she wasn't going to let some idiot bother her when she had Allie sitting right beside her.

“I'll take the blonde beauty sitting next to her.” Said the third man. “Where ya been all my life darlin’? Come sit with us and we'll show ya a good time.” He laughed a little as a chill spread through Beas body.

Allie stiffened, she was sitting so close to Bea she thought she could actually feel ever fibre of every muscle tighten one by one. She wasn't going to let them bother her and she wasn't going to let them effect Allie how they were. Taking a chance that she rarely did she put her arm around her and whispered in her ear making her laugh. Bea glanced behind her and smiled politely but inside she was fuming. What was the matter with soldiers? Sure they'd been away fighting but there was no need to act the way they did as soon as they were home on leave? She could just imagine Harry being the same way wherever he was now. She wasn't going to let them spoil what was left of the evening, although she knew she should be getting home soon.

 

 

“Come on Al, Beas reight it won't hurt if yer stay out a little longer, come on mate.” Boomer tried to convince Allie that she should stay out a little later with her since she had the night off.

“I shouldn't, I know I don't have to work tomorrow but I really should go home with Bea.” Allie sighed. Bea didn't want to stay out any later and she really didn't want her to make her way home in the dark alone. 

“We can walk Red home.” Franky chimed in happily. “It's on the way anyway, I'm staying with Gidge tonight.” Franky grinned as she looked at Bridget, walking Bea home was on the way to Bridget's. She knew Bea wasn't going to begrudge Allie having some time out without her. If anything she'd welcome Allie getting to know Boomer better. Boomer didn't get much time off from the ambulance station and this year her shift pattern had coincided with both both Christmas and the new year.

“See you don't have to worry about me.” Bea smiled. “Between me and you I'd much rather you spent time with Booms than leaving her alone, she’ll only drink too much and get into god only knows what kind of trouble.” Bea whispered in Allies ear before leaving a kiss on her neck.

“Fine.” Allie frowned when she looked at the grin Bea was wearing. “But I'm only having one more drink and I have absolutely no intention of staying out too late.” Allie huffed even if secretly she would like to get to know Boomer better, drinking with her wasn't how she'd imagined achieving that.

“It's better for you both anyway.” Franky's grin grew wider. “I mean instead of you having to sneak into Reds bed after you're certain everyone's asleep you'll be able to slip straight into it.”

“Franky!” Bridget exclaimed as she glared at her. “I'm certain there is absolutely no need for that.” 

“Sorry Gidge, just a joke, you ain't offed Al are you? Neither is Red, are you?” Franky asked a little more seriously not wanting to be reprimanded again.

“I agree with Bridget.” Bea said as she sniggered. “There is no need for that…but only because Allie has no need to sneak into my bed.”

“I wont be too late.” Allie called out behind her as Boomer dragged her across the street.

The foot paths now were much less crowded than when they'd all made their way to the pub and Allie knew she'd rather be going home with Bea. Sitting in the kitchen with Bea and Liz drinking a mug of ovaltine was one of her favourite things before going to bed and she was going to miss that nightly ritual now. They walked past the Lyon’s corner house and the Rialto picture house, the Cafe de Paris it seemed was Boomers final destination. Allie had never been inside and looking at what they were wearing she actually doubted they'd be let in. She was familiar with how people dressed when they went there, she'd stood on the corner plenty of times and watched as the couples made their way in the direction of the popular nightclub. At least if they were turned away at the door she'd have an excuse to go home where she'd rather be. The street was strewn with all the usual air raid mess that still hadn't been cleaned up from the last raid. They stepped over bits of barrage balloon and shrapnel dodged around the piles of sand that sat like molehills. Under each pile of sand that had been taken from the ever present sandbags lay another incendiary bomb that had been caught in time.

“We're hardly dressed for a nightclub.” Allie said as she tried to keep up with Boomer. 

“We can sit in t'balcony, they allus let folk not dressed in evening dress sit there.” Boomer answered confidently. 

“You've been there before.” Allie laughed, there really was no way of getting out of this.

“Well yer, what else is there t’do on a night off? Goin’ t’pictures is good 'an all but I dun’t get much time off so when I does it's good t’let me hair down. An tha’ll be safe, folk knows it's the safest place in town.”

Allie knew she was probably right after all it was twenty feet underground. Following behind Boomer she wished she could make an excuse to go home when the sirens started wailing and she dithered a little, memories of the last time she'd been caught out came flooding back. Bea wouldn't be happy if she tried to make her way home in an air raid so staying with Boomer was probably the best thing to do.

Boomer held back the black curtain that hung at the doorway and then followed Allie inside. After making a quick stop off at the cloakrooms they descended into a hectic scene full of champagne, bright lights and raucous music. Allie looked around trying to take everything in. A wide semi circle balcony was set up with tables and chairs and hosted a cocktail bar. The dance floor and main restaurant were on the floor below. She looked around in awe as she followed Boomer trying not to feel so self conscious, a broad staircase that divide into two led down to the floor below and wrapped around the stage where the band was playing. Finding an empty table Boomer caught the eye of a waiter and ordered them each a drink as Allie looked up at the ceiling before her eyes wandered to the dance floor. It heaved with men in uniform some women were dressed in evening gowns others were in uniform. 

“Wouldn't fink there were a war on would yer?” Boomer asked after their drinks arrived.

“No…no I suppose you wouldn't.” Allie smiled, she'd love to bring Bea here maybe if she saved up she could eventually afford to treat her to dinner. A night off from her worries about everything life kept throwing at them would be good for her.

“Bea ‘eard anythin’ more about that ……?” Boomer suddenly asked, stopping mid sentence when she doubted anymore news would have arrived that day.

“Not as far as I'm aware. I know she's worried he'll come back but since we're staying at her parents house she doesn't think he'd be likely to turn up there. She says he isn't smart enough to work it out.” 

“Good.” Boomer nodded her head forcefully. “If he does and hurts ‘er or Deb…you an all, I'll punch ‘is tits in. Neva met ‘im but if he comes back…yer get the picture.” 

Everyone needed a friend like Boomer Allie decided. She'd had much the same thoughts when it came to Harry. Except Marie had tracked her down so she knew Harry could no matter how convinced Bea was that he'd never go there.

The planes were droning on overhead and even the band couldn't drown them out when Boomer suddenly announced, “Jus nippin t’lav.”

Boomer left the table and Allie lent down to retrieve her bag from the floor when it seemed like the whole world exploded. As Allie picked herself up from the floor after being thrown backwards she couldn't believe what she she seeing. There had been a sudden rush of air and the floor had rocked as Allie was thrown a short distance still clutching her bag. A deafening roar had been accompanied by a loud crashing as the lights went out. As she picked herself up everywhere was shrouded in darkness and a deathly silence had descended upon the club while the strong stench of cordite hung in the air. A woman screamed and was told to shut up before moans, screams and shouting filtered up from the floor below and into Allies ears. As she got to her feet she heard Boomer yelling in the distance for her.

“I'm alright Booms.” She quickly called back as she felt in her bag for the small torch Bea insisted she had to carry with her at all times. Allie coughed as the chocking air surrounded her and licked her dry lips, this was not how a night out was supposed to end. The blackness around her was disorienting but somehow Boomer found her way back to her, just like Allie she always carried a small torch. 

“Yer sure tha’s aright?” Boomer asked as she shone her torch around. Through the small beam of light everything around them seemed to be nothing more than just dust and smoke. Switching her own on they both peered around seeing that the balcony had been relatively left untouched by the exploding bomb. Most of the chairs were still upright and the glasses and bottles on the tables were still standing. All around them people were trying to make their way to the staircase that would lead them out into the street. Boomer huffed a little as she looked up seeing a gaping hole in the ceiling above the dance floor. Looking down to the floor below that was lined with mirrors she sighed. Her job meant she was highly aware the damage that would have been done, flying shards of glass were as deadly as any bullet. Turning her attention to the staircase she saw one side had completely collapsed and was nothing more than a pile of rubble. The other side was still intact and filling up with the blackened and bloodied bodies of the survivors who's clothes were in tatters. Throughout the whole sorry sight there was no panic, a lot of shouting but no panic.

“We should try an ‘elp.” Boomer said calmly as she viewed the macabre sight of corpses and debris. She'd seen plenty of horrors since she started driving an ambulance but this was way worse than anything she'd ever witnessed. “Ain't gonna be no ambulances or rescue crews ‘ere for a few.” 

Allies heart thumped and her hands were shaking but she knew Boomer was right. She raised her chin and pulled back her shoulders as she nodded her head. “Don't know what I can do but I'll do as you see fit.” She answered before she followed Boomer down the remaining staircase.

When they reached the main restaurant area they climbed over a pile of rubble reaching what was left of the dance floor they spotted a table close to it where four people were still sitting quite naturally, a bottle of champagne still standing upright in the middle of the table. Boomer knew immediately what she was looking at, they were all dead. 

“Do you think they need help?” Allie asked as she found her way back to Boomers side and looked where she was looking.

Boomer shook her head. “No need.” She glanced to her side. “Blast lung, their all dead.” Allie looked puzzled, there wasn't a mark on any of them. “The force of the blast.” Boomer explained. “It explodes the lungs.”

Allie felt her mouth become dry. She tried hard to swallow, nothing could have prepared her for that. 

“Come on, over ‘ere…yer goin’ t’be alright?” Boomer asked. Just because she wasn't on duty didn't mean she was about to just turn around and leave. She also wasn't going to leave Allie or let her try and make it home alone. 

“I'm fine.” Allies voice was surprisingly even. “It was just a shock, I didn't know anything like that could happen.”

“Any chance either of you are nurses in mufti?” A young woman asked as she approached them.

“Ambulance officer in mufti.” Boomer replied. “This is me mate. I'm Boom…Susan, Susan Jenkins.” 

“Ruby Mitchell, nurse from Charing Cross Hospital. I was doing my shift in one of the local shelters close by when we heard what happened. I'm almost out of dressings and we don't have any morphia. I expected it to be bad but never quite this ghastly. I've sent another nurse who was with me over to St Martin’s Crypt to get more bandages but I have no idea how long she'll be. The sirens haven't sounded the all clear yet so I have no idea if she'll even make it.” She sighed. “Don't suppose you want to help out?” Ruby asked as her attention quickly turned to Allie. “You don't look like you're doing too good, why don't you take a seat somewhere?”

“I'm fine thank you.” Allie replied, something about this nurse didn't sit well with her. Maybe it was the tone of her voice or the way she'd just looked her up and down but she planned on sticking with Boomer. No matter what injuries Boomer might deal with Allie was not going to wander off to sit down by herself.

“Suit yourself.” Ruby shrugged. “Didn't catch your name there sugar.” 

“Most probably because I didn't throw it.” Allie answered sarcastically before she turned back to Boomer. “Can we just get on with this? I told Bea I wouldn't be late getting home and then all this happens. She'll worry because we've been out in a raid.”

“Calm down blondie. I'll get thee ‘ome in one piece, tha little woman would kill me if I dun’t.” Boomer laughed when she realised Allie was only mentioning Bea because of this nurse who seemed to have appeared from out of nowhere and was taking a little bit too much of interest in her. Boomer didn't miss a thing and wasn't going to use Allies name while she was around after hearing what she'd said to her.

“You do realise Booms I'm going to tell Bea you called her that.” Allie chuckled as Boomer just shrugged.

The pair stumbled around checking around the overturned tables and helping as best they could. Unopened bottles of champagne were used as a substitute for water to clean wounds, scarves and torn strips from fancy dresses were used in place of bandages. Women were kindly tearing off strips of their finery to help the injured as if it were all very natural. Allie never lost sight of Boomer once and thankfully she thought she didn't catch sight of that nurse again. 

When the rescue crews arrived the extra lights that they had helped them both navigate the wreckage more effectively. There were too few ambulances to cope with the injured but it had been a bad night already one of the stretcher bearers had told Boomer as they were trying to find their way out now assistance had arrived. Rescue workers, nurses and doctors had all arrived and Boomer wanted to get out of there and get Allie home. Finding their way to the cloakroom they found their coats and pulled them on over their now filthy and bloody clothes before making their way out into a world of thick smoke and red flickering shadows. 

 

 

“Am sorry Bea.” Boomer looked down at her feet not wanting to hold Beas gaze. “I made sure she got back in one piece though an she were a real big help. Din’t freeze up or nuffin. Well I better be goin’. I'll…I'll see yer around maybe?” Boomer said as she was backing away from the door. She'd only ever once seen Bea angry and that had been more than enough for Boomer. 

Bea didn't answer her, her attention was solely on Allie. “You aren't hurt are you? Are you sure none of this is your blood?” Bea asked as she pulled Allie through the door and into the well lit hallway. 

“I promise you I'm not. I'm just filthy.” Allie sighed. “Do you suppose it's too late to have a bath? Would that disturb anyone?”

“I wouldn't care if it did. But then no ones in the house except us.” Bea smiled out of relief that Allie was just right there. “Use the main bathroom, the tubs bigger, I'll run you the water.” Bea grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the stairs. Allie just followed without question or protest because getting out of her clothes was the only thing on her mind right now.

As she ran the water Bea reached into a dark corner of the bathroom cabinet and pulled out a small bar of soap. “Courtesy of Juice, I know it's black market, but much better than any of the soap you can get your hands on now a days.”

Allie thanked her with a smile and a brush of their fingertips, knowing that they were alone right then didn't mean they would be for long. Debbie could easily come running back inside any minute and she wondered why Bea would ever think staying inside during a raid was a good idea. Her clothes were full of blood and dust, none of which she though Bea would thank her for if she got covered in also.

“I'll leave you to it.” Bea smiled back. “But if you take too long I will be coming back to check up on you.”

Most wartime soap was of such poor quality that it never formed a lather and the small bar in her hand definitely appeared to be of good quality. Allie sniffed the bar of soap, it was scented with roses, that was typical for Bea. Juice could always get her hands on the best quality merchandise but Allie didn't recall her ever going to the cafe with anything like that.

Bea had already laid out towels and a pair of flannel pyjamas for her. That amused her slightly since she only ever wandered around the house in pyjamas if she'd had a bath early and was going to sit in the sitting room with everyone else. Stripping herself of her clothes she flung them in the corner and shivered a little in the slightly chilly air. She grabbed the flannel that was neatly folded and filled the sink, wetting it in the warm water she loaded it with the soap and scrubbed at the dirt and grazes on her body until most of her was rose scented before she even thought about stepping into the bathtub. 

Finally she sunk down into the warmth of the iridescent water and the comforting curve of the tub allowing the aroma of the bath oil that Bea always put in for her to turn her mind on mute. Sinking a little lower into the tub she let the water block out any sounds as she dropped her head into its warm embrace. ‘Five inches,’ she laughed to herself, Bea had more than half filled it. Bea was usually a stickler for all the wartime rules that had been imposed, she often heard her telling Debbie that if five inches of water was enough for her then it was more than enough for Debbie. That rule seemed to have been forgotten once again since this was the second time she'd filled it more than she should have for Allie. Closing her eyes she listened to the beating of her own heart, loud and strong in her ears. Opening her eyes for a few seconds she looked at the mirror, heavy with steam it now reflected a surreal image of the room that surrounded her. Closing her eyes again a few minutes later she found herself drifting in and out of the delicious delirium that came just before sleep, it was like a feeling of floating between two worlds. As she lay completely still in the warm scented water she never heard the door open, had no idea that Bea was there until she felt the soft brush of her fingers against the skin of her arm. Opening her eyes she found her kneeling beside the bathtub, her arm draped over it tickling her wet skin. Allie pushed herself up and out of the water until she was sitting upright, she watched Bea as she swallowed hard. Bea had only meant to pop her head round the door and check that she was alright when she hadn't heard the usual gentle splashing of the water. She hadn't ventured out of her room with the intention of staying, hadn't meant to allow her eyes to wander over the expanse of Allies soft creamy skin. Allies wonderfully serene blue eyes met unbearably beautiful brown that seconds before had travelled the full length of her body. Bea lent forward and kissed her softly on the lips as one of Allies warm wet hands quickly found its way to the back of her neck, pulling her closer.

“Did you forget something?” Allie asked as her eyes searched for any sign that Bea wasn't actually naked under the silk robe that she was wearing.

“I don't think so. Are you staying in there until you look like a prune?” Bea threw back. She'd been worried after the sirens had sounded and insisted that she was going back to the house after helping Liz by carrying a still sleeping Debbie and Sophie down to the shelter.  

“The all clear sounded forever ago, isn't everyone else back in the house yet?” Allie asked surprised when Bea simply shook her head. “You're leaving them down there?”

“I don't see any point in waking the four of them up do you?” Bea answered as she got to her feet and picked up one of the towels. “The waters going cold.”

Bea disappeared again almost as soon as Allie was wrapped in the soft towel leaving her a little confused.  Thinking about what Bea had just said for a little longer she realised that leaving Liz to sleep in the shelter couldn't be seen as unusual really since the sirens could go again any minute. Allie picked up the pyjamas and laughed to herself, tucking them under her arm she headed straight for Beas room. The door was ajar and one of the lamps were on and she could just see Bea sitting on the edge of the bed. 

“Why aren't you in bed already?” Allie asked as she closed the door behind her.

“Why are you only still wearing a towel?” Bea countered as she got up from the bed. Allowing her robe to fall to the floor, exposing her nakedness to Allies eyes. Allie couldn't think of an answer as she crossed the floor allowing the towel to fall from her body. All words were lost to her, the thought that they really shouldn't be doing this evaporated from her mind the second their breaths mingled and their lips gently brushed.

“I though I might have lost you this time.” Bea mumbled. 

Allie felt a fluttering in her heart as Beas arms squeezed her tighter to her chest, pressing their lips together again Allie wandered if this was how butter melting in the heat of the August sun might feel before that thought was also obliterated without trace from her mind. Bea drank in Allies delicious sent that mixed so well with the delicate smell of the rose scented soap she'd given her to use. Melted into the feel of her plump lips against hers as she felt Allies fingers stroke the nape of her neck in delicious, ticklish strokes. She moaned as she felt one of Allies hands slip between their bodies and close over her breast, this was ecstasy and every sensation took her breath away. There was something so daring about being this intimate knowing that Liz and the kids could come back to the house without warning. She couldn't stop this, didn't want to stop this. This was crazy she told herself but still she couldn't stop.

They lay on the bed, relishing the warmth of each other's bodies, exploring, caressing and kissing.  Holding each other closer than anyone had ever held either of them before, whispering in each other's ears. Bea knew Allie wasn't about to walk out of their lives even though it seemed Marie had tried to convince her that she would, tried to convince her that it was just a game for Allie because Bea had known right from the start that it wasn't. The only person who had set out to play games was Marie and her pitiful attempts would never make even the most gullible person in the whole of London believe her. Marie's attempts at splitting them up Bea had assured Allie would never succeed because in the back of her mind there was someone else behind them. 

Allie didn't know how long she'd slept, she doubted it could have been for long but when she opened her eyes she was alone although she did vaguely remember hearing Bea whisper something about breakfast. She guessed she couldn't have been gone long since the empty side of the bed was still warm so she decided to get up and look for her in the kitchen. As she swung her legs over the side of the bed she couldn't stop the smile on her face from forming when she remembered just how attentive Bea had been, now it felt as if she'd sapped all the energy she should now have clean out of her body. Running her fingers through her hair she spotted where she'd dropped the warm pair of flannel pyjamas on the floor and her smile grew wider as she quickly decided that she may as well put those on. Bea seemed to be finding a whole new lease of life, maybe fear had been behind it, fear that she could have lost her again. They hadn't really spoken about it and Allie knew they needed to, one thing she knew for certain was that the next time anyone suggested she should go out without Bea, even if it was Bea herself she wasn't going to even need to give her answer a second thought. 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Bea sat rubbing her hands together, she felt uncomfortable in the alien surroundings of the solicitors outer office that seemed almost as dark as her thoughts were right then. The walls were panelled in dark oak and the floorboards had squeaked underfoot as she'd walked in as if they were being tortured. A large lead panel window opened out over a cobbled side street where she could clearly hear the costermongers selling fruits and vegetables from their barrows over the constant tapping coming from the secretary's typewriter. The smell of dust and drains drifted through the slightly open window as she refrained from wrinkling her nose. After all it was good of her family's solicitor to see her at such short notice, she didn't want to cause offence where none was intended. Asking her father for his name and address without actually telling him why she needed his services hadn't been the easiest thing to do. The last thing she now wanted was for anyone to inform her parents that she was not the softly spoken, well bread young lady that they had always prided themselves on their only daughter being. She smiled to herself, it would only ever truly be her mother who would be shocked if she deviated from what was expected of her. Her father she knew would laugh it off and ask what they expected when she had two older brothers who at one time or another had taken great delight in showing her exactly how a young lady should not behave. She'd asked her father for the contact details of their solicitor before Christmas, intending to contact him before the big event but hadn't been able to bring herself to. She knew she should have done this years ago but fear had prevented her from doing it, now she had a real reason to be asking for help. Allie, her name floating around inside her head was enough to make her smile, enough to take the chill right out of any room.


She knew she had to find some escape from the situation she now found herself in. As long as she couldn't be certain that Harry was dead he was a threat. If he were dead then so be it, she was free of him, without any certainty though she had thought long and hard about this course of action. There had to be some legal way to make sure she would never have to be subjected to his rough and abusive treatment of her again. Divorcing him out of her life seemed the only logical solution to her problem. She knew the the whole truth about her marriage would have to be discussed now she was taking this route. Her family would know the truth eventually, that was something she feared the most. She knew in her heart though they would have to be told no matter how this meeting concluded.

Charles Marlborough, the family solicitor and long time friend of her father, had an office on the outskirts of the city. Bea had debated if she really should go to him for advice as to what she should do, or could do given her circumstances. She wanted to speak to her father but didn't have the first idea how she could even broach the subject of divorcing Harry, if she even could. She was nervous about seeing him, especially since no one knew that she wasn't going to work that morning. Allie had commented as they were getting ready to leave home for the day that she seemed to be flapping about uncharacteristically as she pulled on her coat and picked up her briefcase.

“Please make yourself comfortable, Beatrice. How are your parents keeping? I'm afraid I haven't kept in touch with your father as much as I'd like over the last few months.” Charles Marlborough Asked as he indicated for her to take a seat in the large leather chair opposite his desk.

“They are as well as can be expected in this current climate. I feel such a fool for most probably wasting your time.” Bea sighed as she took a seat. The leather chair was cool and it's comfort was not only questionable but arguable. Trying to get comfortable it seemed quite apparent to her that a few of the springs in the seat seemed as if they were in imminent danger of breaking free from the confines of the leather that encased them. 

“Nonsense.” Charles said as he resumed his seat. “I'm only too happy to be of any assistance that I can be to the daughter of one of my oldest friends. Can I offer you tea? Coffee perhaps?” 

Bea shook her head politely. “If you don't mind I'd much rather just tell you why I came to see you today.” 

Bea went on to divulge everything that she had suffered at the hands of Harry. Her voice trembling more than once as she recounted things she'd rather just forget. “Now you see why I feel so foolish I'm sure. I should never have let it continue, I…I allowed him to control my every waking hour.”

“You have absolutely no need to feel foolish, Beatrice.” Charles said as he looked at her wishing that there were far more he could do. “Matrimonial problems are not confined to the lower classes my dear. I never did like the man although I would have never said so to your father, he sang his praises from dawn until dusk and your mother…well the less said the better. He was never good enough for you anyone with half an eye could have seen that.”

“It seems to me that he would have to kill me for me to get away from him. I need to know if I can divorce him.” 

Charles sat back in his chair and sighed. “Divorce.” He muttered as he nodded sagely as if he were far older than his real years. Charles Marlborough she knew from her father was still a bachelor. ‘Married to the law until death do they part,’ he had often joked. Charles got up from his chair and walked around to sit on his desk in front of Bea as he hooked his thumbs into the pockets of his waistcoat as he looked at her kindly. “I believe no one can really offer truly sound advice unless they have experienced the same things that you have described to me. I myself thankfully will never find myself needing my own advice in such matters. I am therefore commenting purely as a layman who's knowledge of such matters shall always be confined to my understanding of the law as it stands today.”

His comments made her smile, it wasn't out of all realms of reality that even a man could find himself being on the receiving end of a woman who had such abusive tendencies she thought. Even if she doubted very much that a man would admit to such mistreatment, a man could however obtain a divorce with greater ease and never have to recount the things she'd had to. Charles she knew belonged to a dusty profession, a profession not known for its brevity.

“Thank you.” She smiled appreciatively. “I do value any advice you can give me.” She watched as he strode back around his desk resuming his seat, one that squeaked a little as he leaned forward and clasped his hands together on his desk in front of him. 

“We could sue on the grounds of adultery if you can prove that it has occurred. If he comes back, even without you taking him back into the matrimonial home we could always arrange for it to occur.” He smiled warily. “Unfortunately even then it would be five years with his agreement before you were free to marry again, seven if he refuses.”

“He would never agree no matter what I could or could not prove.” Bea sighed, and even then five years was too long to be free of him. She couldn't say that she had no intention of ever marrying again, she had all she needed. Debbie and Allie would be all she'd ever need for the rest of her life. She could work, earn her own money she had done for years anyway. All she wanted was to be free of him and it seemed there were only one way that that end result could ever be achieved, if Harry were dead. She knew too well that no one ever frowned upon a widow, but a divorced woman? Even worse a divorced woman who had been the one to sue for divorce, it just wasn't something that she thought would ever be seen as acceptable; at least never in her lifetime. She didn't need to wait for five or seven years to start all over again because the truth was that she already had. She got to her feet. “I will think about everything you've said.” 

“Please do.” Charles smiled as he got to his feet to show her to the door in his own very musty, old English style. “And if you need anything else please don't hesitate to contact me.”

 


It was late on Wednesday afternoon and the customers at that time of day in the cafe were few and far between. For that reason alone it was the perfect time for Franky and Allie to set aside some time for cleaning and general stocktaking. The stocktaking had taken a little longer than they had expected, by the time they got to the cleaning a misty early evening was beginning to settle in making the sky seem even darker. Allie, Franky noted, was putting more effort than usual into cleaning and polishing the cafe counter. She watched on in amusement as she put extra effort into polishing the front of the counter. As Franky thoroughly cleaned the empty tables and chairs every so often she looked back at her. Franky knew she was worried about leaving on Friday morning for Sussex. Hopefully, Franky thought, the way she was throwing herself into scrubbing everything in sight might help her get it out of her system a little. She decided that she'd try and have a quite word with Bea when she arrived if she could but for right now there was little she could do except leave her to work. Allie barley registered anything around her in the cafe, even the door opening almost an hour later didn't seem to register in her ears until a voice she'd hoped never to hear again rung out in the air and into her ears.

“So this is where you hide yourself away sugar.” Ruby said in a cheery voice. “Thought I could try getting your friend to tell me where I could find you but she was never at the ambulance station when I called round. She was far easier to track down than you are. But when I set my mind to do something I always achieve my aim.”

“Sorry I'm busy, besides I'm really not interested in anything you have to say.” Allie looked up for a moment before she looked at Franky, her face flushed a little in embarrassment. She had no idea how she was going to get rid of this annoying nurse without asking Franky to throw her out and that would lead to all sorts of questions. She'd hoped she'd never see her again after their brief encounter at the Cafe de Paris. Ruby crossed the cafe a little too quickly for even Franky's liking, Bea was due to arrive very soon to walk home with Allie, this was not going to look good. If Franky knew one thing about Bea it was that she wouldn't take too kindly to seeing whatever this was playing out right before her eyes. Allie edged her way around Ruby and walked over to where Franky was leaning against the wall.

“Are you alright?” Franky asked in an almost whispered voice.

“Course she's alright.” Ruby glared at Franky. “Maybe my surprising her like this was just a shock.” No one in the cafe even registered that Bea was now standing in the doorway.

“I'll be fine Franky. Bea will be here soon…the sooner the better if you ask me. Maybe then this person will take the hint and leave me alone.”

“That woman I saw you with last night?” Ruby asked as she watched Allie nod her head slowly until the realisation of her words hit her like a speeding truck.

“You’ve been following me?” Allie gasped.

“Sure, why not?” Ruby shrugged nonchalantly. “You're actually with that fossil?” 

“Bea is not a fossil.” Allie snapped. “We happen to be very happy together thank you. Now if you know what's good for you I suggest you leave right now.”

“You don't sound too happy. You didn't look too happy when I walked in here sugar.” Ruby replied.

Allie snapped her attention back to Ruby throwing her an acidic glare, her eyebrows furrowed in distaste. 

“Alright, alright.” Franky piped up after she'd seen the look in Allies eyes. “I think it's time you went on your way don't you?”

“I think Franky might have a point.” Beas voice cut through the sudden silence that had descended. 

Allie spun around in the direction she'd just heard Beas voice come from. “Bea!” She raced across the room faster than Franky was certain she'd seen Allie move all day. “I didn't asked her to come here. What did you hear?” She asked suddenly afraid that after everything, all her protests about not wanting to go with them to Sussex would lead Bea to believe that Ruby was the reason she didn't want to go. 

“Enough to know you clearly don't seem comfortable with her being here.” Bea smiled as she put her arm around Allies waist feeling her melt into her side. “I think you should do as Allie and Franky asked and leave don't you?”

Ruby shrugged. “No shame in a girl trying is there? I mean after all there is a war on, never know what might happen.” She crossed the floor stopping by the door, the spot Bea and Allie had recently vacated. “If you change your mind sugar you know where to find me, Charing Cross Hospital…just in case you needed reminding.” 

“Do yourself a favour and just leave.” Bea spat as she felt herself becoming increasingly angry. 

“You sure that's what you want sugar?” Ruby asked as she looked at Allie, an eyebrow raised as her lips split into a grin. “I doubt that relic can keep you happy.” 

“They are perfectly happy.” Franky hissed as she pushed Ruby out of the door before she could regain her balance properly Franky had already closed and locked it.

“You do believe me don't you?” Allie asked quietly.

Bea didn't answer, her arm fell back to her side as she looked at Franky. “Can I use your telephone?” 

“You know where it is.” Franky shrugged as they both watched Bea cross the cafe and disappear down the hall, her head held high. 

As soon as she'd disappeared from sight Allie sighed heavily as her knees began to shake worse than gelatine. Flopping down into one of the chairs she leaned back and closed her eyes trying not to think.

“Are you alright?” Bea asked when she reappeared. “You look terrible. You ready to go?” Bea held out Allies coat as she watched her getting up slowly from the chair. “If you still love me you're going to do two things for me right now Allie.”

“Ummm…..alright?” Allie said hesitantly.

“Firstly you're going to put your coat on.”

Allie quirked her eyebrows. “And the second thing is?”

“You're going to come with me right now.” Bea said with a more demanding tone.

“I can do that…better do as I'm told aye Franky?” Allie laughed weakly when she received no response.

Nothing Bea had seen or heard made her think for a second that Allie had even wanted Ruby there. Franky's reaction, although expected, told her exactly the same thing. Watching Allie fighting to pull her coat on Bea let out a low chuckle in her throat before she stepped forward and helped her on with it. Cupping Allies face with one hand she leaned in and kissed her. Instinctively Allie ran her fingers through Beas hair as she kissed her back. Nothing was going to change things between them, the fact the Bea was brave enough to even kiss her when they weren't alone was just more proof of that. Allie knew she shouldn't really need Bea to keep reassuring her of something she should already know. She shouldn't keep feeling this insecure she told herself because Bea wasn't going to let her forget how she felt.

“Go home before I have to throw a bucket of cold water over the pair of you.” Franky groaned.

“Why did you need to use the telephone?” Allie asked as they stepped outside.

Bea smiled as she threaded her arm through Allies. She remained silent as they walked further along before she stopped outside the nearest chip shop. “Just needed to call Liz, tell her not to make dinner for us.” 

They had just reached the park when the moon finally came out. Bea paused before stealing more of the chips that Allie was holding. “You want to go in for a minute?”

Allie looked around. “It's pitch black. Won't people think it's strange?”

“No!” Bea said. “It's dark so what, you only live once don't you?”

“I suppose you have a point. You done eating all the chips yet?” Allie laughed.

They walked down the unlit path and over the damp grass. Here and there they could both see the shadows of people laying on the ground, too wrapped up in each other to even notice them. Bea wondered if they were taking a risk being there but there seemed to be no one on patrol, if there were there wouldn't be other couples there anyway. As they walked towards the trees at the corner of the park in the dark they looked more like a small forest. Pulling Allie down under a tree Bea held her close as she looked up at the moon, it was easy to believe right then that they were the only two people alive. She kissed Allie once, then again, curling her fingers possessively over her cheek. Allies breath came as hot puffs against her mouth as she held her closer, feeling both their hearts beating. Hearing a rustle behind them they broke apart for a moment, when no one approached them they both guessed that it must have just been a bird or some other small animal.

“I do trust you.” Bea whispered. 

“Yes?” Allie asked. “I didn't know she would look for me. She was at the Cafe de Paris when I was there with Booms. I spoke to her once and I didn't see her again before we left. I didn't even tell her my name. You can ask Booms…you do believe me don't you?”

“Of course I believe you.” Bea rested her head against Allies shoulder as they sat for a while longer, holding onto each other. 

 

 

Late on Thursday night Bea sensed that their imminent departure was troubling Allie as she gently rubbed the nape of her neck. They lay naked together in Beas large, comfortable bed, a place that had quickly come to represent the safest place either of them had ever been in their lives. 

“Talk to me Allie.” Bea whispered in her ear.

Allie closed her eyes, feeling safe and loved. “I just have a headache, please just keep stroking my neck.”

“Everything will be alright.” Bea tried to reassure her.

“What if they hate me? What if they don't want me to be around you and Deb?”

Bea was silent for a short while. “Then I'll tell them every reason why you're good for us. If we have to leave early I won't hesitate for a second. But it won't happen, trust me it won't.” She smiled to herself, keeping secrets from Allie wasn't something she felt she should do but she didn't want to tell her the reason why she knew that her father and oldest brother at least weren't going to take an instant dislike to her because they'd already met. She'd spoken to her father earlier that day on the telephone when he'd finally confessed to Bea that he'd not only met Allie but spoken to her on more than one occasion when he'd been in London. 

Allie moved slightly to lay her head on Beas chest, listening to the beating of her heart as she continued to stroke her neck. ‘Bliss.’ Allie thought to herself, this was bliss she'd never felt in such a state of calm, never felt so treasured. There was a distinct difference in the way Bea had always treated her and she made her life finally feel like it was worth living. 

“What was school like for you?” Allie suddenly asked.

“Mother and father always said that paying for our educations was worth the cost. We didn't board none of us but I still went to an all girls school.”

“Doesn't look like it's done you any harm.” Allie smiled mischievously into the darkness.

Bea winced slightly as the memories of her school days came flooding back. “You think so? I hated it. What I remember most was the smell of chalk mixed with sweaty hockey boots. The unpalatable stale meals and the dark varnished floors. I was mixed in with a rabble of girls all pretending that we got on, half were lovesick and I was just sick, sick of trying to prove that I had my own worth. Don't get me wrong my parents only wanted the best for me but I always knew they expected me to get married and I never wanted that.”

“Never?” Allie asked a little surprised by her sudden revelation even if she wasn't sure why it should surprise her. “Why? I mean I always knew why I never would.” 

“Even then? You really knew for certain who you were?” Bea asked not even knowing why she was bothering to ask Franky had said the same thing and that had never struck her as even slightly odd. Although most things Franky would say or do had stopped being odd to Bea a long time ago. Bea fell silent trying to remember how she'd even felt when she was at school. 

“Even then, I think I always knew, even when I was small. So come on tell me or do I have to guess?” Allie asked getting a little tired of waiting to get her reply.

“I told you I wanted to teach.” Bea sighed. “My brothers had their educations already pre mapped out for them including university but as the only girl I was just expected to become a wife, a wife and mother. It's the wife part I really disliked the thought of.” Bea pulled Allie a little closer. “I just remember thinking that it was so unfair, because they were male they got to do everything I wasn't allowed to do. I don't even know where Harry even came from. My father knew his parents I know that much. I never liked him from the first moment he started following me around. I just don't know.” She sighed. “The more I ignored him it seemed the more he was always right there. He ingratiated himself with my parents and that was that. It seemed I had no say in anything that happened after that. You don't think less of me do you? Because I stayed with him? It's not like I really had…have a choice. I should have gone to my father and I did think about it, when I had fresh bruises or the scars that were barely healed but then I still thought he wouldn't believe me. And what if they said anything to Harry? My life really wasn't worth living with him around as it was, I may as well have already been dead if I went against him. So I stayed silent for Debbie's sake more than my own. I never thought I'd tell anyone what he was like.”

“But you did. Franky knew, Liz knows and now…well now I know.” Allie pulled herself further into her side. How fragile Bea always seem to be whenever his name was mentioned. “You know even if for now he is only missing it doesn't mean a thing. When they find him he'll be sent back to what ever hell hole they had him in eventually with any luck he'll get a stray bullet or even a well aimed one.”

“You really think we could fall that lucky?” Bea asked. 

“Of course I do.” 

“I went to see fathers solicitor.” Bea finally admitted. “I needed to know where I stand…it's not great news, I guess all we can hope for is that he'll be put out of his misery.”

“You thought about leaving him a lot didn't you?” Allie asked as they lay in the darkness tangled together so that neither of them now even knew where one ended and the other began.

“Of course, but where would I have gone? Back to my parents? We were married, ‘until death do us part.’ Bea let out a small laugh. “That was the way it had to be, the way I was brought up. Funny how things turn out don't you think?” Of course she'd thought about leaving, contemplated walking out and taking Debbie with her and never looking back. She fantasised about living a different life since the day she'd said I do. She'd imagined herself making a tour of Europe, countries had beckoned to her from the books she read when she was alone. She loved to indulge her passion for reading, threw herself into history books while Harry was out. Having to pretend that she wasn't smarter than him when he was around wasn't easy. She had to play the dutiful wife who gave into his demands and took a beating without complaint. In her mind she could wander around cities that were vibrant and cultured, in her mind she could live for herself and then Debbie was born and the only thing she wanted was to keep her safe. Now she knew that no matter how hard she'd tried she'd never entirely been able to give her the stable home she'd wanted for her. Except now Harry wasn't there, Allie wasn't his replacement because Allie was everything he could never have been. Even if Harry had tried his hardest to be a decent human being he could never have been even a tiny patch on everything that Allie was. She watched her and Debbie together, sitting in an arm chair when one or the other was reading. Laying on the sitting room floor and trying to fit the right pieces together in the jigsaw puzzle that Sophie had long since lost interest in. Throwing flour at each other when they making cookies and being scolded by Liz for making such a mess in the kitchen. Their smiles and laughter were seen and heard no matter what they were doing together.

“I wish I could have left.” Bea sighed against Allies neck as she closed her eyes. “I wish I could have found you sooner.”

Allie chuckled to herself before placing a kiss on Beas bare shoulder as her eyes still remained fixed on Bea, even though in the dark she was almost impossible to see. 

“You know I think you always knew who you were and what you wanted, you just couldn't ever be who you truly are because of the life you were born into. I should...we should be happy for one thing though.” 

“What's that?” Bea asked pretty sure she knew what Allie was going to say.

“Debbie. No matter who you were before you had Deb she's made your life a little better I think. No matter what your desires were before she came along, even if you didn't really know what they were she's made your life better.” 

“She has…she makes our lives better I think.” 

“You should never feel embarrassed by your desires, Bea. It's desire that separates us from everything else.” Allie said closing her eyes as she felt Bea kiss across her shoulder and up her neck. 

“Wait.” Allie gasped before Beas lips were on hers. For a moment she could try and forget that they needed to sleep and just focus on the feel of Beas lips against hers.

“Allie, we are living in the middle of a war, I don't feel embarrassed. I plan on doing exactly as I want, providing I'm the only person you want to kiss.” 

“I can't imagine ever kissing anybody but you ever again. But right now we really need to sleep, or have you forgotten we have to be up early in the morning?”

 

 

A muffled cough sounded from beneath the bedclothes and was followed by a weedy voice claiming that she wasn't feeling well.

“Get yourself out from under that eiderdown before I do it for you.” Bea warned as slowly a cloud of blonde hair appeared followed by blue eyes that blinked in disbelief back at her. 

“You wouldn't dare.” Allie mumbled as her mouth was still hidden under the covers.

Bea had promised herself that she wasn't going to be soft with her, not this morning. She knew she was nervous about going with them to Sussex and meeting her family but Bea had met her grandparents and her sister. Had gone with her the weekend before and spent the whole day with them while Debbie and Anastazja had spent much of the day outside with Anastazja’s friends. Much to both Bea and Allies dismay Debbie had come back with her coat pockets full of shrapnel. Shrapnel that once they'd arrived home she'd traded with Artie for the chocolate he still had left over from Christmas.

“You promised me you wouldn't do this.” Beas hands rested on her hips as she looked down at Allie. “And I promised you that if they are beastly to you that we'll leave, I do mean that.” She sat on the bed next to her. “You're too important to me, to us, for me to ever let them treat you badly.”

Allie moved like a snail as she prodded at the bedclothes until they were past her waist, then slowly, as if each leg weighed at least a ton, she moved them to the edge of the bed. Finally getting off the bed she saw that a bag had already been packed and her clothes for the day were laying across the back of the chair. “Now you're spoiling me I think.” She smiled briefly.

“And I always will because you deserve it, now get dressed and come down for breakfast or I won't be the only one giving you a hard time. If Liz has to come up here you'll really be for it.” Bea said as she glanced at her watch. Liz prided herself just as Bea did in running the house smoothly and waiting longer than necessary for Allie to put in an appearance was not making the early morning start run smoothly. “I'll go and get the girls up, don't even think about getting back in that bed.” Bea warned as she got up and walked to the door.

Bea had taken extra care when she was deciding what she was going to wear for the journey the night before. Eventually she had decided on a a dark grey outfit with a belted waist. It was still cold out and she would wear her best coat, a deep blue Kashmir with patch pockets and turned back cuffs. Her hat shoes and handbag were black. She was taking Allie with them and she didn't care what her mother thought, if she had any arguments about Allie accompanying them she had already made up her mind that they would be on the next train back to London. Her father had already told her what he thought of Allie, she just needed to find the courage to tell him that Allie was a lot more than just a friend. She knew he'd already worked out everything there was to possibly work out about Franky. Had he already worked out how things were between her and Allie she wondered to herself as she made one final check of the upstairs rooms before they left for the weekend. Making her way back downstairs she found Allie and Debbie waiting for her. 

“How are you feeling?” Bea asked.

Allie shrugged her shoulders stiffly before she answered. “I've felt better.” Fear tangled with anticipation even though she was now aware that she'd met and talked with Beas father in the cafe. She'd hardly spoken to him the first time he'd walked in except to take his order but Franky had spent at least ten minutes chatting to him much the same as she did with most of the customers. Each time after that she'd spent a little longer chatting to him. Even though she knew that her stomach was starting to feel like a huge ball that was being strangled by barbed wire. She took one last look at her reflection in the mirror that was next to the coat rack. She looked extremely presentable and she told herself that everything would be alright but still she knew anything could happen when they arrived.

Bea placed her hands on her shoulders as she came up behind her, closer than she normally did when Debbie was only a few feet away, with the exception of Christmas. “If either of them are unpleasant to you we’ll leave straight away.” She whispered in her ear her hot breath tickling her neck. 

Allie nodded but felt guilty that she could be the reason Bea wouldn't spend time with her parents. “I don't expect you to do that, not for me…I'll be fine coming back by myself.” 

“No, I told you I won't allow it. If you leave then we all leave.”

As Debbie stood with Allie on the station platform she kept looking up at her, she could see that she was nervous and she knew that wasn't usual. Still while they were alone Debbie had something burning in her head that she just wanted to ask while Bea was still in the station cafe with everyone else. 

“You sleep in mummy's bed every night now don't you?” Debbie asked as she looked a little way down the platform to where the cafe was. “Don't lie to me, I'm not silly.”

Allie looked down at her again this time to find Debbie looking up at her with a mischievous smile. “What makes you think that?” 

“Your perfume. I didn't notice it everyday before but now I smell it every morning. It's not the same as mummy's anyway. I do use the bathroom every morning and mummy leaves her door open, I smell your perfume mixed with hers coming from her room not yours.”

Allie gave her a weak smile, this was not the conversation she'd ever expected to have with Debbie unless Bea was there. “There's no flies on you are there kid?” 

“Do you love her?” Debbie asked her voice becoming a little more insistent. She loved having Allie there, she knew Bea did but she needed an answer to her question and she wasn't going to give in until she got one.

Allie felt her eyes widen a little as she raised her eyebrows to feign confusion. “I'm sorry?”

“Are you deaf this morning?” Debbie frowned. “My mummy. Do you love her?” She asked again. Allie fell silent and Debbie suddenly felt as if she needed to explain her reasoning a little more clearly. “I heard mummy tell you she loves you. Franky said that grown ups only say that to someone who is really special, she says she never says it because she's never found her one special person. Mummy never said it to daddy but she said it to you so are you her one special person?”

Allie swallowed hard before she answered. “Is that what you think? That I'm her special person?” She couldn't help but smile at Debbie's way of seeing things. 

“It's true isn't it?” 

“Perhaps.” 

Debbie frowned, she was beginning to get irritated with the way Allie wouldn't just answer her question. “Just because I'm not eight yet doesn't mean I don't see what's going on. So do you love my mummy or not?” Debbie watched her with eager eyes as she waited for a reply. Allie looked as if she were thinking about what she was going to say. 

Allie had never expected this, she'd always guessed that Debbie would ask questions but she thought this tough line of questioning would come when they were together. She nodded her head slowly without taking her eyes off Debbie for a second. “Yes. Yes I do love her.”

“Good.” Debbie smiled as she reached for Allies hand like she always did. “She's the best mummy in the world.” She smiled wide before tugging on her hand. Allie lent down a little. “Don't tell Liz I said that.” She whispered with a small giggle as Allie straightened back up. “She's really a wonderful person, but then you think that too don't you or you wouldn't love her.”

“I suppose not.”

“Allie, will you do something for me?” 

“If I can you know I will.” 

Debbie let go of her hand again before turning to stand in front of her. “You have to promise me that you'll always look after her. Promise me that you'll never shout at her or hit her or make her cry. You have to protect her because I'm not big enough to do that yet. Can you do that for me.”

“Why are you even asking me that?” 

“Because you make her smile more than I've ever seen her smile. That means you’re already doing more than my daddy ever did. I just need to know that you'll look after her.”

It was hard for Allie to believe that Debbie even felt she needed to ask but she had and she deserved an honest answer. Allie looked back down the platform towards the cafe for a few moments still seeing no sign of the others before she crouched down in front of Debbie. “I promise you I will always look after her, and I promise I’ll always look after you if you'll let me.”

“Good choice.” Debbie nodded before throwing her arms round Allie hugging her tighter than she had before.  

 

 

Once the train was out of London it should run through the countryside without too much problem Bea told herself as she was walking out of the cafe with Liz following on behind. She wasn't sure what was going on between Debbie and Allie as she looked down the platform but it couldn't be anything bad. Walking towards them she couldn't hear what they were saying but as Allie straightened back up she watched her scoop Debbie up in her arms. She wasn’t going to question them when they looked so happy just being together.

As they boarded the train Debbie squeezed herself in between them and threaded an arm through each of theirs pulling them both a little closer. It wasn't completely unusual for Debbie to do that when they were at home but she hadn't expected it on the train. Once they got out into the countryside Allie looked out of the window, everything seemed to be so untouched by the war and the bombing they had to endure usually on a nightly basis. As each town, train station and mile was eaten up by the journey her stomach tightened a little more. As they drew ever increasingly closer to their destination the more fearful she became. She didn't want to be responsible for Bea walking away from the rest of her family. That was the problem, she'd said she would and she meant it, every word Allie knew was true if they refused to make her welcome. Debbie's questioning had made her uncomfortable but she was a child, adults, especially those who were important to them both were another matter. Allie breathed a sigh of relief when there was a small holdup on the line. For ten minutes she sat there clenching and unclenching her fists until Debbie, Sophie, Artie and liz decided that stretching their legs was a good way to pass a few minutes. 

“It will be alright sweetheart.” Bea brushed her fingers along Allies jaw letting them rest under her chin before she planted a gentle kiss on her lips.

“I don't want you to give up your family for me.” Allie blurted out as she tried to look away but found it impossible when Bea cupped her face with both her hands.

“It won't come to that I promise you. You already know my father.” Bea smiled.

“You can't know that for sure.” Allie looked her in the eye. “You can't lose your family over me.”

“I do know that….shall I let you into a secret?” Bea asked.

“Go on.” Allie replied doubting she could tell her anything that she hadn't already. 

“You've already met Thomas too, you just weren't aware of it at the time.”

Allie brow creased into a frown. “When? How? I'm certain I'd remember if I had, I mean who forgets someone telling them their someone's brother?” Allie asked completely bewildered by Beas revelation.

“He didn't tell you who he was, at the time he didn't know who you were, he just thought you'd taken my old job.” Bea chuckled a little.

“He knows now?” Allie asked nervously.

“He knows as much as I've been able to tell him in my letters, now please stop worrying unnecessarily, the only person who's still in the dark is mother and I know without any doubt once Deb gets through singing your praises she'll love you more than she does me.”

“About Deb.” Allie said as she looked away. “She asked me earlier if I love you. Told me that I had to promise her that I'd look after you.”

“Yes?” Bea looked slightly amused. “And what did you say?” 

“I told her I do. I promised to look after both of you.” Allie whispered.

“Then you already have the hardest critic in the whole bunch convinced, I don't think you need to worry about anyone else.” 

The cow that had wandered onto the line seemed to have taken forever to move but once it was out of the way and everyone was back in the compartment they were sharing Allies nerves lessened a little. She could do this, she had to for Bea and Debbie.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

As the train pulled into the station at Rye Allies nerves were starting to get the better of her again. Finally the moment she had been dreading since Bea had first mentioned it was here, it felt too real to her as the train slowed to a stop. She'd had a hard time thinking straight since her eyes had first opened but then she'd still been in their bed, her poor attempt and convincing Bea to leave her behind was laughable even to her now. Unless she'd been actually at deaths door she knew there was no way they were going anywhere without her, she smiled a little to herself with that thought because had she been waiting to be fitted with a wooden overcoat Bea would have insisted on staying by her side. The conversation she'd had no choice other than to participate in with Debbie was also still very fresh in her mind. If Beas mother were anything like Debbie she doubted she'd last five minutes with her without trying to run away from her if she asked too many questions. The next few minutes she knew were going to make all the difference in the world, the responsibility for Bea not feeling as though she needed to walk away from her family felt like it was hers alone.

“He made sure I didn't see them.” Bea whispered in Allies ear as she squeezed her hand. “He hated coming here, I've seen so little of them over the years that walking away won't make much of a difference to me now. Don't let my saying I'll do it if I have to make you feel as if its your fault.”

“Their still your family.” Allie mumbled. “I'm not…”

“You're a part of it too, if they want Deb and I to be part of their lives properly again then they will have to accept that. It's not open for discussion, I won't allow anyone to make my decisions for me again.” 

Beas father stood on the platform as the train pulled in, her mother sitting with William on a bench a little further away. He'd been up to London on more occasions than he'd admitted to Bea since they'd moved into the house. The first time he'd gone to the cafe was out of curiosity, he'd wanted to understand how Bea could have felt comfortable working there more than anything. Manual work of any kind wasn't what she'd been brought up to do, a little light housework maybe but being on her feet all day wasn't what he'd ever envisioned for her. He'd always expected Harry would be more than capable of providing for a family, he had to admit he'd been a very poor judge of his character. Meeting Franky he'd seen straight away why she'd stayed, she was friendly and extremely polite but he saw something in her that told him it wasn't wise to get on her bad side. Talking with Franky had set his mind at rest that she did have people who would look out for her especially after Harry had been shipped out to who knew where. He hadn't believed Thomas when he'd said that the younger woman working there now was probably a little more than just his sisters friend. One memory had stuck in his mind since he'd had his first proper conversation with Allie. He'd arrived a little later in the day than he usually would have when his train back to Sussex had been cancelled. He saw Bea open the door for Allie and as they both walked out into the street he'd ducked needlessly into the shadows, given the fact that the blackout had already been in effect he still laughed to himself about having even though it was necessary. Watching them link arms, seeing the smile he'd witnessed on his daughters face had confirmed what Thomas had told him. Thomas had confirmed his suspicions about Harry a long time ago when he'd witnessed more than he'd bargained for. He'd argued with his oldest son on more than one occasion when he'd told him he was keeping his eye on his little sister. He hadn't at first wanted to believe him, their final argument had been when Thomas had brought the subject of Bea and Allie up. Thomas was adamant that it shouldn't matter who made his sister happy but her father had needed to see for himself, although he'd never set out to watch them from the shadows. Actually seeing them together had confirmed just how happy Bea was, although telling his wife he knew was going to be a problem and one he hoped to put right once they were in Sussex. Alice he knew was not quite as agreeable to changes in the world and the outbreak of war had brought about a lot of changes already. His little girl wouldn't be the first to fall in love with another woman, the war hadn't changed his daughter he'd quickly realised. When he'd finally got on the train bound for home he'd thought long and hard about what he knew about Bea, she'd always been so insistent that she would never marry, she'd argued for hours on the subject of Harry Smith with him. He knew he should never have allowed Harry to cloud his judgement. Bea had always been different from her school friends yet the only thing she'd ever discussed openly with him was about not wanting to marry Harry. He'd put it down to nerves, she was still young, now he saw everything differently. He didn't care a jot who she chose to love as long as that person treated her properly, it was no shame in his eyes, after all she'd done as they expected and had lived with the consequences.

“Grandpa.” Debbie squealed after Allie helped her alight the train. She ran towards him allowing him to scoop her up into his arms. He hugged her tightly before placing her back down and she quickly ran off in the direction of her grandmother and uncle. 

“Granny?” Debbie looked up at her grandmother as she got to her feet, open mouthed when she first saw Bea standing a little closer to Allie than she had been prepared for. She knew she was bringing friends with her and Allie looked extremely more nervous than anyone else. She hadn't wanted to believe the things that she'd overheard being said but now she wasn't quite sure what to believe. For a few seconds she even began to question if it was really her daughter standing there. Bea seemed to shine in a way she'd never witnessed before. Her brown eyes looked to her to sparkle and her complexion seemed to have taken on a more peachy tone. If she didn't know better she might have thought that she'd been sitting in the sun, given the chill still in the air and the cloud cover they'd been having she knew that was impossible. Spring did seem to be arriving a little earlier this year but even so the sun was more often than not still missing from the sky. Debbie frowned as she looked back across the platform towards her mother before shrugging and turning her attention to her uncle. 

“It's good to see you again Allie.” Allie stared at the man standing right in front of them wide eyed, he'd been in the cafe at least twice a month. Bea was right she did know him only this time instead of answering him she found herself being pulled into a warm hug. “There's no need to be nervous my dear.” He whispered in her ear before his attention turned to Bea. 

“You have no idea how overjoyed it makes this old mans heart to see you finally look content.” He whispered to her as he pulled Bea into his arms.

“But…” Bea hesitated, she had no idea what her father knew or how much he had guessed from their telephone conversations.

“There are no need for buts, I know.” He paused briefly as she pulled back to really look at her. “All I ever wanted was for you to be happy, she makes you happy I think.” He said quietly.

Debbie quickly got his attention as she called over to him. “My granddaughter is impatient to leave it would seem. Now the three of you will be travelling back to the house with your mother and I and Liz and her two young whippersnappers will be with William.”

Bea silently nodded her head in agreement as she glanced at Allie briefly, she'd have given anything in that second to reach for her hand, try and offer her a little reassurance, but seeing her mother still watching them she knew now was not the time. Her mother needed a completely different approach from that of her father, and since he didn't seem to care in the slightest she only had to find a way to convince her mother that Allie would always be the best choice she'd ever made.

With Debbie back in her usual place holding onto both of their hands they were quickly ushered towards a well maintained four door ford 7W ten. It was a dark green with an attractive vertical grille that was sandwiched between two bulbous lights that stood off the mud shields like bug eyes. A 1937 model Bea quickly noted and it didn't look as if it had been driven a great deal judging by the bodyworks condition. 

“This is new.” Bea said as she watched her fathers face as his smile grew.

“Not really, they stopped making this model in 1938. Besides which I just don't have the need to drive a great deal.” He opened the front passenger door allowing Beas mother to get in. Giving Allie a huge smile as he opened one of the rear passenger doors for her, his smile grew wider as he watched her help Debbie get in before she slid herself in next to her. After Bea got in Debbie refused to sit still asking her grandmother questions about what they had done over Christmas and if Father Christmas had paid them a visit. She smiled slightly answering her questions without glancing into the back seat. Bea was quite familiar when her mother was feeling uncomfortable, she didn't really care if she did, her father had invited Allie to go with them and with them Allie would remain. Her father seemed happy to have her there although having already met her numerous times in the cafe probably helped even if Allie hadn't known who he was at the time. Her mother watched as he started the car and they drove to the house in silence, except for Debbie's happy chatter, with a tense smile on her face. 

Beas father had decided that from the very first moment he met Allie that he liked her. He'd been a little taken aback when he'd heard from his oldest son that there may be something other than just friendship between her and his only daughter and he'd kept going back to the cafe to settle his own mind that Bea wasn't being taken for a ride. After everything he’d come to know about Harry he wasn't going to let anyone take advantage of her ever again. There was no doubt she was a very beautiful young woman. He'd learned that her family had originally come from Poland before the start of the first war and that she'd lived in the east end for her early years. After he'd spent sometime talking to her he concluded that she certainly didn't have the coarse manners of an alley cat that he found was common in most women who came from the area. He liked her spirit and her mettle. Now after seeing her for the first time with both Bea and Debbie he knew he'd been right to invite her. His daughter and granddaughter had never seemed so happy, Debbie had never been so talkative whenever Harry had been present. 

 

 

The smaller home in Sussex, Allie soon found out, was very different from the house in London. It was a mixture of gleaming mirrors, wood panelling, thick Turkish rugs and smelt heavily of beeswax. It seemed as if every chair and sofa were upholstered in deep red or green velvet and behind every single mahogany and glass door in the kitchen there was only the finest porcelain and cut glass. The dining room seemed almost a carbon copy of the one in London with the exception of the hideous fire screen that Bea loathed. The bedrooms had the thickest richly coloured carpets on the floor and the beds were extremely comfortable, although since there were more people than had ever previously stayed there doubling up wasn't something either Bea or Allie were about to complain about. Allie quickly found out that Beas father had the best stocked library that doubled as his study that she thought she'd ever seen, she did remember Beas warning though and decided that it would be a room she tried to steer clear of. 

Allie didn't even know why she'd been so abnormally fearful anymore. When they arrived they were met by the smell of cooking, courtesy of the cook that Beas mother still insisted she had to employ, and warmth from the fires that were burning brightly. Music from the BBC home service was floating through the air from the sitting room and so far both her parents had been welcoming, even if one of them hardly spoke a word. It seemed Beas mother may take a little more time to come round to the idea of having her around and Thomas just like his father was chatty. William had made his excuses as soon as he'd taken Liz's bags from his car and headed home after informing his parents that he would be back the next day.

“Lets go for a walk.” Bea said after lunch when she finally found herself alone for a few minutes with Allie. 

“Are you sure that's wise?” Allie asked not wanting to make her mother think she was taking any of Beas attention away from her family. 

“After that huge lunch that mothers cook just provided us with are you saying you don't want to walk a little of it off? Still it didn't go to waste on you and Deb did it?” Bea chuckled when she watched Allies smile fade away. “We can take Deb with us if it makes you feel any better although I do believe we may have a hard time praising her away from Thomas right now.” Bea glanced towards the sitting room door before looking at Allie a little more seriously. “I thought it might be nice to spend a little time alone but if your happy to wait until it's time for bed to be alone.” Bea said as she lowered her voice a little more, highly aware that she had no idea where her mother actually was.

The thought of them only having any time alone once everyone had gone to bed quickly changed Allies mind.

“Do you think your mother really believes that we're only friends? I mean do you think maybe she's worked out where we really stand?” Allie asked as she watched Debbie skipping along in front of them with Sophie as they walked arm in arm through the cobbled streets of the small town. 

“I don't know, maybe. Or maybe she believes I think you're just like an annoying child, maybe she thinks we couldn't be any more than friends since I'm so often intensely irritating. Actually I doubt she really believes you could even want to be my friend.” Bea flashed her a heart stopping smile.

“I don't think you're irritating.” Allie frowned.

“And I don't think you're an annoying child. Except I do know that I can be extremely irritating.”

“I've never thought that.” Allie flicked her cheek with her finger. “How about I take you out for lunch when we get home? After Franky's birthday maybe? Sooner if I can arrange something.”

“Why not, but only if you let me pay.” Bea grinned.

“Then I'm hardly taking you out.” Allie huffed. “I can't afford anything pricey but that doesn't mean I can't treat you.”

 

 

“Father what on earth are you doing with that old thing?” Bea asked when they found him in the dining room with the side of his old film projector open. 

“I should have thought that was obvious.” He laughed. “Why don't one of you go and rescue Thomas, Artie is asking him all kinds of questions. I believe Liz called him an armchair general, he does seem quite knowledgeable though.”

“I think you should go and rescue Thomas and I'll look at that old thing for you.” Bea laughed, when the projector had been new there had never been any problems but as it aged as they had all grown older it was Bea who had always been the one to clean it and take care of any small repairs it had needed. “You were never mechanically minded.” She rolled her eyes. “Reminds me of Allie a little, if anything needs doing she'll have a go at it, stuff it up then look for me.”

Her father got up from the chair he'd been sitting in, he couldn't argue about what he knew was the truth. Rescuing Thomas from endless rounds of more questions about the war might be the best thing all round now that Bea was back from their walk. He'd tried to persuade her mother that it wouldn't be the worst thing she could do to spend some time with Allie while they were there but she hadn't been all that receptive, at least that had been the impression she'd given him. Bea watched as Debbie tugged Allie off in the direction of the sitting room where Sophie had already gone in search of Liz before sitting in the chair her father had vacated. Peering inside the old film projector using the penlight her father had left on the table she took a careful look around. Dust had built up inside and it was in dire need of cleaning if he was thinking about using it. She shook her head as she tried to remember the last time it would have even been used at the same time being thankful that he hadn't tried to turn it on. Reaching inside the small bag that sat next to it she grabbed one of the old paintbrushes and began gently sweeping away the dust that had gathered on the inner mechanisms. Hearing footsteps heading in her direction she looked out of the corner of her eye finally seeing Thomas grinning at her as he lent against the door frame. Part of her wished he'd hurry up and leave, she'd always hated him standing around watching her doing anything. As her oldest brother he had often told her that it was one of his duties to criticise her efforts, except that usually took the form of him poking fun at her.

“Can I help you?” She asked a little annoyed when he hadn't made any effort to leave. 

“Just watching, you always were good at getting that old thing going when everyone else failed.” He sniggered. “And I thought you may like to know that Allies been in the kitchen with mother for the last five minutes. Probably not a great deal to worry about yet since cooks still here preparing dinner, and I haven't heard any raised voices. I reckon your girl can stand up to the old battle axe anyway.”

“Thomas!” Bea snapped her head round to look at him. “You know you can't call Allie that when we're here.”

“Why not it's the truth? You know sister dear I can read between the lines. And that sickeningly awful smile you've still got gives you away way more than your letters have. It's not like I came home and just raced in here ready to tell mother what we know. If she hasn't taken the hint yet or worked it out she soon will. Unfortunately for all of us she's not quite so enlightened as the rest of us. Hey maybe I should just lay it out for her now to watch the sudden panic set in when she thinks my little sister has been drawn in by untold evil forces.” He laughed.

Bea launched the paintbrush she was holding at his head, missing by a mile when he ducked. Ignoring his jokes that were always in bad taste was second nature to her usually but she knew if Allie was with their mother there was absolutely nothing usual about the situation. Grabbing another paintbrush from the bag she went back to cleaning the inner workings of the projector. “If I'm trying to make sure we don't all die in a fire the least you could do would be to go and rescue her from mothers questions.” 

“Why, will Allie catch fire if mother asks too many questions? I know her head might explode or there'll be steam coming out of her ears when she tries to control that east end temper she no doubt has. Seriously, I don't think mothers going to start asking really enquiring questions do you? She's got to be a little curious about the two of you, especially since father invited her and you do have a tendency to not let her out of your sight. Add that to you not kicking up a fuss about sharing your bed with her. I would say it's pretty obvious to anyone who chooses to pay attention.” 

Bea tried not to think too hard about what her mother might ask as she squinted a little more at the sprockets and gears that were caked in dust. Right now if her father had the intention of using the projector it was best that she just carried on cleaning it. A few minutes more passed before their father returned to the dining room placing a film reel down before saying something quietly to Thomas as they both left her in peace to finish what she was doing. She worried a little more as she heard nothing, no voices not even Debbie's, no, nothing was usual in the house that afternoon. When someone walked into the dining room and switched on the light she mumbled a ‘thank you’ but didn't look up to see who it was. There was no need she already knew exactly who it was.

“Sneewittchen?” Allie asked quietly as she looked at the reel of film sitting on the table. “What does that mean?” 

“It's German for Snow White.” Bea answered equally as quietly. 

“Right, so is this where you tell me that really you're a German spy?” Allie chuckled. 

Bea paused for a moment as she turned her head to look up at her, her face now set with a look of unamused self restraint. Shaking her head a little she motioned for Allie to lean in a little closer. After she did she whispered in her ear. “Would it make any difference if I told you I was?” Allie shook her head. “Then maybe you'll be disappointed that I'm not.” She laughed breathily. “The perils of that awfully expensive education that's all. I'll admit I was never overly keen on being tutored in French or German. Mothers parents were both Irish, fathers mother was Scottish and his father English. Unfortunately father has a habit of not only collecting books but film also. He's always somehow managed to get his hands on copies of films that half the English speaking world hasn't even seen yet, Snow White has been around for a little while though. He has a German contact in town that's why the title is written in German. Just in case you were wondering she has an English mother, his contact that is.”

“Righto, so I really came in search of you just to say that your mothers really quite nice when you sit down and talk to her.” 

“Hmmmm…she didn't ask you anything too…” Bea thought for a few seconds. “Probing?”

“Let me think…” Allie tapped her finger against her chin. “Not unless you consider being asked what my intentions towards her only daughter were.”

“She did what?” Bea spluttered a little.

“They weren't quite her exact words but you get the picture…I am joking…we just sat talking over a cup of tea, she was fishing a little but I hardly told her anything inappropriate. It's not like I was going to sit there and tell her I was going to find it next to impossible to keep my hands to myself all weekend. Or that I just might have to ravish you the second I get you in that bed tonight.”  

“Oh god!” Bea grumbled. “I'm going to spend the whole weekend surrounded by jokers and lunatics…you're as bad as Thomas you do realise that?”

 

 

“Thank you for taking care of the projector for me.” Beas father said as she helped him hang a sheet up after dinner had been eaten and the cook had left for the day. Since the house had at one time stood empty for more than half the year he'd never got round to actually buying the projector screen he'd always said he wanted. The sitting room had been rearranged much the same as it would have been years ago when she was much younger. Fond memories of watching films in this room flooded back into her mind for a few moments.

“We could have just gone to the pictures.” Bea smiled at him wondering why he was doing this.

“Not to watch Snow White we couldn't, they aren't showing it. The youngsters amongst us need some art and culture in their lives not some rubbish they show just to take our minds off what's happening in the wider world. Most of that tat isn't fit to be considered artistic. Added to that this is much cheaper than the picture house, you know how your mother hates to waste money.” 

Bea knew that was true, her mother had saved well just like her father had. The fact that he'd held a very high up position in the civil service with a good salary had never meant they hadn't been careful. Sometimes she wondered why paying for their private educations had been so important, it was expensive that much she'd always been aware of. With the three youngest almost them laying on the floor in anticipation of whatever they were about to watch Thomas checked that the curtains were properly drawn before joining them. Beas parents were sitting on one sofa while Liz was sitting in an arm chair. Thomas had grinned like a Cheshire Cat at his sister when she'd told Allie to sit on the other sofa as she'd looked a little lost for where she should sit, Thomas had always planned to lay on the floor with Debbie. After turning out the light Bea had flicked on the projector and took her seat next to Allie. In the semi darkness she doubted that her mother was going to be paying a great deal of attention to them as she slid her arm round Allies shoulders and snuggled into her side. 

“I'm not sure you should be doing that.” Allie whispered as her eyes darted over to where Beas parents were sitting. As was usual Bea appeared not to be listening, her eyes were fixed on the makeshift screen as the storybook appeared and the narration started. 

“I'm certain they aren't watching us.” Bea finally whispered back before she turned her head and left a light kiss on Allies neck. “I'm actually surprised father hasn't procured himself a copy of Pinocchio yet. He's more of a child that those three are if you haven't worked that out yet. I have heard there's another animated film almost entirely set to orchestra music coming out later this year, can you even imagine that? Art and music all neatly packaged together.” 

“Mummy!” Debbie's voice sounded way too loud and Bea knew her mother would have more than likely turned to see what the disturbance was all about. For a second she thought about putting some distance between them but then she guessed if she'd looked over in their direction she'd already have seen how they were sitting. 

They could never really enjoy an evening back in London like this Allie soon decided, everything was much calmer. Eventually she forgot who was in the room with them and rested her cheek against the top of Beas head after Bea had rested her head on her shoulder. 

“Bea?”

“Yes, Allie?” 

“I know you said your fathers a child at heart but why would he even have a film like this?” Allie asked as she barely even whispered halfway through the film.

“He loves art, both my parents do as if you hadn't noticed, you don't think this is even slightly artistic? Think about it, it's not just your usual picture. Everything you see was drawn by hand, lovingly pencilled and inked. Add words and music to that and it has to one of the most beautiful things ever created. Well, besides you.”

“I think the most beautiful thing ever created is sitting right here next to me.” Allie whispered as she tried to hold in a giggle.

 

 

Bea couldn't sleep, she lay awake in blissful silence next to Allie as her mind wandered back over the last few months. How once chance meeting at her desk thanks to Maxine had led them both right here to that very moment. It didn't seem so long ago that she'd found herself sitting alone in her bed trying to concentrate on the book she'd convinced herself she should read. As always since there first meeting her thoughts would wander back to Allie. She'd had sleepless nights fretting about what she was doing, if she was safe had she eaten or if she'd been able to get a bed for the night. She'd never admitted any of that to Allie because now it didn't seem of any real importance but maybe it was, at least to Allie it might be. The time between her first kissing her and eventually confessing that she loved her seemed like nothing at all now. There was still the worry of her mother, the day had passed without any raised voices and she wondered how much that had been down to her father and brother. William had made a hasty exit she thought, he'd always been the one most like their mother, maybe he wouldn't approve. She'd deal with that when it came to it she decided as she looked a little more closely at Allie who was sleeping soundly beside her. Her decision to open the curtains after the lights were out had seemed to amuse Allie but she'd done it for this reason alone, even though they were restricted by the black out no matter where they were she was tired of not never being able to watch her sleeping properly. Brushing a few strands of hair away from Allies face she really didn't want to wake her but the temptation to kiss her in that moment was bordering upon desperation. Resting her head down on the pillow next to Allie she put her arm around her and finally closed her eyes.

As the early morning light found its way into the room they were sharing Allie stirred, finding herself tightly wrapped in Beas arms. It took a few brief moments after opening her eyes and being face to face with Bea that she started to remember where they where. She smiled to herself as her eyes drifted to the window then back to Bea before she kissed her softly on the forehead, she hadn't meant to disturb her from her sleep but Bea began to stir. As soon as her eyes opened Beas whole face lit up, seeing Allie early in the morning always did that but at home the room was usually much darker. She blinked a couple of times as if she couldn't quite believe that she was really there. 

“If I'm really just dreaming all this please don't wake me up, because I never want to wake up from such a beautiful dream as this.” Bea mumbled as she allowed her eyelids to flutter closed again. 

Allie laughed lightly to herself as she lay looking at Bea, her red hair covering the pillow behind her and trailing down over her shoulders. Propping herself up on her elbow Allie looked down at her before leaning in and kissing her full on the lips. 

“If this is a dream then we must be having the same one but I think I'm very much awake. You know I don't want to ever even try imagining my life without you?” 

“Then don't try imaging it.” Bea smiled up at her after opening her eyes again. “I think you're stuck with me now, I don't plan on going anywhere.”

“Good.” Allie replied as she flopped back down next to her.

Bea suddenly became a little more serious when she remembered that this was the only full day they were going to be spending there. Everything the previous day had seemed quite settled, Allie had even spent some time in the kitchen with her mother. William would be coming back to the house today though and if her youngest brother and her mother were going to cause any problems it would happen today. She knew when William had a problem with something or in this case someone he would never leave it alone until he got his own way. Even now she wasn't going to think that everything might pass without aggravation. If either of them set out to cause problems she was still quite prepared to leave and go back to London without looking back.

“I would go through all the hell I've lived through again if it meant I'd still find you.” Bea said hoping beyond anything else that Allie knew that even now if anyone caused problems she wasn't going to hesitate and leave. “If I had to make the same choices I've made all over again I wouldn't change my mind about a single thing. I hope you know I'm always going to choose you. I would follow you anywhere, Allie.” 

Allie looked into Beas eyes, she could see straight away that she was still a little worried about how the day was going to pan out. She still wanted to tell her that no matter what she'd never want her to walk away from her family but she knew it was of no use, Beas mind had been made up. “I walked into this with my eyes wide open, nothing that happens is going to be your fault I hope you know that.” Bea said a little more forcefully.

Breakfast had been a pleasant affair, with the exception of the almost constant frown Liz had allowed to remain on her face after being told that her help wasn't required. 

“You are a guest Elizabeth.” Beas mother had stated matter of factly after dismissing her without hesitation.

“You won't win Liz.” Bea chuckled. I used to spend every summer here and she wouldn't even allow me to help even though she thought I had to learn to cook as the only daughter of the house. Quite honestly mother, although she's always refused to admit it, is more stubborn than I am. I mean after all who doesn't even allow their own daughter to help make breakfast? I gave in arguing about that years ago.”

“Beatrice!” 

“Yes, mother. I really wish you still didn't call me that, and you cannot deny the simple fact that you are stubborn.” Bea laughed as her mother just shook her head. Bea had never really been known to smile so much, her laughter, she thought to herself, had once seemed a foreign concept whenever Harry had been around. She had to admit to herself that if Allie could even slightly rewind the clock on the damage Harry appeared to have done in the space of a few short months she was more than willing to give her a chance. She wasn't quite certain that she liked what her son and husband had told her. She wasn't quite sure she liked what she'd witnessed with her own eyes but she at least deserved a chance.

“I'll get your coat.” Allie said once a walk had been mentioned after breakfast. It was hard for Beas mother not to notice that Debbie was always right by her side. Since she'd first learned to walk the only person she'd stayed that close to had been Bea, Harry's presence had more often than not been ignored. 

Allie held out Beas coat for her as she slipped into it then did the same for Debbie before reaching for her own. Even her mother couldn't help but notice the looks that passed between them. The previous day she had felt a little unnerved by it. After first seeing the looks that passed between them and knowing they were sharing a bed because the house was so full it had seemed all too much to take. But after the first afternoon and speaking to Allie a little more she decided that she should worry a little less. She'd been too quick to tell Bea what to do in the past, had failed to question why she looked so unhappy when they did visit with Harry. Allie made her laugh, she was thoughtful and seemed to care very deeply for Bea and Debbie. She'd sit back and observe a little more she decided, rushing to hasty decisions had given her little to be proud of judging by what she'd heard of Harry's treatment of her. A son in law who it seemed had now run away from his duty as a soldier in the army, far worse than that had abused her daughter. What may be frowned upon and made to seem disgusting by the outside world didn't seem that way after everything she'd witnessed with her own eyes. She was happy, a marriage certificate had done nothing for her happiness. There was a time in her life she hadn't really concerned herself with the world, as long as it didn't affect her she paid no mind to it. Her home, husband and children had been all she once cared about. But she'd always be highly aware that she'd pushed Bea into marriage when her heart was set on academic study and becoming a teacher. Now she felt guilty, she wanted to tell her that, that she'd been wrong but it seemed she was keeping her mother at arms length apart from teasing her a little.

“You have to admit it yourself my dear she's rather quite considerate.” Bea overheard her father say to her mother.

“Allie is a lot of things, maybe you'll get the chance to find out.” Bea eyed her mother as she spoke before leaving the house. She didn't want to cause an argument but pointing out everything that Allie was couldn't hurt matters.

As Allie walked on in front with Debbie holding her hand and laughing Bea suddenly found herself arm in arm with her father as her mother walked behind with Liz.

“Give her time, Bea. You know how set in her ways she is. It is after all a big adjustment, one day she's still believing that you're a happily married woman and the next Thomas and I are trying our hardest to convince her that we were wrong. We were wrong, I see that, just not at the time. In time I hope you can forgive us for being responsible for making you live through something you never wanted in the first place.” Every conversation he'd had with Allie was still fresh in his mind. When she'd first told him her family were from Poland and settled in the east end he'd had reservations, although she had surprised him with both facts when he heard how eloquently she spoke. Since first meeting Allie it had always troubled him each time he'd read about more raids that had taken out yet another chunk of the east end. He'd offer his support but if Allie were anything to go by he was certain that her family would be far too proud to accept it. He had decided that he wanted to speak to them both before they left, if he could convince them to offer them a safer place than the home they still lived in it may not be taken in the wrong context. No where was truly safe he knew that.

Sussex wasn't immune from the war. ARP wardens had been the first people to be appointed quickly followed by ambulance driving courses being started by the local bus company. The first white lines had been painted in the middle of the roads and sandbags were being used early on in the war to protect buildings. Even when barrage balloons had started to appear no one had thought that the war would really touch them, that had been until a Dornier had dropped a bomb on Camber Sands station. Now there were road blocks in certain areas, the bridges had been primed with explosives in case of invasion. Everything that was present in London was now part of life in Rye, anti aircraft guns, searchlights and even a pillboxes kitted out with machine guns were part of everyday life. But life went on at much the same pace, even the queues at the local shops were never as bad as any seen in the big cities and towns. 

“Where did everyone go?” Allie asked a little later after they'd returned from their walk. 

“Shops, even here life still goes on as normal. Shopping is not confined to London, everyone needs to eat.” Bea laughed. “Since they've all gone out…” Bea got up from the sofa, grabbed Allies hand and pulled her up the stairs with her. Kicking their bedroom door closed behind her Bea kissed Allie and she kissed her back before pulling away, mindful that they could be disturbed any minute. Allie didn't have a clue how far it was to the shops or what the queues would be like in a small town. Bea ran her hands along the contour of Allies waist before raising her arms, expertly slipping her blouse from her shoulders when Allie seemed not to have notice her unfasten the buttons. As it fell to the floor she kissed Allies neck, working her way up to her ear. 

“We can't.” Allie gasped.

“We can be quiet.” Bea mumbled against her neck.

“You mean we can try.” Allie giggled before their lips met. 

It wasn't impossible Bea thought to herself as she pulled down Allies bra straps over her shoulders. “Really quiet, just pretend we're at home.” Bea smiled back at her with a girlish grin.

Later they both knew they hadn't been as quiet as they had intended, although they had been under the impression that no one else was there. Thomas smirked at them as they sat in the kitchen with a cup of tea after he'd walked in from the garden.

“I'm sure there are certain things a brother really shouldn't be subjected to.” He laughed when Beas face turned almost the colour of her hair. 

Bea hadn't known that Thomas hadn't gone with them, it had been stupid to think that he would have in hindsight, even she would admit she hated shopping. Who would ever go to the shops if they had no need to? As he walked back out of the kitchen she knew they were lucky that he had been the only other person in the house otherwise they'd have got a rocket and not just been laughed at.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Allie quickly stripped herself of her clothes and carefully folded them placing them over the back of the chair that sat in front of the bedroom window. Bea sat on the bed, her eyes wandered over to the dressing table where an old framed photograph of her and her brothers as children sat looking back at her. They all looked so young, so happy, it seemed a million miles away but she remembered the day that photograph had been taken as if it were yesterday. It was the first time they'd ever been there and every moment of that day had felt like an adventure. When they'd first reached the knobbly hillside that was covered in grass and sand they'd all been eager to know where the beach was and their father had told them to walk further up the hill then they would see it. The three of them had raced to the top, surprised by the sight that had met them. All they could see for miles was sand and sea. Bea had raced her brothers down to the sea because they all wanted to know how warm it was. Small details like the water temperature she found had been lost to her but it didn't matter, it was the first time they'd been to Camber Sands and that would stay with her for the rest of her life. Racing back to their parents they'd found they had already found the perfect spot to sit, thermos flasks, sandwiches and small cakes already set out for lunch on the picnic blanket. It had been the most glorious day, they'd spent time with their father learning how to catch cockle shells. It wasn't the hardest thing in the world, all they really had to do was stand where the tide was running back out and they collected around their toes as the salty water washed over them. They'd thought they were so clever that day. Life had been so simple for them all back then the only thing that was expected from them was that they went to school and had fun, the only two things Bea was determined Debbie was going to do from now on.

“What's got you smiling?” Allie asked as she walked over to bed.

“Oh, I was just thinking how much I used to love it here. How much you would have loved it here when you were younger.”

“Maybe I would have. We'll never know since it wasn't possible, I am here right now though and I love being wherever you are.” 

Bea got to her feet and wrapped Allie up in her arms. “You are, and I'm glad you are, although I'm still not certain how happy mother is. Thomas said he overheard her and father having a disagreement about something but he doesn't know what it was all about.” 

“Do you think it was about my being here with you?” Allie sighed. That afternoon she had completely forgotten that there was still the prospect of Beas mother having an intense dislike of their relationship. She'd talked to her as politely as she spoke to everyone else but now she worried again that her presence could make their remaining time uncomfortable for both Bea and Debbie. 

“I'm quite certain it was nothing to do with you being here at all. I told you mother doesn't mince her words. If she had anything to say on the matter she would have made her opinion heard the moment we arrived. It could have been anything, everything this war is bringing with it is taking its toll on everyone. Maybe she couldn't get something she needed at the shops, I know that always annoys Liz no end. Maybe the fact that William didn't put in an appearance today is what got her back up. He is a lot like mother, more than he'd ever admit. Thomas has already made his feelings perfectly clear to her and to you I think. They do clash and you know what a joker he is, honestly it could have been anything. Now let's just go to bed and forget about them.”

 

 

When Allie woke up the next morning she quickly became aware that it was later than it usually was when she opened her eyes. Maybe it was because everything seemed to no longer be hanging quite so heavy over them. The few conversations she'd had with Beas mother had gone a lot better than she'd ever anticipated. She'd half expected her to tell her to stay away from Bea, their first conversation had been a little strained but now the opposite seemed to be the case. Shockingly Allie thought to herself she seemed to be warming, even if only slightly, to knowing that Bea had made a choice for herself even if it wasn't one she'd ever dreamt of for her. The sun was already quite high in the sky and it was already a vibrant slate blue colour that even at that time of year signified it was a little later. She smiled, Bea had insisted on opening the curtains each night once they'd turned out the light, she'd told her it had always been what she'd done when she'd been there. She loved to wake in the morning and look at the early morning sky as she lay in her bed. Allie had been sure she'd had a different reason in mind this time but she wouldn't argue about it no matter what her real reason was. Neither of them ever overslept as a rule, even without the alarm clock they both woke early and she came to the conclusion that the more relaxed atmosphere was probably the reason.

She pulled herself up onto one of her elbows and looked around her. It seemed as if at some point between falling asleep and waking she'd almost completely managed to forgot they were in a different bedroom, forgetting that detail was easy since she wasn't alone. A large shaft of sunlight from the open curtains highlighted the furniture that stood against the wall at the end of the bed. For the first time since they arrived she paid a little more attention to it. It looked old, probably late Victorian Allie thought, two single wardrobes sat either side of a a conjoined set of draws all in dark oak. A simple chest also made of dark oak sat beneath the window with a chair right in front of it and on each of the nightstands that sat beside the bed were blue glass jugs filled with water with a matching drinking glass next to them. Now on closer inspection she decided that the walls weren't painted in white as she remembered thinking the night before but they were an extremely pale lemon, with the exception of one wall that was wallpapered. She sunk back down between the clean crisp sheets that smelt lightly of lavender and found herself being enveloped in a pair of arms she was very familiar with. Bea moved her head to lay it on her chest before they both heard the door knob turn. They both knew it could only be one person, anyone else would have knocked. A hint of panic suddenly found its way to the pit of Allies stomach when she remembered the conversation she'd had with Debbie. Even without that conversation she knew there wouldn't have been anything Debbie could have said about the situation anyway, with the house so full there wasn't really any other place for her to sleep. She looked down at the top of Beas head and sighed, there was no place better than this.

“Granny says I have to tell you it's nine o'clock and if you don't want your bacon and eggs cold you'd both better get up. Oh and she's making porridge as well….I did tell her I was starving.” Debbie giggled as she ran into the room and launched herself onto the bed. “I did tell her that you needed a lay in because you both work so hard but she's being so bossy again.” Debbie smiled as she watched Bea opened her eyes.

“Tell granny we'll be down in a while.” Bea mumbled against Allies chest, for the first time ever she felt comfortable enough to not care that Debbie was watching her so closely. Allie had told her she loved her, told her she would take care of them, Debbie seemed to not even care that Harry was no longer there. 

“But mummy, granny says we're going to go out later. She says it's her treat before we go home so you have to get up.” Debbie said as she snuggled into Allies side. 

“So tell her we won't be long, if she was so concerned about the time maybe she should have sent you up here earlier.”

“Can we come back in the summer?” Debbie asked hopefully. “Then we can take Allie to the beach, you'd like the beach wouldn't you? We can paddle in the sea and we can….”

“Deb, we can't go to the beach. Uncle Thomas already told you it's off limits for the time being.” Bea reminded her.

“Stupid Hitler!” Debbie grumbled as she got down from the bed. “Now get up, I need my breakfast.” Debbie ran out of the room, her footsteps disappearing down the hall towards the stairs.

“I think maybe we slept in a little too long.” Bea sighed lightly even though she would rather prolong their stay in the bed she'd long ago forgotten how easy it was to get comfortable in. 

“Then we better get up or they'll miss us. And I would hate for your mother to think I was a bad influence.” The last thing Allie wanted was for her mother to get the idea that Allie wanted all Beas attention all the time. Sometimes it was exceptionally nice but it was never a full time option. She didn't mind that, she'd known from the beginning exactly how their lives would be. Work and Debbie were both of their priorities and she didn't want anyone to think that she wasn't capable of pulling her weight or that she didn't take any responsibility for caring for Debbie. 

“Did you sleep well?” Bea changed the subject easily because she already knew by the absolute silence that ran through the upstairs of the house Debbie was long gone back to the kitchen.

“I did but…” 

Bea silenced the protest that she knew was coming when their lips met briefly. “Everyone is downstairs and you know Deb she'll keep everyone busy until she gets fed. I'm sure mother and father are quite aware that sleep is often hard to come by in London. I'm certain no one is going to mind too much if just for once we're a little late. It's not like we can ever make a habit of sleeping in anyway so once isn't going to hurt anyone.”

Allie smiled and snuggled back into her arms, they were alone at least for a few minutes. Everything around them seemed so unnaturally peaceful as they lay in silence for a short time, enjoying being together without any other demands on either of their time.

Being back in Sussex felt strange, mainly because since Debbie had been born Harry had always refused to go over the summer months and letting Bea out of his sight for more than a few hours was out of the question. They had only ever been there once the summer after Debbie had been born. Bea had begged and pleaded with him to let her take Debbie as she got older wanting her to experience everything she had as a child. She wanted her to see the sea, to smell the fresh air and feel the sand between her toes since they were so close to the coast in Rye but he'd never budge. It was strange she'd always thought because every summer before he'd always been quite happy to go, it was free naturally and he always seemed to enjoy a walk by the beach. After Debbie was born he controlled even more of her life, the only thing he'd never argued about, not even for a single second, had been her working at the cafe. At least not until he found out who owned it and then he became more abusive, telling her not to go thinking that all women could be that way. 

“What she needs is a man to straighten her out.” He said on a regular basis.

It had never really hit home what he'd meant when he first said it. She accepted Franky no matter how she chose to live her life or who she chose to spend it with. She was always happy and that was something Bea had thought she'd never experience again in her life. Then Allie walked into the office and Maxine had pointed her in her direction. From that moment on it had felt as if a book had fallen open at exactly the right page and she hadn't been able to put it down since. Living with Harry had been like being stuck in quicksand with the tide about to roll in at full force. No matter how much she'd struggled to get out the waves eventually washed right over her. She hadn't drowned under his abuse but now she knew she'd come close to it. Now she was distanced from him she didn't see him in the same light as she once had, neither did she fear him anymore. Her strength came from Debbie and Allie in equal measure and even if he did come back he wouldn't have what he thought was rightfully his ever again. He was now no longer a future she feared, most of the time now when he did cross her mind she just found herself feeling sorry for him. 

She lay holding Allie close for a few more minutes before Allie had pointed out that if they left it much longer there was every possible chance that they may not even get any breakfast. Bea lay back on the bed after getting dressed while she waited for Allie to finish in the bathroom. Smiling to herself when she remembered what a bone of contention the one bathroom in that house had always been between her and her brothers, especially when they were a little older and wanted their privacy. Her thoughts turned back to Allie for a moment, remembering her how she'd seen her looking the first day they'd met. She'd looked so pale, that had most defiantly changed and she no longer hunched her shoulders anymore. Bea had known within minutes of meeting her that Allie wore a disguise, tried to make herself not stand out in a crowd, she didn't want to be noticed; but Bea noticed her it had been hard not to. Looking up at the wallpaper on the wall behind the bed with its busy design of roses and vines she remembered why she'd always disliked it. Even as a child it gave her a headache, now it made her eyes hurt as well as her head.

When they finally made it down to the kitchen the kettle was singing, not for the first time that morning, their bacon and eggs were waiting for them and the porridge was thick and creamy. The smell made both their empty stomachs rumble. Beas heart bounced a little more when she heard her mother ask Allie if she'd slept well, maybe she could dare to think that she was beginning to warm to her a little more. Maybe she would eventually treat her like one of the family. As she sat down at the table in between Allie and Debbie she glanced to her side. Allies smile was like a warm glow melting a frozen pond, the cracks racing off in all directions.

“Not going to church this morning?” Bea asked as her mother poured her tea out.

“No…no, I though it wouldn't hurt to give it a miss. After all you haven't been here in so long. I…well I thought I could spend some time with you and Debbie…Allie also.” She smiled hesitantly. William had upset her the day before by not calling round as he said he would, she understood that his time at home with his own family was important to him but Thomas was in the same position and he'd chosen to stay. She'd argued with him for almost ten minutes on the telephone, he'd be back to help with the return trip to the train station and she had had to settle for that. “The tea shop would be nice don't you agree?”

“I think that sounds lovely, don't you Allie?”

Allie just nodded as she sipped her tea, she wasn't quite sure if her ears were playing tricks on her, was Beas mother was actually inviting her to join them?

 

 

The three of them going to the tea room with her mother didn't seem like a bad idea maybe if her mother saw the three of them together it would help her see that she hadn't been led astray or was being used by Allie. As soon as she had mentioned it Debbie had agreed eagerly, although Bea suspected that the promise of cake had its part to play in her agreeing so easily. Allie had looked a little shocked by the invitation to join them but she seemed to be in agreement, even if it was a little somewhat reluctantly. As she thought about it a little more as she ate her breakfast she knew it was highly unlikely that her mother would cause a scene in public. She could be temperamental, obsessive about mundane details and quick to find fault but she would never embarrass herself intentionally in a public place. Bea knew exactly where they would be going, her mother never usually deviated from any routine, missing church was a huge sacrifice for her. Bea couldn't even remember the last time she'd even attended a church service and Harry, as far as she was aware, hadn't been inside a church since Debbie's christening. He'd even refused to attend family weddings, Bea had missed Willian's wedding for that reason; that and the black eye she'd struggled to cover up at the time. She was certain William hadn't believed her excuse that Harry was ill and she couldn't possibly leave him, she'd apologised profusely but she was certain he'd never forgiven her for not being there. 

As Bea had expected they walked to her mothers favourite tea room, it was the oldest and most popular with the inhabitants of Rye. Visitors to the area would probably struggle to find it since it was slightly hidden away up a long winding side street. If her memory served her correctly they had always prided themselves on their homemade cakes but she doubted now they would be as good as they once had been. Shortages of good quality ingredients were solely to blame for that and something Franky was a great fan of grumbling about. Making their way inside they sat at a table for four, Bea sitting between Debbie and Allie. She glanced at Allie who didn't appear to be even slightly uncomfortable by their new surroundings. A couple of months ago if Bea had even suggested taking her inside a place like this she would have reeled off every possible excuse she could think of not to go inside, her favourite of which had always been that she didn't belong there. Allie simply sat at the table, a small smile playing on her lips, surveying the smart and very impressive interior of the establishment they were sitting in. 

Her eyes lit up a little more when she looked towards its central atrium where a grand piano stood on the black and while tiled floor. She gazed around the rest of the space where the tables were arranged around a wide selection of large potted plants that added a splash of colour to the otherwise quite old and drab decor. Beas mother had insisted that they sat on the balcony that overlooked the atrium and all around them the other people at the tables were happily chatting. Bea perused the menu, her eyes glancing back towards her mother who was sitting in front of her every now and again. She had been quiet all morning and now Bea noticed that she appeared to be watching how well Debbie and Allie interacted as they were laughing about something. 

“Tea and sponge cake?” Beas mother asked as she looked back towards her daughter who just nodded. 

“Milk please.” Debbie added.

“And chocolate cake hey Deb?” Allie chuckled as Debbie nodded her head eagerly. Harry had never known weather Debbie had liked chocolate cake, didn't care that she adored strawberry jam but despised with a passion raspberry jam. Allie took notice of everything, she could list every single one of her likes and dislikes. On the odd occasion she had even reminded Bea that Debbie didn't like something. 

The waitress explained to Beas mother in a low voice that would have conveyed all the reverence required in a funeral parlour that the cakes were made with powdered egg and honey in place of sugar due to rationing. It was normal now and her mother had just nodded her approval. Turning her attention back to Debbie and Allie she smiled, she had to admit to herself that it was the first time she'd ever really seen her granddaughter not only so relaxed around anyone but Bea but she also seemed happier than she ever remembered seeing her. It hadn't been the first time she'd noticed either, Debbie rarely ever left Beas side on the few occasions they had seen them but now she spent her time equally between both Bea and Allie. Even Bea seemed more relaxed than she remembered. Her thoughts returned to what she now knew had been an awful mistake, allowing Harry within a hundred feet of her daughter had been the worst mistake ever. Thomas had made her highly aware of what he knew she'd been living with and that had only been scratching the surface, now she felt guilty. Guilty for pushing Bea into marriage, guilty for not questioning why she was always so unhappy, certainly guilty for not making more of an effort to make Allie feel more welcome when they first arrived and guilty for not paying more attention over the years. She knew she had to say something but the waitress appeared with a pot of tea and a glass of milk for Debbie. Placing the teapot down first then arranging the cups and saucers before she said she'd be right back with their cake. 

“I'm sorry Beatrice, I should have known, I should have seen you were unhappy.” Alice said quietly very aware that Debbie was in such close proximity. She wasn't fool enough to think Debbie may not have witnessed anything her father may have perpetrated against her mother but she didn't need a reminder. 

“Should I take that as you're sorry for never having listened to me all those years ago? You do know that the only good thing to come out of it is sitting right here?” Bea asked her mother as her eyes wandered to Debbie's smiling face. 

“I made an unforgivable mistake.” 

“We all make mistakes mother.” Bea laughed a little sarcastically. “I hope you see that this isn't one of them.” She looked at Allie before looking back at her mother.

“I do…I…I hope that you will all come and stay again. Maybe in the summer, the beach unfortunately is out of bounds for the foreseeable future but there's plenty to do. You could show Allie all your favourite places.  And I have spoken to William…I think maybe he will need a little more time to get used to how things are going to be but he will. Your brother adores you, both of you. He is a little too much like me I think, a little too set in his ways and sometimes intolerably stubborn. The same it seems cannot be said for your father or Thomas.” Alice laughed lightly. 

Of all her family Bea had expected her mother to be much harder to convince that she wasn't making a mistake bringing Allie into their lives. At this point she still had little idea what anyone knew of her life with Harry, Thomas seemed to know more than he was letting on and much more than she had ever wanted any of them to know. If she could she'd rather just forget Harry had ever existed. ‘It's far better to talk about it than let it eat up you inside.’ Allie had told her but still she wasn't able to open up enough even to her sometimes. A certain smell, an unexpected sound on the wireless could bring back memories when she least expected it. As the four of them eventually left the tea room she glanced behind her at everyone still sitting there, she wasn't going to care what anyone else thought unless they'd lived the life she had until this point their opinions didn't matter. 

As they walked back along the lane that led to the house Beas father greeted them.

“I was beginning to fear you'd all forgotten the way back.” He laughed as looked for any sign that Bea may have been upset. 

Before any of them could even answer him a distant rumble distracted their attention and it wasn't thunder, it was an all too familiar sound for anyone who spent their days and nights in London. Bea tightened her grip on Allies arm they both knew what the sound was. There was another distant bang, then a flash and another loud bang. Stopping to look around they both saw a small grey shape quickly move across the horizon, two other similarly sized shapes following hot on its tail. A flash went off to the left of the first object. This was a dog fight playing out right before them, something they didn't generally see over London. Even if it were a familiar sight most people would be too busy with their day to day routines to even notice. Allie squinted a little trying to work out if it was a German or British plane that was being chased across the sky. As the first plane banked around Allie got a glimpse of the markings. There was a yellow band around the rear fuselage and a black cross. It was a German bomber and it was being gained on by two spitfires. One of the spitfires reeled off machine gun fire. Beas mother and father quickly walked over to them with Debbie as she clung to both her grandparents hands. The second spitfire looped around and Debbie let go of her grandmothers hand and clung to her grandfather who scooped her up into his arms. They all knew they were too far away to be in any real danger but instinct and the innate need for survival left them all feeling as if they should take cover, even so none of them could take their eyes off the sight in the sky. The second spitfire fired its machine guns and there was a flash of fire from the wing of the German bomber. It banked sharply away, an erratic movement that left them knowing that it wasn't an evasive manoeuvre but a sign that it had definitely been hit and was now out of control. Within seconds they watched as it begun spiralling down, the awful whining sound they could hear telling them that it was about to crash. They could just about make out a plume of black smoke from the rear of the plane. It disappeared behind some trees several miles away as the spitfires continued to pursue it to check that they had done their jobs properly. A few moments later a smokey mushroom of fire was seen from behind the trees. 

“That's one for our boys.” Beas father said solemnly, they all knew it could have quite easily been a different outcome. And no matter who's side the death came from it wasn't anything that was cause for celebration. More lives had been lost in a mad mans pursuit of glory, in his need for revenge for his own perceived injustice that had seen an end to the first war. The plane exploded in a final giant fireball, plumes of thick black smoke reached for a few fleeting seconds into the sky before it disappeared forever. 

On the short walk back to the house a chill wind started blowing gently, carrying a faint hint of drizzle along with it. Bea could feel her face getting slightly damp as she looked at Allie. Running her fingers softly down her cheek before she dropped her hand back to her side and looked away. Her face flushed a little when she remembered her parents were walking behind them. Debbie had left her grandfathers arms minutes before and was now walking silently beside them as she held tightly onto Allies hand. Even away from a big city no one was completely immune from violence and the terror it could bring. 

 

Chapter Text

 

As they all bordered the train for their return trip to London Bea was a little sorry to be leaving but couldn't wait to get back to normality. Her mother may seem to be fine with how things were but a small part of Bea told her that it would take some time for her to really come to terms with everything that she now knew. She had taken her to one side before they left the house and apologised again for insisting that marrying Harry would be the best thing for her. Bea suspected that she hadn't quite come to terms with hearing what kind of man he really was. She knew the one thing that had made her more agreeable to actually listening was the fact that Harry was a deserter, her father had fought in the first war and survived and her brothers were both fighting for king and country leaving their own families behind. Anyone not prepared to do their duty when the time came would not be looked at favourably on by her mother. Harry's own cowardice had proved to be more beneficial to them than she'd ever thought it might. Debbie and Sophie waved from the window of their carriage as the train was pulling away from the station. Making themselves comfortable for the journey ahead none of them could be expecting what was happening back in London. 

Chief constable Will Jackson had suspected that Harry was back in London especially after being informed by the military police that he was now considered a deserter after finding that the man in hospital was not Harry. He'd heard on the grapevine that Harry had been seen on more than one occasion at a house that had always been suspected as being run as a brothel in Marylebone. This was wartime though and everyone, the courts and the police, were turning a blind eye more than ever. Brothels were seen as an inevitable accompaniment to the struggles everyone had to live with. The house in Gloucester Place had gained a reputation for being a place where very young girls not already known to the police were being passed on from one soldier to the next. If it was also playing host to a wanted man Will had already made his mind up that something had to be done. Rumours were all he had to go on until a meeting with one of the girls he knew worked for Marie had confirmed his suspicions. Kim Chang was no stranger to falling foul of the law, especially after Allie had got out, she'd tried on two occasions herself and ended up being arrested. Kim had given him all the details of the man that was staying with Marie, he abused the girls and she wanted rid of him. Gathering together as many officers as he could spare they arrived at the house in the early afternoon taking everyone, especially Marie by surprise.

“You have no grounds to search my property.” Marie tried to protest.

“We have grounds to believe you are harbouring a deserter from his majesty’s army. Would you rather it be us or the military police who come in?” Will asked, he was well aware what he might find in the house. It wasn't uncommon for brothels to spring up but this one had been in use for years somehow always evading any police scrutiny. Will had the upper hand this time, Kim had sought him out after Marie had beaten her for refusing to work. Kim had been there for years and knew exactly what was going to happen to her when Marie decided that she was no longer earning her enough money. She'd often wondered if that fate had befallen Allie, she'd disappeared sometime in the early hours and had never been heard from again. Kim couldn't be certain who the man was who had arrived at the house. All she'd really been able to say was that his name was Harry after hearing Marie arguing with him although she was sure that he might be the same man who'd arrived in uniform on a number of occasions.

If Harry was in there he wondered how he hadn't heard the commotion, surly he had to have Will thought. He hadn't appeared which surprised him, he was certain there was no way out of the house other than the one staircase. Of course he knew windows could be used as an escape route, he'd already sent officers to the back of the house though just in case he tried that means of getting away.

 

 

Will made his way up the stairs to the room that Kim had told him Harry could usually be found in when he wasn't in Marie's private section of the house. The staircase was narrow, so narrow Wills shoulders grazed the walls. The hallway at the top of the stairs though was surprisingly wide with a large arched window at the end. The house had fallen rather quiet, even Marie wasn't saying anything which was surprising given her initial protests. A floorboard squeaked beneath his foot and he heard something from behind the door. Kim was already out in the hallway, the raised voices had brought most of the girls to their doors, as soon as she saw Will she pointed to the room where she knew for certain Harry was after seeing him go in there. He nodded his head and opened the door. The room was poorly lit and smelled heavily of sweaty bodies and recent sex. A man sat naked on the bed, Harry, he knew from the copy of his military identity documents that he had that it was him. The girl with him was young and Will thought there was no way she was more than fourteen though she had a worldly looking face.

“Place Mrs Winter under arrest for facilitating prostitution and operating a brothel.” He called down the stairs. 

He heard Marie protesting loudly again from the downstairs hallway but he had the man he wanted naked as the day he was born right in front of him and didn't care to listen to the commotion she was making.

Harry pulled the crumpled sheet up over his legs. “You have no right bursting in here like this.” He yelled at Will as the girl giggled, it was clear to Will that she was under the influence of one substance or another.

“I have every right to be here Private Smith. You are meant to be fighting for your country. I hear instead your wife received a telegram informing her you were missing in action. I also know that she was put through the trauma of having to go to the auxiliary hospital to identify a soldier who had been badly injured and has no memory of how he got there. Now since you're here you don't look as though you are missing to me, neither do you look as if you've seen any action on the front lines. Unless that soldier regains his memory tracing his family is not going to be easy thanks to you. You are a deserter, something that cannot be tolerated, and I am here to arrest you on behalf of his majesty's military police.”

Realising he had no way out of this Harry adopted a nervous grin. “I…I can explain….”

Will pointed at him. “Get dressed Private Smith.” Before he looked at the girl. “Get dressed and get out.” He said forcefully.

The girl opened and closed her legs giving Will an unobstructed view of what she had to offer, as she smiled at him. He was in uniform and that alone should have been enough cause for her to panic shouldn't it? Most of the young girls he'd ever come across would have tried to escape but not this one. Marie Winter had a lot more to answer for than just harbouring a wanted man it seemed. How Harry even made it back without being caught at a port was another question but that would be down to the military police to investigate. There was more than enough crime in London to keep the force occupied, no way would he help out on something that wasn't even in his jurisdiction.

“I only charge twelve shillings, mister.” The girl said, her lipstick smeared lips smiling back at him as if she thought she was the most glamorous women in the entire world. “But since I like yer uniform I'll charge yer half.”

“I said get dressed and get out!” Will repeated, his words were controlled and forceful. He didn't want to take any of the girls in, they needed help if she was anything to judge their situation by. 


Harry got off the bed and stuffed one leg inside the grey, cheap material of this trousers. “You can't hold me for anything.” He said smugly as he stuffed the other leg in and pulled them up. 

Will’s hand tightened around the door handle as he watched Harry, he had met plenty of Harry Smiths sort in his career and he regarded him with contempt. He had a course exterior that hid the coward underneath. If he could have right now he'd liked very much to have taken hold of him by the scruff of the neck and the seat of those scruffy trousers and thrown him through the window. He couldn't though, he had to take him in. Harry rubbed his hand over the three day growth of stubble that was sprouting from his chin. 

“How much to say you never saw me?” Harry asked.

“Sargent Fletcher…” Will called out from the doorway. “Get him cuffed and get him out of my sight.”

Once Harry was in cuffs and being escorted out of the house Will sighed with relief. Marie had already been taken away and now the real work had to begin, the girls needed a safe place to stay. He knew a couple of people who were local and worked for the Red Cross, they supported people who had been affected by the bombing he saw no reason why they couldn't help them. They were going to need more support than he was in a position to offer, he could have them all taken to one of the emergency rest centres but that was all he could do. The upstairs rooms of the house where the girls were hardly seemed a safe place. And he knew Marie would be bailed after being interviewed, he could only dream that a magistrate would actually convict her. Taking the girls out of the situation they were in though would close her down, at least for a while. Behind the shuttered windows of the building the smell of neglect was strong and the sound of water dripping from a faulty tap echoed like constant footsteps. The room he'd found Harry in seemed comfortable enough but very dark, defiantly not a place where such a young girl should be. 

 

 

Monday morning had arrived far too quickly for anyone's liking, the weekend in Sussex had gone better than Bea had ever dreamed it might. She wasn't fool enough to think that just because her mother had made a little effort to try and understand that it would always be smooth sailing with her. Hopefully given time she thought she'd see that she wasn't being foolish. She wasn't quite ready to divulge everything yet to even her father or oldest brother, telling her mother was something she thought she might never be able to bring herself to do.

“What are you thinking about so seriously?” Allie asked as she watched her holding her teacup halfway between the saucer and her mouth.

“I'm just not sure I'm ready to go back to work this morning.” Bea sighed.

“Me either, but I'm sure Franky would not appreciate me having anymore time off.” Allie smiled. “I do seem to be making quite a habit of it.”

“You were ill the first time.” Bea said seriously. “And she did me a favour, one of many she still owes me, by letting you have Friday off. You aren't making a habit of not going to work at all.”

As they walked to the cafe together a little later the morning mist was damp on their faces, the fresh air feeling more like walking through water. Houses, trees and the other people milling around all seemed to have no colour, everything just seemed to be made up of varying shades of grey in the early morning world. They had just reached the cafe when Franky appeared at the door. 

“You got a telephone call Red.” 

Bea looked puzzled as to why anyone would be telephoning the cafe for her unless it was Liz. No one else would have known where she was at this time of day. “Is it Liz? What's Deb done this time?” She sighed a little. Everything had been running its usual Monday morning course when they left home, the only thing it could be was that something had happened after they'd left the house.

“Not Liz…I think you better take it, sounded important.” Franky answered looking a little worried.

Bea slumped into one of the chairs as Franky pushed a mug of strong tea towards her. She looked as if all the wind had just been well and truly knocked out of her sails. Not that anyone ever expected to get a telephone call from the police station informing them that they had their husband in custody. Franky smiled sympathetically at her as she sat down in one of the other chairs.

“There's no mistake this time.” Bea said as she looked down at the tea in front of her. “I don't have time for…”

“Drink it.” Franky insisted. “Allies going to telephone Maxine, let her know you might be a few minutes late. Booms is on her way over, no point in you waiting for the bus when she's got use of a vehicle. Besides you don't look as if you'd make it that far alone.”

“But..I..”

“Don't argue.” Franky looked back at her pointedly. “We stick together, that's what friends do. At least you know he won't be coming back anytime soon. Wouldn't like to be him though, I heard how tough they are on deserters. My cousin told me about another bloke in their unit and he wasn't missing for weeks.”

Bea smiled weakly back at her. “I need to see him, one last time…I didn't stand up to him before, I'm not afraid of him anymore Franky.”

Franky nodded in understanding, Bea was much stronger now, she was making a new life for herself and Harry would never have any control over her again. 

 

 

Harry had been dragged towards a cell in the back of the police station when he became uncooperative, he felt like a rag doll being dragged across the cold concrete floor but he wasn't in the mood to do as he was told. Even though his shoulder joints were screeching in pain he was tired of being told what to do. Sargent Fletcher and another police constable threw him into the cell and slammed the heavy mental door shut. When he'd finally dragged himself up from the floor and looked around he could hardly believe his eyes. It looked worse than he'd ever imagined, this was a new hell of his own making; and this was a civilian cell a military prison would be even worse he was quite certain of that. The floor felt uneven beneath his feet making him feel a little queasy. Behind the closed door he could hear everything that was being said, he could hear the officers laughing about him.

“Don't they still shoot deserters?” One officer had asked.

“Death by firing squad, that coward would probably ask for two blindfolds.” Sergeant Fletcher laughed.

Harry knew he was trapped like an animal and there was no way out. He'd been warned on a regular basis by his commanding officer what could happen to a deserter. As his eyes grew used to the dim light he took a better look around his new surroundings. He hadn't expected the height of luxury but there was hardly anything to make him think he'd be even slightly comfortable, a tiny sink and a smelly toilet bowl were in one corner. He looked a little more closely in the feeble light, the sink gave him an awful feeling of foreboding when he saw a few blood stains. The mattress that lay over in the other corner looked flat and about as comfortable as a bed of concrete or spikes. He lay on his new bed looking around at the dark, gloomy walls if he didn't know better he would have thought that they had been painted with tar they appeared to be so dark. The ghosts of this cells old occupants still remained behind carved mostly but penned on the walls. Ravings about the unfairness, of their innocence. This dingy place reeked of loss and it was all tattooed on the walls for anyone who looked to see. Falling asleep seemed to be his only escape.

He knew he had no way out, could plead innocence for the rest of his life but he was all they said he was. His first weeks leave and he hadn't gone home, Bea wouldn't be any wiser he told himself and Debbie wasn't his number one priority. What no one knew couldn't come back to bite him as he was leaving Marie's bed promising that he'd be back. He already had the outline of a plan in his head, he'd been thinking about it from the moment he'd heard that after a weeks leave they were being shipped out. He'd had no idea where he would end up but he was determined that he'd make it back without seeing any real action, no way was he taking any chances with his life. His original plan had been to get back to London and wait out the war before returning to wherever he'd been and fake memory loss. After he'd found himself in the thick of fighting he knew that plan was never going to work out for him. A new idea had struck him when his unit had encountered heavy resistance from the Germans they were facing. Watching another man in his unit get shot he'd dragged his body away into some thick bushes unaware that he hadn't been dead. Swapping their dog tags and identity cards after tearing off his photograph he'd made a run for it. No one was coming to save them he'd reasoned, by the time anyone worked out that this wasn't him it would be too late. He just hadn't thought for a second that the man he'd swapped identity with would be found wandering, wounded and with no memory of what had transpired. He scrambled away as quickly as he could, found some civilian clothing in a nearby village and made his escape. For a second he considered going back, putting his uniform back on and finding other British troops. He'd be sent home since he'd been slightly wounded but as the man who's identity he had stolen. He shook the thoughts from his head and carried on. He wasn't sure where to go at first, he wasn't sure how to be inconspicuous in a place that was teaming with German soldiers. He darted down alleyways, pressed himself against walls and rested in anyplace he though might be safe to sleep in for a couple of hours. All the time he feared he'd be found, he was now a deserter and the highest penalty was to be shot. Marie had given him contact details of a distant cousin she had in Belgium, all he had to do was make it there and he'd be home free he kept reminding himself. 

After a few days of hiding his head had cleared although he still constantly feared he'd be caught. Marie's help was going to cost him he'd known that but doing a few unpleasant jobs for her was better than returning home to a wife he couldn't stand the sight of and certainly better than getting killed. When he eventually found himself standing outside the address he'd been given the smell of baking bread was wafting through the kitchen door, reminding him of how hungry he was.  The woman he found standing in the kitchen turned and smiled at him, he recognised her from the photograph Marie had shown him. This was her cousins wife, slightly older than in the picture but still very familiar.

“Marie said to expect you, you should have let us know you were coming so soon.” She said as she welcomed him into the kitchen. 

The rest of his escape was now a blur as he woke up in the same cell he'd been locked up in the previous day. It hadn't been worth it, now he'd face a court martial when the military police arrived to collect him. Someone had betrayed him and the prime suspect in his mind was Marie. He'd stayed away from most of the girls except one, the one he'd been caught with. She couldn't have let his whereabouts slip because she didn't know her own name most if the time, and she'd never been allowed to leave the house. Jake he thought wouldn't have gone to the bobbies, he was as scared of being locked up as he now was. How he'd got out of the call up was beyond Harry and why he'd bothered to enlist when he could have waited now was beyond him. He could have held out, could have left the country before his call up papers arrived. Then the thought crossed his mind, he'd heard the copper say Marie was to be arrested, she'd have known that was a possibility so why would she have given him away? He tried to find ways in his mind that his bitch of a wife could have known where he was but he could think of any way she'd have known. Yes she'd  had to identify a man that turned out not to be him but she'd get over that. She'd think he was probably dead and that his body hadn't been found. Although the thought never dawned on him that the identity card and dog tags would have been enough to tell Bea that it had been staged by him. He'd planned to get rid of her once the war was over, take Debbie somewhere no one would ever find them and now….

 

 

Bea had sat at her desk all morning acting as if everything was normal as she interviewed one woman after another. Boomer had promised she'd be waiting for her when she had her lunch break. Mr Potter had been worried when she'd gone to see him as soon as she arrived but he understood why she felt the need to confront Harry. She didn't intend to return late from her lunch break but the simple fact that it was always a small possibility had been the only reason she'd dared to inform him. As she watched the time ticking away the thought of actually seeing Harry again resurrected the same fear in her that he'd always inspired. It had been well over a year since she'd last seen him and in that time it felt as though she already lived a lifetime. Learned more about herself, about the world, more importantly she'd found love. Something she'd allowed him to convince her she wasn't worthy of, she could do this; she would do this.

As Boomer drove them both towards the police station Bea had been told Harry was being held at she knew it would be the last time she would ever see him. She didn't care what happened to him, not that she ever really had. She owed him nothing and her mind was made up, he wouldn't be going to be going back to the front lines anytime soon, she couldn't hope he'd be killed when he'd be safe and sound locked away. She was going to tell him face to face that she wanted a divorce, if he'd still been away fighting like he should have been this would have been an impossibility. Of course she knew he'd laugh, tell her he wouldn't allow it, suing him for divorce before Allie had walked into her life had been something she'd allowed to cross her mind but it had been something she always knew she'd never actually do. Her burden of proof was high but she had plenty of people who would stand by her. With any luck the chief constable would be prepared to say what he had found when he was apprehended. Her friends would give their statements, all of them were unafraid to stand up in a courtroom and say out loud what they had witnessed and what they had heard. Walking into the police station where he was still being held as he waited for the MPs to collect him Bea marched up to the front desk. The desk sergeant greeted her with a slight smile before informing her that Harry wasn't allowed visitors. Bea looked him up and down, his hair was far too shiny, ‘too much pomade’ she thought to herself and he had an air of arrogance about him. 

“Mrs Smith I've just told you your husband is not permitted visitors, the military police consider him to a flight risk. He has, if you've failed to notice, escaped before. Done a runner from the army, if he can do that I'm sure he'll try to get out of here.” The sergeant said sternly.

“Sergeant Noble.” Bea began while all the time thinking that his name really didn't fit him. “I'm not about to help him escape, I want him home about as much as I would enjoy tooth ache.” 

“That's as maybe but I have orders from the chief constable, no outside visitors, especially civilians.” Sergeant Noble said in his most irritated tone of voice.

Bea wasn't about to be so easily sent packing. She was going to tell Harry what she wanted, what she was going to do even if she had to sit in the front office for the whole week. Allie knew exactly where she was going on her lunch break and if she didn't arrive at the cafe as usual she'd probably drag Franky along looking for her. She pulled herself up to her full height, bearing in mind that she was wearing heels that he couldn't see from where he stood she was now looking down at him. He wasn't going to bully her, Harry had done it for far too long and Mr Potter had tried her patience once or twice.

“Is there a problem here?” Sergeant Fletcher asked as he appeared behind the front desk standing next to Sergeant Noble.

“I want to see my husband, now.” Bea stated flatly.

“That's not possible Mrs Smith, he is a military prisoner even if he hasn't been collected yet.” Sergeant Fletcher sighed. He'd been expecting this, told Will not to inform her. It was the job of the military police to inform his wife not there's but Will Jackson had other ideas. 

“Then if I can't see my husband for a few minutes I demand to see the chief constable right now.” Bea huffed.

“I'm sorry that won't be possible.” Sergeant Fletcher said as he openly smirked at her as he shook his head. “The chief is a very busy man if you hadn't noticed there is a war in and…”

Bea slammed her fist down on the desk. “Then I'll wait outside his office until he shows his face. No need to show me the way I know where it is already.” She strode resolutely away from the desk, the heels of her shoes beating out an almost perfect tattoo as she moved. Leaving behind her a very shocked Boomer who'd taken a seat while she waited.

Sergeant Fletcher dashed from behind the front desk. “This is a police station, you have no right to…”

Bea saw red at his final comment. “You have my husband locked in a cell somewhere in this police station, I am not, as you seen convinced, here to help him escape. That is the last thing I want. I believe the army can still shoot a man for desertion and I'll tell you know for the likes of Harry Smith shooting would be far too good. Taring and feathering before boiling him in oil would be too good for that man. I have every right to see him if I so choose. If you want to make a real issue of this trust me I will have no hesitation to put a strongly worded letter of complaint in about your treatment of me this far. Now either tell the chief constable I wish to see him or take me to my husband.” 

Sergeant Fletcher stood open mouthed as the colour drained away from his face leaving his skin the colour of unbaked bread. Bea was pleased with herself but her anger was still boiling through her whole body. Receiving no reply from the sergeant she continued on her journey towards the chiefs office. She'd only ever been there once when Franky had found herself on the wrong side of the law for something even she couldn't quite remember now what it had been. She quickly found herself standing outside his office door. Smoothing down her deep blue jacket over her hips she felt a little nervous but she meant business and wasn't going to leave until she got what she wanted. Knocking on the door she didn't wait for an answer before walking straight in. 

“Mrs Smith!” Will rose from his chair looking both stunned and surprised. In his left hand he held a large cigar. ‘Ammunition,’ she thought to herself; there was only one place he got that and the tobacconist on the corner certainly wasn't that place. He looked at his hand then back at Bea. “Please, take a seat.” He waved his hand in the direction of the chair in front if his desk.

Bea shook her head. “I won't be staying long enough.”

The amiable expression that had settled on his face froze into something reminiscent she thought of a cartoon characters she'd seen on a Saturday morning at the picture house when the film had broken down.

“Mrs Smith…Please, whatever I can do to help I will…if I'm able.” He said quietly.

“You can start by letting me see my husband.” She said confidently.

Will sat back in his chair, studying her as he drew on his cigar, as he exhaled the thick smoke hung between them, Bea hated that smell, it reminded her of Harry after he'd got lucky at the races. The few times he won more than few shillings he'd waste his winnings on whisky and cigars. She didn't care that she was the last thing on his mind when he had a few extra pounds burning a hole in his pocket but to forget about Debbie. Not only was that inexcusable but completely unforgivable, she never asked for anything. Debbie, Bea knew, was already wise beyond her years and making her live with a father who one second seemed to adore her then the next was beating her mother was something she'd never be able to forgive herself for. She'd never had the strength before but Allie brought out a whole new side of her. That wasn't quite true, she knew that, Allie took her back to the person she'd once been. The person who, no thanks to Harry, had become lost to her and she'd be damned now if anyone was going to stop her. 

“I'm sure Sergeant Nobel or Sergeant  Fletcher must have explained the situation to you. My hands are tied, technically he's a military prisoner.” Will sighed, he knew he was fighting a losing battle, he always was when a woman confronted him with that look of steely determination. His wife was exactly the same and he never once won an argument with her either. He'd extended her the courtesy of being informed of her husbands arrest and paid little attention to Sergeant Fletchers reservations.

“And I'm sure you wouldn't want anyone to know that the chief constable instead of taking the black marketeers off the streets openly appears to support them.” Be nodded to the cigar in his hand.

 “Five minutes, not a second more.” He rose to his feet stubbing the cigar out in the ashtray on his desk. “And if anyone asks you never saw him.”

“I'm sure what I have to say to him will take less time than that.” Bea was determined more than ever now, no matter what she would look Harry in the eyes and say what she needed to say. 

Harry was still laying on his small, uncomfortable, bed trying to dream up someway to get himself out if the predicament he was now in. He knew it wasn't going to do him much good but then sometimes people could be bribed, even the military police weren't all squeaky clean. Wherever he ended up maybe one of his guards could be bribed. He was so lost to his own thoughts that he barely registered in the sound of footsteps walking down the corridor towards his cell. The door was unlocked and it creaked open, only then did he look up.

“What the fuck do you want?” Harry snarled when he saw Bea walk in and the door close behind her. He'd blinked when he first saw her, looked away and then looked back at her. Beas eyes never left him even though all she could feel was a deep seated loathsome fear. She could never forgive him for what he'd put he through, now he was right where he belonged and she silently prayed that he'd rot there or someplace similar.

“I'm divorcing you Harry, there's nothing you can do about it. You can agree to it or not, either way it will happen.” Bea said trying to sound confident as she watched him sit up.

“I won't allow it.” He spat. “You're my wife, besides who the fuck else would want you? You think that little slut will stick around, you think she'll even live through this?” He still sounded like the same Harry she knew except for the fear in his voice that was now evident and suddenly she saw him for what he'd always been, a scared little boy. The little boy who'd been bullied by his mother and in turn had morphed him into the abuser himself because it was the only way he could ever feel better about himself.

“I am, but only in name. I tried to be your wife, tried to be something that I never wanted to be but you were incapable of ever being a husband. You may as well admit it Harry it's either this or one of us will kill the other. This way will be easier in the end.”

“But…but you must, you have to….Debbie.”

“No Harry I don't. And please, stop using Debbie, she's happier without you.” She answered him as she straightened herself up to her full hight. “What did you ever do for me? Did you help me? What did you ever really do for Debbie?” She tapped her foot impatiently not expecting an answer. “No you never did, you made me miserable. You beat me, tried to take everything you could from me and now you have the nerve to try and use Debbie. I never wanted to marry you, I never loved you can't you understand that?”

Harry stared back at her a blank expression on his face. He couldn't believe what he was hearing, could hardly believe what his eyes were seeing; Bea was openly standing up to him. The expression on Harry's face did nothing to quench Beas anger, the fire flickered inside of her and then raged when she thought of each time he'd wronged her. Something had changed and he knew by looking at her it had less to do with him being gone and everything to do with Allie. How the hell had that even happened he wondered to himself as he stared at her. No one else could really want her could they? It wasn't possible, Marie had said so, Allie was only in it for the money. It couldn't be for any other reason could it?

“Your pathetic Harry, everyone knows what you are. This will be the last time you see me, I really don't care what happens to you. I hope they lock you up and throw away the key.”

Harry glared at her before she turned to leave, his eyes now looking like no more than chips of hard glass in a face that was covered with a fine sheen of perspiration. He was angry she saw that but the chief constable was right outside his cell door, if he attacked her here it would just be another nail in his coffin.

“You do that then…you win.” He shrugged. “But when all this is over and they let me out I'll be back, you mark my words Beatrice. I'll take my daughter and there will be nothing you can do about it.” Harry's voice sounded small, weak even. He knew he had lost, for the first time Bea had stood up to him, made him feel like his own mother always had. His fate was already sealed he had decided, she wouldn't drag his name through the mud, he would never have people laughing at him because he couldn't keep a woman in line. His own wife at that. Harry laughed. 

“I'll kill you, you hear me? I'll kill you then I'll kill myself. Leave your precious daughter without a mother or a father how would you like that?” He thundered at her.

“I think you're forgetting one small detail aren't you?” Bea glared at him. “You're currently sitting in a police station, locked in a cell. If I scream right now the chief constable himself is waiting for me right outside the door. You're facing a court martial for desertion, kill yourself if you must Harry but you can't touch me now.” Bea watched him as he sunk a little more back onto his hard bed. The glint in his eyes was like neon shining on steel. 

“You think I won't do it? Think i don't know how? I've seen it. I've seen more than that, I've seen things that nightmares are made of. I've seen enough killing to last me a lifetime, no…a hundred lifetimes. I've seen men with their legs blown from under them. I've seen them carrying their guts in their own arms.” Harrys head fell forward into his hands before he began to sob. “I don't care what they do to me as long as they don't send me back out there, I can't go back out there.”

Bea couldn't believe what she was seeing, was this even the same man who she'd married? Her father had told her how war had affected a lot of his fellow soldiers but to see Harry fall apart right in front of her eyes. She turned away and banged on the door. As the door opened she looked back over her shoulder at him, she felt nothing, he deserved everything that might happen to him from now on. She wasn't going to feel sorry for the man that beat her so badly she prayed to die. He couldn't touch her now. 

“You won't be seeing me ever again. I'll let my solicitor deal with everything. And I never want you to darken my doorstep ever again.”

Harry didn't answer he just sobbed into his hands. 

Bea knew it was only a small hope that he'd not try and stand in her way, he cared more about what people thought of him than of her feelings. It was a small triumph but at least she'd achieved what she'd set out to do. Standing up to him was the only thing she'd never thought she could do.

Bea had reminded him of his mother, the look in her eyes, the expression on her face. What was it she always used to tell him? He thought for long moments. ‘Unto yourself be true.’ What did that even mean? He'd followed what he believed in, what he'd seen in his mothers eyes and what was locked in her heart. She never wanted him, she was cruel, she beat him. She didn't love his father, he was nearly a means to an end, he had money and he provided for her. He provided for Harry, they gave him anything he wanted. When he first laid eyes on Bea he had wanted her. Then he'd talked himself into marrying her when he was running out of money believing that her parents would help him. After the wedding and her father had told him that it was no longer his place to provide for his daughter he'd been livid. Had hit her the first time after he'd been to visit his father in law to ask for money when he was once more out of work because he had no desire to control his drinking. After being told no he'd been livid and swore from then on to make Beas life a living hell, he didn't love her anyway and without her fathers money she was useless to him. She'd stood in front if him and told him she would divorce him. She hadn't battered an eyelid when he'd said he'd kill her, smiled when he said he'd kill himself. Something had changed. She didn't cower or flinch. He looked up at the small window that was above the bed and the only way he could get a glimpse of the outside world now. Bea was walking away but he knew she wasn't alone in any of this, he knew he couldn't blame Franky for putting her up to this because Marie had told him everything. He'd sent her round to the house to confront them, had made her follow them until she'd found the perfect opportunity to tell Bea her version of the truth about Allie again. He got to his feet and punched the wall and heard his own bones break. He couldn't hurt her anymore but she could destroy him. There was only one way out of this  and he knew that and taking his punishment like a man wasn't it.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Bea had returned to her desk pleased with herself for not crumbling in front of Harry but still a little puzzled by the way he had broken down in front of her. She knew he'd have witnessed some pretty awful scenes but it wasn't like him to show any other emotion except anger. Harry had never before shown any sign of weakness in front of her. His usual reaction to anything when she was in his vicinity was to send her flying across the room. His threat to kill her hadn't been new, she'd lost count of the number of times he'd said he'd do it. She'd always suspected that the knowledge he'd be hung for murder had been the only thing that had ever stopped him from actually carrying out that threat. Hearing from Will before she left the police station that although Marie had been arrested but released on bail had angered her a little. The rest of the girls that remained in the house being taken to a place of safety though had been a little ray of hope. No one would be foolish enough to think that anything would come from Marie's arrest but she was out of business for the time being. 

“You did it.” Maxine smiled at her as she pulling on her coat at the end of the day. “You are everything I remember you being.”

“He's locked in the police station cell Maxi.” Bea huffed. “He could hardly argue or lash out. I will do it though, I can't stay tied to him. He'll never agree so seven years will pass agonisingly slowly.”

“You never know what the future might hold.” Maxine said as she pulled on her gloves. “After all you never thought you'd meet someone who could change your life sitting behind that desk did you?”

“No…but its thanks to you that I did. I wasn't the only one sat here that day with nothing to do but you brought Allie to me.” 

“Like I said, we never know.” Maxine shrugged as they were walking out of the office.

Saying goodnight to Maxine as she did each evening before they went their separate ways was nothing unusual. The footsteps echoing behind Bea as she walked towards the bus stop were nothing unusual, for the way her day had been going she decided that nothing was out of the ordinary apart from her obvious visit to the police station. The footsteps behind her had picked up their pace and then she heard it, the voice that belonged to the woman she'd hoped would have taken the hint to leave them alone by now.

“I want to talk to you.” Marie's tone was curt, almost to the point of rudeness as she dashed in front of Bea.

“I think I'd rather not, I am frightfully busy. I have somewhere I really need to be.” Bea stepped around her but Marie wasn't going to give up and grabbed her wrist. Bea twisted her hand towards her thumb and pulled away.

“Nice trick, where did you learn that?” Marie asked looking less than impressed.

“You'd be surprised what I've learnt. Now if you don't mind I really need to be getting along.” Bea said becoming increasingly agitated.

“You've certainly learned to lie.” Marie spat.

Bea stopped walking and stared at her. “I beg your pardon?” 

“You've lied about Allie, removed that 174 you put on her file. That was a lie when you put it on there, you should have sent her packing. What would your boss say if he knew that? More to the point what would he say if he knew what was going on between the two of you?” Marie smiled. Clearly she thought she had the upper hand.

“And you're going to be the one to tell him I suppose.” Bea rolled her eyes as she started to walk away again wondering how she could possibly know about Allies file.

“You'll be in a hell of a lot of trouble if I did. And a lie in wartime isn't the same as a lie in peacetime.” Marie started to follow her again.

“And I think you would know all about that wouldn't you?” Bea spat back as she stopped walking again remembering Jakes words the night he followed them back from the cafe. Marie obviously knew far more about Harry than she was likely to let slip.

“I have no idea what you're talking about.”

“No?” Bea asked as she slowly turned around looking into Marie's muddy blue eyes.

“All you have to do is send Allie back where she belongs. You'll grow tired of her, they all do. You won't be the first, oh, has she not told you about the others?” Marie smiled devilishly, she'd got her this time hadn't she?

“You have no idea what you're talking about. Allies told me everything and the more I know about you the more I have to say I dislike you. I'm not the one who knew something about a deserters whereabouts. It would seem to me that the one who's been covering anything up here is you. Go ahead and tell my boss anything you like about Allie and I.” Bea paused as she watched her. “Because he already knows.”

“Like I said you've learned to lie really well. A regular lying champion aren't you?”

“And you're an obnoxious boor whom I don't care to speak to.” 

“You care, at least you act like you care about her. Listen I don't want to cause you any trouble.” Marie said with an obvious sneer. 

“Go away.” Bea huffed.

“Seems I'll have to get back what's mine by other means then doesn't it?” Marie said giving at least the approximation of a smile. “Let me tell yo…”

“You won't tell me anything.” Bea took a couple of steps closer as she clenched her jaw. “Allie was never yours, she's free to do as she pleases. That's just what you do though isn't it? You see something you like the look of and you have to have it until something better comes along then you cast whatever or whomever it was aside like it never mattered in the beginning. You just can't stand the thought that Allie might actually be genuinely happy can you? Mr Potter would laugh in your face if you even showed your face at his office door, like I said he knows about Allie. Go on though you're on a roll, would you like to tell my parents? My brothers perhaps? They know so you're all out of luck Marie.”

“You'd better watch it, if you think that husband of yours was bad then I'm worse.” Marie quickly turned on her heel and left. Bea watched as she disappeared hoping that she wasn't going to make a habit of this. She didn't frighten her but she could make her life difficult if she started hanging around. She blew out a breath, how Harry had ever gotten mixed up with her she didn't even want to know. It was bad enough what she'd put Allie through for her to worry about yet more hollow threats.

As Bea finally walked back into the cafe she was smiling broadly and looked more confident in both Allie and Franky's eyes than either of them had ever seen her look before.

“What did you do?” Allie asked almost the second the door was closed behind her.

“Nothing much.” Bea shrugged. “I told him we were done…I actually stood up to to him. And then as I was leaving work she decided to follow me again. Don't worry, I got rid of her, well for now at least.” 

Allie had never been in any doubt that if Bea were confronted with Harry again she would do it. From the moment she'd told her about her appointment with the solicitor she'd know she was serious. They'd whispered to each other in the darkest hours while they were in Sussex about what she'd do if he were actually there. Bea hadn't been as convinced as Allie had been that she would ever have the inner strength to say what she needed to say. She just wished she could finally stand up to Marie like that and be rid of her.

“Right, well…get out of here already.” Franky threw a cloth at Allie. “And on your way out turn the sign to closed would you?”

More often than not they always walked home, as they walked towards the bus stop under a shining river of diamonds bright enough to hurt their eyes when they looked up, the waning moon was a pale sliver of faded silver and was being outshone by the glory of every twinkling star in the sky over blacked out London. It was slow going getting anywhere this evening as Bea had seen fit to keep pulling Allie into the shelter of almost every doorway for long slow kisses as they leaned into the contours of each other bodies.

“By the time we get there it'll be time to come back.” Allie grumbled when she finally freed her lips from Beas one last time.

“Sorry, we’ll catch the bus.” Bea apologised even if she wasn't in the slightest bit sorry really.

When they reached the bus stop there was no one else there, being out in the open was still enough to stop Bea from stealing one final kiss, she had to settle for the occasional lingering look instead. She looked up the street looking for the bus that she knew was due any time soon, the only thing she could see was a shiny black car heading in their direction. Even in the darkness she was sure she recognised it but Marie wouldn't really but stupid enough to come back again now would she? The car came to a halt immediately opposite the bus stop. Even before the figure in the back seat alighted the vehicle Bea recognised the figure of Marie, her powdered face creased with rage, her angry looks directed at both of them.

“You!” She screeched, her eyes blazing and pointing the spike of the umbrella she was holding in one hand at both of them. “You fucking bitch, don't think I don't know it was one of you two who told the police where my man was.”

“Excuse me?” Bea glared back at her. “Your man, you mean that pathetic excuse I still have the displeasure of calling my husband? I think if you try to recall I told you you were welcome to him. I can assure you neither of us want him back. Why would we tell anyone where he was? Besides which we had no proof. I don't know what you've been drinking recently but it's certainly turned your brain to pea soup.”

“I know what you did, thought you could get rid of us both in one go didn't you? Say whatever you like you don't fool me. Well you're welcome to this…this little trollop, she wasn't hard to replace when she left. As soon as I get my business back up and running I'll be making more money from my new girls than she ever could.” Marie raged at them. “Believe me though you haven't heard the last of me. I'll have this little slut begging me to take her back before long. I know all about you, Harry told me what a frigid bitch you are. When she's taken everything she wants from you she'll be back. It's not as if you'll be much use to her for anything else.” 

“You know nothing about Bea, whatever he said about her I can guarantee you it was a pack of lies. You're done Marie, its over, you can't force girls to work for you anymore. Don't you get it? Hiding that waste of perfectly good air was always going to catch up with you in the end.” Allie said as she hung onto Beas arm a little tighter.

“You Judas, you told them he was with me, you told them where he was.” Marie spat at Allie. 

“Why would either of us do that? Think about it.” Bea said as she was fast tiring of hearing the same things again and again from this woman. “I didn't want him back. I never wanted him to begin with, as far as I was concerned you could have kept him. You'd have had absolutely no arguments from me about that, he doesn't have anything you know. He doesn't even have any insurance. He's incapable of holding down a job or keeping it in his pants. Maybe that's what you like though, is being roughed up your thing?” 

The wind momentarily seemed to have left Marie's sails before her face turned a frightful shade of eau de nil. 

“This war is pointless, I make no apologies for trying to save the man I loves life. This is just some worthless quest for glory.” Marie waved her umbrella close to Beas face as she spoke but Allie swiped it away with her hand. “You turned him in, you didn't want him but you didn't want anyone else to have him either.” 

Bea opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted when another woman with nut brown hair streaked heavily with silver stepped forward. They looked at each other briefly both wondering when she'd arrived at the bus stop. 

“It can't be, well bless my soul it us you isn't it! Marie…Marie Jones? Don't you remember we used to work together when we were in service over in that big house in Enfield, surly you must recognise me, Mavis…Mavis Butler, that's what I was called back then. I worked in the kitchen.” She swept her eyes over Marie. “My but you look as though you've come on in the world, a long way from them humble beginnings as a housemaid. Let me see now how long ago was that? I seem to recall you got yourself into some trouble didn't you, now what was it that happened to you again dearie?”

“You told everyone your parents left you a small fortune.” Allie blurted out, unable to keep her mouth shut. “You said they were rich and they died in a house fire.” She continued as she stared back at her accusingly. 

Marie didn't wait around any longer for any more information to come out about her old way of life instead she rushed headlong back into the car she'd gotten out of. 

“Always was one to think she was better than everyone else, little madam.” The woman they now knew as Mavis said as she joined them back in the queue for the bus. “That much was true, about her parents, they did die in a fire. They had nothing to leave her though mind, well apart from their debts. Got herself into trouble, had to leave. Always wondered what became of her.” She smiled at them both.

“Got into trouble?” Allie asked as if she didn't quite know what she was meaning.

“Aye, with the Gardner no less. Nice chap, Italian if I remember rightly. Never was sure what happened to her, all we knew was a year later the gardener left, headed back home or so I heard.”

Allie had spent half the evening lost in her thoughts. She remembered one day while she'd been with Marie, she'd been left alone for most of the day after waking up to find Marie sitting with her head in her hands in the chair that sat in the corner of the room muttering to herself. She'd watched her silently for a few minutes having absolutely no idea what could be wrong with her. She closed her eyes faster than she'd originally opened them when she'd got up from where she'd been sitting and stormed out of the room slamming the door behind herself. When she first got out of bed Allie had thought no more about it really, Marie was well known for having temper tantrums if one of the girls had upset her. As she'd been leaving the bedroom she'd spotted an old, creased, photograph on the floor next to the chair and she'd picked it up. Looking at it closely it was a picture of a baby although she couldn't tell if it were a boy or a girl. Taking it with her when she'd gone to the kitchen to sit with the cook to have her breakfast she'd placed it down on the table not giving it a second thought. The cook, Mrs Bentley, had asked where she'd found it before going on to tell Allie a story that she'd heard about Marie. Allie had carefully placed the photograph back where she'd found it and had never seen it again. Marie never mentioned it and Allie had soon forgotten it existed, until now.

Bea was concerned about Allie, she was never usually quite in the evenings, she appeared to not have even heard Debbie when she'd asked her if she'd read to her and Sophie the first time she asked. When Allie seemed to snap out of it the second time she asked she decided that she'd just wait until they were alone in bed to ask her what was wrong. Being confronted by Marie was never a pleasant experience but this seemed more than her being a little upset about it. Something was seriously troubling her, maybe it had just been Marie confronting them again. The worst thing she allowed to enter her head was that it was her, she'd told Harry she wanted a divorce and Allie knew that, maybe that was all that was niggling at her. Marie always got inside Beas head a little, the things she'd say about her always had that effect, but Allie had defended her it couldn't really be that could it? She knew she had nothing to worry about really, Allie loved her she knew that even though she did let her insecurities tell her maybe she was wrong sometimes.

 

 

“Bea?”

“Hmmmm?”

“Do you think it's at all possible that Marie is so awful because she once had a child that she lost?” Allie asked as they lay in bed later in the dark.

“You mean maybe she had a baby that died?” Bea asked not certain she knew what Allie meant.

“No, when I was with her…before she made made me work, I did tell you about that didn't I? Please tell me I didn't only imagine that I told you because I really don't want to have to tell you about that right now.”

“You did, you told me everything as hard as it was to hear. Is that what's had you so distracted all evening?”

Allie nodded her head against Beas shoulder where head as usual had come to rest. At the time Allie hadn't really believed that what Mrs Bentley had told her about Marie. Marie never spoke about ever having had a baby and it hadn't been something she'd ever asked her, Allie had never really asked Marie a great deal. Her temper could be explosive so questioning her about anything was never a great idea. She knew she'd always taken everything she'd ever told her on face value and had believed her. Now after what the other woman at the bus stop had said Allie couldn't stop questioning everything Marie had ever told her about her life. Recounting everything the cook had told her to Bea about the day she'd found the photograph she felt a little foolish. Mrs Bentley had had no reason to lie about the fact that Marie had once given birth to a son. She'd tried her hardest to provide for him until the day his father had turned up and taken him away from her saying she wasn't fit to raise a child and he'd taken him back to his home country. After that Marie had spiralled out of control, moving from one man to the next until she'd found one who asked her to marry him. He'd been older and was wealthy, he also hadn't minded that Marie seemed to prefer to take other women into her bed. When he'd died she'd been left everything and had lost even more control of her mental faculties it had seemed. She'd had a string of men and woman, each new man she married had died within months and no one ever questioned their deaths.

“Do you think I'm losing my mind?” Allie finally asked after she finished telling Bea the whole story as she remembered it.

“No, I don't. That's what's been concerning you all evening? That I'd think you were as crazy as she is? Or did you just think I wouldn't believe you? I can see how that would have driven her a little crazy. If Harry had tried to take Deb away from me I'm sure I would have lost my mind. But to do the things she's done…I think she needs professional help although I doubt it'll ever be offered. I doubt she'd ever accept it.”

“So you think it's possible that's the reason she's so hateful? The reason she treats people so badly?” Allie asked still not sure what to think.

“It makes sense. Why else would she be so convinced that you belong to her? She can't bare to let anyone go unless it's on her terms. She didn't want you anymore but she refuses to let you be happy.” 

 

 

There had been no sounds of life from outsides Harry's cell door for the last hour, he'd been fed, if they could reasonably call the slop he'd been given food. He lay back on his bed again, he'd expected the military to be a little more timely in collecting him. Guessing they probably had more to concern themselves with than his welfare, at least the food was likely to be better in the next place if he made it there. It was late, at least he imagined it must be he couldn't even remember what time it went dark now. The air raid sirens hadn't sounded yet, they had for the past two nights, something else that always aggravated him. Why had Bea even bothered to visit him if all she wanted was to say she was divorcing him? Had she just come to gloat? She knew exactly what this was going to do to him, he'd be a laughing stock. This was never how his life was meant to end he thought. He'd hurt her, hurt her through Debbie, that was the answer. If he died right now, this second, she'd have to break the news to Debbie. Debbie loved him he was certain of that, of course she did, he was her father. Harry didn't make idle threats, he'd told her he'd kill himself, if he did it would be on her head. He got up from his bed and paced his cell, how could she even have that whore near their daughter? Bea had to know what she was not that it mattered she didn't really want Bea for anymore than she could take from her. He burst out laughing, “Stupid bloody bitch.” She must believe that she actually had feelings for her, no one could want her could they really? No one could feel anything for Bea apart from pity he told himself. If Allie wanted more from her she'd have a long wait for her to warm up, hell could have frozen over if he'd waited and not just took what was rightfully his he told himself.

“I'll make you sorry you stupid bloody bitch.” He said as he pulled off his shirt. The chill in the air wouldn't bother him soon. He'd win and their daughter would hate her when she realised what her mother had driven him to do. 

The window in his cell wasn't too high up and he pulled on the bars, they were never going to budge in a million years. A German bomb could probably hit the place, reduce it to rubble, and the bars would still be as solid as the day they were fist made. He stood in the centre of his cell floor trying to work out how the best way to do this was. Seconds blurred into minutes as his fingers worked with the material in his hands, all the time telling himself that nothing he had ever really done was truly punishable by death. Everything he ever did to Bea she deserved, if she'd have just done as she were told everything would have been fine. It wasn't himself he was punishing, he'd done his time just by being married to her, it was her time to really suffer. Harry's mind even know could not stop trying to create new and hideous ways of punishing Bea for just being his wife. Tying and untying his shirt to the bars until he got it just so, he knew it shouldn't matter, the end result would be the same in the end. He would get this right, as painful as it might be he would leave behind even more pain he reasoned. 

Sargent Fletcher walked down the corridor slowly, there was only one prisoner in the cell block judging by every door with the exception of one being open. When he'd finished his shift the afternoon before he'd hoped Harry would be gone. ‘No such luck,’ he muttered to himself as he stopped outside the door. The key turned in the lock and the door creaked open. Matthew Fletcher had not been prepared for the sight that greeted him this morning. He spun around almost losing his breakfast in the process. He had not woken up that morning expecting to come face to face with the lifeless body of Private Harry Smith. He'd warned Will Jackson after Bea had marched out of the station that no good would come of allowing her to see him, it seemed now he'd been proved right once again.

Sophie and Artie had been bickering about something since they'd arrived at the breakfast table, Debbie was trying to ask Allie if they could visit her grandparents again before her birthday. Bea was making tea and Liz stirring the porridge when a loud banging on the front door echoed through the house. 

“I'll get it.” Bea said as she smiled at Liz.

Yanking open the door Bea was already annoyed by the unwelcome noisy intrusion so early in the morning. More peaceful mornings were what she'd started to become accustomed to and unless this was going to be a life or death situation she wasn't planning on spending longer at the door than necessary. She was already tired after staying awake late into the night talking to Allie as they tried to figure out what really was Marie's problem.

“I hope you…” Beas mouth hung open the second her eyes caught sight of the distinctive caps the two men were wearing. She showed them into the study and retreated to the kitchen for a few moments, nothing was ever good about the military police on your doorstep at any time of day, so early in the morning could only mean one thing.

“Deb, I need to borrow Allie for a few minutes.” Bea said. Without waiting for a reply she grabbed Allies hand and led her down the hall towards the study.

“Bea? What is it? It's not bad news is it? Not one of your brothers or your parents?” Allie asked quietly as Bea responded with a shake of her head. Opening the door to the study Allie understood as her eyes landed on the two men dressed in uniform with their caps now in their hands.

“He's dead isn't he?” Bea asked quickly. After Harry's outburst the previous day it couldn't be anything else she knew that. 

“Mrs Smith.” The taller of the two men spoke in a hushed voice. “I regret to inform you that at just after 0600 hours your husband was found hung in his cell.”

Bea reached for Allies hand, he'd done it, he said he would and he had. Harry Smith was no longer in this world and not only had he left it a coward but a criminal also. 

“We're sorry Mrs Smith…we'll see ourselves out.” The two men left quickly and quietly as Bea sat down on the arm of the arm chair and laughed. This must be the first time Harry had ever said he'd do something that he'd actually gone through with successfully. The act of suicide was still a criminal offence, ridiculous really, Bea thought, he was dead so he could hardly be sent to prison for actually being successful at something for the first time in his miserable life. As she jumped back to her feet and pulled Allie close to her chest she knew she shouldn't really be feeling this elated. She'd still have to break the news to Debbie that her father would never be coming home and she had every right to be upset, maybe even a little angry.

“Will you be there…later when I tell Deb, will you be there?” She asked.

“Are you sure you'd rather not do that alone? I know he wasn't the best to her either but it's not really my place. Maybe Liz would be the better choice.” 

Bea shook her head. “I may not manage to tell her at all if you aren't with me.” Bea didn't know what Debbie's reaction would be, part of her was certain that she most probably wouldn't actually care one way or the other. She had grown increasing close to Allie though. “If you won't do it for me do it for Deb. I don't know how she'll react and if she refuses to speak to me I know she'll always talk to you.”

Allie agreed although slightly hesitantly. Even if she tried to say no she knew she'd not mean it, she'd have done anything in her power for either of them. Something inside Bea for the rest of the morning made her feel like a child again who had just convinced herself that she'd found fairies living at the bottom of the garden and that she'd be turned to stone if she told anyone else. She still couldn't quite believe it herself, he was gone. There was no need to wait years to get a divorce and have all their dirty laundry aired in public. The most important people in her life knew most of the details already, her parents didn't know everything and now she felt she'd never need to tell them everything. Liz had overheard almost everything, Franky knew more than she'd ever wanted her to and Allie, Allie knew almost every minute detail and still thought no less of her for enduring everything she had.

 

 

“And Deb didn't even ask questions?” Franky asked Allie on Friday afternoon.

Allie shook her head. They'd sat her down and before Bea had even been able to get the words out Debbie had told her she knew he wasn't coming back, shocking them both into silence when they knew she couldn't have overheard anything. “She shrugged and asked if she could go and play with Sophie in their room.”

“Smart kid.” Franky grinned. “That ones going to do great things when she grows up you know that? So changing the subject slightly….Since I'm treating Deb to a meal cooked by these hands and a picture after school, did I mention she's staying over to keep me company since Gidge has to work? Liz is off back to Surry for the weekend as soon as schools out, you sure you can handle spending the entire night with that delicious redhead of yours, just the two of you with no chaperone?” Franky smirked across the counter.

“I think I can handle that just fine. Besides I do live there remember it's not like we've never been alone before. I'm not you, I can control myself no matter what you might think.” Allie was trying to keep the conversation serious, Franky had been making jokes about them being alone since the lunch time rush had ended and it was getting boring.

“Don't do anything I wouldn't do.” Franky grinned, adding a lewd gesture that left Allie in no doubt what she meaning. 

“I'm certain I can do a lot of things that you could only ever dream about.” Allie grinned back smugly even though half of her brain was telling her to say way more just to wipe the smile off Franky's face. “Don't wait up for me will you mother.” She added before watching Franky's frown wrinkle her brow. There was a moment of hesitation, a slight stiffening of her expression before Franky finally turned her thoughts back to being more serious.

“She's been through a lot just remember that, and now he's gone and done…If you do anything out of line, you hurt her.” Franky warned.

“Do you really think I'd ever do that?” It was Allies turn to frown. “I know exactly what she's been though, do you think any of that was easy to hear?” 

“She told you everything? Even…well I mean I guessed he'd…forced the issue shall we say.” Franky's hard expression turned to one of surprise. Bea never told anyone about the things Harry had done. Franky had had to question and push and then tell her what she thought was going on before Bea would ever admit it even when she'd seen the evidence. Franky was certain she'd only ever scratched the surface.

“She's braver than you give her credit for. If he could walk in here right now, I…I'd…” 

“You'd have to get in the queue.” Franky simply stated. “Although I think he'd have come off a lot worse if you could have got your hands on him. She really told you?”

Allie nodded her head sadly. “I don't know how she survived, especially before Debbie was born. I wish I could wipe every bad memory from her mind and replace them with everything that's good in the world but I can't.” Allie said as she wiped her eyes, every time she thought about the things Bea had told her she felt the tears building. His now being dead was never going to change that, Allie wished she could have met him down a dark alley just once.

“I'm in no doubt you'll try though.” Franky laughed lightly. She witnessed just how Bea had changed from the first time she brought Allie into the cafe. Most of the time now she looked like a completely different person. She had an air of confidence that Franky had never seen before. Not the confidence she'd worked hard to build while she'd worked in the cafe, this ran much deeper. Franky now often wished they'd met before Harry so she had something to compare it to because she was certain that must have been how she once was.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Sometimes when Bea was doing something as simple as washing dishes or reading a book curled up on the sofa with Allie beside her she could feel her watching her. All evening she'd felt Allie watching her, even now sitting on the sofa she could feel Allies eyes on her.

“It feels as if you've always been here.” Bea whispered to her as she laid her head against Allies shoulder, naturally she caught her turn her head away turning her attention back to the fire. 

“I think it was planned, already mapped out for us by something we will never begin to understand.” Allie whispered back in response as her head had sunk back against the sofa. Bea understood what she was saying, she'd never been one to believe in coincidence. She'd long ago stopped believing in fairytales and happy endings, they were too much alike she thought for their meeting to have ever been coincidental. For reasons they may always wonder about it did seem as though their meeting had been prearranged, carved in stone or mapped by the stars. She'd always found Allie easier to talk to than any person she'd ever known, she had a pure openness in her eyes that if it were spoken would say, ‘come on in and tell me everything.’ She was a good listener and patient also, even when Bea became frustrated with her own inability to say what she meant when it came to sharing those parts of herself that she'd kept well hidden, Allie always waited until she eventually found the right words. 

This was the first evening they had been alone knowing that at that very moment in time there was really now only one person who still seemed hell bent on prising them apart.

Debbie had insisted that with Sophie away at her aunts again she wanted to spend the night with Franky. Bea had been worried, Franky’s basement after all wasn't the safest place on earth to be during a bombing raid. She trusted Franky, she was her best friend after all. Franky would never allow anything to happen to Debbie, Franky would risk her own life for both of them so she had to trust her judgment. She remembered the only time she ever agreed to let Debbie spending the night with her parents. Knowing she would be completely alone with Harry had filled her with dread. Nothing good had ever come from being left alone with him but she reminded herself that her nights now would always be spent with Allie. Sitting in their usual spot in front of a roaring fire in silence had sent a thrill through her whole body when she remembered that Debbie wasn't about to run into the room ask a question and run off again. Her hand traveled up to her throat, felt the heat that seemed to have pooled there before it fell away again. 

“Are you alright? You aren't feeling ill are you?” Allie asked as she turned her head slightly, reaching out her hand she covered Beas. It was the lightest of touches but came with an unmistakable feeling, like a lightening bolt had just shot through them both. 

“I'm fine.” Bea said a little breathlessly as she raised her eyes to meet Allies who was now looking at her with an intensity that she was sure she'd never witnessed before. They looked at each other, both choosing somehow to try and believe that they were both as surprised that were completely alone. Deep down they both believed that the first seeds of what they now shared hadn't just been sown the first time they met. Allie was the first to look away, self consciousness getting the better of her. She'd heard what Marie had said to Bea that first night they had walked home after seeing her grandparents. Even though she tried to make herself believe that Bea hadn't taken any notice, there would always be a doubt that nagged at her. That maybe Bea would see her eventually the same way that that bitter twisted woman who kept her against her will for far too long now did. Bea reached for her hand, her touch tingling against her hand. Allie had the most sensitive hands, she knew that. ‘Sensitive hands betray a sensitive heart,’ she told herself. In seconds their fingers were entwined, obliterating any confusion either of them had felt when it was replaced by a euphoric tingling that made goosebumps rise on their skin. Bea could forget that for now she still had a funeral to arrange, for the life of her she couldn't think of a single person who would want to be in attendance.

“It takes courage to come this far.” Bea whispered as her head dropped against the back of the sofa.

“For you or for me?” Allie asked even though she knew that she most likely meant it had taken them both courage. 

For Allie it had meant finding the courage to get away and stay as far away from Marie as she could. Running into her and her hate filled words was proving more difficult for both of them. For Bea it had been the decision that no matter what she would never take Harry back. Thinking about divorcing him she'd always known was one of the hardest things imaginable. Harry though had spared her that at least, it wouldn't be Bea people whispered about when it became common knowledge exactly what Harry had done.

“It's not for other people to decide how you live your life.” Bea mumbled. She might have once thought that doing what her parents thought was right, was the only respectable thing to do but she knew differently now. How could feeling like you don't exist and never being able to hold your head up in public be respectable? Liz out of all their neighbours who she knew had heard Harry's outbursts had never judged her. Her own mother may have a cruel side to her personality but even she, given a little more time, would understand that being with Allie was the best decision she'd ever made for herself.

“You really believe that?” Allie asked as she watched Bea slowly nod her head. 

“Things should have been so different for both of us.” Bea said as she rolled her head to the side looking Allie straight in the eye. “Only I was too caught up in doing what I was told was right for me and you were too young even if we could have met then.”

“Not anymore.” Allie answered without hesitation as she gently raised her hand, wiping away a single tear from the corner of Beas eye. She didn't protest when her fingers traced her lips, neither did she try to pull away when the heat radiating from Allie felt as if it were pulling her in. Allies fingers trailed softly down the side of her neck, across the creamy expanse of her chest that had become more visible as Bea had opened one then another of the buttons on the blouse she was wearing earlier when she felt a little too warm. 

“Do you like that?” Allie asked as she watched Bea close her eyes.

Bea didn't answer, mainly because Bea had never known what she did or didn't like, she was only just starting to learn her own likes and dislikes. Intimacy had seemed like a foreign concept to Harry, everything was rough with him even in the beginning, her needs were not important to him. Sometimes she was surprised that Debbie was even real. How could something so precious have been born out out of something so horrible? This was something she'd never know. With Allie it was the kind of intimacy that she knew opened up the floodgates to a passion that she'd never before known existed. Bea started to open her eyes again.

“Don't.” Allie whispered before she delicately kissed them closed again. “Keep them closed, let me help you try to forget every unthinkable thing that was ever done to you. Feel every touch like the woman you were before then.”

Was it possible Bea wondered that Allie could read her mind before tears escaped the corners of her closed eyes. Maybe the wine they'd had with dinner had just gone to her head she had thought at first. But she knew it wasn't that, Allie had opened a door that she no longer wished to step back through or hide behind because no one had ever made her feel like this before. Softly she felt her trace the line of her jaw, her chin, the fullness of her lips then her nose. Even though she'd done as Allie said and kept her eyes closed, something she'd never been inclined to do before, Bea felt as if she could see her fingers purely by feeling them. Her fingers trailed down her neck again and lower, feeling cool air as she opened more buttons on her blouse. Her first instinct had been to tell her to stop until her brain caught up with what was happening. There was nothing rough about Allies touch, no buttons being torn from her clothing. She couldn't explain what she was feeling and she didn't say a word in protest before her breath hitched in the back of her threat as she felt the coolness of Allies hand slide gently over her breasts. Allie hand was retracted far sooner than she'd hoped and panic filled her head, panic that she had done something wrong as her eyes sprang open. 

“Not here.” Allie whispered with a smile as she took her hand.

 

 

Getting to work on a Monday morning had been the same as any morning, they'd picked their way through the usual debris that littered the streets. There was no doubt that the nightly raids seemed to be getting worse and lasting longer with no end in sight. The cafe had been packed from the moment they opened while Bea had felt like a spare part for most of the morning. By mid morning it had started to snow.

Bea had spent the majority of the afternoon looking out of the window as she sat at her desk watching it fall. Along with Maxine she'd kept one eye on the time and the other on the weather outside the window. At four o'clock Mr Potter had arrived in their office letting them know that it would be best to leave early, the snow was getting heavier and walking miles was going to be no easy task. The buses were still running Bea knew that after seeing them pass by but she had noticed that they were getting more irregular. 

“I think we should do as we're told.” Maxine smiled as stopped by the window where Bea was now standing.

“Defiantly, I expect we'll be finding a huge snowman in the garden by the time we make it home.” Bea replied with a gentle laugh.

The bus was late but that was only to be expected, as Bea waited she doubted that they'd even be running the next day if there was no let up in the weather.

It had been bitterly cold that morning and now she was thankful that Allie had made sure that they'd both wrapped up well before they left the house. As she finally sat down on the bus she smiled to herself when she thought back to that morning over breakfast. There had been no rushing around for the youngsters after the school had taken a direct hit in a raid on Saturday night, school was now cancelled until further notice. Debbie had been more than happy to read and do some form of school work from home. Bea had spent an age on Sunday evening rooting through some of the old trunks that were stored in one of the empty rooms. Allie had taken great pleasure in teasing her about her old text books looking as though they'd never even been opened let alone used. Her response had been expect though as Bea told her that none of them would have ever dared deface their books. 

“Mother would always constantly remind us that our educations weren't only about school fees and uniforms, both of which were expensive. Also that our books cost a pretty penny and we were expected to take care of them. Obviously she was always hard pressed to throw them away, especially since some we only ever used for a term. They are a little outdated now but I'm sure we can work with that.” Bea frowned slightly as something else occurred to her. “I would expect if we had the time to look through all this old junk we'd even find our old uniforms.” 

Artie had been less than impressed with the suggestion that no school hadn't meant no school work. He'd argued, or at least tried to, that his time would be much better spent reading about the war or listening to news broadcasts. Liz had given him an ultimatum, he either agreed willingly like his sister or the newspapers Bea saved for him would be used for either lighting the fires or any other purpose she could find for them. The threat of losing the newspapers altogether had quickly silenced his loud protest although he'd been heard grumbling about it quietly to himself for a couple of hours afterwards.

By the time Bea had made it to her stop the clippie was telling all the passengers that the service was being terminated. It was still snowing and the roads were becoming even more treacherous, it was hard going in the dark normally, the snow was only adding to the dangerous conditions. Grumbling passengers who were going to have to now walk the rest of the way home soon found out that the snow had drifted thanks to the wind and when Bea reached the cafe the whole front of it was hardly recognisable. The snow had been kept to a minimum by the door by either Franky or Allie continually going outside and brushing it away. As Bea finally got to the door her breath was fast turning to steam in the icy air. 

Stepping back outside together after Franky said she was closing, no new customers were going to be coming in in that weather, they stepped out into a drift of snow that hadn't been there a couple of minutes before, its icy coldness took their breath away. They looked back at the cafe to get their bearings before they tramped off into the snow drifts and darkness. In the blackout even the snow wasn't much help, it seemed to make the darkness almost total blackness. By the time they had reached the end of the street their legs were aching and their lungs were straining to cope with both the effort of breathing and the cold air. They struggled on, holding onto each other as they tried to work out how long it would take to get home. There would be no more buses they both knew that and turning around and going back to the cafe was hardly an option unless they wanted to be stranded there. Sharing the single bed in Franky's spare room wasn't the most displeasing thought either of them could have but not getting home wasn't really an option. The darkness deepened, anything that was familiar by day had disappeared completely. Slipping and sinking into the freezing whiteness as they went along it was beginning to feel like an impossible task but once they made it back to the main road it was a little easier to navigate. By the time they finally made it home they were both weary, the cold air pained their lungs and fresh snowflakes were stinging their faces. Their woollen hats and gloves were clogged with snow and their stocking were more like a crusting of ice against their legs. 

The house looked even darker and ominous than it ever had before. Unable to even find her keys Bea quickly stopped looking for them and knocked on the door. Liz yanked open the front door against the biting wind and ushered them both inside. As soon as they stepped into the warm house their clothes began to steam and they began to shiver as the snow that had stuck to them began to turn back to water. Hastily they both pulled off their hats and gloves and Liz took them from them before handing them to Debbie and Sophie who had appeared giggling and saying they both looked like snowmen. Instructing them to take them to the kitchen they both ran off. Liz helped them both out of their sodden coats and off with their shoes before ordering them both upstairs to change. She had a pan of soup on the stove and she'd make tea and bring it up to them. Them both sharing the same room made Liz's trip up the stairs a great deal easier, although following behind Debbie and Sophie who had insisted they had to take them hot water bottles did make the trip a little slower.

“I very much doubt either of you will be going to work in the morning unless this lot thaws over night. Leave the tray outside the door and I'll take it down when I make sure the three little monsters are in their beds.” Liz smiled as she was closing the door not giving either of them time to object.

 

 

Bea had woken up early the next morning hoping that the conditions outside would have improved a little. As she slipped out of bed trying not to disturb Allie her heart had sunk a little when she peered round the curtains. It was more than obvious that it had continued to snow for most of the night judging by how deep it looked now. No one but the bravest person would be trying to venture out that day, maybe not even the next. She left Allie to sleep, she wasn't going to waste the day doing nothing she already decided as she went from room to room lighting the fires. She wasn't about to have everyone else getting up to a freezing cold house either. She'd spend her morning baking she decided as she sipped a cup of tea, even though she knew Liz was likely to throw her out of the kitchen when she got up. To her surprise no one appeared in the kitchen until after nine and Bea had been so busy she'd not even noticed the time. 

“Well, we certainly won't starve with you at home.” Liz chuckled as she put the kettle on to boil again. 

“I thought I could make myself useful.” Bea smiled.

“You seem to have surpassed all your own expectations it would seem.” Allie chuckled as she followed Liz into the kitchen. “Why did you leave me to sleep? Franky’s going to be angry, I should have been there ages ago.”

“Since she telephoned to say she isn't opening today I can't see why that should be. Have you looked outside? Then Maxine telephoned to let me know my services weren't required since no one outside of walking distance would be able to make it in, Mr Potter included.” 

Allie peered out of the kitchen window not expecting the sight she was greeted with, in places where the snow had drifted she was left in no doubt that if anyone tried to walk through it they may disappear completely.

Most of the morning was spent in the kitchen, even with all the fires lit it was still the warmest room in the house. Bea had decided soon after she'd had got out of bed that given the weather school would have cancelled if it had been open so a day with nothing resembling lessons would hurt. Artie had ventured a little way outside as he tried to coax Debbie and Sophie out for a snowball fight until he slipped on a patch of ice that lay under the snow. Landing face first in one of the snow drifts near the kitchen door he'd quickly changed his mind, after that experience even he had decided that wandering outside was an unwise decision. He went to the sitting room to sit in front of the fire with his pile of newspapers. 

The house was already spotlessly clean and Bea insisted that Liz should take the day for herself. They could survive without trying to get to the shops, Bea even doubted that they would be open. Liz eventually gave in insisting that that there was always something to be done around the house, finally she retreated to the sitting room with a book. After lunch the house fell completely silent it seemed as Bea sat in the study by herself recalling another of Debbie's favourite stories and writing it down. Still not convinced that anyone other than Debbie would ever be interested in them she had persevered when she had a little free time. Allie was off somewhere in the house with the girls and she knew eventually she'd seek her out. 

The only gramophone in the house had pride of place in the study and Bea had encouraged both Liz and Allie to make use of it. Judging by the amount of brown paper sleeved discs there were to choose from her father clearly enjoyed music more than she ever remembered. Wagner, Strauss, Schubert and Bizet rubbed shoulders with Chopin and Puccini. When Allie finally appeared in the study she started looking through the collection even though she had no idea what she was searching for. Bea sat back in the chair and watched her with delight as she excitedly reeled off the vast number of orchestras and composer names that she found. Eventually she came across what she thought must have been a very early recording of madam butterfly, her mind was quickly made up that they should listen to it. She placed the record onto the soft green felt on the turntable and wound the handle before she carefully placed the needle onto the record. The scratchiness was soon drowned out by the first delicate tones as she sat in one of the arm chairs and closed her eyes.

“You never struck me as an opera lover.” Bea said as she got up from behind the desk.

“It was one of my mothers favourites. Father somehow got hold of the oldest most battered looking gramophone ever seen for her. Her collection was only small though as you can guess but she would listen to this over and over again. Did you know it took two years to write?”

Bea shook her head, Allie it seemed could pluck facts on just about anything from thin air. Taking a seat in the other arm chair Bea listened to what to some would seem a waste of time even remembering. 

“It took two years to write because Puccini was badly injured in an accident and had to take an eight months break.” Allie glanced to her side before she continued. “It premiered in Milan at La Scala on the seventeenth of February 1904.”

“Your mother told you all that? Or is all this exceptional knowledge about this particular opera because you read too much?” Bea laughed lightly.

“I'm not even sure anymore, mother would have told me something's…” Allie paused as she looked thoughtful. “It was originally only in two acts but it was poorly received. Puccini revised it and split the second act in two.”

They both fell into a comfortable silence as they continued to listen until Bea finally decided that tea was necessary. Bea wandered through the house before going to the kitchen. Debbie and Sophie were both in their room drawing and Artie was still in the sitting room scrutinising the newspapers. She watched him for a few minutes as he slowly leafed through the pages, reading then cutting out all the articles that interested him before sticking them in one of his many scrapbooks. When she finally made it to the kitchen she found Liz rearranging the contents of the pantry. Making a pot of tea and slicing some bread she placed everything on a try and made her way back to the study.

“Shall we listen to Schubert?” Allie asked as she turned around when she heard Bea return to the room.

Bea silently nodded her head as she watched Allies palms gingerly curve around the edge of the record. Introducing Allie to the wide variety of classical music her fathers collection contained had been thrilling, she loved it almost as much as Bea herself did even though she said she'd never heard most of it before. 

“I'll pour the tea.” Bea said quietly.

“Just a minute.” Allie smiled back at her as she watched her bending her head slightly forward as she steadied her hand before placing the needle on the record. She crossed the room and was back by Beas side in seconds, pouring tea and spreading jam on the thick slices of bread that Bea always cut. 

“I could have done that.” Bea tried to complain but her complaints never registered in Allies brain. “You spoil me way too much.” 

“No, no I don't. You still slice the bread too thickly though. Next time it will be Liz sending you to the bakery for bread.” Allie shook her head as she laughed. “I don't spoil you I just simply try to take care of you. And yes before you say what you always say I am very aware that you are not a child and do not require taking care of.” They both laughed because it was what Bea had said from the first time Allie had ever done anything so simple for her. Before returning to her armchair next to Beas she poked at the fire releasing a shower of glittering sparks from the bed of glowing coals. 

By four o'clock the table in the kitchen had been laid and the smell of liver and onions was beginning to waft through the house. The last pink rays of the winter sunset streamed through the windows as Bea made a pot of tea and Allie sliced and buttered the bread.

“I could have done that.” Bea complained.

“Not if there's going to be enough for all of us.” Allie joked. “I keep telling you we need slices not doorsteps.” She laughed.

After dinner had been eaten Bea had sent everyone out of the kitchen while she did the dishes much to Liz's annoyance. She enjoyed doing the cooking and never minded doing the dishes afterwards but Bea had reminded her that as a rule she was at work all day. Since everyone was snowed in it was only fair that she did the dishes. Retreating to the sitting room with everyone else she found she was feeling just as tired as if she had been at work all day. Sitting herself on one of the sofas with Allie next to her and Debbie cuddled into Allies side as they were having an almost whispered conversation. 

“Mummy!” Debbie looked at Bea.

“Deb?”

“It's my birthday before Easter…” Debbie looked sheepish. “Can I have a party?” She asked quietly. Parties were something that Harry would never allow, Debbie's birthdays had always passed unnoticed by him the same way Beas always had.

“Hmmmm…” Bea thought for a moment as she watched Debbie. “Have you been good?” 

Debbie nodded her head slowly as she looked at the floor in front of her. 

Bea smiled. “I don't see why not.” 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

“There are some who bring a light so great to this world that even after they've gone it still remains. He wasn't one of those people, he brought darkness. Now he's gone there's light.” Bea whispered to Allie as they stood at Harry's grave side. “He brought darkness and rain then you walked in, you know what you are don't you?”

Allie shook her head as her eyes darted between the few people who were actually in attendance, Bea had said there wouldn't be many people there but she'd expected a few more. Her family were poor and her mothers funeral had been far better attended. 

“You are my light in the darkness, you're my sun after the rain.” Bea let her gloved hand hand trail softly over the back of Allies causing her to smile a little. 

Debbie stood by Beas side looking around, Allie had done her best to explain what was going to happen when Bea couldn't find the words and she'd just nodded before running away in search of Sophie. She'd expected questions, maybe a few tears neither of which were forthcoming. The memory of her mothers funeral still haunted her. The fact that she hadn't visited her grave in so many years now worried her, she'd made a promise to herself and now she found it hard to keep. As Allie glanced at Franky she spotted a lone figure walking towards them, she blinked, certain for a moment that her eyes were playing tricks on her. She looked again as the coffin was being lowered into the ground. Bea was standing so close to her that she felt her arm tense up, instinctively she reached for her hand. The only people in attendance were her friends, their only reason to be there was to support her and Debbie. 

“Allie, what's wrong?” Bea asked concerned hoping beyond anything that Marie hadn't just decided to put in an appearance.

“It's him…” She whispered back. “M…Mr Channing…the one who…” She trailed off as Bea squeezed her hand and looked across at the man who was removing his hat. That name, it was more familiar than it should have been she'd known that since the first time Allie had mentioned it. Harry knew him, Harry had worked for him, as what she'd never known. Squeezing Allies hand one last time she let go and headed in his direction. 

“Mrs Smith…or may I call you Beatrice?” Derek Channing said as he extended his hand.

“You may not!” Bea spat. “I don't know why you're here but I would like it if you left now.”

“My Dear Mrs Smith, I only came to pay my respects. Your husband was a valued employee over the years. I could always count on him to…”

“That is no concern of mine, now please leave.”

“Come now, just because that little street whore has worked her way into your bed there's no need to…”

Bea saw red, she had kept her temper with Marie when she'd said the same awful things about Allie but she'd heard it said once too often now. She raised her arm, her fist made contact with Derek Channing’s nose before she had even thought about what she was doing. “If you ever come near me or Allie again it won't just be your nose next time do I make myself clear.” Bea growled through gritted teeth as she watched him stumble backwards. “Say anything like that about her again and I'll kill you. Mention her name in my hearing and you may well be joining Harry fucking Smith six feet under.” Bea turned around to walk away before something else occurred to her. Turning back to face him. “Now I remember why I know your name, you really should be a little more picky when it comes to the company you keep. Harry was a drunk with a loud mouth. I never paid too much attention to his drunken ramblings but I do remember vaguely what he said about you Mr Channing. How you lured girls under false pretences so they'd work for you? Yes I know, and it all fits into place now. How about I pay a visit to Chief Constable Jackson? I'm sure he'd be interested in your connection to Marie Winter. Does your wife know what you really do?” Bea smiled, satisfied that he was getting the message. “And while I still have your attention tell Marie to stay the fuck away from Allie and I.” She turned and marched straight back to Allies side.  

“Bea?” Allie looked back a her, shocked at what she had just witnessed. Bea losing her temper was a very rare occurrence.

“He deserved it.” Bea answered quietly as she reached for her hand again. Harry was now a bad memory and she wasn't going to let anyone else try and destroy their lives. 

“Remind me never to get on your bad side.” Franky sniggered as they all walked into the cafe a little later. Franky was keeping it closed until after lunch and even though Allie had protested she had the the rest of the day off. “That's quite some punch you have there, never knew you had it in you.” 

“I don't generally, you of all people know that. He, well he…said something's that I wasn't going to listen to any longer.” Bea said as she watched Franky walking away laughing to herself. 

“Yer, thought tha were tryin’ to knock ‘is ‘ead off.” Boomer added. 

“Tea!” Franky announced as she walked back around the counter. 

“I'm sorry.” Allie said quietly as she sat down opposite Bea as Debbie sat beside her. “If I hadn't have been there that would never have happened. Did you hurt your hand?” She watched as Bea removed her gloves. 

“I…we.” Bea corrected herself. “Wanted you there. You have nothing to be sorry for does she Deb?” 

Debbie shook her head as she tucked into the large slice of chocolate cake Franky had placed in front of her.

“Besides he wasn't asked to attend…you saw how many people were there. Harry clearly wasn't the most popular person in the whole of London. Even my father refused to make the trip back, he was fuming when he heard what he'd done you know that.”

Allie nodded, she knew exactly how Beas father felt since she'd been the one to answer the telephone when he'd called. She wasn't certain if he'd made his feelings quite so well known to Bea but she figured out where she'd learnt the majority of her, sometimes, highly colourful language from; Bea could say it was her brothers but Allie knew better now. 

“He'd have been furious if he'd have been able to see for himself just much people despised him.” Bea smiled. “He'd have been greatly offended by the lack of mourners, not that anyone there was even mourning. He used to say that the price for victory was death, it wasn't his victory that came out of his death though so he got that completely wrong much the same as he got everything else wrong.” 

 

 

Later in the afternoon Bea decided they should go for a walk, the events of the morning were still troubling Allie even though Bea had long since forgotten about her exchange with Derek Channing. 

“Forget about him.” Bea kept telling her.

Debbie for once wasn't interested in going with them, she had much more pressing matters to attend to. Planning her birthday party was the only thing she was interested in and wanted to stay with Liz and Sophie so they could make plans. It was probably going to cost her Bea knew that but she would soon to be turning eight and this would be her first birthday party. Nothing would stop Bea from pulling out all the stops if she could. Franky had promised to help source anything she couldn't find and Boomer it seemed wasn't without her connections.

Everywhere there were diversions. The bombs of the night before had ripped open gas lines, sewers and water mains. Broken tram lines trailed forlornly while dangling electricity cables sparked dangerously. In desperation to bypass the crowds that were trying to get to wherever they were going Bea pulled Allie down a narrow back street. Rounding a corner they found themselves faced with a familiar notice ‘Danger - unexplored bomb.’ 

“There are just no short cuts anymore. Bloody time bombs seem to have been dropped all over the place” Bea sighed as they turned around.

“Trust you to find the one backstreet with a time bomb at the end of it.” Allie giggled as she grabbed her hand. Stolen moments in public had always seemed to be one thing Bea was good at finding time for but now Allie just wanted them to get out of there. Time bombs were unpredictable since you never knew when they might explode. They walked a short distance hand in hand before the world begun to feel like it had just exploded around them. 

The bomb exploded like every thunderclap they had both heard over the years all rolling into one roaring crescendo. Everything around then rocked and juddered and they fell to the floor. When the smoke finally cleared a little Allie looked behind them to find the narrow street they had just walked out of was now a mass of tumbled bricks, steel girders and splintered wood and glass. Bea was laying up against a wall with her forehead pressed against it and Allie could see the blood. 

“Bea” she shrieked. “Bea.” She pulled her towards her, it wasn't meant to end like this, she couldn't lose her now. 

Beas eyes opened slowly and she managed a smile. A thin trickle of blood was running down her face from a cut above her eyebrow.

“I'm still here.” She whispered as she wiped her hand across her forehead. “My head is bloody but unbowed as they say.”

Allie pulled her a little closer. “I thought that was it, after everything else we've been through I thought I lost you.” Tears ran from her eyes and down her cheeks.

Bea pushed herself away from Allie reaching for her face and brushed the tears away with her thumbs. “You can't get rid of me that easily beautiful girl, Harry tried his hardest and I'm sure I'll not let Hitler finish a job that he never could.”

“But…”

“No buts, I'm right here. A little battered but I'm still where I belong, with you.” Bea leaned forward taking Allie by surprise as she planted a firm kiss on her lips.

“You, you…”

“I don't care, I may never care again.” Be smiled. “To hell with the lot of them.” Bea laughed as she took Allies hand as she helped her up. 

“I need a cigarette.” Bea announced as they leaned against a wall.

“You don't smoke.” Allie said a little shocked.

“Not normally, I tried it years ago when I was at school. We thought it made us look grown up.” Bea chuckled at the memory.

All attempts to clean her face were a complete failure. Allie thought that it didn't matter how she looked because Bea could always manage to look lovely no matter what. Even with the dried blood and the dirt that was caked on her skin, the brick dust in her hair could never make her look any less beautiful in her eyes. 

“Why are you so easy to like?” Bea asked with a grin. 

“Only like? Bea, I've never been so utterly offended in my life.” Allie giggled.

“Sometimes I think we're so alike and others we seem to be complete opposites and you know it.” Bea said seriously.

“Because you're family are rich and mine are so poor?” That fact had never been lost on Allie. Marie would have said that Bea was just slumming it and sometimes Allie wondered why Bea even cared.

“I didn't mean that at all, that never mattered to me. Harry used to be rich and look how he was. No, I didn't mean that. I mean you're so easy to like and I'm not. You know it's true, shall we say I'm just hard to get to know, maybe that's why we compliment each other.”

When they arrived home Liz looked almost mortified when she saw Bea. “What happened?”

“Nothing much, just a small tussle with a time bomb.” Bea said as she looked at Allie who looked just the same but without the blood. “Think we should wash up before Debbie sees us.”

Allie just responded with a brilliant smile revealing her white teeth. Her smile was dazzling Bea had always thought, it was the very first thing she noticed about her. 

“I could really do with a long hot bath with that lovely scented soap.” Allie whispered as they walked up the staircase. 

“And you know perfectly well that we can't.” Bea smiled back. Allie looked stunned for a second or two, ‘we,’ she thought to herself. 

“What if ‘WE’ can?” Allie threw her head back a little and laughed after she'd emphasised the ‘we.’

Bea looked thoughtful for a few moments longer. “We could, but only if you wait until later.”

 

 

“March is meant to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb.” Bea had sighed one morning over breakfast the closer it got to Debbie's birthday. It certainly didn't seem as if it was going to go out like a lamb if the nightly bombing raids were anything to go by. Bea concluded that Hitler could never have heard of that particular saying although she doubted very much that anyone outside of England would have actually heard of it. The air raids had stepped up a notch. Every night the warnings came followed by the drone of the planes. Then came the clatter of the incendiaries, the screech of the falling bombs followed by the dull crash of the inevitable explosions. The mornings then always came with the smell of cordite as it mixed with the smoke from the fires. 

The bombings at at the beginning of April seemed to be even heavier, the bombs that fell always seemed to echo along every street in London. Even when they were all hunkered down in the shelter in the garden the sounds they made were unmistakable. Even though half their shelter was buried deeper underground than an Anderson shelter ever could be they still sounded like the roar of a dynamite charge in a deep mine. Daylight always brought with it the sight of more devastation. Burnt out shops and houses, there were hundreds of glassless windows and broken down walls. On their daily trip to work all around the streets lay out hosepipes that stretched out in wild loops, making them look like gigantic snakes ready to lunge. Everyone carried on, no one even seemed to remember what it was like without the raids every night and facing the sights of new destruction every morning.

One night a bomb landed a few streets away, it rocked the whole house sending a jug that was sitting on the kitchen table dancing across it and onto the floor.

“It wasn't valuable was it?” Allie asked as she picked up the pieces the next morning before anyone could cut themselves.

“I have no idea, it was part of a set that mother always told me had been a wedding present. To tell you the truth I never liked it. Along the years we broke pieces anyway. Thomas broke one of the other smaller jugs with a cricket ball and Willian broke the other.” Bea laughed. “So I guess you could say it was an orphan anyway, it's only right that it should join the others in pieces.”

Debbie had been looking forward to her birthday ever since the Christmas decorations had been taken down. She always wanted a party just like all her friends always had, not that she'd ever gone to any. Harry would never allow Bea to spend money on a present for any of Debbie's friends. Each time she'd received an invitation she'd never even taken it home. This year there was no Harry to say no. Debbie had been nervous about asking Bea if she could have a party but after a whispered conversation with Allie who assured her she'd never say no she did ask. As soon as Bea had said yes she'd started planning it in her head at first and then with Sophie and Liz.

Now it was the day before her birthday and Bea had called in almost every favour she could from Franky.

“I'm sorry Deb, I'm not sure it's going to be the best party in the world.” Bea had told her over breakfast. “You know there isn't a great deal of food around.” 

Bea felt a little guilty that she'd had to limit the amount of school friends she could invite to five. Even Juice it seemed had fallen upon hard times when it came to variety of black market goods she had to offer. Almost as soon as Bea had got her words out Liz appeared back in the kitchen.

“None of that nonsense now.” Liz looked at Bea her eyes brighter it seemed than normal. “Debbie wants a birthday party so she'll have one. Don't you worry, Liz has it all in hand.” She smiled.

“Liz, you know everything is pretty scarce, even Juice…” Bea protested.

“We'll manage.” Liz said as she sat back at the table taking a bite out of a slice of toast. “The cakes covered, the jelly might not be the best and the rest I'm working on. Now you go to work and don't worry. Now that schools open again I have all day to find the remainder of what we need.” She assured. 

Bea still wasn't completely convinced but Liz had never let her down in the past. She would still worry though. Allie had already told her the party games were all sorted out, something Bea hadn't even given a seconds thought to while she'd been worrying about the food.

“There's no need to look so worried.” Liz grinned. “Take it from me it'll be the best birthday party any of us have ever been to.”

The only thing Bea was actually thankful for was that Debbie's birthday was on Saturday so she'd be around all day to help out, if her help was even required. Allie would be working until lunch time when Franky was closing the cafe because she wasn't going to miss Debbie's birthday and especially not since it was so important to her. 

Everyone's first birthday party was a big deal Franky had said sadly to Allie a few days earlier.

“Never had one myself, my mother never even remembered when it was.” 

“You must celebrate now though?” Allie had asked hopefully. “You have friends, they must make an effort to mark the occasion.”

“What's the point?” Franky had shrugged. “It's just another day, nothing special about it.”

Allie had decided that she was going to ask Bea if they could do something to mark the day even if Franky would argue that she didn't want any fuss. She'd always had parties as a child even if they had mostly always been made up of her cousins and she was sure Bea would have had birthday parties. The similarity’s between Franky and Bea were massive sometimes, but Bea had made the effort to enjoy her birthday; not that it had seemed she'd needed to try very hard. Allie would go out of her way now armed with the knew knowledge she'd just learned to do something for Franky. She wasn't aware when it actually was but she figured that Bea would know.

 

 

“She's never going to be expecting candles and red and green jelly.” Franky laughed on Saturday morning.

Franky was vigorously attacking the brown paper bag that contained a months worth of anyone's granulated sugar ration that she'd managed to get. The regular customers had been more than willing to donate a small fraction of their ration because it was for Debbie. They all knew her since she'd spent hours in the cafe with Bea. Franky was more determined than ever that even though icing sugar wasn't available Debbie's cake would still have a chocolate buttercream filling. Pounding granulated sugar with a rolling pin might have seemed hilarious to Allie but Franky didn't care a toss. 

“Is that really going to work?” Allie asked as she took the tray of sausage rolls out of the oven. She knew Franky had gone out of her way to get the ingredients for the pastry.

“Take a look for yourself.” Franky said as she took a break, wiping the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand. 

Allie looked a little impressed as she peered inside. She wasn't quite convinced that most of the improvised recipes Franky said would work would turn out as she said they would but at least this seemed to be working. A loud banging on the back door made them both jump, the only person who Allie had ever known to use the back door was Juice. Franky wasn't expecting her after she'd told her there was no way she could get anything more from the list Franky had given her. Franky made a quick exit from the kitchen and returned almost as quickly with a woman Allie had never seen before. 

“You didn't say anyone else was here.” The woman eyed Allie suspiciously.

“Calm down there Rita, no need to cause a Kerfuffle.” Franky grinned. “This is Allie, she works for me. She also happens to live with Red.”

“Ah, right.” Rita looked at Allie apologetically. “Everything's there, you got the lettuce?”

Franky nodded and pulled an envelope from her pocket and handed it to Rita who seemed in a hurry to leave.

“And that was?” Allie asked when Franky returned to the kitchen. 

“Rita?” Franky shrugged. “She's in the same business as Juice, kind of. You gotta keep it under your hat, I don't like dealing with her she gets stuff from bombed out shops and restaurants. You know I've always been against buying anything that's been looted…needs must this time.” 

Franky pulled out a highly sought after tin of red salmon and two tins of ham from the bag Rita had given her. Allie had already taken two packets of strawberry blancmange home to Liz earlier in the week that Franky had handed to her before she left for the day.

Saturday morning was as busy for Bea and Liz at home as it was in the cafe for Franky and Allie. Debbie had spent most of the morning sitting in the kitchen watching everything that they were doing. She was still completely in the dark about the jelly and blancmange that Allie had helped Liz make the night before. Bea had been highly sceptical about the fizzy jelly they had made. Liz had somehow miraculously got her hands on two bottles of fizzy pop, one red and one green. Even Allie had been a little doubtful that they would be a success when she'd watched Liz dissolving a yellowish slab of gelatine in a pan of hot water. The smell alone was not one that screamed to be promising. Eight pink candles had been created from from gas tapers cut into three inch lengths. Bea had scraped away some of the wax to form the wicks and then dyed them pink with cochineal. There could never be too much cake at a party Liz had laughed when Bea had been horrified when she'd squandered two ounces of her margarine ration to make a sponge cake that was later filled with the by now universal plum jam. 

Now it was the day of the Debbie's birthday and she was excited. Allie and Franky had everything they'd spent their time making packed up ready to grab and go as soon as Boomer arrived at lunch time. The chocolate cake sat proudly on a plate that even had a homemade doily under it. The jelly’s were set and Liz now hoped that they tasted better than they looked. 

Arriving home Allie couldn't quite believe her eyes as she helped arrange everything on the table in the kitchen as Debbie's friends were arriving. Jelly, blancmange and jam tarts were mingled in with salmon and ham sandwiches. The birthday cake, newly adorned with the candles Bea had carefully crafted, took pride of place even if Franky was still a little unsure about the taste. The whole table looked as though it must have taken up the weekly rations of five people at least not to mention what had been purchased on the black market. Soon five well behaved little girls appeared alongside Debbie, Sophie and Artie all unable to contain their excitement when they saw such a fine spread waiting for them. Debbie's school friends had all arrived bearing a homemade card and a small present or a shilling when they hadn't been able to buy a present. 

Bea had arranged her cards on the windowsill in the sitting room for her after they'd all run off to the kitchen. At first she'd been unsure about the party even after she'd agreed to it, even that morning she'd found herself having second thoughts about even happening. Keeping her thoughts to herself had been difficult, as she walked into the kitchen she was pleased that she had when saw everyone tucking into the food. 

“Exactly where did you get some of this?” Bea whispered to Franky.

“Ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies.” Franky replied as she tapped the side of her nose.

Bea shook her head, she was aware of how many of the black marketeers Franky knew. She knew how hard pink salmon was to get hold of but red salmon had been impossible to find for months. Before long every last scrap of the feast that had been so lovingly prepared had been eaten. The improvised candles on the cake were lit and everyone sang happy birthday, even Boomer joined in and sang louder than anyone. Before the cake was cut Franky and Allie had already removed themselves from the kitchen so they could reorganise the furniture in the sitting room ready for a games of musical chairs and pass the parcel. Liz took to the piano to provide the music for their games as Bea and Allie stood back and watched. Debbie had never looked happier to either of them.

“Thank you.” Bea whispered.

“You should be thanking yourself for saying yes.” Allie grinned. “But if you really do feel like you need to thank me I'm sure I can think of a way when we get a few moments alone.”

 

Chapter Text

 

“It's your birthday Franky.” Bea huffed. “Until now you've spent every year refusing to celebrate it. I'm saying that an evening in is not sufficient to celebrate it. I didn't celebrate mine for years.” Bea glared at Franky from across the cafe. “There's no two ways about it you have to let us take you out. We could make a party of it. How does the Hungaria sound? It is still open.”

Franky was happy that finally Bea had been able to celebrate her birthday, Allie was good for her there was no doubt about that. From the moment Bea had started working for her Franky had always been aware that her home life had not been great, why else would someone like her even consider working there? Harry was just a complete bastard and she'd been stuck with him for longer than anyone should have been. Birthdays had been an extra long lunch break and double helping of chocolate cake since she'd started working for Franky. Anything Franky could do to show her that she was important to her she'd done. Trying to convince her that she was worth more than just to be used as a punching bag had become Franky's mission in life until he'd finally joined the army. Then she'd watched her change almost overnight, that little something Franky had always know was missing from her life had taken the form of Allie. She hadn't seen that coming, she hadn't seen Bridget coming either. She had, in the most frightening way, Allie to thank for that. If she hadn't been with Bea that day and hadn't found herself in that shelter Franky would have never met the good doctor. If Bea could change her whole life, step out of her comfort zone and find that the things she thought were lost to her no longer were then there was no reason for her not to try for hersel she'd eventually reasoned.

“The Hungaria?” Franky tapped her finger on her chin as if she were really giving it a great deal of thought as she leaned against the counter. “Isn't that a bit, well…” Franky frowned, the Hungaria she knew was expensive.

“It is a little.” Bea admitted knowing what Franky was thinking. “But the food was always excellent and I can guarantee the company will be superb.”

Franky laughed, the old Bea, who ever she had been, was well and truly coming back into play it seemed. This was the Bea she'd never had a chance to meet but always wished she had. “Who you inviting?”

“Hmmm, I'm not sure. You of course, as guest of honour. Allie and I…and we simply have to invite Boomer, she's done so much for all of us an evening out would be good for her. Not that she ever needs an excuse. Maxine and Bridget naturally, it wouldn't be a party without her would it?”

“Gidge.” Franky said as she watched the frown settle on Beas features. “She might have to work though, I can check with her but you know how it is. She already works more hours than I sure are good for her.”

“I know, can't hurt to ask her though. Maybe she could organise something. Her works important I know that. Charlotte, Thomas's wife, she's just the same. I swear sometimes that my nieces will have forgotten what their mother looks like by the time this is all over.” Bea sighed, she hated what the bombs continually falling did to families; she would always be thankful that her work didn't stop her from seeing Debbie. “Anyone else you can think of?” 

“I'd say we should invite Linda, you know being as she works with Booms more often than not but it might not be the greatest idea. She sounds like a handful from what Booms has told me after she's had a few.” Franky laughed as Allie walked back into the cafe after going to fetch her coat and taking far too long about it Franky suddenly thought. She was in on it, she had to be and she'd left the dirty work to Bea. 

“Are you two planning something?” She smiled as her eyes landed on Bea.

“Not really, just Franky's birthday. Not that she seems completely convinced by my idea.” 

“Oh yes, your birthday. You really should celebrate it Franky.” Allie grinned as she pulled out the chair next to Bea.

“She doesn't like to you know that, you did say she told you why.” Bea stated. “She picked a good day to be born really.” Bea gave a small chuckle. “Not only is it Princess Elizabeth's birthday it just happens to be the week after Easter. That means we not only get to spend a few days at home without having to worry about early mornings we get to let our hair down afterwards.”

“Not taking your chances with the in laws for Easter hey Al?” Franky laughed loudly.

“Not funny Franky, besides we agreed that we were staying at home. Deb doesn't want to leave Sophie since Liz said she isn't visiting her sister. They aren't as scary as I thought they might be anyway. Believe it or not even you've met Beas father, you just didn't know it.” 

“Get out of here, when?” Franky asked surprised. 

“A few times, before we moved into their house and then it appears he was in London more than he admitted to afterwards.” Bea interjected. “Now can we get back to planning this?”

“How did that conversation go? Bet it went down a storm with your mother. Did Red warn you what she was like before you got there? Hey, you two don't tell me anything.” Franky sat at the table with Bea and Allie. “So come on tell me, she chased you all the way home again didn't she Al?” Bea kicked Franky's foot. “Hey not so hard…sorry, but you told me how she can be, is the old man a little more understanding?” Bea threw a disapproving look at Franky who held her hands up in submission. She didn't want to make them feel uncomfortable but the whole thing just sounded so funny. She hadn't believed at first that Bea was even considering taking Allie with them, there was no way they could have spent a whole weekend keeping their hands off each other she'd thought.

“So dinner at the Hungaria then?” Bea nodded her head purposefully as if she'd just won a none existent argument. “Well done for being born on the 21st.” She laughed.

“I can't take all the credit for that I think my mother had a part to play in it.” Franky screwed up her face the second she finished saying it and Bea knew why, any mention of her mother had the same reaction. “The Hungaria it is then, Gidge says it's very elegant and underground, just like…” Her voice faded as she looked at Allie, maybe it wouldn't be such a good idea for her and Boomer after what had happened at the Cafe de Paris.

“It is very elegant.” Allie said quite happily. “Although I've never been, you can stop worrying Franky it being underground really doesn't bother me. That was a fluke I don't imagine it'll happen twice.”

Franky took a breath and let it out slowly before giving Allie a weak smile. “Well if you're sure.” 

Allie shrugged. “It doesn't really matter, this time I'll be with Bea.” She smiled, it always seemed as if nothing bad could ever happen when Bea was there.

 

 

Seven months of heavy bombardment had taken its toll on everyone but spring had finally arrived at full speed. Green shoots sprung up amongst the bomb sites. Primroses, crocuses and daffodils painted the parks with colour. Today was the day that Allie had somehow managed to keep secret from Bea all week. Heading off to the cafe as usual on Saturday morning Bea had had no cause to suspect anything was different. Trying to spend some time on her illustrations that morning was proving problematic. No matter how hard she concentrated the ideas in her head just refused to transfer themselves onto the page in front of her. Debbie was outside with Sophie, Artie was as usual quietly pouring over the newspapers and Liz was in the kitchen. She had meant to be trying to make a new list of what was left in the pantry but her attention had been draw towards the window, now she was sitting on the step watching Debbie trying to persuade Sophie that climbing the smallest tree in the garden was easy. 


Later on in the morning Boomer had picked Allie up from the cafe. Bea was looking out of the window in the study when an very expensive looking black saloon pulled into the driveway. Seeing Boomer get out she shook her head a little in disbelief and a little because she knew Boomer could easily persuade anyone into loaning her anything. The only thing puzzling her, for a short time at least, had been why Boomer was there. Boomer had promised Allie that since she had some free time she'd help her out with the one thing she'd wanted to do for a while. Allie hadn't believed her eyes at first when she'd seen the vehicle Boomer had arrived in.

“Probably better not to ask.” Franky chuckled. “Just get out of here and enjoy your lunch.” 

Allie hadn't needed telling twice and had practically run out of the cafe. She spotted Bea standing in front of the window before she got out of the back of the car and waved to her. Bea looked stunned as Allie eventually walked to the study doorway.

“Your carriage awaits.” She laughed.

“What? Why? How?” Bea asked confused about what was going on.

“I said I would take you out. Treat you to lunch and Booms said she'd help.” Allie shrugged. “Now come on or would you rather I just had Booms take me back to the cafe?”

They climbed into the back seat and Boomer swept them back down the drive and along the streets, dealing easily with potholes and bomb debris. Driving through London’s bomb ravaged streets took some skill so neither of them spoke not wanting to distract her for a while. Instead they both enjoyed the soft leather seat and the pervasive scent of luxury the car held.

Bea glanced to her side and smiled, Allie missed nothing and smiled back her heart as always beating almost painfully in her chest. As they drove a little further Allie looked out of the window and made a random remark about the bomb damage.

Boomer drove through the maze of closed roads and diversions taking it all in her stride until they reached the outskirts of London. Driving over the crest of a hill a landscape of patched green stretched out in front of them. Small fields were bisected by hedges and small clumps of trees. Far into distance lay a larger wood and beyond that a ring of low hills. 

“Where are we going?” Bea asked with a small smile.

“I thought we could escape London for a little while. You know, forget about the war just for the time being.”

“So where exactly are we going?” Bea tried to probed a little more.

“A pretty little pub I heard about from Franky in Surrey.”

Bea settled back into the soft leather as took Allies hand. “Sounds divine.”

Allie didn't believe that the place Franky had described could actually exist but it was better than she ever imagined from the outside. Franky had told her it looked exactly like the chocolate box cover English country pub that she'd only ever imagined could really exist. When Boomer finally pulled up outside she ushered the pair out of the car and inside the pub. They found an out of the way highly polish wooden snug and settled in to it with the glasses of wine Allie had already purchased for them.

“How were the illustrations going before I interrupted you?” Allie asked after she took a seat.

“They weren't!” Bea sighed. “I was standing in the window trying to clear my head when you arrived. You saw me, I don't know…I see it so clearly in my head but when I sit down with a blank sheet in front of me it doesn't work out how I imagined.”

“Then the break is probably just what you needed.” 

“How did you convince Franky to give you time off? What did you have to agree to do? Please, tell me you don't have to scrub the cafe from top to bottom tomorrow.”

“No!” Allie chuckled. “I hold the fort when she can only get to see Bridget when we're open. She said she'd pay me back and now she has. How else do you think I'd ever find a place like this?”

Allie looked up as the barmaid approached to inform them that their lunch would be served in the little parlour. They followed her to a small, wooden panelled room that was set up with four tables. The barmaid showed them to the table that was by the casement window of diamond paned leaded glass that gave them a fractured view out over the empty beer garden outside. They  enjoyed their lunch of leek and potato soup that the barmaid informed them was from the victory garden out the back. Followed by chicken casserole and apple pie with real cream. They talked about the weather, the delights of being out of London and being surrounded by countryside and, as was now becoming usual, how Beas stories and illustrations were taking shape. She never had any problems recalling the stories mainly because she thought she'd told them to Debbie so many times she'd probably never forget them. Her illustrations though seemed to be proving more difficult for her. By the time the coffee was served they both realised that they were still quite alone. Allie looked at Bea over the rim of her coffee cup as she watched her lean back in her chair.

“Maybe we should try to do this a little more often.” Bea said before she took a sip of her coffee.

“I'd like that, but only if you agree to bringing Deb along with us every now and again.” Allie grinned back at her.

Bea smiled, that was always typical of Allie. As much as they both wished they had more time alone, Allie was never selfish and would include Debbie in their plans whenever she could. Most people, Bea knew, wouldn't even entertain the idea of including her but Allie would and more often than not did.

 

 

The signs outside the Hungaria restaurant in lower Regent Street claimed it to be, ‘bomb proof, splinter proof, blast proof, gas proof and boredom proof.’ After more raids over the past week their claims seemed more important than even the food was. The Cafe de Paris had the same reputation and Allie had gotten caught up in that mess. Bea had started to worry that tonight might bring back bad memories, she'd certainly had enough bad dreams about it. She always joked that the end result was worth it though because nothing took her mind off it better than being held tightly by Bea. 

The Hungaria was crowded. As they followed the waiter to their table Allie grabbed Beas hand. 

“Try not worry, I'm right here with you.” Bea whispered to her as she squeezed her hand a little.

As they all settled into their seats Bea glanced around. The restaurant was a bustle of waiters serving tables as couples wheeled around on the dance floor. The flowery murals on the walls added an extra splash of colour. There was an orchestra playing, everything seemed merry and bright. Bea was dressed in emerald green and Allie looked very demure in the blue dress that Bea had only finished making the night before. Franky uncharacteristically for her was wearing a dress made of apricot silk and Bridget looked stunning in a dress of red chiffon with sequinned shoulder straps. 

The first course was delicious although Franky said that given the ingredients being available she could make it taste even better. If there was one thing she was quite certain of it was her ability to cook and not one of her friends would ever argue with her over how good she was.

Between the courses everyone had presents for Franky, something she hadn't really been expecting. Tears had quickly formed in her eyes when Bea and Allie gave her a bottle of French perfume. Boomer handed her a mysterious package that she said couldn't be opened until later. “Better leave it until it's just you and Bridget.” Allie joked since she already knew that it was an exquisite set of silk lingerie. Boomer had asked Allie to meet her in her lunch hour the week before needing her opinion. “I want to gee ‘er summat she ain't eva ‘ad afore.” And Boomer wasn't without her black market contacts, most of who though she never admitted to even knowing. Liz had sent over a small packet that she also said should be opened later, although her gift was tame by comparison. An oval gold locket on a chain with her initials on it. Maxine was always the most practical and gave her a bar of scented soap. 

All eyes were on the dance floor as they ate their main course. Bea watched as women danced together and she thought that just for once she could actually do something with Allie in such a public environment without feeling like they were being watched too closely. Bridget pulled Franky up and led her to the dance floor dance, she whirled her around on the dance floor expertly as they settled into an enjoyable waltz. Allie hadn't expected Bea to stand up until she felt her take hold of her hand and pull her towards her and onto the dance floor.

“Well done.” Allie smiled as her heart thumped embarrassingly fast in her chest. 

Bea smiled back at her. “Well I can't let the birthday girl over there have all the fun.” Bea swung her around until she was dizzy. When the music finally stopped she led her back to the table. Sitting opposite each other Bea could feel Allies eyes boring into her as she spoke to Bridget trying to ignore the usual feeling she always got when Allie was watching her. For a few minutes she was successful until she felt her foot trailing slowly up and down her calf underneath the table. Attempting to ignore the sensation as their deserts finally arrived at the table was starting to feel impossible.

The dance floor was even more crowded as Bea pulled Allie to her feet again. Franky and Bridget had already disappeared into the crowd by the time they reached the floor. Bea pulled Allie close to her as they swayed slowly to the soft music that was melting into the background. They both knew there were other couples dancing around them, Bea was sure that other people were watching them as they moved; that Maxine's eyes had probably been following them for the last few minutes. Bea didn't care who watched them, she could think of nothing but Allies hand against her waist and her hips pressed against her own. She knew that at some point while they had been dancing she had let her head rest against Allies shoulder, she no longer heard the music she was happy enough to just let Allie lead while they melted into each other. She knew she'd never felt this calm before, this at peace. There was nothing better than to be able to think of nothing beyond the feeling of Allies body against hers. All the wishing in the world couldn't alter the simple fact that she'd never know how this felt before but she had it now, Allie was hers and she was Allies and that was all that mattered. Allie at some point was certain that she could feel Bea smile against her shoulder. The music eventually changed, as the tempo increased Bea and Allie retreated back to their seats. They were content to simply watch the room, watch the dancers moving more quickly. Watch heels being kicked off in order to avoid crushing toes as they swung each other around. Franky and Bridget now seemed to dominate the floor, despite how many glasses of wine they had consumed with their meal neither of them were willing to stop and Bea couldn't stop her smile from growing broader as she watched.

 

 

Just before eleven o'clock they found themselves walking the short distance back up the driveway. It was a clear night with an almost full moon that was extraordinarily bright, the moonlight etched Beas face with shadows highlighting the angle of her chin and the hollows of her cheeks. They stood for a while outside the door, holding hands and saying nothing as the air raid sirens sounded. 

“Think that's our cue to get inside.” Bea chuckled as Allie rolled her eyes. 

“Damned thing always goes at the wrong time.” Allie huffed as neither of them turned to walk into the house. 

Liz had sprung from her bed as soon as the sirens sounded and was already getting the younger members of the household out of bed, Debbie as usual was protesting loudly. The nightly raids were now becoming more annoying and she'd much rather just stay in her bed.

“I really shouldn't do this right now.” Allie whispered as she hesitated for a second knowing any second that the bombs could start falling. They met halfway, their bodies pressed hard against each other as they kissed. By the time they drew apart it wasn't to the sound of small feet running down the stairs inside the house but to the drone of the planes that were already overhead that they heard. It was like the loud humming of a factory floor and the anti aircraft guns were already firing. Everything sounded different tonight, instead of the intermittent firing of the guns that they had grown used to they were all firing at once. The thunder of the continuous barrage pounded against their ears and thumped in their heads. They both knew that only meant one thing and that was that hundreds of planes were already flying across the night sky. 

They both flinched a little as they heard the tiny tinkle of the little cylinders falling not far away, watched on as they exploded into balls of flickering blue white light. The red flaring of oil bombs was already lighting the middle distance and further away they could hear high explosive bombs whistling down to earth, each of them making a dull thumping sound as they hit the ground. 

“Better be getting inside.” Allie said anxiously her face already tense. Before they could move Bea pulled her hard against her chest as a plane roared low overhead. It released a bomb that shrieked as it plummeted down to the ground. Without even thinking Bea released her grip on Allie as they threw themselves flat on the ground, covering their ears with their hands. The ground shook and a deafening crash sounded as it landed somewhere close by. Bea lifted her head to see a huge cloud of dust rise up from somewhere not too far off in the distance. It rose up in a pure white curtain, like a solid mass, completely blotting out the moon. The wind blew towards them as they staggered to their feet. Soon everything around them was enveloped in dust that made them cough and their eyes water. It was impossible to see more than a few inches in front of them as overhead the planes roared in a maddening and constant noise. Incendiaries continued to rain down all around landing with a thud and bursting into a ball of flame. 

“Come on.” Bea pulled on Allies arm. “We've got to make sure we all get down to the shelter. Liz can't manage the three of them on her own.”

“How are we going to find it in all this?” Allie asked as Bea pulled her through the door. 

“We'll all be fine.” Bea said as she saw Liz standing at the bottom of the staircase with even Artie who claimed to never be scared clinging to her. 

The six of them, all holding hands, ran through the house and out of the kitchen door making their way to the shelter. Dodging shrapnel and ducking their heads as they heard more incendiaries falling. Fires were already burning all around them and the smell of the smoke was already competing with the choking dust. The clouds of smoke flickered red from the fires. As they got closer to the shelter the dust seemed to diminish a little and Bea guessed that more than one house in the surrounding area must have been hit already. As they were almost at the shelter a brilliant white light lit the garden as chandelier flares descended slowly dripping stars. The six of them were rooted to the spot, transfixed. Allie felt cold as the light grew brighter and brighter, lighting Beas face as if she were standing in daylight. Streams of red and green tracer fire rose up in colourful arcs and two of the flares were quickly extinguished. 

“Thank god.” They both heard Liz mutter but it wasn't going to be over that quickly as the next wave of planes were already overhead dropping more high explosive bombs that fell to earth with a scream, shaking the ground as they landed. One was falling towards them as they all threw themselves on the ground, Bea managed to cover both Allies and Debbie's bodies with her own. Allie tasted the cold damp earth and the grass as she covered her ears. The screaming stopped with a dull thud sounding more as if an old enamel bowl with something in it had been dropped on the ground. There was a tremendous bang and a flash accompanied by a rumbling sound and then silence. Bea quickly got to her feet and helped everyone up. Another cloud of white dust hovered around them reflecting pink from the fires around its edges. 

“That was too close.” Allie said in a voice that was barely recognisable as she picked Debbie up. 

No one answered her. Bea picked up Sophie in one arm and grabbed Allies arm with her free hand and began running to the brick building at the end of the garden closely followed by Artie then Liz. Her grip on Allies arm was hard and uncompromising as she let Sophie gently drop to the ground she yanked open the door to the shelter practically throwing Allie and Debbie inside. She waited for Liz and Artie to enter in front of her. They stumbled down the steps in the darkness and pushed open the door at the bottom. The single electric light hanging from the concrete ceiling blinding them for a few moments. They'd only just made it down to the lower level when the shelter shook as another bomb hit the ground. 

“I fear we're in for a long night.” Liz said as she helped Debbie up onto her favourite bunk. “And no hot water bottles tonight.” She smiled as Debbie kissed her goodnight and settled down under the covers as if nothing was even happening around them. Liz helped Sophie to bed as Artie climbed happily into his own. Liz sat herself in a chair that was placed in the corner as if she were intending to sit watch over everyone all night as Bea and Allie sat down on one of the bunks together. Bea put her arm round Allies shoulder and she rested her head against her shoulder. The thunder of the guns and crashing of the falling bombs penetrated even the thick concrete and brick walls of the shelter. Bea knew her father had been more prepared for this war than most people had been, maybe fighting in the first had given him a greater sense of what could possibly happen this time around. Another explosion close by rocked the shelter a little.

“Comfy?” Bea asked as she pulled Allie a little closer.

“Mmmmmm.” Was Allies only response.

“At least we made it home before all this started.” Bea mumbled into Allies hair. 

“We'll always make it home as long as we're together.” 

“Maybe.” Bea murmured again. “I just love you so much I wouldn't want to live without you.”

Allies heart lurched, no one had ever said they loved her and really meant it before. Always knowing that her family loved her had been one thing, hearing it from Bea always made her feel something she never though could exist. “I love you too.” She whispered as Beas arm tightened around her a little more. “I just want you to be happy.”

“I think we both have a much greater chance of being happy if we're together don't you?” Bea asked quietly.

“I do, I can't think of anyone else I'd rather be happy with. As long as we're together we're going to be alright aren't we?”

Bea nodded her head against her shoulder. They might be sitting in a freezing cold shelter with the sinister and unceasing roar of the bombs above them but everything felt right as long as they were together. The raid continued without the usual lulls that they all come to expect. Not long after they'd finally settled in for the night the roar of the planes had increased and the frequency of the explosions had doubled. It was getting harder to keep up the pretence of bravery after suffering months of this but right now Bea felt braver than she ever had. Glancing at Allie she'd fallen asleep and Liz was softly snoring in the corner. This was going to feel like the longest night ever she thought as she reached for a blanket and covered herself and Allie with it before she to closed her eyes. 

Bea opened her eyes after a couple of hours, Allie still pulled tight to her side. She knew she wasn't even going to try and sleep now. Hours dragged and still the planes kept coming. Bomb after bomb kept falling, all so close to where they were. Every bomb within a few hundred feet seemed to be falling right on top of them. She knew really that the only way they would be killed was if they took a direct hit, and a direct hit wasn't completely impossible. Now it felt as though they were right in the middle of one enormous never ending explosion as she sat silently on the bunk while the world outside was being blown apart. She noticed, finally, that there were starting to be intervals in the roar of the engines. The noise eventually faded more and more into the distance, the guns fell silent and then the long awaited and glorious sound of the all clear sounded. 

“We made it.” Allie whispered beside her as her eyes opened with the sound.

Bea smiled. “It was never in any doubt.”

Liz yawned then stretched. “We're all still here.” She smiled as she looked at them. 

 

 

Getting to work that Monday morning was a little more nightmarish than normal after the long nights of raids all weekend. Monday morning was a beautiful April morning, the sky was clear and the sun was bright as they all sat down to breakfast. All around though the streets were full of charred wood from burnt trees and shrapnel. Trees had been uprooted and stray branches lay in the roads and across pavements. The air was still thick with dust and the smell of smoke and cordite. 

The smell of smoke drifted in the air and soot was filling their noses. The horizon was still lined with orange from the fires that raged on. Shards of glass crunched underfoot as they walked towards Soho, both of them feared that Franky might be gone, obliterated with the cafe. A poster still hung in one shop window, surprisingly still intact. ‘Don't wave your torch to catch the bus. Use a white cloth to flag it down.’

A double decker bus looked to have only minor damage, passengers were still sat in their seats. Each of them looked like they were just waiting for the bus to set off again but on closer inspection it was obvious that they were all dead. They looked as if they were sleeping from a distance but Bea knew what must have happened. Boomer had told her once about this sort of thing happening, the pressure of the glass being sucked out had also sucked their lungs out to. 

As they made her way through the streets of Soho on their way to the cafe they detoured to have a better look around. It was a shambles and hard going underfoot. Broken glass still tinkled down from broken windows. Shops were burnt out in Tottenham Court Road and almost all of Charlotte Street and Old Compton Street had been completely destroyed by fire. An entire block a little further on was now just a pile of rubble. Fires and smouldering ashes seemed to be everywhere they looked. Anything that the high explosive bombs had missed the incendiaries had claimed. As they made their way closer to the cafe it seemed that smoke was still rising in huge columns as a fire raged on and flames were gushing from craters in the roads. She dreaded the thought of what the city must look like. All Sunday they hadn't left the house for fear that after the night before there would be even more short daylight raids but thankfully none had come. They both knew Franky would have arrived back at the cafe before they got home and she'd have sheltered in the basement. They also knew Bridget would have tried to make her way to the hospital. They hadn't been able to telephone Franky because they'd already heard that some of the telephone lines had been obliterated. Allies eyes were swimming with tears by the time they reach the cafe and stumbled inside like sleepwalkers finding Franky already hard at work serving the early morning customers. 

“We survived that's all that matters.” Franky told them as she looked up. “I'm thankful I managed to talk Gidge out of trying to get to the hospital.” She smiled. “She's still there mind, left yesterday morning, the telephone lines are a mess but Booms brought me a note over before she rushed off again. She should be here soon, promised her breakfast when her shift was over.”

“Every building behind here is just rubble.” Allie answered as she wiped her eyes.

“But we're still here to live another day.” Franky said firmly.

“They bombed all over London, every borough was hit.” One of the customers said.

“I heard that the British museum is still well alight.” Said another. “But St Paul's is still standing.” 

“It was a nightmare.” Boomer said as she walked into the cafe, “Don't know how we got through but we did.” She announced casually as she dropped into a chair with a heavy thud her face crumpling a little more as she went on to describe what she'd seen. 

By the time Bea made it to the ministry she found Maxine already in the office, a huge weight looked as though it had landed squarely on her shoulders as she slumped at her desk. Looking up when she heard Bea enter she smiled weakly. 

“Miss Wrights not in and Mr Potter can't raise her on the telephone.” She said sadly. “He's been here since first light trying to get news of everyone. “Miss Ashmoore has been bombed out but will be here soon, Miss Harris too. Oh Bea how did we ever get through it all?” Maxine was chatting almost frantically as she stood up and paced a little.

“Are you alright?” Bea asked concerned for her friend.

“Oh yes, yes. I'm just being silly.” She stopped pacing and sat on the corner of one of the unoccupied desks. “I was bombed out too, just a little jittery that's all. I came up from the shelter yesterday morning and found the entire block was just a pile of smouldering rubble.” She drew in a breath before giving Bea a faint smile.

“Where are you going to stay now?” Bea asked.

“I have no idea, I'll find someplace it's just that I've lost everything. It's all such a mess isn't it? I thought I was done for, bomb after bomb just kept falling and they were so close. The odds are against you when it's like that, but…well I'm still here when I honestly thought I'd die.”

“You can stay with us, we have plenty of room. The place is a bit of a mess but I managed to speak to my father yesterday afternoon and he's a little worried but he told me to do what I thought was for the best. Mother of course does not agree.” Bea laughed. “I've never once in my life know her be like this, it's madness, my brothers are out there fighting and she's more worried about me still being in London.” She sighed. “I only wish she'd have shown this much concern while he was still alive.”

“I should have never have lost touch with you.” Maxine mumbled. A small piece of her would always regret letting Bea drift out of her life as if they'd never been such great friends. She could have helped out somehow. 

“Don't.” Bea warned. “There was nothing anyone could have done, he was impossible. It's all over now.”

“Yes.” Maxine sighed sadly. “At least you found someone who loves you.” 

“I have.” Bea agreed. “I'm lucky, not everyone gets the chance at real happiness.”

They both went in search of Mr Potter finding him in his office on the telephone. He waved them into his office as he replaced the receiver. 

“Seems we lost a few.” He looked at them both. “I hear their still digging survivors out of the ruins. Finsbury took quite a bashing on Saturday night.” He shook his head sadly. 

“How about you?” Maxine asked as she sat in one of the chairs.

“Lost my sister and the twins. The shelter they were in took a direct hit on Saturday night. They'd just turned four. Her husbands a sailor so he's away, had to go and identify the bodies yesterday morning. There was no one else you see, our fathers too ill and mother could never have stood the pain.” His voice was monotone as he tried to show no emotion. “The people at the mortuary did all they could but you know, hardest thing I've ever had to do.”

Bea felt suddenly guilty, she was happy. The happiest she'd ever been in her adult life, all her friends had made it through. Maybe a little battered and Maxine had lost everything but they were all still there. People she worked alongside were gone and her boss had lost half his family in one go. She was just thankful for everything she had, everything she would never take advantage of as long as she lived she quickly decided as she sat in a chair in Mr Potters office.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Boomer sat in the common room at the ambulance station drinking tea and chatting with the other girls a week after Franky's birthday. It was the start of another long Saturday night and surprisingly Linda hadn't been late. Three nights in a row were a new record for Lina Miles, everyone knew she spent more time than was good for her in the pub and that she'd bet on absolutely anything if she thought she could make some easy money. After the last few nights of heavy raids and driving through the streets as the bombs continued to fall they were trying to keep the conversation light. The sirens had already sounded and as usual Boomers thoughts had turned to her friends. Bea, Liz, Maxine and the three bairn’s were safe enough she was convinced of that after seeing the shelter they had. Franky still refused to shelter anywhere but in the basement of the cafe and Bridget would be as safe as any of the other doctors and nurses at St. Thomas’s hospital could hope to be. 

A few days previously the hospital had been hit right before Boomer and Linda had arrived there with more casualties. They'd driven through the chaos as bombs had still rained down indiscriminately flattening more houses and factories. None of the hospitals had been left untouched and that night St. Thomas’s had been hit again right before they had arrived. It had been a heavy raid again that night, a high explosive bomb had crashed through the roof and destroyed one operating theatre along with an aerial mine that had exploded and taken out an entire wing at the east end of the building. Luckily for everyone it had taken out an area of the hospital that wasn't being used. When they'd arrived and wandered around trying to help out a little they'd witnessed a long line of doctors, nurses and policemen passing buckets of water along a line they'd formed trying to put out the fire. It had been with a heavy heart that Boomer had left that night to ferry more casualties to the hospitals when she'd learned that four nurses, a wardmaster and a doctor had been killed. How the staff braved the terrible conditions she could only try and guess but they kept all the hospitals open. They had special underground wards at some. She’d been into one of the underground wards early one morning after her shift had finished when Bridget had offered to show her around and found the surroundings gloomy and somber but at least they were safer than being above ground.

“Remember what that nurs