Rachel’s eyelashes flutter as she blinks into bright morning light, painfully conscious. Hungover from drink? No. Dehydrated? Very.
Face down in her bed, her cellphone is in the sheets beside her - silent, but flashing a text notification.
She rolls on her back and looks out toward the light filtering in through her window blinds, then to the clock on her nightstand. 8AM. On a shiftless Saturday. Jesus, who the hell is texting at 8AM.
Pushing back in bed, she rubs her face hard, runs her fingers through her hair, pins her head to the pillow, tightly shuts her eyes.
Blink blink. Blink blink.
Undeniably (and unhappily) awake, she drops her hands to her sides and feels for the phone in her sheets, as she stares at the ceiling replaying the last 36 hours.
Yesterday was Christmas - spent with Alison and the girls, a call to Dom at Strangeways, popping over Janet’s.
Janet’s, where Gill had kissed her in the hallway before driving her back to her car at Sainsburys and dropping her there without ceremony.
No second kiss. No real acknowledgement of the first kiss, even.
“Damn you, Gill Murray,” she says to no one, to the ceiling, to herself, wishing she had acted differently, said… anything at all when Gill drove her back to her car.
She closes her eyes and tries to remember that kiss. Failing to, or perhaps remembering it all too well and wanting to forget, she rolls over and up on her side. “Bloody hell. Who is it?!”
Grabbing her phone, she blinks the screen into focus: Godzilla 2 Unread Messages
Stunned, she cocks her head to the side. She smiles and chuckles to herself, “Oh, ho ho –“ pressing her tongue to the back of her teeth, “oh, really?”
She sits straight up in bed and presses her back to the headboard, smugly swiping her phone open, as if she hadn’t just been cursing Gill’s very existence, and seeming indifference toward her, only moments earlier.
Happy Boxing Day! Fancy a ramble?
Rachel’s jaw drops. She raises her eyebrows and laughs in spite of herself.
Let’s try that again, I don’t like how that sounded. A Boxing Day hike. Care to join?
Rachel leans hard against the headboard and stares at the ceiling, knowing full well her answer,
but also enjoying having Gill in this space - a little nervous, a little wanting.
Rachel doesn’t want to respond so eagerly, and when the screen lights again, she moves only her eyes to read the screen.
You. Me. Interested?
At this, Rachel sits straight up. Nodding, she types before thinking of anything beyond the fact that Gill sounds a bit impatient, and she doesn’t want to overplay her hand.
What did you have in mind?
A hike, Rachel. Jesus. Are you not following?
Rachel sucks her teeth and begins a measured reply.
Yes, ma’am, but a time and a location?
Oh. Fair enough.
In the Peak District?
Yes, and there’s a bit of a rock scramble – bring proper shoes.
You picking me up?
Rachel types, hitting Send just as a message arrives.
I’ll be ready in an hour.
Then I’m picking you up?
Was that not clear?
“Classic,” Rachel shakes her head.
Knock that off. You’re not working under me anymore.
Rachel cocks an eyebrow. Interesting choice of words. “Okay, Boss. We’ll see,” she says aloud, some mixture of thrilled, expectant, and smug on the inside, all beet red and beaming on the outside.
Up and awake after having been dead to the world only minutes earlier, she’s a woman on a mission.
It doesn’t hit her until mid-shower that… she’s nervous.
What will we talk about, what if she thinks I'm boring, what if I am boring, what do I do with my hands, how will I survive an hour's drive out of Manchester, to say nothing of the return journey. Sure, I'll be driving, but then what of the actual hike. And I don't have hiking boots, or "proper" shoes - whatever that means.
A half hour later and she’s pulling up to the curb outside Gill’s, aggressively chewing gum and trying hard to ignore the urge for a smoke, operating under the assumption that Gill would probably prefer to not be in a car full of freshly snubbed out cigarettes for an hour.
She flips open her visor mirror and checks her teeth, prods at the bags under her eyes, takes a swig from her water bottle, applies lip balm, and settles on shrugging at her reflection. She tugs out her ponytail and runs her fingers through her hair. She has been listening to Spotify’s Guilty Pleasures playlist when Heaven is a Place on Earth comes on. She holds the elastic between her teeth and the base of her ponytail in her right hand as she cranks the volume up and tidies her hair, singing along with Belinda at max volume.
When the night falls down
I wait for you and you--
A knock on the window.
“Holy fucking hell –“ Rachel shouts, nearly leaping out of her skin as she turns to face Gill peering through the glass, biting her lip, an elfin grin across her face.
Rachel laughs in spite of herself, and trying to catch her breath, rolls the window down.
“Have I interrupted something? Shall I go back inside and try again, then?” Gill offers, pressing her lips together to quiet a giggle as she mimes turning back and heading indoors.
“Oh, sod off.” Rachel laughs. “Get in.”
As Gill rounds the car, Rachel purses her lips and exhales slowly. “Here we go.”
“I wouldn’t have figured you for a fan of 80s music.” Gill says, opening the passenger side door and sliding in.
“I’m not. I –“ Rachel starts, as Mambo No. 5 begins.
“Oh, Rachel!” Gill laughs, unable to contain herself. “Mambo No. 5. I’m – I’m… You’re full of surprises.”
“This isn’t even my playlist. This is –“ Rachel frantically skips through the shuffle of songs.
“I got chills, they’re multiplyin’” followed by the intro of Shania Twain’s Man, I Feel Like A Woman shouting through the speakers, “Let’s go, girls.”
A peel of laughter tears through the car and Rachel smiles sheepishly, “I swear, it’s not mine.”
And they’re off.
With so much to catch up on, there isn't a break in conversation.
Certainly not one that can't be conveniently filled with talk of the holidays – gifts exchanged, vices indulged, relatives beloved, ignored, altogether avoided.
Before Rachel knows it, they’re arrived and spilling out of the car into the moors.
Gill is all-Gill, ever the professional. And, then, there’s Rachel - improper shoes and all. Gill doesn’t seem to notice, and, if she does, could not care less as they hit the trail in tandem.
After an hour or so of walking, discussion of Gill’s recently perfected focaccia recipe, Rachel’s recently abandoned nicotine dependency (it’s not necessary to come clean about how ‘recently,’ Rachel justifies to herself), indiscreet gossiping about colleagues former and present, and each of them casually failing to mention that they shared space with these very colleagues just two nights ago, in the hours before they locked lips in Janet’s foyer… they come upon Mermaids’ Pool.
“Mermaids’ Pool,” Gill comes to a stop. “Legend has it that a mermaid resides here.”
Rachel laughs, suddenly aware of how chilly she is, no longer distracted by keeping up with Gill’s relentless pace.
“And you… believe this?”
Gill shrugs. “Nah, but I’ve heard she grants immortality to whomever sees her when she emerges at Eastertime,” she says, raising her eyebrows and pivoting on her heel. “Shall we?” She doesn’t wait for an answer and just begins walking in the direction they came.
Rachel looks out over the small pool of water, frozen on top, not by much. She exhales and looks at her breath before turning to walk in Gill’s wake.
“Maybe we will come here Eastertime, then?,” she says, jogging ahead to narrow the gap between them.
Gill turns, not breaking her stride. She considers this and tilts her chin upward. “Maybe,” she smiles.
Rachel runs up beside her, “Bloody hell it’s cold. Whose brilliant idea was this anyway?”
Gill turns and mock punches Rachel’s arm, then takes off at a blistering pace.
“What gives?!” Rachel shouts, taking off too late, winded by her only-so-very-recent break up with cigarettes.
They race nearly the whole way back, landing on the bonnet, breathless.
“I win.” Gill pants, satisfied.
“Didn’t realize this was a competition.” Rachel pants harder, unlocking both car doors at once and slipping into the driver’s seat.
“Everything is a competition,” Gill replies, opening her door.
“And the wager?” Rachel asks, wondering if she should’ve said that more seductively. Could she have pulled off a hint of seduction? Any more than a hint and it could be a long drive home, better to err on the side of caution. When did she become so prudent? Her mind races as Gill sits, thinking.
“If you want me to take you out for a drink, you need only ask.” Rachel hears herself say before at all weighing or filtering or—
“Fine. Then I’m asking you to take me out for a drink.” Gill says, turning to face Rachel, matter-of-factly.
She smiles. “So, shall we?”
Rachel stunned where she sits, turns her focus to the windscreen, and the key in its ignition, “As Shania might say… ”
Gill cracks up. “No. Please don’t, but please DO let me see this playlist.”
The drive back to Manchester flies by with Gill combing Guilty Pleasures for every (many), little, ridicule-worthy lyric or band name (most of which can be summed up by saying “Kid Rock is on this playlist”) and every tune that transports her to teens and twenties “I haven’t heard this in ages!,” she shouts as Elton John and Kiki Dee sing Don’t Go Breaking My Heart.
As they pull up to The Grapes, Gill points at a sandwich board with chalk writing just outside the entryway. Rachel squints.
“Come on, Rachel.”
“We’ve had this conversation. ‘I hate karaoke.’ Remember?”
“Yes, ‘That’s ‘cause you’re dead inside.’ I remember.” Gill winks, sliding out of the car.
Rachel exhales heavily, knowing full well she’s about to follow Gill inside and find her name scrawled on the sign up list in Gill’s hand. She leans back in her seat and checks her phone – a message from Janet from two hours earlier:
Join us for tea?
“Damn it.” She fires off a quick reply,
Sorry I missed this! Didn’t have phone. Forgive me! Grabbing wine with Godzilla.”
Having a drink with Gill!? Will text later. xx
She looks up, and is surprised to find Gill standing in front of the car, mock exasperation all over her face, pointing to the time on her bare, watch-less wrist.
Rachel laughs, moving to join her in the cold as her phone lights up with Janet’s reply:
two girls in rabbit costumes, wine glass and another wine glass, fire and another fire
you mad bitch. I love you
and I love you
With this, Rachel joins Gill outside and they head in The Grapes together.
The warmth and noise hits them like a slap in the face - feels like everyone in town is crammed in the pub tonight.
“You get first round! I’ll sign us up.” Gill shouts gleefully above the noise before turning, practically skipping, towards the DJ. Rachel laughs at the sight, but her smile fades as she makes her way to the bar to order a bottle and two glasses.
She’s declining to start a tab and paying in cash while she gives herself a pep talk: you’ve had such a brilliant day - do NOT ruin this being shitty about karaoke.
She thinks of her wedding night, her reception, her mother commandeering the karaoke machine and—she squashes the memory. No. No more. Enjoy yourself.
Rachel is all smiles as she saunters up to a corner table Gill has selected, bottle and glasses in hand. Gill looks like the cat that ate the canary.
Straightening herself, clasping her hands, and adopting a serious tone that smacks of Briefing Room Godzilla TM, Gill starts, “Yes, I have selected a time and song for myself, and, yes, I have taken the liberty of signing you up for a performance time and…”
“—And… song of your own.”
“No, and thank you.” Rachel says, setting the glasses down.
“You’re mad if you thought I’d be singing alone. I thought you meant we’d be doing one together,” she says, uncorking the bottle.
“Well, that’s very forward.”
“You’re taking the piss.” Rachel says, abandoning the table and grabbing the sign-up sheet clipboard off the DJ’s station without so much as looking at him for permission.
“Meredith Brooks’ Bitch?” Rachel asks, grimacing in Gill’s direction, “Thanks for that.” Gill devolves into a fit of giggles as she pours them each a glass.
Rachel waves the clipboard to get the attention of the DJ, who is rocking to the beat of something in his headphones, blissfully unaware of her presence. “I didn’t agree to this,” she says, mouthing the words dramatically, as he points at his headphones, unable to hear her over the sound in his cans and, apparently, unwilling to remove them to solve the problem. “So you can scratch my name off?” He nods. “Thanks, mate.” She smiles, tersely and turns back towards the table. “Bloody idiot.”
“It’s a good song. And I would’ve thought you’d know it. It is, afterall, on your playlist, and it’s of your…” shrugs, “generation.”
“For the last time, it’s not my playlist and, oh, what generation would that be, my exceedingly lovely old friend?”
“’Old?’” Gill scoffs.
“’Friend?’” Rachel laughs.
“But ‘exceedingly lovely’?” Gill cocks her head and pops a crisp in her mouth. “I’ll take it.”
“Where did you get those?!” she asks, reaching for the crisp bag.
Gill gulps. “I snatched them off the soundboard.” Gill puts a finger to her lips. “Shh.”
“What?! We’ve been out all day. I needed salt! I plead diminished capacity.”
Rachel laughs and beckons for a crisp.
“He’ll hardly miss them.” Gill pops another one before offering the rest across the table.
Rachel digs in.
“And now you’re complicit.” Gill smirks, dusting her hands.
“What song did you choose?”
“You mean you didn’t see, Detective?”
“I was remiss.” Rachel replies, shot-gunning the crumbly bits at the bottom of the bag into her mouth without reservation.
“Well, then, you’ll just have to wait and see.” Gill rises, “excuse me, I have to wash my hands.”
Gill returns and an hour passes - small plates are ordered, the bottle is finished, and a new one takes its place.
Finally, the DJ announces that karaoke will begin in 10 minutes. An enormous basket of chips lands in front of Rachel as this proclamation rings through the air.
“Ooh, boss. Your 15 minutes, or… 5 minutes?... of fame! Are you ready?” Rachel coos as she grabs malt vinegar from the center of the table.
“Oh, god, no. Let someone else set the bar low for the rest of us. I didn’t sign up to go first - I’m not daft.” Gill says, grabbing a chip of her own. “And don’t call me that - I’m not your boss.”
Rachel doesn’t know how to register that last bit, but she can’t help but feel she’s on a Snakes and Ladders board – two steps forward, ten steps back?
“You Gill?” A man’s voice asks.
Both women turn and land eyes on Mr. DJ.
“Well, Gill, you’re up.”
“No, I didn’t sign up to go first.”
“True, but no one signed up ahead of you.”
Gill's face falls.
“And your friend here doesn’t want to go, so… you’re up.”
Rachel looks between Gill and Mr. DJ as Gill blanches.
She refills Gill’s wine and pushes the glass towards her, “Yeah, that’s fine. You’ve got this. She’s got this.”
Rising, Gill takes the glass.
From behind his PA, Mr. DJ cues up lyrics on the screen. Gill has her mic in one hand and her wine in the other. She has regained a bit of her color.
“Good evening, everybody. Welcome to Gary-oke at The Grapes.” Gill looks at Rachel and widens her eyes at DJ Gary’s pun in a way that nearly causes wine to shoot out Rachel’s nose.
“Normally this is a two man operation, but my mate John had a family emergency tonight, so it looks like I’ll have to duet myself tonight. - ”
Rachel’s eyes snap back towards Gill’s as she crosses hers. Rachel mimes shooting herself and Gill shakes her head, ashamed for this man as he continues, “- so please put your hands together for our opening act of the night… GILL!”
Rachel whistles and cheers. Not one, other, single soul in this packed pub cares or even takes notice, a fact that is immediately evident to Gill, fully liberating her to lean in and enjoy the song.
Downbeats on a high hat click through the air as she claps her hands above head and Rachel throws her head back laughing.
The room is loud and chockablock and only Rachel is listening - even DJ Gary has abandoned them for the bar.
Gill starts out singing a little too quietly. She can’t quite hear herself, and neither can Rachel, craning her neck to get view of the lyrics with the bouncing ball on the screen, listening hard to parse the words from the room noise as the song builds.
Suddenly, the pub door bursts open, whisking in winter wind, and with it - Janet.
Spying Gill on the mic, she points across the pub in mock accusation, “J’accuse!”
Gill laughs into a mic full of reverb.
Don’t, don’t break the spell
Janet sings to Gill, and Gill to Janet, hamming it up as Janet slides into the booth beside Rachel, seamlessly taking a swig from Rachel’s glass.
“Jan! What’re you doing here?”
“She knows I love Christine McVie. That’s my song.” Janet says, side-stepping Rachel’s question, and not taking her eyes off Gill. “She stole my karaoke song!” She shakes her head and takes another swig of wine.
“She’s on a spree.” Rachel says, lifting the empty crisp bag.
“Never mind.” They both look up at Gill, “What’re you doing here?”
“I just thought… Chris,” Janet says gesturing toward Chris, abandoned and waiting for her back in the entryway, “and I would come by and have a drink….”
Rachel looks to Chris, who shrugs helplessly and waves. Janet continues “… And maybe… we could... join you two?”
Rachel smiles understandingly at Chris, before turning her silent attention to Janet. She cocks an eyebrow.
“Okay, I just wanted to get eyes on the situation.”
“Gasp.” Mock indignation, “Me?”
Rachel nods as Gill returns to the table, the song finished. She’s dancing and refilling a suspiciously empty glass. “Hiya, Cock,” Gill says, leaning in and pecking Janet on the cheek as another patron gets on the mic and Sweet Caroline, entirely out of tune, floods the room.
Janet looks at Gill then at Rachel, then back at Gill. “Fine. I’m gone. You never saw me.” She says, throwing her hands in the air.
“You sounded amazing, you song thief,” Janet says, planting a kiss on Gill’s cheek, then tilting her head in Rachel's direction and whispering, “Nice pull.”
“Gasp.” Mock indignation, “Me?”
Janet nods and smacks Gill’s bum as she walks away, gathering Chris at the door and heading back into the cold.
“So, what did Janet have to-?”
“She and Chris heading to another pub?”
“Take a break, Detective. You’re retired.”
Gill picks up a chip, regards it, puts it back down. “Let’s get out of here.”
"Yeah." Gill sighs.
Rachel stops breathing.
Gill’s eyes are trained on the basket of chips, as she starts speaking a mile a minute.
“Unless, of course, you don’t want to, which is entirely your prerogative, Rachel, but, frankly…”
Gill looks up, all vulnerability and determination, bold.
“I would like to kiss you.
I would like to… pick up where we left off the other night.
I’ve had… a lot of... fun today. Haven’t you?”
Rachel feels her face flush and tries to cover it.
“I can’t recall the last time…. I can’t recall, ever, a day I’ve so enjoyed myself.
And… I don’t want it to end.”
Rachel purses her lips and swallows hard.
“And… I don’t want to fail to make that clear and miss the opportunity and-“
Rachel kisses her, stopping her mid-sentence.
When they break apart – moments, minutes, days later – they’re light headed and clear headed all at once, and they’re staring at each other’s mouths as smiles simultaneously break across their lips.
“Fine. Yeah, yours.” Rachel says, with dreamy, half closed eyes fully focused on Gill’s mouth.
“Well, lord, Rachel, don’t sound so enthusiastic about it,” Gill says, slowly gathering her coat and bag.
“Oh, I am.” Rachel says, raising her one.
“You are?” Gill challenges.
“Yeah, I got chills.”
“Wait. Are they… multiplying?” She rises, laughing. “I feel I’ve heard this somewhere… recently.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Do you have Bluetooth? We can listen to the whole playlist at the house.”
“Yeah, we should be able to hear it from bed.”
“Gill!” Rachel blushes to the tips of her ears, and tries to stifle her excitement as she looks around at the other patrons, suddenly worrying the pair of them might be shouting in a quiet space.
“Or, from ‘not bed.’”
“Murray!” Rachel shouts, her smile audible.
“But, now, the WHOLE playlist. That’s promising… a lot, Rachel.” Gill says turning back to her and raising an eyebrow, as they squeeze past pub tables and patrons pushing their way in.
“You!” Rachel balks, hot all over, heart beating out her chest.
“I simply mean…” Gill says, turning to face Rachel, her back to the entryway.
“I know precisely what you mean.” Rachel breathes for maybe the first time in 5 minutes.
“Do you?” Gill asks, as Rachel leans in and presses her back hard against the pub door.
Just as their lips meet, the door swings open and Gill topples backwards, Rachel catching her by the wrist before she hits the ground.
“Whoa, ho- ho-. Excuse me, ladies,” a kindly older man smiles down at Gill, then up at Rachel. “Quick reflexes. Well done, you,” he says, slapping her on the back in commendation as he passes. No help otherwise.
Another pensioner is right behind him, as Rachel pulls Gill up to standing, and she steadies herself.
“Lotta thirsty ramblers headed this way, and you’re blocking the door, girls. Let’s go, now.” He pushes past them.
“The cheek,” Gill scoffs, laughing.
Rachel presses her tongue to the back of her top teeth and laughs, “You heard the man, Murray. ‘Let’s go, girl!’” She pokes gently at Gill’s side, and Gill leans forward planting the tenderest kiss on her.
When the kiss ends, their faces still close, Gill whispers “your taste in music is not good, but I can overlook it.”
“It’s not my playlist!” Rachel laughs, as she follows Gill into the carpark.
“Kid Rock, Rachel? Disgraceful.” Gill says, shaking her head to herself and laughing.
“It’s not my playlist!” Rachel tries, one final time, as they each reach their side of the car.
“I believe you, Shania.”