Harry Watson stared at the invitation on her desk warily. Her shoulders were tense and her brows furrowed. Nothing about this situation was pleasant, of course, but the worst thing would be to have to tell her parents, whom she only saw a few times a year (by design, obviously) that she had gotten a divorce.
It would be awful, she could see it already. Her mother crying because she adored Clara, she’d go on and on about how it was all Harry’s fault (it was) and how she could have done something to keep her wife (she could have, but that was rather beside the point). Her father would probably be secretly happy because he had always hated the idea that his baby girl was a lesbian.
(At that moment, Harry almost laughed out loud at the thought of Mr Watson seeing John and Sherlock together because worst than having his little girl be a lesbian would be seeing his only son, his pride and joy, his little soldier, turn out to be gay.)
With a sigh, Harry went to pick up the phone to call her Mum and tell her Clara wouldn’t come when an idea sprung to her mind. She smiled. Yes, this could work… If I play it right, this could very well work, she thought.
Instead of dialling her Mum’s number, Harry punched in the numbers she still remembered from all those months ago. She exhaled deeply and tried to calm herself down as the phone rang, steeling herself for hearing that voice for the first time in too long.
‘Hello?’ asked Clara. Harry sighed, not having realised just how nervous she was. She’d been sober for nine months, but this made her lips tingle for the taste of alcohol once more. She wouldn’t, though. Sobriety was too important for her to give it up over nerves.
‘Hi, Clara,’ Harry greeted. She heard a slight gasp on the other line.
‘What do you want, Harry?’
Harry shut her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. ‘I need to ask you a favour.’
Clara laughed on the other end. Expected. ‘A favour? Do you real—‘
‘Look, I know I’m not in the position of asking you for anything, but this is really important. Please? Will you just meet me and hear me out?’
A few moments of tense silence, and Clara groaned. Harry smiled, knowing she’d already won. Clara was impossibly easy to read.
‘Fine. Where do you want to meet, then?’
‘At that coffee shop in the corner of Hyde Park after lunch?’
Clara promptly agreed, sounding not happy at all about this, but Harry was fine with that, as long as she agreed to this small teeny tiny favour.
Okay, it was quite a big favour, but they had been married for a good few years, and some of them had been wonderful. The bits she could remember, anyway.
Harry groaned and clutched her nine-month token.
She chose a table outside, mostly because she needed to smoke than anything else. Harry put out her sixth cigarette of the day when she saw Clara approaching in the distance. She took a steadying breath and steeled herself for what could turn out to be a stressful conversation. She took turns staring at the two cups of coffee in front of her. Flat white, one Sweet ’n Low (Harry’s), and one cappuccino, no chocolate, two sugars (Clara’s).
Clara didn’t smile when she took a seat in front of Harry, she simply said a quick ‘hello’. Harry couldn’t help but marvel at how good she looked. At the end of their marriage, Clara looked sad and broken, her hair was always dry, and her cheeks sunken. Now, she looked stunning. Rosy cheeks, clearly not only from the cold wind; new hair cut, suited her brilliantly, making her face look more jovial; new clothes, a lovely pair of navy blue chinos, a eggshell silk button-down under a grey blazer, brown Oxfords, and a light brown Burberry cashmere overcoat — clearly her new job was paying rather well. Harry felt strangely proud.
‘Thanks for agreeing to do this,’ said Harry, pointing at the coffee in front of Clara, who accepted it with a sigh.
‘Well, you sounded pretty urgent, and I do still care for you, even after all that mess.’ They shared a small smile. Clara took a sip of her coffee. ‘Anyway, what is it?’
‘Right, okay,’ Harry cleared her throat, ‘it’s my parents’s anniversary next weekend, and I need you to come with me.’
Clara’s eyebrows furrowed and she pursed her lips. ‘And why is that? Surely they don’t want their ex-daughter-in-law at their wedding anniversary?’
Harry rubbed the nape of her neck with a trembling hand. ‘Well. No. Yes. I mean… they don’t really know you’re their ex-daughter-in-law…’
‘Harriet…’ Clara seemed to threaten. Her eyes were closed and Harry could swear there was steam coming out of her ears, ‘Harriet, have you not told your parents about our divorce?’ She was nearly whispering now, and that was Harry’s cue to start getting frightened. The quieter Clara got, the angrier she was.
‘No,’ came the lame reply.
‘Oh my God, Harry! Why not?’
‘I couldn’t! I just… I barely see them anyway, no point making the visits even more gloom with divorce news. Besides, at the time, Mum was already shaken up because of John’s bullet injury — I didn’t want to hurt her…’
‘It’s been over a year since then! John’s fine, he’s living with Sherlock, they are all good, if that blog of his is anything to go by! You’re telling me it hasn’t come up since then?’
‘Look. I know it’s stupid and ridiculous, but it’s their anniversary, and I just don’t want to spoil it, okay? Can you just… just do this for me, just this once, and I promise I won’t bother you ever again.’
Clara sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. Her perfect, round-tipped nose which used to have a small ring pierced on it. Not anymore, though.
Everything changed so fast, that’s why Harry started to drink in the first place. Life got too overwhelming, she couldn’t keep up, people left, people got angry, her mother got cancer, her brother went to war, her mother got better, and her brother was still in the war. Too much too fast, and Harry had needed something to hold on to. Clara managed to fill that role for a while, but then she started to change. She became more career-oriented, they barely ever spent time together anymore — the financial world was tough, she would say, and Harry would drink to drown her stress and her fatigue and her confusion. It had taken her brother nearly dying and Clara leaving to wake her up from the nightmare she had made of her life.
Through her thoughts, Harry barely registered the small nod Clara gave her.
‘Fine, I’ll do it.’
Another sigh, irritated this time. ‘Yes. But you have to tell them afterwards.’
‘I will! Thank you, really.’
They smiled at each other slightly, the silence growing a bit awkward as they finished their coffees.
Clara parked the car and took the key out.
‘Ready?’ asked Harry. In front of them was the Watson residence, which was surrounded by the parked cars of their guests. The lights were all on and all the signs pointed to quite a lively party. Harry had had to prepare mentally before getting ready because it was her first time in an event with free alcohol since she got sober. Between the craving and Clara, she was afraid this night might end in disaster.
‘More than I’ll ever be,’ said Clara, opening the door of the vehicle. Harry followed suit and they walked over to the entrance. The door was open, so they just walked in.
Harry scanned the room for her parents, finally finding her mother standing by the fireplace, offering some hors d’oeuvres to her guests.
‘Mum!’ Harry greeted, walking over to the tiny woman. Mrs Watson was stocky but rather small, shorter even than Harry herself, who was all of 5’3”. Her eyes were warm and blue, just like John’s, and her smile was always sweet. A few years before, she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, but she made a full recovery, which was such good news Harry couldn’t even breathe for a minute when her father had told her over the phone. But that had been years ago, two months after John was deployed for the last time.
‘Harry! Clara! I’m so glad you could make it!’ she smiled and hugged her daughter. Then she moved on to Clara, who was right behind. For a small woman, Mrs Watson had a presence that took over the whole room. Clara used to call it the “Watson Superpower”. ‘Please, make yourselves comfortable, there’s some nibbles over there at the table, and the fridge is stocked with that ice tea you like, dear,’ she said to Harry. ‘Your brother is already here. He brought Sherlock — lovely boy, a bit strange, I suppose, but I haven’t seen John smile like that since he was fifteen.’ Mrs Watson beamed and Harry couldn’t help but join in. As her mother left to search for Mr Watson, Harry turned to look at Clara, who had a strange look on her face.
‘Ice tea?’ Clara asked.
‘Hm, yes. I’m not… drinking anymore. Alcohol, that is. Gave it up. Nine months now.’
‘This is huge news! How come you didn’t tell me?’
Harry simply shrugged and was about to respond, but they were interrupted by greeting party guests.
As Harry chatted with her Auntie Marie, she could feel Clara’s eyes on her. She tried to ignore it, but it was difficult, the whole pressure of the evening making her head ache, her lips tingling for the sharp taste of alcohol.
‘Excuse me,’ she told her Aunt. ‘I need some fresh air.’
Harry made her way to the garden without waiting for a reply. She walked out and hid under the cover of the shed, and lit a fag. The first drag was like heaven, her whole body relaxing immediately. It was freezing out, she noticed, realising she had left her coat and purse inside. Another drag, and the smoke tickled her nostrils — the cold was starting to get painful, but it was better than the atmosphere on the inside.
She heard steps approaching, suspecting it was John, but looking over she spotted Clara.
‘Bollocks,’ she muttered under her breath. ‘Hey,’ she said to her companion.
‘So now you’re smoking?’
‘Yes, well… Needed a new vice, and adrenaline is more John’s thing than mine.’
Clara snorted. ‘Of course. If you can’t give yourself liver cancer, might as well get throat cancer, or lung—‘
‘Could you not?’
‘What? Ask you to stop destroying yourself? Smoking is just as bad as drinking, Harry.’
‘Like you care. You left, remember? So don’t you pretend you have a say in anything I do any longer—‘ Clara grabbed her by the arm and dragged her into the shed, then closed the door. ‘What was that?’
‘You were being loud and there were people walking outside,’ Clara explained. ‘I do care for you, Harry. I always have, and I always will. I couldn’t stand seeing you stop caring about yourself, that’s why I left.’
Harry blew smoke out of her nose angrily and pouted. ‘That’s why I bloody stopped drinking! I just needed something to do, so I took up smoking.’ She sighed. ‘I know it’s substituting a vice for another vice, but at least this one doesn’t put a strain on my interpersonal relationships.’
That made Clara chuckle. ‘I suppose you are right. I still don’t know why you didn’t tell me you got sober, though. We talked about it a million times…’ her voice cracked slightly. ‘It was so painful to watch you slowly lose yourself, Harry.’
Harry sniffled. ‘I just… I have barely spoken to John since he came back,’ she said, sitting on the god-awful chair her father had built when he went through his middle-age carpenter phase. ‘And my relationship with my parents is rocky at best. And these are people who are supposed to love me, they are my blood. You don’t have this obligation, and you left. Which was your own right, but I didn’t want to… burden you with my problems anymore. You’re looking so good, so well-rested and pretty, and I…’ she sighed and let her speech trail off. Clara, across from her in the smell shed, leaning against John’s old bicycle, simply nodded and wiped the bottom of her eyes with her index finger.
She straightened herself up and went to leave the shed, but the door wouldn’t open. ‘What?’ Clara asked, pushing the door. ‘It won’t open.’
‘Oh?’ Harry stood and tried as well, pushed and pulled, but the door was locked. ‘Oh, fuck.’
They both leant against it together and slid until they were sitting down on the dusty floor.
‘I can’t believe we’re stuck in a shed,’ Harry said. Clara giggled.
‘Better than the lift at the Balmoral with that Russian guy,’ she added. Harry barked a laugh.
‘Oh my God, that was the worst! People in such heavy diets should not be enclosed in small spaces with other people ever.’ It was Clara’s turn to laugh out loud, and soon both of them were lost in laughs and giggles. It took them a few minutes to calm down, though they exploded in giggles at every exchanged glance.
Soon they fell into a comfortable silence, shoulders resting together, air coming out of their noses and mouths in small puffs that looked like clouds. Clara was the first to break.
‘For the record,’ she turned to face Harry, ‘I would have wanted to know how you were doing. I had been wondering, actually, staring at your number everyday, trying to gather the courage to call. Then I did, and—’
‘I gave my phone to John. That phone… I just… I couldn’t keep anything from…’
Clara nodded. ‘I get it, it’s okay. But you need to know this, Harriet: I am immensely proud of you. You were the most important person in my life for so long, and words cannot describe how happy I am that you are healthy again, back on your feet…’
They stared into each other’s eyes for what seemed like ages. Harry wouldn’t be able to say who was the first one to make the move, but suddenly, their mouths were crashing together, familiar and alien all at once, tasting like home. Harry brought one hand to cup Clara’s jaw, pulling her closer, and, as they kneeled, their chests pressing together, Harry let her other hand roam free across Clara’s curves, having missed this utterly blissful feeling. Her soft waist, her beautiful hips, the silky smooth skin under that shirt.
Clara, on her turn, had one hand playing with the hair on the nape of Harry’s neck, curling the soft blonde strands on her fingers, and with the other, she pulled Harry impossibly closer by the small of her back.
They pulled back after not long enough, panting loudly, grinning madly, looking dishevelled and utterly debauched. No words were uttered, but Clara stood up and pulled Harry with her. Harry then pushed her against the narrow wall of the shed, and began her ministrations once again, nipping lovingly and hungrily across the miles of Clara’s neck, tasting that skin she had missed to much over the past year. Clara moaned not-so-quietly, and that only made Harry more eager to lavish her with tender kisses and taste all of that skin.
An interruption came in the form of the door opening. They pulled apart looking like deer in headlights. Across from them on the outside was Sherlock Holmes and his raised eyebrows. His expression fell and he seemed almost… disappointed? Harry and Clara tried to make themselves look presentable when he spoke.
‘I was hoping you’d be a burglar, this party is interminably dull,’ he said, sounding bored as ever. ‘Though I suppose John will be happy to hear you are an item again.’ He then turned without actually acknowledging their presence, and left with his coattails billowing behind him dramatically. Harry could almost see what John saw on this man — he just looked like a magnet for danger, and John had always loved a bit of danger.
As she brushed her hair down with her fingers, Harry looked over at Clara.
‘So… this happened.’
Clara smiled. ‘Yeah.’
The world seemed to stop as that look dragged on forever. Then, because she had always been unpredictable like that, Clara intertwined their fingers and grinned.
‘And now we go in. We talk to your parents, enjoy the party and nibble on the nibbles. Then I’ll drive you home and we’ll see.’
Clara just shrugged. ‘Just let it happen.’
With a smile, Harry nodded. Just let it happen. That sounded like a good plan…
‘Wait.’ Harry stopped. ‘Do I still need to tell my parents about the divorce, then?’
The sound of a playful slap and combined giggles was the only thing that could be heard as they made their way back into the house.