Vanessa frowns, her nose wrinkling. “You think that’ll work?"
Charity throws her hands up. Frustration is starting to creep up her spine and dig in behind her eyelids. She knows why Vanessa is still harping on this. She understands why Vanessa is like a punter with a half-filled pint she just won’t let go of. It doesn’t make it any easier to keep having the same conversation, though - even if every other sentence is Vanessa reassuring her she didn’t do anything wrong, that she’s not to blame, that Vanessa respects her.
"I don’t have any other ideas,” she says. “Do you?” Her eyes flash. She knows what Vanessa’s other ideas are, but god help her if Vanessa says it aloud one more time right now…
“No,” Vanessa sighs, surprising her. She crosses the small room and sits down next to Charity, taking the pillow out of her hands. She replaces them with her own, their fingers lacing together as easy as Charity breathes out.
“Then it’s our best shot,” Charity says. “I’ll drop a hint that he’s married and Tracy’ll scamper away so fast, his head’ll spin."
Vanessa purses her lips, her eyes on Charity’s hands. Her finger brushes over Charity’s third finger gently as she speaks. "He’s not wearing a ring,” she points out.
Charity shrugs, not trusting her voice as Vanessa’s fingers drift across her ring finger so lightly. “More reason for doubt,” she finally manages when Vanessa turns her hand over, their palms pressed together.
Vanessa is quiet for a moment, the silence stretching between them like a piece of string pulled taut. Charity expects it to snap at any moment, to crackle through air like a bolt of lightning and strike. It feels like an elastic band that’s peeling away inch by inch and Charity braces herself for the snapback, her fingers already aching at the thought.
But Vanessa exhales softly and the string between them loosens, still intact.
“I won’t never forgive you,” Vanessa says quietly.
Charity sits up a little straighter, her mouth open. “Babe-"
"No,” Vanessa says firmly. “None of this is your fault. What that… that horrible excuse of a man,” she spits. “What he did to you is not your fault."
"I took the money, didn’t I?” Charity says bitterly.
Vanessa moves closer, her knees digging into Charity’s thigh. “I know why you did it. And I told you, I support you. No matter what."
Charity squints at Vanessa, trying to picture what Vanessa sees when she looks at her. A project? A partner? She thinks she knows, she thinks she has a handle on Vanessa’s feelings for her, and then Vanessa pulls the rug out from under her - runs towards her, instead of away from her like everyone else. She’s messy and she’s hotheaded and she thinks she knows best, but she apologises when she’s wrong and she tries to do better the next time. She tries to do better for Charity.
"Don’t need to explain,” Vanessa says gently. “Not to me.” She sighs. “I know I’m being pushy. I’m just worried about Tracy. She’s an adult, I know, but I just… I care.” She shifts again, her ankle hooking around Charity’s. “And I care about you, too. I like you very, very much, Charity Dingle."
Charity feels a rush of affection and rolls her eyes against it. "I like you, too,” she mumbles. “I suppose.”
Vanessa smiles brightly, the whole of her face stretching wide. It makes Charity’s stomach flop softly - that smile is for her. Vanessa smiles at everyone, ray of sunshine and all, but there’s a specific lift of her lips that’s she’s noticed lately, that’s only Charity’s.
“Yeah?” she asks shyly.
Charity scoffs. “Oh, hush, you,” she says, tipping her chin up. Come here, she’s saying to Vanessa.
Vanessa meets her halfway, her lips soft and warm. Charity feels her body relaxing, her shoulders unfurling from around her ears and her back meeting the couch as Vanessa leans in closer. Her hand curls around Vanessa’s jaw, feeling the muscle twitch under her fingers.
“I just want everyone to be safe,” Vanessa breathes against her mouth. “I just want you to be safe."
Vanessa says safe the way other people say love and it makes Charity’s heart beat a little faster, her hands sweat a little, her lungs burn a little hotter.
"I am,” Charity wants to whisper. “Right here, I am."
Then Vanessa is kissing her again and Charity forgets it all - thinking, breathing, feeling. Vanessa kisses her and Charity forgets about Bails and feeling small under the heat of his glare. Vanessa kisses her, hands sliding through her hair, and Charity feels like the biggest person in the world; like nothing can touch her; like she’s safe.
So, she’ll do it.
She kisses Vanessa, breathing hard as Vanessa’s hands slide under the hem of her blouse, and decides that she’ll do it. She’ll face Bails one more time, to chase Tracy off him, because it matters that much to Vanessa.
But first, she thinks as she eases Vanessa back against the couch pillow. First, I’m going to pay attention to the things that matter most to me.