Charity looks around Vanessa’s shoulder, frowning at the empty space behind her. “Where’s Noah?”
Vanessa makes a face. “Er, what do you mean?”
“Noah. The big blonde boy attached to your side?” Charity points to Vanessa’s shoulder. “Usually just about there. Seems to be missing.”
“What’re you on about?” Vanessa picks up two empty cups on the table, putting them into the sink gently. She turns the water on, rinsing them out as she looks back at Charity. “He’s not attached to my side.”
Charity quirks an eyebrow. “Uh, yes, babe, he is. Surprised he slept in his own bed. Every since yesterday-“ She stops quickly, words catching in her chest. Ever since yesterday, when they were still celebrating.
When Lisa was still alive.
She clears her throat and tries again. “Ever since yesterday, he’s been two steps behind you.”
“Oh, that can’t be true.” Vanessa wipes her hands on the towel next to the sink and then leaves it there. When she’s close enough, she reaches for Charity’s hands, holding them close to her chest. “I’m sure it’s just that he’s come out of that cave of a room and you’ve not seen him for so long.”
Charity scoffs. “Yeah, babe. It’s not. Debs said she told him he could stay at hers last night but he stayed home.”
Vanessa runs her thumbs over the high and low of Charity’s knuckles, her nail scratching lightly. She shakes her head, eyes bright, and kisses Charity softly. “He wanted to stay in his home, Charity.”
“He told Debbie he wanted to stay with you.”
Vanessa brushes it off. “It was a hard day. He probably just wanted to spend the night in his own bed.”
Charity shakes her head, not convinced. “Listen, ‘Ness, I’m sorry. But he’s been sticking to you all day.”
And he has, Charity thinks. At breakfast, he shifted his chair closer to Vanessa’s, sharing elbow space as Debbie and Aaron crowded in. He helped her with getting the boys fed and off for the day, tagging along on the ride. He followed her through the pub all morning. When Sam went off and stormed out of the pub, Noah slipped closer Vanessa’s side. He was just over her shoulder, hovering like a nervous mum at the first day of nursery. Where she stepped, he stepped. When she moved, he moved. Charity watched him curiously all day, unsure of his sudden change in opinion.
He’s been getting better lately. Rolling his eyes and admitting she was engaged to be married. Not shrugging Vanessa off when handed him his tea or told him to pick up after himself. But this was different. This was more.
This was a boy, worried that a stable presence in his life was going to up and disappear on him. Charity understands the feeling.
In an instant, Lisa was gone.
Just like that.
It made her hold Vanessa a little tighter last night. It made her kiss Moses and Johnny a few more times than usual. It made her smile at Noah and Debbie, her hands finding theirs to touch and squeeze. All to know they were there, within reach. As long as she kept them close, she wouldn’t lose them. Not yet.
“I’m sure it’s nothing,” Vanessa says lightly She says it as if she knows that Charity isn’t lying; that Noah has been an attached limb all day. She says it as if it doesn’t mean anything much, as if his easy affection today hasn’t been so hard won.
As if he isn’t worried Vanessa will up and vanish. As if Vanessa doesn’t know that.
“It’s the truth,” Charity says one last time, letting herself lean in and rest her forehead against Vanessa’s chest.
Vanessa hums and kisses the top of Charity’s head. “Now you tell me the truth. How are you?”
“A mess,” Charity says, throwing her head back. “I know she wanted me to be practical, but…”
“But you’re human,” Vanessa interrupts. “And you’re allowed to feel things, Charity. Remember, when you’re with me, you-“
“Don’t need to hide it,” Charity finishes. “Yeah, babe, I know,” she says softly. “I know.”
Vanessa kisses her forehead now, lips lingering for a moment before someone clears their throat behind them. Charity looks up and catches Noah looking away, his cheeks flushed.
“Sorry, I can come back.”
“Don’t be silly,” Vanessa says. She doesn’t step away from Charity, squeezing her hand tighter instead. “Do you need something?”
Noah looks at her for a moment, eyes flickering away before they settle on Vanessa. “No. Not really. I just wanted to see if you wanted to…” Charity watched him fidget with his hands for a moment before he settles on what to say. “Do you want a rematch? It’s alright if you’re busy.”
“I think I’ve got time,” Vanessa says, sparing a glance at Charity as she untangles from her and moves across the room. “Your mum was just saying how she can’t wait to see me trample you.”
“Yeah, alright,” Noah says. He’s smiling, already holding out a console for Vanessa. “She thinks she’s good at this,” he tells Charity. “She’s not.”
Vanessa swats halfheartedly at his shoulder. “Oi! I’m not as bad as I used to be, am I?”
Charity watches the lines of Noah’s face - too many lines for such a small boy. They shift and pull as he rolls his eyes and smiles a bit wider at Vanessa, leaning in when she squeezes his shoulder gently.
“No,” she hears him say. “You’re not.”