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Part 15: Something Like Love

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Delighted to be toasting a marshmallow over the bonfire alongside several local schoolchildren, Maggie inhales a deep, contented breath that goes all the way to her toes. Ever since she moved to Broadchurch, covering the town’s New Year’s Eve festivities has been one of the things she most looks forward to.

In those first few years, though, after Jocelyn had disappeared back into London, reporting on the annual extravaganza was largely about redirecting her thoughts, making new memories that would in time (she hoped) supplant the ache that always seemed to find its way, entirely unbidden, to the fore of her consciousness as the clock ticked ever closer to midnight.

Maggie intentionally took on more and more responsibility for covering the festivities each year, staying on the beach later and later to people-watch and conduct interviews. She told her staff: since she had no partner or children, she didn’t mind working the holiday.

Anything to distract her wandering mind from remembering the feel of Jocelyn’s warm lips on her own. From recalling the heated way Jocelyn looked at her on this night last year. Then two years ago. Their sweet goodbye on Maggie’s doorstep. Three years ago. And then four. Her silly, celebratory jig down the hallway and into her tiny kitchen. Five years ago. And then the grief, the humiliation, the anger. When it all went horribly, devastatingly wrong.

That’s when she started working on New Year’s Day, too. Not only was she able to get lots done in the quiet newsroom, but being in her office, immersed in the work she loves, was better than sitting at home alone, recalling again and again that terrible first day of the new millennium and wishing she had confronted Jocelyn about her lies in that moment, on their bench, when she’d had the chance. Or worse, chastising herself for not trying harder, for not getting on a train to Waterloo, for not storming the castle gates once she began to realize that Jocelyn had run away. Vanished. Without a trace.

But in time, as she’d hoped, and as these things do, the terrible ache dulled. With Veronica’s help, she befriended a good many of the locals, burrowed deeply into her adopted hometown, and began to genuinely enjoy New Year’s Eve again. She only missed covering it once, when she was in the middle of chemo treatments, and it devastated her to have to miss it, to have to admit that cancer had defeated her. Correction: the toxic treatment for cancer had defeated her. For that one night only. Fuck cancer.

She still usually works New Year’s Day, but, especially in the last few years, that has become more about compensating for the paper’s dwindling resources than avoiding her own memories. As editor-in-chief of the only local paper between Exeter and Weymouth, Maggie has many responsibilities. And however exhausted (or professionally disillusioned) she may well be, these include helping her readers to remember and celebrate the many virtues of their tight-knit community. And that, petal, means freezing her arse off here on Harbour Cliff Beach once each year.

Licking the sticky remnants of a perfectly toasted marshmallow off her fingers, Maggie’s more than grateful for the raging bonfire on this cold night. She thinks of Jocelyn, whom she quite reluctantly left curled up by a crackling fire in the sitting room, their sitting room now, with her audio book and a cup of tea. For all that she’s Broadchurch born and bred, Jocelyn refuses to voluntarily spend hours shivering on a beach besieged by screaming children. There was no talking her into it. And, of course, it’s not like Maggie didn’t try.

She checks her watch: 10:53. Almost time to head back up to their bench.

They’ve planned a private little New Year’s Eve celebration of their own, she and Jocelyn, and Maggie’s been looking forward to it all day. All week, really. It’ll be their first New Year’s Eve together since that last one of the twentieth century. And if all goes as she hopes, night will turn languorously, passionately into morning as, together, they make new memories to erase the agony and anger and regret of that other New Year’s Day fifteen years ago.

Brushing from her eyes those always-errant strands of blonde hair, she turns away from the fire, trying for a glimpse of Olly through the crowd. Since Reg retired in October, the corporate big shots in Bournemouth haven’t let her hire a photographer, so somewhere out there snapping away with her trusty Nikon is her former junior reporter, back in town for the holidays.

She’s put him back on payroll for the week to get some photographs of tonight’s festivities, write a couple of pieces for the next edition, help her to revamp the Echo’s website, and drag her kicking and screaming into the modern age of clicks and emojis by teaching her to use Twitter. She rolls her eyes: as if Facebook wasn’t tragic enough. Still, when in Rome…

The air around her is, as always, thick with wood smoke, and there’s no escaping the music booming from loudspeakers. These days, though, instead of Shania Twain and Westlife, it’s Adele, Justin Bieber, and Lady Gaga. Friends and acquaintances and their children, along with people from all over West Dorset, queue for sausages and steaming jacket potatoes. And children seem to run wild and free between knots of chatting adults. But Maggie’s noticed that since Danny, those adults always take much more care now to know exactly whose kids are whose, where they are, and with whom they’re playing.

Her audible exhale is tinged with a bit of sadness. It’s the same here. But very different, too.

Last year was the first New Year’s Eve after Danny’s death, after Jack Marshall died. And after one of their own had been arrested and charged with murder. Lil was with her family in Kent, and, although Maggie’d been invited, she didn’t go because she couldn’t leave Olly and Reg to cover by themselves the town’s valiant attempt at merrymaking after such a shit storm of a summer that bled into autumn. And she didn’t really want to go, in any case. It didn’t feel right to abandon Broadchurch, to leave this beautiful place, its people—even for just a few days—when they were all reeling from the chaos that had befallen them. Differently, to be sure. But all together.

She waves a cheery and supportive ‘hello’ to Beth and Ellie, who, with Tom and Chloe and little Lizzy, are making their way back across the beach to the car park. Mark, she notes with a slight frown, is not with them.

Still looking for Olly, to let him know she’s heading home, she thinks about Jocelyn’s question from all those months ago, “D’ you think they’ll be strong enough?”

Six months out from the verdict now, and she’s confident Beth will be. And Ellie, too. Mark, though... He’s having a harder time. It was he who’d approached Maggie about writing a book about Danny. Having been raked through the coals during the trial, he asked her to help him get his story out. He wants for people to know how much he loved his son. So they’ve been meeting at the Echo every Thursday afternoon for the last five weeks. Sometimes she asks him questions; other times, he just talks. And she records it all for transcribing later. With his permission, of course.

Once Mark feels as if he’s done telling her his story, she’ll write the context; she knew Danny, and she sat through every minute of that damn trial. Plus, as she told Paul and Olly that afternoon at the Latimer’s the day before it started, she’s always preferred to assess a situation once the dust settles, to write up the bigger picture.

That’s how she’s done her best work, the work she’s most proud of. That’s how she won her Press Gazette Award. This book she’s writing with Mark is her chance to give interested readers that kind of perspective on and analysis of the trial. And to make a difference: she’s already arranged with the publisher for fifty percent of any royalties to be donated directly to the program over in Weymouth that’s working to rehabilitate former sex offenders. Thirty-five percent will go to Mark and Beth for Chloe and Lizzy, and fifteen percent will go into her own coffers. Because a journalist’s got to make a living, petal.

There’s still no sign of Olly, so she texts him instead. She’ll see him tomorrow afternoon, in any case, and he knows to upload the pictures in the meantime. She makes her way through the crowd toward the steps up to the pier that will take her to the footpath leading up to the clifftop where Jocelyn will be waiting for her.

 

***

Jocelyn watches Maggie come up over the rise. Her heart races, she can feel her face flush, and she knows her eyes have gone a bit starry. She can’t help it; she adores Maggie Radcliffe, and the sight of her still leaves her breathless. Even after all these years. Or, more likely, because of them; her bold journalist is even more self-assured, more dazzling now than she had been that windy July day on the pier fifteen years ago. Plus, there’s an agenda tonight, and she’s excited and nervous and laser focused on getting it right all at the same time.

“All finished, then?” Jocelyn asks as Maggie plops down on their bench beside her.

“For tonight,” Maggie replies, knowing she may have to go into the office tomorrow, “I trust you brought the provisions?”

“Of course,” Jocelyn confirms, feigning offense that Maggie would even need to ask while, at the same time, reaching down to lift out of Veronica’s old wicker picnic basket a thermos of hot tea, a bottle of (Maggie notes) very expensive champagne, and those real glass flutes from their first New Year’s Eve together.

“I also thought you mightn’t have had the chance for a proper supper,” she adds, revealing yet another thermos and chocolate covered strawberries, “so I brought soup. Leek and potato. And dessert.”

“What decadence!” Maggie exclaims, leaning over for a quick kiss, “You take such good care of me.”

Passing Maggie a cloth napkin (they really are trying with all this recycling and composting and reusing), Jocelyn pours the hot soup into the thermos top and hands it over. Except for that one marshmallow by the bonfire, Maggie hasn’t eaten since teatime, and having smelled the savory liquid’s delicious aroma, her stomach is in vehement protest of its empty state.

“None for you?” she queries before swallowing a committed mouthful.

Jocelyn can only shake her head. She hasn’t eaten since Maggie all but forced some toast into her at breakfast. She’s been too nervous. And now that the moment, this new moment for which she’s been planning so carefully, has arrived, she’s trying to work out how to begin.

She pours herself a cup of steaming tea while Maggie drinks her soup. Gathering courage. She takes a few tentative sips only to put the mug down beside her on the bench. Get on with it!

“Maggie,” she pauses, inhaling to marshal her thoughts and then exhaling slowly, “I have some things to say to you, and I don’t want you to respond until I’m finished, alright?

“Oh, my. This sounds very serious,” Maggie says, dabbing her lips and then wiping the thermos top with her napkin, folding it, and then handing both back to Jocelyn. “Thank you, that was delicious.”

“It is,” she confirms with a nod, screwing the lid back on and bending down to set the thermos back into the picnic basket. “It is serious.”

“Okay,” Maggie responds guardedly. Jocelyn is uncharacteristically somber for such a festive night. Intense. Edgy. And she’s not quite sure what to make of it.

This is another of those moments with Maggie, Jocelyn reflects, that she’s anticipated, planned for, thought about, and rehearsed over and over in her head. She’s even memorized a speech specifically for the occasion. But now that the moment has arrived, she finds that she doesn’t quite know how to begin. It’s not like they haven’t talked about it, but…

She inhales and jumps in:

“The last few months have been the happiest of my life. I love spending time with you, laughing with you. Arguing with you.” She pauses to take Maggie’s gloved hand and, with her thumb, finds the bare skin of the underside of that slender wrist, “Touching you.”

Maggie shudders slightly, but it’s not from the cold. That persistent little pulse deep in her abdomen is back with a vengeance as flinty slate communicates effortlessly with pale blue: she loves touching Jocelyn, too. She’d like to do so right now, in fact. But that will have to wait. Maggie suspects there’s a ‘but’ coming here, at some point, and she’s waiting to learn what it might be.

“And I’ve been doing my very best to show you, to prove to you,” Jocelyn continues, “that I have the capacity to let you in, to let you love me. It’s felt so good, so liberating, to feel as if I’ve been able to rectify some past wrongs. Being with you, seeing your smile every day, hearing your laugh, is like living inside joy.”

Oh, be still her tired, cranky heart! Jocelyn Knight, QC is also a poet! Maggie has no words in this moment that could possibly express the giddy buzz she’s feeling. And they haven’t even popped the champagne yet. She squeezes Jocelyn’s hand more tightly. She’s starting to get an idea of where this speech is headed.

“I want to spend the rest of my life with you, Maggie. To marry you.”

Maggie is beaming, but her breath catches. She’s honestly not sure she heard her properly. A raucous cheer just went up from the crowd on the beach, and the blood was pounding too loudly in her ears. She inhales, about to ask Jocelyn to repeat herself, but Jocelyn stops her with a raised palm.

“Wait! Don’t interrupt! You promised to let me finish. Here’s my argument:

First, we’re mostly living together already, and I think it’s going pretty well. Your thoroughly hopeless bed-making skills don’t really bother me all that much anymore, you’ve done reasonably well containing that chaos of books and magazines and newspapers you’ve created in the guest room, and you do usually remember to remove your toast crumbs from the butter.”

Maggie’s eyebrows are high, her eyes wide. She’s promised not to interrupt, but my goodness there are some things she’d like to say! About Jocelyn’s obsession with stacking the dishwasher from back to front, for one. About the fact that her vigorous snoring is like sleeping next to a fucking table saw. And about the fact that the so-called ‘guest room’ was many months ago designated as her office. The better, they had decided over the summer, for Maggie to be able to work and have her own space while up at the house on Briar Cliff.

But Jocelyn’s not quite finished putting her foot in the shite yet, so snappy comebacks will have to wait.

Maggie quirks her chin and purses her lips, the better to listen to what has to be the single most unromantic marriage proposal in human history. It’s truly comical, but she won’t let herself laugh. Jocelyn’s on a roll—and so very earnest!

“Second, and speaking here as a barrister, getting legally married will be the easiest way to take preemptive care of the many financial and legal details that would be more difficult for us, two women as a couple, if we weren’t married. Things like: visiting each other in hospital, decision-making, access to bank accounts, pensions, survivor benefits, inheritances, and so forth.”

Maggie’s still working hard not to laugh. Only Jocelyn Knight would memorize a marriage proposal as if it were the opening statement of a trial. She’d have expected no less. Jocelyn’s logical approach is just so endearingly predictable. And, feeling that urgent, visceral surge deep in her belly, Maggie is once again caught entirely off guard by the way her body reacts so powerfully to this daft creature, by the fierce passion of her love. Her desire. She could honestly shag her right now.

“Third, and most importantly,” Jocelyn whispers, finally relaxing into her body, into her breath, into her heart, for the first time since Maggie sat down, “I love you.” She reaches now for both Maggie’s hands, twining their fingers. “I love you, Maggie Radcliffe. I’ve loved you for such a long time that I almost can’t remember when I didn’t.”

She twists her torso further around toward Maggie beside her on the bench, the better to assess what’s happening behind that keen, attentive gaze.

“I know I broke your heart back then. I know I made mistakes. And I can’t promise I won’t make more. But I can promise to spend the rest of my life, our lives, working to make you feel loved and appreciated and valued.”

And then she’s silent. Hopeful. Watching. Waiting. They sit together in the quiet, interrupted only by the muted sounds of music and laughter wafting up from town. Seconds tick by. And then a few more. Incredibly. Slowly. Why the bloody hell does Maggie, who is usually brimming with words, seem always to keep Jocelyn hanging in suspense at these crucial moments?!

Maggie, though, has no intention of interrupting The Barrister’s Speech.

“You’re done?” she asks quietly.

“Yes.”

“And I’m allowed to respond now?” Best to check. Type A personalities such as Jocelyn’s don’t like to be caught off guard, off script. So she’s learnt to be patient.

Jocelyn exhales. “Yes.”

“Then, yes.”

“What?” Jocelyn asks, seeking clarification, disbelieving her own ears.

“Are you going deaf, too?” Maggie jokes.

“No. I just…” Jocelyn shakes her head, as if clearing it of cobwebs. “Really?”

“Yes,” Maggie laughs.

“But Maggie,” Jocelyn exclaims, “I can be so cantankerous, sullen. Morose.”

“Oh, I know. Believe me,” Maggie corroborates, “You’re also uptight, exacting, and an absolute nightmare about such ridiculous things.”

“Such as?” Jocelyn asks imperiously.

“Making the bed, for a start.” Maggie decides not to go on at Jocelyn right now about some of her other pet peeves. There’s time for that tomorrow. And the day after that. And next year. And it's not like they really matter anyway. “But I can be fairly cantankerous myself. Plus, as you’ve pointed out often enough, I’m also a leftist ‘populist do-gooder’ and a ‘kind-hearted bully.’ Plus, much like you, I’m an unabashed workaholic.”

“Ah! But I’m stubborn,” Jocelyn continues, driving home her point in what has now become a competition for who has the most character flaws. “I like to be alone. I have a perverse fondness for dramatic sulking. I can’t cook nearly as well as you do, and I have such a hard time showing vulnerability. I don’t like surprises. I’m also still learning how to be in the world, in relationship with others. With you.”

She punctuates this last point by resting her hand on Maggie’s thigh before resuming her litany: “Plus, I have all this bloody debt from my mum’s care bills. And I’m still sometimes worried that you’re going to come to your senses one of these days and realize you can do a whole lot better than me. Oh, and I’m going blind, too. Mustn’t forget that,” she ends not without sarcasm tinged with frustration at her own failing faculties.

“Are you arguing for the prosecution, or the defence?” Maggie asks with a smirk, “You can’t do both.”

Jocelyn pauses to think, smiling; she honestly hadn’t realized that that’s how she’d primed herself for this evening. But, of course, Maggie is right. She had prepared this important proposal in the only way she knows how, for the only forum in which she feels entirely comfortable and confident: performing for a jury in a court of law.

She can’t help but laugh at herself as she decides, “The prosecution, then: Will you marry me?”

“I’ve already said ‘yes.’”

“You’re sure?”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Jocelyn!” Maggie cries, rolling her eyes as, cradling Jocelyn’s face in her hands, she leans in to kiss that delicious pout.

Jocelyn’s soft lips part readily, hungrily, and Maggie fervently meets the movement with her tongue. A rush of hot wetness churns in her core as Jocelyn pulls her close, and Maggie wraps her arms around Jocelyn, tracing shoulder blades and spine as best she can through who knows how many layers under that wool coat. Smiling, she pulls back, breaking the kiss into smaller pieces, tilting her head out of the way so the soft moonlight can illuminate her barrister’s sparkling eyes, those high cheekbones.

And then Jocelyn leans in again, her hand on Maggie’s cheek, noses just touching, their breathing filling the space between them. And she can do nothing but grin: Maggie Radcliffe is going to marry her!

“Are you gonna pour us some of that champagne?” Maggie queries softly, “Time to celebrate.”

Coming reluctantly back to the world outside of Maggie’s touch, outside her warm, citrus-y scent, Jocelyn passes her the two flutes to hold while she uncorks the bottle. She pours the fizzing liquid, careful not to let it spill over their gloved hands, and sets the bottle down in the frost-covered grass beside her feet. Maggie hands Jocelyn her glass just as the bells across town start to chime, heralding the start of 2015.

"Happy new year," Maggie grins as beacons spring up along the coast in both directions.

"Happy new year," Jocelyn echoes, clinking their glasses and leaning in for another kiss.

“I love you,” Maggie murmurs, her lips against Jocelyn’s, “and I’m not going anywhere,” she reassures her. “Quite the contrary: I never want to let go of you.”

When the fireworks begin, Jocelyn looks at Maggie, and Maggie looks at Jocelyn. And they decide silently together, sharing a soft smile between them, to pack up and head back.

The fireworks must be spectacular; they certainly do go on for quite a long time, bangs and crackles accompanied by muted cheering from the beach. But our lovers, enamoured as they are of each other, and each determined to change once and for all how their old years turn to new, see them only as intermittent flashes of colour dancing on the wood planked floor underneath the claret drapes in Jocelyn’s bedroom. Their bedroom.

 

****

Three days later, having each written their vows and procured two simple bands of white gold from a wholly unpretentious woman-owned boutique in Weymouth, Paul Coates hears (unofficially, of course) Jocelyn and Maggie promise themselves to each other as they all three stand together at sunset in a little triangle on the cliff side meadow where Jocelyn finally confessed her love to Maggie.

For the record, Maggie’s not wild about the religious connotations, but Paul’s become a dear friend to them both, so she decides to overlook for this one day the fact that he’s an Anglican priest. And since he’s come perilously close to breaking all kinds of Church rules by agreeing to facilitate even this informal and wholly unauthorized same-sex shindig, her level of respect for him has skyrocketed in recent days.

Later that month, having given right and proper notice of their intent to marry, and attended to all the other necessary bureaucratic logistics, Maggie Radcliffe and Jocelyn Knight are legally joined together in matrimony at the Dorchester Registration Office. It seems only fitting that Ben and Olly serve as their witnesses. Paul is there, too, but necessarily incognito.

The official, legal ceremony is a short affair, punctuated by something like love and a whole lot of raucous laughter. Much to the dismay of one very prim and proper Dorset County officiant. And that made it all the more riotous.

 

THE END