Hailey is sad.
Hailey is sad and Millie is irritated.
Because Jean is guilty.
“I just can’t help feeling that I led her on!”
“You’re not responsible for anyone else’s heart but your own, Jean.”
That earns Millie a scoff and a glare.
“Not even yours?”
Millie shrugs, placing the last of the plates on the drying rack.
(Dishwasher is still quite a few steps away from executive chef, but at least she’s made it into the kitchen.)
“As long as you’re not callous, or cruel- which, I don’t think you could ever be, so don’t even start- no, you could feel free to take your leave of me at any moment and I wouldn’t hold you to account for my feelings on the matter.”
“I just keep going back and wondering what I did to make her fall in love with me. I mean, for god’s sake I’m old enough to be her mother! It’s… inappropriate.”
Millie rolls her eyes.
“Did Lucy do anything to make you fall in love with her?”
“I thought we’d moved on from all that.”
“Which is proof enough that Hailey will get over it, too. Eventually.”
Jean sighs, pinching the bridge of her nose.
“You’re right- this once - but I do hate to see her so obviously distressed. Poor thing looks like she hasn’t slept in weeks.”
“Honestly, Jean the worst thing you could do would be to give her a shoulder to cry on. That’ll just give her false hope.”
“So then, what’s the other option? Explaining everything to Iris and having her realize her ladies’ detective club is really a den of lesbian iniquity?”
“Strictly speaking, I’m a bisexual, but-”
“The point being , that regardless of how she may have come around on accepting Hailey, making peace with the fact that her new friends are in a lavender love triangle may be a bridge too far.”
She pauses, giving Millie a knowing look.
“You’re going to make me be the kind one? Oh, god !”
“No need to take the Lord’s name in vain, dear.”
Millie, quite literally, throws in the towel.
“ Fucking Presbyterians!”
“I’ll make it up to you, Millie, I promise.”
“You’d bloody well better,” Millie mumbles, gathering her coat to get this all the hell over with.
“Look, I swear, you don’t need to put me on suicide watch. I’m okay.”
(Hailey’s red-rimmed eyes say otherwise.)
“Can I come in?”
Millie extends the thermos in a peace offering, as Hailey glumly nods, leading her into the living room of her apartment.
“Hailey, I know that things are... painful, and awkward right now, but I just wanted to say that they will get better. And I brought you some proper tea- it’s what gives us Brits our fortitude.”
“You mean your emotional repression?” Hailey eyes her suspiciously.
Millie chuckles, grateful that Hailey still has a bit of fight left in her. She’s always better when things are a touch adversarial.
“Guilty as charged. But we’re also known for our bluntness, so I’ll just cut to the quick. I too, once fell in love with someone who didn’t love me back. It was horrendous.”
“Jean told you.”
“She didn’t have to, Hailey. Like I said- I’ve been there before.”
“So this… person. What happened?”
“Oh, you know, we made plans to travel the world together and then she abandoned me for a husband and a family. Tale as old as time, really.”
She’s glib as ever, but even now, Millie can’t quite stop her voice from catching. It’s not so much at the thought of Susan as at the memory of that hurt, so raw it felt like she wanted to crawl out of her skin every waking moment, for months after the fact.
“How’d you get over it?”
“I took the trip without her. Lived the life I wanted, alone. Let myself feel the heartache until I could genuinely be happy for her. Never angry, or bitter. Towards her, anyway.”
“I don’t think I could ever be mad at Jean.”
“No, of course not,” Millie smiles to herself. “She’s sort of preternaturally good, our Jean. Which was immensely frustrating to us mere mortals at Bletchley, but I’ve come to appreciate it more so now.”
Hailey sips from her mug of tea, knocking her knobby knees together.
“I’ve known I liked girls since I was a kid. And I’ve known that people thought it was wrong for even longer. I’m just so scared that I’ll never find what you two have.”
“Me and Jean? We’re just a pair of old spinsters. You could find so much better. You’ve got your whole bloody life ahead of you.”
“It doesn’t feel like it. It feels like my life is over.”
“So, let yourself feel like that. And wallow a bit, within reason. Drink your sorrows away and play torch songs too loud and only make it to work on time every morning by the grace of god. And then, one day, you’ll wake up and realize that you can breathe again. And you’ll catch someone’s eye on the street, and meet her smile, and even if you never see her again you’ll know that it’s possible, to feel that hopeful again.”
“I don’t want to- I’m not ready- can we all still be friends?”
Millie nods, covering Hailey’s shaking hand with her own cool one.
“I would recommend that you set some boundaries for your own sake- group interactions only, at least for a good while. Iris’s place is a good neutral territory. And If I’m overly firm with you, it’s only because Jean won’t be, you understand. We both think the world of you.”
“You just think more highly of each other,” Hailey huffs.
That thought gives Millie pause.
“I’m not even sure that’s quite right. Jean and I- we’ve been in the wars. In every possible way. There’s no one in the world I trust more-with my life, with my secrets, with my biggest failings. She’s the only one who truly sees the worst bits of me, so no, I’m not certain she thinks that highly of me at all.”
Hailey’s face is inscrutable.
“That kind of makes me want to upchuck. I had no idea you guys were so… mushy.”
“Yes, well,” Millie blushes, “It would appear that there is indeed a heart behind all this makeup.”
Although she’s still rather surly, the color has at least returned to Hailey’s complexion.
“Thanks, for the tea. And the sympathy.”
Millie smiles, surprised at the unexpected warmth she feels towards Hayley (now that her baser jealous instincts are well and truly vanquished).
“Anytime, truly. And if you ever need a wing=woman, I am an expert in that sort of thing.”
“I’ll… think about it,” Hailey compromises, still wary about this whole scenario.
Jean is compulsively cleaning when Millie returns home.
“If you keep dusting the shelves will disintegrate.”
“How did it go? With Hailey?”
“Better than I thought it would, frankly. I seem to have hidden wisdom when it comes to matters of love and loss.”
“I hope you didn’t advise her to hop on the next ship out.”
Millie flares her nostrils. Just because the remark is truthful doesn't mean it's justified.
“I didn’t. I told her to protect herself, and to give things time, but I held open the door for a long and fruitful friendship for us all, eventually.”
Jean finally sets aside her feather duster, smoothing the pleats on her skirt.
Her eyes are shining and grateful, and Millie appreciates how powerful that gaze can be, when one has its undivided attention.
“It’s a pretty small ask in comparison to taking a bullet.”
“Not for you it wasn’t.”
“You know me too well.”
“And yet, here I am.”
Millie laughs, but the smile is pained.
“You know, I had plans to take you up on my promised reward as soon as I came back, but I’ve more a mind to have a good cry and a long sleep.”
Jean steps towards Millie, helping her out of her coat. The tenderness is too much for her to bear, and Millie feels the tears rolling hotly down her cheeks.
“There, there,” she whispers into Millie’s ear, holding her close. “I know it still hurts. It’s alright dear, I know.”
“I’m sorry-” Millie hiccups- “I don’t even- I’ve just never talked about it. I said all these things to Hailey that I never let myself do, not properly. It’s not about you.”
Jean just squeezes her more tightly, humming assurances in her ears as she rocks her back and forth, until the sobs have subsided and her legs don’t feel quite so shaky.
They get ready for bed in their usual quiet rhythm, Millie holding back the sheets for Jean before curling in next to her.
“When I found out Fiona had died, I called in sick to work and stayed drunk for a week straight.”
“That’s… out of character for you.”
“When Lucy got married it was only three days. A different kind of grief, but grief still.”
Jean pauses, letting the memory breathe. She’s always been better with silence than Millie has.
“It must have been hell for you, when Susan came back after all those years.”
“And yet, the best thing to happen to me since Bletchley.”
Jean doesn't permit a deflection.
“Did you let yourself mourn, the second time?”
“I-no, I guess not. I hadn’t thought of it as such, seeing as she’s still very much alive and well.”
“But whatever you had, whatever you wanted to have, it isn’t. And that’s alright. Good, from where I’m lying, but, you deserve some closure, whatever that means to you.”
“Yes, darling. Thank you.”
Jean mumbles in the affirmative, already more asleep than not.
Millie turns on the lamp, grabs a pen and paper. Writes the letter she could never have sent, not then.
I hope you’re well
Jean and I are shacking up. Who'd have thought? Truth be told, I always did fear that if you and I ever made it to bed you'd have no interest in reciprocating but- that is absolutely not a problem now!
I’m happy, at long last. I hope very much that you are, too.
Millie has had a day. Three tables sent back their orders because the cook couldn’t be arsed to listen to her, the post-church crowd left abysmal tips, and the new bus boy wouldn’t stop making lewd gestures at her. While keeping a smile plastered on her face, she practices curses in every language she can think of.
Which only reminds her of her wasted potential.
By the time she gets home, Millie is an inferno of rage and frustration.
“I swear to god, Jean, I’m quitting that place tomorrow. It’s not worth it. I’d rather grovel on my knees before my mother asking for money before I work another day in that hellhole.”
Jean turns around from her perch over the stove.
“They’re looking to hire another bookseller at the shop. I’m sure your linguistics expertise would come in handy.”
“And watch half of San Francisco swoon over you all day? I don’t think I’d last a day.”
“I thought you were above jealousy, hmmm?”
“It’s not jealousy. It’s an utter intolerance for insipidity.”
Jean shuts off the burner, turning fully to Millie.
“Are you having an existential crisis, or are you just cross?”
“Why not both?”
“Are you hungry?”
“No. Although it smells delicious and I very much appreciate your cooking, Jean. Honestly.”
Jean nods, crossing her arms and assessing the woman before her.
“Do you need a bit of time to yourself, or would you like company?”
“Are you ever going to stop asking me questions?”
Jean takes that as instruction to stop talking entirely, and halts Millie’s downward spiral with a sound kiss.
“Correct answer,” Millie whispers against her lips, leaning into her embrace.
“Now, tell me what you need, dear.”
Jean’s stare forbids protest of any sort. But well, Millie’s lost the desire to fight after today, anyhow. She’s bloody tired.
“I need you to touch me until I forget what a shit day I’ve had.”
“That wasn’t so difficult, was it?”
Millie turns on her heels before pausing en-route to the bedroom, spying an old friend resting against the wall.
“Jean? What do you say we bring the cane back for a visit?”
If Jean’s eyes widen, she doesn’t display any dismay outwardly.
“Absolutely. Poor thing must feel awfully useless these days. It’s a kindness, really.”
Jean shifts the cane back and forth between her hands, remembering the balance, the way it fits against her palms.
“Talking about something and doing it are two different things entirely, Camilla. I just don’t want you to be rash.”
“Trust me, Jean. I’ve given this plenty of thought. And I wouldn’t dream of asking you to do something you weren’t alright with. But I believe you once promised me a favour?”
Jean allows one side of her mouth to rise in the suggestion of a smile.
“You’ve a perverse idea of a favour, young lady.”
Millie raises a brow, insouciant.
“Is that cause for punishment?”
“Only because you ask so nicely.”
(There’s been hints of this before- hits of open palms against bare skin that make Millie shiver, nips of teeth and lips that veer a bit too firmly into “bite” territory to be confused with kisses. Aside from the odd verbalized fantasy, props don’t generally make appearances in their bedroom. But heavens, if the fire in the pit of Millie’s stomach is any indication, Jean’s cane could have the most magnificent retirement.)
Jean inhales slowly through her nose, perching on the edge of the bed.
“If there’s anything at all, that you don’t like, you stop me, yes?”
“I’ll start singing “God Save the Queen” so you won’t have any confusion whatsoever.”
Jean moves to remove her spectacles.
“-keep them on. Please. Only I don’t so much mind the matronly look at the moment.”
“You’ll get an extra stroke for that attitude, girl.”
(And yes, the whole thing is patently ridiculous, seeing as Millie is veering closer towards forty every day, but try telling that to her knickers.)
“Alright, you know the drill. Pants down, skirt up, over my knee.”
(If Jean had used her voice to this effect at Bletchley, they probably would have lost the war. So many sacrifices made for victory.)
Jean warms her up with feather-light touches, followed by light spanks, just sharp enough to increase the blood flow to Millie’s skin (and simultaneously trigger every neuron in her body, it would seem).
“What in the world am I going to do with you, Camilla?”
“Language.” Jean punctuates the admonition with a light rap from the cane.
(Millie’s always been more invested in psychodrama than action, all in all. The promise of the pain will always be more enticing than the pain itself.)
“Fucking hellllll,” Millie moans, trying to stop herself from moving too forcefully against Jean’s lap.
“What in the world will I do with that filthy mouth of yours? I ought to have you on your knees, the way you speak.”
Millie’s stifled sob of frustration isn’t the answer Jean wanted to that rhetorical question, and she receives another perfectly placed stroke of the cane.
It occurs to Millie that Jean’s had practice with this, to be as adept as she is, and that leads to a whole new wave of excruciating euphoria.
Somehow, Millie finds her words.
“Jean, if you touch me now, I swear I would gladly spend the rest of my life on my knees. In a heartbeat.”
But Jean is so wonderfully cruel when she wants to be.
She slips her hand around Millie’s waist, fingers splaying against the pale arch of her hip, right at the spot that makes her toes curl.
She’s a patient woman, Jean is, and if Millie had eyes in the back of her head she would see something very close to prayer in Jean's face, as she slowly moves her fingertips closer to where Millie needs her.
As it is, she just sees the insides of her eyelids, as she tries to block out enough of her senses to survive the next minute.
Millie remembers sniggering in school, when the music teacher had explained the concept of an orchestral climax. But the way Jean touches her, in concert with one last stroke of the cane and one growled “good girl,” well, it’s nothing short of symphonic.
“Eat your heart out, Mahler,” Millie sighs, rolling languidly onto the mattress.
“Either you’ve just had a stroke, or I’ve been paid a tremendous compliment.”
“The latter, most definitely the latter,” Millie whispers into the duvet, relishing the feel of the cool fabric against her flushed cheek.
Jean kisses her temple, setting the *blessed* cane aside and rubbing her hand in soothing circles on Millie’s back.
“I take it your day isn’t quite as horrible now, hmmm?”
“Best day ever.”
“And you haven’t even eaten dinner yet.”
“Now that you mention it, I do seem to have worked up an appetite.”
“You know, Jean,” Millie muses between bites of pasta, “if, for some reason, you ever do need to use a cane again, you’d have to get a new one.”
“I use things for a long time, Millie. Can’t be throwing out this, that, and the other merely because it’s gotten a bit worse for the wear.”
“Oh, I don’t give a monkey’s about how old it is. I’m more concerned that I’d have a swooning spell trying to walk down the street by your side.”
“You flatter me.”
“Who said anything about you ?”
Jean purses her lips in mock-annoyance.
“I understand, why women choose to have families, in theory.”
(And now Jean really is concerned that she may have caused Millie neurological damage, because these conversations do not happen in their home.)
“But, honestly, can you imagine getting up to all that with little ones underfoot?”
“No, Millie, no I can’t. And I won’t, because I’d quite like to keep my place in heaven.”
“I thought you lot believed in predestination.”
“It’s a good thing we do, or this whole living in sin thing would probably take me off the list, anyhow.”
“I always thought hell would be a riot. Too many fuddy-duddies in paradise.”
“Remind me of how we got onto a theological bent in the first place?”
“I believe I was thanking my lucky stars that I’m an old maid.”
Jean clears their plates, pouring a bit of scotch for each of them.
“But, I suppose I ought to thank you as well,” Millie husks, wrapping her arms around Jean from behind.
There was a time when Jean wouldn’t accept thanks from anyone, for anything.
A woman does what she must, after all. Gratitude is too often someone else’s misplaced guilt, anyhow.
But she’s learned a bit of grace, these last few years, and so she accepts Millie’s offering.
"Go on, then."