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an ever-present help in trouble

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Gillian laughs.

“Yeah - yeah I suppose I do - me cousin is a lesbian vicar.” There’s a faraway look in her eyes.

Caroline watches her wife as her hands twist in her jacket sleeves. She’s still dripping from the rain.

“Are you coming in properly?” She prompts Gillian, aware that they’re still sitting by the door.

Gillian nods, but doesn’t move. Caroline rises, and offers Gillian her hands.

 

-

 

“I found - I found some old photos.” Gillian states quietly, making her way into the living room once she’s dried off.

In her hands, she’s clutching an old box that Caroline hasn’t seen before, she’s also wearing one of Caroline’s jumpers. It’s so big on her, nearly reaching down to her knees. Caroline bites her lip at the sight.

Gillian moves to sit with her, on the sofa. She puts the box down, and a mug of tea is placed into her hands. Caroline waits for her to talk, swallowing the unasked questions lingering in her throat.

Gillian sighs, and moves back a little. This sofa has been witness to too many revelations. She looks at Caroline, seeing the patience and trust (and curiosity) - but never anger - spread across her features.

“Okay - so Jane is me cousin - people always said we looked alike, but I never saw it. I suppose she does - I’ve not seen ‘er in ten years - Gillian pauses.

She leans forward, putting the mug of tea onto the table where her feet are nestled close to Caroline’s. Taking the box in her hands, she takes off the lid and rummages through a scattered collection of old photos. Caroline watches as she makes a quiet triumphant noise, pulling a worn photograph from the bottom of the box.

Gillian runs her thumb over the face of her mother.

“That’s me mum, there - see? An’ - she had two brothers and - that, that’s her sister.” Gillian explains quietly.

“Your mum had siblings?” Caroline asks, surprised.

“Yeah, she - she were the youngest, an’ both her brothers were killed in the war in ’43. Her, me dad, and your mum were in the same year at school - as we’ve been told many times - but me mum’s sister was quite a few years older, Margaret her name was.”

Caroline sits quietly, her brain trying to connect the dots.

“Margaret ran away - to London - soon as she were eighteen, she married some bloke and had Jane, me mum hated her for that - said she’d abandoned her, left her with parents who had lost two sons and had no love to give to their daughters. Me mum never saw ‘er again - she never went to visit, never even rang. Margaret tried, after a while - but me mum refused to speak to her. Me dad didn’t want to get involved, no surprise there.”

Gillian places the photo back in the box, resting her hand on it for a moment. Caroline’s hand finds its way to her knee, and squeezes gently.

“So, what about Jane?” She prompts Gillian, who smiles softly.

“Well, me mum never knew but - well, she might’ve known - anyway, me and Jane wrote each other letters for years. We’d send each other photos sometimes, to see what the other looked like. An’ when I were eighteen - before I married Eddie - I went to London to meet ‘er, told me mum I was visiting a friend. It were odd - meeting ‘er - felt like I’d known ‘er all me life.”

Gillian shifts a little, still smiling softly.

“I met Margaret too, me mum would’ve been livid if she’d known. She were lovely - Margaret were, bit posh but - well not as posh as you, Caz - but she seemed posh to me. I’d never been to London before, it were amazing.”

Gillian’s smile falls.

“But - but then I came back home, I married Eddie - me mum and dad hated ‘im, so it seemed like a good idea. I felt like me mum were keeping such a big part of herself from me, it were stupid - looking back it were stupid - but it’s part of the reason I never told ‘er about Eddie, an’ what he did.”

Caroline feels Gillian’s leg tense under her hand.

“They - they came to me mum’s funeral, Jane and Margaret. An’ then I went down for Margaret’s - that were the last time I saw Jane, about ten years ago. We’ll ring each other sometimes, I’ve told her all about you.” Gillian grins at her wife.

“Wow.” Caroline says.

“Yeah.” Gillian replies. Wow.

“So what’s Jane like?” Caroline asks, smiling as Gillian’s grin makes a reappearance.

“Oh - she’s a complete mess most of time. She’s too kind, that’s the thing - she were doing good, helping homeless people and addicts and the usual, y’know? An’ her and this MP bloke set up a thing, helping immigrants get themselves sorted - now that Rufus - twat - wants rid of her - ”

Gillian sighs, jaw clenched.

“Rufus is the bishop?”

Gillian nods.

“The one with the boyfriend?”

“Yeah - bloody hypocrite.”

“So. What happened with the girl?” Caroline asks.

“Hmm. Okay - yeah, so Jane took in this girl - Linh were ‘er name. She must’ve been twenty-five ish maybe, from Vietnam. An’ Jane set ‘er up with a student visa and everything, got her sorted. But it turns out she were an illegal immigrant, her visa had ran out before it were renewed. So that weren’t good, an’ then this Linh got herself mixed up in some shit when this bloke got murdered - she were the only witness, and she were off her head. Police found all sorts on her. So our Jane had to choose - well, she never really had a choice - ”

“Shit.” Caroline says.

“Yeah. That’s what I said.” Gillian replies grimly.

“So she’s coming up here?”

“Yeah. Yeah, apparently we’re in need of a vicar.” Gillian replies, moving closer to Caroline.

She sighs into Caroline’s arms. Caroline presses a kiss to the top of her head where her hair is beginning to curl from the rain.

Their moment of tranquility is broken, as they hear a car pull up outside. Gillian groans.

“I thought it’d be too damp for them today.” She murmurs.

Caroline hums in agreement, watching Alan wrestle with an umbrella as Celia waits in the car. He figures it out eventually, and opens the door for her. She emerges on his arm, and they trudge towards the house. It’s only a few steps before Alan has to negotiate the umbrella again.

“Bloody hell.” Gillian grumbles, making Caroline laugh.

She reluctantly moves away from Caroline, anticipating her dad needing assistance with the umbrella. Celia rolls her eyes at Alan as she breezes in through the door. Gillian grabs the umbrella from his hands as he stumbles in after Celia.

“Hello, love.” They both greet her, as she gives the umbrella a shake and folds it down.

She puts it to dry, and closes the door firmly against the rain. Realising the photo is still on the table, she considers distracting her dad for a moment. The sudden paleness of his face suggests he’s noticed it though.

“Alan? Are you alright?” Celia asks him, as she takes Gillian’s place next to Caroline.

Caroline tries not to sigh, and turns to Alan with concern. Gillian guides her father into a chair, whilst Caroline goes to make tea. Gillian remains standing, shifting on her feet.

“Why have you got them photos out?” Alan asks his daughter. Celia looks at him, as if she’s warning him not to cause any more drama. As if she’s never been the cause of any.

"Jane rang, earlier. So I had to explain, obviously. She had some news - ” Gillian breaks off, looking intently at her father.

Alan coughs.

“Who’s Jane?” Celia asks, looking between them.

Alan says nothing. Gillian sighs at him, and fidgets.

“She’s me cousin.” She directs at Celia, then heads to the kitchen to let her father deal (or not deal) with the aftermath.

Caroline is leaning against the counter by the sink, with her back to Gillian. She’s watching the kettle boil, as Gillian moves closer. Arms wrap around her waist, and she relaxes into her wife.

“You’ve abandoned your dad then?” Caroline comments, after a moment.

“Mmm.” Gillian murmurs into her wife’s very very soft jumper.

She’s not got much sympathy for her dad, finding herself honestly surprised that he’d never told Celia. Especially when he’d told Celia so many other things. About her. About her teenage years. About how she broke her mother’s heart. About her abortion.

Gillian sighs. Things with her dad are still complicated.

They both wince at Celia’s raised voice as it drifts from the living room. Caroline turns. Around to face Gillian, and bites her lip at the expression on her wife’s face.

“Shall we go and rescue your dad?” Caroline suggests, reaching for the tray of mugs.

Gillian puts a hand on her arm, stopping her for a moment.

“I - I just wanted to - ” Gillian sighs.

Caroline lowers her arm, her hands finding Gillian’s instead. She searches Gillian’s worried eyes.

“What is it?” She asks softly, concerned.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. About Jane.” Gillian whispers, her eyes dropping to the floor.

Caroline frowns. Gillian looks guilty.

“Darling.” Caroline says, letting go of her wife’s hands and taking Gillian’s face in her hands instead. Gillian’s eyes lock with hers.

“This isn’t some horrific horrible secret you’ve kept from me, Gillian. It’s family stuff, it’s your mother and your dad, and it’s complicated. And I’m not offended, or angry, or annoyed, alright? I’m curious, yes. But I’m not angry.”

She wipes her thumbs gently across Gillian’s face. Gillian releases a shuddering breath.

“I think ‘er ladyship might disagree.” Gillian mumbles, gesturing towards the echoes of Celia’s wrath from the living room. Caroline chuckles, then sighs.

She presses a kiss to Gillian’s forehead, and heads for the tray again. She pauses, eyes widening.

“Who’s going to tell my mother that your cousin is a lesbian vicar?” Caroline bumps Gillian’s arm with hers.

Gillian snorts.

“What was that, Alan?” They hear Celia snap, and they pause again.

 

“She’s a what?”