“Oh good, you’ve answered.”
“Sorry mum, I’ve been in meetings all afternoon.”
“Caroline, you need to come to the hospital.”
“I thought you were both there with Alan.”
“We were - we are, love. It’s - it’s not Alan who needs you now.”
“Mum, what’s happened?”
“What’s - is she - is she alright?”
“I’m not sure, love. They’ve sent her for some scans I think.”
“Scans? For - for what?”
“Her head - she must’ve hit it at some point, we didn’t realise and then she just collapsed. I’m sorry Caroline, I should’ve noticed - ”
Gillian keeps her eyes fixed to her feet as she swings her legs. Nurses bustle around her, but all she can focus on is the dirt smudged across her converse. Celia is talking to her from the chair next to her bed. The pain in her head has lessened (probably due to the IV in her arm), leaving her brain somewhat cloudy. She tries not to look at her wrist, where her father’s fingerprints are imprinted on her skin in flaring purple bruises. Celia pauses, and Gillian reluctantly pulls her gaze away from her shoes.
“I rang Caroline earlier, she’s on her way.” Celia states almost robotically.
Gillian closes her eyes for a moment and nods. Celia softens.
“Right.” Gillian mumbles.
“Love, what happened?” Celia decides to ask directly.
She watches Gillian’s brow furrow and winces in sympathy as the action pulls at the stitches at her hairline. Her daughter-in-law looks unsure and conflicted, and continues to swing her legs until her feet collide with each other and she blinks.
“He didn’t mean it, least I don’t think he did.”
Celia leans forward in her chair, concern pulling at the corners of her lips.
“Who didn’t?” She asks reluctantly, as if she already suspects.
“Me dad.” Gillian admits, looking far too guilty in Celia’s opinion.
“Okay, what did he do?” Celia prompts. Gillian observes Celia’s lack of surprise, and finds it matches her own.
Celia glances down to Gillian’s wrist before forcing her eyes back upwards.
“Catherine rang, said he were drunk up at church. I found ‘im talking to Eddie an’ me mum.” Gillian begins carefully. Celia presses her lips together tightly, a barrier against some great flood.
“I tried talking to ‘im, an’ he were alright wi’ me for a bit. Then he got angry again an’ sort of tripped when he went for my wrist. Shoved me back into the wall of church an’ just looked at me wi’ my wrist still in his hand.” Gillian watches Celia carefully, looking for any sense that her mother-in-law might believe her version of events. She’ll think you’re lying, like with - no. You need your head examined, remember?
Celia is silent, and waits for her to continue.
“I - I realised I were expecting ‘im to hit me, an’ it wouldn’t have surprised me if he had. But then he heard you shouting, an’ he pulled away an’ well, you were there after that.”
“Were you scared of him?” Celia asks.
“No - no, I weren’t. Not like before, this time I weren’t scared of ‘im. I thought I never wanted to see me dad ever again, an’ there he was calling Eddie a bastard - sorry - but he was - I never heard him call Eddie that before. Then he has a bloody heart attack - ” Gillian’s hands clench into the sheets.
She and Celia regard each other for a moment.
“Why are you here wi’ me, an’ not me dad?” Gillian asks, attempting not to sound too accusatory.
Celia doesn’t look offended, though she seems to deflate a little and sinks back into her chair. Her eyes search the floor for a moment, then flicker up to Gillian’s feet and her muddy jeans.
“You needed someone.” She explains, as her eyes find their way to Gillian’s wedding ring.
“Doesn’t me dad need someone?”
“He’s still not come round they told me, and I think what your dad needs is some time.” Celia’s gaze drops to her own wedding ring.
“You’re gonna go back to ‘im, aren’t you?” Gillian’s eyes are free of judgement.
“I do love him.” Celia states.
“Oh, I’ve noticed.” Gillian smiles slightly.
“I think he needs me, and I need him. More than I’d like to admit.”
“Are you sure?” Gillian asks, wary of Celia’s sharp tongue.
“I don’t think I’ve got a choice, but yes.” Celia sounds firm, as if the issue has been debated thoroughly inside her head.
“Right.” Gillian says again.
“I think you should give yourself some space from him though, love.” Celia adds.
“Mmm. Yeah, that were going really well until today.”
“Why didn’t you tell anyone you’d hit your head?” Celia asks a little sharply.
“I - uh - I didn’t realise.” Gillian tries.
“Try again, love.”
“I didn’t want anyone knowing.”
“I’m not worth fussing over, that’s all.”
“Not worth fussing over? You bloody well are, Gillian.” Celia bites back.
She sighs as surprise settles itself firmly into Gillian’s features.
“You didn’t even tell Caroline?” Celia tries to soften her tone a little, aware of how pale Gillian still looks.
“I know it’s stupid but she’s always having to worry about me, there’s always another f - bloody drama to dump on her. She deserves - ”
“Gillian. My daughter is an intelligent though somewhat stubborn woman, wouldn’t you agree?” Celia interrupts.
“Uh, well yes.” Gillian’s brow furrows again.
“Capable of making carefully considered judgments and decisions?”
Gillian can sense where this is going. Why did such an intelligent woman choose you as a wife? You’ve nothing to offer her but muddy jeans and more f - bloody dramas.
“So why did she marry you?”
Not for the money, obviously. Gillian decides not to bring that up.
“Maybe she’s bloody bonkers.”
Celia searches for the right words as her eye twitches in the same way Caroline’s has been known too (mostly when Gillian’s words try to keep up with her brain). She leans forward and gently pats Gillian’s hands, hesitating slightly before taking them both in her grasp.
“My daughter loves you, and she’s no fool, so that’s that.” Celia says firmly, leaving Gillian no room to disagree.
“Alright. I - I should’ve told her, I should’ve told you, should’ve told someone - ” Gillian winces at the familiar words. Should’ve told someone.
“It’s alright, love. Okay?” Celia can feel Gillian’s pulse hammering.
The doors at the end of the ward swing open, and a familiar sounding set of heels brings a soft smile to Gillian’s face. The thudding in her veins slows as she watches the impressive sight of Caroline walking (marching) towards them.
“Oh, here’s her majesty.” Celia mutters, with her hands still enclosing Gillian’s.
Caroline can breathe when she sees her wife. As she reaches the bed, Celia rises from the chair and removes her hands from Gillian’s.
“Hello, love.” She greets Caroline, giving her a quick kiss on the cheek.
“I’m going to check on your father.” Celia directs at Gillian. As she leaves, she gives Caroline a look that suggests she might be in for a long phone call later.
Caroline’s gut twists at the way Gillian tenses at the mention of Alan. She moves closer to Gillian, biting her lip at the stitches at her hairline. Gently, she traces the edge of Gillian’s face before embracing her as closely as she dares.
“I’m alright.” Gillian whispers into her hair. She feels Caroline sigh.
“Darling, you’re not alright.” Caroline pulls back to look at her wife.
“I should’ve told you.”
“Why didn’t you?” Caroline asks softly.
Her hands drop down to join Gillian’s, and she gasps slightly as she notices the bruises spreading across her wife’s wrist.
“What happened?” She asks, her concern swaying dangerously close to anger.
Gillian tells her. She tells her every detail, and finds that the way Caroline looks at her makes her want to reveal everything, so she does.
“Your dad did this?” Caroline asks once she’s finished, and Gillian wonders if maybe she should’ve focused more on that herself. She hadn’t been surprised when her father hurt her.
“I don’t think he meant to.” Gillian repeats.
“That doesn’t make it alright.”
“I’m not scared of him anymore, not that that makes any sense.”
“I suppose you see him a bit differently. I wish you’d have said you were hurt.” Caroline moves to the chair where her mother had been sitting somehow without breaking eye contact with her wife.
“I - I didn’t realise at first, an’ then I nearly told you. You asked me if I were alright an’ I nearly told you, but I just couldn’t. It were like something were stopping me. I’m sorry, Caz.”
“Gillian, I love you. You’re my wife, and if you’re hurt or upset or anything then I want to know, alright?” Caroline runs a thumb over Gillian’s uninjured wrist, feeling the reassuring pulse beneath.
“I was scared - when my mum rang - I thought you might be - ” Caroline breaks off and turns away for a moment.
“God, Caz I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to worry you, didn’t want to cause you anymore grief. I - I’m here though, I’m alright an’ I’m still here.” Gillian’s heart seizes at the tears in her wife’s eyes as she turns back.
“I know.” Caroline says softly, letting Gillian wipe her tears away.
She looks as if she’s going to say something else, before a throat clears by the end of the bed.
“Hello, Gillian. I’ve got the results of your scan.” The doctor states, eyes glued to his clipboard.
“Right, okay.” Gillian feels Caroline’s hand tighten around hers.
“So what’s the verdict?” Caroline prompts, swallowing her impatience.
“Well, there’s no brain damage which is good. Only a mild concussion, so you’ll need to be careful with your sleeping. The wrist isn’t broken, and neither are your ribs.” His eyes sweep over two surprised faces.
“Ribs?” Caroline whispers to Gillian.
“I didn’t realise I’d hurt me ribs.” Gillian states numbly.
“Well they’re just a little bruised, so we’ll give you some pain relief and you should be on your way soon.” The doctor confirms, before leaving them to it.
They sit in silence for a moment, hands still clasped. Gillian’s gaze returns to her feet, before suddenly her face breaks into a grin.
“What?” Caroline asks bewilderedly.
“You know what that means?”
“What?” Caroline can sense where this is going.
“I’ve got a brain, Caz. You were wrong.”
Caroline rolls her eyes.
“I’m not brain-dead lowlife trailer trash!”