It was, truly, just her luck.
Caroline looked at the reservations, the train tickets, and her scheduled time off and sighed.
“Oh, darling, its not that bad,” Celia said as she absently patted her daughter’s hand in passing. “Boys grow up, and become men. And men always have better things to do.”
“Yes, I know, but Flora too...”
“Yes, well, Ginika can’t be blamed for the mix-up. Think of it as a nice vacation alone.”
“But it wasn’t meant to be alone,” Carolina sighed as she closed the folder and set it to one side. “And its not what I would have booked if I were going somewhere alone.”
“Well dear, I’m sure it will all work out somehow.”
“What will all work out?” Alan asked as he poked his head in the kitchen.
“Caroline’s vacation plans,” Celia said before her daughter could open her mouth. “She had two rooms and tickets all purchased for her, Flora and the boys to go to Brighton for two weeks. And of course the boys now both have plans and can’t go and Ginika’s trip over here to visit was shifted up due to a work conflict and so Flora’s off with her exploring Italy and France for the next month.”
“Oh, that is too bad...but you could take Gillian.”
“What?” Celia and Caroline.
“She would never leave her farm that long,” Caroline.
“And she hates traveling, doesn’t she?” Celia.
“She likes the beach,” Alan countered with a smile. “An’ she’s been put off farm work at least two or three more weeks for her back.”
“Who is looking after the sheep, then?” Caroline.
“Our Ellie. She’s become quite the sheep farmer, she has.” Proudly. “Gillian’s even said she could probably take over it completely if she wanted to retire. Not that she does, of course, but that’s quite a compliment from her.”
“I suppose it is,” Caroline admitted. “Well...are Raff and Calamity staying with them too?”
“Yes, and Raff would probably kiss you for taking Gillian out from underfoot for two weeks. She’s about to drive them barmy, around all the time and able to do naught but complain.”
“Well, I’ll give her a ring but I’m really not sure...”
“Oh, she’ll go,” Celia said with a certainty that surprised her daughter. “If you’re asking, she will.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Caroline, sharply.
“Just that she’s very fond of you, dear.”
Caroline calls, and to her surprise Gillian accepts. She calls and cancels part of the plans, but not all of it. Makes arrangements to pick her up in three days to head to the train. And off they go.
“I haven’t been on a proper vacation years,” Gillian admitted as they sat on the trained and waited for it to depart. “Not since...well...”
Caroline knew that look. It meant the sheep farmer’s mind was touching on one of the two brothers responsible for most of her emotional baggage. Quickly, she diverted her companion with, “Well, that’s not true. We did spend that holiday last year in London with everyone.”
“Oh, three days.” Waving a hand. “And only two hours away. I mean a proper get away, where you actually have to pack a decent bag and have time for more than a quick buzz about the local stops.”
“Is Ellie really doing that well with the sheep?”
“Yeah, she is. I told you that.” Giving Caroline a look.
“I know, but there’s a difference between someone doing well when you’re still there to look over your shoulder and trusting them to do it well when you’re several miles away on a vacation.” Glancing over at her squirming her seat. “How’s your back?’
“You’re very lucky, you know.”
“Yes, yes, I know.” Rolling her eyes.
“It could have been far worse.”
“And if Raff hadn’t found you when he did-”
“Ok, if I’m on vacation, can I get a break from being told what an idiot I am?” Gillian groused with a scowl. “I know I should have asked for help, or said something when the twinges started. I know I’m lucky I only sprained my back an no worse. I know I could have laid there hours in the rain before someone found me if Raff hadn’t been wantin’ me to look at his car. I know. Don’t make sittin’ still for the last two weeks any easier, alrigh’?”
“...I’m sorry, you’re right.” Briefly putting a hand on her arm. “I’m just glad you’re alright.”
“Yeah, you pillock.” Rolling her eyes.
“Brain dead trailer trash.”
The names were almost affectionate now. And they both smiled at the end.
“So, all I’ve been doing is watching crap telly. How’s the school doing? You ever catch who was havin’ sex in the locker rooms an’ leaving their wrappers behind?”
“Oh, did we, and you’ll never believe who it was-”
The hotel was right on the beach, and Gillian tuned out the very apologetic girl behind the desk and the increasingly irate Caroline as she let the pull and push of the waves lull her into complacency. Her ears did perk up when she heard, ‘A complimentary drink at the bar while you wait-’
“Yes, fine,” Caroline snapped, turning sharply away and tugging on Gillian’s sleeve to pull her along. “Come on, might as well.”
“What’s wrong, Caz?”
“Whatever imbecile took my call a few days ago didn’t cancel half my reservation like I asked, they cancelled the whole bloody thing,” Caroline replied dryly. “Which means that right now, they don’t have a room for us.” To the bartender. “Gin and tonic and...?” To Gillian.
“Right. Two gin and tonics.” Back to Gillian. “She’s getting the manager, who is going to sort this out. I don’t know what we’re going to end up with, though-”
“Miss Dawson?” It's the manager. Caroline meets up a few steps away from the bar, and Gillian simply sits and enjoys her drink. He’s very apologetic, admitting the mistake. Caroline gets a call as he’s leading her back to the front desk to arrange everything, and its Flora. She asks Gillian to see to it, and Gillian does, snagging both of their drinks as she does.
“Decide to leave everyone else at home?” the manager asked politely as he quickly scrolled through his available rooms.
“Oh, they were busy,” Gillian replied mildly. “Children. They grow up, get lives of their own...”
“Yes, they do. Do you think Miss Dawson would appreciate a complimentary upgrade? I know there is no excuse for this kind of mix up, but-”
“Yeah, yeah, she would probably appreciate that.”
“Do you have anything special planned for your trip?”
“No, but it is something we’ve been sayin’ we’d do for years. Just...get away for a few weeks. Away from it all.”
“I’m afraid there’s only one room-”
“S’fine, we’ve shared before.” Smirking to herself.
“Oh, right. Of course.” Typing things in. Glancing up at her, then Caroline and back again. “Actually, there is a complimentary upgrade I’d like to give you, to make up for the mistake. I’ve got you in a Belmont suite, with a private balcony. Here are your room cards, and the elevators are over there to your left. Please enjoy.”
“Right, thanks. Cheers.” Getting Caroline just as she hangs up. “All’s well?”
“Yes, I’ll call Flora back in a bit when we’re settled in.”
“Right. Here’s your key, let’s go.”
“That was quick.”
“I think you really lit a fire under ‘im.”
“They messed up my reservation, I was ready to do more than light a fire under the idiots.”
“C’mon, Caz. We’re on vacation! Relax.”
They exit the elevator.
“These are the nicer suites.”
“Oh, they upgraded you for free.”
“Did they say which one?”
“Belmont, I think.” Following the numbers down the hall.
“Belmont?” Frowning. “But isn’t that the-”
“Here it is.”
Slides the card in, pops the door open.
It's a honeymoon suite.
“This is the second time this has happened,” Caroline said as she paced the private balcony with its gorgeous view of the ocean below.
“Mm-hm,” Gillian agreed, enjoying the complimentary wine left in the chiller. Caroline scoffed at the label, but was still sipping at a glass of it as she did.
“Are you sure you’re alright with this? We could try another hotel...”
“It’s peak season, anything that doesn’t have bedbugs and decent food is probably booked,” Gillian replied mildly. “Besides, the bed is nearly the size of my bedroom. If we can’t manage to put up with each other in something that huge, I’m not sure we’d manage with two separate beds.”
“True.” Rueful grin.
“What d’you suppose it is?”
“What ‘dyou mean?”
“That people in hotels keep thinkin’ we’re together?” Smirking. “I think its your lesbian power-bitch aura. Stops even the straight ladies dead at 30 paces, and if I’m following you about I must be thoroughly ensnared by your spell.”
“And if that’s true, how are you not?” Giving her a dubious glare.
“Oh, you get immunity with a proper insult. Which, given that that was the first thing you ever said to me, I’m all set.”
“Ha!” Looking down at the waves. “It is a beautiful day. I think I’m going down to the beach. Are you coming?”
“Oh.” Glancing at her still bag. “...maybe later.”
“I’m drinking wine. The beach can wait.”
“You’re a terrible liar.” Coming to take the seat next to her. “Out with it.”
“...y’know, Calam is getting big. Likes to help, like packing grandma’s bag for her trip.”
“An’...Raff tried to buy a few things for our Ellie last month. Got a few sizes wrong, but she took it as a compliment. An’ since I’m a bit smaller...”
“Is there a point to this, Gillian?” Teasingly.
Gillian scoffed, and rolled her eyes. “Right, I’ll just show you then.” Opening her bag, she pulls out a black string bikini. “That’s my swimsuit, because that’s what Calam found in the drawer, an’...so that’s what I’ve got. I didn’t realize it until I was gettin’ my jacket out for the train, an’ found it.”
Caroline takes a minute to reply. “...I don’t see what the problem is.”
“Oh, c’mon Caz. I wear that down t’the beach, there’ll be no convincing anyone I’m not here on a mucky trip.”
“And they can all hang for all I care,” Caroline replied as she got to her feet and snagged her own bag. “I’m changing to go down and enjoy the beach while it's still nice. You should too, but I won’t make you. We’re not joined at the hip, and if you want to go do something else you’re more than welcome to.”
“Is that your way of telling me you don’t want me to come?” Head tilted to the side. “You do that sometimes. Talk at things sideways...”
“No.” Turning to look her in the eyes. “If I didn’t want you along and possibly around all the time I wouldn’t have invited you in the first place. Alright?”
“...alright.” Doing her nervy, twitchy thing.
“Although it occurs to me that I should have asked you before assuming you would be alright sharing a room with me. This is your vacation too, and I want you to enjoy yourself. However and with whomever you want. So if you want your own room, just say the word and we’ll go get it sorted out downstairs.”
“Is that you trying not to say ‘in case you want to act like a slapper’?”
“Just takin’ the piss, Caz.” Smiling. “Yes I’ll come. No, I don’t want another room. Nor do I plan on acting like a slapper. Don’t really have a reason to, if you’ll be around.”
“Alright.” Smiling. “Though I won’t hold it against you-”
“Oh, piss off.”
“Right.” Smiling now.
Gillian, doing her nervous self-reflection on was she too eager to accept this invitation? Two weeks alone with her Caroline. Not her Caroline, of course, but it always feels like she has to share her with everyone else and it's nice not to have to do that. To have her here, and no one else, and not have to worry about Raff and his stupid comments or saying the wrong thing in front of the kiddies. Or...anything.
Just...her and Caz.
She knows she’s probably smiling like a fool, but there’s no one else to see it, and for once she doesn’t care.
Caroline usually bought her own sunglasses, but these were a gift from an especially proud Lawrence. They didn’t suit her at all, she thought, but she wouldn’t have traded them for their weight in gold at that moment. The same mirrored lenses that she was sure made her look a fool also meant she could watch Gillian in her black string bikini with no one the wiser. Including Gillian.
She’s have to thank Raff later, and Ellie, but without telling them why. Not that Gillian didn’t look good in her usual jeans and plaid shirts (she looked good in just about everything she wore, if Caroline was being honest) but, well...even if she were still lying to herself she would be hard pressed not to stare at so impressive a sight.
It had taken time to admit that she was perhaps a bit more fond of her step-sister than anyone should be of a relative by marriage. The way she looked forward to seeing Gillian more than she did the women she dated was her first big clue. The second was how an impromptu call from the woman had turned an absolute shite day at school right on its nose. When she’d emerged from her office thirty minutes later, her assistant had looked as though she’d seen a ghost the way Caroline was smiling.
“You were ready to chew steel and spit nails half an hour ago,” the woman replied flatly. “Or have you already forgotten that Timmy McCrory’s parents have-”
“Oh, no,” Caroline replied mildly, waving a hand. “It will be a shit storm, yes, but I will weather it and live to fight another day. And win, if I have anything to say about it.”
“...right. Who was that you were on the phone with?”
“I’d like to have them on speed dial for the next time you come out of a meeting that angry. If they can turn your mood around that quickly, it seems a prudent precaution.”
But the words had stuck in her mind for weeks as she tried to come to terms with...things.
Gillian might be a slapper and uneducated and a borderline alcoholic, but where it counted she never failed.
She was there for every important occasion and anniversary. If not boisterously celebrating with everyone else, then quietly sitting to the side to take care of whatever needed doing. She showed up once in the middle of the night when Alan and Celia were on a trip and Caroline, Flora and Lawrence all came down with the flu to clean up puke, administer medicine, and cook a pot of chicken soup on the stovetop. She was excellent with Flora, and surprisingly good at steering the intractable Lawrence into being less of a prick for family events. William liked her, but he liked everyone, and Celia treated her with a sort of resigned fondness. Between the two, it was basically a wash.
And even if the rest of her family hated the small woman, she wasn’t sure her heart wouldn’t still skip a beat whenever their eyes met.
Still, she’d resigned herself to simply being the doting sister some years ago. Whether or not Gillian would consider a relationship with a woman (which Caroline wasn’t certain was out of the question, given the wide variety of her tastes already) having a relationship with her step sister would be a step too far. Their children referred to one another as ‘Aunt Gillian’ and ‘Aunt Cazza’ (ala Raff the incorrigible), their parents were married and expected them to act as siblings. The lines were drawn before she knew she wanted to step over them.
So, on a beach with a beautiful sky stretched overhead and the waves playing their endless music in the background, she enjoyed what she could with covert looks and told herself it would have to be enough.
Gillian wasn’t a classic beauty, but there was something...magnetic about her. She was fit, that was for certain. Muscles from laboring for her sheep left her limbs thin and lithe. Her hips were still narrow, and her stomach flat despite her awful diet and drinking habits. She had a touch more softness about her frame than when Caroline first met her, but that was to be expected after nearly three weeks of bedrest. She sat beside her sister in her chair, one leg constantly jigging up and down as she tried not to fidget with her drink.
“You still awake?”
“Of course I’m still awake.”
“You just hadn’t turned a page in awhile. Thought you might have dozed off.”
“Oh.” Of course she would notice that. Only you weren’t reading because you were too busy staring at her cleavage, you wanker. “No, just...distracted.”
“Who’s distracting you?” Teasing smile.
“Who said it was a who.” Attempting to be lofty.
“Oh, please Caroline. That’s a book on some ridiculous chemical something or other you’ve been wanting to read for months. You aren’t going to let something as simple as waves on a beach distract you from it.” In her ‘I’m simple, not an idiot’ voice. “Well? Who is she?” Glancing about.
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” Turning back to her book.
“Bet I can guess.” Smirking. “Like...hm, is it the girl with the braid?”
Caroline glanced up, curious in spite of herself. “What-...her? She looks young enough to be my daughter.”
“Thought you liked them a bit younger.”
“A bit younger, maybe. Not young enough to be my child.” Going back to her book.
“Alright, then cuts out a few of the other options.”
“Do you want to go for a walk?”
“Scared I’ll figure it out?”
“Certain that if I have to keep watching your leg practically vibrate itself off with nervous energy, I’ll go mad long before two weeks are up.”
“Sure. C’mon then, Caz.” Getting to her feet, stretching. “I bet we can make it that pier and back without too much trouble.”
Remembering after the fact that this is the woman who thinks a ‘short walk’ is no less than five miles around her farm. Oh dear.
“Speak for yourself.”
“Oh, c’mon. You’re fit for your age. Unless you’ve been spending more time behind your desk than you said you were.”
“Not every day.” Standing slowly, stretching. Looking away from Gillian so she doesn’t get caught staring again. “It’s hard, trying to undo decades of sloppy work.”
“You’ve been there five years.”
“And it’ll take at least five more before we’re anywhere near fighting shape.” Grumbling.
“Ha, as if you haven’t already done more than they ever thought would be possible.”
“Well, you never seemed to feel that way.”
“What do you mean?”
“Anytime I’ve ever told you ‘I’d like to do this, but I’m not sure I can manage it’ you’ll tell me ‘course you can’, as if my setting my mind to it is all that really matters.”
“Well...innit?” A wide smile.
“Whatever.” Rolling her eyes.
“Say, what about her?” Pointing out someone else on the beach.
Oh, it was going to be a very long walk.
It wasn’t until that night, after that a greasy dinner of fish and chips from a street vendor and a few fancy drinks from the hotel bar (“I was planning to spare no expense with the kids, might as well do the same for ourselves,”) that Caroline remembered about Gillian’s back.
“How are you feeling?” she asked the smaller woman as they lay together on the enormous bed and stared at the equally enormous telly on the wall.
“Tops, Caz. Why?”
“And your back?”
There wasn’t a reply.
“It’s not bad.” Grumbled under her breath.
“Have you been taking your muscle relaxers?”
“Of course not, I’ve been drinkin’, haven’t I?” Giving her a look. “I’m not an idiot.”
Feeling responsible, because she should have remembered. “Where does it hurt?”
“Oh, just...ache’s a bit along the side where I had the sprain.” Waving a hand.
“Because I got rather good at sorting out back problems from other people.” Dourly. “Seems to be a common denominator among people I have shared a bed with.”
“Well, maybe you should be askin’ what you’re doin’ to ‘em that gives ‘em bad backs like that.” Teasing. Still sitting forward, knees up so she can rest her chin on them.
“Oh, hush you.” Fetching something from her bag. “Is this alright?” Offering Gillian her lotion.
“What d’you mean?”
“I mean its easier to help rub out the soreness with lotion, but you’re going to end up smelling like it and you already took a shower. Is that alright or do you want me to use something else?” A touch impatiently.
She’s going to smell like Caroline. Oh, it's like a dream come true. Realizing Caroline is waiting for an answer, “S’fine.” Too quickly, clearing her throat and fastening her eyes on the TV. Handing it back without looking.
“Alright.” Settling behind her. “I’m just trying to figure out where it hurts.” Trailing fingers over the old, soft t-shirt, asking questions. Figures out the boundaries of it and what works best. Then puts some lotion on her palms, slips her hands under the edge of the tshirt and gets to work.
Both of them are pretending to be more absorbed in the TV than the electric connection of Caroline’s fingers gently digging into Gillian’s back.
At the end of it, Caroline reluctantly withdraws, then goes to the bathroom to wash her hands and finish getting ready for bed. Gillian tries not to read into it, telling herself Caroline is just being helpful and really she should just be grateful that for once her back feels completely, totally relaxed. None of the rest of her is now, but at least her back is good.
Caroline wakes in the middle of the night to fight Gillian is curled into her back. Which is really just a Gillian thing, and nothing she should feel so pleased about. She does that to everyone, right?
The next morning, Caroline is reviewing the original plan, and trying to decide whether or not to follow it. Gillian finally asks why, and Caroline reveals that she had all sorts of things planned for Flora and the boys, and she’s not sure if she wants to do it all now that they’re not coming.
Gillian asks to see the itinerary.
It's a famous chapel (Flora and William are into architecture), high-speed go-karting (for Lawrence), and something else. Gillian suggests they do all of it, and take pictures to send back to the boys.
“Show them what they’ve missed out on.”
They do. And it's an absolute blast. Describe more later.
“Do you think they’re alright?” Celia asked as she set the table for dinner, the boys both having called ahead saying they were popping in for food on their way somewhere else.
“Oh, I’m sure of it,” Alan replied calmly from the kitchen where he checked on the roast. “Their cell signal seems to be a bit spotty where they’re at, but we’ve had texts from them. And neither of them is one to mince words. If it were going poorly, they would have said so.”
“I suppose that’s true. Caroline, at least, wields truth like a bludgeon sometimes.”
“See? They’re fine.” Coming up to her. “You know...Gillian is quite fond of her, actually.”
“Don’t know I know it! I said something the other day about if Caroline can’t find another woman to settle with, maybe she’d better go back to men and nearly had my head removed for my trouble.” Tutting. Realizing something for the first time. “You don’t think...”
“That she and...that Gillian...” Can’t bring herself to say it.
She’s almost more shocked by Alan’s careless shrug. “Could be.”
“Our Gillian’s...a free spirit. At least if she and Caroline are...whatever...Caroline grounds her, Celia. Helps her...pull herself together. And Gillian...lightens Caroline up a little. I think, with a little work, they could be very good for each other.”
“Did you plan this, when you suggested this trip?”
“No.” Shaking his head. “No dear, I did not. But it did occur to me after the fact that it might...scoot things along a little. If that’s where it's headed.”
“Oh, you dozy old-” Cutting herself off. “How d’you even know Gillian might be interested? She’s never...has she?”
“Well, it was back in the day,” Alan admitted slowly. “An...well, she never knew that I knew, an...well, you just never know, do you?”
“...no, I can’t believe it.” Picking up her phone.
“What are you doing, love?”
“Calling to check on them and find out what’s up.”
Figure out this phone call.
The reception is bad, so only part of what Caroline is saying is coming through. It is clear they are having a very good time, and something about a chapel and then death-defying feats of athleticism. Celia doesn’t know what to think and passes the phone off to Alan, so Caroline gives the phone to Gillian.
Gillian talks about their silly upgrade to a honeymoon suite, Caroline taking very good care of her (and her back) and the views from their private balcony. It even has a jacuzzi! It's all shorted out and mixed up though. He manages to ask if she’s happy, and she goes, “Course I am! I’m with Caz, why wouldn’t I be?”, and then Gillian hangs up in a rush because, “Caz if off again, Ta-ra!”
That’s when the boys arrive.
“Heya, granny. Any news from mum?” Lawrence, taking off his hat and giving her a peck on the cheek.
“Just got off the phone with her, have you?”
“Pictures, mostly. Don’t know how she did it, but Gillian got her up on the giant ferris wheel. An’ you know how mum hates heights!”
“Oh, I have an idea.” Celia, muttered. “Let me see.”
“Is something going on?” William, done greeting Alan. “Is mum and Gillian alright?”
“They’re fine,” Alan, quickly. “Just...” Trailing off.
“Well go on,” Celia, holding up Lawrence’s phone with a picture of Caroline and Gillian on it smiling together like a couple. “I think we’ve got proof enough at this point, might as well break the news now.”
“News about what?” Lawrence.
“Well, it seems that your mum and Gillian might’ve...might be more fond of each other than we all thought.”
“What? You mean like...together together?”
“I suppose so, yes.” Alan.
“Well...good.” William, shrugging.
“That’s all you have to say about it?” Celia, surprised. “Gillian is her step-sister!”
“Only because you two got married,” William replied calmly. “They’re no more related than Angus and Lawrence, and given what they get up to-”
“Oi!” Sharply. “Twat.”
“Look, mum deserves to be happy. So does Gillian. If they make each other happy, then I’m happy for them and nothing else matters to me except that.”
“That’s exactly what I said,” Alan adds.
“Well, how d’you think Raff is going to feel about this?”
“Oh, Raff’s a good lad-”
“Yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that he may not be happy about his mum switching teams, so to speak.” Frowning. “Go on, call him and see. I’ll bet a penny to a peacock he’s not as cool about it as you think.”
“Well, alright then I will.”
“Put him on speaker, I want to hear this.” Lawrence. Alan does.
Gramps? Everything alright?
“Raff, everything is fine. I just...well, I just had a question for you.”
Right, go on then.
“We just got off the phone with your mum and Caroline and...well, we aren’t of course yet certain, but it seems as though they are...well...together.”
“Well...they got a honeymoon suite together at the hotel with a private balcony and hot tub. How together do you think that is?”
Oh! Well it's about bloody time!
Am I on speaker?
“Yes, lad, Celia and the boys are here with me.”
Heya William, Lawrence. Celia. So are you alright with-?”
“Yeah,” William leaned closer, giving Lawrence a stern look. “Yeah, we are. Right Lawrence?”
“...yeah. Yeah, it's cool.” Grinning suddenly. “D’you think if they get married it’ll be in jeans and plaid with pizza and beer at the reception?”
Oh, I wish. I don’t see you mum agreein’ to it, though.
“No, but if anyone could out-stubborn her-”
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this,” Celia practically moaned from her seat. “All common sense has simply flown out the window...and what will Flora think?”
“Flora adores Auntie Gillian,” William replied quickly.
And Gillian adores her, Raff added darkly. Sometimes I think she likes her better than her own granddaughter.
“Now that’s not true,” Alan said quickly as William laughed.
Say, what if we have a party for them? Raff suggested as Celia uttered another groan.
“What sort?” Lawrence, always up for a party.
Well...I dunno, just seems a good reason to celebrate, innit? Make sure they know that...we’re all behind ‘em, right? Like they’ve always been behind all of us.
“He has a point.” Lawrence, quickly. “At least about our mum. She’s always....pushed us forward, to do our best, right?”
“She did do a lovely job helping plan our wedding with Gillian,” Alan added to Celia.
“I just...can’t believe...” Celia, still struggling for words.
“I think we’re agreed, Raff,” Alan said quickly as he watched his wife shake her head. “We’ll sort out the details later, alright?”
Dinner, in which we discover Lawrence is now dating Angus, and William has a steady girlfriend. Afterwards, Alan has a chat about Celia and her...’views’. How he didn’t like the way she always talked to Kate, but Kate wasn’t his daughter. Gillian is. And it would hurt him greatly if the same...sideways discourtesy was shown to her as was sometimes shown to Kate.
Celia takes his point, a bit stiffly, and they move on.
There’s going to be a party!
“Now that’s odd,” Caroline murmured as she checked her phone for the fifth time that morning, seated beside her step sister on the tour bus.
“What is?” Gillian asked, glancing up from her word puzzle.
“I’ve now heard from both of my sons and your father and my mother in a span of twenty minutes to let me know everything is fine, they’re glad we’re enjoying ourselves, and looking forward to seeing us when we get back,” Caroline replied as she set her phone down and stared out the window.
“So?” Chewing on her pen.
“So, that isn’t normal. And Lawrence actually spelled everything correctly in his message instead of using those stupid short-words he knows I hate.”
“Maybe they’re just trying to be nice for once.”
“Oh, I doubt it. Something is going on.”
“Like what?” Looking up and meeting her eyes.
“...oh, I don’t know.” Looking away.
“You think it's all my head.”
“Yes. I had a lovely text from Raff an’ me dad this morning too. Wished me a happy rest of my holiday, and to be careful with my back. Obviously, because neither wants me laid up another two weeks after I get home.” Grimacing. “Don’t think anyone would survive that.”
“Calamity would.” Smirking.
“Well, yeah, but that child would survive a zombie apocalypse. Tough as nails, that one is.”
“I think that may say more about Ellie than Raff.”
“We bump heads sometimes, but I like her.” Smirking a bit. “She’s good for him, I think. Except she won’t go back an’ take her A-levels...”
“Why should she? She’s practically a sheep farmer.”
“It’s not a bad life, sheep-farming, but she could do more. She’s smart.”
“So are you, and if it was good enough for you why isn’t it good enough for her?”
“Oh.” Flustered. “I am not.”
“Are too.” Her phone beeps again, and she looks at it. “Huh.”
“William sent me another message. Looks like Angus and Lawrence have finally given up pretending.”
“So it's out now? That they’re...?”
“Seems like it.” Smiling a bit. “Good for him. I’ll have to call later, tease him a bit. Though I’m not sure what William means by ‘too many happy couples at Christmas hogging the mistletoe’.”
“Are things not going well with his girl?”
“I thought they were.”
“Could be a mistype. Or half the message didn’t come through.”
“I swear...they say these stupid things make your life easier, but in the end...?”
“Oh, I know.” Rolling her eyes. “An’ they just get more complicated with each new one.”
“Oh, I think we’re here.”
List off a few more activities.
They get back to the hotel a bit earlier than planned, and Gillian heads down to the bar first to get a drink while waiting for Caroline to finish getting ready.
She turns, and it's an old...friend. Jeremy.
“It is you. I wasn’t sure...” Smiling down at her. “You look good.”
“So do you.” Carefully maintaining her distance. “Here on holiday?”
“With my wife, yes.” Motioning to a brunette across the way who waves at them. He waves back. Gillian’s brows go up.
“Oh.” Not sure how to take that. “Well, I’m with-”
“We know. Which is what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Hm?” In a lull of dinner conversation that's mainly covered Calamity's latest exploits and Flora's current fascination with frogs.
“Don't look now, because we're being watched, but there's an old friend of mine staying at the hotel.”
“What kind of old friend?”
“The kind I knew the back of his car very well by the end.”
“Ok.” Setting her wine down. “What's the catch?”
“His wife is with him, and-”
“Oh, she's not going to cause trouble, is she?” Frowning, glancing back. “Which one is she? Not the blonde in the corner, is it? She looks like a biter.”
“No, it's the brunette waving at you.” Dryly.
Caroline blinked. “Why is she waving at me?”
“Because they're swingers, and she thinks you're gorgeous.”
“Hi, I’m Jules,” the petite brunette said with a wide smile, offering Gillian her hand.
“Gillian,” the sheep farmer replied, feeling ridiculously clumsy for some reason. “Jeremy’s...friend.”
“I know.” Still smiling. “Don’t worry, I’m not the jealous sort.”
“That’s good.” Still a bit nervy. “So...you and he...do you do this often?”
“Mostly on vacations,” Jules admitted with a shrug. “There're a few local couples we sometimes see in our area, but we aren’t looking for anything permanent so...”
“I’m surprised there isn’t a Facebook group for finding...possibilities.”
“There is, but for once it came up dry.” Shrugging. “But then Jeremy saw you, and said you weren’t too picky about sharing before so...”
“No, that is true.” Taking a sip of her drink. “I just don’t know that Caroline is going to be interested.”
“If the answer is no, we do understand,” Jules said with a tilt of her head. “It’s not for everyone. But...” Her smile grew. “I won’t lie, I would be very disappointed if that were the case. She is a very...alluring figure of a woman. Well done, you.”
Gillian had just laughed, there didn’t seem any other way to respond.
“I mean seriously. And the way she takes charge.” Her cheeks are a bit pink now. “I think I would be very happy to let her order me about for an evening or two.”
“...I’ll let her know you said that.”
“She said what?”
“She’s quite taken with you,” Gillian replied, enjoying the gobsmacked look on her stepsister’s face. Until she remembered the other part she had yet to explain. “Ah...they think we’re a couple, by the way. It's why they made the offer.”
“So...he wants you?”
“Yes, and she wants you. Desperately, by the looks of things.”
Caroline dares a glance back and is met with a level of smoulder that is...impressive. “Ah.”
“I told them you would probably say no, but they insisted I ask...and now it looks like they’re coming to talk to us.”
Caroline sipped her wine and wondered how she had gotten this far down the rabbit hole. Jules was nice, very fit, and...well, extremely open about how attractive she found a 50-some head teacher who liked to be in control.
“You can tell me to shut up, if this is too much,” Jules said as she leaned towards Caroline slightly. “Not everyone likes people to be that upfront.”
“I usually do,” Caroline admitted with a wry smirk. “I just...Gillian had only just mentioned it when you and Jeremy came to join us, so we really didn’t have much of a chance to discuss things.”
“I told him he was rushing in,” Jules tutted as she enjoyed her fruity something or other with the orange umbrella. “But he’s been Mr. Eager since we spotted you on the beach yesterday. Well, I spotted you, and then he recognized Gillian.” Smiling widely. “I could hardly look anywhere else.”
“Thank you, I think.” Amused and charmed and enticed all in spite of herself. She sees Gillian and Jeremy leave the bar, and follows them with her eyes....to the pool table.
“Did you want to play?” Jules asked, watching them rackup the balls.
“Not in the least,” Caroline said, eyes still on Gillian.
“Good. I’ve always preferred to watch.” Caroline glances over and catches Jules watching her. They both smile.
“It is a game that lends itself to watching. If it's the right person playing,” Caroline admitted, lifting her wine to her lips again.
“Oh, yes it is,” Jules agreed with a pleased sigh as her husband leaned over the table to begin the game.
“So, I will admit to curiosity. How does this usually work?”
“However we agree to?” Jules replied with a one-shouldered shrug. “It depends on...what you’re interested in, I suppose. We can hash things out verbally, or make a checklist of rules. We can all share one time and space together, or if you’d rather split up we could discuss that too. And any of us can walk away at any time if things feel...wrong or off. Or even if you just change your mind. There’s no promises being made, we’re just discussing a possibility.”
“You have a question, I can see it in your face.”
“I suppose...four or five years ago, the very idea of this conversation to me would have been ludicrous. I didn’t sleep with anyone I didn’t know very well first. The idea of simply meeting someone that then promptly hopping into bed with them was something I couldn’t even fathom. Then I did it for the first time, and now I’m seriously considering swapping for an evening. So my question is less for you and more for myself: what the hell happened to me?”
“...but you are considering it?” Hopeful.
Caroline laughs, eyes drawn to Gillian as she bends over the table. Oh, those jeans and-
“I don’t suppose you’re into men too?” Jules asked hopefully, and Caroline glanced over to see her admiring the same view.
“Not a chance,” Caroline replied flatly. “And yes I’m sure. 18 years of marriage sure.”
“Then yes, you probably are sure.” Laughing. “That’s alright. Wanting both is greedy anyways.”
“You can ask, she is her own person.”
“Well, yes, but...Jeremy tends to get a bit pouty if I manage to snag 2 out of 2 and he doesn’t do the same,” Jules admitted with a fond smile. “No, I shall be more than satisfied with just you, Miss Caroline, if it works out.”
“You seem awful sure of that.” Glancing at her again, realizing she’s the one being ogled this time, and feeling her cheeks heat up.
“Abso-fucking-lutely, love.” Daring to touch her cheek.
“It’s your shot, love,” Jeremy said, nudging Gillian in the hip with his stick.
The sheep farmer whipped her head around from where she’d been watching Jules practically eye-fuck Caroline across the table. Damn, she was good.
“You sure you don’t want to sneak another shot?” she rejoined with a smirk. “I’ve almost won...”
“I don’t need to cheat to beat you, Gillian,” he replied with a wide smile. “Besides...sometimes losing is more fun than winning.”
“And why’s that?”
“Because then I have a reason t’give you a prize.” Glancing at their women. “I think it's going well, don’t you?”
“She still might say no.”
“I’m sure you’re perfectly capable of persuading her otherwise, if that’s what you want.” Pointed.
“I’m still thinking about it.”
“What? You didn’t enjoy bein’ with me?”
“No, I did.” And she’s being honest about that. Jeremy was always at least somewhat considerate and proficient at what he did. And he never ran his mouth about it either, which was even better. “I just want to know how she feels about it before I make up my mind.”
“We have time.” Winking at her. “Still your shot.”
Upstairs, later that evening, Caroline washed her hands after working the knots out of Gillian’s back again and wondered just what she was going to do.
Jules was looking more and more tempting as she realized more and more how much she wanted Gillian and couldn’t have her. Maybe it would be like...gluten-free cookies. She knew a girl who couldn’t eat wheat, it made her sick something awful. But sometimes she would have cookies, ‘gluten-free’ they were called. Caroline tried one once, and while they weren’t quite the same they weren’t awful either. They were just...different. A decent substitute. So perhaps that was what she needed, and Jules was obviously a very ready and willing partner.
On the other hand...Jules wasn’t Gillian. And still didn’t actually know that she and Gillian weren’t a couple. At this point, there didn’t seem to be a good way to say, “Oh, and by the by she’s my stepsister not my girlfriend. Sorry for the confusion, are we still on to shag?”
“Hm?” Pulled from her thoughts.
“I don’t know yet, to be honest,” Caroline admitted as she climbed back into her side of the bed. “She’s very nice, and he seems to be too, I just...”
“Is it because they’re married?” Gillian asked, staring up at the ceiling. “Because I’ll admit that...that threw me a bit at first.”
“And that we’re lying to them doesn’t help. They still think we’re...together.”
“Right. Which is why they’re interested in the first place, I think.”
“Exactly.” Thinking. “I think that settles it for me, actually. I don’t like lying, though I don’t see how to correct it now without looking the fool. Unless you want to, I think we should politely decline and move on.”
“...yeah, no, that’s probably for the best.” Actually a little relieved, because as good a lay as Jeremy was she wasn’t keen on sharing Caroline, at all. “So, what’s on the agenda for tomorrow, then?”
Figure this out.
“Well, hello you two. Fancy meeting you here.”
It's Jeremy and Jules, on the same tour bus. Caroline decides to go ahead and have it out, she doesn't like feeling like she’s deceiving others. To her surprise, they both take it very well and ask if they can simply hang out as friends for the day. Gillian seems fine with it, so they do. They make good traveling companions, actually, and they enjoy sharing the tour, then lunch, a walk on the beach and then dinner together.
They’re laughing over drinks when Jeremy suggests another game of pool. Gillian agrees to it after a glance at Caroline, and heads over talking trash on the way.
Caroline and Jules settle in for another chat. Only with less sexual tension this time. It's just...fun. And for some reason that makes the brunette all the more attractive. Damn it.
This goes on for the next two days, in which time Gillian grows increasingly jealous of how much time Caroline is spending with Jules. So she ups her own attraction towards Caroline. Which in turn Caroline tries to turn more to Jules, because she can’t have Gillian and it's driving her up the wall. Jeremy is just hoping for his lay, and misses most of the subtext. Pretty much every night is spent playing pool, with Gillian wearing a very tight pair of jeans.
Which leads to Caroline finally asking, “So...how do you feel about renegotiating things?”
Blah blah blah.
Caroline and Jules go off for a bit of a snog, and Jeremy talks Gillian into shagging.
Caroline gets about halfway into it and...can’t. Jules is a little annoyed this time (‘Thank god, I thought you weren’t human there at first’ ‘Ha, no, definitely not perfect love’) but goes to find Jeremy so he can help finish her off after he’s done with Gillian. Caroline goes back to the bedroom, snagging a bottle of wine on the way, to wait. Considers being passed out before Gillian even gets there might be the best idea all around.
Except...Gillian couldn’t either. So she’s already there, nursing a bottle of something stronger.
“Oh, look at us,” Caroline said as she sank to the floor beside her stepsister, bottle in one hand and glass in the other. “Can’t even get properly shagged, us. Some vacation. What d’you suppose is wrong with us?”
“Well, I know what’s wrong with me,” Gillian admitted, staring out at the waves. “Couldn’t say for you, though.”
“Some help you are.” Nudging her.
“...yeah, I suppose I am.”
“What, no fond insult for me back?”
“No. Because while I agree that I am in fact a snotty bitch and probably always will be...I stopped thinking you were a brain dead trailer trash even in jest long ago.” Patting her cheek. “And if you do think you are, that actually makes it worse. So...no insult for you, not of that sort at any rate.”
“Well then, what shall we do tonight? It's early for us.”
“I think we’re doing it.” Caroline, taking a pull from Gillian’s bottle.
“Well, alright then, Caz.”
They drink for a while.
“Can I tell you something, Caz?”
“At this point, Gillian, I think you could tell me anything and it wouldn’t shock me in the least.”
“Do you remember that text message I sent you when you got married to Kate?”
“Calling me a mad old dyke? Yes, yes I do.” Snorting. “You do have a strange sense of humor, Gillian-”
“It wasn’t a joke.” Sadly serious. “I was...mad. Real mad, about what you said to my dad. And I typed up that message, and was about to send it off when he stopped me. Said not to do it, because it wasn’t your fault. It was your mum’s, an’...it took awhile, but I agreed with him. Except I forgot to delete it, an’ the next day I was workin’ in the field with my phone in my back pocket an’-”
“And you butt-texted me the mess.” Guessing the rest.
“I didn’t mean it. I mean, I did, in the heat of the moment, but not...not really. I liked Kate. She made you happy, an’ I was happy for you, I jus’-”
“If you were so happy for me, why didn’t you come to my wedding?” Quietly.
A long silence.
“I-...I told you, we were busy. Short notice, an’ all.”
“I asked Raff about it later. I wasn’t trying to pry, it just came up, and he told me you didn’t even tell them we were getting married until your father showed up not at the wedding.”
“I never...understood that. Why you would miss something you know would be important to me. I thought...I thought we were friends.”
“We are friends, Caz.”
“...you wouldn’t believe me.”
“Fine, don’t tell me.” Taking another swig of the wine from the bottle. “Doesn’t matter anyways.”
“...I was jealous.”
“Jealous of what?” Disbelief.
“Leading up to dad and your mum’s wedding...we had so much fun. Visiting the hotel, looking at flowers an’ decorations an’...it was like, for the first time in years, I had a proper friend again.”
“Yeah, it was fun. But-”
“So- the wedding. Kate came back. An’ suddenly...it was like everything before that never happened. Everything was about Kate an’ the baby an’...then you asked her to marry you.”
“Should I not have?” Quietly.
“Well...seems like the sort of thing you’d talk to someone about first. Or maybe ask t’help with the wedding. Or somethin’. Only you didn’t. Even the way you told me about it, like it wouldn’t matter whether or not we came, you were just tellin’ us...”
“...I didn’t mean that.” Feeling a little guilty.
“Not comin’ wasn’t kind.” Swallowing thickly. “I shoulda, even if I was jealous that I felt like I lost my friend.”
“Oh Gillian.” Leaning over on her. “It’s fine. I shouldn’t have even asked.”
“I was wrong. Messed it up again-”
“Kate knew you were important to me. I’m sorry I didn’t make that clear to you too.” Closing her eyes.
“What makes you say that?”
“Kate...she told me, ‘I can’t figure out if you love her to pieces or think she’s a total plonker’, but with that smile that said which she was sure of.” Breathing in the smell that is Gillian and trying to distract herself from it. She wants to sit up, put distance back between them, but she can’t because somehow Gillian’s arm has snaked around her shoulders and is holding her in place. “I think she liked you, and you’d better be glad you aren’t gay Gillian because I would have been thoroughly jealous if she’d started flirting with you.”
“Oh, she’s not the one I want.”
“Then who is?”
“Who is the one you are wanting? Or wanted? Or are wanted by?” Knowing will hurt, but will give her a focus. A reason to distance herself from what she wants, to help Gillian achieve what she wants.
“I want...to have my cake an’ eat it too.”
“Then go have it.” Thinking she means Jeremy. “Jules wanted you too, by the by.”
“Did she?” Amused. “Greedy thing.”
“Well, wearing those jeans probably didn’t help.”
“What’s wrong with my jeans?”
“They were practically painted on.”
“Were you staring at my arse, Caz?”
“I noticed it, as one does, in passing. It was impossible not to the way you had it stuck in the air, wiggling about while playing pool.”
“You were totally staring.” Smug.
“That’s an assumption.”
“Then tell me I’m wrong.”
“...that’s not fair.” Taking another drink, as if that’s going to help.
“In a purely...” She decides to be logical about it. “Look, you’re a girl, and I like girls. And you have an unequivocally nice arse, which-” Holding a hand up to forestall whatever Gillian is about to say, “is something that has been noticed by several men and women other than myself, and therefore is simply fact. Therefore: it is impossible for me not to notice a nice arse, and entirely not my fault.”
“Do you seriously think I have a nice arse?” Glancing back, like she’s going to be able to see it even though she’s seated on it.
“God, Gillian...are we seriously discussing this?”
“Yes. When a man tells you you have a nice arse, you assume it's because he wants you in bed. An’ if that’s the case, y’can’t trust what he says cos he’s only thinkin’ with what’s in his pants.”
“Oh really? Then what does it mean if it's a woman staring at your arse?”
“I don’t know.” Turning to face her. “What does it mean when a woman stares at your arse?”
“...that you have a nice arse.” Simply put, doing her best to keep a straight face.
“...right.” As if that’s the point she was trying to make all along.
Caroline takes another drink.
“...how nice, really, is-”
“But, I mean, on a scale of one to ten-”
“This isn’t happening.”
“It already did, Caz.”
“Why are you so stuck on this?”
“Because I care what you think!”
“About your arse.”
“Yes, my arse.”
“It’s a lovely arse, Gillian. It looks like it belongs on someone ten years younger.” Snorting. “Well, most of you looks like that. Sheep farming probably has something to do with it.”
“No, go on.”
“No, I mean it, you’re very...fit.” Clearing her throat. “For...you know...”
“For someone who rarely bothers with how she looks.” Dryly. “Which is entirely unfair.”
“An’ what’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means...I get up, and I have to spend an hour, a solid hour to get my hair not to stick straight up in the back and my makeup on even so I’m not all blotchy. You roll out of bed, tug your fingers through your hair and look better than I do. It's bloody unfair...”
“I do not.” Disbelief.
“How would you know?”
“How would you know that you look better than me? You’re not into women, you can’t possibly be a fair judge of relative attractiveness-”
“Now, hang on, hang on, who said-” Taking another drink. “Who said I’m not into women? Did I say that?”
“But...you’re not. Right?” Confused. “Have you ever kissed a woman.”
“Yes, I have.”
“On a dare or because you actually wanted to?”
“Both.” Laughing. Caroline’s mostly dumb-struck. “It was...’spin the bottle’, that’s the name. Landed on a girl. Kissed her. It was nice. So I kissed her again later.” Shrugging, leaning into Caroline who’s gone very, very quiet. “There were some others, but...not after Eddie.” Going very quiet.
It's very dark now, with only a sliver of a moon in the sky and all of the lights in the room still off. Caroline can barely see her companion in the soft twilight turning to look up at her.
“Can I kiss you?”
“If you don’t, after saying I’m ‘fit’, I’m going to be up-mph!”
It sears Gillian right to her soles, and before she’s had more than a moment to breathe they’re both struggling to their feet. Clothes are tossed this way and that, and the enormous bed dove into. The fact that they’re both a bit tipsy means they don’t quite manage everything on the first try. Caroline about tears Gillian’s bra off when the straps prove beyond her ability, and Gillian nearly does the same to her skirt when the zip is stubborn. Neither speaks more than half-mumbled words and each other’s name in frenzied whispers and moans.
Gillian is seen to first, her fingers digging into Caroline’s back as the blonde’s fingers prove to be especially clever.
“You didn’t have to-”
“I wanted to. For you.” Licking her fingers clean. Which Gillian is fascinated by.
“That shouldn’t be that attractive, Caz.” Rolling them over so she’s on top.
“What are you going to do about it?” A challenge.
It lasts well into the night.
Caroline wakes first the next morning. She gets up, showers, and considers the possibilities. Then she makes coffee, and orders room service. There’s an app she uses, so she doesn’t have to wake Gillian.
Gillian comes to a while later, someone knocking on the door. Caroline answers it, in a bathrobe, thanks the person, and brings in a tray. Gillian doesn’t say anything, as she realizes what happened last night and is now mid-panic. Caroline comes over as though nothing happened, plate and mug in hand.
“Here, you probably need this.” It's coffee and toast.
“...thanks.” Sitting up carefully. When Caroline goes back to fetch her own, she spies a shirt and snatches it to shove on over her head. She feels less vulnerable that way. Caroline contents herself with just coffee, coming to the bed and sitting next to Gillian quietly.
“How are you feeling?” Caroline, not looking up.
“Not bad considering how much I drank last night.” Wincing a bit.
“I made you drink a lot of water. Do you remember that?”
“Ye-es.” And everything else, vividly.
“...I suppose, we’re going to have to talk about it.”
“Was it that bad?” Trying to joke, it falls short.
“It was...very nice, actually.” Still not looking up. “But, um...we can’t...this isn’t...” Sighing. “Your father is married to my mother, and...”
“And we’re supposed to be sisters.”
“Exactly.” Finally looking up. Gillian can see the regret, and wonders what it's for.
“Yeah. Makes sense.” Thinking. “Only...”
“Hm?” Taking a drink of her coffee.
“Only...we have four days of vacation left.”
“And...no one has to know what happened for those four days...except us.”
“And what, precisely, are you proposing?”
“D’you ever watch Star Trek?”
“You know, space-exploration based TV show, lots of versions. Usually has the women in tight clothes-”
“I know what it is, I just fail to see how this relates at all-”
“Raff went through a phase, watched most of it borrowed from a friend on DVD. I saw an episode where...where two people were ending a relationship, but you spent a few days together making memories together before it ended so it ended well.”
“Ok, so we agree...we can’t...”
“Not so long as your father and my mother are alive, and I wouldn’t wish either into an early grave no matter how frustrating they can be.”
“Exactly. So, let’s...make memories. For four days. Just us.”
“By which you mean...sex.”
“Well...yes, an’ other things.” Flushing a bit. “I wouldn’t mind a...proper date. Just one or two.” Wistful looking.
“Anything else?” Softening towards the idea.
“Well...it already seems that people think we’re a couple. So what could it hurt to...act the part?” Carefully taking Caz’s hand. “Walk on the beach together, holding hands. Maybe rent out one of those shaded hammocks for the afternoon.” Faking a laugh. “Cuddling isn’t something the guys ever seem interested in.”
“...ok.” Looking down at their linked hands, trying to remember how to breathe.
“Only if you want to.” Quickly. Letting go of Caz like it burns. “I mean, I know...” She pauses, when Caroline takes her hand again, carefully, gently. “Caz?”
“Is that a yes?”
Caroline presses a kiss to her wrist. “Yes.”
It's four days of laziness and idle time. When they aren’t having sex, they still aren’t more than a few feet apart. Meals are spent close together, and though they spot Jeremy and Jules a few other times, they don’t join them and don’t go out on any more excursions. Caroline treats her to one incredibly nice candlelight dinner, and Gillian finds a dim hole-in-the wall pizza joint for them to sit in a back corner and trade sneaky kisses while eating greasy italian pie. They get ice cream cones on the beach, and rent the hammock twice. And Gillian doesn’t worry about her back, because Caroline is always more than happy to help her work out the kinks in it after whatever it is they’ve done that day.
The final morning they’re both up far too early, and spend it memorising each other one last time. Afterwards they shower, separately for the first time, and pack their bags. At the door, Caroline pauses, and leans over to kiss Gillian.
“For you.” Smiling quietly.
“...ok.” Smiling back.
“Are you ready to go back?”
“Not really,” with a shrug, touching Caroline’s cheek. “But I miss them. And...maybe they miss me too.”
“They do.” Pressing their foreheads together. One last kiss, and they leave.
The train ride back, Caroline tries to read her book and Gillian works on her puzzle. They sit across from each other, because neither has quiet enough control to keep their hands to themselves just yet.
“Have we heard from them yet?” Alan, from the kitchen.
“Just did,” William said, coming in from the front. “They left the train station ten minutes ago, and are on the way.”
“Good, good. And we have-”
“Yes, Grandpa, everything’s ready.” Raff, opening bottles of wine.
More fuss and bother.
“Were we expecting everyone to be here?” Caroline asked as she got out of her car, having barely fit it in Gillian’s drive for once.
“Not that I know of,” Gillian replied with a frown. “Looks like we’re having a do.” Catching Caroline’s eye. “Maybe they really did miss us!”
“Maybe...” Suspicious. “We didn’t forget anything, did we? Not any anniversary, or...?”
“No, not on my side. Yours?”
“I see Lawrence and Angus. Maybe it's for them?”
“Oh, good lord, they aren’t jumping straight to marriage, are they?” Worried. “They’re a bit young...”
“They’ve been friends for years. An’ Ellie an’ Raff got married young.”
“They’re different.” Catching Gillian’s rolled eyes. “They are! Raff has always been more mature than Lawrence.”
“Negging your own progeny t’make it better? That’s low, Caz.”
“It’s true.” Grumbling. “I love my children, but I do try to face their faults as they are and not as I would have them be.”
“That’s one of my favorite things about you, Caz.”
“Oh is it?” Smirking a bit. Then catching Gillian’s eye. “Sorry. Won’t happen again. What were you saying?”
“Facing things like they are,” Gillian went on, looking away. “I’m not very good at it, but you are.”
“Hm. C’mon, let’s go see see what they’re up to.”
They don’t make it to the front door before its burst open and Calamity tumbles out. “Grandmum!”
“Calam!” Big hugs. “Oh, did you grow? I thought I told you t’stop doin’ that!”
“Grandmum...” To Caroline. “Are you grandmum or should I call you somethin’ else?”
“I think you should call me Auntie Caroline, like always,” Caroline replied with a slight chuckle.
“Can’t, dad said you aren’t my aunt, being’s grandmum’s girlfriend an’ all.” Both women freeze at that.
“Petunia, at school, she calls her grandmum Nanny, and Thomas said he calls his YaYa. She’s not from England, though...”
“Camility, sweety,” Gillian, starting to use her panicky voice. “Could you...no, sweet you’re not in trouble, just...what was that you said? Before? About Auntie Caroline?”
“I can’t call her that anymore,” the girl insisted with the stubbornness of an eight year old. “Dad said so.”
“Yes, and why did that cheeky son of mine say that?” Her smile growing strained.
“Cos she’s your girlfriend,” Calamity replied as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. “Right?” Turning around. “And we’re having a party for it!”
“Wha-” Strangled yelp from Caroline. That’s when the adults notice them, and Alan comes outside first.
“You’re here!” Smiling, arms open wide. “Look at you, all tanned.” Giving them both quick hugs. “Have a good trip back?”
“Yes, we did, dad, but what’s this-”
“Oh, just something our Raff thought up.” Waving them in before either can really get a word in edgewise. “A little do to celebrate you two finally sorting things out.”
“Oh, were it meant to be a secret?” Shrugging. “Sorry if it were, but we all know now.”
“It’s fine, it's fine.” Shooing them apart. “Caroline, your mother’s in the kitchen and Gillian our Raff has something for you upstairs. Go on, go on, the foods almost ready.”
They get pulled apart, and both are swamped and not really given any chance to protest. Slowly the story comes out (the clues from the pictures, the miscommunication about the honeymoon suite and how Gillian was doing so well and being taken care of by ‘her Caz’. Caroline's grumbling about being mistaken for a couple again was taken as an admission instead, and their pictures together felt very 'coupley’).
Raff's surprise is they updated her bedroom while she was away. New linens and the wallpaper taken down and replaced. They didn't spend a ton, but it's more than she would ever spend on herself. She can't quite believe it, and Raff quips about it not being a room you'd be ashamed to show a snotty bitch.
Neither is given time to actually get a word in edgewise until about halfway through when Gillian escapes outside to smoke and finds Caroline already there.
“Have you been able to...?”
“No. They won't let me.”
“Same.” Grinning a bit.
“What?” Frowning. “It isn't going to be enjoyable, when we finally break the news to them.”
“Why?” Stepping closer.
“Why...” Taking the cigarette from Caroline and taking a drag. “Do we have to tell them?”
“We could be.” A quiet suggestion.
“... Gillian...we agreed...”
“Because of our families, right?” Waving a hand back at the house. “Families that seem determined t'push us together.”
“Well...yes, but...” Looking away. “... I'm not moving in with you, and I don't see you moving in with me.”
“Who said anyone is movin’ anywhere? I have a farm t'run, you have a school. Won't be together as much as I'd like...but I'd still like it all the same.”
“Would you?” Wondering.
“You still have doubts after last week?” Teasing, stepping closer.
“I still have doubts this isn't a dream, because it seems entirely too good to be true.” Reaching out to loop a finger in one pocket.
“Might be. But I'd rather enjoy it as much as I can, if it is.”
“Are you sure?”
“Pulling her closer.”
“What're they up to?”
“Snogging.” Ellie with a grin. “Good thing we got her new linens, she's going to need them tonight.”
“Things I don't want to know about my mum,” Lawrence muttered.
“We'll, there's things I didn't want to know about you and Angus but...” Willian.
“Boys...” Celia, glancing out the window. “Well...she seems happy. They both do.” The second part to Alan.
“Yes, they do.” He's grinning.
“Are they coming back in?”
“Eventually, I dare say. Whether it's to talk to us or Christen the new bed...”
Happilyish ever after.