Whoever decided that it was acceptable to build an airport runway outside her window needed to be eviscerated. Preferably whilst being dragged over molten hot coals. Throw in the hundred-piece brass band that was also currently marching through her brain, and Ann thought that maybe, just maybe, the cacophony of sounds she was experiencing might stop. Why was everything so loud? And what on earth was that rustling sound? It was like a giant was trouncing through an actual mountain of crisp autumn leaves. She brought her hands up to her ears to try and muffle the sound as she curled into a tight ball.
Anne saw the movement out of the corner of her eye as she shook the pages of her newspaper out. The little blonde bundle shrinking into a more compact sphere. It was the first sign of life she’d seen all morning. She flicked her wrist, 8.56am. This was the latest she’d spent in bed in years. She supposed she should try to see if Ann needed anything, although she hadn’t dared try to move her after her first attempt.
There were two things she knew for definite about a sleeping Ann Walker. Firstly, she snored. Secondly, if you didn’t have her wrapped up in a close embrace she flailed about like a dying fish every time she turned in her sleep. Anne had learnt this after she had mistakenly rolled Ann onto her back as she checked her messages and was met by a wayward limb knocking the phone to the floor and nearly taking Anne’s eye out just for good measure. Even in her sleep Ann seemed determined to limit her phone time. There was also a third thing. No matter how thunderous the snores, or how wild the hair, or how deadly the movements, in sleep - she was still undeniably the most beautiful sight she’d ever seen.
As she closed her newspaper there was a loud groan, followed by another when she dropped it onto the covers. “Must you be so loud?” Ann screeched from beside her. Anne pulled back a little, she wasn’t sure she’d ever heard Ann ever raise her voice before. She’d had a lot of women screaming at her before, she smirked momentarily when she thought she’d also had them screaming for her and because of her. She quickly brought her focus back to Ann, this was none of those things. She appeared to be in genuine discomfort and had a particular sensitivity to any noise.
Anne rose gingerly from the bed, careful to make as little sound as possible. The room was carpeted so there was at least that small mercy. She padded out of the bedroom and into the adjacent bathroom. She was sure there must be some painkillers in here. She cautiously opened the bathroom cabinet, she didn’t want to risk its contents cascading out into the sink making more noise.
She looked along the shelves, there were a few medicine bottles inside, the usual cough syrup. There were also a few pill bottles that upon closer inspection she noted were prescribed to Ann and instructed her to take as necessary with food. Anne thought back to their many conversations, she’d never brought up any chronic conditions but she supposed it wasn’t something you typically broadcast.
She finally found a packet of painkillers and was about to turn to leave when she thought she should check the ingredients against the prescribed bottles she found just in case they shouldn’t be taken together. After a thorough scan they did not list any reasons why they couldn't be combined she took two out of the packet and headed back to the bedroom.
Ann had buried herself under the covers, she was probably trying to get away from the morning sun streaming through. Anne always slept with the curtains open, she was adept at knowing what time it was just by the position of the sun. It was one of the main reasons she had chosen her flat with its floor to ceilings windows providing her magnificent views eastwards and westwards along the river. If Ann was sensitive to sound she was probably also sensitive to light. She drew the curtains slowly, again to limit any noise she might make.
She walked round to her side of the bed and noticed that Ann had taken the pillows she’d used and was hugging them tightly to her. She bent down and put her face as near to the faceless bundle as possible. “Darling?” she said in an almost whisper. There was no movement, “I need your help.” There was a muted groan that Anne took as a sign that she was at least listening. “I need to get you better, but to do that I need you to take these pills.” There was a hushed whimper as the covers were tentatively drawn back a little.
Anne smiled when she finally got to see her precious face. Her eyes were still firmly shut and the corners of her mouth turned down. She looked so pained, Anne wanted to reach out and take her in her arms but she knew any sudden movements would not be welcome. She took the two pills and placed them in front of Ann. She reached behind her and got the bottle of water she’d brought up the night before. “Come on darling, please.”
She waited patiently as one eye opened, and then the other. A hand snaked up from under the covers and reached for the pills. Anne opened the bottle of water and held it out for her. Ann took the pills and then craned her neck up enough for Anne to carefully help her drink. She was glad when she saw that she’d drunk quite a bit of water, it would help with the hangover. Licking her lips, Ann sank back into the covers, closing her eyes but looking a little better. She clutched Anne’s pillow to her again.
This was a start, but Anne knew she also needed to get some food into her. “I’m going to go and make you some breakfast. You need something in your tummy.”
Ann’s eyes slowly opened, they were glistening, “Don’t leave me,” she pleaded weakly. Anne immediately dropped to her knees, taking Ann’s hands in hers. She held them close to her and gave them a tender kiss, “Darling, I’ll be back soon. I’m just going downstairs.”
Her brow was still knit with worry. “I’ll make you French Toast, how does that sound?” There was a hint of a sparkle in Ann’s eyes now. “I was taught by a lovely elderly French lady when I lived in Paris.” She had actually been taught by a former lover, but Ann did not need those details. Slowly Ann gave a small nod. Anne kissed her hands once more before rising, “How many pieces would you like? One or two?” Ann held up one finger, then after a moment’s thought, she changed her mind and raised two. Anne lent down and placed a soft kiss on her forehead, she waited until Ann closed her eyes again before making her way downstairs.
“She went back to sleep, hopefully she’ll feel better when she wakes up.” Anne was balancing the phone between her ear and her shoulder as she finished cooking. She’d found half a brioche loaf that was perfect for this recipe. “How’s your patient?”
Catherine glanced over at the immovable object that was her sister, still comatose on the sofa, “She’ll live,” she answered coolly. She had zero sympathy for her sister’s self-inflicted condition, she was only happy that she’d passed out in the living room because it meant she at least got the bed. Not that it had made much different with the party outside continuing well after midnight.
She had waited until it was later in the morning to call. She was worried about Ann and had thought regardless of what happened last night that was enough to give them a lie in. She’d never intended her to get so drunk and she felt a little guilty when she learned she’d fallen asleep not long after they’d got home.
It was obvious that Ann was desperate for Anne, and she was a little surprised that all Anne had done was put her to bed. Normally she would think that was at Ann’s insistence, but it appeared Anne was quite the gentlewoman. Her grandmother would never believe it. Not that she had any intention of telling her anything, she had no wish for Ann, or Anne, to be the subject of more idle gossip.
She had worried that Ann would not like living in London, even though they both knew that anything was better than their claustrophobic tribe of relatives. When Anne came into her life Catherine knew that a whole new life would open up for her, not just because she’d been in love with her forever but because Anne was so worldly. She was well travelled, she knew such interesting people, and when her grandmother spoke of her there was a sense of vivaciousness to her life. She hoped that some of that would rub off on Ann, and it had.
Of course Ann was still shy, that was her nature, but she never would have normally gone to that party last night. Neither would she have had the confidence to take a group of children on a museum excursion, although from what Ann had told her the dinosaurs were not the highlight of that trip. She’d been surprised at how well she had handled all of the business with Mariana too, yes she’d run away, but she ran to someone who could help her rather than someone who could hide her. In the few short weeks they’d been together, Anne had changed her for the better.
“Icing sugar. Catherine?” The sound of Anne’s voice broke through her thoughts.
“Sorry?” Catherine blinked quickly, she’d missed her question entirely.
“Do you have icing sugar? For the French Toast.” She’d been taking her through the recipe and thought that the silence meant she had a captive audience, but when there was no answer to her question she wondered if she’d fallen asleep. Unfortunately it would not have been the first time she had been explaining something and the other person became completely lost.
“Yes, it should be in the cupboard above the toaster. There’s a shaker thing.”
She could hear Anne moving about the kitchen, “Perfect!” She could feel her joy as she’d obviously found what she needed. She looked again at her sister’s still sleeping form, she would maybe begrudgingly make her a cup of tea when she woke up if she asked her nicely. She certainly wouldn’t have gone to the lengths Anne was. It was obviously a different sort of relationship, but she knew that she cared deeply for her. “Anne?”
“If you look in the next cupboard along, right at the back.” There was more shuffling, “There’s a packet of Jammie Dodgers. Ann hid them from herself.” She could hear Anne laughing lightly. “She’d always devour a packet after a hangover. It’ll fix her right up.”
“Excellent! Thank you Catherine.”
Catherine smiled to herself, “No, thank you Anne. Tell Annie I’ll be home later this afternoon.”
“I will.” As she hung up the phone Anne thought there was something more to the thanks she’d just received. She quickly dismissed it as she looked approvingly at the tray of food she’d prepared for their breakfast. French Toast lightly dusted with the icing sugar, a bowl of strawberries and grapes in case she wanted some fruit, syrup, juice, another bottle of water, and now a packet of Jammie Dodgers.
Anne drew the curtains open on one side to let some light in, leaving the top half of the bed still in shadow. She sat down carefully, her sleeping angel still snoring softly. She would have gladly spent the rest of the day watching her sleep but she knew she’d feel groggy when she finally woke if she let her sleep any longer. She started to gently stroke her forehead, “Darling it’s time to wake up.” There was a quiet murmur before a small sleepy smile started to spread across her face. She slowly opened her eyes, blinking to bring her into focus.
“How are you feeling?”
“Better,” she replied, she still seemed a little sluggish. “Everything’s quieter, but my head still hurts.” She sat up a little, rolling her shoulders to see how they felt. She rotated her neck and pushed her shoulder blades together. Her back was a bit tight, Anne noticed the small grimace even though she said nothing. “I’m good, I think.”
When she finally turned to face her she was met by Anne’s handsome face smiling kindly at her. She knew in that moment she wanted to wake up every day to that smile. She loved the little wrinkles she had at the corner of her eyes. She loved more that she was responsible for them. She was also grateful that she was lying down because Anne in a vest was a magnificent sight. She absolutely wanted to wake up every day like this.
The pace of her breaths quickened as she took in the sharp collar bones that led to her athletic toned biceps. She took a shallow gulp. “Are you sure you’re alright?”Anne’s question was laced with concern. She placed her palm against her forehead, “You’re starting to feel a little warm.”
“Oh...yes, I’m fine. I should probably go to the bathroom.” She started to sit up, her mouth dropping open at just how low the top of Anne’s vest was. Anne followed her gaze down and realised immediately why she had suddenly grown so warm. She tried to hide the smirk that was teasing her lips.
Ann got up hurriedly and almost fell back as the blood rushed to her head. Anne reached up to catch her and Ann used her shoulder to steady herself. She wasn’t sure if that had been caused by her lying down, her hangover, or the sight of Anne. Most likely all three. She tried not to look at her as she regained her balance otherwise she would end up back in bed. She felt Anne’s strong shoulders beneath her grip, and she wasn’t sure that would have been a bad thing.
After a few moments she smiled quickly to Anne to assure her she was okay, she hesitantly let her go. Just as she was rounding the bed Anne called out, “Can I borrow a t-shirt?” Ann stopped in her tracks. She had that ridiculously disarming smile again, how did she do that?
Ann chuckled, pretending that she hadn’t just been caught ogling her chest, “Of course you can.”
She quickly faced her cupboard before Anne could see the blush rising to her cheeks. “I tried to find one last night but all I could see were dresses.” Ann rifled through her cupboard, she knew exactly the t-shirt she would give to her and where it was but needed to bring her temperature down at least a few degrees. She wished her heart and head weren’t holding an internal competition to find out which could thump the loudest. After probably too long she turned back around, black t-shirt in hand, “Here you go.”
Anne erased the smirk from her face as she casually stood and stalked towards her. Ann clutched the shirt to her chest, good lord she hadn’t realised she was only wearing boxers too. This was the most of Anne she’d ever seen. Anne licked her bottom lip as she continued towards her, secretly enjoying how obviously flustered she was making her.
She reached out to take the shirt, she could see Ann literally swooning in front of her. There was a playful glint in her eye. Ann knew there was no possible way she could hide her thoughts, there must be steam shooting out of her ears considering how hot she felt. She needed to get out of there otherwise the mixture of excitement and anxiety would give her cause to use the bucket she saw by the side of the bed. She thrust the shirt into Anne’s waiting hands and exited as fast as her head and legs would allow her.
Anne laughed quietly to herself. She knew that she shouldn’t toy with her since she was still clearly feeling fragile but she couldn’t deny how she enjoyed making her blush. It was only fair, she had lost count of how many times she felt unhinged by the sight of her. She pulled her vest up over her head and started to roll the t-shirt down when she heard a surprised gasp from behind her. She stopped mid-movement and turned her head. Ann was standing in the doorway head tilted upwards, trying to find something interesting on the ceiling.
Ann needed a skip full of ice to fall from the sky to try and cool her down after what she’d seen. If the sharp clavicle and toned biceps hadn’t been enough, the strong thighs definitely were, the clearly defined muscular back that she’d just seen was pure overkill. Anne raised an eyebrow, waiting for her to say something. “I didn’t mean to...I..uh...I…” she couldn’t pretend to remember why she had come back so soon, so instead she accepted defeat and exited again leaving Anne to finish dressing.
They sat in a comfortable silence on the bed as they tucked into their breakfast. Anne had decided to hide the Jammie Dodgers under the bed, best to try and get Ann to eat some proper food first. Judging from how wide her eyes had gotten when she’d seen the tray of food she knew it wouldn’t be a problem. A mischievous grin played on Anne’s lips whilst Ann avoided making eye contact as she did her best not to shrivel up from embarrassment.
“I’m sorry there aren’t any flowers,” Ann looked up, thankful that she was ignoring what had happened. “I tried to make it look as,” Anne paused whilst she tried to find the word, Marian had told her about it, “Instagramable!” That was it. Ann almost choked on the morsel of food she was chewing. Anne was completely adorable, though she’d hate that word if she used it to describe her. It didn’t matter, Ann knew she was.
“I wanted to, but I didn’t want to risk you waking up and my not being here.” Ann’s heart swelled. No one had ever cared about her like this before, to make her breakfast, to try and make it look pretty, and then to worry about leaving her.
“You should stop doing that.”
“Doing what?” Anne speared a grape with her fork like the great hunter that she was.
“Apologising for what’s not there, when I should be saying thank you for what is.”
Anne waved her fork around nonchalantly, “Ahh. Yes, well.” Despite her bluster, there was sometimes a reticence for Anne to accept compliments, especially when they were about her thoughtfulness. Ann knew that people sometimes mistook her confidence for vanity, but she had seen a part to her that was deeply self-conscious. She was touched that it was a side that Anne had let her see. Ann reached over and gave her hand a quick squeeze, “Thank you.” Anne gave her a quick nod in reply.
Seeing a faint hint of colour starting to form on her cheeks Ann couldn’t help but adding, “My clothes look better on you,” with an appreciative smile. She could feel herself getting full, but she knew she should try and eat some more to make herself feel better. There was still a dull ache in the back of her head. She could feel Anne watching her as she slowed down, she knew she’d start to worry. “Is there still a lot to do at the office?” She knew it was a feeble attempt to distract her but as much as she wanted to, she simply didn’t have the strength to climb into her lap.
“A fair bit. We’ve done what we can, but we need to wait for the painters to come in and the new furniture.” Ann was grateful the distraction had worked.
“Will you be working from home?”
Anne put her fork down and moved her plate to the side, “Actually, that’s something I wanted to talk to you about.” Ann slowed her chewing, that sounded very ominous. Anne rubbed her palms against her thighs, that didn’t have the effect it usually did on Ann. Her nervous energy started to worry her. “I have to go away.”
“Oh?” Ann tried to disguise her dismay.
“Tib has to go on a business trip, and she needs me to go with her.” Anne looked at her, trying to gauge how she felt, “It’s only for a few days.” Ann looked down at her food, she started to move pieces of fruit around, “I’ll be back before you know it.” Anne reached out and took her hand, giving it a gentle squeeze. Ann looked up, the sincerity of the smile she wore destroyed by the tears Anne could see threatening to spill over. She cupped her face, her thumb gently caressing her cheek, “You won’t even miss me.” They both knew that wasn’t true.
Anne took both her hands, this was actually the part she was more worried about. She took a deep breath before starting, “There was something else I wanted to talk to you about.” Ann’s eyes darted up, she wasn’t sure how much more of this she could take. “I was going to go up to Shibden for a few days afterwards. Maybe a week.”
“A week?” Ann couldn’t stop herself. Having Anne gone for a few days would be hard enough, but for a week on top of that, it already felt like forever and it hadn’t even begun. She tried to snatch her hands away but Anne kept a firm hold of them. Ann felt her jaw tighten, if she could leave her so easily then maybe she didn’t mean as much to her as she hoped. Anne tilted her head, trying to read how Ann felt but she refused to look at her.
“I was wondering if you might come with me?” She held her breath, waiting for an answer. She knew that it was a lot to ask of someone, they’d only been seeing each other for a few weeks, and her family weren’t always easy to get along with. She had only ever introduced Mariana to them and that had been after some months. Tib had really introduced herself when they came to visit her at uni.
She also worried about asking her to go back to Halifax when she knew her family had not been supportive of her or her move. They would of course be fine if she didn’t want to go, Anne didn’t want to disappoint her aunt, but she also didn’t want to be a week without Ann. The seconds seemed to tick by agonisingly slowly, until suddenly she felt Ann’s arms wrap tightly around her neck. Time sped up again as she heard her yelling, “Yes! Absolutely I’ll go!” Anne pulled back and Ann was smiling broadly, any hint of sadness or hesitation gone from her face. Anne finally let out the breath she’d been holding.
Anne sat with her back against the headboard, Ann sat between her legs, leaning against her. They had spent most of the rest of the morning in bed quietly enjoying being together. Ann slipping in and out of sleep as she held her. At one point she suggested they move down to the living room so Anne would at least have the television to entertain her whilst she slept, but Anne wanted to stay there. She liked her room. It felt like their own little bubble. Anne couldn’t remember the last time she’d spent so much time not doing anything, and she had no desire to move. She stroked her hand up and down Ann’s arm, a contented moan slipping from her lips.
“Don’t start anything you can’t finish,” Ann said sleepily enjoying the goosebumps her touch was causing. She could feel Anne’s chest rise as she smiled behind her followed by the press of her lips to the side of her face. “What makes you think I can’t finish this?” Her voice low and laden with mischief.
“Oh I’m sure you can, I just don’t know if I can.” Anne had finally relented and given her the Jammie Dodgers, they had brightened her mood but whatever Catherine had concocted last night had taken its toll. It didn’t matter, she squeezed Ann a little more tightly, she was more than happy for them to continue like this.
“I should message my aunt, let her know we’ll both be coming up.” There was a quiet nod of agreement as she reached over for her phone. “Don't knock my phone out of my hands again.”
“When did I-” Ann knew that there had now been several occasions when she wanted to take Anne’s phone and throw it off Tower Bridge but she hadn’t actually done it. Not yet at least.
“This morning. I was checking my messages-”
“You were on your phone in bed?” Uh-oh. The slight inflection in Ann’s question was not a fortuitous sign. They hadn’t set any specific boundaries regarding phones in bed, but Anne guessed it would be a no. “You were asleep.” There was a quiet hum of disapproval. She knew this would be a conversation Ann would not forget to have. “Anyway. You move. A lot. Knocked my phone right out of my hand.”
“You move in your sleep too,” Ann threw back.
“I do not!” she protested. She always woke up exactly where she fell asleep, the other side of her bed completely undisturbed. Any report to the contrary was patently untrue.
“You do,” she replied again matter-of-factly. “The other night you were dreaming.”
“What night?” Anne was determined to get to the bottom of these false accusations. She thought back to Friday night, that was the only other time they’d shared a bed. She knew she had been exhausted and fallen asleep on the sofa, but she had made it to her bed. In fact she’d made sure they both made it there. Her brow furrowed as she tried to remember if she’d had any dreams that night.
She had trained herself to be quite a lucid dreamer, always keen to jot down anything particularly interesting in her journal the next day. “The only dream I remember was- I dreamt of you.” She suddenly stopped herself as she remembered exactly what dream she’d had. It was too late now to retract it.
Ann felt her freeze behind her. She was glad because if she craned her neck even slightly she’d see her turning crimson with the unintentional admission that Anne had been thinking about her that morning. She tried to mask her merriment, “Oh. Well. You were moving. A lot.”
“Yes.” Ann bit her lip, stifling the laugh at Anne’s monosyllabic response. “I don't know what you're talking about,” she huffed. Her mind raced as she tried to piece together exactly what parts she remembered were part of the dream and which might have actually happened. “I never move in my sleep,” she asserted, only slightly less emphatically than before. Ann gave a quiet giggle, Anne gently pressed her lips to her cheek, as she pulled her arms around her tighter, “Whatever you say dearest.”