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cold air and the earth

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Clare was digging down at the allotments, trying to sort out some new flowers that she wanted to be able to bloom next spring. She glanced up as a shadow fell across the light, someone’s footsteps approaching, and she knelt up in delight, holding her hand up to shield her eyes. “Helen!” she exclaimed. “What’re you doing down here?”

“I was sick of sitting inside on my own, thought I’d come to see you,” she said, and Clare got up, wiping her hands on her thighs as she leant in to kiss her girlfriend.

“We can have a cuppa,” Clare said, “sit down.” She gestured to her old deckchair, brushing stray bits of soil from the seat. “Er – it’s a bit dusty, but you’ll be alright,” she grinned.

Helen looked at it sceptically. “What about my coat?” she said, and Clare looked at it, her eyebrow quirked in amusement. It was Helen’s newest, a long woolly thing she’d spent a small fortune on with a big fluffy collar, and she was already holding it closer to her body to keep it clean.

“Oh Helen, what did you come to the allotment in that for?!” Clare laughed fondly, shaking her head. “Look, I’ll sit in it first and clean it up.”

She threw herself down as if to prove the chairs credibility, holding her arms open wide. “There you go,” she said, “it’s fine, go on.”

“You’ll have nowhere to sit then though!” a sudden thought stole across Helen’s mind and she laughed suddenly. “I could always sit on your knee!”

Clare smirked. “Come here then,” she grinned, looping her arms around Helen’s waist who shrieked as her legs came out from underneath her, falling into Clare’s lap with a laugh.

“Ooh bloody hell, Helen, you’re heavier than you look!” Clare teased, wriggling about to try and position her comfortably, “your fur collar’s getting in the way!”

Helen twisted her head round to look at Clare, her eyes twinkling at her from underneath her fringe which was sticking out from underneath her grey hat, the rest of face indeed obscured by the trim on her coat. “Oh no, Clare, I’d better get up!” Helen protested, “look at you, I’m squashing you flat!”

“Yer not!” Clare protested. “Look, you’re like a blanket, keeping me warm…” she smirked again as she trailed off. “You didn’t seem too upset about squashing me t’other night!”

“Oi!” Helen spluttered, bursting into a noisy laugh, the sort she didn’t do much that always made Clare grin. “That was different. And we weren’t perched on a rickety deck chair then, were we?”

Clare licked her lips. “Aye, aye,” she said manneredly, “mebbe we weren’t but we are now, aren’t we?”

“Clare if you’re suggesting what I think you are,” Helen snorted, “then you can…”

“No, no!” Clare cut her off. “No. Just…you know.”

“Oh yes?” Helen beamed down at her, “what were you thinking then?” A surge of affection filled her and she leant forward, tugging off Clare’s hat. “That’s better, I can see you now…” She smoothed back Clare’s hair with a small smile who practically purred under her touch, and Helen ducked down into a kiss, marvelling at the feel of Clare’s lips against her own. Clare smelt of the cold air and the earth and the tang of cigarette smoke and incense that always faintly lingered, mingling with Helen’s own expensive perfumes, bittersweet and strong. “Mm,” Helen sighed as they broke apart for a moment, and she stroked Clare’s face, slipping off her lap and onto her knees before her so they were facing each other.

“Oi, don’t get wet,” Clare whispered, gesturing at Helen’s knees where she knelt on the earth. “You haven’t been well for that long yet, I don’t want you catching cold.”

“Don’t get wet?” Helen quirked an eyebrow. “Oh dear. We may have a slight issue on our hands.”

Clare swatted at her. “I’m serious!” she protested, trying and failing at giving into laughter at the sight of Helen’s sparkling eyes. “You know I don’t mean in that way.” She jumped up out of the deck chair, hands on her hips. “You sit down, come on,” she said.

“Just a minute, then,” Helen said, struggling to get her balance to pull herself up and Clare leant down to help her, supporting Helen round her shoulders as she struggled to her feet. She half fell into the deck chair and Clare stepped back anxiously.

“Clare, I’m fine, you don’t need to look so worried!” Helen said, “I’m not going to catch cold.”

“I know, I know,” Clare said, “but you need to take care of yourself!” She tilted her head affectionately to one side. “An’ I know what yer like, always insistin’ you’re fine when you’re not!”

“But I am, I am fine!” Helen protested. The wind blew her fringe over her eyes and she brushed it away impatiently. “Honestly,” she said, in a quieter tone, “I’ve never felt better than I do now that I’m with you.”

Clare sniffed as she sat down on an upturned crate, rubbing her hands on her thighs. “Helen…” she remonstrated, and Helen shook her head.

“No, no, it’s true,” she said. “Honestly, I mean it. I truly have never felt so…I don’t know, alive?” She took a deep breath, casting her eyes across the valley. “When I was married it was – I don’t know, there was something that never felt quite right. I always thought my marriage broke down because we didn’t have any children, but…” she trailed off, a small smile playing on her lips. “I don’t think it was because of that anymore.”

“Oh stop it, you’ll make me cry!” Clare exclaimed, her voice edged with a laugh but the look in her eyes belied her light heartedness and Helen reached out to take her hand gently, caressing the tips of her fingers.

“You cry if you need to,” she whispered. “Do you want a brew?”

“Yeah.” Clare stood up to go over to the little gas stove she kept in her little shed, but Helen beat her to it, grabbing the teabags before she could.

“Let me,” she offered, “I don’t mind.”

She started to boil the water and Clare leant back against the doorframe to watch her work, arms folded across her chest. “I feel better when ’m around you, too,” she said suddenly, and Helen looked round, her eyes full of kindness. “You’ve done so much.”

Helen passed her the tea and Clare wrapped her hands around it, a protection against the cold air.

“I love you,” Helen said simply, looking seriously across at Clare above her cup of tea and Clare smiled, tickled by Helen’s graveness.

“I do too you daft bat,” she said, putting the tea down again as so to be able to properly get close to Helen, kissing her on the cheek.

Helen took Clare’s hand and held it up against her face where she’d kissed her, her eyes saying more than she ever could with just her voice. “I – I feel like anything that happens now, we can face it together,” she whispered. “Don’t you?”

Clare nodded. “Aye,” she murmured. “Aye, I do.” She rested her head against Helen’s shoulder and Helen exclaimed silently in surprise, beaming down at her. They stood like that for a moment, Clare suddenly breaking the quiet with “well I don’t know ‘bout you but I can’t wait to go to bed tonight!”

Helen snorted, shaking her head as she sipped at her tea. “Clare!” she grinned, and Clare shrugged, laughing.

“Well Catherine left me some shepherd’s pie; she’s over at Kirsten’s tonight,” she explained, “so we’ve got the ‘ouse to ourselves, we can do what we like if yer want to.”

“Mm, I do,” Helen breathed, ghosting her hands down Clare’s hip who leant into the touch, kissing her again. “I really do.”