The second Charity leaves the safety of the building, she feels like all eyes are on her. She knows the bruises are still evident, knows that the clothes on her body don't quite fit the way they intended. People like her don't go on dates. They are used and abused. Thrown away and forgotten. Through all the internal struggle she notices the small looks Vanessa throws her way. A smile ghosting her lips and her eyes raking her body. She can't quell the feeling of smugness that enters her veins. Vanessa looks beautiful and the mid-day sun catches the blonde tones in her hair making the illusion of a golden halo. Her eyes are the same blue as the sky and she could lose herself in them for days. Pushing any doubts to the back of her mind she pulls Vanessa to a stop, dipping low so that their lips can meet.
"What was that for?" Vanessa smiles as they restart their journey.
"Do I need a reason to kiss my girlfriend?"
She doesn't know where the word came from or why she's said it but it's out in the world now and she can't take it back. She tries to focus on anything other than Vanessa. The bile in the back of her throat, burning. The silence seems like hours rather than seconds.
Charity chances a look at her face and what she sees isn't what she expected. She's smirking lightly, an eyebrow raised.
"Go on head for the hills" Charity chuckles. Trying to dampen the tension in the air.
"I'm going nowhere and neither are you. Come here"
They've only walked about 100m and there suddenly kissing again. Vanessa reaches up on her top toes and lightly traces her tongue against Charities lower lip. She immediately grants the vet entrance, moaning into the kiss. They only break apart when the urge to breathe takes over. They rest their foreheads together, noses bumping.
They continue their stroll up to the shopping centre. They pass Charity's doorway and Vanessa feels the grip on her hand tighten, steps becoming faster. She brushes her thumb on the palm of the hand, looking up to see the tears forming in the corners of her eyes. There's someone else there now. Charity knows she can never go back there now, if Vanessa decides to leave.
"Charity it's over. You never have to go back"
Charity nods silently, her pace slowing.
"It's over" She repeats, barely a whisper.
They stand outside of the cinema, browsing the boards outside. Charity is taken aback by how old fashioned the cinema looks compared to the shopping centre. The words Cinema and Pizza are lit up like the front of a west end show. The film titles spelled out in small white letters, jagged and wonky. She lets Vanessa pick the film. The blonde choosing Last Christmas. Charity rolls her eyes. Of course she picked a Christmas rom-com two weeks after Christmas and it had to be a musical type of deal. Vanessa just smiles, placing a kiss on her cheek.
Vanessa purchases the tickets and buys the extra-large bag of popcorn and drink they offer. She makes her way towards Charity, the only way to tell that it is in fact Vanessa are the boots on her feet. She takes the offered items off of the blonde.
"Feeding the five thousand there buttercup?" She winks, a shiver coursing through Vanessa.
"The pop-corns the best bit but I got salted if that okay?
"Let me guess because you're sweet enough?"
Vanessa laughs loudly causing the people around them to turn and stare. This seems to make her laugh more.
"Come on you! Before you cause even more of a scene". She nudges Vanessa with her knee towards the doors and entering the screen.
The outside is nothing compared to the inside. In place of standard cinema seats, red and burgundy couches take their place. Cushions sit upon them and the lack of a middle arm rests makes things look huge. They take their seats in the back row. Charity raises her eyebrow, towards Vanessa.
"Trying to get lucky babe?"
"Depends on whose offering"
They kiss again. Slow. Soft. Wanting. The screen buzzes into life as they jump apart. Vanessa threads her fingers through Charity's. The popcorn wedged between them.
The film is constantly interrupted by the small glances the women give to each other. Whenever Vanessa smiles Charity can't help but stare. Her whole face glows, her cheek bones becoming more defined and the vein in her neck slightly pops. Charity's mind replaying the image of her grazing her teeth over it and the way she had moaned her name. Vanessa loves Charity's smile but she loves her concentration face more. The way her brow knits together, her eyes wide, mouth slightly open. It takes all her willpower not to jump her there, an action replay of the night before.
Something else Vanessa has noticed is the way Charity always needs to be touching. Whether that be holding her hand, a hand on her knee or drawing slow patterns upon her wrist. Whenever Vanessa withdraws, even for a second. Charity grabs for another part of her body, her features relaxing again. Each time she takes the hand. Kissing the back softly, just to see the small smile on her lips.
"Whatcha fancy food wise" Vanessa asks as they leave the cinema. She puts her hand in Charity's pocket, cupping the hand inside, there steps falling into time.
"Whatever you want. I've never really been in a restaurant or anything. We didn't really have the money as a kid and then you know" Charity looks around, a slight blush settling on her cheeks.
"Well we could just go in here"? She says pointing up at the large TGI's sign
Charity nods and follows Vanessa inside. It's loud. The chart music pumping through the room and the red lights making everything look dark. The young server seats them in a booth away from the other few diners in the room. Another server approaches them and takes a drinks order, Vanessa orders two mojitos and moves closer to Charity.
"Anything take your fancy?"
Charity pushes the menu away. The amount of choice is overwhelming and the noises and neon lights aren't helping.
"Ness I don't think I can do this I'm sorry for ruining tonight but"
Vanessa reaches for Charity's hand placing two fingers on her wrists pulse point. Charity's breathing starts to regulate, the shaking subsiding.
"Yes you can.I know you can. How about we get a main and a pudding?"
"Yeah, yeah that sounds good" Charity stutters, her mind focusing on the rhythmic feel of her girlfriend's pulse.
"Okay, well I'm gonna get the sesame chicken strips and chips. Do you want that or something else?"
The drinks arrive and Vanessa asks for a few more minutes. Letting Charity take as long as she needs.
"A chicken burger would be good. Please. Can I, Can I get fudge cake for dessert?"
The hope in her voice reminds Vanessa of a child. Begging for ice cream on a day out.
"You can get whatever you want"
The rest of the meal is bliss. They hold hands while they wait for their meal. Watching the world go by, Charity making snarky comments about people as they pass. Vanessa laughs from her toes, tears removing the makeup she put on earlier. They eat their food in comfortable silence, only breaking the quiet to offer each other a taste of the food. Charity practically licks the bowl when her fudge cake comes and Vanessa wipes the chocolate from the corners of her mouth, kissing her as she does so.
"Home or did you have anything else planned?" Charity questions as they walk through the city centre. The sky is a mixture of pinks and yellows, the sun just setting.
"We could go into the gay village? There's a little pub I go into a lot. It's not too loud and it never gets full."
Vanessa knows that the mainstream gay clubs could and probably would freak Charity out. The lights, the people and the music are all too much for her wary mind.
"Yeah, yeah I'd like that"
They arrive in the gay village, rainbow flags adorn the street lights, followed by a multitude of other pride flags representing the LGBTQ+ community. The pub Vanessa takes them to is small. Two neon pride flags sit proudly alongside its name, The New Penny. There are a few tables occupied by couples, and a few students sit in the corners.
"Vanessa! Long-time no see! It's been so long!" Vanessa is engulfed by arms from the pubs owner Chas.
"It's good to see you! This is my girlfriend Charity".
Chas looks up slowly, her head dropping back almost immediately. Charity continues to stare at her. Eyes fixed on the women's black hair. Vanessa had no idea that her "friend" was her girlfriend's cousin, someone who had let her down time and time again. Charity places her hand around her middle protectively, holding her close.
"Nice. Nice to meet you, love! Two pints yeah? I'll stick it on your tab". She stutters out, running round to the other side of the bar.
Charity finds a table and watches as the barmaid refuses to look in her direction. She doesn't notice Vanessa sitting down next to her and is brought out of her thoughts by knees bumping together.
"Do you two know each other?" Vanessa askes following the path of Charity's eyes.
"We used to, haven't seen her in a couple of years, she wasn't exactly supportive" She says through gritted teeth.
"We can go? Take this back to the flat?"
"We're staying. I'm here to enjoy a drink with my girlfriend. I'm not having my past dictate to me what I do now. I need to think about me and you and what our future looks like"
Vanessa wipes away a stray tear as Charity leans in a kisses her. She tries to convey exactly how she feels into the kiss. That she wants a future with Charity. That this is it forever if she'll have her. They spend the next few hours drinking, laughing and talking. Their body's getting ever closer. Chas has disappeared, Charity hopes its guilt that's drove her away. A live band comes on, they play songs in a folk style and Charity notices the way Vanessa taps her foot along.
While Vanessa nips to the loo Charity approaches the band and whispers into the lead singer's ear. He nods and the band strikes up a much slower beat than before. As Vanessa makes her way back, Charity is stood near their table, a shy smile on her lips. She points to her ear and she stops to listen. Yellow is playing.
"Can I have this dance?" Charity whispers into her ear. Vanessa links her arms around Charity's neck, as Charity places her hand on her hips.
"You're a softy really aren't you" Vanessa whispers, looking into now dark green eyes.
"Only because of your buttercup. This song just reminds me of you. So much yellow" They laugh together, gently swaying in the middle of a half empty pub.
"Thank you for tonight but thank you for sorting out today's mini crisis but for not being scared every time I have one and I have quite a few"
"Are you calling me a crisis junkie" Vanessa chuckles.
"I know you'd do the same for me"
Charity shakes her head at the thought.
"Not like this. You are something truly special"
Vanessa stops swaying looking directly at Charity.
"Whatcha mean not like this?"
"Oh you no unwavering and gorgeous with it. We're not all as amazing as you"
Vanessa drops her gaze, focusing on the bruise on Charity's neck.
"I love you. I really, really stupidly and completely love you".
Vanessa's head snaps back up. She gulps, trying to keep tears at bay.
"Course you do because I wouldn't go and fall in love with someone who didn't love me back would I?"
"You're not saying that because"
"Charity" Vanessa interrupts. "I really stupidly and completely love you too".