The first thing Charity notices as she nudges open the front door with her shoulder, unceremoniously dumping the over-priced David's bag at her feet, is the quiet. The day might've been pretty mad, with the morning school and nursery run, followed by a tedious shift at the pub, and finally a last minute trip to the shop to pick up something that'll pass for the kids' tea, but she's not losing her sodding mind. A quick glance next to the abandoned shopping tells her as much. She smiles involuntarily at the sight of four pairs of school shoes, two big, two small, piled haphazardly in their usual spot. Vanessa's boots are placed carefully next to them. But the silence is still bothering her.
Rounding the corner, she goes to call out, when a pair of socked feet shuffle into view followed by a pointed "ssshhh". Raising an eyebrow, she finds herself face to face with her granddaughter who glares at her warningly before raising her finger to her lips and turning promptly on her heel back into the living room. With a shake of her head, Charity slips off her own boots, idly contemplating whether she can be bothered to unpack the shopping or just leave it there until Noah's hunger gets the better of him, before following.
Turning the corner, two heads raise to greet her, crayons clasped tightly and twin massive grins as they wave before returning to their master pieces. Next to them Sarah is pointing at the creepily psychedelic page of an open picture book in front of them, as Moses' brow furrows in concentration and he reaches for a different colour. Johnny watches him for a second before shrugging and continuing to scribble savagely at his own drawing, too young to appreciate the grin on the teenager's face as she watches on.
About to make a snarky comment about alien invasion, Sarah catches her eye, nodding her head in the direction of the sofa. She feels her heart falter for a moment at the sight of the sleeping figure curled up in the corner. Her throat constricting traitorously, she turns back to the kids mutely entertaining themselves, only to be met with the sight of Noah creeping carefully down the stairs peering precariously over the duvet bunched in his arms. Suddenly unable to speak, even if it was permitted, she can only watch as her son carries the cover over to the sofa before carefully draping it over Vanessa, who stirs for a moment before her breathing once again deepens. Noah holds his own breath for a second before exhaling and turning toward Sarah with a relieved expression. Noticing his mum, his cheeks colour as he shrugs and heads into the kitchen.
Feeling somewhat like a spare part in the face of the Stepford teens, she watches as Noah goes to flick the kettle before casting a backward glance toward the sofa and instead touches the jug with his hand. Apparently satisfied by the result, he quietly pulls down three mugs, chucking a tea bag in each and turning to Charity, his voice low but gruff.
"She looked knackered, so Sarah made her sit down and by the time the kettle had boiled she was like that."
Charity finds she can only nod, swallowing heavily.
Noah watches her, rolling his eyes but not before casting another furtive glance at the sofa.
At the table, she hears the beginnings of an excited babble from Moses, who is clearly yet to master the art of whispering, only for Sarah to shush him kindly.
"Ness is tired, ok Moz?" He nods seriously, watching her, as Charity strains to hear the conversation. "So, remember how we said we're all going to be really quiet so she can get lots of sleep, yeah?"
Unaware of the three pairs of eyes now on him, Moses again nods solemnly before raising his own finger to his lips, pantomiming the gesture back at Sarah, who smiles at him as she leans over and ruffles Johnny's hair.
Charity's attention is once more drawn by Noah, whose face is now set in a more familiar and comforting smirk. Catching the brief look that flashes between him and Sarah, she cocks an eyebrow waiting.
Noah clears his throat quietly, despite his expression, keeping his voice low.
"So, seeing as we don't wanna wake Ness up by cooking, we thought we could order a pizza for tea…"
Sighing, Charity reaches into the back pocket of her jeans, retrieving her bank card and placing it wordlessly in Noah's outstretched hand. At his victory gesture to Sarah, she can't keep the smile off her own face, wondering for a moment when she came to see the bits of herself in her kids as a good thing. It doesn't take much to realise the answer.
Moving back into the room, she sinks down into the chair nearest to Vanessa and allows herself a moment to listen to her fiancée's slow steady breathing. Beside her Vanessa shuffles and she unthinkingly reaches over, tucking the duvet more securely around her as she mumbles something unintelligible before settling once more. Behind her she hears the quiet clinking of mugs, accompanied by the uneven scratching of crayons on paper and the perennial tapping of thumbs on phones. Feeling the tension of the day ease away, Charity allows her own eyes to close for a minute. She's home.