The house is blessedly quiet as she ushers Vanessa through the door and in the direction of the sofa. After firing off a quick text to Tracy to pick the boys up and give them tea, she'd been met on the stairs by a concerned looking Chas who had immediately offered to feed Noah and Sarah and keep them occupied for a few hours, so she could get Vanessa home for some proper rest. It had taken everything in Charity to fight the urge to throw her arms around her cousin at the offer. Instead she just about managed to chuck out a vague insult about Paddy not being able to keep his gob shut. The sympathetic smile and arm squeeze she got in return indicated she was definitely losing her edge. But the funny thing was, she found she didn't care one bit.
Closing the door of Jacob's Fold behind her, she feels a profound relief that, if only for a couple of hours, it's finally just the two of them, the rest of the world shut out. And for the first time in what seems like weeks, it actually feels like them. She feels like she can actually breathe.
Vanessa is gingerly removing her bag, wincing as she manoeuvres. Despite the conversation barely an hour ago, Charity still finds herself hesitating, unsure in the moment whether help is wanted or needed. Biting her lip, she chances a glance at Vanessa who is watching her with a face so full of understanding that Charity wonders when the hell she apparently became so emotionally transparent. Yet the thought becomes redundant as Vanessa stops struggling with the bag, lets her shoulders drop and smiles sheepishly at her.
Within a second, Charity finds herself beside her, carefully extricating Vanessa from the bloody ridiculous shoulder strap before unbuttoning her coat and peeling the item gently off her. She waits for a moment for the familiar rebuke that Vanessa can still bloody dress herself. Instead she is met only with a tearful smile that has her swallowing sharply.
"Right you. Sit down, feet up. I'll stick the kettle on and no arguing missus."
Busying herself in the kitchen she listens to the now familiar sound of Vanessa lowering herself deliberately into a vaguely comfortable position. She's briefly grateful that she can't see the accompanying grimace. Yet she flinches anyway, she realises, in an empathy that she genuinely had never believed existed until a gobby blonde vet flounced into her cellar.
She's still smiling stupidly as she turns back to the sofa, a mug in each hand.
Vanessa is observing her, her expression open, in a way that makes Charity's heart fill, as she shuffles over and pats the space on the sofa beside her. Sliding the mugs onto the table, Charity's barely seated when Vanessa curls into her, head nestling her shoulder, a hand bunching firmly into the loose fabric of her shirt. Operating on instinct, or muscle memory, or some other term that she's sure she's heard on one of those nature documentaries Vanessa makes them watch, her arm wraps around slight shoulders, pulling her closer, as she finally exhales.
A muffled noise into her collar makes her look down. Vanessa shifts again and Charity feels the familiar flutter of worry, but when blue eyes meet hers, they are clear.
The surprise Charity feels must show, again, on her bloody face, as Vanessa is staring at her softly. Adjusting her grip to pull her closer, she swallows. "Babe. You really don't have to thank me."
Vanessa pauses, the look on her face growing serious, but the tears too often a presence of late are absent, and Charity forces herself to wait.
It's several moments before Vanessa speaks. A myriad of emotions seem to be at play, but Charity is relieved as she feels a hand reach for her own, fingers playing idly with the cuff of her blouse.
"But I do." Vanessa sighs. "Look, I know I can be a bit stroppy." She chews on her lower lip. "And I'm not always the best at admitting when I might need a bit of help." She meets Charity's eye, as if to make sure she's really listening, and Charity can do nothing except nod. "But when I was at work earlier, and in pain, and frustrated and upset with myself, and scared out of my mind, I realised that the only person I wanted to see." She swallows heavily. "That I needed to see, was you."
Charity can feel moisture in the corner of her eye that no amount of blinking will fix. But Vanessa is still talking, and though the words don't seem to be making sense, all she can do is listen.
"And then I realised that whenever anything bad happens, even when I'm angry at you, or we're arguing." She smiles, the tell-tale glimmer of emotion making itself known. "You're still the person that I know will come and make it better, who'll be there." She sniffs, rearranging their angle, so that Charity has no choice but to look at her. "I love you."
Not trusting herself to speak, Charity can only watch in wonder as Vanessa reaches out to gently wipe the tear she can feel trailing embarrassingly down her cheek. Following it with a soft kiss, she smiles once more before burying back into Charity's side. "Now, how about that boxset?"