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"Today's the third anniversary of your mother's death," Dr Nicholls says. She twists her pen between her fingers. "How do you feel?"
Mary smiles a little. "For once, I'm okay," she replies smoothly. "My friends and family have been a real support, they always have been but it's down to me to stop myself from going into the dark depths of my grief."
"You've been doing really well. Even during the months, we stopped holding appointments," Dr Nicholls tells her warmly. "So, where are you now, at this point in your life?"
"I'm in the final year of my undergraduate course," Mary says softly. "Psychology. I want to do a Masters and then a doctorate. I'm even looking at apartments I can't afford with my boyfriend." She laughs a little. "I think this is the most I've ever seen myself in five years down the line. It used to be just getting by one day at a time. I don't think I can ever get over my mother's death but... I'm a lot happier and stable than I've been in a long time."
Dr Nicholls smiles. "That's really good, Mary. Do you have any nightmares?"
"No, they're pretty much nonexistent," Mary replies. "Ever since I got with my boyfriend, I've not had them."
"Good," the therapist replies. "I'm glad you're doing really well and I wish you all the best with your degree. We'll now be seeing each other three times a year. Also, I'll have the receptionist forward a selection of meditation programs in case you need them as well as guides through panic attacks as well as anxiety attacks."
Mary stands with the doctor, shaking her hand firmly. "Thank you so much."
"You're a great girl, Mary," Dr Nicholls tells her. "Good luck."
Mary puts her coat on and retrieves her shoulder bag before heading out and meeting Francis who has just ended his own session. She extends her hand towards him and he takes it, pressing a kiss on the back of hers.
"How was it?"
She smiles widely. "Really good." She kisses him. "Let's go home."
Christmas comes around quickly and as promised, the family are more willing participants this year. Catherine shoos Mary and Kenna out of the kitchen, dragging Leeza and Claude in instead and bewildered, Mary and Kenna head to the living room and curl up beside their respective boyfriends.
"She kicked you out, didn't she?" Francis asks knowingly.
"Cooking is so fun!" Mary whines, crossing her arms. "And the dessert we made last year was great even though everyone was too sad to enjoy it. I can't believe it's Christmas already."
"Seems like yesterday we were finishing our second year," Francis replies wistfully.
Mary nods, her eyes landing on the festive film on the TV. "Before we know it, we'll be trying to work out what to do next year. I'm already sorted-"
"But I've still got to decide," Francis says with a wince. "I'll probably just help Mum with the restaurants since it will fall onto me eventually anyway. And if you weren't going to do your Master's here, I'd have said we go to London and run the restaurant there for six months."
Mary chuckles, snuggling her back into his chest. "I could do my Master's in England. I just want to be anywhere you are. And I'm already a French citizen through my mother since she recorded me to the civil register so I don't have to stay here for years on end to be French. I've always have been, thank God Uncle Christian had the documents with him."
"Are you sure?"
She looks at him. "I'm sure," she says, kissing him gently as she cups his cheek. "We've still got six months to decide."
"God, it's scary!" Francis mutters. "We'll be graduates, Mary. Diplomas and all. Adulting for real."
"Wow, so scary!" She laughs, entwining their fingers lovingly. "Francis, who's going to be there by your side?"
She nods. "Exactly. So you don't have to worry about anything - adulting included because I'll be there with you," she says. "Right, come upstairs for your Chrismas present."
Mary stands, pulls him up and drags him to his bedroom. She sits him down on the bed and heads back out to the towel closet. He never goes in here according to Catherine so it's the perfect spot for the present that is wrapped neatly in silver wrapping paper with a red bow and Francis's name written in sparkly golden Sharpie.
"Here you go," she says, handing him the gift.
Francis's brows raise. "Babe, this is quite big." He rattles it for any sounds but none come.
"Open it then!"
Francis laughs at her impatience and tears the paper off much to her displeasure but she quickly changes her tune when she sees the realisation in his eyes when he looks down at the square object.
"Since it worked so well on Kenna's birthday, I thought I'd you'd like the same. I got Catherine to help me with the photographs. And you made the 'no present' rule on your birthday so now is the next best day to give it to you."
Francis traces his finger across his father's face holding him when he was a baby. A few days before his new pacemaker fitting. The next photograph is on his fifth birthday and his father supports him on his pony. The next one is on his tenth birthday and he's playfighting with his father who pretends to yield. The next photo is when he turned sixteen, his family surrounding him as he cut into his birthday cake shaped as his age. The next photo is one he and Mary snapped together back in October on his 21st birthday.
All he'd wanted that day was to take his girlfriend on a date and they managed to swing a boat trip on the Seine and took a romantic picture where she was kissing his cheek as he grinned at the camera. So many important days in his life, many others but not on the canvas and he takes a sharp intake of breath in.
"You don't like-"
"It's the best gift anyone has ever given me," he says tearfully, pulling her down for a kiss. He nuzzles his nose against her neck and she grins in relief. "Makes my present look like shit now."
Mary pulls away to look down at him from her position on his lap. "Whatever you give me, I'll cherish it."
Shifting her off his lap, he gets up and opens his bedside drawer. He grabs a ring box and she gasps, covering her mouth but he starts chuckling.
"It's not a wedding ring, don't worry," he says, brushing a kiss on her hairline before opening the box for her. "It's a promise ring. After our breakup, I just don't ever want to let you go. I want a life with you, Mary."
Mary lets out a sob, putting the ring onto her right ring finger and pressing a long kiss on his lips. "God, I love you."
"I love you too," Francis says, kissing her cheek.
"You guys weren't kidding. This place is incredible!" Kenna cries out.
Leaving Catherine and the kids back home, Francis planned a couples' getaway for him, Mary and their friends. After telling the others of his plans, they immediately all pitched in before Kenna dominated them all and paid for everything herself, citing that she couldn't enjoy her wealth on her own.
"Who gets which room then?" Remy asks, placing his and Lola's bags by one of the sofas as Bash wheels his and Kenna's suitcases inside.
"Mary, want to choose our bedroom?" Francis asks her.
She grins. "The room I stayed in was great."
"Right, Mary and I will take one of the rooms downstairs, the six of you can fight over the rest," Francis says, taking his and Mary's stuff to their room as she follows.
As soon as the bags are on the floor, Mary shoves Francis's coat off and starts undoing his shirt.
"Jesus, couldn't have waited for me to close the door?" He chuckles, feeling his back slam against the door, closing it in an instance. "Ouch but effective."
Giggling, Mary takes her own coat off and attacks his lips as she continues to shed his clothes from his body. "I can't wait to take you on that bed," she says against his lips, teeth clashing as he draws her closer with his hands on her waist. "I'd fantasise even with your mother next door."
"You little minx," he grins, nipping at her neck.
When they rejoin the group four hours later, they're all rested in time for dinner. They left really early so they could get there by late lunch and Mary blushes when she sees Kenna give her a smirk as she and Bash set up dinner.
"So, what are we doing? Skiing? Snowboarding? Exploring?" Leith asks, pulling Greer to sit on his lap at the dining table.
"We're doing whatever we want to," Mary tells him, grabbing a bread roll from the bowl. "Anyone down for the hot tub after dinner?"
"I'm down," Greer tells her. "I bought a very cute swimsuit just for this reason."
Lola gasps, turning to her. "Is it the blood-red one you showed us on group chat?"
"Nope," Greer says with a smirk. "You'll see it soon."
Everyone else accepts the offer except Kenna who places the chicken steaks onto the table. "I'm actually drained, I'll head to bed after dinner."
Dinner is lovely and half-way through, Mary feels Francis's hand daring up her thigh. She gives him a raised eyebrow but he doesn't even acknowledge it as he and Remy talk about Remy's part-time job at his father's law firm. He's so ignoring her and she scoffs lightly, shaking her head in disbelief as his fingers creep up even more.
She nudges his leg and he stills his hand, saying, "I might head to bed early too."
"Oh, come on! It's a little jacuzzi, enjoy it with us!" Leith tells him, flicking some chicken his way.
Francis lightly glares at him and stuffs the chicken into his mouth nonchalantly. "We'll see."
Mary turns to speak to Lola but Francis's hand continues its journey towards the middle of her thighs and her breath hitches in her throat. He's never been this flippant before, this risqué. Her cheeks stain red and she masks that by taking multiple sips of her wine.
She leaps a little when his fingers trace her pelvis and Lola sends her a concerned look, emitting her to say, "Bit my tongue."
"Oh, I'll grab you an ice cube," Kenna says, getting up as Mary sends Francis a warning look to which he smirks to, leaning into her side.
His lips brush over her ear and he whispers, "I still haven't had enough of you..."
Mary licks her bottom lip and turns to face him. "Can't you wait until after we've relaxed in the jacuzzi?" She asks him just for his ears.
"Don't think I can with you and those lips-"
"Oi, when you're done eye-fucking each other, here's your ice, Mary," Kenna says, stuffing it into Mary's opened palm and taking a seat.
As a reply to that, Mary kicks Francis's calf.
"Watching you guys over dinner is like watching two rabbits get it on," Greer tells Mary as she models her new swimsuit. It's a burnt orange, flowery two-piece and she finishes tying it around her neck.
"I wouldn't have been surprised if they went at it on top of the dinner table!" Kenna adds.
Mary covers her face. "Ever since we got back together and started having sex again, we've done it almost every day. Apart from the times that I was on my period, but I was considering it."
"Gosh, you could get pregnant if you're not careful!" Lola cries out.
"Let her have her fun," Kenna chides. "She's missed years of good sex."
Mary snorts with a roll of her eyes, tying the belt of her lace white coverup around her waist. "I'm okay, Lola. Kenna convinced me to have the contraceptive shots."
"Speaking of sex," Greer starts cheekily. "Lola, how's Remy?"
Lola scoffs, rolling her eyes hard. "I am not telling you-"
"Is he good, yes or no?" Mary joins in, her and Greer gigging.
Lola bites her bottom lip, flushing red. "He's really good."
Mary giggles, hitting Lola lightly with a pillow. "That's great. And are you guys safe?"
"Shut up," Lola laughs, her eyes shifting to Kenna. "What about you? How's your sex life going?"
Greer nods, launching herself onto the bed by them, laying on her side. "Is it still as scandalous as the rest of ours?"
"I've not had sex in over a year," Kenna says casually.
"Why?" Lola asks carefully. "Does Bash not want-"
"It's not him," Kenna says, strained. "It's me. I just can't... I don't think I'll ever be able to as well or even sleep beside a guy in a bed. We rarely do, so I don't freak out and Bash doesn't mind although I hate denying him this but I just can't. Can we move on from this topic, please?"
All laughter and teasing have gone, as Mary places her hand on Kenna's. "I'm sorry."
Kenna shakes her head dismissively, swallowing hard. "I'm tired. You should not keep the guys waiting."
"What are you scared of?" Mary asks her. She knows she should be psychoanalysing her best friend of all people but if it helps her, she'll do anything.
"I've not let anyone see my body since that day," Kenna opens up. "You've probably noticed that I wear turtlenecks or chokers and long-sleeved shirts and trousers. I was wearing a skirt - I can't even bear the look of them. The one I wore that day, I've never got back but I saw something like it a couple of weeks ago and I had a meltdown."
Mary stands from her bed and digs through Kenna's suitcase.
"What are you doing?" Greer asks curiously.
Mary sighs when she can't find a swimsuit in there so she goes to her own suitcase and retrieves the spare pair. It's like the navy blue one-piece she's wearing but this one exposes a little more bust and is a deep purple colour. She'd been scrolling through it when she was in bed with Francis, looking at potential holiday outfits and she felt him react to that swimsuit, in particular, saying how he'd love to see her chest in that. Naturally, she smacked him lightly and mockingly called him a 'dog' before adding it to her basket.
"What happened to you was awful but that doesn't mean you should put your life on hold and let those idiots win," Mary says. "I didn't when Louis almost..." She swallows hard and sinks down onto Kenna's bed beside her. "You're beautiful and if you're worried about what the others will think when they see your scars, then you shouldn't be because they don't matter."
Lola smiles warmly, placing her hand on Kenna's shoulder. "Wear it," she says quietly.
Kenna shakily nods and takes it from Mary's hand before heading to the bathroom. When she's done, she quickly puts her robe on and they head outside onto the deck, seeing the guys already in the jacuzzi, deep in conversation as they sit in their own two-seat alcoves.
Mary gets in first, wading over towards Francis on the further end. "Hey, Handsome."
Francis pouts. "You're not wearing the sexy one," he says into her ear, making her giggle.
She leans into his own ear. "If I were you, don't look at Kenna, she's wearing it and Bash won't appreciate you drooling over her."
"Damn it," Francis replies, receiving a kiss as she giggles against his mouth.
"Coming in or are you just going to freeze to death?" Bash playfully asks Kenna and Mary turns to see that Kenna is still out of the hot tub. She sees Bash gently coax her with his eyes and Kenna nervously takes her robe off and more or less leaps into the tub and buries herself into Bash's side, relieved for all the bubbles hiding her.
"Welcome to the club," Leith jokingly tells her. "Now, where were we, gentlemen? Oh right, we were talking about why St-Étienne is better than your stupid PSG."
"Urgh, we're talking about football," Greer says, rolling her eyes. "Great!"
"Just great..." Mary adds as the guys argue about their favourite football teams.
"...mean, Sebastian? We're first place in the league!" Leith cries out as the women pop open the wine and pour themselves large ones.
Lola sends them each a pointed look. "One of us will have to get more at some point."
"Let's savour these for now then," Kenna replies.