Just to warn you before you read this one, it does contain description of a panic attack and references to disordered eating. Please don't read or message me first if you think it might be triggering for you.
It's been a while, so reviews would be so appreciated if you enjoy this- or constructive criticism if you don't, I feel like I've forgotten what I'm doing!
PS, if you didn't know already, you can now follow me on instagram at chloeggodard for more Chloe content :)
"Right, come and sit here, sweetheart," Ange commands, steering her daughter into her office and over towards the sofa as best she can manage at a two-metre distance. "You can have my cup of tea, okay? Look, take it off my desk. I haven't touched it, it hasn't been there long, it'll still be warm. Chloe, I mean it. Take it, please. You're not wasting your whole break standing in a queue waiting for a volunteer to make you a cup of tea you won't have time to drink but at least they've cut down on the number of people touching the staffroom kettles, that's ridiculous. You can have mine. You need it more than I do."
"I c-c-ca…" Chloe protests, breaths coming in gasps still, can't seem to calm herself down.
"Yes, you can. I don't want it, Chloe, you can… oh, okay," Ange realises. "Okay. I'd washed my hands right before I picked it up, but I'll wipe the mug down with the industrial strength stuff, look. I'll put it down there so you can reach it when you calm down, and then I'll wipe it down for you, okay? And then you're going to come and sit here, before you collapse on me… don't look at me like that, Chloe, even you're not usually this pale. Sit down. Good girl. Look, and then if I sit here, we've just about managed a two-metre distance, haven't we? But I've locked the door. Come on," she sighs, watches her daughter protectively, heart aches at the distance between them. "Come on, sweetheart, breathe. Look at me. Look at me, Chloe, breathe with me. You're fine. You're fine, you're just breathing far too fast, aren't you? In slowly. Chloe, come on, keep looking at me. Breathe out nice and slowly for me. You're alright."
She's been dreading this.
Ever since this madness began, Covid19 and social distancing and no human contact without full PPE when treating patients with absolutely no exceptions, she's been dreading Chloe's panic attacks resurfacing.
How is she supposed to calm her daughter down when she can't even get close enough to her for her to be able to focus on her properly all the while she's caught in the clutches of a panic attack? When all her preferred methods for helping her patients through these involve at least some minimal degree of human contact, when every strategy she has ever found to work with Chloe over the years necessitates holding her hands, hugging her, stroking her hair, anything to ground her, pull her back, help remind her that she loves her, that she's always going to be here for her, that this will pass?
"Chloe?" Ange tries again urgently. "Chloe, listen."
Her daughter's eyes are closed now, chest heaving, fights against an invisible force inside her head that as her mother she's never quite been able to understand, but there's still no doubt in her mind that she'd relieve her of in a heartbeat if only she could.
If Chloe hears her, she doesn't show it.
"Chloe, come on," Ange pleads with her. "Chloe? Chloe, listen to me. I'm here, sweetheart. I'm right here, I'm not going to let anything happen to you, okay? I promise. You're alright, I just need you to breathe for me. Yeah? Nice and slowly. Just focus on my voice. I know this is shit, sweetheart," she sighs. "I know. If I could come and give you a hug, I would. I really would. But I can't, so you're just going to have to really focus on my voice, okay? Can you do that? Yeah? Just keep focusing on my voice, sweetheart, can you look at me? Chloe? Chloe, can you look at me? Sweetheart?"
But Chloe just keeps trembling, sways alarmingly now, gaze fixed firmly on her hands as she wraps them around themselves, grips so hard that her knuckles turn white and all the time her breathing so horribly laboured, sharp, panicky, that Ange isn't even convinced she can hear her.
This isn't going to work.
She's starting to panic herself now, because she just can't see how this is ever going to work, how she's ever going to be able to coax Chloe safely back into a normal breathing rhythm when she can't help her do it, get close enough to her to offer any real reassurance.
Sometimes she wonders how she produced Chloe.
That possibly sounds rather harsher than she'd ever mean it to.
She loves Chloe more than she's ever loved anyone else in her whole life; that's as unchanged now as it was the day she was born and at this stage, there's no doubt in her mind that it's going to remain that way forever.
But sometimes, Ange looks and her and can't quite get her head around how Chloe is her daughter.
Because Chloe wouldn't last five minutes in the harsh Pollokshields of her own 1980s childhood- and perhaps that's an utterly ridiculous statement to even make to herself, but it's true.
Her own mother always used to tell her that Chloe was too pure and naïve and innocent for life on the mainland, belonged back on the Isle of Skye, that small, safe world of open hills and seemingly endless fields for only a small island, wild-roaming sheep and highland yaks and familiarity.
She'd first started coming out with it when Chloe was an anxiety-riddled teenager, and back then, it had annoyed Ange no end.
It's only been as Chloe has grown older, not a child anymore, grown-up, supposed to be emotionally independent of her, that Ange has realised just how much truth there's always been in her mother's words.
Ange has always prided herself upon the fact that she's fiercely independent, after all, needs no one- no one except for her perfect little girl who changed her life in the best way possible, at least.
How did she manage to get motherhood so horribly wrong that she's failed to teach Chloe to be the same?
"Chloe?" Ange tries again urgently, fights to keep her worry from showing. "Chloe, listen to me, sweetheart. I'm going to come and hold your hands, okay? I know that's not strictly allowed, is it, but this is ridiculous, I can't leave you like this…"
"N-n-n…" All of a sudden, Chloe is shaking her head furiously now, eyes squeezed shut, even more panicked than she seemed before. "N-n-n- c-c-ca…"
Her breathing keeps coming in the most horrendous, laboured gasps, and it's breaking Ange's heart.
"Chloe," she tells her daughter firmly. "Chloe, breathe for me. I need you to really focus on your breathing for me now, okay? Really, really try, or I'm going to have to, alright? I can't leave you like this. I don't care if I'm not allowed to touch you, that doesn't matter if you can't calm yourself down. In slowly, okay? Breathe in slowly, count to three? Okay. Okay, it's okay. Can you breathe out nice and slowly for me next time? In for three- no, okay. And out, two, three… Chloe, come on," she pleads with her. "Come on, I need you to try for me. Breathe in for three. Slowly, sweetheart."
Fletch says she smothers Chloe.
Fletch has told her that he thinks she smothers Chloe rather a lot at this point, and though she always denies it furiously, deep down Ange does know that he's probably right.
But what else was she supposed to do?
It's different for Fletch.
Fletch's kids might have just the one parent, yes, but it's completely different for them.
She hasn't just had to love her daughter as much as two parents would, take on sole responsibility for her, raise her all by herself- on the parent front at least, it seems unfair to deny her own mother the recognition she deserves for helping her raise Chloe.
She's also had to make up for the horrific start in life she gave her daughter.
For the fact that she had her while she was still in high school, after behaving so irresponsibly throughout almost her entire pregnancy with her that Ange knows she has to consider herself unbelievably lucky that the only lasting effect of the damage she did to her little girl was the hours of their lives wasted in paediatric consults, being told Chloe still hadn't made it onto the fucking child growth chart until she finally had a long-overdue growth spurt and caught her up at eighteen.
For all her immaturity in the first few years of Chloe's life, despite her best efforts to grow up overnight, be the responsible, grown-up, confident mother Chloe desperately needed her to be.
For her periods of absence when Chloe was too young to be without her, really, for all the times she put work first and Chloe second.
But it goes deeper still.
How, when she loves her daughter as much as she does, could she not do everything she possibly can to make sure that despite the awful truth about where she came from, who her father was, she's so, so loved?
Maybe she does smother Chloe, but that's the reason for it.
One thing Ange has always been absolutely adamant about is that her daughter should feel secure, loved, worthy, wanted.
That the circumstances of her conception should be insignificant to Chloe, the tiniest mark on her life physically possible.
That Chloe should know that her father's actions could never reflect on her, not ever.
That she's innocent, precious, oh-so-pure.
That it's just DNA.
That's what Ange always wanted for her.
And so, when Chloe's anxiety began, right after she finally told her the truth about her father, Ange couldn't help but blame herself.
It's all her fault.
Clearly, she didn't do a good enough job, failed to help Chloe see that she's nothing like her father, that none of it matters, none of it, before the inevitable moment came and she had to tell her the truth.
And so, yes.
By Fletch's standards, used to his own conceived-out-of-love children and never known any different, perhaps she does smother Chloe.
But it's different.
Chloe still needs all the love and reassurance she can possibly give her; Ange is certain of that.
And if giving Chloe what she needs means that Fletch thinks she's an overbearing mother, then so be it.
"Chloe, this isn't working," Ange sighs reluctantly, admitting defeat. "Is it, sweetheart? I'm not helping you like this. I'm just going to move as close to you as I need to so I can hold your hands, okay?" she tries to persuade her now, only hopes her daughter is too far gone to realise just how worried she is. "It's alright. It's alright, it's going to be fine. I promise. You can wash your hands as soon as you're through the worst of this, okay? I'm not going to give you anything, sweetheart. My Covid test came back negative yesterday, you remember? It's fine. I promise. And I've locked the door, and the blinds are down, so no one's going to see. I won't tell if you don't. I'm going to come and sit with you now," she tells Chloe gently, eases herself out of her desk chair, pads slowly, carefully across the room to kneel in front of her daughter, far away as she can manage and still be within her reach. "It's okay. Chloe, it's okay. Give me your hands," she commands, firm, uncompromising, wishes she didn't have to be but nothing else is working, and she's so afraid Chloe will keep rejecting her, too caught up in covid restrictions and fear of catching this goddamned virus on top of her panic attack to realise that she needs this, that perhaps this isn't what they're supposed to be doing in the name of physical health, but surely there comes a point at which mental health has to come temporarily first?
"Chloe," Ange murmurs gently. "Chloe, come on. It's okay, sweetheart. It's okay. Give me your hands? Chloe? I'm right here, you're fine. You're fine, can you give me your hands, sweetheart? Please? Try to breathe deeply for me, and give me your hands?"
She doesn't think Chloe is going to comply at first.
For one horrible moment, every part of her is convinced that Chloe is too far gone- can't decide whether it's the fear of catching the dreaded virus or she's so caught up inside her head that she hasn't even heard her, is going to be heading into fainting territory if she can't regain control of her breathing soon.
It's only happened to Chloe a handful of times before.
Ange didn't even witness half of them; they happened at school, back when Chloe was still in high school, in the middle of her Highers, and her anxiety was at its absolute worst.
She only picked her up and got her straight to Aberdeen General, or begged and pleaded with her boss on the YAU to let her abandon ship to run down to the ED and meet Chloe being brought in by her own mother, or the support teaching assistant they assigned her when it got really, really bad, or her friend Siobhan if she was off shift, or whoever else she must have had down on Chloe's emergency contacts form back then- one of her mum's friends, maybe?
But based on the few times she hasseen Chloe hyperventilate to the point of passing out, on all her own medical experience with panic attacks and mental health, her knowledge that panic attacks resulting in fainting are actually rather rare…
This is a bad one.
Ange knows it is.
Just thinking about how much worse she knows it could still get makes her feel nauseous.
Then, at last, Chloe does it.
Her eyes are still closed, breathing still horribly sharp, laboured, and she sways alarmingly- though just as alarming admittedly is her failure to do anything about it, try to steady herself.
But she does it.
Thank god, she does it.
Slowly, shakily, she reaches out towards her mother, and Ange can just about breathe again.
"Good girl," she murmurs, babying her now beyond all doubt, but she just doesn't care. "Good girl, Chloe. That's it."
Carefully, she reaches out now, catches Chloe's hands gently in her own. "There you go, you're okay. I've got you, Chloe. I've got you now. Can you feel my hands? Yeah? Can you feel my hands, Chloe? You're alright. I'm right here, sweetheart. You're going to breathe with me, okay? Nice deep breaths in for me, Chloe, can you do that? One, two, three," she counts out loud for her now- and she'd normally try to avoid this nowadays, try to get Chloe to manage this part for herself on the basis that she needs to be able to coax herself out of her panic attacks should they hit when she's by herself, but this is an emergency situation. "And hold it. That's it. And out for two, three. Okay. Okay, and in slowly for three? And hold it? And out for five for me? There you go. You're doing it, Chloe," she soothes, gently squeezes her daughter's hands, grounding her. "You're doing it, you're fine. It's almost over. It's almost over, sweetheart, just keep breathing for me. You're okay. Everything's okay."
Wide, frightened eyes meet hers now, pupils dilated, disorientated.
"Hey, you're okay. You're okay, Chloe. I'm right here. God, your hands are freezing," Ange sighs. "What are we going to do with you? Hey? You're alright now. You're alright, you going to keep slowing your breathing down for me? There you go, you can do it. You starting to feel better? Chloe?"
Slowly, shakily, her daughter nods.
"Okay. Okay… I'm going to keep holding your hands for now, though, okay? Just until I'm sure you're alright, you've calmed down."
Chloe nods silently, eyes closed again, expression twists, tongue sticks out slightly with concentration.
"Alright. It's fine, Chloe," Ange assures her now. "It's fine. You're allowed to break social distancing rules with your mum when you're having that bad a panic attack. That's totally allowed. If I ask you something, will you give me an honest answer?" she asks now carefully. "Chloe?"
Her daughter nods again, calmer now, but still she sways slightly, pale, withdrawn.
"Thank you. Right, look at me, sweetheart. Look at me. Have you been having a lot of these lately?" Ange asks carefully, part of her already dreading the answer. "Tell me honestly. I don't want you to sugar coat it for me, I want you to tell me the truth, please."
"Not… this bad." Chloe stares firmly at her hands grasped in her mother's now, ashamed.
"Okay. Okay, I suppose that's something. It's alright. It's alright, sweetheart, I'm not surprised. I think you've got every reason to be struggling at the moment, haven't you? You're not the only one. I don't know how you've found it upstairs, but I think I've seen more panic attacks on AAU this month than I've seen in the last few years combined," Ange sighs. "You're not the only one struggling at the moment. Did something set you off?" she tries carefully now. "Chloe? Was there something that…"
Chloe shakes her head.
"No? No, okay. I wish I could just give you a hug," Ange confesses quietly, heart sinking at her daughter's revelation. "I can't tell you how much I wish I could just give you a hug and…"
"You can't," Chloe protests anxiously. "You can't, Mum, you…"
"Well, I know we aren't supposed to! But I'm your mum. And my covid test came back negative, didn't it? And with your… with your history, I just think we need to be just as on top of doing the right thing for your mental health as we do your physi…"
"I'm not worried about catching it off you, Mum," Chloe protests quietly. "I'm worried about giving it to you."
"Nah, don't. I'll take that risk. If you're feeling that anxious and you need a hug, I'll take that risk. You're my priority, I'm your mum. I'd much rather we put your mental health first and…"
"You're high risk, though."
"That's news to me. How did you work that one out?"
"Because you smoke."
"I should have known you were going to say that, shouldn't I? I don't smoke anymore though, I'll have you know! I haven't smoked in…"
"Vape, then." Chloe shrugs, radiating anxiety again. "The chemicals in those things are almost as bad for you as…"
"Hey, emphasis on the almost! I know it's not ideal, but vaping's better than the real thing! I'll be fine, sweetheart. "It' only a bit of…"
"I don't want you to die, Mum," Chloe argues, voice faint with distress. "I don't want you die, or end up in ITU on a ventilator, or…"
"I know you don't. I know you don't, sweetheart, but that's not going to…"
"But you don't know that, Mum. You don't know that's not going to happen to you." There's hysteria rising in her daughter's voice now, clearly utterly unconvinced by Ange's attempts to reassure her. "You're not invincible, Mum. It's a respiratory disease, if you're vaping, that means if you do get it, you're at a much greater risk of…"
"Hey, okay. Okay, sweetheart, it's okay. I should have seen this coming, shouldn't I?" Ange muses lightly, trying to distract her. "I should have known my vaping days were numbered when my brilliant, intelligent daughter decided she wanted to be a CT specialist, shouldn't I?"
"Yes," says Chloe simply, so blunt that it takes all of Ange's self-restraint not to laugh.
"Fair enough. Fair enough, I've brought this on myself, haven't I? If I promise I'll pick up some nicotine patches on the way home after my shift and ditch my vape, will that make you less anxious, do you think?"
"Please?" Chloe nods desperately now, pleading with her to follow through. "You promise? Mum?"
"I promise. Okay? If that's going to reduce your anxiety levels, then I promise. I'll even give you my vape, you can have it. And I'll go and sort myself out with some nicotine as soon as I'm out of this place, and I promise you, I won't be going back. If that's going to make you feel better, then that's what I'll do. Does that help?"
"Umm hmm." Chloe grips her hands tightly, clings on, her lifeline.
"There we go, then. That's decided. You've finally done it, sweetheart," Ange teases, squeezing her hands back. "You've finally convinced me to quit for good. You don't give up, do you?"
"I don't have anyone else but you, Mum," Chloe whispers, almost as though she's trying to justify this particular source of her anxiety. "I mean, you and Nana and Seanmhair and Seanair, but they aren't going to be around forever, are they…"
"I know," Ange agrees quietly. "I know, sweetheart. I do understand. So that's it, okay? I've quit. I promise I have. You haven't just got me, though," she tells her, determined to reassure her. "Have you, hey? You've got your big brother. Your big brother who I happen to know from Carole has been absolutely desperate for a little sister practically since he could talk."
"What… specifically for a little sister?"
"Apparently. That's what Carole told me, anyway. It's almost like he knew, really, isn't it? But anyway. The important part is, you've got Dom. Dom will always be there for you, sweetheart, I know he will. I'm so glad you're getting on with each other now."
"Dom's alright." Chloe smiles faintly.
"He is, isn't he?" Ange agrees proudly. "He's turned out alright. No thanks to me. But he'd be there for you. If ever you needed him, he'd be there. He cares about you. Your breathing's sounding a lot better, isn't it?" she points out, thoroughly relieved. "Does it feel easier?"
"Good. Good, I'm glad."
"Did I scare you?"
"Of course you didn't," Ange lies softly. "You had me worried for a minute, but only because it was such a bad one, and I hate seeing you like that. You didn't scare me. So you've had a lot of these lately, then?" she presses carefully, watches her daughter's face for a reaction. "Oh Chloe, I wish you'd told me…"
"Mostly at home." Chloe's gaze is back fixed firmly on their entwined hands now, awkward, ashamed. "I've… I've just had a couple on Darwin, but nowhere near that bad. You know, if… when we have a suspected case and we have to quarantine the patient and get all the hard-core PPE out, and it all just gets a bit overwhelming, you know? Ms Naylor's been really good about it…"
"Well, that's something. I'm glad she's been supportive, sweetheart," Ange tells her, though all the time she's making a mental note to quiz her daughter's boss later, find out exactly why she didn't see fit to call down to AAU and tell her when her daughter was suffering panic attacks at work. "Okay. I'm glad you felt you could tell me. And… have Cam and Nicky been helping you? If you've been having more panic attacks at home, have they…"
"Cam's…" Chloe shuffles awkwardly. "Cam's moved into his mum's cottage," she confesses. "He and his sister didn't manage to sell it before lockdown, and then they couldn't complete and then the buyer pulled out, it's all been a bit of a nightmare by the sounds of it. But it's… well, you know where it is, don't you? It's not far outside Holby. So he's moved in there for the time being. He's still…"
"Hey, what are you apologising to me for? Just take some nice deep breaths and tell me, okay? You're fine, Chloe. We've got all the time in the world."
"He's… he's still got his room in the flat," Chloe explains now, breathes slowly, methodically, and it's just about breaking Ange's heart all over again that she's still having to put so much effort into regulating something as simple as breathing. "He's coming back. I think he just thought it would be safer, you know? Just for the time being. Less chance of catching anything or passing anything on if he was living by himself for a bit."
"No, that's fair enough. What about Nicky, though? Has she been helping you when you've had…"
"Nicky doesn't know." Her daughter blurts it out rapidly, nervous, clearly knows exactly how badly this revelation is going to go down with her mother.
"What? You're telling me Nicky doesn't know you've been having panic attacks at home, despite living in the same flat as you? Your place is open plan, for god's sake..."
"Exactly." Chloe fidgets awkwardly. "I'm avoiding the communal spaces."
"I'm avoiding the communal spaces," Chloe repeats, as though this revelation makes perfect sense. "I'm not going in the living area, or the kitchen. Well, I'm avoiding the kitchen as much as I can. And I'm cleaning the bathroom whenever I go in there- only I can't really avoid the bathroom, can I? I did consider just using the showers at work to cut down on the amount of time I spent in there, but then they made them for essential work use only, so I had to abandon that plan. But I'm still staying out of the kitchen, so I'm telling myself that's better than…"
"You're going to have to help me out here," Ange admits, gently turns her daughter's hands over in her own now, absentminded fussing. "Because I'm not getting it. You need to eat, sweetheart. Food's important. Why are you avoiding the kitchen?"
"Because Nicky had a heart attack two months ago, Mum," Chloe points out, with such confidence that she's clearly convinced herself she's been sensible, doing the utterly logical thing. "That makes her stupidly high risk, she's supposed to be shielding. She can't be using everything in the kitchen if Cam and I have been in work and then we've used all the cooking utensils and the plates and everything, can she?"
"I think that's a bit overkill, sweetheart. As long as you're washing everything up properly…"
"But would you want to risk it, Mum, if it was your friend?" Chloe points out anxiously. "Because I know that. Rationally, I know that, we live together, we all need to exist in that space. But when it's you, when it's your friend…" she shudders now, shakes her head. "I'd feel awful, Mum, if she ended up back in ITU again. And it's not just me. That's why Cam moved out to his mum's cottage, so he's not exposing her to anything he might be picking up in this place. I should have gone with him, really, but I just…" she pales again, shudders, all of a sudden gripping onto her mother's hands as though she's all she's clinging on for, bears all the warning signs of a return to her panicky, shallow breathing of a few minutes ago, and it's just about enough to break Ange's heart all over again. "I… I just don't think I could…"
"No," Ange agrees firmly. "No, of course you couldn't. Going back there isn't even an option, Chloe. Absolutely not an option. Nicky wouldn't expect you to go back there. You can't be in that house, that's not fair on you. Nobody would expect that, least of all your friend. Would she?"
"I wouldn't be putting her at risk, though," Chloe whispers. "If I'd gone with Cam, I wouldn't be risking exposing her to…"
"Maybe not. But your mental health would be an absolute wreck, wouldn't it, if you'd been there for weeks. Wouldn't it? Wouldn't it, Chloe. Look at me, sweetheart," Ange commands softly. "You can't go back there. Under absolutely no circumstances are you ever going back there, so don't even think about it, okay? No one is suggesting you go back there. So are you avoiding the shared areas of your flat because you're scared you're going to catch covid at work and pass it onto Nicky?" she realises, heart sinking. "Oh Chloe, why didn't you tell me? You could have just moved in with me. I told you to just move in with me, when lockdown happened…"
"You were talking about moving in with Fletch and the kids, though…"
"I know I was, and I said I wouldn't do that if you needed me, didn't I? You're my priority, my lovely girl. Aren't you? I never want you to doubt that. Doesn't matter who else comes into my life, you're always going to be my priority..."
"You can't plan your life around your adult daughter…"
"I can if I want to. And I do. I really, really do, Chloe. I promise," Ange tells her sincerely. "You've been my best friend for thirty years, that's never going to change. Is it? You're my best friend for life, you're stuck with me. There's no one else I'd rather quarantine with."
"You need more friends, Mum."
"Is that a smile? There you go. I don't need more friends, sweetheart. I tried having other friends, that didn't work out so well for me, did it? So I did the sensible thing, and I had you instead. Best friend for life sorted. And you only cost me a small fortune and two whole years of visits from Social Services. Even if you were that adamant you didn't want to interfere with any other plans I might have had," Ange reminds her now, "you could have moved in with me when I told you I was going to stay at mine, couldn't you? I offered again then."
"I know." Chloe's voice is faint, embarrassed. "I know. But I… I just… I didn't want Cam and Nicky to think I'm so pathetic I can't cope with a pandemic without my mum," she confesses. "I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it, that I could be independent. I wanted to prove to youthat I could do it, come to that. I didn't want everyone at work to think I couldn't cope without my mum…"
"Oh god, what am I going to do with you?" Ange sighs. "Chloe! We could have blamed me. We could have said I wanted you with me, everyone would have believed that, wouldn't they?"
"I don't think anyone would have taken much convincing," Chloe agrees.
"Exactly! You should have said, sweetheart. If you've been feeling so anxious about passing anything onto Nicky, you should have said weeks ago. You could have moved straight in with me. You know you're welcome at mine whenever you want. For as long as you want. I just want to take you home with me now," Ange admits, heartfelt. "I just want to take you home and give you a massive hug. Even though you've got the most ridiculously cold hands ever. You know why that is?"
"Here we go," Chloe groans, rolling her eyes- but she smiles a little, at least, not quite enough to stop her mother from worrying about her obsessively, but progress all the same.
"Oi, don't you roll your eyes at me, missy. You know I'm right. You're cold all the time because you aren't eating enough- don't even think about trying to deny it, you've just told me you're avoiding the kitchen at home. You need to eat, sweetheart," Ange reminds her gently. "Okay? I don't care if Nicky's supposed to be shielding, you still need to eat. Nicky wouldn't want you to be starving yourself for her benefit, would she? She lives in a flat share with medics, she knows how it is. And she's your friend. There's absolutely no way she'd expect you to be starving yourself for her, that's ridiculous. I thought you looked like you'd lost weight again. I'm not surprised if you've not even been using the kitchen at home, you need to eat…"
"It's not just that, though," Chloe confesses quietly.
"It's not just…" her daughter trails off, shakes her head. "It's not just that I don't want to use the kitchen and risk passing something onto Nicky. I just don't feel hungry…"
"And that's probably because you're feeling so anxious, isn't it? We've been here before," Ange reminds her now. "Haven't we? I think we've established over the years you've got the appetite of a baby robin when your anxiety plays up. That'll be what it is."
"I just feel so…" Chloe trails off, shrugs. "I don't even know it's about covid. I don't think it is. Or maybe it is and I just don't realise it, I don't know. But I just feel so on-edge all the time, panicky, and I don't know why…"
'Right, so we need to get back onto Sheena, don't we? And tell her that turning down the zoom therapy sessions the SARC offered you was a really stupid idea, and you'd like to book some after all."
"It just seemed like a logical point to stop going, though, Mum," Chloe whispers. "I can't keep going to therapy forever, can I? I just thought it made, sense, you know, if I couldn't go face to face that was a sign I didn't need it anymore…"
"No, I get that," Ange agrees. "I get it, Chloe. I really do. But it's okay to be struggling at the moment," Ange tells her sincerely, only hopes she might believe her. You're working crazy shifts through a global pandemic and you've had a really awful year, one way or another. I'm not surprised you're struggling. We'll get onto Sheena tomorrow, and we'll arrange you some zoom therapy sessions, okay? I'll pay for them, if they want you to start paying yourself…"
"You don't have to do that, Mum. Especially when I've been going for therapy for so long now…"
"Nana paid for me to have about a years' worth of therapy after I had you," Ange confides in her gently. "Not because of you, obviously. You were practically therapy in itself, to be honest, you made my life so much better. I don't even know how to explain to you how much you changed my life for the better. But I had about a year of therapy, to help me get my head around what happened to me. And Nana paid for that, so it's only fair. If you need to keep going, then we can do that, Chloe. That's fine. All I want is for you to be healthy and happy."
"Are you sure you don't mind?"
"Of course I'm sure. I'd forgotten how much I hate seeing you have panic attacks," Ange admits, massages her wrist now, absentminded, protective. "I just feel so useless…"
"You're amazing though, Mum." Her daughter leans in as though she's reaching to hug her, remembers, pulls away again. "I don't know what I would have done without you…"
"Well, it's a good job you're stuck with me then, isn't it? I'm always here for you, sweetheart. Okay? Always. I'm only a phone call away. So what have you been eating, then?" Ange tries to drop in casually now, hopes she might not notice, answer on autopilot. "Chloe?"
"Hey, don't act all innocent with me, you know exactly what I'm talking about. What have you been eating, if you haven't been using in the kitchen at your flat? Only I know for a fact Yo Sushi and Wagamama haven't reopened for takeaway yet, because I keep getting all the bloody emails."
"Well, I signed up to their mailing lists for the discount codes, didn't I? For when I take you there, given you're adamant you don't like steak. Thank god I've got one child with decent taste, I don't know if I could take it if I had both of you dragging me out for raw fish. Anyway. Why are you so good at distracting me?"
"I'm not distracting you."
"You absolutely are. Come on, then. What have you actually been eating?"
"Pulses cheese sandwiches and salad pots?" Chloe shuffles guiltily.
"Chloe! You can't live on cheese sandwiches and salad! That'll be why you look so pale, then. Thank god you only lasted five days of Veganuary, I don't think I've ever seen a vegan anything in Pulses."
"I lasted eight, actually."
"Even so! Thank god you gave it up before covid kicked off, you'd have starved to death by now. You can't live on their oat milk lattes. Although you definitely can't live on cheese sandwiches, either."
"You know I don't count anything a rabbit would eat as proper sustenance. Do you know what we should do?"
"What?" Chloe watches her curiously now.
"I think… did you drive into work today?"
"Perfect. So I think when our shifts end, you need to come home with me, and…"
"That's not allowed, Mum…"
"No, I know it isn't. But I'm sure it's okay if you're moving in with me for a while. You're my daughter, I'll risk it if you will. I'll drive you over to your place, you can pack some things for a few weeks and then you don't need to worry about Nicky, do you? You can stay with me for a few weeks and it might all be different then, this might be over. Or it might not be. But at least at mine you can eat without worrying, can't you? And you can relax a bit more than it sounds like you feel you can at yours at the moment."
"Are you sure?" Chloe worries, bites her lip anxiously.
"Of course I'm sure! You're my lovely daughter. I'd do anything for you, sweetheart. Anything. I hate the thought of you tiptoeing around your flat too anxious to even make yourself a proper meal, and I really, really don't like the idea of you going through panic attacks by yourself, if it's been that bad. So why don't we do that, then? I'll run you over to yours to pack, and then we'll go back to mine via Sainsbury's and clear out the takeaway sushi and the Japanese microwave meals and have an evening in on the sofa? What do you think?"
"That sounds like the best idea ever." All of a sudden, her daughter looks visibly relieved.
"Good. That's what we'll do, then. Can I have a hug?" Ange asks tentatively. "If you're coming home with me, I can have a hug, right?"
She's barely managed to finish getting her words out before Chloe throws herself into her arms, clings on tight.
"Love you," she murmurs softly.
"I love you too, darling. So, so much."
"When we go to Sainsbury's, we need to get you nicotine gum and patches," Chloe points out matter-of-factly. "As you're giving up your vape."
"Oh my god, why did I agree to this?"