The meal was no wonder of modern cuisine, but it was properly cooked and filling, and I noticed that it wasn’t just tea being consumed by some of the older sorts. People were happy, that was the overwhelming thing. Mostly in pairs, mostly touching, even Von’s earlier pain seemed to have left the building, as she came to life discussing her baby’s college plans with Kelly and Mark as if Will wasn’t even there.
Something had broken in her, some wall, and I could see once again the animation and life in her that had first drawn me. I had never hated her, never despised her. I had, to the best I could manage, loved her, and that was why I had made the decision to push her away. I could do no less, but Larinda was beside me now, and I felt that such would always be the case. Whatever happened, she would be there. She had made that abundantly clear. I pulled her back out of the restaurant to the terrace just before our pudding was delivered.
“We have a loose end, pet”
“What, that we haven’t sorted out already?”
There was a flicker there, and then her smile returned. “You realise you don’t need to ask, right? So what are you proposing---sorry!”
Teasing sod. “I, we, can do it now, as I am. I mean, still got something left, still legally a bloke, like, so it could be done”
Her smile softened. “And would that be what you want? I told you, lover, no man in you at all”
“Well, I’m a dyke, aye, so there wouldn’t be, would there?”
She reached round to slap my backside. “Be serious. No way could you or would you stand up in drag for a wedding, and it would look odd doing it in a dress. So what are you suggesting? Do it as we are, or wait for the law change they’ve been arguing about? And do it after…we’d have to get divorced as it stands now anyway, yeah?”
“You’ve been doing a lot of thinking, love”
“And an awful lot of reading. You forgot one trick, my girl, and that’s going all foreign”
There was something else in what she was saying, and that was her clear acceptance that at some point the full surgery was to happen. “So? I mean, I haven’t even asked you properly yet”
She cocked her head again. “Oh, for fuck’s sake! Jill Carter, will you marry me? That a yes? Done!”
I felt my mouth hanging open, and she just grinned again. “We ain’t got no fella here to do the trad bit, so why shouldn’t this girl ask that girl rather than the other way round?”
She kissed me, to seal the pact. Job done. Neil winked as we returned. “I’ll get me suit cleaned, then. Going to need it a bit, it looks like”
The dessert was there, and so were smiles, and James was still open. Life was good. We drove in convoy back to the house, and yet another pot of tea before people began to disperse, Kelly and Mark off to their digs and Rachel and Jim to the pub with those who were staying there. Mam sat down with the two of us, Will and Von.
“So. Do ye have a plan, a date, or anything?”
Larinda put a finger to my lips. “Sort of, Norma. This woman will get wed as a woman, so the choices are down to two. Either we wait for the law to change here, which is sort of on the cards, or we sod off abroad to somewhere that allows it and do it there, and sod the law here, yeah?”
Mam laughed. “Wasn’t exactly how Ah imagined Ah’d get a daughter-in-law, like, but welcome to the family proper, hinny”
“Yeah, and we need to get this one sorted first!”
Raafie looked sharply at Mam, and gave a crisp nod. She took his hand, and I was struck by the ease with which they touched each other. How had I never seen that, in all the long, lonely years of her life since Dad died? She sat up a little straighter, squeezing his hand.
“Jill, this’un and me have had a bit chat, like. We’re both getting on, and when we go, whey, it’ll mostly end up in tax, aye? So…both of us, we hev pensions, we hev savings, and they would come to you, and Ian and Neil, aye? And, well, if we sort of get rid of them before we gan, and you get them, it means more of it stays with the ones we love”
“Aye, Mam, I get that, like, but Raafie…”
He grunted. “Ah tyek thy Mam on, Ah tyeks her bairns an’ aal. Ah owe, what else de Ah hev te spend it on, asides beer and tabs!”
He looked across at her, and smiled, his eyes folding into the wrinkles around them.
“And if it myeks hor happy, like, what mair could Ah want?”
There was more to the discussion, more detail, and it turned out that Larinda had done a LOT of talking to Annie and Steph, in greater length and detail than I could ever have suspected, but I was a bit out of the conversation due to a sudden flow of tears. I felt another pair of arms go around me at one point, and it was Von, her own tears falling.
“You do love me, don’t you? You always did, that’s why you did all that to get rid of me, and there was me being bloody stupid, innit?”
She looked up at Larinda. “You’re welcome to her, girl. Shit, no, that’s not what I meant to say. I mean, it feels a bit like one of them relay race things, where they pass the stick along, the baton, thingy, and it’s the baton that’s important, that it gets to the finish, aye? And Jill here…it’s the last leg, so I’m handing her over to you, love. Get her to the end for us?”
Larinda sniffed and nodded, speechless for once. Von looked around, face wet.
“Look, I always loved…him, I love her, but I don’t do women, not me, and this one, you, you have more strength in you than me, so you look after my girl here, aye? I’ve been bloody stupid too long. It ends now”
As I have already said, there was more to the planning, more to the discussion, but in the end it all boiled down to family and love. I was more aware of everything that evening, when we were, of course, around at the pub. James was already upstairs, as his earlier humanity was fleeing before an onslaught of strangers using the bar. Terry had gone with him, but Karen remained with us. She prodded Larinda.
“How much planning have you already done, love?”
My fiancée took a sip of her wine. “Well, first thing was to sound Steph out about security at the airport. Didn’t want no groping of my girl. Then I spoke to Annie”
Rachel was laughing. “Sodding conspiracy, Jill! She’ll tell you she’s booked the flights next!”
Larinda shook her head. “No, I haven’t, but I did get a recommendation for a surgeon”
I put on my hardest Paddington. “And who was that from?”
Rachel ended up choking on her drink at that point, and it was John who came up with the line that sent her rushing to the ladies claiming she was about to wet herself.
“She has no doubt chosen the wedding dresses already, Jill”
Karen was cackling away at that one, but it was Larinda’s next sally that did the dirty. Rachel returned just as I asked the killer question.
“And how exactly did Annie convince you about this surgeon, pet?”
Even in the dim light of the pub, I could see the blush. “Er…she showed me some of his work”
When the laughter finally died away, my dear mother said, in a very small voice.
“I don’t know about thee, Rachel, but I have now most definitely wet mesel. Who’ll help a little old lady to the netty while her man fetches her a change of knickers? What? He knows what I keep in me knicker drawer!”
I couldn’t be sure, but what Raafie muttered as he left sounded a lot like “...and what she keeps in her knickers”
I lay that night with my lover, as seemed the only way things should ever be, and just held her to me.
“All of this, love, all you’ve done on the quiet. You are sure?”
“Absolutely. I mean, I said so on the beach, yeah, but that was odd, cause I was sort of trying to tell myself what I was telling you, and the more I said, the more sense it made. And speaking with the girls, well, I said I wanted to see how they coped, how their men did, and it sort of took off. I needed to know what I was doing was right, and sorry I didn’t share it with you”
“But you are sharing it, love, that’s the thing. Was it you that spoke to Mam?”
“No, I suspect Neil did, that would have been a bit cheeky coming from me”
“And inspecting a copper’s naughty bits wasn’t? What the hell did you say, ‘you show me yours and I’ll’ et cetera?”
She giggled. “Not exactly, she just says ‘see what you think’, and I says ‘not into girly bits’ and she says ‘well Steph got hers inspected on her hen night’ and, well…it wasn’t planned, yeah?”
She cuddled into me. “Told you. Here for the long term. Do what you like to your bits, won’t get rid of me, yeah? Just…just do whatever you need to, and I’ll be there every time you wake”
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