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I had an uncomfortable few days after I ran into my former lesbian lover out at our village fete. I hadn’t seen her for 25 years, I hadn’t heard a peep from her in all that time, since I was 18, in fact. I’d married and raised an adult daughter, become a respected pillar of local society — and then one day she turned up out of the blue! I tried to tell myself it was just coincidence; after all, she must have been in the village a few days, and she hadn’t exactly come and sought me out. So I pretended to myself I wasn’t interested in why she was back, and tried to simply forget I’d seen her at all.
The trouble was, in a place like Millgate Crossing it wasn’t that easy. When a strange woman turns up in a small, conservative, rural community like ours, dressed in a style that screams ‘Yes folks, I’m a raging dyke from the big city’, people tend to take an interest. Ernie Rossan, the local fruit and veg merchant, had heard me tell my daughter Hannah that Jack — that’s what she’s always called herself — was an old friend of mine, and within days the whole village knew. I got casual enquiries as to who she was. I became aware of animated conversations between locals abruptly stopping abruptly as I entered a shop, or the library, as people I’d known for years avoided eye contact with me in obvious embarrassment.
What made it worse was the discomfort I felt about the whole situation. I had always told myself I was in a happy…well, a stable marriage, and that what happened between me and Jack was just a teenage aberration, the sort of experimentation all kids get up to. I mean, my husband, Roger, the local Anglican vicar, was the only other person I’d ever slept with, and since the day Jack had left the village, and me, behind, I hadn’t so much as looked at another female in that way. Not really. There was a teacher at Hannah’s infant school who I was certain was attracted to me, but I never encouraged her and she moved away after a couple of years. But even though I’d tried to, through all the years of my marriage I’d never managed to forget Jack: how happy I used to be in her company, the way it made me feel when she touched me, the warmth of her lips on my skin, how it felt when she slipped down my body and buried her face in my…oh God, I felt so confused.
Of course, a few days after that first time, I met her again. It had to happen, in such a small place. I was behind the counter in the charity shop where I help out for a few hours a week when the bell over the door tinkled and there she was. She stood in the open doorway for a moment, silhouetted by the bright sunlight outside, as her eyes adjusted to the weak electric light which illuminated the shop. It took her a moment to notice me, then she gave a start of surprise and walked over with a smile. She was wearing a black sleeveless T-shirt, cropped to reveal her flat, skinny stomach, black jeans and a pair of yellow Doc Marten boots, which matched the colour of her short spiky hair. She had a sort of barbed wire tattoo running all the way round one bicep. I was vaguely aware of a couple of old ladies in one corner clucking to each other about a middle-aged woman dressing like a teenage punk.
I had previously noticed the piercing which adorned Jack’s nose, but now I saw another: a small silver ring in her navel, to which was attached a silver chain, which extended under the waistband of her jeans. Just as I realized, with a shock, which part of her anatomy the other end of the chain was probably attached to, she spoke. “Hello again Suze” — in my entire life, only she had ever called me anything but Susannah — “I didn’t realise you worked in here.” She paused, then, as if feeling the need to justify her presence, she added, “I’m just finding my way round the village again, just browsing, you know. I can’t believe how little the place has changed in all this time. I suppose just about every building’s got a preservation order on it.” She smiled. It was probably true — Millgate Crossing’s that sort of place.
I returned the smile weakly. “So, what are you doing back here after all these years?” I was desperate to know the answer, but I strived to keep my enquiry casual.
She shrugged. “Well, I had a couple of weeks free, and I thought it might be nice to come back and see the old place again. I never expected to see you though. I thought you’d have spread your wings and flown from this dump long ago.” Jack and her slutty mother had lived for a while on the council estate which is attached to Millgate Crossing — the bit the hordes of tourists who visit us never see. I asked if that was where she was staying now. “God, no, mum hasn’t lived here for years. I think she’s in Manchester now, but we haven’t spoken in ages. No, I’m renting one of the little holiday cottages in King’s Passage.” The street Jack mentioned, with its row of quaint whitewashed thatched dwellings, is one of the most photographed in the country. “So how are you?”
It was my turn to shrug. I gave the standard “I’m fine” response, then we stood gazing at each other awkwardly. casino siteleri Apart from the weather, we’d exhausted the usual range of polite small talk. I became acutely aware of the old women in the corner pointedly not looking at us, their ears swivelled in our direction like radar dishes. I cleared my throat self-consciously. “Look, you should come round for a cup of tea sometime, and we can have a proper chat.”
Jack responded almost before I’d finished speaking. “That’d be lovely Suze. When would be good for you?”
Shit!, I thought. Why the hell had I suggested that? I mentally debated whether it would be better to make it a time when Roger and Hannah were going to be around, as a safe buffer between us — or whether it would be better for Jack and me to be alone, whether we had real things to say to each other. Taking a deep breath, I suggested the following afternoon. Jack whipped a tiny Filofax out of her shoulder bag and noted down the appointment. Then she wandered round the shop for a few minutes, her friendly smile to the two old biddies being rewarded with suspicious frowns. She bought a couple of tatty Ursula Le Guin paperbacks, then left with a cheery “See you tomorrow.” As she left, I saw another tattoo in the small of her back, just above her low-riding jeans: a large blue butterfly surrounded by curly black lines with smaller butterflies flittering between them.
It felt as if I spent the entire next 24 hours cleaning and tidying the house. You know how it is — someone’s coming round to see you, not your home, but you’d feel mortified if they found a speck of dust. I employed a cleaner at one time, but it didn’t last long because I used to spend the entire day before she came brushing and dusting, so she wouldn’t find any dirt! Hannah could tell at breakfast the next morning that I was nervous. She’d already displayed an unwelcome curiosity about Jack. I guessed she suspected my hyper state was something to do with my old friend, but I ignored my daughter’s unsubtle probing as to whether I had any plans for the day and so on. She was home from university for the summer, and was heading into the local town for the day with friends to shop and see a film.
At two o’clock on the dot the front door bell rang and, my heart in my throat, I admitted Jack to my home. My father had occupied the vicarage before my husband, so Jack knew it well, but she’d never before been inside. She was dressed in a simple white sleeveless dress, with bare legs and platform rope sandals. I reflected that if she’d just dressed like that normally every gossip in the village wouldn’t be talking about her. I guided her into the front room and she perched on the edge of an armchair — the one Roger normally occupies. When I offered tea, she replied, “I’d prefer coffee if you’ve got it — black, no sugar.”
I took my time grinding the beans and making the coffee — we normally just drink instant at home. Then, placing our cups on a tray, I took a deep breath and returned to Jack. She was standing by the mantelpiece, studying the family photos. She turned and gave me a warm smile. “Your daughter’s beautiful — just like her mother.”
I snorted as I sat in my chair. “Rubbish, I was never beautiful. I don’t know where she gets it from.” I had had a pretty face but I was a big awkward girl, with a large bust, substantial bum and sturdy legs. The long chestnut hair I’d had when Jack knew me before was now cut sensibly short, with the first strands of grey beginning to appear.
Jack sat opposite me and lifted her coffee cup. She shook her head slightly. “You’re wrong Suze. You still are beautiful. You were — and are — the most beautiful woman I’ve ever…known. On the outside and on the inside.” I had never got used to receiving those kinds of personal compliment, and I felt my cheeks turning red. Jack chuckled. “You always used to blush when I said things like that. But I always meant it Suze — I’ve never lied to you, about anything.”
God, she was being up-front with me. My English sensitivities weren’t used to that sort of thing. As she gazed at me with her beautiful dove grey eyes it was as if the past 25 years had never happened. My mouth was dry, my heart racing, and my pussy twitching, exactly like it had been all those years before — when Jack looked at me just the way she was looking at me at that moment. Dragging my eyes away from hers, I tried to change the subject. “So what are you doing back here Jack — really? I mean,” I added hurriedly, “you said you didn’t expect to see me here.”
She sat back in her chair and sipped her coffee, staring at the ceiling. “No, I didn’t expect to see you. But I hoped I might. I had what they call a life-changing incident a year or so ago. I was diagnosed with the big C.” I couldn’t help gasping at that — she’d had cancer. Oh my God. She smiled at my reaction and continued. “Oh, I’m fine now, thanks to modern medical science, but for a while it looked like touch and go whether they’d caught it in time. They say your whole life flashes before your slot oyna eyes when you’re drowning, and I suppose in a way that happened to me. I reflected on my life, and started to think about what had been important to me, what really mattered.
“I tried to contact my mother, through a relative, but she still doesn’t want to know me. And the other thing that really mattered to me, that always has — was you. I had no way of knowing where you were, but I thought if I came back here at least the place would remind me of the times we had together, and maybe I’d hear something about how you were, what you were doing, and where you’d gone.”
My stomach felt as if it had dropped through the floor. Jack had almost died, and now she’d come looking for me. She’d asked me to go with her once before, and I’d chickened out. Was that what she was leading up to again? My mind whirling I asked, as much for something to say as anything, “When you left here — where did you go?”
She gazed into the middle distance, her mind somewhere else. “I went to London at first. I hooked up with a German chick there and followed her back to Bremen. It didn’t last, and eventually I wound up in Hamburg.” I smiled. Jack had always wanted to travel. “I was in a band for a while — we actually had a couple of minor hits in Germany. Then I blew it by seducing the guitarist’s wife. It was his band, so that was that. I had some bad times after that. I ended up in prison for a few months for possession. Pot.”
She noticed me gaping at her in shock, and laughed softly. “Oh, I was never a dealer, and I stopped using once they let me out. These days, since the cancer, I don’t drink, I don’t smoke…I hardly indulge in any vices.” She flashed me a suggestive grin, then her face faded back into her recollections. “Anyway, I met a woman in the nick who set me up hooking on the Reeperbahn. Eventually, me and a few of the other girls bought a place, and we set up as a sort of collective.”
My head was reeling. “Jack — are you saying you were a prostitute? But I didn’t think you had any interest in men.” Jack used to hint to me in the old days that her mother was ‘on the game’, and Jack had seemed to despise her for it.
She grinned at my naivety. “I was a high class provider of executive relief services. My being English was a big selling point. I adopted this poncey upper class accent and called myself Lady Susannah.” She grinned at my reaction to her having used my name. “As for the blokes, you’re right, I’m 100 per cent dyke. But I didn’t make love to them, I just fucked them. Fucked ’em and sucked ’em.”
I just stared at her. I heard myself ask, “Are you deliberately trying to shock me?”
She looked crestfallen at that. “I’m sorry. You did ask, and I thought you wanted to know. Like I said, I’ve never lied to you. Do you want me to go on?” I nodded feebly. What Jack was describing was so utterly alien to me, so totally removed from my cosy little middle class life as a country parson’s wife, that I couldn’t even begin to really comprehend it. I couldn’t help wondering what road I would have been led down if I’d gone off with Jack all those years ago. Would I have ended up selling my body in some squalid red light district as well? Or, if we’d been together, would her life have been radically different, much better — in my eyes, at least.
I realised she was speaking again. “Okay, well, I carefully put my pennies away, and got lucky with some property investments, and eventually I decided it was time to get out. So I took my son and tried to build a new life for us.”
Jesus Christ, I thought, what’s she going to say next? Feeling faint, I asked, “Your son?”
“Yeah, Marc — Marcus, really. He’s 17 now. He’s a really good kid, and so bright — Christ knows where that comes from. He was a mistake, I couldn’t even say for sure who his father was, but I decided to go through with it and I’ve never regretted it for a day. Anyway, I found I enjoyed the property stuff, so I cleaned myself up, used a few contacts and got a job with an estate agent. Three years of that, then I was on holiday in Nice and got chatting with an English property broker there, and he offered me a job, selling luxury villas to ex-pats and rich Yanks. Then, about five years ago, he retired and a colleague and I bought out the business. I live in a place called Grasse, in the hills above Nice. It’s a lovely little town, with tiny old streets and a shaded piazza with open air cafés. You’d like it.” Strangely, I’d actually heard of Grasse. I’d read about it in some women’s magazine, because it’s a renowned centre of the perfume industry.
Jack added, “I actually haven’t worked much since my illness, but my partner’s been very good about it.” Something must have flashed across my face, because she qualified the statement. “My business partner. I haven’t been…close to anyone…for three or four years now. I discovered a talent for painting while I was recuperating, sort of post-Impressionist. A gallery owner in Villefranche likes my stuff, and I’ve canlı casino siteleri sold a few works. That’s how I’ve been spending a lot of my time here — sitting beside the river at the back of my cottage, painting.”
We sat silently for a few minutes after that, sipping our coffee, both lost in our own thoughts. Mine were of a beautiful French village, and how nice it would be to stroll to a shady café in the heat of the Mediterranean sun. Jack finally broke the silence. “Well, what about you? I said you’d end up marrying a vicar, but I didn’t think you really would! As I remember it, you didn’t even believe in God.” I still don’t: I supported Roger’s work, but he was always aware I couldn’t share his faith. Jack carried on, “I expected you to have shaken the dust of this place off your feet years ago.” I tried to smile, but couldn’t quite manage it. A look of pain crossed Jack’s face. “Oh Suze. Are you happy? Truthfully?”
I gave a sigh, but it somehow came out ragged, almost like a sob. Summoning all my strength, I forced on my best professional vicar’s wife smile, and said, “Roger’s a good husband, a good provider, a good father to Hannah. He’s very popular in the community.”
Even to me it sounded pathetic. Jack stared intently at me, looking as if she wanted to cry. She half-whispered, “But does he make you happy? Does he love you? Do you love him?”
What was I supposed to tell her? That I’d never loved him, he’d just been kind to me when my parents were ill and she, Jack, had left me? That my 23-year marriage had been a sham, a waste of my life? That my older, balding, bespectacled, pipe-smoking husband was a cold, passionless man who didn’t understand the real meaning of the word love? That we hadn’t made love, if you could call it that, for over two years? That even on my wedding night, after Roger and I had had sex for the first time, I lay in the dark with tears rolling down my cheeks, wishing it was Jack lying beside me? That not a year had gone by when I hadn’t thought of Jack, and what we’d had together for those few precious months so many years ago? I felt attacked and cornered, and I’m afraid I snapped at her. “I lost any childish fantasies about the existence of happy ever after long ago. Look, I’ve got a comfortable, settled life, I have lots of friends, I’m very involved in the community, I’ve got a daughter I love with all my heart, and…yes, I’m happy, thank you very much.”
I felt quite drained after that. I was carefully controlling my breathing, because I knew if I didn’t I would lose it and start crying. Jack just stared at me in silence. Then she slowly shook her head, leaned towards me in her chair, and whispered, “It’s not enough. Not for you Susannah. You deserve so much more than that. You’re the sweetest, loveliest person I’ve ever known. You deserve someone who cherishes you, who dotes on you; who loves you with all the passion they’ve got.”
I couldn’t stop the tears then. As big drops trickled slowly down my cheeks, I snivelled, “Is that what you came here for? To tell me what a crap life I’ve got? That I’ve thrown it away while you’ve been gallivanting around Europe getting high and screwing half the population of the continent?”
Jack edged closer to me. I thought she wanted to come and hug me, but was unsure how I’d react. Her voice still barely audible, she said, “That day, when I asked you to leave this shithole with me, and I told you I loved you. I’m not sure if you knew just how much you hurt me when you said you didn’t love me, that you didn’t think it was possible for girls to really love each other. Even after that, I still thought you might change your mind and come with me. I sat outside this place for half an hour the day I left, waiting for you. When I did go I had to stop the bike just up the road, because I was crying too hard to see. I felt as if my heart had been wrenched out, and was lying in the gutter back in Millgate bloody Crossing. I tried to hate you for a while, but I never stopped loving you Suze. Never. If you’d said you loved me too that day, I might not have gone. I might even have come to East bloody Surrey with you, and watched you trot off to university every day while I sat on the checkout at Woolworth’s or something.”
I stared at her mortified, the blood draining from my face. We could have stayed together — had I not been such a coward, terrified to admit even to myself that I had what my hateful father would have called unnatural feelings for another girl. I started crying harder, but still Jack didn’t come to me. She continued, her eyes locked on my face. “When I was lying in hospital believing I’d got days to live, the one face I wanted to see, apart from my son, was yours. The reason I’ve always been shit at relationships is that I could never give myself completely to my lovers. They always knew that they were coming off second best to the girl in my past that I’d never talk about.” She paused, chuckled humourlessly and shook her head. “You know, I went to the East Surrey campus one day, a couple of weeks after you started there. I hung around all day, and just as I was giving up hope I spotted you, chatting with some of your friends. I very nearly went over to you and got down on my hands and knees and begged you to come with me.”
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