Notes: It should be fairly obvious that this is set towards the end of Season 5 but before the end of "Pregnant", but I thought I'd mention it in case anyone is wondering what the trouble is between Tim and Gavin.
"I was wondering if it's all really worth it," Helen sighed, stirring a third spoonful of sugar into her coffee in a way that would lead to a twenty minute lecture from her husband if he noticed.
"What is, Helen?" Laura asked, although her attention was rather distracted. Tim was pulling his gear out of his locker with somewhat unnecessary force and stuffing it into his bag as if he was imagining stuffing it down someone's throat, his mobile face twisted into a scowl. Laura supposed she should have a word with him, or with Gavin. All this tension was bad for the centre, and once Tim started going to his Gentle Pool Exercises for the Elderly and Infirm classes looking like a thundercloud, it was time Laura swallowed her natural disinclination to interfere with other people's business. The way Tim was looking now, the poor old dears would be in tears by the end of the lesson, and it always took ages for Linda and Gavin to soothe them down.
It was all so difficult. Laura had never realised that moving into management would have entailed becoming a kind of general purpose nursery governess and marriage counselor. But then, she'd never realised moving into management would entail loading bodies into ambulances quite so often, either. And, she supposed, she'd never realised quite how good she would turn out to be at both tasks. Sometimes she suspected she was going to miss all the drama when she went to America. Still, Brittas would be gone too, and most of the drama would probably go with him.
She sighed and returned her attention to Helen, remembering for whom she most often found herself acting marriage counselor. Ironic, really, and somewhat embarrassing, if every time you discussed one of your best friend's marriage you were remembering what it felt like to kiss their husband. Michael probably felt like that all the time. She pushed that thought away. That was all finished now; Michael had promised. Again.
"Men." Helen lifted her spoon and stared with some interest at the congealing sugar sliding slowly off the edge.
Laura could think of several things to say to that. They jostled at the front of her brain for prominence, and ended up distilling themselves into a single word. "Well." It was a good word. Laura often fell back on it when she had either nothing to say, or far too much.
Tim zipped up his bag, not bothering to push in the edge of his towel, so that the zip caught half way up. He ignored it and foisted the bag over his shoulder, the towel dangling down. Laura felt her brow crease. Tim must really be in a black mood to risk being held back at five o'clock so that Brittas could give him a friendly little talk about tidiness and giving a good impression to the public.
"Take it from me, Mrs Brittas, they're not," he said darkly. "Better give them up at once and save tears later." The rest room door banged behind him.
"I wonder if Tim doesn't have the right idea," Helen said as she dreamily dunked her donut in her coffee, apparently oblivious to Tim's mood. She had always, Laura reflected with a kind of helpless affection, been somewhat self-centred.
"Giving up men, you mean? I don't think Tim's really –"
"Oh, no. Him and Gavin." Helen stared at the bits of donut that had broken off and were floating soggily in her coffee, then apparently decided that nothing could make coffee that had been sitting on the rest room hotplate for the last three hours any worse and took a long sip anyway, spluttering only a little. "Their life seems a lot less... complicated than mine."
"Oh. I see." Laura thought very carefully about what she was going to say next. It was none of her business, of course, none of her business.
But was that really the case? Helen was one of her very dearest friends, and any other friend, Laura wouldn't hesitate to encourage them to stop messing up their own life and those of the people around them. Surely Laura had the right to try and put things right before she left for America, to ensure that Helen and Gordon left for Belgium with a strong and happy marriage. Laura cared about them. She wanted Helen to be happy; she wanted Helen's husband to be happy. The only real reason for her hesitation, she decided, was that Helen was her boss' wife, and Gordon wasn't going to be her boss for very much longer. The other reason she felt awkward about it surely no longer applied, now that she was happily - yes, happily, she told herself firmly - married again herself, with a new life hidden under her practical navy netball skirt.
She bit the bullet and reached out for Helen's hand, ignoring the stickiness the donut had left. "Well, sticking to one person can be a good thing, sometimes, Helen. It's important to have love and trust –"
"Oh, no, I don't care about any of that." Helen gave her a cheery smile, patting her hand fondly.
"No. Silly thought, really." Laura reached out for her own coffee with her other hand, wincing a little at the over brewed nastiness. Possibly Helen had the right idea with all the sugar and cake. "Then what…?"
"I was just wondering if I should give being a lesbian a go."
"Oh." Laura looked down at their linked fingers for a moment, then shrugged the thought away. Things were already tangled up enough already without even thinking about that. "Why?" she tried. "I mean, what's brought this on all of a sudden?"
"I was just thinking that it's so complicated, all this secrecy and lying. And no one really cares if you have a candlelit dinner with one of your girlfriends. You can sit holding hands –" Laura's gaze involuntarily dropped again – "or hug and kiss, and no one even thinks of telling your husband. And I gather that in Europe I could get away with even more. It all seems much easier. I'd hardly have to tell any lies at all."
"I suppose so." Laura thought about telling Helen that perhaps deciding to concentrate on the husband who adored her would be more sensible than trying to find the simplest way to deceive him, but she suddenly felt entirely incapable of the task. Some demon of curiosity prompted her to ask: "Have you ever… I mean…?"
"Not really. Except at boarding school, but I don't think that really counts, and they chucked me out for it anyway." Helen pondered the question. "I've never had any trouble meeting men, you know. Doctors, lawyers, observers who turn up for car crashes -"
"Bereaved husbands who turn up early for their wife's funeral?"
"Exactly. I'm not sure how I'd go about meeting women. It's not like Whitbury has a thriving lesbian nightlife or anything. It's not as if we have a nightlife at all, come to that." Helen tilted her head on one side. "How do you suppose I'd go about meeting lesbians?"
"Well, you do hang around in a fitness centre most of the time," Laura said, before she could stop herself. "It shouldn't be all that difficult. Just try wandering up to the weights room, closing your eyes and putting out your hand."
"Nothing, nothing." Laura hastily took another drink of coffee. A part of her, she realised with horror, wanted to point out that she knew of at least four girls on the staff alone, and an even less responsible part of herself wanted to offer to fix Helen up with one of them. After all, despite the fact that she was currently wearing an appliqued jumper capable of fitting three women of her build and had her dark blonde hair falling in haphazard strings over her eyes, Helen was really quite beautiful in a slender, disheveled way. An ageing waif, it that was possible. Susie had been complaining bitterly of her lack of love life lately, and in a way it would be quite a good match. Susie and Helen could have hours of fun together, comparing pills and psychiatrists and methods of forcing women's heads down the toilet…
Laura swallowed an hysterical giggle along with her coffee, and squeezed Helen's hand. Susie was a nice girl in many ways, but Helen had enough problems without trying to deal with a steroid-crazed lover with anger management problems; and come to that, Susie probably had enough problems without being saddled with Helen. "I think you'd be better off concentrating on the move to Brussels, Helen."
"I suppose you're right." Helen leaned forward and dropped an unexpected kiss on Laura's forehead. "I'm going to miss you so much, Laura. Our little chats always make me feel much better." She gave Laura a bright smile and stood up, heading for the door.
"You know, I feel the same way." Laura stood up and collected her jacket, as the rest room door swung shut. "Although sometimes, I really wonder why."