Author Notes: Thank you to emerald_dragon8 and miss_morland for the beta! Originally written for thelittlebang on LJ.
Elizabeth felt flustered. She had to admit that she tended to always feel flustered nowadays, but she felt more stressed than ever with Hyacinth in the house and Emmet's daughter Jenny coming to visit.
"Calm down," Emmet told her, the exasperation evident in his voice. Emmet had always been the stronger sibling, except where Hyacinth was concerned. "You've met Jenny before. She's a perfectly sweet girl."
There was just the slightest note of hesitation in his voice and Elizabeth pounced. "The last time I saw her was two years ago. The last time you saw her – your own daughter – was months ago. She's a teenager. You know how they are nowadays. She probably has her own mobile phone and computer."
Emmet frowned. "She couldn't be bringing a computer. They're far too big."
"Maybe she has a laptop," Elizabeth said triumphantly. She had spent the previous night in bed reading about teenage hobbies, mobile phones, laptops, clubs and all those things she thought that Jenny might like. She had balked when she saw the prices for laptops.
"Oh yes," Emmet said. "A laptop."
It was then that Hyacinth chose to make her entrance, looking rather interesting in her red patterned dress and hat with the rose stuck on it. "We shall be off now, Emmet dear," she said cheerfully.
Emmet blinked and scooted backwards in his chair. Elizabeth suddenly remembered that she hadn't told him that they were going into town that day.
"Sorry Emmet," she whispered, watching Hyacinth make her way to the door. "I thought I'd let you have the afternoon alone with your daughter." She saw Hyacinth stop at the door and wait. "I'd better go, bye!"
Elizabeth hurried to the door and opened it for Hyacinth, watching as the other woman stepped regally through. She was rather amused, actually. The way Hyacinth acted, it was as if she expected the entire world to bend over backwards for her and as such, the entire world idid/i bow to her will. Elizabeth suspected if she ever tried to act the way Hyacinth did, people would just laugh.
Hyacinth picked up a teaspoon and polished it. She held it up to the light, frowned and polished it again. "I don't know why you picked this place, Elizabeth," she commented in an overly loud voice that made Elizabeth want to crawl into a hole. "The silverware isn't even clean."
The nearby patrons gave Hyacinth scared looks. Elizabeth noted with mild amusement that they all began to hurriedly drink their teas and coffees. "My spoons are fine," she said.
"Of course they are," Hyacinth said in a condescending tone.
Elizabeth sighed. It had seemed like a good idea at the time to take Hyacinth out for an afternoon on the town. She thought that they could go shopping and have a cup of tea. However, as soon as they got into town, Hyacinth complained that she needed a rest. "Your car is just a little cramped, dear," she said.
Elizabeth had suggested a café that she and Emmet both enjoyed going to. However, Hyacinth didn't seem to like the food at all. Usually, Elizabeth found the café warm and cosy, especially on a Saturday afternoon. She especially liked the tiny little flourless orange cakes and the little swirl they always put on her latte.
Hyacinth, however, was staring down at her latte with a disdainful expression. "They ought to employ more of an artist for these coffees," she said in a stage whisper. "Then perhaps these swirls would be more even."
Elizabeth resisted the urge to bury her face in her hands. "Perhaps we should leave," she ventured after an awkward pause.
Hyacinth looked at her in puzzlement. "Oh, no," she said. "I wouldn't dream of it. You said you wanted to come here. We're not going to leave now."
Elizabeth closed her eyes.
"You look tired," Hyacinth told her. "Perhaps you should have some of this second-rate coffee."
Elizabeth looked down at her coffee cup that was still full. She slowly lifted up the cup and sipped it, her hands only trembling slightly. The warm taste of coffee permeated her mouth and she swallowed. "It's quite delicious."
Hyacinth wrinkled her nose. "I'm sure my expensive percolator at home could make better coffee."
Elizabeth resisted the urge to tell her that it was the beans that made the quality of the coffee, not just the percolator.
If Elizabeth thought that the previous night's dinner was awkward, it was nothing compared to the current dinner. Jenny had arrived while she was out with Hyacinth, and all remnants of the sweet girl Elizabeth had remembered from two years ago were gone. Two years ago, Jenny had still been in pigtails, sweet plaid skirts and blouses.
Elizabeth looked up and shuddered. Now, Jenny's brown hair was dyed black, as apparently were most of her outfits. There seemed to be chains hanging from that extraordinarily short skirt. But, still, Elizabeth thought she could handle it. Teenagers nowadays tended to dress strangely, in jeans and tank tops. Perhaps short mini-skirts and ripped t-shirts weren't that different.
However, the expression on Hyacinth's face could have frozen the living room.
As it was, it had completely eliminated all conversation. Jenny was pushing her food around the plate with a sullen expression on her face. Emmet was staring out the window, looking distinctly disinterested. Hyacinth had made a few cutting comments about Jenny's outfit and had uncharacteristically fallen silent. She wasn't even singing at Emmet, which surprised Elizabeth.
"Does anybody want any dessert?" Elizabeth asked, in a futile attempt to make conversation. She had baked Alaskan Pie the day before. She wasn't sure whether it would live up to Hyacinth's high standards, but it had been Jenny's favourite dessert a few years back.
"No thanks," Emmet muttered. Jenny simply shook her head.
"I believe I will retire," Hyacinth said. She left the table, leaving behind a swirl of heavy perfume in the air that made Elizabeth cough slightly.
Five minutes later, Elizabeth was left sitting at the dining table by herself. Feeling defeated, she dug into the pie with a spoon.
"I expect that you should have some words with that girl," Hyacinth said frostily.
Elizabeth stood there, towels draped over her arm, and stared. "I'm sorry?" she said. She had entered the room to see if Hyacinth's heater was working properly because it had a tendency to play up, but as soon as she had entered, Hyacinth had accosted her.
"I expect," Hyacinth repeated, with a long-suffering sigh, "that you will talk to Emmet's daughter tomorrow and impart onto her the unsuitability of her attire. What if somebody important were to visit my place next door and see her entering this house?"
Elizabeth bit her bottom lip. "She's Emmet's daughter," she managed to get out. "Shouldn't..."
"Her attire is entirely unsuitable," Hyacinth said with a sniff. "It's very lower-class. I couldn't imagine where she got such ideas from."
Elizabeth had the distinct impression that Hyacinth was looking her up and down. She couldn't help but feel her cheeks flame. "She's just a teenager," she tried again.
Hyacinth laid a hand on her arm. "I have faith in you, Elizabeth." Elizabeth found herself steered out of the room. Hyacinth closed the door firmly behind her, leaving Elizabeth staring at it. She should have known that arguing with Hyacinth would be useless, but it was so difficult not to.
Daisy stopped by on Sunday evening. "How's everything going?" she asked, leaning against the doorframe, smiling cheerfully. Flower clips held her hair back away from her face, matching the shapeless dress she was wearing.
Elizabeth took a deep breath. "Well," she said slowly, but suddenly, Hyacinth pushed past her and dragged Daisy forcibly into the house.
"Daisy!" Hyacinth said, panting slightly from the exertion. "Whatever on earth are you doing here? Dressed in that?"
Daisy looked puzzled. "I wanted to know how you were doing. You've been here at Liz's for a few days now. I hope it's helped, being away from the house. You know. With taking your mind off Richard."
Hyacinth's face froze. "It's been adequate, but I would like to go back to my own house now, with my slimline telephone."
Daisy looked over at Elizabeth, who shrugged helplessly. "I think it could be okay," she said. Privately, Elizabeth was just thankful to get Hyacinth out of her house. Jenny was leaving the next day, but she didn't want the two in the same house for a moment longer. Elizabeth would have never thought it, but somehow Jenny seemed to have taken more of a dislike to Hyacinth than Emmet ever had. Elizabeth felt as if Jenny had deliberately spent the past few days annoying Hyacinth. There wasn't anything she could specifically put her finger on, but she had caught Jenny and Emmet talking conspiratorially the previous night. Elizabeth supposed that she was glad that they seemed to be getting along better, but frankly, she was just annoyed at the atmosphere inside the house.
Daisy looked doubtful. "Well, I suppose if you check on her every day."
Elizabeth nodded. "I promise."
As much as Elizabeth didn't want to, she found herself ringing Hyacinth's doorbell the following morning. She listened to the musical chime and tapped her foot impatiently. It wasn't like Hyacinth to be late to the door. A worried feeling washed over her. What if Hyacinth had done something drastic?
Just as Elizabeth was about to hurry back to her own place and ring the police, the door opened and Hyacinth stepped out. "Oh, it's you," she said, sounding almost like her normal self.
Elizabeth was quite surprised. She had expected that being back at her own place would bring back bad memories for Hyacinth, but the other woman looked fine. "Hello, Hyacinth," she said awkwardly. "I'm here... well... I'm..."
"You're here for morning tea, I presume. Our usual tradition," Hyacinth said, a brief smile crossing her face.
"Ah, yes," Elizabeth said, suddenly thankful for Hyacinth's social avoidance skills. "I'm here for morning tea."
As Elizabeth sat down at the kitchen table, Hyacinth busied herself with preparing the tea. "Biscuits?" she asked.
Almost automatically, Elizabeth found her hands begin to shake.
Over the next few weeks, Elizabeth found herself obligated to go over to check on Hyacinth. Every few days, Daisy would turn up at her doorstep – sometimes at rather odd hours – under some pretext. Invariably, the conversation would turn towards Hyacinth and Elizabeth found herself nodding when Daisy explained how worried she was.
"She's not going on about Violet and her stables nowadays." Daisy twisted a strand of hair in her fingers and drew it into her mouth.
Elizabeth couldn't help but wince. Spending time around Hyacinth's family had taught her that, yes, there was probably a good reason for Hyacinth's airs and graces. It didn't make them any easier to deal with, but at least Elizabeth understood why her friend acted that way. "She does seem better though, the last few times I went over," Elizabeth ventured.
Daisy frowned. "I guess," she said slowly. "She does seem less sad. I suppose you don't need to go over as often now."
Elizabeth couldn't help feel a rush of relief, which was almost immediately followed by a flood of guilt. She didn't mean to imply that she didn't want to visit Hyacinth. Sure, she actually didn't want to go over next door, but she hadn't wanted to make it so obvious to Daisy. "I suppose not," she managed to get out.
Daisy patted her hand. "You're a good friend, Elizabeth."
This only served to make Elizabeth feel worse.
"Here you go," Hyacinth said, holding out a beaker.
Elizabeth felt sweat starting to bead up on her palm. Hyacinth seemed to be inviting her over more and more nowadays. She always felt like she had to come, even though it meant missing out on her knitting class and never getting the dishes done by the time Emmet came home. After all, Hyacinth had just lost her husband. Surely she deserved all the support from the only friend she had. And besides, Elizabeth felt guilty whenever she didn't come over.
Although, Elizabeth had to admit, Hyacinth didn't act as though she was heartbroken over Richard any longer. Just yesterday, when Elizabeth was coming over, she heard Hyacinth on the phone with somebody called the Major, laughing cheerily. Elizabeth looked closely over at her friend. Today, it seemed as though Hyacinth was wearing a new dress. It was still flower patterned, but nowhere near as much like a garden as her usual dresses.
"Thank you," Elizabeth said as she carefully took the beaker. Her hands shook as she placed it down on the table. Looking at the full cup, Elizabeth decided to wait until it was cold before drinking it. That would be her new strategy. It was bound to work! "I heard you talking to somebody called the Major on the telephone yesterday," she ventured when Hyacinth was surprisingly silent.
"Hmm?" Hyacinth said, sounding distracted. "Would you like a biscuit?"
Elizabeth had a horrifying image of fishing biscuit crumbs out of her bra again. "No thank you!" she said hurriedly. "I'm fine with my coffee." She gestured and narrowly missed knocking over the beaker. Elizabeth could feel her face flushing with embarrassment as she looked up, expecting recriminations. Hyacinth was strangely silent. "So," she said, after an awkward pause. "Are you friends with this Major?"
"Oh no," Hyacinth said, with a laugh that sounded artificial, "No, of course not!"
Elizabeth couldn't help raising an eyebrow. Maybe Hyacinth was embarrassed about it. After all, she and Richard had been married for so many years. It should have been a good thing that her friend was moving on. Yet, Elizabeth couldn't help feel a twinge of discomfort in her stomach.
She suppressed it.
Elizabeth was surprised when during one of their coffees, Hyacinth kept on going on about change.
"Change is necessary," Hyacinth said, sounding rather self-important. "As I change my kitchen every few years, I must also change myself."
Elizabeth suppressed a laugh. She doubted that Hyacinth would ever change out of her loud flowery dresses. In a way, they suited her. They were so very Hyacinth. "I suppose so," she said, doubtfully.
The door opened and Elizabeth stared.
Hyacinth looked slightly embarrassed. "What do you think?"
Elizabeth looked at her friend. "You're wearing trousers," she said incredulously. "But you almost never wear trousers." Especially not trousers that actually fit properly and looked quite nice. They were wide-legged slacks that Hyacinth was wearing with a long sleeved tunic blouse and low heels.
"I decided it was time for a change," Hyacinth said, her face colouring slightly. She hesitated. "Richard always said I was a bit too old-fashioned."
Elizabeth was surprised. Very surprised. She suppressed the thought that Hyacinth actually looked really nice in the new clothes. "You look lovely," she said, in a strained tone of voice.
Elizabeth was almost disappointed when Hyacinth was back to wearing her old clothes the next time they had coffee. She hadn't expected the change to last, but she was wondering why Hyacinth had tried at all. Maybe her friend was having some sort of mid-life crisis?
"Biscuit?" Hyacinth offered.
Elizabeth absent-mindedly reached over and took a chocolate-chip biscuit. She bit into it, with her hand underneath her chin to catch the crumbs. As she finished the biscuit, she deposited the crumbs onto the plate provided. When she looked up, Hyacinth was staring at her in surprise. "What?" Elizabeth asked, with a frown.
"You managed to eat that biscuit, without breaking any of my beakers, or plates, or dropping the biscuit in your coffee, or shattering any of my Royal Doulton," Hyacinth pointed out.
Elizabeth frowned. Hyacinth was right. She had managed to drink half a cup of coffee, and eat an entire biscuit over at Hyacinth's house for the first time, ever. "I did say that I could do this in my own house," she couldn't help saying.
"I never believed that until now."
Elizabeth lifted up her cup of coffee, and suddenly, to her horror, she found her hands shaking again. It was as though she was fine except when she thought about it. If she didn't realise she was over at Hyacinth's, then she could drink coffee and eat biscuits like a normal person, but as soon as she realised that, her hands began to shake and biscuits crumbled.
"Or," Hyacinth said slowly, looking pointedly at her hands, "it was just a fluke."
Elizabeth felt her face turn red. Slowly, she placed the beaker back onto the table and tried to steady her shaking hands.
Elizabeth was rather puzzled. Over the past week or so, every time she was with Hyacinth, she managed to drink coffee, tea, eat biscuits and food like a normal person, but only whenever she wasn't thinking about being nervous. Surprisingly, she found Hyacinth less grating on her nerves nowadays. They had managed to have a good conversation about old books that they both enjoyed the previous day. To Elizabeth's surprise, Hyacinth had also read iFrom the Earth to the Moon/i and it was also one of her childhood favourites. She had never expected Hyacinth to be reasonably well read.
Yet, whenever Elizabeth ended up thinking about the possibility of dropping cups and plates, inevitably, her hands would begin to shake.
"Stop thinking about it," Hyacinth suggested, when Elizabeth told her. "Why are you so nervous anyway?"
Elizabeth suppressed a snort. She certainly didn't want to tell Hyacinth exactly why she was so nervous around her. She didn't think Hyacinth would take well to be called a scary, scary, scary person. It was true, though. Hyacinth certainly terrified her at times. "I'm not sure," she said carefully.
"Try to be less nervous," Hyacinth advised, imperiously.
Elizabeth resisted the urge to rest her head on the table. It was much easier to ask somebody to be less nervous than for the person to actually be less nervous. She vowed to try to engage her friend in more interesting conversations. It seemed that the more interesting the conversation, the less likely she was to break expensive crockery.
They had been talking about books again. Books and politics. Elizabeth was quite surprised that her political views meshed very well with Hyacinth's. It had been getting late, and they were sitting by candlelight because neither of them had been bothered to get up and turn on the light.
Elizabeth had been arguing some point or another, when she turned to face Hyacinth.
The look on her face made Elizabeth stop.
Elizabeth felt the breath catch in her throat.
Hyacinth was looking at her, head tilted slightly, a quizzical expression in her eyes. The light from her lamp soft, lighting up the room enough so that she could only just see the faint lines around Hyacinth's eyes. Elizabeth couldn't believe what she was thinking. She would have never thought that she would have been attracted to women and even if she did, Hyacinth would certainly have not been the kind of woman she would be attracted to! After all, Hyacinth was a rude, prickly woman who was far too demanding and obsessive. Yet, she stood up to Elizabeth's husband. She had always been there. And in the last few weeks, Elizabeth felt almost like she had gotten her old friend back.
Hyacinth had changed since Richard left, but not so much into a new person. More like the person she used to be, when Elizabeth had first gotten to know her. Elizabeth had found that she was actually interested in what Hyacinth had to say now, even when she was talking about porcelain.
The question of whether Hyacinth was truly becoming more interesting or whether Elizabeth was just more interested in her briefly passed her mind.
"Are you okay?" Hyacinth asked, with a frown. She got up and walked over to where Elizabeth was sitting. She held a hand to Elizabeth's forehead.
Elizabeth couldn't help a quick intake of breath as she felt prickles of heat spread over her skin from Hyacinth's proximity. It felt as if electricity was flowing through her. She hadn't felt like this since she first met her husband and even then, it was like a dim ten watt bulb. This was more like an hundred watt bulb and getting brighter.
"You feel warm," Hyacinth said decisively. "We need to get you into bed."
Elizabeth couldn't help but feel as though Hyacinth was deliberately teasing her. From the look on Hyacinth's face, she doubted it, but the firm pressure of Hyacinth's arm on her back belied that feeling. "Sure," she said quietly.
Elizabeth found herself at Hyacinth's door, ringing the doorbell, not quite knowing why she was there.
Hyacinth opened the door a crack and peered through. "Oh it's you!" she said, sounding harassed. "I'm sorry, Elizabeth, but I can't have tea at the moment." She shut the door, leaving Elizabeth staring at it.
Slowly, Elizabeth turned around and walked back to her own house, her stomach churning. Why had Hyacinth shut the door? What was the matter? Was there somebody in Hyacinth's place?
Logically she knew that if Hyacinth was entertaining a male visitor then she should be happy for her friend. After all, the latest news from Emmet was that Richard had just started dating again. It apparently had ended disastrously and Emmet had gone out to comfort Richard in a pub, but at least Richard didn't seem too put out. He had told Emmet that he would get back on that horse again and ask somebody else out.
It would be a good thing if Hyacinth was dating again. It would mean that she was getting over Richard. Elizabeth knew she should feel happy for her friend if that were the truth.
But she couldn't help feeling a large twinge of jealousy.
It was yet another one of Hyacinth's candlelight suppers, and Elizabeth wasn't surprised to find that she was the only person there. There was a tendency for people to avoid these and claim sickness the next time Hyacinth rang them up. She believed the Vicar may have cited malaria last time.
"Is the Major not coming?" she asked casually.
Hyacinth looked up. "Certainly not," she said, sounding offended. "Elizabeth, I would have thought you knew me better."
Elizabeth was puzzled. She could have sworn that the Major seemed to be getting quite close to Hyacinth, but apparently, that wasn't true. "So," she said slowly, "am I the only person here?"
"I'm afraid nobody else was able to make it," Hyacinth said stiffly. "But we shall have a perfectly civil candlelight supper by ourselves. I made veal. Good British veal."
It was rather awkward sitting at a table set for eight, eating beautifully decorated veal, when it was only the two of them. In fact, Elizabeth couldn't help feeling like it was a date. A rather bad date. She looked over at Hyacinth and couldn't help noticing the candlelight reflect off her eyes, making them almost sparkle.
Elizabeth shook her head. She was definitely not thinking of her friend in that way. She couldn't be. It was preposterous.
"Salad?" Hyacinth said, as she walked over with the salad bowl. She leaned over Elizabeth and placed a large amount of salad on her plate.
Elizabeth felt like she couldn't breathe. "Thank you," she managed to get out, in a strangled-sounding voice.
"Are you okay?" Hyacinth said, a note of concern in her voice. She turned her head and peered into Elizabeth's eyes.
Elizabeth's breath caught in her throat. Hyacinth's face was just centimetres away from her own. If she leaned forward just slightly, she could touch her face. She could smell Hyacinth's perfume, heavy and cloying. And yet, somehow, she didn't want to look away. Strangely enough, Hyacinth didn't either.
It was right then and there that Elizabeth suddenly realised something.
"I ..." she stammered, pushing her chair back with a scrape. She tried to stand up, but felt herself stumbling into Hyacinth.
Then, suddenly, Hyacinth's lips were on hers. She could hear Hyacinth making a small noise of surprise. Her arms had somehow made their way around Hyacinth's waist and she was pressed up against her. A moan escaped her throat as she felt Hyacinth's arms tighten around her.
Somehow, Elizabeth wasn't sure how, but somehow they ended up entangled in Hyacinth's bed. The crisp, freshly laundered sheets had been pushed to one side and currently Hyacinth seemed to be nuzzling on her neck.
Briefly, Elizabeth wondered how on earth they had managed to get into this situation but then as Hyacinth moaned slightly into her neck, she forgot all about it.
Hyacinth sat up suddenly, her hand on her chest.
Elizabeth looked up from where she was nestled between Hyacinth's legs. She reached up and brushed a stray strand of hair away from her face. "What's the matter?" she said her voice slightly hoarse. "Are you okay?"
"I think," Hyacinth said, breathing hard, "I think that I might have just had a mild heart attack."
Elizabeth sat up. "Are you sure?" she said worriedly. She'd had nurse training years back and she didn't think that Hyacinth had any of the symptoms of a heart attack. In fact, she could have sworn that just before Hyacinth had sat up, she was enjoying herself immensely. She licked her lips absent-mindedly, tasting Hyacinth there, and suddenly had an idea. Reaching over, Elizabeth pressed her fingers against Hyacinth's neck.
Hyacinth tilted her head. "What are you doing?" she asked irritably.
"I don't think that was a heart attack," Elizabeth said slowly. "I think... I think you just had an orgasm."
"Don't be ridiculous," Hyacinth said, a blush spreading over her cheeks. "I've had orgasms before." She hesitated. "With Richard."
This was going to be delicate. "What did these orgasms feel like?"
Hyacinth shrugged, and frowned. "They felt nice, I suppose. I enjoyed them. I was glad when he..."
"When he finished?" Elizabeth finished for her, feeling her own cheeks turn red as well. This was not a conversation she ever expected to be having with Hyacinth. Then again, she thought as she looked over at Hyacinth who had drawn the sheet up around her chin, she had never expected to be naked in the same bed as Hyacinth before either.
"Yes," Hyacinth admitted.
"I don't think you've had an orgasm before," Elizabeth said quietly.
Elizabeth wasn't surprised when Hyacinth wasn't there in the morning, but she was rather disappointed. This was all new to Hyacinth, but it was all new to her as well. Elizabeth had suspected that it had all happened a bit too fast for Hyacinth, but that was how these things happened. At least that's what the romance novels she had read always said.
As Elizabeth left Hyacinth's room, she realised the entire house was empty. Quietly, she let herself out of the front door.
She had the feeling that she would have to tread carefully. There was a chance this could go explosively wrong and somehow, Elizabeth didn't want to lose Hyacinth's friendship. She was surprised at the sentiment, but it was true.
Sometime over the past few weeks, Elizabeth had realised that as annoying as she found Hyacinth sometimes, she enjoyed spending time with her friend and last night had told her that Hyacinth was surprisingly responsive in bed. Elizabeth found Hyacinth's quiet pants rather erotic. The taste of her was enough to turn her on.
Elizabeth's lips quirked into a brief smile.
"What're you looking so happy about?" Emmet said as he wandered into the kitchen, looking grumpy. He reached up for his coffee cup and poured a decent amount of coffee into it.
"Nothing," Elizabeth said absent-mindedly. She most definitely didn't want to tell her brother what had happened with Hyacinth last night. She had the feeling that it would probably give Emmet a heart attack.
Emmet shrugged and poured hot water into his cup. He wandered away, yawning.
Elizabeth closed her eyes and leaned back in her chair. She really would have never imagined any sort of relationship with Hyacinth before last night. Well, she amended mentally, admittedly, the thought had crossed her mind before last night, but she had never seriously entertained the notion. Back in prep school, she'd had a best girlfriend whom Elizabeth had never wanted to admit that she had a crush on. That friendship had ended when they had both gotten married, but Elizabeth had always thought back on it with fond memories.
She had always considered that to be a harmless crush. A bit of schoolgirl experimentation. She had never considered herself to be like... well... like Sheridan.
Elizabeth suppressed a hysterical laugh. She had always imagined that gay women would be very masculine, just as gay men like Sheridan would be feminine. It was ridiculous that she could be gay, but the tingling feeling she had whenever she thought of Hyacinth belied that belief.
With a sigh, Elizabeth stood up to clear away her breakfast dishes.
Elizabeth rang the doorbell. It chimed prettily but Hyacinth still didn't come to the door. She rang it again, pressing it down more firmly. Still no Hyacinth. She peered through the glass beside the door and could just make out a figure moving into the living room. Rapping sharply on the glass, Elizabeth called, "I can see you, Hyacinth."
The shadowy figure stopped, walked towards the door. The door opened slowly and Hyacinth's face peered out. "Are you here for morning tea? I'm afraid, I'm not feeling that well today." Hyacinth coughed.
Elizabeth gritted her teeth. "I'm not here for morning tea, Hyacinth. I'm here because you've been avoiding me for the past few days. Ever since that night."
The door opened and Hyacinth stepped aside. "This is not a conversation I wish to be having in the street," she said tightly. "It is most definitely inappropriate."
Elizabeth felt inordinately hurt by that statement, but she stepped through the doorway anyway. She followed Hyacinth into the living room and sat down gingerly on one of the couches. Hyacinth sat opposite her, looking stiff. "You've been avoiding me," Elizabeth repeated.
"That night," Hyacinth said curtly, "should have never happened. It will never happen again. I am not some sort of... homosexual." Her upper lip curled in distaste. "I have far too much taste for that."
Elizabeth couldn't help but roll her eyes even though she knew that she herself had thought something similar only a few days back. "Not all homosexuals have bad taste," she pointed out.
Hyacinth let out a breath that sounded like she'd been holding it for a long time. "I'm still married. This is entirely inappropriate." She folded her hands in her lap. "I feel that we cannot be friends anymore."
Elizabeth looked down. "Richard left you."
"You're still married."
Elizabeth stared over Hyacinth's shoulder, out of the window. "I know," she said. "But I don't think John's coming back. He's been gone for over six years now. I haven't gotten a letter in over a year." Elizabeth felt the familiar tightening in her chest whenever she talked of her husband. "You of all people should know that our marriage wasn't a big success."
Hyacinth didn't say anything.
"Look," Elizabeth said slowly, "I think we could have something. I just wanted to talk about it."
Hyacinth shook her head. "I don't think we can."
Elizabeth didn't know what possessed her to drive to the city. All she knew was that one minute, she was walking out of Hyacinth's house feeling like her heart had been broken and the next minute, she was heading into town. She parked her car next to the local pub and stared at the swinging sign. Elizabeth wasn't generally one to drink, but right then she felt as though she could down an entire pitcher of beer. Briefly, she wondered how she would get home. Elizabeth generally didn't believe in drinking and then driving. Even if she had only a tiny amount of alcohol, she would usually get somebody else to drive. But as Elizabeth stared at the pub, she decided she didn't care.
She could feel her lower lip tremble.
Elizabeth dug her fingernails into her palm, determined not to cry. If she hadn't cried when John had told her that he never wanted children, she definitely wasn't going to cry now. The sex might have been fantastic, but she had spent years being annoyed by Hyacinth's every action. Elizabeth did her best to draw upon that annoyance. Hyacinth's irritation every time she dropped a beaker. Hyacinth's demanding nature. Hyacinth's singing voice.
She bit her lip. Somehow remembering these things only made her feel sad.
Elizabeth made up her mind, opened the car door and swung her legs out. She was going into the pub. She walked up to the door of the pub and hesitated before opening it. Once inside, she blinked at the dim light and made her way over to the bar.
"What would you like, ma'am?" the bartender asked her.
Elizabeth shrugged. "Anything, and make it a double." She had learned that at least from her romance novels.
The bartender nodded, and she slid a ten pound bill towards him.
"Liz!" came an exclamation of surprise from behind her.
Elizabeth could feel her stomach sink as she turned around slowly. Richard was standing there, looking surprised. "Richard, hello."
"I was just passing by and happened to look inside and see you here. What are you doing here?" Richard asked. The bartender slid her drink across to her and Richard raised his eyebrows. "A double scotch?"
"I'm not having a good day," Elizabeth muttered. She picked up her drink and examined the translucent amber-coloured liquid. Making up her mind, she downed it in one go. When she looked up, she could see the shock in Richard's eyes. He reached over and steered her towards a table.
"Tell me what's wrong," he said, sounding sympathetic.
Elizabeth couldn't help snorting. She could feel the alcohol permeating her system already and she most definitely couldn't explain to Richard that she had slept with his wife a few nights ago. They might have been separated, but men tended to be terribly proprietary over their wives and belongings. "Oh, you know," she said vaguely.
Richard smiled slightly. "I was married to Hyacinth over thirty years," he said gently. "I have had many days like that."
Elizabeth pounced on the new topic of conversation. "How have you been since..." she trailed off.
"Since I left?" Richard said. He smiled. "I've actually been fantastic. I can't even begin to explain how much of a relief it's been and how much of a burden it's been off my shoulders. Your brother has been an invaluable listener. He's been coming in to town almost every evening to help me work through those small things bachelors are supposed to know how to do." He laughed self-deprecatingly. "He had to teach me how to iron a shirt. But I have that down pat now."
"Good," Elizabeth said, slightly absently. "I hear those shirts can be terribly difficult."
"You just don't know how glad I am," Richard continued. He stopped suddenly and blushed slightly. "Well I suppose you might. How has she been lately anyway? Has she been getting you down? I hope she isn't the reason why you're in here."
Elizabeth looked down.
Richard reached over and put his hand over hers. "I'm sorry, Elizabeth," he said quietly. "I truly am."
Elizabeth suppressed the urge to laugh hysterically.
There was a long silence. Elizabeth found herself reaching back and pulling strands of hair out of her neat bun and biting down on them. With effort, she stopped herself. She didn't want to become like Daisy, with messy hair, running around half dressed in something that looked like it ought to be a nightgown.
"May I ask you something?" Richard said suddenly.
Elizabeth shrugged. "I suppose."
"Is Hyacinth," Richard hesitated, "is she dating again?"
It took all of Elizabeth's self control not to snort and start giggling hysterically. "Not as far as I know, no," she said neutrally after a few seconds.
Richard raised an eyebrow at her. "Is there something you're not telling me? I know we were never friends," he looked serious, "but I'm not asking because I'm jealous. I'm honestly concerned about her."
Elizabeth was surprised at the harsh laugh that erupted from her lips. "If you were concerned about her, then you would have never left her," she pointed out.
Richard turned red. "I can't, and I won't, excuse myself to you, and I doubt that you – as Hyacinth's friend – would ever understand why. But I know it was the right thing to do. We weren't suited to each other." He took a deep swallow of beer before bursting out, "Did you know that she never seemed to enjoy touching me? I'm not just talking about sex, but god knows she seemed to hate that as well, but she refused to even hold my hand, or cuddle up on the couch. Whenever I brushed up against her in bed, even accidentally, she would flinch away. How on earth do you survive a marriage like that?"
Elizabeth froze. She couldn't help remembering Hyacinth's eager hands a few nights ago, the way her fingers seemed to find all the right places in Elizabeth and how Hyacinth's lips had created a purple bruise just above her right nipple. That certainly didn't seem to be the same woman that Richard was now describing.
Richard didn't seem to notice her facial expression. "I spent years wondering if it was just me," he said quietly. "But now, I'm wondering if it's her. Maybe that's why she gets along so well with Sheridan."
Elizabeth felt a brief flutter of anger in her stomach. Surely Richard wasn't implying that somehow all gay people ought to become friends, was he?
"I don't know," Richard said, sounding helpless. "I guess I was wondering if she was dating again to see if it was just me she had the problem with. I really did love her, you know. I just don't think she ever loved me."
"It's only been a month," Elizabeth pointed out. And then she wondered why on earth she was pointing that out. She had bloody well slept with his wife.
"It feels like a lot longer."
Elizabeth had to concur. It definitely did feel like much, much, much longer. For one thing, a month beforehand, she would have never entertained the idea of having that kind of relationship with Hyacinth. "I've seen the Major around her place a few times," she said.
Richard's face fell. "I guess then, it was just me," he said, sounding hollow. "I hope she's happy.
On the way home, Elizabeth found her fingers clenching around the steering wheel until her knuckles were white. The conversation she had with Richard kept on repeating itself in her mind. The way Richard had insisted that Hyacinth had never loved him. The way he said that she never wanted to touch him, when Elizabeth was positive that Hyacinth had no problems with touching people.
The way Hyacinth had seemed so insistent that she didn't want to see Elizabeth this morning.
A sudden thought occurred to Elizabeth but she dismissed it. It was ridiculous, wasn't it? It had to be. Hyacinth most definitely, positively couldn't actually have feelings for her, could she?
"It's you," Hyacinth said coldly as she looked around the door. "I apologise but I do not have time to have tea today."
"I'm not here for tea, and I'm sure you know that," Elizabeth pointed out. She stuck her foot between the door and the doorframe, to stop it from closing. Using the doorframe as leverage, she slowly levered it open, much to Hyacinth's visible annoyance. "I am going to come in, and we will have a talk."
The look on Hyacinth's face was almost amusing. Obviously Hyacinth had never expected Elizabeth to push this issue. And why should she, Elizabeth thought grimly, when she had never ever gone against any of Hyacinth's wishes before. It was a perfectly valid assumption that she would simply leave and go home and that they could just pretend that this had never happened.
A part of her wanted to just go home. If she went home, waited a few weeks, then it would probably all be forgotten and then Hyacinth would probably be inviting her back for a few afternoon teas a month, and then sooner or later, it was likely that their old friendship would be restored. Elizabeth bit her lip. That would be so much easier than this confrontation. She absolutely hated confrontations. They made her nervous and made her stomach twist itself into little balls.
Elizabeth looked over at Hyacinth and with that one look, she knew that forgetting it was simply not an option. She couldn't just forget one of the best nights of her life. Going back to being friends would be fine for the beginning, but it would never be enough and she would always resent Hyacinth for not letting her try for more.
She had to try. Even if it lost her Hyacinth's friendship forever.
"A few nights ago," Elizabeth began.
Hyacinth interrupted her. "I don't wish to discuss it. In my book, it never happened."
"Last night," Elizabeth continued on, stubbornly, "was one of the best nights of my life. And if I'm not mistaken, it was one of the best nights of yours as well. I don't know why you're denying it. Maybe you don't want to be hurt. Well, I don't want to be hurt either. But," she looked up, into Hyacinth's eyes, "I want to give ... this ... relationship a shot."
"This 'relationship' as you put it," Hyacinth said icily, "is a mistake. It's a crazy, stupid mistake that will probably end up destroying both our lives. I am perfectly happy with my life without this 'relationship'."
"Yes," Elizabeth snapped, feeling a surge of anger, "you look perfectly happy. Your husband's left you. You probably never loved him in the first place, did you?"
Hyacinth froze. "Who told you that?"
Elizabeth could feel her face flush.
"You've been talking to Richard, haven't you?" Hyacinth ground out the words. "Get out of my house. Get out! Get out!"
Elizabeth found herself pushed out of the front door. As she stood out on the front porch, she couldn't help but think ruefully that that discussion could have gone a lot better.
"You haven't been going over to ... that person's house lately," Emmet commented a week later as Elizabeth was scrubbing plates with a vengeance.
She plonked one of the plates down firmly onto the table. Too firmly. A hairline crack appeared in the plate.
Emmet looked up, startled. "Sis, are you alright?" he asked, with a worried frown. "You haven't been yourself lately. Are you coming down with something?"
Elizabeth snorted, not caring how unladylike it sounded. Yes, she definitely was coming down with something. It just so happened that it wasn't something she could ever talk to Emmet about. He would never understand her relationship with Hyacinth. To him, Hyacinth was the annoying woman who kept on singing at him. He would never understand the fact that Elizabeth was upset because Hyacinth didn't want to have a relationship with her. "I'm fine," she said curtly.
"You don't sound like it," he said. "Did you have a fight with Hyacinth? Is that why you're upset?"
Elizabeth stared. Emmet could be surprisingly perceptive at times. "I don't want to talk about it," she snapped.
Emmet shrugged. "You are probably better off without that friendship. You don't want to end up in a mental asylum with me, do you?" He looked over to her expecting her usual laugh at that joke, but Elizabeth was silent.
"She really isn't that bad," Elizabeth finally said.
Emmet stared. "Are we talking about the same woman here?" he teased. "Hyacinth Bucket who sings at me. Who makes you drop beakers, biscuits and plates all the time. Who scares everybody. Who was bad enough to make Richard leave her."
Elizabeth spun around. "Don't talk about something you know nothing about," she said tightly.
Emmet raised his hands. "I think you're over-reacting, just slightly," he said carefully.
Elizabeth bit her lip. She couldn't help but agree with him. Or at least the rational part of her mind agreed with him. The other parts of her mind were furious, sad and wanting to curl up in a corner and cry. "I just want some time alone," she said.
Emmet nodded. "Do you want me to make dinner?"
"Yes," Elizabeth said, rather surprised. She didn't like Emmet's cooking and she knew that Emmet detested being in the kitchen. But still, it was nice of him to ask. "Thank you."
Elizabeth walked slowly over to her room and threw herself onto her bed. She deliberately didn't look at the picture of her husband on the bedside table. A tear trickled out of the corner of one of her eyes and she sniffled slightly. It was ridiculous. Just a month ago, she would have been glad if she never saw Hyacinth ever again. Yet, now, it seemed like the most heartbreaking thing she had ever been through. It felt worse than when John had left to go overseas. Hyacinth had been a staple in her life for far longer than John had been.
With a hiccup, Elizabeth began to sob in earnest into her pillow.
Elizabeth found it rather difficult to fill up her time now that Hyacinth wasn't asking her over for morning tea, afternoon tea and supper constantly. She had other friends, but they all seemed surprised when she wanted to spend time with them. It has become incredibly lonely in the house now that Emmet was spending an inordinate amount of time with Richard. Emmet had also seemed to have reconciled with his daughter over their mutual dislike of Hyacinth. Elizabeth supposed it was a good thing that Jenny wanted to see Emmet more, but she wished that Emmet was home more often. When he was home, it helped with the loneliness.
She found herself relearning how to embroider. She was trying for a quilt. Surely that would be a huge and long enough project to take several years. Surely after several years, the pain would lessen.
Elizabeth cursed out loud as the needle pricked her finger, yet again. Angrily, she shoved the needle through the fabric. She was going to master this skill, even if she managed to jab needles into all of her fingers.
There was a soft knock on the door, so soft that Elizabeth barely heard it. She felt a brief surge of hope. Maybe it was Hyacinth at the door. But she squashed it. It was ridiculous. It had been weeks since she had seen Hyacinth. It was remarkable how it had happened, given that they lived next to each other.
Elizabeth wiped her wet hands onto her apron and walked over to the door. Opening it, she stepped back in shock.
Hyacinth was standing on her doormat, in one of her new, more stylish outfits, looking nervous. She was, uncharacteristically, fidgeting with a part of her blouse.
"What do you want," Elizabeth said stiffly, once she had recovered her voice.
"I... " Hyacinth seemed hesitant. "I was wondering if you wanted to come over for tea."
Elizabeth suppressed the flutter of hope in her stomach. Obviously Hyacinth wanted their previous friendship back. But she wasn't going to go for it. She had been hurt too much already and she knew that she could never handle just a friendship when she knew that they could be so much more. "No," she said. "Is that all? I'm doing the dishes at the moment. I'm busy." She couldn't help a brief feeling of irony. Their places were almost the exact opposite to what they were a few weeks beforehand.
Hyacinth's face fell. "Might I ask why?" she said quietly.
"I've already explained myself," Elizabeth said stiffly. "We're not going to go back to our old friendship." She tried to close the door, but Hyacinth put her hand out and held it open.
"No, no," Hyacinth said quickly, sounding flustered, "that isn't what I meant at all. Maybe... I should start again. Did you want to go out for dinner?"
"Well," Hyacinth said, after a brief pause, sounding slightly impatient, "do you?"
"You mean," Elizabeth said, "like a date."
Hyacinth gave the briefest of nods.
"Perhaps," Elizabeth said and was rewarded by a slow smile appearing on Hyacinth's face.
"You look more cheerful," Emmet commented when Elizabeth walked back inside.
"You know those days, when you think everything is dark and horrible but then something happens? And everything's all right again?" Elizabeth said. She couldn't seem to suppress the smile on her face. Somehow, despite everything, she had the feeling that everything was going to be all right. Emmet had always told her that she was irrepressibly optimistic, but Elizabeth couldn't help it. She found that being optimistic helped good things happen to her.
Emmet raised an eyebrow. "Who was it at the door?"
"Oh... nobody you'd want to talk to," Elizabeth said. "By the way, I'll be out tonight."
"Have fun," Emmet said, as he turned back to his book.
Elizabeth pressed a soft kiss on Hyacinth's lips.
Hyacinth rolled over and made a grumpy sound. "You are really far too much of a morning person," she muttered into her pillow.
Elizabeth grinned. She knew she was. Emmet had always complained about that. Although nowadays, Emmet was complaining about her relationship with Hyacinth. He had almost had a coronary when she told him about their relationship. It had taken him a few days, but finally, he had accepted it grudgingly. "Least this way, it'll keep her away from here. And me," he had said.
Elizabeth had certainly managed that. She had practically moved over to Hyacinth's, just going back over to her own place once every few days to get an extra set of clothes. During those times, Emmet would shake his head at her, but she could see a brief smile on his face as well. She knew it was apparent, even to Emmet, that she was happy.
"You know," Elizabeth started to say, but trailed off, an amused smile crossing her face.
Hyacinth opened her eyes and blinked. "Looks like I'm not going to get any more sleep," she said with a sigh. "What?"
"Have you told Sheridan about our relationship?"
Hyacinth frowned. "Not yet," she said. "I thought after the way Richard reacted, it would be a bad idea. I've never seen him faint before. Why did you want to know?"
Elizabeth barely suppressed a laugh. "Oh, no reason," she said. "I'd imagine he would be happy. You know how... artistic he is."
Hyacinth looked puzzled, so Elizabeth leaned over and kissed her again. Slowly, tentatively, Hyacinth's arms encircled her and Elizabeth found herself pulled back down under the blankets.