Inspired by Aimeefran's beautiful YouTube video. "Tell me about Rachel Bailey." "Hey, you can keep your hands off her. She's mine." Julie smiled, but Gill was perfectly serious. Her mother had told her fairytales about princesses, when she was little, and she didn't think this was any different; when you loved someone, you kept on fighting, no matter how much it hurt.
"Ma'am, I–" Rachel Bailey pushed open the SIO's office door and leant against the doorframe, her casual tone trailing away, to be replaced with one of concern, "Ma'am, are you okay? What's happened?"
Gill raised her head from her hands, "Nothing."
"Just a headache."
"Okay," Rachel seemed unconvinced. She took another step inside, the door swinging shut behind her.
Gill didn't start lecturing Rachel on some paperwork she hadn't completed to the best of her ability, or order her to fetch a coffee. She slipped her glasses from her nose and folded them, laying them on the computer keyboard in front of her.
The screensaver – a little fish getting eaten by a shark with blood dribbling through its teeth, replaying over and over again, because Kevin refused to show her how to change it – disappeared, replaced with her email screen. The newest one was from Julie.
Sorry if I'm being paranoid, but you haven't replied to my emails or calls for a couple of days now, and I'd really appreciate it if you'd tell me what's wrong. I rang yesterday, and Sammy said he'd get you to ring me back when you got in, but you didn't. If I've done something wrong, I can just apologise for whatever it is, because I'm really beginning to get quite lonely without anyone to talk to. Equally, if something's happened, I'm here for you.
"Ma'am, I need to talk to you about something."
Gill gave a brisk nod, her eyes still on the screen, "Go ahead."
I'm coming in on Wednesday to talk to DS Scott and DC Bailey about some paperwork I need doing about the Nadia Hicks joint case between our syndicates last year. It's going to be pretty awkward if there's something going on between us, particularly if it's something I don't know about. Anyway, just give me a ring, I'll probably be here until about seven, or come round tonight, if you'd like.
"Can I…" Rachel gestured to the seat opposite the desk.
"Yes. What can I do for you?"
"You know how I was… well, um, I got engaged to Sean last year, and I never really thought about it as something I needed to plan for, but… anyway, we've arranged the wedding now. It's next year, and I was..."
The thing that had stung Gill about the email, aside from what it was insinuating, and the obvious bemusement in her supposed best friend's attitude, was the end. Thanks, Julie. No pleasantries, and no joking. She supposed it was childish to be concerned by these things, but it was the truth; when someone didn't put a kiss on the end of their email, she automatically obsessed over why.
In private, she was an insecure woman, but of course nobody knew that, because when she was around other people she was cold and bitter. Perhaps that was why she was so lonely, because she hid away in a world where there was nobody to rely on.
"You want my permission to get married?"
"No. Well, yeah, I guess I'll need the day off work and that, but," Rachel paused, obviously feeling uncomfortable with the conversation, confused by Gill's frustrated tone, "Actually, Ma'am, I just wanted to give you this."
Gill took the envelope and sliced it open with her long scarlet nails, her face giving away nothing. She scanned the invitation, white like snow, dotted with silver flowers.
Rachel Bailey and Sean McCartney.
"Right. Thank you."
"Mitch is giving me away, Kev's being the best man, and Sean's kid's being the pageboy. But I wanted to ask you something, too. You can say no, if you want, but I've already asked Janet, and I'd like you to be my other bridesmaid."
Rachel's eyes widened a little, "Okay."
"I appreciate you asking, but it just wouldn't feel right. Intruding on a private ceremony like that, when we haven't always… it's just not going to happen."
"But Ma'am, I want you to do it. I'm not just asking because I think I should. I genuinely… you've always been there for me; I wouldn't be here without you."
Please, Rachel. Just leave now. Don't make things worse than they have to be.
"I'd still be in uniform, or," she continued, her brown eyes overflowing with earnest, like chocolate buttons melting in the summer, "God, maybe I'd be in some squat in Chadderton, off my face. I don't really do the whole being grateful thing very often, but I really do want you to do it, Ma'am."
"I'm sorry, Rachel, but no. It's not up for consideration, or bargaining, okay? Don't make it your special mission, please, because after all there are plenty of other people you could ask, aren't there? Much more suitable people than me – younger, friendlier. They'll look better in the photographs too; I mean, come on, can you see me in a little pink frock with a bow around the waist?"
Rachel stared at her boss. Gill flushed, realising she was babbling, realising her overuse of rhetorical questions probably didn't make her sound particularly eloquent. Not that she gave a damn. Except she did, obviously.
"Look at you. Just look at you. You're sitting there, practically shaking. You obviously don't want to be here, you're obviously finding this incredibly awkward, and believe it or not, I am too. You can try to kid yourself, but in the end, you're sitting there using the words bridesmaid and ma'am in the same sentence."
"I…" she shuffled on the chair, brushing a strand of hair from across her cheek, her eyes boring into her boss's with such intensity that Gill had to force herself not to look away, "Okay, then. Gill. Yeah, we might not have always got on, but I thought… I just… I thought you'd be happy for me."
"Rachel, we work together. We work together, and sometimes we drink together because we need to forget how shit the work has been, but that is all it is, okay? I don't even know who Sean is, for God's sake – I wouldn't know him if I fell over him. I don't know anything about you."
"You know all the important things."
Gill looked down at the desk, and counted slowly to ten. When she looked up again, Rachel was still watching her. "I'll put you in as on leave for that day, and the rest of MIT too, it seems. But I'm not going to come, okay? And this isn't open for discussion any more."
"I'd like you to leave now, DC Bailey, and get back to what you were doing."
Gill shook her head, "Just get out."
Rachel kicked back her chair and stormed out without another word, every part of her body radiating indignation and anger.
Gill didn't mind that – she was perfectly accustomed to people being angry with her. It was the hurt in her colleague's eyes that upset her, made her feel like a bitch. Made her feel like it? She was a bitch.
I… you... That was what Rachel had said, stumbling over her words. Unintentionally putting together the two words that Gill so desperately yearned for. The words she knew she couldn't have.
She threw her glasses across the office, and they hit the window frame with a crash. Rachel, slumped back at her desk, her fingers moving furiously as she texted, didn't even raise her head.