Whoever Saves One Life
Janet sat on the edge of the bath and allowed herself a few minutes of sobbing into a flannel. It was something she did every morning as she dressed herself, a sort of routine she'd fallen into.
As she lay in bed each night reading, she could hear Adrian's grief through the bathroom door, and there had been so many times over the past year she had longed to run to his side and fling her arms around him.
They could grieve together, she'd thought. It was absurd that they tried to hide from one another when they were both suffering. She came to realise, over the year, that their marriage was over; it was a marriage of convenience now, a marriage of 'we can't leave each other because we've already lost enough'.
"I hope you like it," he'd said flatly two weeks ago, giving her a necklace.
It was beautiful, shaped like a little footprint. She'd reach up a hand and touch it sometimes, and it reminded her not only that she was alive, but that she was now fifty years old, and nobody in the world had celebrated her birthday.
She dried herself, curled her hair and went over to the phone. She sat there looking at it for a long moment, counting to thirty to steady herself, going over and over the fact that sometimes, you couldn't choose the easy option, but the one that made you a good person, and the one that would help you to heal the most in the long run.
She dialled the number. It was still engrained inside of her.
"Hello," Janet said, and wanted to cry again.
"Who– is that you?"
"Yeah. Can we talk?"
Rachel knew that she'd made a lot of mistakes in her life.
She wrapped her hands around her hot chocolate now, her eyes on the door of the café, her mind drifting about from place to place.
It had been a year now since she'd spoken to Janet, and this year had been the worst of her life.
Janet and Rachel had been so close. They'd both struggled with things in the past – losing a son, losing a mother – but they'd been strong, and they'd come out stronger. They shared something that perhaps not all police officers had, a passion for right and wrong and an urge to 'put the bad guys away'.
"Hello," Janet said quietly from the doorway.
Whatever Rachel had being going to say, 'hello', or 'you look well', or 'I'm so, so sorry' got lost somewhere inside of her when she saw her former best friend.
She stood up and hugged Janet.
"Hey, it's okay," Janet rocked her a little bit, like you might rock a baby to soothe them, letting Rachel bury her head, "It's okay."
"How–" Rachel began eventually, once Janet had led her back over to the table and ordered them a bowl of tomato soup each, "How's Elise?"
"Doing well. Getting stronger by the day."
"They both miss you, her and Taisie. They made cupcakes the other day, and Taisie said something about the time you'd taught them how to make the icing swirly."
Rachel smiled, and it turned into another sob.
Janet reached across the table and laid her fingers a couple of centimetres from Rachel's, "How's everyone at work?"
"Normal. Julie's a slave driver sometimes, but she's–" she shook her head, letting something unsaid lie between them, "She's a good boss."
It had been Christmas Eve, just turning dusky when they'd come out of the church carol service. Taisie and Elise had been singing in the choir, and Janet dragged Rachel and Gill along too.
Maybe 'dragged' was the wrong word, for Rachel had enjoyed it, and even Godzilla (Rachel had forgotten how they'd called her that until she'd seen Janet) had been smiling as they'd joined in with the actions to the Twelve Days of Christmas.
Taisie and Elise had made snow angels. Rachel had made a snowball and tossed it at Taisie, and she'd squealed and run to a patch of deeper snow, because, as Janet had put it once, 'they both adore you'.
Rachel adored them too; she wished she'd said that more.
"And how are you?" Janet asked, "Mrs Sherlock?"
"Not bad. How about you?"
"Better now you're here."
It had all happened so fast, as these things did. When Rachel had looked again, Janet was on her knees in the snow, screaming for her daughter.
The ice over the pond had splintered into a tiny million pieces in the centre, like something from a movie, and Elise had plummeted through, and in the darkness Rachel could see the bubbles on the surface of the water.
Rachel could remember the way her hands had shaken as she'd called the emergency services. She hadn't known where she was for a moment.
Gill had brushed the younger officer's arm with cold fingers, but her voice was warmer than it had ever been. "She needs you now, Rachel."
Janet had been lying by the pond, clawing at the ice. Everything she'd ever been taught about being calm, being practical, had disintegrated. Rachel had taken Taisie by the wrist and held her to her chest, whispering 'it'll be okay' over and over again, under she could've believed it herself, if it hadn't been for Janet's crying.
Whenever Rachel thought back to that evening, the clearest thing about it – and the thing that still frequented her nightmares – was the crying.
"Ring Adrian," Gill was saying, "He needs to be at the hospital."
What followed had been the most difficult conversation of Rachel's life.
After Rachel had promised Adrian they'd do everything they could, and taken Taisie inside to sit with the vicar, she came back out to the side of the pond. Janet's upper body was on the ice, her legs still in the snow. She was edging her way forwards, ignoring Gill's pleas (Gill pleading; the second most haunting memory).
"Jan," Rachel had said, "The fire brigade will be here in a few minutes. You can't do anything else. You need to stay safe so you'll be here when they get her out; she'll need you then, won't she? You can't–"
"No." Janet's voice had been broken, like the ice. "Gill, she's my baby."
"I know she is. I know."
"I can't do anything. Rachel's right. Just a few more minutes."
"She's there," Janet gestured frantically, and Rachel could see the ice begin to splinter underneath her best friend. "She's just there. We can get her."
"Janet, you need to trust me on this," Gill continued, "How long have we known each other? Tell me, how many years?"
"Elise," she sobbed.
"Twenty years. Have I ever let you down?"
"Then get my daughter out of there."
Gill had taken off her heels. She was smaller without them, and her feet were half-buried in the snow. She took off her coat and handed it to Rachel.
"Please, Gill," Janet screamed, but it came out as a whisper.
"Come off the ice."
Janet had slithered backwards and sat on her haunches at the edge of the pond, crying silently. Rachel had known her best friend couldn't swim. She had known how incredibly helpless she must have felt, unable to get to her daughter, someone that was her flesh and blood, someone she loved more than anything.
"Don't do this," Rachel had found herself saying.
Gill had looked at her, and Rachel had known that, without having a child herself, she couldn't possibly understand.
"Get my daughter out now, or you are dead to me."